On opposition realignment - Helen Zille

The DA leader speaks on the prospects of opposition parties uniting

Extract of keynote address delivered by Helen Zille, leader of the Democratic Alliance, at the Mpumalanga congress of the DA, Ermelo, August 1 2009

On the realignment of South African politics

The realignment imperative

Any country that is governed by the same party for longer than 20 years is setting itself up for serious abuse of power. Dis in die wese van enige ware demokrasie dat mag gereeld omgeruil moet word.

The only guarantee against a slide into irreversible power abuse, corruption and systemic state failure is the periodic transfer of power between competing political visions and forces. And that can only happen if people do not let their democracy die by default. Voters must understand that their vote is their power. Politicians must be scared of them and not the other way around.

It does not help service delivery if voters support a government, en masse, and three months later are on the street protesting against poor service delivery. They must realise that they change their governments through their vote, not the toyi-toyi.

Ultimately, voters get the government they deserve. If they do not use their vote to rotate power -- which is the ultimate check and balance against power abuse -- every other check and balance against the concentration and abuse of power is vulnerable to assault and manipulation, including the constitution, the judiciary and the chapter nine institutions. We need look no further than the ANC's purge of the SABC board and the ANC's desire to remove powers from local and provincial governments, for examples of that.

It is imperative therefore for the sake of everyone's future, that we create a political vehicle that is capable of challenging the ANC at the polls. Toekomstige geslagte gaan ons bitter verkwaalik as ons hierdie historiese taak verwaarloos. That is why I have been making the case for a realignment of opposition parties to establish such a vehicle since the day I became leader of the DA.

However, in order for a new political force to be created, South Africa needs opposition leaders who are big on vision and courage but small on ego pride; leaders who will seize the day, and who will put the country ahead of their own status. I believe the leaders of the most significant opposition parties in SA today embody these very characteristics.

But in order for a new vehicle to be successful, it will have to be held together by much more than a desire to win power from the ANC. It must be coherent in three ways:

  • It must share a vision, a set of values that grounds its vision and a policy platform that gives meaningful expression to its vision.
  • It must be able to develop a means of internal decision making and an organisational culture with which all partners feel comfortable.
  • Its decisions and actions must give expression to its principles and values. Dade spreek harder as woorde.

For the DA, the vision must be a future in which individual rights are protected and in which every person has the opportunity to develop themselves and pursue their own dreams and path in life. The role of the state is to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to do that. We call that vision the Open Opportunity Society for All.

That vision requires certain policy choices, including things that are non-negotiable for the DA:

  • A real commitment to the constitution, including crucially the bill of rights and the separation of powers. The ANC's attitude to the constitution is compromised by its inability to distinguish between party and state. That is the death-knell for any democracy. This attitude is given destructive expression in its cadre deployment policy and its attitude to institutions that are meant to be independent of the ruling party, like the SABC board and the Public Protector. These should never become an extension of the ruling party. The constitution must remain the foundation of our unity.
  • A real commitment to dealing with the legacy of apartheid, both material and psychological. Empowerment must be broad-based, and not the privilege of a well connected few who abuse their political contacts. Affirmative action must target individuals who still suffer from the discrimination of the past, not high profile representatives of racial groups, who are often no longer disadvantaged. Lasting empowerment will only flow from an education system that gives opportunity to every child. And every person who is offered a special opportunity must take responsibility for using it or face losing it, otherwise initiatives designed to redress unfair discrimination become a means of fuelling a culture of entitlement.
  • An economy that is driven by the free choices of citizens - the market - and not by the state. That does not mean that the state should have no role. The state needs to regulate the market to ensure competition and fairness and it needs to provide goods and services when the market is unable to do so. But the objective must always be to ensure growth, opportunity and delivery, and where the market can do that more effectively than the state it should be left to do so.
  • Safety nets for members of society who are unable to care for themselves.

Whether a vehicle that coheres around a sustainable vision can be established remains to be seen, but what is without question is the need for broadly like-minded opposition parties very seriously to consider the possibilities.

The context: an historic opportunity for the opposition

The case for realignment is clear, but what are its prospects? The truth is that serious opposition parties in SA today face an historic opportunity to seize the day and change South Africa for good.

The ANC's victory in the general election was much broader than it was deep - it may still have won 66% of the vote but four developments suggest that much of the ANC's support is softer than it would like to believe:

  • It only held onto as much as 66% because the IFP is, unfortunately, a party in collapse, and the Zuma factor in KZN was fuelled by the most unfortunate kind of ethnic politics, graphically exemplified by the t-shirt "100% Zulu boy"
  • An ANC breakaway party won over 7% of the vote despite a lack of organisation or finance, and almost all of these votes came from the ANC.
  • The DA cleaned up among former ANC voters in the Western Cape, where the ANC collapsed to an all-time low, and in the Indian parts of KZN, where the DA now enjoys majority support
  • As we speak, people who voted ANC in April are protesting, sometimes violently, against poor or non-existent service delivery. The ANC is particularly vulnerable at local government level because the standard of delivery in many municipalities is abysmal.

The point is that the ANC is weaker than its election performance suggests, and two opposition parties are clearly in the ascendency.

The DA is the only party that has continued to grow, election after election, since 1994. We are as united as it is possible for a political party to be. We have a coherent vision and policy platform, we are well organised and thankfully well funded.

Cope has established itself under difficult circumstances after an incredibly bold decision by its leaders to leave the ANC and chart a new course.

Both parties have the potential to keep growing and get stronger, while other, smaller opposition parties like the ID and the UDM seem to share key elements of the vision outlined above.

The DA remains committed to exploring the possibilities for realignment and the formation of a new political force in our politics. If together we succeed, the winners will be the people of South Africa who will be offered a meaningful choice of prospective governments animated by different visions and competing policy platforms.

We have been engaged in ongoing talks since before the election. There is no rush. We rushed into an alliance of two parties once before, without ensuring that the conditions precedent had been met. Instead of resolving our conflicts, we internalised them. We spent almost a decade working through the consequences of our undue initial haste, and resolving the problems that arose as a result. Fortunately we have done so now. We are in a much better space now for realignment because we have learnt from experience and can get the conditions right before we move forward. This will be no shot-gun marriage. Ons gaan eers ouers vra, ‘n lang verlowing beplan, lobola betaal, dalk eers saam bly, alvorens ons trou --indien ons ooit besluit om te trou. Net die tyd kan ons leer of aan al die voorwaardes voldoen kan word.

So it is relentlessly forward, election after election. A clear vision is our guide, and the best interest of our country our motivation. We have taken giant strides, but we dare not look back. The road ahead is long and getting steeper. But our legs are strong and our hearts bold. The DA is the only party that has grown in every election since 1994. We must keep that momentum going.

Issued by Democratic Alliance

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