BNC#6: Steenhuisen Q&A – A DA/ANC coalition; MPC post election and more

At the BizNews Conference in Hermanus, Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen responded to some pointed questions from the audience, 500 of whom were in attendance. Delegates pressed him on the prospect of a post-election coalition between his party and the ruling ANC; the potential influence of Russia in the vote and many other issues of importance.

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An edited transcript of the audience Q&A session with John Steenhuisen at BNC#6 in Hermanus ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

BizNews Community Member: John, can you give us an assurance that under no circumstances the DA would go into coalition with the ANC? And if you can’t, under what circumstances would that be?

John Steenhuisen: I’ve already given that; that’s what the multi-party charter document says, that we’ve all committed to not doing deals with the ANC or the EFF. And I’ve signed that document to govern with the DA. And that’s the document. So, it’s not a debate. It’s already done. It’s black and white.

BN Community Member: John, my question is, there’s a perception, particularly on social media, that the DA is doing a good job of appealing to the minds of South Africans, but not to their hearts. Given the immaturity of our democracy, how are you going to get across that perceived hurdle and capture the hearts of those who could not their minds?

John Steenhuisen: Yeah, I think that’s an easy question to answer by showing rather than telling. And I think that’s where the DA goes into this election with an advantage. We govern, and we govern well. And as I said, we’re not perfect. Overstrand is great, but it’s not perfect – I hope Annelie [Rabie] is not in the room. She is there, but she would also be the first to admit it. I mean, we don’t get it right all the time, but, I mean, are we much better than anywhere else in the country? Absolutely. And I think being able to go into an election that’s going to be about jobs and the economy and to be able to show how you’ve not told or put a manifesto up about how you’re going to do it, show how you’ve created a job-growing economy in the Western Cape that created 300,000 new jobs. And last year, how you’re able to bring crime down by 14% year on year on property crimes.

That’s the lived experience of people. That’s speaking to the person who’s sitting around the table, unable to feed their family every single night. Look at hungry children or mothers in the Eastern Cape who are literally suicidal because they can no longer hear their children’s cries. Those are the hard things. And you’ve got to show those people, not tell them. How are you going to get them from their shack into a house? How are you going to get their children into a better future? And I think it’s through showing rather than telling. Anybody can tell. Telling is from the head, I can put up formulas and all sorts of things which is telling you. But showing you how: What low-cost housing or social housing looks like in the Western Cape. What a working police station looks like. What a leap program that’s keeping your mother and grandmother safe walking to and from a taxi. Those are the things that move the needle in a big way. And I think that’s why we’re growing.

BN Community Member: I listened to the seven points of the manifesto, but I didn’t hear anything about education, which I think is one of the biggest drives that this country should have is to get the people educated. What’s the DA planning around that?

John Steenhuisen: Well, there’s a big, extensive part of it in the manifesto, and it is one of the seven points. It’s around tripling the number of grade four learners who can read for meaning. You cannot compete in the modern world of work if you cannot read, write, and compute. And you’ve got to break the stranglehold of unions on teaching. You’ve got to re-empower school governing bodies and head teachers to be able to run schools, rather than trying to run them from district offices. And you’ve got to focus like a laser beam on teacher standards because SADTU has protected our teachers in the country far too long, from teacher standards to the point now where I think it’s 60% of grade six educators can’t pass exams that they’re setting for their children. We’ve got to radically overhaul the way we educate children and the example that we’re using here in the Western Cape. How are we getting on top of the school infrastructure backlog to rapidly build schools is a full section in the manifesto because I agree with you 100%. In the medium to long term, we have to radically uplift our numeracy literacy skills in the country to give our children a fighting chance of competing in a world where they’re not only competing now against African countries and international countries. You’re competing against the internet and AI, and we need to equip our children for that new reality.

BN Community Member: So my question is what’s the room for more devolution in the Western Cape? So what’s standing in the way and what would that look practically to what could you do? What could you take over in terms of helping the people?

