OPINION

We can fix the DA - John Steenhuisen

Leadership candidate says BEE has served only to advance a narrow elite, and should be ditched

SPEECH BY JOHN STEENHUISEN

CANDIDATE FOR DA LEADER

15 FEBRUARY 2020

“We can fix this”

We live in a beautiful place, full of incredible people. It is a land of eternal promise.

We belong to a political party that we all love. The Democratic Alliance is the hope that has kept the flames of freedom alive for 60 years, led by individuals with their own unique styles of leadership and personal characteristics.

I will never lose faith in my country or my party. And I understand that South Africa can only work if the DA works.

This is why I have a plan to fix the DA and to fix South Africa.

I invite you, as a loyal member of the Democratic Alliance, to embark on a journey with me.

Fixing the DA

Under my leadership, the DA will rediscover its purpose. We will be that bastion of excellence we know we can be. We will build our party village by village, town by town and city by city.

We will, once again, take our rightful place as the government in waiting. Let this be the start of a new era for our party, and our country.
I don’t need to remind you of the challenges we have faced over the last few years. The truth is that, somewhere along the way, we lost our bearings and we lost sight of where we were going.

We need to rediscover who we are and what makes our party great. We need to reconnect with the voters that have left us, and to make new connections with voters who have never voted for us.

I believe we can do this. We can fix the DA.

As your Leader, I will get us back to winning ways.

I believe that good leaders are not afraid to take difficult decisions. Rather than shy away from tough choices, I will take decisive action – even when it is unpopular to do so.

What is more, I will ensure that every member of the DA and the broader public is absolutely clear on where we stand on every issue.

I am a strong believer in internal democracy. Our party’s strength is that every member is empowered to have their say in the appropriate forum.

But, in the last few years, we have seen ill-discipline creep into our ranks. We have been constantly undermined by members who say negative things about our party in the press, and work against us in councils and legislatures.

We cannot win if we don’t all pull in the same direction. When there is a lack of discipline, everybody suffers. I will ensure swift disciplinary action against DA members who undermine our party.

We are one of the few parties in the world with its own internal performance management system to reward excellent work. However, we know that the system needs a serious overhaul. I will investigate ways to make PPAS more robust, objective and transparent.

In the build-up to the 2021 local government election, I will allocate additional resources and support to the party’s governance unit. Combined with measures to improve discipline and performance monitoring, this will enable us to flag governance issues early and take swift corrective action before problems fester and escalate.

As the most diverse party in South Africa, we are able to draw on a wide array of excellent people. Our diversity is not only a cherished value, it is a competitive advantage.

However, over the last few years, we have sometimes got it wrong when it comes to diversity. Nobody wins when we parachute people into positions of power for which they are not yet ready. It sets people up for failure, it builds resentment, and it impacts on service delivery.

I will reform the party to ensure that, when it comes to candidate selection, we are in a position to choose from a diverse pool of excellent candidates

Fellow Democrats, I stand before you full of hope for our party.

We are the most diverse party in South Africa.

We have the best track record in government.

We are the best opposition party in Parliament.

We have a powerful party machinery that is the envy of our rivals.

And we have the ideas to get this country back on track.

There is nothing wrong with the DA that can’t be fixed by what is right with the DA.

The time has come to stand up, dust ourselves off and get back in the game. We simply have to succeed. Our country needs us.

I have spent a long time thinking about what we can do to fix this country. It is something I have devoted my 22 years in public life to.

I know the value of our branches because I spent many years as a young man building my local branch in KZN as an activist, like so many of you do every day for this party. I understand that our branches and activists are the foundation of the DA. The stronger our branches and activists are, the stronger the DA will be.

When I was a councillor in Durban, back in the 1990s, I learned the value of public service; the difference you can make to people’s lives. Our councillors are our biggest ambassadors, at the coalface of delivery. I salute each and every one of them.

When I was a Member of the Provincial Legislature and Leader of the DA in KwaZulu-Natal, I learned what it takes to build a team and to get everybody pulling in the same direction, despite their differences.

