John Steenhuisen on the DA's approach to uniting SA's reformist majority
3 March 2021
Whether wilfully or inadvertently, the Sunday Times misrepresented my answers in an interview last Thursday on the issue of political realignment which the DA believes is central to fixing South Africa.
So let me clarify our position.
The DA is unequivocally committed to four core principles which we believe are essential for a prosperous South Africa. These are:
Respect for the Constitution and the rule of law including that all are equal before the law.
A social market economy. Only an open, market-driven economy can produce the economic growth, jobs and tax revenue needed to roll back poverty and ensure a sustainable social safety net/trampoline.
A capable state that delivers to all rather than a connected few. This requires adherence to the principle of the separation of party and state, and that non-political public appointments be made on ability to deliver rather than on political loyalty as is currently the case.
To realise these principles several reforms are required which include but are not limited to:
Opening our energy market to ensure a reliable, affordable power supply.
Removing the barriers to starting and growing businesses.
Rejecting policies that deter investment.
Getting our runaway debt under control.
Ending bailouts for failing state-owned companies.
Ensuring non-political public appointments are based on ability to deliver not political loyalty.
This is the DA’s pro-growth, pro-reform agenda. It gives rise to a system which benefits all rather than a connected few as is currently the case. It fosters accountability and inclusivity. It will open opportunities to more and more people, bringing them into the active economy.
The current system of centralized control in a corrupt, incapable state which organises society on racial lines benefits a few at the expense of the majority. It repels investment and entrenches poverty, unemployment and inequality.
There may be disagreement around the finer details of policy, but most South Africans share the DA’s core principles and want what the DA wants: a reformed system which builds an open, opportunity society for all.
But it’s only going to happen if this diverse, dispersed, silent majority comes together. There is no single grouping which can achieve reform acting alone and so it makes no sense for people to retreat into laagers, based on their cultural, religious or racial identities.
Only together can we overcome those pushing for a corrupt, predatory, socialist state as envisaged by Magashule, Malema and their hangers on. They have a strong incentive to mobilize: to stay out of jail and in riches.
The problem is that this dispersed majority has been unable to act in unity because the current political party landscape doesn’t reflect the actual values in our society.
Specifically, there are many people in the ANC who don’t “belong” there anymore, but the culture of the party and our politics is such that they cannot easily speak up. Those on social grants perceive a vote for the ANC to be a survivalist move, believing as many do that the grant comes from the ANC. So their reformist values don’t reflect in electoral results.
President Ramaphosa talks reform but walks socialism, either because he truly is a socialist at heart, or because it is the only way to keep the ANC united – clearly his top priority.
He has championed most of the socialist policies scaring off investors – expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, asset prescription, BEE. He has achieved very little progress on reform in the three years of his presidency, and in fact South Africa has moved towards greater, not less, state control of the economy. Therefore, millions of people voted for reform in 2019 but got socialism.
This is the reality of our country’s politics so we need to be pragmatic in seeking solutions.
As the biggest political party backing reform unequivocally, the DA is the strongest force for reform in South Africa. It is my intention that the DA should be the powerful magnet that attracts like-minded individuals, organisations and political parties to this rational centre of the South African political landscape.
The DA is committed to putting South Africa first and we are willing to work with any political parties, organisations or individuals who share a commitment to our core principles and the reforms necessary to realise them – including those within the ANC whose values are not reflected in government outcomes.
We will not go into a formal coalition with any party, including the ANC, if it means compromising on our core principles. We are all for pragmatism, but only where it promotes our vision of an open, opportunity society for all.
An obvious route to political realignment that enables South Africa’s true constellation of values to dominate is an ANC split. But this seems unlikely given that President Ramaphosa is on record as saying he would rather be seen as a weak president than split the ANC.
But there are other routes.
The ANC itself is a party in inexorable decline due to systems such as cadre deployment and internal election processes which code the ANC and South Africa for failure.
Most likely, the party’s support will drop below 50% in many municipalities across the country in the local government elections later this year and in the national elections of 2024. The challenge for reformists is to save South Africa from going down with the ANC.
We are only as strong as we are united. As the saying goes: together we stand, divided we fall. If reformists come together at the centre of the political landscape, we will have the strongest voice at the negotiating table when the inevitable political shake up comes.
But even before then, reforms can be pushed through if we work with those ANC MPs who want to put South Africa first. Most ANC MPs do not support reform because it closes the taps of patronage to many in the ANC’s support base. Hence South Africa’s relentless decay, stuck as we are in a low-growth, high-debt trap. But there may still be enough good men and women on the ANC benches.
The DA will be tabling a raft of reforms in Parliament over the coming five months. We need just one third of ANC MPs to support them.
As I said in my SONA reply speech recently:
We will be tabling them here …to give those good men and women still left in the ANC the opportunity to vote for reform and growth even if your enemies on the benches around you won’t.
You see, it’s not necessary for the entire ANC caucus to back these bills. It’s not even necessary for half the caucus to do so. If our reform agenda is supported by the majority of these opposition benches, then we need little more than a third of your party to back them too.
Let’s call it 85 members. Surely that’s possible. And more importantly, surely it’s morally right. There must be at least 85 ANC members in this house who want to do the right thing.
But the big issue here is the urgency. We will be introducing all these bills in the first half of the year because we have no more time to lose. South Africa simply can’t afford another year of ANC dithering and tiptoeing around factions.
This is a pragmatic plan of action to get South Africa on a path to prosperity.
There is nothing new about the DA’s desire to unite reformists, including those within the ANC. Both former DA leaders Mmusi Maimane and Helen Zille consistently called for this political realignment.
With the ANC clearly unable to deliver on its promised better life for all, the need for this political realignment has never been greater. Ahead of the local government elections later this year, voters need to ask the leaders of other political parties where they will stand when the time comes for South Africa’s political realignment: on the side of radical socialists, or on the side of reformists?
As for the DA, we are strong and united and working hard to build a new majority to take South Africa forward to prosperity.
On today’s Inside Track at 11am, DA spokesperson SiviweGwarube will be in conversation with Helen Zille and me, to discuss coalition governments and the realignment of politics.