If we treat the Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuizen’s visit to war-ravaged Ukraine as something important, meaningful, sincere and significant, we are duty bound to explore some of the motivations for his journey into the warzone. This applies to those of us who believe that there should be no limitations on what may be thought or discussed…
The first response(s) to the news that Steenhuizen had travelled to Ukraine was one of bewilderment, a sense of amusement and jest. Making way through the current social-media ridicule fest, there are at least six issues that come to mind; Steenhuizen’s trip is a simple public relations exercise; with his visit he is trying to establish affiliations; his visit is part of the DA’s de rigueur custom of doing the opposite of what the ANC does; all things considered his visit may actually be meaningless, and have no impact on South African politics; he seems desperate in search of relevance, and he has joined the Economic Freedom Fighters-led performative politics. From this we are able to conclude that much like Steven Pinker, he is simply trying to place western liberalism and the European enlightenment on the right side of (world) history.
Punting for a public relations windfall, relevance and affiliations
I am not quite sure what he stands to gain, other than ridicule for seeming to ignore the iniquities and misery within South Africa, but it’s not inconceivable that he is in search of a public relations windfall. This, it’s not absurd to suggest, may be part of Steenhuizen asserting his leadership of the DA. As it goes, he is the notional leader a party that is simultaneously fissiparous (parts of it coming apart and it the ‘alliance’ part seems shaky) and a party that has bedevilled Hercules of Greek mythology, and grown has several “heads” in the likes of Helen Zille and Tony Leon. You never quite know where, or by whose hand, policies emerge from. Steenhuizen’s trip to Ukraine may then be chalked up as a public relations exercise of a man wearing a suit that is several sizes too big for him, and thinks he is perfectly suited for leadership of a domestic political party in South Africa.
Another possible reason for Steenhuizen’s journey to Ukraine may be a search for affiliations or enhanced credibility, and in doing so he is by accident or design reproducing a meme put out by the Cape Independence Party which suggested that the Western Cape, bastion of DA politics, supported the Ukraine while the rest of the country supported a communist regime. What Steenhuizen is doing is not just wrong, it is also dangerous.
Steenhuizen’s travel to Ukraine has some parallels (albeit without moral equivalence, it should be said) with AfriForum going to Washington to establish affiliations with the alt-Right in the USA, and Dan Roodt of Praag enjoying affiliations with the extremist (and terribly racist) hate group, the American Rennaisance group. There is no problem with standing by Ukraine and being against Russia’s war on that country, but it becomes a seedy mess when a man of limited political appeal, a perceptibly narrow understanding of global political economy ignores the horrors of his own backyard and forces himself onto the global stage. It is reminiscent of Ivanka Trump forcing her way into a discussion among some of the world’s most powerful women… Steenhuizen, like Ivanka is simply out of his depth.
See this video clip about Ivanka Trump
People with blue eyes and blonde hair are dying
Another thing that is worth considering is that Steenhuizen is simply doing what Steenhuizen (and Zille and Leon before him) do best. Do the opposite of what the ANC does. In the case of Russia’s latest war Steenhuizen is right to stand by the people of Ukraine, and the ANC’s blind loyalty to Moscow is intellectually, ideologically and politically repulsive. In this respect, Steenhuizen saw a gap and took it. The problem is that there are, at present, conflicts and wars ranging from Tigray in North Africa across Western Asia to Myanmar in South East Asia. It’s not outlandish to imagine that Steenhuizen may not go to these areas. One reason, not the only one, may be that he agrees that seeing “European people” with blue eyes and blonde hair killing and dying is really “disturbing” to some people.
See video clip about blonde hair and blue eyes
Of course, Steenhuizen’s apologists and the DA don’t see race, so they may think it unfair that the issue of race is even raised. The fact remains, it is unlikely that Steenhuizen would go to Myanmar or Tigray, where dark-skinned people are dying and killing each other. It’s a tragedy only when the blue-eyed blonde-haired types are doing the killing and dying.
When all of these, and several other strands are pulled together, it’s difficult not to conclude that Steenhuizen is working hard at placing himself, and South African liberals (he invoked the spirit of Helen Suzman) on the right side of history. Steenhuizen seems to have sunk – hook line and sinker – from the bait prepared by the likes of Pinker, Joshua Goldstein and John Mueller (among many liberal triumphalists) all of whom had since the end of the cold been touting things like “war is going out of style,” the decline of armed conflict” in the world, and the obsolescence of war. These writers, in turn, slid into Frank Fukuyama’s “end of history” and the triumphalism of liberalism in the early 1990s.
It’s really difficult to see how Steenhuizen’s visit to Ukraine will change conditions of those poor folk in the Western Cape who are, as Zille so politely put it, better off than poor folk in other parts of the country. This simply feeds into the Cape Independence Party’s idea that they are “just different” and would prefer to be separate and equal… AfriForum’s visit to Washington. Roodt’s visit to the American Rennaissance group, described as a “hate group” in the USA, and now Steenhuizen’s trip to Ukraine, has a nasty pong of white people looking for other white people for solidarity and affiliation, instead of working towards a more cohesive, stable, shared prosperity and trust among South Africa’s people.