As an MP and the DA’s Chief Whip in Parliament, I have got to grips with the issues we face as a nation. There can be no better preparation for a DA Leader than time in the National Assembly. Our Parliament may be dysfunctional at times, but it is the crucible of democracy; the arena where national policy debates play themselves out.

Jobs, jobs, jobs

The only way to fix South Africa is to get our economy growing so that we can create the millions of jobs we need to lift people out of poverty.

The number of unemployed people in our country has grown from 3.6 million in 1994 to 10 million people today. Our most intractable social problems, including poverty and inequality, result largely from our abnormally high unemployment rate.

The DA needs to be better at connecting with South Africans who have been left out of the economy. We need to offer them an alternative economic policy that will profoundly improve their economic prospects.

I have a plan to radically grow the economy by making providing policy certainty to attract investors, ditching BEE, privatizing SOEs, reforming labour market regulation, making the tax system more efficient, to ensure that national funding is spent on the things that people need to help lift them out of poverty.

I am particularly concerned with child poverty. It pains me that 31% of children do not get the nutrients they need for their physical and mental development. We need to review our welfare system to ensure that not a single child gets left behind.

We need to start investing heavily in early childhood development, mental healthcare, and increasing the number of social workers in communities. The most recent available information indicates that we need at least 68 000 more social workers in South Africa. I am committed to ensuring that we bridge this gap.

My plan deals with the 700 or so state-owned enterprises in South Africa, including the big offenders like Eskom and SAA. We will assess all of them and sell off those that are a drain on our economy.

In particular, I want to free you from Eskom by fighting for the government to sell off its coal fired power stations and enable independent private producers to generate most of our electricity using renewable sources like hydro-power, wind and solar. This is how we will solve our electricity crisis, free the people of this country from Eskom, and become a world-leader in the battle against climate change.

This is not pie in the sky. It can be done.

Working with Premier Alan Winde, Mayor Dan Plato and our other phenomenal DA mayors in this province, we are going to prove it right here in the Western Cape. By becoming independent from Eskom and embracing private green energy, the day will soon come when the lights remain on in the Western Cape while Eskom hurls the rest of South Africa into darkness.

I am ready to make tough choices on our labour laws, for the sake of the 4.2 million young people who remain out of work, with no prospects of finding work.

We will unleash growth, productivity and competition to spur higher wages by making it easier to employ talented workers and dismiss underperforming ones. We will also protect individual workers against militant unions by enforcing the need for secret ballots on planned industrial action across all sectors of the economy.

I will focus on infrastructure-led growth – especially in those areas where infrastructure is collapsing.

When it comes to transport, we will launch the biggest public-private investment partnership in South African history to expand, upgrade and integrate bus, rail and taxi networks across the country.

When it comes to our water supply, we will fix collapsing infrastructure by ringfencing municipal revenues collected from water so that this money can only be spent on improving and maintaining water infrastructure.

Redress for past wrongs

Fellow Democrats, I recognise that we cannot talk about the economy without talking about inequality.

And this is something that the DA has really struggled with. It is something that, under my leadership, I pledge to get right.

I recognise and acknowledge that the injustices of the past were perpetrated on the basis of race. And I am firm in my commitment to redress this racial injustice.

However, as a liberal, I am also against all forms of racial labelling, classification and categorisation.

This presents something of a dilemma: how do you redress racial wrongs on a non-racial basis?

This is not an easy question to answer, especially in the tense and polarised political climate we operate in.

My way out of this dilemma has generally been to accept that race-based policies are a necessary evil required to redress the wrongs of the past.

But, as time has gone on, I have come to realise a few fundamental truths about race-based policies like BEE and the way they have been implemented.

Firstly, and most self-evidently, BEE has served only to advance a narrow elite. While this was a controversial thing to say a decade ago, it is now commonly accepted – even by members of the governing party.

The facts speak for themselves. Under the ANC’s race-based BEE policies, black households have become 10% poorer over the past decade. The country’s poverty rate has also increased, with 30 million South Africans living on less than R991 per month. Out of the 30 million people living in poverty, 99.8% are black, coloured and Indian.

