John Steenhuisen: How the DA will beat EFF and the fragmenting ANC and win in 2024

In a rational world, the Democratic Alliance would be a shoo-in at South Africa’s National election next year. The only province where it has a majority, the Western Cape, proves the benefits of clean and efficient governance: crime is lower, property prices much higher, 98% of SA’s new jobs are created there – and public structures work in a country where big chunks are increasingly taking on the look of a failed state. But unseating SA’s Party of Liberation is no easy task. In this interview, DA leader John Steenhuisen explains how the DA expects to prevail. – Alec Hogg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introductions
  • 00:42 – John Steenhuisen on his recent travels
  • 02:27 – Steenhuisen on if the ANC will get a 50% majority in 2024
  • 04:45 – On the fragmented opposition parties to the ANC
  • 08:37 – On whether there is a chance of an ANC-DA coalition, and the importance of keeping the EFF out of power
  • 12:13 – On struggles working with the Patriotic Alliance
  • 17:36 – What Gayton McKenzie needs to do to win back the faith of the DA
  • 19:19 – Why the DA has been unable to oust the ANC government nationally
  • 21:36 – Concludes

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The edited transcript of the interview:

Alec Hogg: It has been quite a week, quite a month, and quite a year. It’s been five months since John Steenhuisen, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament and DA leader, spoke with us here on BizNews. Time for a catch-up, as a lot has happened. I’m looking forward to the next 20 minutes or so. It’s a busy time as we move forward towards the election next year. John, I hear you’ve been doing some traveling?

John Steenhuisen: Yes, apart from traveling around the country, I’ve recently returned from an international conference on rolling back authoritarianism in Poland. It was held next door to Ukraine and I had the opportunity to meet with counterparts, opposition parties, and leaders from Eastern Europe, South America, and Africa. It was incredibly interesting to witness the progress some of these countries have made, while others have regressed. I also heard some horror stories about the consequences of pursuing policies similar to those of parties like the EFF and others. I had a particularly enlightening conversation with Leopoldo Lopez, the former leader of the opposition in Venezuela, who faced imprisonment for seven years under the Maduro regime and is now living in exile, fighting for democracy in Venezuela. This experience served as a reminder that there’s a great deal worth fighting for in South Africa. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

Read more: Mashaba on Moonshot’s dealbreaker, “that book” and enlisting new voters

Alec Hogg: Indeed, it is. When I observe the actions of the ANC, both in terms of the economy and their international engagements, it’s clear that they have made numerous missteps and own goals. They seem to be shooting themselves in the foot repeatedly. One would think that it’s evident the ANC would lose power in the 2024 elections. However, today I came across a report from the Eurasia Group, Ian Bremmer’s business, which is one of the largest political consultancies globally. Surprisingly, they assign a 60% chance to the ANC securing more than 50% of the vote again in 2024. Are they being overly optimistic, or is the opposition not effectively organizing?

John Steenhuisen: I would be very interested to understand the methodology behind their assessment. We conduct the most sophisticated polling on the continent, continuously collecting data. In our recent polls, we have seen the ANC’s popularity reach lows of 31% and 32%, with no signs of them polling above 50% in the last eight to nine months. It would be enlightening to learn about the methodology employed by the Eurasia Group. In my experience, political analysts seldom apologize for their predictions, and it’s worth examining their track record. That being said, even without delving into their analysis, it’s evident that the ANC is facing significant challenges. Their own internal polling reflects this, and public opinion polls in South Africa affirm it. As the effects of load shedding and other policy failures intensify, the situation is likely to worsen rather than improve. The latest job numbers released today revealed a further decline in employment during the first quarter of 2023. Unemployment, the economy, and energy will dominate the upcoming election, and the ANC is on the defensive in each of these areas. They have fundamentally broken everything they have touched, from railways and harbors to the economy, education, and healthcare. I do not see a path to victory for them with their current majority after the 2024 election.

Alec Hogg: These analysts, although respected internationally, base their assessment on some strong points. It would be beneficial for you to address these, considering the message the international community is receiving. This message could influence investment decisions in South Africa or even alignment with the ANC. The first point they make is that the opposition is highly fragmented, with 300 registered parties, 48 parties that contested the last general election, and currently, only 14 represented in parliament. They also express doubt about the viability of the moonshot pact.

