The opposition must unite - Patricia de Lille

ID leader says a new political force is needed in South Africa


ID structures, branches and leaders, members and supporters, DA Leader Helen Zille, Cope Leader Mosiuoa Lekota, the Leader of the UDM, General Bantu Holomisa, and fellow South Africans, welcome to this Special National Conference of the Independent Democrats and thank you all for being here today. I would also like to convey my thanks to the great South African thinker and struggle stalwart, Dr Ramphele, who agreed to share her views on the future realignment of politics in our country.
We have called this a ‘Special' National Conference because the decisions we make here today will influence the political landscape of our country for many years to come. Almost a year has passed since last year's National and Provincial Elections.

It has also been many months since the Independent Democrats first began to speak about the creation of a new opposition force in our country. This led to the adoption of a Resolution by the ID's National Executive Committee on 17 May last year, which gave the party leadership the mandate to enter into exploratory talks with other opposition parties. The Resolution stated, and I quote,

"The engagement with other political parties must be informed by 8 Main Principles and Objectives that have up until now guided the principles and values of the Independent Democrats."

We listed the 8 Main Principles and Objectives as follows:

The engagement must be Constitutionally-focused;

it must aim to achieve a non-racial, non-sexist society;

it must be pro-poor in focus;

it must be pro-transformation;

it must aim to build up an alternative opposition discourse that is not just anti-ANC;

it must encompass a credible policy framework that embodies a social democratic ideology;

it must be committed to fighting corruption and rooting it out of our society; and

it must drive the agenda of reforming the political party funding regime.

The NEC envisaged that the ID would need one year to negotiate and another year to canvass party structures. We then ratified the Independent Democrats Process Document Concerning Alliances, Coalitions or Mergers with other Opposition Parties.

"The ID is an unashamedly social democratic party that is committed to clean governance and [to] fighting for issues of social justice," the Process Document stated.

It suggested setting up 3 sub-committees, one on policy, the second dealing with organisational capacity and the third relating to the 2011 Municipal Elections. These sub-committees would be filled with at least two members from each of the parties involved in the talks and would identify existing differences and propose compromises in order to resolve them.

"It is believed that... these committees will ultimately be able to identify whether the respective parties can in fact find common ground, or whether their differences are too stark to allow for such a united formation," read the Document.

In addition, it laid out strict deadlines for each step in the process. The end goal was to be ready for the 2011 Municipal Elections. With our 8 Main Principles and Objectives and our Process Document in mind, we met with Cope and the UDM.

This led to the signing of a joint document by Cope's Mbhazima Shilowa, the UDM's Bantu Holomisa and me. The joint document referred to ‘members of the public' who had become "increasingly vocal" that opposition parties "should consider coalitions, alliances or mergers." We proposed a meeting of the leaders of opposition parties to discuss, amongst others:

cooperation inside and outside of Parliament;

the 2011 Municipal Elections; and

the 2014 National and Provincial Elections

The ID also continued with discussions we had with the DA before the 2009 Elections, when we agreed that we would resume talks after the vote. The ID NEC Resolution, the Process Document and the talks with the DA, Cope and the UDM paved the way for this Special National Conference. We invited the 3 leaders to speak to you directly so that you could hear from the horse's mouth, as it were, how they see the future realignment of politics in our country. I would like to assure all of you that this is not simply a process of convenience. I would also like to state categorically that for the ID this is not about positions or egos and it is my hope that through their actions the other leaders here today will show a similar commitment to selflessness. I would like to remind them that humility is a fundamental part of leadership and that it is only through humility that we can truly serve our people.

Some of the parties here have exchanged harsh words and feelings in past elections and by-elections. However, it is my hope that we can put all of that behind us and work together as trusted partners.

ID delegates, you will have noticed that as soon as the dust settled on last year's elections, the Independent Democrats did not just sit back and do nothing. I am sure I do not have to remind you of our election slogan, ‘Fighting for your Rights and Offering Solutions', and over the past year we have done exactly that. We continued the ID's fight against those companies who are abusing the rights of South African consumers through price fixing. I am not afraid of anyone, whether it is the ruling party, or powerful companies who are abusing the poor. Our campaign against price fixers led to the signing of the Competition Amendment Bill, which makes directors of companies found guilty of price fixing criminally liable for their actions.

There is no reason why businesses and their directors should be left out of our national project to create a law-abiding society and why, if they commit economic crimes against the poor, they should not go to jail. I also launched a campaign against the cell phone companies, who have been ripping off South African consumers by charging exorbitant interconnection rates.

By getting the support of other parties in the communications committee I was able to achieve justice for South Africans and in some cases retail prices have come down 40% from where they were before the start of our campaign! The ID doesn't just talk and complain. Instead, we fight for your rights until we get justice.

Viva ID viva!

