Time for celebration but not complacency
Today is a day to come together as a nation and celebrate. Just two months ago, our country teetered on the edge of a treacherous cliff. We faced the chilling prospect of losing our hard-won constitutional democracy to a band of self-serving crooks who were willing to destroy so much for so many, to gain so little for so few.
The last nine years have been almost surreal. The nation has looked on in disbelief and distress as our democratic safeguards were systematically dismantled and the public purse looted.
But on every front – on the streets, in the courts, in Parliament, in newsrooms, as civil society organisations, as opposition parties, and even from within the ruling party – Team South Africa fought back. And this week, we won a major battle and Jacob Zuma is a spent force.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has returned a sense of dignity and sanity to our body politic and his election gives hope that SA can start to tackle our many challenges in a constructive and effective manner. I congratulate him wholeheartedly and he will have the DA’s support in every decision and action he takes in SA’s best interest.
But it would be naïve to imagine that the ruling party has changed overnight or that Zuma acted alone. This is the same group of people who brought us Zuma in the first place and kept him there and defended him to the hilt while the country suffered, powerless. Every single one of them is complicit. On their watch, poverty has grown to 55% of the population, unemployment has grown to 9.2 million people, and 4 out of 5 schoolchildren cannot read with meaning by the end of foundation phase. Think for a moment about what that means for our future.
The ANC removed Zuma to save themselves. They never removed Zuma to save SA. President Ramaphosa has what it takes to be an effective leader, but that is not why he was elected. It was self-preservation pure and simple. So Ramaphosa has a tough task ahead of him with a party deeply divided and compromised.
The fact is, the ANC itself has lost legitimacy. The sheer scale of devastation unleashed on SA since Nhlanhla Nene was fired in December 2015 has eroded their public mandate. This is why the DA is calling for Parliament to be dissolved and for fresh elections to be held as soon as possible. People deserve to be given the chance to issue a fresh mandate. Power must be returned to the people.
Removing Zuma is just the first step to getting SA back to Mandela’s vision. Now is not the time for complacency. South Africans must maintain maximum pressure on President Ramaphosa’s government to fulfill his campaign pledges. First, there is the non-negotiable low-hanging fruit: independent, capable, honest individuals must be appointed to key positions in the NPA, Hawks, Public Protector, Police, SARS, and ministries of finance, mining, social development, public service administration, local government, energy, state security and on boards of SOEs; everyone complicit in corruption and state capture must be prosecuted.
This may be enough to rescue our credit rating from junk status and convince investors to consider SA as an investment destination. But we cannot stop there. Because it certainly won’t be enough to kickstart a level of growth that can make rapid inroads into poverty and unemployment. And it won’t be enough to rescue generations of schoolchildren from a dysfunctional education system.
We must keep the pressure on President Ramaphosa’s government to remove the obstacles to job creation and quality schooling. We must demand that the public sector wage bill is curbed and we must demand better value for taxpayer money. This will require the government to stand up to unions and other groupings, which form the core of the ANC’s constituency, in the interests of school children, the unemployed and the marginalized.
Only when voters demand greater accountability will public representatives up their game and become more responsive to people’s needs. The Zuma era may have honed our activism, but it has also lowered the standard for what should be considered acceptable performance by public servants.
Just as a water crisis teaches us that water is to be treasured and protected, so the political crisis of the past few years must teach us never to take our democracy and our freedom for granted. This week, the seed for a culture of accountability was planted in SA. Let’s nurture it to maturity.