John Steenhuisen: I appreciate the perspective presented by these analysts, but I would be interested in understanding their methodology and whether they have been privy to the constructive meetings we have been having. It is true that South African politics is fragmented, but this is not unique and is a feature of many democracies worldwide. I have witnessed elections in Africa and other regions with hundreds of political parties on the ballot paper. Therefore, the number of parties alone is not the core issue. The real challenge lies in the lack of unity within the opposition. This is precisely what the moonshot pact aims to address. With a 15-month runway leading up to the election, we are working towards bringing parties together around shared values, principles, and a program of action. Our focus is on the common goals that unite us in fixing South Africa, rather than dwelling on divisive issues.

We have encountered scepticism before. The same voices doubted the DA’s potential in the last election, predicting we would only receive 14% of the vote. However, through the moonshot pact, we have established a credible path to victory. In the previous election, the non-ANC EFF-aligned opposition received approximately 35% of the vote, a mere 15 points away from the majority threshold. Taking into account the 14 million people who abstained from voting in the last two elections, along with the 13 million unregistered individuals, there is a significant opportunity for growth. We aim to engage these groups, emphasizing that while they may not be interested in politics, politics fundamentally impacts their lives. If they experience the effects of power outages in their homes or businesses, they can be certain that other essential services such as water, sanitation, roads, education, and healthcare will be affected soon as well. They need to be part of the solution.

The moonshot pact is not a guaranteed endeavor, but it is our duty to set aside petty differences and focus on the fundamental aspects that unite us. We must present a compelling alternative to the people of South Africa in the next election. I firmly believe that if the opposition can unite, we can deliver a clear message for change. We have the opportunity to reach those 13 million unregistered individuals and convince them that their participation is crucial. Politics may not interest them, but it profoundly impacts their lives. By doing everything in our power to unite and offer a compelling alternative, we can put forward a strong proposition to the people of South Africa.

Read more: The decline of Johannesburg: Why Africa’s richest city is crumbling

Alec Hogg: The recent conversation we had with Herman Mashaba was truly intriguing. He raised concerns about the possibility of the DA aligning with the ANC as a coalition partner in the next election. We previously discussed this, and it was acknowledged that while an ANC-EFF alliance would be the worst option, a DA-ANC coalition would be the second worst. Herman suggests that it is time for opposition parties to firmly declare that they will not enter into a coalition with the ANC under any circumstances and instead fight together. Even if the opposition were to lose, at least the voters would know what they were supporting. Does politics allow for such steadfastness, or do parties change their stance once the votes are counted?

John Steenhuisen: Let me be unequivocal, as I was in my speech after our Congress, which I encourage everyone to read as it is widely available. Over the next 15 months, our primary objective is to work relentlessly in uniting the opposition, forming a strong bloc capable of challenging the ANC for power. We aim to collaborate with opposition parties that share our core values, principles, and a common program of action. Together, we will provide a genuine alternative for the country. However, I want to reiterate, as I did before, that the worst-case scenario for South Africa is an ANC-EFF alliance. I have had the opportunity to hear firsthand accounts from individuals who have lived under authoritarian regimes and experienced the devastating consequences of implementing Chavez Marxist policies. These stories of suffering, oppression, hunger, unemployment, and mass displacement reinforce the imperative to avoid such an outcome at all costs.

Politics is about choices and ensuring that we have viable options to prevent South Africa from descending into a failed state. My focus for the next 15 months is not to strike a deal with the ANC. I sincerely hope that Herman and others divert their attention towards finding common ground rather than perpetually emphasizing perceived divisions. I have clearly stated that I am not interested in collaborating with the ANC. My goal is to work with opposition parties to build a compelling alternative for South Africa. That is the ultimate prize. However, I will use every means at my disposal, as our voters and the economy would expect, to ensure that the EFF does not gain access to the Union Buildings, whether through the front or back door. We must prevent that outcome at all costs.

I want to emphasize, Alec, that if such a scenario were to unfold, we would witness significant disinvestment, loss of confidence in South Africa, capital flight, and an exodus of skills. I am not fearmongering; these are the consequences observed in countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Zimbabwe when similar policies were implemented and aligned parties assumed power. My message to Herman and other leaders is this: if we genuinely wish to prevent a collaboration with the ANC, let us join forces, stand together shoulder to shoulder, and make a compelling case to the citizens of South Africa. Demonstrating our ability to work collaboratively is a far more constructive approach as we navigate this path.

