Note the Editors: The following speech was delivered today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at the party’s Gauteng Provincial Congress.
My fellow Democrats,
How inspiring it is to be here today! The energy is incredible. The atmosphere is electric. The determination is clear for all to see.
It is time for a new beginning in Gauteng – time for a new beginning in South Africa!
Ha e duma eyatsamaya!
Democrats, last week was a significant week for the DA as we celebrated the hundredth birthday of Helen Suzman.
As an anti-Apartheid activist, a human rights activist, a former Member of Parliament from Gauteng and a founding member of the Progressive Party, she made a towering contribution to both our country and our party.
We stand on her immense shoulders today as we take forward the fight for a better future for all in South Africa. To achieve in her own words “simple justice, equal opportunity and human rights” for all the people of South Africa.
Her legacy lives on in all of us. Let us never lose sight of her ethos of relentlessly focusing on what is right and never giving up, no matter how tough or lonely the crusade for freedom may become.
But the most important lesson we must learn from Helen Suzman is what it means to be a public servant. For her, being a Member of Parliament meant one thing only: the chance to speak up for those whose voices could not be heard.
She didn’t go to Parliament to fight for the people of Houghton. She didn’t go to defend the people who looked like her or spoke like her. She saw her job as speaking up for those who were vulnerable and oppressed.
She said: I am free but you are not, and so I will fight for your freedom. And this is what we must take from her example.
Helen Suzman would’ve been incredibly proud to see this hall today. The vibrant diversity and the sheer size of the movement for change she started to build.
And she would congratulate you – and the tens of thousands of activists who power our movement – for Gauteng’s incredible achievements in last year’s elections.
Your hard work helped us win an increased outright majority in Midvaal.
Your sacrifice and commitment helped bring the ANC below 50% in Ekurhuleni and Mogale City.
You helped us form a government in the City of Johannesburg and become the biggest party in the City of Tshwane.
On their own, each of these achievements is remarkable. But together, they represent something really significant for this province. Thanks to your hard work we now have the inside lane here in Gauteng.
Mrs Suzman would be heartened by the progress we have made as a party, compared to those early days when she was the only voice in Parliament speaking out against the injustice of Apartheid. We have come a long, long way since then.
She would have been encouraged by the state of the DA, but I know she would also be saddened by the state of our nation.
She would be dismayed at the sheer hopelessness faced by so many South Africans who still struggle to get by with no money and no work. And she would be angered by the scale of the theft and waste in government while so many people suffer.
The South Africa of today – where more than half our people live in poverty and over 9.4 million mostly young people cannot find work – is not the country she fought for.
We have a nation of two halves. Those who have and those who have not.
Those who enjoy the benefits of freedom and those who do not.
As Achebe laments, a hungry person cannot claim freedom.
A nation of rural and urban; a nation of black and white
These divisions have skewed our nation for decades.
When we describe a new beginning, it is the freeing of South Africa from these profound divisions of race, class, gender.
Democrats, we are often angry about corruption and state capture, but we must be just as angered by the living conditions of our fellow South Africans.
It cannot be business as usual when desperate mothers have to boil weeds to feed their children, or scavenge on rubbish dumps for scraps of food.
We must be angry when 4 children die every day because of malnutrition.
It cannot be business as usual when thousands of children go to school hungry every day, and then leave school having been taught nothing all day.
It cannot be business as usual when the relief offered by 17 million social grants – the only thing that shields millions from hunger – is threatened by rank incompetence.
It cannot be business as usual when it is this provincial government is directly responsible for the deaths of 143 psychiatric patients, or 34 striking mine workers.
It cannot be business as usual when the red carpet is rolled out for those who have come to plunder our country while ordinary South Africans are left to fend for themselves.
We need change.
When our country left the brutality of Apartheid behind and took its first steps as a democracy, South Africans were promised a better life.
They were promised a chance to take control of their own lives through quality education, through access to economic opportunities, through ownership of property.
They were promised economic freedom and independence.
But for millions of our people, this promise never materialised. Yes, many communities have been uplifted in the past two decades. Many more people have homes and electricity and water. But it’s not enough. Not by a long shot.
Make no mistake, I am grateful for our freedom, and I know you are too. But this South Africa, where the rich get richer and the poor remain stuck in hardship and despair, isn’t the South Africa we were promised. It would seem our divided and our worlds are drifting apart.
