The following remarks were delivered today by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, at the DA Eastern Cape virtual Provincial Congress.
My fellow Democrats
It gives me great pleasure to address you in this way – as my fellow democrats – because that is who and what we are.
We are democrats not only in name, but in our actions too.
Whether it is the way in which we conduct ourselves in government, or the way in which we contest elections, we wear our democratic colours with pride.
The DA does not get caught up in destructive factional battles.
The DA is not in it for patronage and wealth.
The DA is free from the stench of corruption that has settled on every ANC-run province, municipality and government department.
The DA has not, and will not, lose sight of why we do what we do. Which is to offer hope, dignity and opportunity to South Africans through governments of the people, by the people and for the people.
We are democrats in every sense of the word, and we should be proud of this.
I know, going into this provincial congress, that our democratic spirit will prevail. I know this congress will be conducted with respect and decorum.
Just as I know that the other DA provincial congresses, as well as our Federal Congress later this year, will play by the same rules.
And when these processes are concluded, we will abide by the democratic outcome and get straight back to work, doing what we do best: improving the lives of South Africans through freedom, fairness and opportunity.
On that note, I would like to congratulate Nqaba Bhanga and Andrew Whitfield on being elected unopposed as Provincial Leader and Chairperson respectively. This gives the DA much-needed stability here in the Eastern Cape, and allows us to not lose focus.
I know that each one of you understands the importance of the DA’s task. Our project has never been more urgent. South Africa is facing its biggest challenge in its 26 years of democracy.
And I’m not talking about the battle to contain the coronavirus because I know we will overcome this.
I’m talking about the battle to save our country from a slide into economic ruin. The battle to save millions of our citizens from desperate poverty and despair.
Because, unless there is an intervention to dramatically change our course, that bleak outcome will be our country’s future.
Fellow democrats, we are that intervention. You are.
I don’t mean to put unnecessary pressure on you, but whether our country sinks or swims depends entirely on whether the DA’s project fails or succeeds. There is no other plan.
We simply have to succeed in building a new majority in this country.
We have to set out our values and our plans for reform in such a way that this becomes a rallying point for both voters and potential coalition partners.
Now, we all know what it will take to turn our country around and avert disaster:
We know it will take a capable state, which can only be achieved by appointing people on merit rather than on their allegiance to political factions.
We know it will take an honest, hard-working government that truly has zero-tolerance for corruption and greed, and doesn’t just say this for effect.
It will take an unwavering commitment to the Rule of Law – one set of rules for everyone, and swift consequences for all who break these rules.
It will take the power of a market-economy, because only the entrepreneurial spirit and the willingness to take risks can create the scale of jobs we need.
It will take a government that knows when to get out of the way and let those in the business of growth and jobs do their thing.
It will take a commitment to a lean and efficient state. No more bloated civil service and top-heavy State-Owned Enterprises.
And it will take a truly 21st Century economy, and that means walking away once and for all from the failed ideologies and the doomed economic projects of the 20th Century.
We know all of this. We speak about it all the time, to the point where it seems so clear and obvious to us.
But knowing this is not enough. Believing in our vision for South Africa is not enough. Our job is to make others believe in this vision too. That is our project.
And the next big step in this project is only a year away, when South Africans go to the polls to elect local governments.
How we use the next twelve or so months to deliver our message to voters will have a profound impact on the future of our country.
But we’re not the only ones who are going to be busy. Already we’re seeing the same old pattern that emerges ahead of every election, as small parties crop up with fancy promises which they have no way of backing up with any proof or track record.
And such is the appeal of the shiny and new that these small parties inevitably end up taking away some votes from the strongest opposition party, the DA. Every time a voter does this, the net result is the strengthening of the ANC.
We’ve been through this scenario so many times. As soon as the elections are over, voters who tested the waters with one of these new start-ups realise they got zero bang for their buck from a one-man party with a regional footprint, and they return to the DA.
But by then the damage is done for the next five years. The momentum is halted and the ANC is bolstered.
There is only one way to unseat the ANC nationally, and that is by weakening them in every consecutive election. By pushing them below 50% wherever possible and relegating them to the opposition benches in municipal, metro and provincial governments.
We need voters to understand this. We need them to realise that if they want their municipality to be freed from the control of the corrupt ANC, they have to vote out the ANC by replacing it with the only party that can win against the ANC. And that is the DA.
We must make the case that our only hope to end corruption and bring change is for voters to unite behind the strongest opposition party, rather than splitting the vote.
And especially if that split vote goes to a breakaway from the DA, with individuals who are simply carrying DA ideologies and plans onto another platform.
These parties cannot effect change because they are too small. They cannot defeat the ANC because they are too small. All they end up doing is setting South Africa back in the fight against a corrupt government.
We have to make this point to people. We have to make them understand that falling for the grand promises of new parties with no experience, no structures and no track record always leads to buyer’s remorse.
Anyone can make promises. But only one party can hold up its track record and say: judge us by that.
And nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than right here in the Eastern Cape’s biggest Metro, Nelson Mandela Bay.
What played out in NMB over the past four years is the perfect case study for demonstrating the difference between South Africa’s only two parties of government.
After two decades of ANC looting and mismanagement, the people of NMB got to experience two years of DA-led government, before what was effectively a coup by the coalition of corruption gave them two more years under the ANC, EFF and UDM.
The difference between these governments could not be more stark.
Two years is not a lot when up against the enormous challenge of fixing 20 years of ANC government, but the list of achievements the DA-led coalition managed to rack up in that short time from 2016 to 2018 is remarkable.
And I would like to thank former Mayor Athol Trollip for the crucial role he played in turning NMB around.
His administration inherited a metro deep in the red, and within a year NMB had a R2 billion surplus and a AAA credit rating. That kind of turnaround doesn’t just happen. It takes an incredible effort.
But NMB didn’t just gain financial stability. It also saw a host of delivery milestones that were inconceivable under the ANC.
For the first time, the city had a Metro Police Service. It finally got an ITPS bus service. It got Shot Spotter technology to help curb and solve gun crime.
The DA-led administration immediately halted over R600 million worth of corrupt contracts. It got rid of 10,000 bucket toilets. It achieved the highest Urban Settlement Development Grants spending in the country.
The difference was like day and night. But there was a problem. The coalition held the most slender majority, and this made it a sitting duck. If the looters wanted back in, all they had to do was pay off one council member.
And we all know what happened at that shameful council meeting where the coup took place and the coalition of corruption installed themselves at the feeding trough once more.
Since then, it’s all been downhill for NMB, as the corrupt administration of Mayor Bobani opened all the taps that the DA had so effectively shut.
And where there’s corruption, the violence is never far behind. At least 18 people involved in SMMEs doing business with the metro have already been slain in politically linked killings.
The Shot Spotter technology, which had already started to reduce gang shootings, has now been ceased in NMB’s Northern Areas.
Similarly, the brand new IPTS bus system has collapsed, and there has been a dramatic deterioration of basic services across the city thanks to chronic under-spending of budgets.
Every improvement made under the DA-led coalition has been undone over the past two years, and NMB now finds itself worse off than before.
You could not ask for a clearer distinction between these two fundamentally different governments and their ability to deliver to the people.
But perhaps there is an even better example of how you get the government you vote for, and you’ll find that just down the road from NMB in Kouga.
The Kouga municipality flies largely under the radar, thanks to the constant turmoil in NMB. But under the DA it has been going from strength to strength and is an island of excellence in a sea of ANC misrule here in the Eastern Cape.
Kouga was a mess when the DA took over. As an example, consider that just 4% of the municipality’s fleet of vehicles were in good working order in 2016. Less than four years later 90% of these vehicles are in daily use.
Other milestones in Kouga include two brand new waste water treatment works, boreholes to augment drought-affected water supply and a world-first plastic-infused asphalt road to help combat plastic pollution.
The municipality operates on an entirely different level to the rest of the province, whether you’re looking at its financial management, service delivery or simply the cleanliness of the towns.
Kouga has just passed its first billion Rand budget, and because it has a DA government, you can be sure all that money will be spent where it should.
Things work in Kouga, and that is the DA difference. That is what we can hold up as proof, when others can simply offer wild promises based on little more than fantasy.
And importantly, Kouga has given us a foothold here in the Eastern Cape – a province that is crying out for change, probably more than any other in South Africa.
Already known as South Africa’s corruption capital, the Eastern Cape cemented that position during the Covid crisis by becoming an epicentre of Covid corruption too.
Global audiences had to watch in horror as the terrible state of the province’s hospitals was laid bare, complete with scurrying rats and blood-drenched corridor floors.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, we had to endure the embarrassment of the scooter ambulance fiasco. All this, while cadres were looting the province through corrupt PPE contracts.
And as always, the people – and particularly the poorest in the province – had to pay the heaviest price for all of this. They are the real victims of a failed, corrupt government.
Fellow democrats, we can change this. We can bring hope to the Eastern Cape.
And we’ll do this by extending our footprint in this province, ward by ward, town by town. By taking what we have in Kouga, and what we had in NMB, and replicating it.
When we win NMB back next year, it will be with a strong enough majority that bribes will be powerless.
But we won’t stop there. We will take our message far beyond NMB and Kouga. And even where we won’t necessarily win control of municipalities, we will make inroads. We will take wards off the ANC, and we will establish a DA presence across every community in this province.
That’s how we’ll spread the word and sell the DA difference to the people of the Eastern Cape, and throughout the rest of the country.
We have almost 60 million people counting on us to succeed, whether they’ll admit it or not. For South Africa to work, the DA has to work. There is no other plan.
That’s a lot of responsibility to bear, but I want you to shoulder this responsibility with pride. Be proud of what we have already achieved, and be proud of who we are.
We are democrats, and that’s just what our country needs right now.