“Vote like your life depends on it” to avoid “ANC, EFF, MK Doomsday Coalition”: Steenhuisen at BNC#6

John Steenhuisen, leader of the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the opening keynote speaker at BNC#6, delivered a very simple message to delegates and attendees. It’s the Multi-party Charter (MPC) versus the “Doomsday Coalition” of the ANC, EFF and MK party in South Africa’s 2024 election. Steenhuisen highlighted the great work done and progress made by other MPC parties, lauding the IFP’s recent manifesto launch, and emphasised the collaborative spirit of the MPC. But he also warned of the dire consequences of a “Doomsday Coalition” national government, citing the crisis in Knysna as a key example. The DA leader concluded his speech with a rallying call to vote against the “corrupt, maladministrators, crooks and cadres” and for the unity and good governance of the MPC. Steenhuisen’s closing words, “On the 29th of May, vote soberly and vote like your life depends on it, because in this election it really does,” underscore the watershed nature of South Africa’s 2024 elections. – Patrick Kidd

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An edited transcript of John Steenhuisen’s keynote address at BNC#6 ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

What a great honour it is to be invited to be the first speaker at the BizNews conference this year. I noticed that there are a number of politicians on your agenda over the course of the next two days. And, it got me thinking because politicians aren’t the most popular bunch of people at the best of times. And it reminded me of the story about how a group of scientists had suggested that instead of doing scientific experiments on rats, they should rather do them on politicians. And their thinking went along the lines of, well, there’s no shortage of politicians. And I think if you look at this year’s election, with a number of parties contesting, that can be borne out. Secondly, nobody really cares what happens to politicians. And thirdly, and most importantly, there are just some things they can’t get the rats to do.

But it really is great to be here, Alec. And thank you for the invitation. Thank you for the work that you and the BizNews team do in keeping the conversation going in South Africa and helping to shape an informed public debate. And I think it’s fair to say that all of us here over the next two days are here for precisely the same reason, because we’re interested in an informed debate about the future of South Africa. And over the coming two days, there will no doubt be no shortage of debate, just as it should be in a vibrant democracy like our own. You’ll hear the opinions of different business leaders, politicians and analysts who will share sometimes very, very different views on what’s going on and what is likely to happen. But I would submit that the trick to making these conversations that we have over the coming days truly fruitful is that we must ensure that it is at all times an informed debate. As the saying goes, we’re all entitled to our own opinions, but we’re not entitled to our own facts.

I’d like to kick things off this morning by making a first submission to the BizNews 2024 public debate, by setting out a number of data points, and then by sharing my view of what this information is telling us. And of course, I do so in the context, Alec, that in 80 days we will be facing the most important election in post-democratic South Africa. So today’s meeting, I think, is especially well-timed because it is taking place here in Hermanus, just two days after the release of the first major poll conducted since the election was announced and in the heat of the 2024 election campaign. And importantly, this poll released by the Brenthurst Foundation is the first public poll that we’ve seen in South Africa released after the announcement of the formation of the Umkhonto we Sizwe party, with its fieldwork that was done just two weeks ago. So it gives us an up-to-date insight into the current state of politics and forms a great basis for informed debate over the next two days.

So let’s start with the national picture. The Brenthurst poll now puts the ANC at 39% nationally, a decline of 18 percentage points since the 2019 election puts the DA up to 27% from 20% in 2019. The Umkhonto we Sizwe party is at 13%, just three months after it was endorsed by former president Jacob Zuma, while the EFF is stagnant at around 10/11%. At a provincial level, the story is slightly different. While it has the DA retaining its outright majority in the Western Cape, and it is up, the DA is also up and set to grow from 14 to 19% in KwaZulu-Natal. This is while the ANC has declined to around 34% in Gauteng and to just 20% in KwaZulu-Natal, with MK shockingly at 25% in KwaZulu-Natal. To say that this paints a remarkable picture – and somewhat terrifying, I think – is an understatement, because it’s nothing less than a political earthquake in the political landscape in South Africa.

