Lack of accountability starts at the top - Zille

DA leader says ANC impunity lies at root of the South African malaise

Text of the speech delivered by Democratic Alliance leader, Helen Zille, at the party's Freedom Day celebrations at the Constitutional Court, April 27 2010

Freedom is the right to use the power of your vote to change your government

This is an important day -- perhaps the most important national holiday to commemorate our progress over the past two decades.

We all have memories of our very first Freedom Day. We all know where we were on 27 April 1994. We all have treasured memories of the long queues and the camaraderie as we, the people, took our first big step towards nation building.

But there was one thing that really marked that day above all else.

It was the fact that we, the ordinary people understood our power. We understood that our vote was our power. A little cross made with a pencil on a ballot paper could change South Africa, and our future, forever. It could bring down one government and replace it with another. Without violence. We knew that day that the pencil was mightier than the sword. That is why we stood in those queues for hours and hours -- not only to exercise a right, but to exercise our power. We called the apartheid government to account. We removed them from power, and we replaced them with a new government. Those who voted for the opposition were also represented.

The understanding that we, the people, have the power to change things is the root of our freedom. But we must also understand that this power, and our freedom, can be taken away from us by people who are threatened by it.

So we made sure this could not happen easily in our country. Once we had got rid of the apartheid government, we took further steps to ensure that no future government would oppress the people.

We gave some power to our leaders, but crucially not all of it. We did not give them the right to do what they liked. We supported a Constitution to guarantee our freedoms and rights, to prevent power abuse, and to extend real opportunities to all. Today we must celebrate and protect the Constitution because it is the guarantee of our freedom. It makes sure we will have the right to vote again and to change our minds, and to change our government. And on freedom day we must pledge to do everything that is needed to protect the Constitution that guards our freedom. It cannot do so unless we guard it. As the saying goes: the price of freedom is constant vigilance.

President Zuma is speaking at the Union Buildings today.

We are speaking at the Constitutional Court.

The difference is important, and it says a lot about our different parties.

The union building is the seat of executive power. Some people think that the union buildings symbolise our freedom on this freedom day. They think freedom is represented by the fact that they won power. The more power they get, the more free they are to do what they like. So they ask the people to give them more and more power. They pretend that this will make it easier to do more for the people. But the opposite happens. The more power the people give to a small powerful group, the more the powerful few abuse that power, to enrich themselves, and their families and their political friends (with jobs, tenders and contracts) while the people suffer. Every nation has to learn this lesson for itself: power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. This is the most important lesson we have learnt since our first freedom day 16 years ago.

When people in South Africa today see all the corruption and power abuse and lack of delivery, they get angry and feel powerless: When this happens, we must remember 27 April 1994, and remember that we are not powerless. We have the vote. We can change things with that vote more effectively than through a toyi toyi. If we don't use our vote to change the people in power, there will be more and more abuse, and more and more corruption, and we will become a criminal state.

Then everyone will blame the politicians. But actually we are also to blame, because we did not use our vote in time. We complained, we toyi-toyi'd, but we did not use our power. So let us remember on this freedom day how we did use our power in 1994, and how we must use it again. Otherwise it means nothing.

That is why we are meeting at the Constitutional Court: The constitutional court is the symbol of the power of ordinary people. It is the institution that upholds the Constitution, that defends our rights, freedoms and opportunities and that stands between us and power abuse. We, in turn, must protect the Constitution. We can do that by using our power to vote out people who abuse the Constitution. Everyone has a responsibility in upholding our freedoms.

It must be our top priority to defend the Constitution.

Many people say why: you can't eat a Constitution. You can't live in a Constitution. But unless we have a constitution that can prevent power abuse, more and more people will go hungry and homeless. Why -- because the powerful politicians, acting without the constraint of the Constitution, are free to loot, abuse power and enrich themselves, and fail to fulfill their mandate. They put their friends in the police and courts to protect themselves. They don't tolerate opposition and put people in jail and imprison them if they protest. They take over the army and the police to protect the corrupt elite instead of putting them in jail.

You don't have to look far to see an example of this. Zimbabwe. Right here on our doorstep. Mugabe says he wants to give the land back to the people. He gives it to himself and his generals. He has ten of the biggest farms. The land did not go to the poor. Now there is no farming and the poor are starving to death. Literally starving.

The people of Zimbabwe must take some of the responsibility for this situation, because they did not use the power of their vote early enough. They used it when it was too late, and when there were no longer any independent institutions left to defend their right to make a free choice. The institutions, particularly the courts, the army and the police, had all become part of Robert Mugabe's reign of terror. The people no longer even had the power of their vote anymore. It was meaningless.

This constitutional court must protect South Africa from the kind of power abuse in Zimbabwe that has destroyed that country. This court must guard our freedom. That is why it is the symbol of our freedom. But in the end, we must protect the court from power abuse, but using our vote to get rid of a government that undermines the Constitution. That is how it works in a democracy. That is how we make our government accountable.

President Jacob Zuma said recently: the greatest problem in South Africa is the lack of accountability. And I agree with him. What did the President mean? He was talking about officials of government, and he was saying they are not being held to account for poor service delivery. In other words, he was saying there are no consequences if they are lazy, inefficient, incompetent or corrupt. So they just carry on in any way they like, and the people suffer.

Well I agree with this in some ways and not in others. I think many, many officials, especially many nurses and teachers, work really, really hard and do an excellent job. Many others don't and Jacob Zuma is right about those.

But the President missed out the root cause of the problem.

The real problem is that the powerful politicians of the ruling party, starting with President Zuma, are not accountable.

He has undermined the constitution to make sure he does not have to go to court and answer to over 700 counts of corruption against him.

He abuses power to protect his friends, like Shabir Shaik, from the law, while persecuting his political opponents. His family starts all sorts of companies that then abuse their position to get rich on state contracts. President Zuma himself does not declare his assets to Parliament until he is forced to do so by the DA.

He is undermining the independence of the prosecuting authority and the courts for his political purposes. Some people are now more equal than others depending on their political connections.

He supports a system in which the ANC uses the people's money to make themselves rich. That is what is happening at Eskom. When you pay your increased electricity tariffs, it will be a reminder of what the ANC's corruption is costing you.

I am sorry to say that if the voters allow them to do this, it is our fault. Let us remember this lesson on this freedom day. In a democracy, people get the government they deserve. We certainly deserve better than the ANC.

We are building a strong, united, non racial opposition to be a real alternative to the corrupt government.

So that, by the next election, people can remember the power they used with such effect on the First Freedom Day -- 27 April 1994 -- and remove and power abusing government that is, step by step, destroying our rights, freedoms and opportunities.

Issued by the Democratic Alliance, April 27 2010

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