Steenhuisen’s Ukraine visit

Douglas Gibson says he is dumfounded by criticism of DA leader’s visit to war-torn country

The voters expect, and indeed are entitled, to demand that political parties, especially the Official Opposition, have sensible policies and worthwhile comments, advice and criticism of the government. It helps to know what you are talking about.

It has been dumbfounding to note the criticism of Opposition Leader John Steenhuisen’s visit to Ukraine. Because the government is making such a mess of most areas of our national life it earns a constant barrage of criticism. One realises that opponents of the DA – and that includes most of the media – grasp almost any opportunity to say something nasty about the opposition, doing so in pursuit of “balance.”

Steenhuisen has to make speeches on many areas of government. His shadow ministers and the chief whip, Natasha Mazzone, are required to do the same. He heavily criticised the President Ramaphosa response to Ukraine. The president all but came out on the side of the Russians and of President Putin, in the process doing great damage to South Africa’s international standing. Most of the democratic world sees our country for what it has become under a generation of ANC rule: in love with every tin-pot and more serious dictator in the world and very seldom on the side of human rights and democratic government.

The complaint on social media (by opponents of the DA, not supporters) is that Steenhuisen should stay in Cape Town, sorting problems there (in what is the best run Metro in our country) and be informed by journalists about the Ukraine. One journalist actually had the gall to worry about the DA using its own funds collected from donors to go to Ukraine. I am prepared to bet that the journalist would rather die than give money to the DA. You would think the journalist might have commented about the totally refreshing use by the DA of its own funds, rather than swanning around Africa and the world to every important and unimportant conference and meeting using taxpayers’ money, as the ANC does. One usually sensible former editor wanted Steenhuisen to pay for journalists to visit the Cape Flats because newsrooms do not “have the funds.” About a litre of petrol would enable each of the huge press contingent in Cape Town to do that.

Others thought the DA leader had a cheek seeing for himself instead of relying on war correspondents for information. The extent of the propaganda churned out escapes them: Victories and defeats are claimed with justifications for killing thousands of innocent civilians and the fleeing of millions of civilians – not soldiers. Putin apologists constantly use social media to blame Biden, the West, Europe, and the “Nazis” in government in Ukraine. It is their fault that Russia has invaded and is attempting to destroy a democratic neighbour in the most vicious attack seen in Europe since the Second World War.

Perhaps, instead of the leader of the opposition addressing Parliament and the nation, having some personal knowledge and insight after having gone to see for himself, one should rather suggest that the critical journalists should be invited to address the National Assembly and the country from the heights of their superior vision, knowledge and grasp of international affairs.

Many people have not grasped the huge change coming in South Africa. The ANC government is on the skids in a big way. It is likely to be turfed out by the voters. There is a strong possibility of a new centrist coalition governing us from 2024. One hopes that the people in the government will have the foresight and the courage of John Steenhuisen to help steer us in an enlightened, democratic direction with policies framed in terms of realities, personal experience, knowledge and what the interests of country demand.  

Douglas Gibson is a former opposition chief whip and a former ambassador to Thailand. His website is douglas gibsonsouthafrica.com

Article first appeared in The Star