John Steenhuisen: A reply to RW Johnson

Douglas Gibson says DA leader, like all of us, does sometimes say silly things, but he is doing a creditable job at a critical time

Johnson, Slabbert, and Steenhuisen

7 September 2022

I have known Prof. RW Johnson for many years and have admired some (not all) of his writings. He is a heavyweight commentator, always worth reading. Sometimes, like all of us, including the Leader of the Opposition, John Steenhuisen, RWJ says silly things. His article attacking the DA leadership was one of those. He called for a latter-day Van Zyl Slabbert to appear (from Heaven?) and become the leader of the DA. The sheer wilful blindness (in order to make a point) and naivete about politics displayed by RWJ was both shocking and surprising.

Democratic parties in constitutional democracies elect their leaders. They hold congresses with hundreds and sometimes thousands of delegates representing branches and formations throughout the country. Delegates need to be familiar with those seeking election and one would expect that the aspirants would have a measure of public recognition, proven ability, experience in parliament, and staying power.

John Steenhuisen was elected overwhelmingly by a fully representative congress, the attendees being aware of his many years of outstanding service to the party, the province of KZN, and the country. He had a very successful term as opposition chief whip and he had instant name recognition with most DA supporters as well as many opponents of the party.

RWJ's Van Zyl Slabbert Mark 2, if she/he is already in public life, ready at the drop of a hat to ascend the throne, is hiding her/his talents and needs to come out urgently as the saviour of the DA and thus of democracy. If she/he is not yet in public life, when can we expect to witness the latter-day miracle of the second coming of Slabbert?

RWJ is a great admirer of Van Zyl Slabbert, who had many thousands of voters who idolised him. When he was the leader of the PFP I was the leader of the opposition in the Transvaal Provincial Council and chairperson of the party in the Transvaal. We worked very closely together and I admired him immensely. Until he threw it all away.

He almost wrecked the party, leading to a dismal showing in the next general election because, after all, the leader had told South Africa that the task was hopeless and no change would come in a useless parliament. Slabbert proved that he did not have the staying power of many others in his party who were prepared to go on fighting for a better South Africa.

He let his caucus down, only advising them of his intention to resign an hour or two before announcing his departure in the no-confidence debate that afternoon. He let his voters down. He let the party down. But worst of all, he let the country down. It was predicted that when we got to the point of negotiating a new constitution, he would play the significant role that his stature, his charm, his brains, and his education had equipped him. Instead, those talents were wasted. And the tragedy was that he was wrong. Only three years later, FW de Klerk made his famous speech in Parliament that changed South Africa forever.

Zach de Beer invited Slabbert to join the DP negotiating team at the World Trade Centre. He accepted the offer and then a day or two later he pulled out, saying he had been advised not to become involved.

In 1999, RWJ and Slabbert tried to persuade Tony Leon to make Slabbert the premier of the Western Cape. The problem was that they wanted a coalition with the ANC and Leon refused to countenance this because the ANC did not need more power – it needed less. Not long after that Slabbert announced that he was going to support the ANC in the election.

John Steenhuisen might not be Van Zyl Slabbert and in most respects, one can only be thankful for that. He is doing his best to promote our country and create a better future for all South Africans. He leads a party that is the most non-racial in South Africa, by far.

Wherever the DA is in charge there is far better government than the ANC is capable of providing and the ANC is on the skids in a big way, largely self-inflicted but also helped along by the excellent parliamentary performance of the DA leader and his team.

Surely, it is time to back Steenhuisen and the DA as the best hope of South Africa for the rejection and replacement of the looting, the bad policies, and hopelessly poor government by President Ramaphosa's band of incompetents?