Mpumalanga is a province crying out for the DA Difference

The following remarks were delivered today by the DA Leader, John Steenhuisen MP, at the DA Mpumalanga Virtual Provincial Congress.

My fellow Democrats

It is my pleasure and honour to address your provincial congress today. To reaffirm with you our values as a party, as well as our crucial mission to save our country from the destructive path we’re currently on.

That job is entirely in our hands. The DA is the only significant party talking about the reforms needed to right this listing ship.

We are the only party with a policy offer that is able to turn things around.

We’re the only party that proudly subscribes to the liberal values needed to restore dignity to millions of impoverished, abandoned South Africans.

We’re the only party that can point to a proud track record in government, at municipal, metro and provincial level.

And we’re the only party with the size, reach and momentum to effect change.

There is no one else. This is our task, and our responsibility.

And yes, that is a heavy burden to bear, and we still have a mountain to climb if we are to succeed in this mission. But whenever I find myself in a room full of DA people, I am always reassured that we are up to the task.

There is nothing wrong with our country that cannot be fixed with what is right with the DA.

I said the same thing to our colleagues down in the Eastern Cape a couple of weeks ago. It is a source of immense pride and reassurance to see the DA structures in action like this, because it confirms who and what we are.

It confirms that we are a party of true democrats.

It confirms that we put the people of South Africa first in everything we do.

And it confirms that all our contestations and battles of ideas leave us stronger and more united than before. Where other parties fracture along bitter factional lines, and resort to chaos and violence, the DA always acts like a party of democrats.

We treat each other with respect, and we also respect the rules that govern our processes and structures. We abide by democratic outcomes, and we immediately get back to work, fighting for a better South Africa for all who live in it.

The fact that our highly competent provincial leadership here – leader, deputy leader and chairperson – are all standing unopposed at this congress is also a great reassurance. It gives us much needed stability and continuity as we enter these twelve months leading up to the local government elections.

I have full confidence in Jane Sithole, Trudie Grové Morgan and Bosman Grobler to continue serving the DA with distinction in these respective roles.

I am proud to be part of your provincial congress because I know these things – I know we’re all in it for the right reasons, and we can trust each other to do the right thing.

My only regret is that I cannot be there in person, in Mpumalanga – the place where the sun rises.

As much as I admire the way in which we have adapted to these strange digital times and conduct our business online without skipping a beat, there is nothing like a trip to one of South Africa’s most spectacular provinces.

Anyone who has ever driven through the lowveld, the bushveld and the farmlands of Mpumalanga will attest to its unique beauty. The place leaves an unforgettable impression, and people find themselves returning again and again.

But despite everything this great province has to offer, it is still on its knees thanks to a selfish, corrupt and incompetent government. And throughout the province this failure of government is on full and permanent display.

There are 17 municipalities in Mpumalanga, and all of them are in a state of collapse. Sewage spills and potholes are so common in the towns here that people barely bat an eye anymore.

I am told in municipalities like Lekwa they speak of Lekwa-shedding and not loadshedding, because their lack of electricity has little to do with Eskom’s generation woes and everything to do with the municipality’s inability to pay its bills.

All the municipalities here receive qualified audits from the Auditor General, and not a day goes by without a service delivery protest in some part of the province.

And, of course, this is a province with a large farming community, which means the spectre of farm attacks always looms large in people’s lives. Without a clear, workable rural safety plan, people living on farms here are at the mercy of these ruthless criminals. They deserve far better.

But the biggest challenge – and failure – in this province was revealed with the latest employment figures from Stats SA. Over 45% of working age people here don’t have jobs.

And even that terrible statistic doesn’t paint the whole picture. Along with that you have to take into account that Mpumalanga has, by some distance, the widest gap between its “narrow” and its “expanded” unemployment figures – a staggering 32 percentage points.

What this means is that the vast majority of those 45% of unemployed people have lost all hope of ever finding work. They have given up looking. The government’s statisticians call them discouraged jobseekers, but that euphemism doesn’t fully describe their desperate situation.

They are the true victims of the legacy of this ANC government. They have been robbed of all hope for a better future.

Fellow Democrats, you and I know it doesn’t have to be like this. With the right interventions – and a single-minded focus on only that which expands growth and opportunity – we can help restore hope.

I’m not saying this will be easy, and I’m not saying life is perfect where the DA has been given a mandate to make these interventions. But where the DA governs there is an undeniable difference.

Consider the expanded definition of unemployment. Where it stands at over 45% here in Mpumalanga, in the Western Cape it is almost 20 percentage points lower at just over 27%.

But more importantly, look at the difference between this expanded definition and the government’s “official” number, which excludes these so-called discouraged jobseekers. Here in Mpumalanga it is over 32 percentage points. In the Western Cape it is under 10 percentage points, and it was even less before lockdown.

What this means is that not only are people almost twice as likely to have work where the DA governs, but also that those without work are far more likely to believe that they will find employment again, and so they continue looking.

Of all the indicators of government success, which include service delivery, education outcome, healthcare access and many more, it is this measure of economic inclusion that is the most important.

And this is where we have put miles of clear blue water between the DA and the ANC. This is why people move to DA-run cities and provinces in great numbers. They know where they will have the best chance of making a life for themselves and their families.

That, fellow Democrats, is why our mission is so critical. We cannot be content with little islands of DA excellence in a sea of ANC misrule. Our commitment is to all the people of South Africa.

That is why we cannot support the idea of Western Cape independence, because we will never turn our backs on our fellow South Africans and leave them at the mercy of the ANC.

I look at this incredible province of Mpumalanga, and although we are still a long way from establishing a DA-led government here, I know it is a road we must walk one step at a time.

A few short decades ago we were a long way away from this goal in the Western Cape too, and look how that turned out.

That is why our task here over the next twelve months is so important.  We have to go out there in every single community and convince them, voter by voter, to turn their backs on the racial nationalism and patronage politics of the ANC.

We have to convince them that the only way to lift people out of poverty is through meaningful and inclusive economic growth, and that this can only be done with growth-friendly policies.

We have to convince them that only a party with absolutely zero tolerance for corruption can ever put the people first, and that the only measure of this is real action, not empty words.

And we have to convince them that the only South Africa worth fighting for is a non-racial South Africa, where people are truly seen as individuals with unique hopes and dreams, as opposed to mere representatives of their race or gender.

That is our task, and we dare not waver over the next 12 months. There is far too much riding on it.

We may still be an election cycle or two away from replacing governments here in Mpumalanga with DA-led governments, but the only way we’ll get there is by doing the hard yards now. By slowly painting wards, and then municipalities and then the whole province blue.

And when that happens, this province will finally realise its massive potential.

Imagine a Mpumalanga where everything works – where the roads are no longer filled with potholes and communities have uninterrupted water and electricity.

Imagine the possibilities that will open up in tourism, agriculture, mining and energy under a government that doesn’t steal and that truly welcomes investment.

Imagine how different life would be here when that unemployment number is halved and people no longer have to leave to ensure a decent life for their families.

That is the Mpumalanga you must keep in your mind over the next twelve months. That is the vision you must share with voters.

So let us conduct our business here this weekend with the respect and the decorum that only the DA can achieve.

Let us contest and debate passionately, but then abide by the outcome of our democratic processes.

And let us then go out there, armed with the four things that set us apart from every other party in South Africa: our principles, our policies, our track record and, above all, our committed people.

Let us use these four arrows in our quiver to present the DA Difference as the only viable option for the future of South Africa.

I wish you all the best for your congress.

Thank you.