It is not the South Africa Madiba wanted, and it is not the South Africa Helen Suzman wanted.
We were promised so much more, and there could have been so much more. But instead, we are heading in the wrong direction.
Over 30 million South Africans now live below what is known as the upper poverty line. One in seven South Africans face extreme food poverty. Our expanded unemployment rate now sits above 36%.
And the reason the situation is getting worse is because our economy is paralysed. We have no growth. We’re dipping in and out of recession, we have been downgraded to junk status and our national debt is growing.
Forget about the ANC’s December conference – nothing that happens there will make any difference to the predicament we find ourselves in. How can an organisation focused on the past be trusted to build a new future?
We must focus on building our economy. If Eskom defaults on its spiralling debt and the captured Malusi Gigaba is forced to bail them out, it will certainly mean a further downgrade.
Minister Gigaba’s budget last month confirmed what most of us knew: Our situation is dire, and our government has no plan to get us out of it.
And while we all feel the pinch, it is the most vulnerable in our society who are hit the hardest. Life for poor, black South Africans is getting tougher by the day.
The face of poverty in our country is still largely black.
These people are not poor because they are black. They are poor because Apartheid deliberately kept them away from opportunities and deliberately under-educated them.
Today they remain poor because a corrupt system, designed to look after the elite at the expense of the poor, keeps them in poverty. Corruption is the new oppression.
This system pockets enormous amounts of tax money that was meant to be spent on the people.
This system cannot produce jobs because all investment is killed off where corruption is allowed to flourish.
This system is kept alive by shielding the dishonest and the criminals from the law. Poor people are left feeling powerless while the fat cats get away with it.
South Africa needs a new beginning that will remove this corrupt system completely.
Two and a half years ago at our Federal Congress in Nelson Mandela Bay, in my very first speech as Leader of the DA, I said that our values will guide us to victory.
I want to repeat that here today, because it has never been more true. Our values contain the blueprint for our country’s future.
The DA is not a party of nationalists. We don’t mobilise and vote along divisions of race, language or culture – not internally and not externally.
We don’t seek in each other the one thing that divides us and then set out to create narratives of “us against them”.
We’re a party of liberals and we believe in the strength of our diversity. We believe that this diversity brings more ideas to the table. It’s in this diversity where we can’t elect people who will only lead those who look like them. We must elect a leadership that must and will focus on a future for all South Africans.
We’re a party that believes in robust debate. We don’t always have to agree on everything. We challenge each other and we learn from each other.
At the end of this Congress, the newly elected leader will be leader of the whole Gauteng. It is our duty to get behind that leader. You may not vote for a particular candidate, but as a democrat you must accept the outcome and focus on building the DA and winning in 2019.
Underpinning everything we do is a set of values that unites us. No matter how diverse our backgrounds, we agree on the following fundamentals upon which we will rebuild our country:
We all agree that our society cannot function unless it is grounded in the Constitution and the Rule of Law.
We all agree that only a market economy can create the necessary conditions for inclusive economic growth and job creation.
We all agree that only a capable, fit-for-purpose state can deliver on its mandate to the people.
And we all agree that if we want to move our country forward we have to display a zero-tolerance for all forms of corruption.
These values are what brought us together in the Democratic Alliance. And it is these same values that will ultimately unite the millions of South Africans who want to build a strong, prosperous and inclusive nation.
It is these values that will offer South Africa a new beginning.
But, fellow Democrats, not everyone sees the world like this. Over the next 18 months you will see others try to drive wedges between races and between communities, hoping that they can chip off chunks of votes for their parties.
They will blame and they will scapegoat. They will create enemies to their cause. This is how racial nationalism works. For them to succeed, there has to be an “us” and a “them”.
We won’t play that game, because the country we hope to build needs a big core of like-minded people to be on the same side. And that is why I believe our values will guide us to victory.
Democrats, the only way we will bring about change in this country is if we show millions of South Africans that we stand on their side and that we speak up for them. Until we do so, all our best intentions will be in vain.
If we want to bring people over to our side – if we want to convince them that we will govern in their best interest – then we have to be proud of who we are, and relentless in making the case for why they should join us.
