Note to Editors: The following remarks were delivered by the Democratic Alliance Leader on day two of the Eastern Cape Provincial Congress at the East London ICC.
It gives me great pleasure to address you at this hugely significant Provincial Congress.
It is fitting that the first of our Provincial Congresses is held here in the Eastern Cape. This province – and specifically Nelson Mandela Bay Metro – set the stage for last year’s municipal elections.
From the hills of Pondoland to the beaches of the Bay, this province was always the ANC’s. It was their heartland and their stronghold.
But the Eastern Cape is equally important for the DA. It is not only our foot in the door in a province where nobody gave us a chance until very recently, it is also our biggest opportunity to show the country what we can do in government.
And if we wanted a challenge, we certainly got one.
Mayor Trollip and his team inherited a metro in critical condition. From housing lists, to the rollout of services, to corruption and unemployment, Nelson Mandela Bay was handed over in a terrible state.
It is now our job to fix it – to build a metro that can offer a better life for all the people who live there.
Our job is to waste no time in undoing the damage caused by decades of corrupt, uncaring government in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Our job is to turn the metro into a place of growth – where investors see opportunities, where tourists see a world-class destination and where the people of the city can find work.
If we get it right, we can spread our success from here, and in Kouga where we also won and are turning that town around too. We can spread it northwards, and westwards, to the entire Eastern Cape and beyond.
Eight months into the job, it feels like Athol Trollip and his team have been at it for years
The result is an incredible list of achievements in a very short space of time.
For years NMB was the only city without a Metro Police force. Well, now they have one! The DA-led government there has recruited 100 new officers to fight crime and drugs on the city streets.
We’ve already improved the lives of the poorest residents of the city. There is a long way to go, but already 30km of gravel roads have been tarred, and a hundred million rand has been budgeted for more road improvements.
We’ve launched a brand new anti-corruption hotline that has already led to 38 investigations.
Mayor Trollip’s administration has vowed to root out corruption in the city, and he has already frozen suspicious contracts, launched forensic investigations into others and opened Mayoral and Committee meetings to the public and the media.
Something I am very proud of: we have already found, processed and handed over more than 500 title deeds to poor residents, so that they can finally own their homes. That means so much to me! While the rest of the country is talking about empowering poor, mainly black South Africans – we are the only ones actually doing it. We are putting real assets in the hands of the people.
Why, I ask, has the government built houses for people but never allowed them to own those homes by giving them title? It is insulting. It says we cannot trust someone with their own home. We are putting that right.
Nationally, DA government have already handed over more than 75 000 title deeds, and we are just getting started. I am sure we will hit 100 000 soon.
Talk is cheap. Lots of people can shout and scream about “radical economic what what”, as President Zuma calls it. But if you want to see real empowerment happening in the lives of real South Africans, look at what the DA is doing. That is real empowerment!
But we have not stopped there. Hundreds of Bay residents have already graduated from basic skills development programmes.
We are trying to help them get into the job market. It is hard work, and there is much, much more to do. But we are committed to giving people the best chance possible of getting a job.
As we watch the ANC implode around their factional battles and their grab for power, we must remind ourselves of this vision of a South Africa united in its diversity. And we must then elect leaders who are committed to this vision.
It is the sole focus of the DA, and it is far too important to have to take a backseat to sideshows and distractions.
Our project cannot afford to be derailed. Too many people are counting on us to make it work.
And our cause is certainly not helped by public discussions and arguments on topics such as colonialism.
We live in a time of heightened racial tension, the embers of which are regularly reignited by those who stand to benefit from mistrust and division. But we don’t have to buy into it, and we don’t have to fan the flames.
The DA is a party that unites people. Our core vision – that South Africa belongs to all who live in it – is shared by the vast majority of South Africans. Outside the bubble of social media, our people are not nearly as divided as some would have you believe.
The extreme views frequently expressed on Twitter are not shared by ordinary South Africans. And I certainly don’t share these views.
I don’t believe that there is a widespread campaign to shut down or delegitimise some citizens as less worthy than others. Sure, some fringe racists believe that. But in the whole, South Africans reject hate and division and just want what is best for their families.
I think it is incredibly damaging – both to us as a party and to our society as a whole – to persist with this narrative.
Putting forward these arguments only serves to place us in opposite corners, and then expects us to defend our corners from those who are different from us. It turns us into opponents, and that is not how we must engage the issue of race in this country.
We must appeal to the best of our humanity, not regress into our racial corners.
We can’t stand united as a nation when we create a contest between black and white, a narrative of domination of one by another.
These aren’t the ideals we must pursue. While others turn South Africa into a bitter contest between majorities and minorities, we will build a party and a South Africa for all, black and white, rich and poor, urban and rural, business and labour.
Our discussion must always begin with: Let me hear from your world.
My job, as Leader of the Democratic Alliance, is to defend, protect and promote our core project of building a united and prosperous South Africa under a new government. And I intend to do my job without fear or favour.
I will not remain silent if anyone within our party steers us away from our task.
The choice is simple: we can either pretend we’re under attack from each other and defend our races, or we can focus on saving our country from the ANC. Only one of these choices will lead us forward.
As we gather here today to elect new leaders – in the province that gave us so many of our country’s struggle stalwarts – we’d do well to reflect on what that struggle was all about.
It was about building a country that belongs to all of us.
It was about building a Constitutional state, capable of protecting and caring for all.
It was about righting the wrongs of our painful history.
It was about building a reconciled society, diverse but united.
These were our goals that we agreed on in 1994, and they remain our goals today.
We must recognise when we’re losing focus of these goals – when we get it wrong and say things that hurt relationships and reopen old wounds.
Our opportunity is now. The crisis in the ANC has opened the door just wide enough for us.
This week Minister Lindiwe Sisulu said that the ANC had reached rock bottom.
Let me say this to the ANC today: You’re falling, but you aren’t at rock bottom yet.
You’ll know you’ve hit rock bottom in December, when you elect another Zuma who will change nothing. And you’ll know you’ve hit rock bottom when the voters kick you out of government in 2019.
Now is our opportunity to step up and lead.
Now is our opportunity to present our vision and our plan to voters.
Now is our chance to show that coalition politics can work in South Africa, and that parties can unite around key issues to govern for the people.
It gives us the opportunity to prove that we won’t tolerate corruption – whether this is from the ANC or from a less-than-ethical coalition partner.
If this means taking a hard line on an ally, then so be it. We have a vision to achieve, and we will not be derailed.
Everything we do, every decision we make in this time, must help us transition from opposition party to party of national government.
It must guide your work from now on. Whoever is elected today, let me make it clear what the DA expects from you: unity of purpose, hard work, devotion to the task of growing our party and winning the support of our fellow citizens.
Today we elect new leaders. Tomorrow we get to work.