Firstly, it is very clear that the MK party is now decimating the African National Congress in my home province of KwaZulu-Natal. Secondly, the DA has increased its share since last year and this is now reinforced by the fact that, according to the poll, the DA is the most favourite regarded party in South Africa with the net Favourability score, having increased a full 15 points over the last 15 months. The combination of these two trends, the decimation of parts of the ANC core electorate by the uMkhonto weSizwe, combined with the growth of the DA and centrist voters from different backgrounds, has made previously unthinkable scenarios. Now within the bounds of reach and possibility.

For example, if we can get all of our voters out on Election Day, the DA is in striking distance now of being the single largest party in Gauteng. And that should come as some hopeful comfort to those who have come to the Western Cape and realise that water does actually come out of the taps when you turn them on.

In KwaZulu-Natal, the combined support of the DA, the IFP and our other partners means the Multi-party Charter for South Africa is by far now the largest single voting bloc in that province. At a national level, the Multi-party Charter is just 6% behind the African National Congress. That fact should spur us all in the Multi-party Charter to work even harder to get our voters out on Election Day and get this MPC collective over the line on 29 May.

On that note, I want to pause to send a special word of recognition to one of our valued MPC partners. On Sunday, the Inkatha Freedom Party delivered a magnificent manifesto launch at the packed Moses Mabhida Stadium in the Durban Heat, and I’m convinced that this has helped to boost the IFP’s reach in KwaZulu-Natal and will also assist the Multi-party Charter. So I want to extend from this platform, my warmest congratulations to Mr. [Velenkosini] Hlabisa for that excellent manifesto launch and I think he deserves a round of applause.

I think it’s also a testament to the maturity of the Multi-party Charter that instead of fighting amongst each other as opposition parties, we are now in a position to share in each other’s successes, where those successes we know are going to lead to a better outcome for the future of our country and for the people who we serve. So even as the individual parties within the Multi-party Charter retain their individual identities and campaign on their manifestos, the Multi-party Charter has now made it possible, for the first time in 30 years, for parties to share similar foundational values and principles to build each other up, rather than spend an election breaking each other down. And that’s what I submit, that our country wants to see.

It doesn’t want to see like-minded opposition parties squabble amongst each other for an ever-decreasing share of votes. They want to see us going out boldly to capture new votes, and to make the whole greater than the sum of its parts. However encouraging those results are, not everything is moonlight and roses, because, alongside the enormous opportunities that have been created by the decline of the ANC and the rise of the DA alongside other partners in the Multi-party Charter, there are some very real threats appearing on our horizon. Back in April last year, from the floor of the Federal Congress, I spoke following my re-election as the leader of my party to outline a vision for change. In addition to announcing what was called the moonshot pact, which has now become the Multi-party Charter, I also issued a very stern warning of a risk that was facing South Africa’s future that is now becoming more palpable every single day.

I actually went back to my speech in preparation for this one, and I want to quote again from it now. And I quote, “Given the fact that the ANC now officially co-governs with the EFF in Gauteng, we need to start taking the threat of these parties ganging up to destroy our country in 2024, very very seriously.” And I want to be unequivocal about the DA’s view on this. The day that an ANC, EFF government takes over in South Africa, it will be doomsday for our country. There will be overnight disinvestment. There will be a writing off of our country on international markets. And there will be radical consequences for South Africa’s lurch to the race to the left. This doomsday will make what happened in Zimbabwe look like a dress rehearsal and will leave all South Africans – black, white, indian, coloured.. – destitute and abandoned.

That is why, during the remaining weeks before this next election, the DA’s going to make it a number one priority and do absolutely everything in our power to prevent a Doomsday Coalition from taking place. Since I uttered those words in April last year, that Doomsday Coalition has now garnered a powerful new prospective partner. In addition to the ANC, the EFF and their proxies like the PA, GOOD and Al Jama-ah that prop them up in government, the rise of Zuma’s MK party has potentially strengthened the hand of the doomsday radicals. If the right faction of the ANC, EFF, MK and those little proxy parties find a way to come together after this election, South Africa will face an existential crisis requiring the strongest opposition that has ever been seen.