John Steenhuisen: Yeah. Great. That’s a great question. And it’s going to go to the heart of one of the reasons why we want to get international government is because you have to be able to have a national government that is amenable to devolving and devolving powers. The dogged determination of the current government and the current ideology is to centralize its big planting first of state centrally. Pretoria must decide on everything that happens is precisely what’s holding our ports back from being efficient and effective and preventing public-private partnerships. And it’s precisely what’s ingraining the stubborn. The high crime rate with 75 people murdered every single day because the national government won’t relinquish these powers. It’s what’s holding us from integrating our transport systems so that you can move seamlessly between taxi, bus, and train and commute and take cars off the road. And you need to have a national government that is willing to be able to lift those powers, go with a better serve than a provincial and capable local government, and there’s no impediment. And don’t let it fail. In others say to you that there’s an impediment. There is no impediment. Any function performed at a national level can be devolved in terms of our Constitution, without a single amendment down to another sphere of government. All you need to do is change the people who are sitting around the table in the Union buildings and get people who lack the IFP and ourselves and others who believe in federalism and in the devolution of power to a lower common denominator into those buildings and around the table so that we can push this even further. It’s best practice in many, many countries. In successful countries around the world, this dogged determination to hold stubbornly on to every single power is holding the country back in a significant way.

BN Community Member: How do we enlighten and educate people who still believe a socialist government is the solution to their problems?

John Steenhuisen: Okay. Yeah, well, I think it’s about demonstrating to them the difference between the two forms of government and being able to show them the outcomes and being able to do so in a very stark way, showing them why you see a massive exodus from Zimbabwe. It’s because of the socialist policies that are being applied there. People are hungry. They’re unemployed. And those policies have driven them from their homes. The greatest human displacement in modern history was from Venezuela out to other countries because the socialist policies there have led to greater unemployment, greater hunger, and loss of body mass, even. And you’ve never seen people running in rafts towards a socialist country. It’s always away from a socialist country. I think it’s being able to show people the consequences of what happens, that the only people you get rich in a socialist system are the elite. And it’s the man on the street, the 30 million people who currently are languishing in poverty, who will be even.

Alec Hogg: But we know that. And I think that’s the point. How do you get that message across to those who still sit in the stadium and hear Malema saying, “Putin is us, we are Putin,” and think that it’s a good thing?

John Steenhuisen: Well, I don’t think that the majority of people do think that’s a good thing. And I think that the polling shows that, it’s, you know, it’s the majority of people in South Africa don’t believe what’s happened with Russia and Ukraine is correct. However, you’ve got to give those people encouragement. And this is where the rationalists sometimes lose the plot is that you’ve got to be able to demonstrate every single day the difference between those policies, and explain to people why they’re getting the highest access to basic services. Why are you living in an environment where crime is going down and not up? Why are you living in an environment where your children now are being taught coding and robotics? There’s extra make-up time on weekends and after hours. Why are you getting better health outcomes? Why are you getting more money spent on you as a citizen, and less on the politicians, and showing that binary narrative and not talking about it, showing it, and being able to show you what a socialist outcome looks like and then what a democratic outcome looks like?

Alec Hogg: People are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. I remember that from guys who serve at the bottom end of the pyramid as they. If you want to really test something, give it to poor people. They really know what’s going on. Okay.

BN Community Member: I think it’s very important for investors, maybe just to spend a few more seconds to at least commit to and nationally published an article with regards to the DA’s plan if the ANC, in fact, does win with a small enough margin where they had to choose between the DA or the EFF/MK, “doomsday scenario.” So my question to you is really, from an investor’s perspective, what matters more? The in good faith agreed Multi-party charter or the current talk is of the ANC teaming up with the IFP to drag them over the line. So if there are other MPC partners that might negotiate with the ANC. Is it cast in stone what the MPC has agreed on or as you put it, priority number one is to avoid the “doomsday scenario”? It matters a lot to investors.

John Steenhuisen: Yeah, I think it’s an important question. But there’s an unknown there’s an ex that we don’t know. And that’s who’s sitting on the other side of the table. So people say, oh, you know, you must go and do a deal with the ANC who’s sitting on the other side of the table when you have that discussion. Does Ramaphosa survive? Do you being the first ANC president to lose a majority? You sit across the table from Mashatile, who is now mired in more state capture and corruption allegations than Jacob Zuma was and how do you do business with people on that basis? So that’s why I said it’s going to be very important to see those cards that are dealt by the electorate because you cannot make a play until you know what those cards are. You cannot decide whether to hold on to your hand until you’ve seen the flop. You want to be able to to to be able to make an A, an assessment. And I know that there are a lot of people who simplistically say, well, DA plus ANC equals stability. Well, Zanu PF and MDC didn’t bring stability to Zimbabwe. And in fact, what it did was it ended up extending Zanu PF’s stay in power.

