We fulfilled our key objectives - Helen Zille

The DA leader defends her party's "Stop Zuma" call in election campaign

The Democratic Alliance achieved an historic result in last Wednesday's election. This has accelerated the realignment of politics, loosened the ANC's grip on power, and strengthened the DA's status as the alternative party of government.

The result means that we now have the support and momentum to win towns and cities across the country in the 2011 local government elections, and to form the core of an alternative government nationally in 2014. It would not have been possible without your help, your confidence in the party, and your vote; and so I would like to take this opportunity to thank the  million new voters who joined the almost 2 million previous DA voters, bringing our total to just under 3 million.

Because of you, we were able to fulfill all three of  our  key objectives in this election campaign: we kept the ANC below a two-thirds majority; we won an outright majority in the Western Cape; and we significantly consolidated our position as the official opposition in Parliament by adding 20 seats to our tally in the National Assembly (NA).

We now have 67 Members of Parliament in the NA (up from 47), and we will be allocated a further ten seats in the National Council of Provinces. These are important gains. They mean we are in a better position than ever before to hold the government to account  and to represent our voters in Parliament. 

Our increased representation in Parliament came largely at the ANC's expense. With 65.9% of the vote and 264 seats in the NA (down from 74.3% and 297 seats), the ANC no longer has the two-thirds majority it needs to change the Constitution unilaterally.

The fact that the ANC failed to get its two-thirds majority is a direct result of the DA's drive to "Stop Zuma". When we launched that drive, in the final weeks of the campaign, several analysts and commentators cried foul. They accused the DA of "negative" campaigning and - outrageously  and illogically  - racism. Some said that the ANC would not change the Constitution because it had not done so in the past. They ignored the fact that in the same week we launched our "Stop Zuma" campaign, the government gazetted a constitutional amendment designed to erode the powers of municipalities  and concentrate even more power at national government level. 

Fortunately, the DA does not let analysts dictate our election strategy. If we did, we would never have made the leap from 1.7% of the vote in 1994 to the 16.7% we have today. The ANC might even have  Julius Malema's much coveted "three-thirds" majority by now.

The "Stop Zuma" campaign wasn't negative. The prospect of handing too much power to Zuma and his closed, crony network was negative. The prospect of what they would do with that power was negative. Our message was simply this: it would be dangerous to give Jacob Zuma and his cabal unfettered power to change the Constitution, because they would abuse that power - firstly to enrich themselves and secondly to shield themselves from prosecution.  

They have already shown how they will abuse their power, by scrapping the Scorpions, firing Vusi Pikoli and securing the withdrawal of charges of 783 counts of corruption against Jacob Zuma. 

Fortunately, the voters understood the DA's message, and they turned out in sufficient numbers to secure the future of South Africa's democracy. Future generations of South Africans are indebted to them, because through their foresight and willingness to stand up and be counted, they prevented the ANC from being able to trample over the Constitution. They helped to stop what would have been an otherwise inevitable slide down the slope of cronyism, corruption and criminalisation, towards the failed state.

Unfortunately, it is an all too common phenomenon for some analysts to resort to the lazy, knee-jerk reaction that the DA is being "racist" when we point out the dangers of too much power in too few hands. It doesn't matter whether those hands are black or white: the fact is that power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, regardless of the power holders' skin colour.

These are the same analysts who smugly proclaim that the DA is a "white party", despite all the evidence to the contrary: our belief in non-racialism, our racially diverse leadership, our multiracial membership and our ongoing efforts to transcend race and enable all South African who share our values to give us their support. They fail to explain how a "white party" can win a majority in a province where less than 25% of the population is white.   And of course, they never agonise about the fact that the ANC has become a "single race" party. 

It is true that our greatest challenge going forward is to win more support from black South Africans. We will continue to work towards this objective with renewed determination and we will eventually succeed, regardless of what the analysts say.

But if this election has proved one thing, it is that analysts  are  wrong  more often than they are right . In fact, when it comes to predicting results, many of them get it wrong in every election without ever admitting their mistakes , let alone being  embarrassed about them. The same analysts who predicted (wrongly) that the DA would lose support in 2004 claimed that the DA would go backwards last Wednesday, and lose its status as the official opposition to COPE.

They miscalculated spectacularly. Our support increased dramatically from the 2004 election. Then, we won 12.37% of the national vote, or 1 931 201 votes. Five years later, we gained 16.7% of the national vote, or nearly 3 million votes. This means that the DA grew by 34.7%. This is the third election in a row that the DA has grown. We are the only party to have done this. In fact, our growth by over 1 million votes is bigger than that of any other party, and we are more than double the size of the next biggest opposition party, COPE.

The DA also grew in eight out of nine provinces, increasing the total number of DA seats in provincial legislatures from 51 in 2004 to 65 in 2009.

These results confirm what we said at the beginning of this election. There are only two major political forces in South Africa: the DA and the ANC. And while the DA is growing, the ANC is losing support. Voters do not want to waste their votes on small opposition parties. That is why the smaller parties were all but obliterated in this election. Voters want a real alternative to the ANC, and they believe that the DA is that alternative.

This is encouraging. Now that we have won the Western Cape, we have the opportunity to demonstrate in provincial government the difference that our alternative vision, principles and policies make in practice, for everyone - just as we have demonstrated where we have won at local government level.  Winning power in the Western Cape will allow us to show what co-operative governance between local authorities and a province can achieve.

Having won power provincially, we can now take the next step in our political realignment. That realignment started in 2006 when the DA won the City of Cape Town and other local authorities in the Western Cape. It will culminate when we form the core of national government in 2014.

For now, I would like to congratulate Jacob Zuma and the ANC on their victory. We acknowledge that the ANC has received a strong mandate from the people of South Africa. We trust that the ANC will not abuse this confidence, and  will govern well and in the interests of all South Africans.

I would like to extend a personal message of thanks to every DA member, employee and volunteer who helped us in our successful campaign. I would like to thank in particular those who worked so hard on Election Day-by canvassing, by working as party agents, by visiting polling stations and getting out the vote.

Finally, I would also like to thank every DA voter. Thank you for believing in us. Thank you for making the right choice. Thank you for standing up for real change in South Africa. Thank you for standing up for strong opposition and for a positive alternative.

You have helped us achieve this historic milestone. We will honour our commitments to you, and work tirelessly to reward your faith in the DA.

This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance, May 1 2009

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