During a debate on Twitter earlier this month, the leader of South Africa's opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), Helen Zille, defended the DA against accusations that it is a predominantly “white” party and stated that “most” of its membership is black.
Is the claim true? And, if so, how does the DA know?
One of Africa Check’s readers didn’t think it did. “Since I doubt that the DA keeps racial profile of its members - it would be very interesting if they did - I suspect this isn’t a claim that can be supported by the evidence,” he wrote to us.
Zille's comments based on 'anecdotal reports'
DA national spokesman, Mmusi Maimane, admitted to Africa Check that the DA does not in fact have "scientific" proof to back up the claim.
Zille’s comments were based on "anecdotal reports”, he said, confirming that the party does “not keep track of the race composition of our membership, and therefore we have no way of scientifically determining what percentage of our membership is white, black, coloured or Indian”.
The party also does not disclose its membership numbers, he added. “We are focussed on winning votes and activists, not so much on amassing a large membership,” he said.
Majority at DA rallies are 'black supporters'
However Maimane insisted the anecdotal evidence that the majority of party supporters are black was convincing.
“DA rallies are almost always attended by a majority of black supporters. At our Federal Congress last year, most attendees were black (each branch sends representatives based on their size to Federal Congress to vote on congress resolutions and new leadership). Hence, a diverse Federal Congress implies that we are a diverse party,” he told Africa Check.
Maimane said “anecdotal reports and the composition of our Federal Congress last year, would imply that a majority of our members are coloured, black or Indian”.
What the DA means by 'black'
The party spokesman added that the DA defined the term “black”, in the "same way as the constitution", to refer to “coloured, Indian and Black Africans”. (See the comments below)
Two of the DA’s provincial leaders are “black Africans” and three are “coloured”, Maimane said.
“Hence, in a constitutional sense, we have 5 black provincial leaders.”
Conclusion: The claim is unproven
Strictly speaking, our reader was correct. Other than the anecdotal evidence, which does appear to support the DA's claim, there is no hard documentary proof that the majority of the DA’s registered members are black.
The party’s membership records are secret and it claims that it does not record the race of its members. Maimane conceded as much when he told us: “We are not able to determine how many of our members are ‘black’ since we do not track the race of our members.”
Until this changes, or firm figures emerge, the claim has to be regarded as unproven.