And this brings me back to Helen Suzman. What drove her, all those years, to fight on behalf of those who were not yet free must be our driving force in the DA today.
Each person in the DA must ask him or herself the fundamental question: Who am I fighting for?
Am I here to fight only for myself and those like me, or is it my duty to fight on behalf of everyone who needs my help?
Back when Helen Suzman fought for the rights of political prisoners, or those detained without trial, it made absolute sense to her that this is where her responsibility lay. She was free and they were not. And so she would fight for their freedom.
Today there are millions more who are not free. They may not be imprisoned in a cell, but the circumstances that keep them trapped and oppressed are no less real.
Our job and our responsibility is to fight for them until they are also free. That is the party we are.
If this is not your goal – if you are here for your own objectives and to build your own following, then you are in the wrong party. Because that is where patronage originates.
We cannot allow our goals to be diffused and our people to be captured. That is the most important lesson we can learn from our opponent’s implosion.
Our opponent has failed because they did not grasp this principle. Their fight is for the elite – the president, the inner circle, the tenderpreneurs and connected cronies. In their South Africa there is one life for the wealthy and one life for the poor.
The DA can never be that. We are a party that welcomes all, that governs for all and that fights for all.
And so we can never be a party that dispenses patronage in exchange for support. If this is your intention, you are in the wrong party.
We can never be a party where leaders represent certain groups or interests above others. Again, if you are here to push the agenda of a narrow minority, then this is not the party for you.
And we can never be a party that tolerates racists. If you are racist and thinking of voting for the DA, please don’t. We don’t want your vote. We must condemn all racism whether by black or white.
Our job is to build a reconciled country – a South Africa for all. If you behave in a way to undermine that project, then please note that the exits to this hall are marked clearly and you should use them now.
Our opponents like to say that we are not a party for all South Africans – that we can’t be trusted. They’ll carry on saying this because they have nothing else to offer voters.
They are worried. They know that they have at most 18 months left in power. They know that South Africans have woken up to the fact that they need to free themselves from the oppression of corruption that is destroying our future.
And they know that South Africans of all backgrounds are increasingly realising that the DA is the only choice for real change.
But we cannot avoid the fact that many South Africans do not know us yet.
Democrats, it is time South Africans knew the truth – that we’re a diverse, changing party that offers a better future for all.
Today, two out of every three DA members are black. Eight out of our nine Provincial Leaders are black. Three out of our four Metro Mayors are black. Most of our voters are black. I will continue to build a diverse organisation. Not a replacement of one race for another but a party for all.
I say this not because we are keeping a race scorecard, but to demonstrate the dishonesty when our opponents say we are a party for this race or that.
We are Democrats, united in our values.
We are a diverse party with diverse leadership – something previously unheard of in South Africa. And this scares our opponents.
We are a party that has successfully transitioned from opposition to party of government in four metros, and soon multiple provinces. And this scares our opponents.
We are a party with a proven track record of fighting corruption – a record that includes an unbeaten run in the courts. And that scares our opponents.
We are a party whose record of service delivery to the poor outshines every other province and city. And that scares our opponents.
The fact that we are now talking about a South Africa beyond the ANC – and that people are taking note and also imagining this South Africa – this really scares our opponents.
For the first time, South Africans from all walks of life are considering a future without the ANC. The results of last year’s elections planted the seed, and a year of non-stop government scandals since then has watered this seed.
South Africans are slowly awakening to the power and the possibilities of a true democracy.
Democrats, our country is at a crossroads and we’re in a position to make history.
What we all achieved in Election 2016 represented a seismic shift in South African politics. In fact, 3 August 2016 could well prove to be the tipping point for South Africa’s transition from a one-party dominant state to a true multiparty constitutional democracy.
We achieved unprecedented results, breaking out of the Western Cape to form governments in Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and the City of Johannesburg.
In addition to these metros and the City of Cape Town, the DA controls 28 municipalities in 5 of the country’s 9 provinces.
Our local governments are responsible for 16 million citizens and more than half the country’s local government budget.
The ability to govern in these metros and towns across South Africa represents a significant opportunity for us to demonstrate, tangibly, the change we can bring to all South Africans.
And I am greatly encouraged by the progress Mayors Mashaba, Baloyi and Msimanga are leading in this province.