So, the question we must ask ourselves is this: why is it nearly three decades since the end of Apartheid, that the few continue to benefit at the expense of the many?

The answer lies in the mistaken belief that race-based policies work to benefit everybody in that racial group. Because the truth is, they don’t.

Race-based policies only benefit those with the social, financial and political capital to leverage the opportunities these policies present.

This explains why Cyril Ramaphosa, for example, became a billionaire in a few short years, while the vast majority of black South Africans remain trapped in poverty.

I believe it is time for us to focus our empowerment efforts on poor and disadvantaged South Africans – 99% of whom are black. We need to stop re-empowering the same people; we need to, unlock opportunities for poor black South Africans instead.

As part of the DA’s current policy review process, I will be working hard to ensure that our party adopts a news means-tested paradigm to ensure that empowerment programmes benefit the people who desperately need them.

To further redress the legacy of apartheid, we desperately need an efficient and just land reform process. If elected DA Leader, I will put this top of my policy agenda.


We all know that expropriation without compensation is not the answer. When you create uncertainty about property rights, you chase away investment and you kill growth and jobs.

Instead, we need to open up the agricultural land market to land reform beneficiaries through subsidies and tax breaks. We need to issue title deeds to land reform beneficiaries who are currently only allowed to lease land from the state. And we need to move away from communal ownership towards individual ownership.

There must be justice for those who lost their land in the previous dispensation, and were ejected from their property by the apartheid government. It is a terrible injustice that, since 1994, hundreds of thousands of victims have passed on without getting their land back. And so, we must fast-track restitution in a way that is fair, just and equitable.

Health & Education

Fellow democrats, no policy offer is complete without a plan to dramatically overhaul our health and education systems.

We must acknowledge that public healthcare has all but collapsed in many parts of the country. And we must recognise that the system only works for the privileged few who can afford private healthcare.

But the government’s proposed National Health Insurance is not the answer. We all know that NHI will destroy the only part of our healthcare system that works – the private sector – leaving everybody worse off.

The answer is to fix what is broken, not to break what is fixed.

Under the DA’s Sizani plan, we will provide public healthcare that is free at the point of care to all who need it, while protecting citizens’ right to choose and purchase private health insurance. Utilizing the current health budget and new revenue streams, we will allocate a subsidy to each citizen that will be enough to cover the cost of a standard package of public health services. To incentivize competition and expand choice, citizens will then be allowed to use their subsidy to pay for either public or private medical aid cover.

Like health, our education system remains terribly unfair.

Children whose parents can afford to pay school fees at former model C and private schools enjoy a world class education.

Children of poor parents – with some exceptions – attend underperforming public schools that simply cannot equip them for a meaningful career.

I want to change all this. I have a plan to make private education available to more children, and to improve public schools by introducing real accountability for underperforming schools.

Fighting crime

Lastly, we need to talk about crime. Actually, over the last decade, there has been too much talk about crime and not enough action. The time for action is now.

As DA Leader, I will work to:

- Declare Gender-Based Violence (GBV) a priority crime, classify femicide as a distinct criminal offence, and create dedicated investigative and victim support units.

- Decentralize the police to provincial level to make them more accountable to the communities they serve.

- Provide tax rebates for spending on private security.

- Assign greater powers to metro and municipal police, and empower neighbourhood watches.

- Declare farm murders a priority crime, and roll out our comprehensive rural safety plan based on getting more boots on the ground and empowering local communities to fight back.

We can fix this

Fellow Democrats.

On the 4th and 5th of April we will meet at the policy conference to settle some of the lingering questions of ‘who we are’ and ‘what do we believe in?’

And, on the 30th and 31st of May we will convene at an historic congress at Gallagher Convention Centre.

It is there that we will decide our future path.

There is no doubt that we need to fix the DA.

We need to rediscover who we are, and go forward as one party.

We need to get on with governing, and we need to get back to winning.

We can break the political monopoly that keeps people in poverty.

And we can build a diverse party that will one day govern this country.

I am John Steenhuisen, and I have a plan to fix the DA and to fix SA.

I invite you to join me in this historic mission.

I thank you.