John Steenhuisen says the DA of 2020 already feels worlds away from the DA of 2019
The American writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin once said: “You cannot fix what you cannot face.” We would do well to remember these words as we set about restoring people’s trust in the Democratic Alliance.
It is no secret that we have had our challenges. Last year, we learned that the voters of South Africa are more discerning than they are sometimes given credit for, and – for the first time in our history – the DA went backwards in an election.
The reasons are numerous and were covered extensively in a report commissioned by the party leadership. I am not going to rehash that here suffice to say that we have learned many lessons from the last three or four years. What’s important is that I am ready to face up to the challenge of fixing the DA.
This work has begun in earnest since I was elected interim leader in November 2019. The DA of 2020 already feels worlds away from the DA of 2019. We are beginning to develop a clear sense of political direction for the party. We are finalising a range of big, bold policy ideas for discussion at our policy conference in April. And we are gearing up for an historic federal congress in May where we will elect a new leadership team.
We are also winning the battle of ideas in Parliament. While other parties disgracefully used gender-based violence as a political football in the National Assembly last week, we were offering reasoned critique and workable policy alternatives. Every single DA speaker in the State of the Nation debate distinguished themselves and our party.
The proof of our growing credibility lies in the number of DA policies that have now been taken up by the government. For example, in President Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation Address, he finally relented to DA pressure on the electricity crisis. We have said for years that we need to add grid capacity from renewable energy, gas and hydro, that we urgently need to open bid window 5 for renewable energy, that we need to allow commercial and industrial users to produce their own electricity and that we need to let municipalities procure their power directly from producers. And, in his speech, the President announced all of these things.
Just look at Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s budget tabled this week. Of course, we don’t agree with everything he said – he needed to be much bolder on underperforming State-Owned Enterprises such as Eskom and SAA and he needs to do more to rein in spiraling debt.
However, Minister Mboweni did exactly what the DA has been pushing for. He offered some relief to overburdened consumers with a number of tax cuts, and he has pledged to cut government expenditure – particularly on the bloated public service wage bill. This has put himself firmly in the cross-hairs of the ANC’s alliance partners and he should roundly be applauded for this. We will be watching with interest to see whether he and the President have the courage to follow through.
Importantly, for the DA, we are starting to get real results where it counts – at the ballot box. In this regard, I could not be prouder of the Democratic Alliance Students Organisation (DASO) and its recent string of victories in Limpopo. On Monday, DASO won nine seats during SRC elections held at the Vhembe TVET College. This follows DASO winning the majority of seats during an SRC election held at Mopani South East TVET Campus earlier this year. At this campus, DASO contested four positions, winning all four.
The significance of these victories (which, naturally, went unnoticed by the media) is that these voters are young, black South Africans freely choosing the Democratic Alliance. This is a far cry from the fevered imagination of those commentators who write us off as a “white party”. If these so-called analysts could spend one day outside of their elitist bubble, they would see just how hollow this hackneyed descriptor is.
It seems that there is no shortage of commentators out there who feign concern for the DA, only to drag us down at the first opportunity. The most spectacular example came this week with the publication of three-month old polling data to “prove” that the DA was in terminal decline. What those who publish this nonsense don’t seem to realise is that every time they do it, they damage their own credibility and not the DA’s.
Make no mistake, when it comes to rebuilding a politically party, the road is arduous and littered with potholes. But there can be no short cut for the hard work and long hours that are required. History is our best lesson when we look back at what it took to rebuild the then-DP after it’s nightmare election in 1994 where it achieved only 1,7% of the vote.
A man by the name of Tony Leon stepped up to the plate. Within five years he increased the DA’s support five-fold to overtake the National Party as South Africa’s official opposition party. There was no particular secret to his success – he made sure that the party knew what it stood for, and he got everybody pulling in the same direction.
These are the same crossroads we find ourselves at today, nearly 20 years later. We need to keep broadening our appeal to more and more voters, and we need to stand up for those voters that loyally have stood by us for so many years. I can promise you; we will never again take these voters for granted.
We are prepared to face our challenges in order to fix them. And I am buoyed by the brilliant team I get to work with every single day -- the activists, the councillors, the MPLs and the MPs. I know that, together, we will once again emerge victorious.