It is hard to over-emphasise what a disastrous situation we inherited in both the City of Johannesburg and City of Tshwane. Corruption, wasteful expenditure and maladministration had led both municipalities to the verge of implosion.
Before the election, we knew the situation was bad. But after taking over the governments, we discovered the horrifying results of a corrupt system that puts the elite first and the people last. Both cities were handed over in a terrible state.
Yet, Mayors Mashaba and Msimanga rolled up their sleeves and got to work. There is still a long way to go, but progress is being made in these Metros. Change is happening one positive step at a time.
We have dismantled the corrupt systems we have found and we have ensured that these governments are now focused on the people, not cadres and comrades.
Our mission remains to build clean, transparent and honest governments that deliver better services and create jobs.
Honest government that tells citizens what we are doing, what we are planning and what we are achieving every step of the way – transparent to its very core.
Our next step is to extend that to Gauteng as a province, and South Africa as a country.
And I ask you – and the thousands of DA activists, public representatives and staff members watching across the country – are you ready to bring real change to this province and our country?
South Africa’s future depends on this movement. Not on the soap opera coming to Nasrec next month. That party, corrupt and selfish to its core, has had its time. It is dead. Let December be its funeral.
Democrats, the time has come to hit the ‘reset’ button, follow the Constitution, and change the system so that it works for the people, not the elite.
The DA can bring that total change and immediate relief to our oppressed people. A better future lies just around the corner, if South Africans will vote for it in 2019.
But this means we have just 18 months to bring our vision of this better future – this prosperous, inclusive South Africa – to the people.
We have just 18 months to sketch out our vision of a new economy, no longer controlled by government and big business, but diverse, modern and resilient.
We will invest in infrastructure – as Mayor Mashaba is already doing in clearing the infrastructure backlog here in Johannesburg – and we will let our cities lead our economic growth.
We will look to introduce a Jobs and Justice Fund to provide business financing to those left out of the economy, and we will streamline cumbersome legislation to make it easier to run a small business. Fighting for the new entrants, who will need start up capital.
No longer will you need to know someone, bribe someone or have to sleep with someone to get a job.
We will destroy the corrupt system the government has built, and replace it with a new system that works for the people, not the elite.
If you are caught in corrupt activities – whether you are a government official or private businessman – you will go to jail for fifteen years.
We will turn the South African Police Service into a professional, modern, police service that is passionate about serving and protecting South Africans.
Crime is out of control because this corrupt government does not care about justice. It has resulted in a system where murderers get out of jail after a few years and criminals who belong behind bars are out on the street.
It’s time that our justice system returns to its true purpose: catching and punishing criminals. The DA will take immediate, bold action to protect our people from crime, and end the anarchy that’s taken hold of our communities.
We will enforce the law and end the uncontrolled flow of illegal immigrants into our country.
Your new DA government will also build a capable state that can deliver on its promise to the people. Gone will be the days of cadre deployment. Only qualified, fit-for-purpose candidates will get the job.
We will overhaul basic education, bring back teacher training colleges, ensure that our principals and teachers are up to standard and give parents a greater say in where they can send their children.
Ours will be an education system that empowers poor people – where teachers show up and textbooks are delivered. An education system where innovative interventions like collaboration schools will help fill the gaps.
We will ensure that everyone leaving school has options and opportunities to further their education and training. We will offer young people a programme where they can intern and work for a year after school.
Ours will be a South Africa where no young person is left behind and shut out of the economy.
This is the South Africa a DA government will fight for.
Democrats, do you want this new beginning?
Do you think South Africans want this new beginning?
Can we bring this new beginning to Gauteng?
I agree. It is time!
Ask yourself – would Helen Suzman be proud to be standing in this hall right now?
Would she say it’s time for a new beginning?
Now is the time to be bold. To take to the streets. To show South Africa who we are – the growing, diverse movement that will bring total change to our country.
There is a phrase in isiZulu – “Sihamba nabahambayo” – “We take along with us those who are ready for the journey”.
My question to you today then is: “Are you ready for this journey?”
Do you believe it is time?
Is Gauteng ready for a new beginning?
Is South Africa ready for a new beginning?
Let’s make it happen!
Nkosi Sikelele iAfrika.
Let us live and strive for freedom in South Africa our beautiful land.