The following speech was delivered by the DA Federal Leader, John Steenhuisen at Zamdela in the Metsimaholo Municipality in the Free State.
My fellow Democrats.
Thank you for joining us here today – for taking the time to come and listen to the DA’s plan to fix South Africa’s many broken municipalities.
We are just three weeks away from an election that could radically alter the path our country is on, and it is critical that every South African knows exactly what is at stake, and the power they have to influence the future.
These local government elections are about two things: Firstly, it’s about rescuing towns and cities from their dysfunctional ANC governments while there is still something to save, and replacing them with DA governments that get things done.
And secondly, it’s about paving the way for an even bigger change, at national level, to save our country from its national ANC government.
Because the way you bring change is bit by bit. You don’t look at the challenge in its entirety and say: there’s no way we could win that fight, so we may as well give up.
No, you look at all the individual battles within that fight, and you tackle each of them as a battle that can either be won, or where you can make such headway that it is in play the next time round.
If we want to paint more towns and cities blue after 1 November, we’ll do so ward by ward.
That is how you turn a municipality like Metsimaholo – where no party has an outright majority, and where the DA has a realistic shot at displacing the ANC as the biggest party in the council – into a DA-run municipality.
You win the small individual battles of the voting districts, which swings the balance in the wards and ultimately puts the DA in charge of a coalition government.
That then paves the way for an outright majority at the next election, and this is how you bring about real change in these towns.
If you want to see what that looks like, take a look at your neighbouring municipality just across the river, to the north-east. I’m talking about Midvaal on the Gauteng side of the river – the only outright DA-run municipality in that province, and also the only functional municipality in that province.
The DA has been in the driving seat in Midvaal for the past 21 years, and in an outright majority there for the last nineteen years. That extended, uninterrupted period under a DA government is the sole reason Midvaal works while everything around it falls apart.
It is ranked among South Africa’s top 5 municipalities, and it boasts an impressive seven year run of clean audits. And thanks to this sound financial management, it is able to offer the highest access to basic services and the lowest unemployment rate in the province.
It also continually attracts new businesses, as the municipalities around it shed thousands of jobs as employers shut their doors or relocate elsewhere.
All the independent reports and rankings – from the Auditor General’s report and the Stats SA’s jobs numbers, to the rankings by Ratings Africa and the Quality of Life Survey – confirm that DA-run Midvaal operates in a different league to the rest of Gauteng.
But perhaps the biggest endorsement of all is from the residents themselves.
In 2000, the DA had 9 of the 18 seats in the Midvaal council. In every subsequent election the DA has increased its share of the vote there. What that means is that the people of Midvaal are more and more certain that they don’t want to go back to an ANC government.
A similar scenario played out in the City of Cape Town, where the DA narrowly won control of the metro in a seven-party coalition in 2006. By 2011 the people of Cape Town had seen enough to give the DA an outright majority, and by 2016 this majority was even further increased.
Once exposed to the DA difference, voters know that there is no comparison and there can be no going back.
That is also why you’ll only ever hear people discussing the possibility of independence where the DA currently governs. Because these are the only places that function well. They may say they’re advocating for independence, but what they’re really fighting to protect is the DA difference.
And that is why our mission in the DA must surely be to bring this difference to even more places, and not to isolate it to the places where we already govern.
Take Midvaal as an example. We can either say: this place works, now let us insulate it from the rest of the country. Or we can say: look what we achieved in Midvaal, now imagine if we did the same across the river in Metsimaholo.
And that’s not a far-fetched dream either. As things stand now, we only need to take four seats off the ANC to overtake them as the biggest party here, and to start carving out an island of DA excellence here in the northern Free State.
Fellow Democrats, if any province needs to see the kind of change that only the DA can bring, it is the Free State.
This beautiful province is filled with towns caught in the downward spiral that always accompanies ANC local governments – where the local economies are slowly dying and where young people in particular see no future for themselves.
And Metsimaholo is right at the worst end of this list, with the highest unemployment rate in the entire province.
Do you know what cures unemployment? There’s only one thing, and that is good governance.
I’m talking about the kind of responsible, honest and business-friendly governance that inspires confidence and lets investors know a town is open for business.
Now, when the ANC come round here telling you how they – the government – will create all the jobs you need if you’ll vote for them, they’re lying. There is no way a government can create those numbers of jobs – not even if they spend billions on infrastructure projects. It’s simply not possible.
The only way to create jobs at the scale we need is through a government that is a partner to businesses and makes it easier for them to start up and operate – by creating an environment free from unnecessary bureaucracy and regulations, where basic services are guaranteed, where infrastructure is maintained and where residents feel safe.
That’s the kind of place that investors look to when deciding where to set up their businesses.
It is no coincidence that Midvaal has not only the cleanest track record in terms of financial management, but also the lowest unemployment rate, by far, in the province. These two things go hand in hand.
When your town is run efficiently, more services are delivered. But this also means that more services are billed for and more revenue is collected, which in turn means that even more services can be delivered and more maintenance can be done.
It is a cycle that starts with good governance principles and ends with functional towns and cities where more people have access to the services they need to live a life of dignity, and more people have hope of finding work.
That is our mission in the DA, and that is why I am so excited to stand here before you today, three weeks out from a local government election. Because I want those same things for the people of the Free State too, starting right here in Metsimaholo.
I want you to look at the pledges contained in the DA manifesto for this municipality, and then imagine these towns of Metisimaholo after five years of implementing these pledges.
Imagine five years of working towards clean reliable water, a safe and hygienic environment to live in and a plan to start reducing this municipality’s reliance on Eskom.
Imagine five years of upgrading roads and public transport, of investing in visible law enforcement and of developing sustainable housing options in public-private partnerships.
Imagine five years of the same kind of financial management Midvaal has had these past two decades – better debt collection, making sure creditors are paid on time, stopping illegal connections and turning this municipality’s debt into a positive cashflow.
Imagine five years of cleaning up the administration here, and replacing deadbeat deployed cadres with qualified officials who want to serve.
And imagine five years where the biggest focus of government is bringing the economy back to its feet and starting to attract investment once more – where the massive tourism, agriculture and industrial potential of this municipality is unlocked.
This place would be unrecognisable. And I assure you, after five years of a DA-led coalition, the people of Metsimaholo would want five more years of an outright DA majority. Because that’s how it goes where we govern.
But the ball is now in your court. I cannot make those things happen here in Metsimaholo, and neither can the DA without you playing your part.
If you want change, you have to vote for change.
You won’t change a thing by staying away and letting others decide.
You won’t change a thing by voting for a small party that has no real sway in this council.
You won’t change a thing by voting for a party simply because they speak your language or look like you.
None of those options will bring a clean, efficient and hard-working government to Metsimaholo.
The only way to achieve this is to vote for a party with a proven track record in government, and a party big enough to make a difference.
There is only one such a party, and that is the Democratic Alliance. The party that gets things done.
Viva, DA! Viva!