Viva ID viva!

The ID also led the charge against President Zuma when he tried to appoint a Chief Justice without abiding by the Constitution and consulting with opposition parties.

Our Energy and Environmental Spokesperson, Lance Greyling, has been on top of South Africa's energy situation, which is in a mess because of ANC incompetence and mismanagement over the past 10 years. He has been heavily involved in the debates around our future energy mix and represented South Africa at the Climate Change negotiations in Copenhagen last year.

We can also take pride in the fact that it was the ID's Lance Greyling that this year first raised the issue of the ANC's profiting from the electricity price increase through its front company, Chancellor House. The ID has stopped at nothing to ensure that the ANC does not profit off the misery of our people. We have even written to the World Bank demanding that they do not give our country a loan until Chancellor House divests its shares. This is another battle we will win fellow Democrats, and I urge you to watch this space over the coming weeks to see us deliver yet another victory for ordinary South Africans.

The newest member of our parliamentary team, Joe Mcgluwa, has also kept Government on its toes with regards to the preparations for the Soccer World Cup.

He has played his oversight role with patriotism, even blowing his vuvuzela in Parliament. Joe Mcgluwa has also exposed corruption in the Home Affairs Department's handling of the Smart Card tender process. In addition, he will even be assisting an internationally-renowned wildlife magazine to shoot a documentary on the baboons at Beit Bridge border post. We never know what issue Joe is going to take up next, but this controversial and passionate MP is a big asset for the ID.

Our hard-working Secretary-General Haniff Hoosen has fought for the education and health rights of all South Africans. With his Access to Education Campaign he turned the Constitution into a living reality by making sure that pupils were not barred from attending classes because their families could not afford to pay school fees. He has helped hundreds of children in this way, sometimes paying their fees, while at other times he has provided uniforms and school bags to those who cannot afford them. Haniff Hoosen has also raised issues around the National Health Insurance, in line with the ID's belief that the inequalities in our healthcare system must be overcome.

Besides these successes, the ID in Parliament has asked ministers tough questions and submitted Private Member's Bills, such as the one to remove the President's power of pardon. We have also issued media statements and participated constructively in the important debates around our country's future. It is not just in Parliament where we have lived up to our election slogan of ‘Fighting for your Rights and Offering Solutions.'

In legislatures and municipalities across the country ID representatives have been taking up issues with immense energy. In Cape Town, for instance, we forced the municipality to deal with the issue of providing services to backyard dwellers. We even got them to host the first ever conference on the issue and we will not rest until justice is achieved for these marginalized members of our society. We might be a small team, but we have kept up the ID tradition of punching well above our weight. We can certainly be proud of everything we have achieved for the people of South Africa over the past 7 years.

For me personally the work we have done to hold the current Government to account has been a fitting continuation of my 30 years in politics and of my own role in the struggle against Apartheid. It is now time, however, to see how best we can ensure that our legacy is taken forward in this changing political landscape. The future realignment of politics in our country is crucial for a number of reasons. Poverty and unemployment, poor service delivery and education, crime and corruption have thrown millions of our people into a daily struggle for survival. These challenges have stripped too many of us of our dignity and are often the result of poor governance and incompetent, or greedy leaders. We live in the most unequal society in the world - proof that most of our people have yet to taste the fruits of our democracy.

President Zuma has been in the media for all the wrong reasons. Meanwhile, service delivery protests are increasing around our country. Angry communities are burning tires and blockading roads because the Constitution is being violated when they do not receive basic services because of mismanagement and corruption. However, South Africa needs an opposition force that is not just anti-ANC, but which can also truly inspire South Africans, provide renewed hope for the future and reclaim the vision, values and ideals of the struggle against Apartheid. Most opposition parties currently have limitations that are not allowing either one of us to appeal to the majority of South Africans.

I therefore believe that by coming together we can create a new force in South African politics, one that is liberated from the tired, old labels that the ANC continuously tries to pin on us. I have a vision of a new entity, one that is greater than the sum of our individual parties. This is not about simply adding up our current voter percentages. It is about building a political force that can hold the government accountable where it really counts - at the ballot box.

Let us unite our strengths and discard our current weaknesses. Let us provide South Africans with an opposition force that can have a realistic opportunity of taking over national government in the near future. Let us put aside our petty differences, our egos and our entrenched positions and rather place our faith in the South African electorate. If we build it, they will vote for it. As political leaders we must understand that time is against us.

This is why I would like to encourage our ID delegates who have travelled here today to give us the mandate to conclude negotiations within a period not exceeding 180 days. If we are successful in uniting, then we will be in a good position to start with preparations for the 2011 Municipal Elections. It is clear that our country wants and needs us to put the interests of our people first, so that we can unite to advance our democracy.

I thank you.

Issued by the Independent Democrats

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