So yeah it’s a tough question to answer but I would say that, we’re going to put South Africa’s interests first and do what’s right for the country and our voters. So we will go back to our partners in the multi-party charter after the election to look at where we’ve ended up and what our next move is. And also back to our voters and say, what do you want us to do with the cards that have now been dealt to us here? But you can only do that when you know what’s going to be sitting on the other side of the table because I couldn’t think of anything worse than going into government with Paul Mashatile, Fikile Mbalula, Gwede Mantashe and the other capturists sitting around the cabinet table with you. That’s not going to be the chemotherapy that South Africa requires. And I think it’s going to it’s going to cost us going forward. And it could actually hurt the opposition cause in the longer term. There are too many exits for me to be able to unequivocally say X, Y, and Z is going to be the result.

BN Community Member: John, given the fact that we are aware of the possibility of the doomsday pact happening, what would be the stance on Cape independence if something like that happens?

John Steenhuisen: Well, I suppose we’d have to look at it. I think if the doomsday pact gets in, your chances of getting national legislation that is required to allow referendums to take place are going to evaporate faster than the new dawn. Because there’s no way they’re going to let a large, economically active part of South Africa just go off on its own, and you’re going to have a government at a central level that doesn’t believe in federalism, that believes fundamentally in holding on to things. So I think you’re in a tough time, which is why the Constitutional Court recently ruled that it can’t be a provincial referendum because there is no enabling national legislation yet, and they’re waiting for the parliamentary process to create that national legislation, which has never been given birth to if a doomsday pact gets in at a national level. That legislation is dead in the water. If the NPC gets in, we can get that legislation through Parliament in the first year, and then we can start having a more informed debate about precisely this.

Alec Hogg: But I think the question was a bit different. It was if the doomsday pact gets in, what then happens to the pressures? And it comes back to something I asked in our conversation about Cape Independence. We’ve seen more, perhaps, momentum for that cause the more you hear that somebody here is going to be ruled by a government that they didn’t vote into power.

John Steenhuisen: I’m saying to you that it’s going to be very difficult to lead an independence movement in an environment where you have a government in place that’s implacably opposed to it. I think the MPC, and certainly our party, has made it very clear that we believe in evolution and enabling legislation to give effect to what the Constitution recognizes as a right to provincial referenda. That would be needed in order for that step to be able to get the cessation. You can’t just secede without a referendum to know that the majority of people are there. I’m saying that your first step is going to be getting that legislation passed unless you have a violent, separate separatist movement, or you start to lead an armed revolution away. The only way you’re going to do it is by constitutionally making sure that the constitutional infrastructure is in place to facilitate it. And that’s what we’re committed to doing. That’s why we tabled the referendum bill in Parliament precisely to fill the lacuna that has been created by the absence of enabling national legislation to allow for a referendum, not only for independence debates but also to gauge provinces on different things. And I think that with the prospect of more provinces falling to the opposition in the next election, I think this increases the opportunity rather than decreases it.

BN Community Member: My question is, can we introduce voter education and qualification so that the voter can also vote for direct representation from ward level going up, and that we want to go back to the gold standard?

John Steenhuisen: Okay. Well, I think that electoral reform is essential. And I do think that there is a growing disconnect between the electors and the electorate. And I think we do need to move to a system where people can directly vote for their MPs and hold them accountable that way. And I think that systems that do that around the world provide greater accountability. And you reduce the gap between the electors and the elected. I think that brings greater trust in institutions, and I think it puts the power back in the hands of people rather than parties about who represents them. At the moment, this system is used, the proportional system is used. But I would favor a move towards more of a mixed system where you have directly elected, but you also have a proportional representation top-up to ensure that there is still a multiplicity of voices being heard. If you move to a pure constituency system in the country, I think the answer would probably end up with over two-thirds majority massively over. And I do think that one of the beauties of our system is that there is a multiplicity of voices that are heard. But do we need electoral reform? Absolutely. This current electoral reform has been a dog’s breakfast. And it’s now created constitutional problems and practical problems with trying to introduce independence now to a system that’s designed purely on proportional representation. And I think it’s going to be very difficult to navigate.

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