Memory Booysen's journey - Helen Zille

DA leader on her party's mayoral candidate for Bitou Municipality

The Memory Booysen Story

Note to editors: This is an extract of a speech prepared for delivery today in Kwanokuthula in Plettenberg Bay. Memory Booysen is the DA's mayoral candidate for the Bitou Municipality. Bitou is currently governed by the ANC.

Fellow South Africans,

It is wonderful to be here in Kwanokuthula in Plettenberg Bay.

When we launched this election campaign in Soweto two weeks ago we acknowledged South Africa's divided past. We said that the best way to overcome the legacy of apartheid is to improve the lives of everybody, but especially those who still suffer the effects of apartheid.

That is why we want to make this election about delivery. We want to make the issues the issue. But some parties don't want to make the issues the issue. Because they know this will lose them votes. And so they make race the issue.

It was the Mayor of this municipality who last year said that the DA-run provincial government was, and I quote, "racist" for trying to stamp out corruption. Instead of facing up to the corruption in his own administration, he played the race card.

I don't want to stand here today and talk about all the corruption that has gone on in Bitou over the last five years. I think all of you know what has been going on in this municipality.

Today I want to talk about the DA's mayoral candidate, Memory Booysen. His story is worth telling because his political journey is such an inspiration. I believe that he, and others like him, will one day be regarded as the political pioneers they are.

Memory was born in 1969 in the Eastern Cape. These were the days when the colour of your skin determined your chances in life. His father, John Lolwana, wanted a better life for his family. And so he changed his surname to Booysen and managed to convince the apartheid authorities that he was coloured. This enabled the family to move to Hankey - the so-called coloured area where Memory spent his early years.

When Memory's father died in 1980, the authorities evicted the family from Hankey. They went to live in what was then known as the "black location"-a place called Centerton. The family was not accepted in Centerton. The other children used to call Memory derogatory names because he spoke Xhosa with an Afrikaans accent.

Meanwhile, at his school in Hankey, Memory's cover was blown. His classmates no longer accepted him because of his race. They would tease him and call him the k-word. Memory would deliberately arrive late for school every morning. He preferred the beating he got from his teachers to the racial bullying on the playground.

Such was the power of race during apartheid. Memory lived between two worlds because he was accepted in neither. And all because of his background and the colour of his skin. That was the beginning of Memory's political awakening. His political involvement started a few years after that. In those days, the police where Memory lived in Centerton would hit first and ask questions later. Sometimes it was because the police couldn't understand the language of the suspects and vice versa. Violence was the lingua franca of that time.

Because Memory had attended an Afrikaans school in a so-called coloured area, the community that had once shunned him realised that he could be an asset to them. He acted as an interpreter between the police and those suspected of fomenting political unrest during the defiance campaigns of the 1980s.

In 1989, Memory moved to Plettenberg Bay where there were more job opportunities. He joined the local ANC and rose through the ranks to become Chairperson of the Greater Plettenberg Bay branch as well as Chairperson of the ANC Youth League. By 2004, he was the ANC Subregional Chairperson of Plettenberg Bay and was working as the Personal Assistant to the Executive Mayor of Bitou.

It was in the Mayor's office that Memory experienced his second political awakening. He saw how the ANC's manifesto promises were not taken seriously by the Mayor. He realised that political office was all about deals on the side and personal favours to friends and comrades. He saw how the Mayor's discretionary fund was abused for ANC officials' private purposes and to pay for ANC functions.

But none of this damaged Memory's faith in the movement. He remained a loyal cadre. He believed that what was happening in the Mayor's office was just an aberration; that this kind of corruption was foreign to the movement and would not be tolerated for long. Like many others, Memory believed that the ANC could be redeemed. He vowed to change the party from within.

Memory reasoned that becoming a councilor would be the best platform from which to hold the Mayor to account. And so he resigned from his position as Personal Assistant to the Mayor and stood as an ANC candidate in the 2006 local government elections.

Memory was elected councilor for ward 6 in Kwanokuthula. And he began to speak out against corruption in the council. He voted against his own party on issues of principle like the appointment of extra bodyguards for the Mayor, the purchase of a second mayoral BMW and additional allowances for councilors and ANC members.

As a result, Memory was sidelined. He was shunned by his comrades and no longer invited to ANC caucuses. When he raised this with the regional structures, they closed ranks and devised a plan to remove him from the party. It was at that time that Memory received an anonymous phone call from a man who said he had been offered R15 000 to kill him. But the man said that he would not do it because he knew Memory.

In 2007, Memory was expelled from the ANC on bogus charges. In the by-election triggered by his expulsion, Memory stood as an independent candidate in his ward. He won the election with an 80% majority.

In 2008, Cope was formed. This was the opportunity that Memory and many other disillusioned ANC members had been waiting for. He was appointed Cope's Southern Cape Election Co-ordinator for the 2009 elections. At that time, he did not believe that black South Africans were ready to get behind the DA in their numbers.

But the implosion of Cope dashed Memory's hopes that the party could become a viable alternative to the ANC. And so Memory went back to his followers in Kwanokuthula to decide on what to do next. They suggested that he join the DA to contest the local election against the ANC. They revealed to him that they had wanted him to join the DA back in 2009, but had respected his decision to join Cope.

Since the day Memory announced he was joining the DA, the DA branch here has signed up over 200 new members. They cannot keep up with the demand for DA T-shirts. Memory's popularity does have a down side. Three weeks ago, the police warned Memory to be careful because the political stakes are high in Bitou and he was ruffling feathers.

But Memory is undeterred. He won't allow threats to stop him from fulfilling his destiny. He tells me that when he looks back over the last few years, he realises that the ANC and the DA are like the two banks of a river. The one bank represents the past, the other bank represents the future. Cope was a rock in the middle of that river. It was the stepping stone that Memory needed to get from one bank to the other, to move from the past into the future.

And that is what the DA wants to build in South Africa: one nation, with one future.

In this election, we are offering you a fresh start. We are offering a chance to move beyond race. We are offering clean government. We are offering you a municipality that delivers. And we have an excellent chance to make this offer a reality here in Kwanokuthula. At the last election, the ANC did not win an outright majority in Bitou. The combined total of all the opposition parties was more than 50%. This time, the DA has a chance of winning control of the Bitou municipality, with Memory as your Mayor.

But it is not up to us. It is up to you. You can choose a mayor who plays the race card to cover up corruption and service delivery failures. Or you can choose a mayor of courage, principle and integrity. You can choose Memory Booysen.

So, whatever you do, make sure you vote on the 18 May. And vote DA. Because the DA delivers for all!

Issued by the Democratic Alliance, April 10 2011

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