If we want to understand what that looks like in practice, we saw an example of it implemented last week, as the ANC in the Free State has realised that their majority is now under threat. It started to turn to populism and anarchy in that province, at the alleged instigation of the ANC, as thousands of people descended on Lourier Park outside Bloemfontein last week and coordinated the biggest land grab that we’ve seen in many years. After the municipality initially turned a blind eye to this land invasion, we were forced to go to court to force it to take action. We succeeded this time round. But I shudder to think what will happen if an ANC, MK, EFF national government starts encouraging these Zimbabwe-style land grabs in cities, towns and farms across the country.

Can you imagine how investor markets would react to national and provincial governments led by the likes of Malema, Zuma and Mashatile? In fact, if this doomsday scenario comes to pass, there’s every reason to be concerned that the 2024 election could be the last free and fair election that we have in South Africa. When we look at the good and the bad side by side, it’s very clear that a binary has now emerged for this election. On the one hand, you have the Multi-party Charter with a vision for, and I quote, “A new government to build a just, inclusive and prosperous South Africa based on opportunity, freedom and security for all of its citizens.” On the other hand, is the Doomsday Coalition, composed of state capture rogues, VBS looters, far-right Federalists and the most wanted from the Zondo Commission. It is this binary that is shaping not only this election campaign but shaping the future of South Africa.

The side that wins nationally and provinces like Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal will determine whether our country embarks upon a fundamentally better path, or whether it accelerates down the road to ruin. In this binary environment, we’ve also started to see the emergence of spoiler parties that seek to exploit the coalition environment for narrow personal gain. Political opportunists who are not only willing to sell themselves to the highest bidder but who are more than happy to actively undermine the rational opposition to these mercenaries and opportunists. They live by the maxim of these are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others. And this is a dangerous, dangerous political posture to adopt in this emerging binary political environment that we face in South Africa.

Let’s take this province of the Western Cape as way of example. While the Brenthurst Foundation confirms that the vast majority of voters recognise that the Western Cape is the best-run province in South Africa, with the DA on track to retain a majority, it does not dissuade the opportunists from fighting the DA instead of fighting the ANC. It must be really short-sighted to make your goal to break the only province in the country that’s not in ANC control, and to remove the DA’s majority in this particular province. Instead of working to persuade voters in the eight other provinces about why we need to liberate them from the clutches of corruption, maladministration and poor governance that have come to typify their position.

Some of these players are starting to position themselves as the opposition to the opposition, and some of this is not new. We already saw it in 2019, when GOOD, the PA and others aligned with the ANC. But more recently, parties that I would have thought should have been part of the Multi-party Charter, that should be far more rational actors, have openly declared their opposition to the DA, and have announced that their work and mission is to remove the DA from power in places like the Western Cape. Rise Mzansi intend to pursue land expropriation. If you don’t believe me. Just look at Rise Mzansi’s policy platform, where they’ve been unequivocal about their support for land expropriation and doubled down on it in a piece that was written in the Daily Maverick yesterday, where they said that those people who stand up for property rights, for individual ownership of land in the country, are shrill.

Let me be very clear today. If standing up for property rights, the bedrock of any successful democracy is shrill, then I’m happy to be deemed as shrill. And I would hope that people in this room would be happy to do so as well. But the only thing standing in their way is the DA majority here in the Western Cape. And if somebody wants to see the consequences, what happens when you become an opposition to the opposition, break ranks, break good governance and make common cause with the corrupt, maladministrators, with the crooks and the cadres. The consequence is in full display just up the road here in Knysna, where an ANC, EFF, and PA coalition collapsed the municipality within months.

Unlike Overstrand, rubbish has piled up through that once picturesque town. In another instance, a dead body floated for two weeks in the town’s reservoir for drinking water. The body was so decomposed when they pulled it out of that reservoir that the arm broke off as they were getting it out. Make no mistake about it, this track record is repeated time and time again, whether it’s in Beaufort West or whether it is now in Bitou, just down the road. It’s simple really, anyone who plays with fire by voting for opportunists instead of safeguarding good governance and majorities, needs to look to Knysna and other places to understand the consequences. Be careful what you wish for, as the saying goes. It’s Knysna today. Tomorrow it will be the whole Western Cape.

So instead of helping the ANC while treating the DA as the enemy, I think it would be in the best interest to encourage people to be supporting the opposition cause, to keep the EFF and the ANC out of the levers of power. We’ve seen this type of cooperation existing in KwaZulu-Natal, where in partnership with Mr Hlabisa’s IFP, we’ve entered into a situation where if they’ve got a better chance of winning a ward, we stand back and vice versa. As a result of that, mature politics focusing on who the real enemy is, not on trying to be in opposition to the opposition, we’ve been able to take seats off the ANC and keep the EFF out. That’s how pragmatic, mature politics works. And it’s a tragedy that we’re not seeing similar maturity in other quarters.

I wish to conclude today by setting out how the DA sees its role in the landscape. First of all, we feel a profound sense of responsibility for the Western Cape here. Our mission is to protect our gains, take more control of key functions through our powers, and drive devolution harder than ever before so that we can fill the gap left by the incapable national state and take control of key levers of the economy that are currently being denied to us in the Western Cape. We’ve got a lot to show. We’ve still got a lot to do. We’re not perfect. We don’t get it right all the time. But we have also a lot to lose if we lose our majority here.

Secondly, we want to work with our partners at a provincial level to expand the number of provinces that are held in opposition control. That’s why KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng are going to be so fundamentally important to whether we can rescue the country. And thirdly, and finally, at a national level, our mission is to become a big, strong party at the heart of a new multi-party national government. We’ve learnt from painful experience that not all coalitions work well, and when you have over-fragmentation of the vote, it leads to situations like you see in Johannesburg and some of the other metros. We believe that by having strong, stable partners at the heart of a Multi-party Charter, we will be able to ensure that we are able to deliver a government that can last the five-year term and focus like a laser beam on service delivery.

We believe that we are equipped to do that. We launched our manifesto, two weeks back in Pretoria, outside the Union Buildings, and it focuses like a laser beam on just seven achievable things that we think need to be done over the next five years. Creating 2 million new jobs. Ending load-shedding and water-shedding. Halving the rates of violent crime including murder, attempted murder and gender-based violence. Abolishing cadre deployment in favour of a merit-based public service. Lifting 6 million people out of poverty. Tripling the number of grade four learners who can read for meaning. And ensuring quality health care for all, irrespective of economic status.

Now, of course, in the long term, in the long run, the laundry list of what we want to achieve is so much longer than that. And there are many things more than that that we want to achieve. But we believe that if we don’t get these seven things right in the next five years, it makes achieving any of the other things that we want to achieve impossible. So in times of crisis. You must prioritise. And that’s exactly what you will find in the DA’s manifesto. A rescue plan for South Africa.

We’ve got the plan. We’ve got the people. And we’ve got the on-the-ground experience that it will take to ensure that there’s a strong anchor of South Africa’s first multi-party national government. And in this election, the stakes are too high to stay at home. On the 29th of May, South Africa will either merge into a dreadful reality controlled by Julius Malema, Jacob Zuma and others, or it will embark on a new path empowered by the Multi-party Charter.

In this election, I believe a vote for the DA is a win-win-win. A vote for the DA is a vote against the ANC, EFF, MK Doomsday Coalition. A vote for the DA is to keep the ANC and the EFF out of the most successful province in the country, the Western Cape. And a vote for the DA is a vote for a new Multi-party Charter government, with strong parties that have a credible plan to know how to get things done. And so my call to the people in this hall and across South Africa is that on the 29th of May, vote soberly and vote like your life depends on it, because in this election it really does.

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