Alec Hogg’s interview notes

Alec Hogg: The ongoing inability of opposition parties to collaborate effectively has been a consistent concern. The existence of the Patriotic Alliance (PA) adds another layer of complexity and competition, especially evident in the recent by-elections in the Cape province. Does any progress exist in identifying shared interests rather than focusing on divisions?

John Steenhuisen: Firstly, I want to address the crucial point you raised, which often goes unnoticed. There is a myopic tendency to view opposition party collaboration solely through the lens of Johannesburg. While the situation there is indeed fragmented, it is essential to recognize that my party is engaged in over 25 coalitions across various parts of the country. These coalitions, forged with other opposition parties, are stable, functional, and bring about good governance, accountability, and positive outcomes in areas such as Richards Bay, Swellendam, George, Cape Aghulus, Cederburg Municipality, and many others. Although these successful coalitions do not make headlines, they demonstrate the possibility and effectiveness of opposition parties working together. Therefore, it is vital to avoid dismissing or judging coalitions solely based on the Johannesburg or Gauteng context.

Regarding the Patriotic Alliance (PA), I want to reiterate a clear standpoint, as I mentioned earlier. In the next election, our objective is to present a genuine alternative to the ANC. We cannot repeat the mistakes of the DA’s 2016 alliance with the EFF in Johannesburg, where we ended up compromising our principles and essentially becoming the same type of kleptocratic regime we sought to replace. This entailed prioritizing tenders, contracts, and cadre deployment, ensuring certain party members received reserved positions. Soon after assuming power, the EFF presented demands, such as appointing their preferred city manager and awarding specific contracts. This is not the alternative we aspire to be. It mirrors the very government we aimed to supplant.

I have significant reservations about the PA, having set aside differences on four separate occasions. Regrettably, they repeatedly reneged on their commitments and worked against us, ultimately assisting the ANC in taking charge in places like Johannesburg, Neusner, Sederburg, and several other locations across the country. Maya Angelou’s words hold true: “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” There is also the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” The PA’s behavior, particularly in this regard, has been unhelpful and has eroded confidence in their ability to be a reliable coalition partner.

To illustrate, I personally arranged a private meeting with Gayton McKenzie at Dr. Mulder’s house a few months ago to discuss the way forward. The understanding was that this meeting would remain confidential. However, Gayton violated that agreement and immediately informed the press that we had agreed to make him the mayor of Johannesburg, despite no such decision being reached. This display of bad faith is significant, making it challenging to trust someone who demonstrates opposition to collaborative efforts. The most recent instance was in Nelson Mandela Bay.

While there may indeed be competition in the Western Cape, with the PA potentially gaining support from the GOOD and CCC votes, it is crucial to remember that we cannot align ourselves with individuals who would push us into becoming a replica of what we aim to replace. Reports from Beaufort West, concerns raised by Ratings Africa, and the Auditor General’s findings regarding diverted donations intended for Beaufort West further solidify my reservations. Witnessing the prevalence of cadre deployment in Johannesburg only exacerbates these concerns. Such instances dissuade me and likely many voters from getting involved in governance if we cannot adhere to the values and principles necessary to enact real change.

So, Gayton McKenzie has a significant task ahead of him to earn the trust of not only myself but also numerous other opposition leaders whose trust he has previously betrayed. It is imperative that he proves himself to be someone with whom we can gather around the campfire in a genuine and trusting environment, fostering a constructive relationship that will endure. We cannot settle for a fair-weather arrangement where individuals abandon ship as soon as a more appealing opportunity arises. It requires a commitment to long-term collaboration and shared goals, rather than opportunistic shifts based on convenience.

Read more: McKenzie: Opposition parties, incl PA, may be giving ANC a “free pass” of 5 more years

Alec Hogg: So what steps should Gayton McKenzie take to regain trust and be part of the moonshot pact?

John Steenhuisen: Well, first and foremost, he needs to renounce his working relationship with the ANC. It’s evident that he is actively collaborating with the ANC in Johannesburg, Nelson Mandela Bay, and several other municipalities, including Neusnay. It’s impossible to be a part of the moonshot pack while simultaneously betraying us in the back in these locations. He cannot have it both ways. He must make a definitive choice. Will he align himself with the ANC in the upcoming election, or will he demonstrate genuine goodwill by working with the opposition? If he genuinely wishes to collaborate with the opposition, he must sever ties with the ANC and earnestly strive to establish stable coalitions with us. This would be a significant gesture of good faith.

Secondly, he must address the troubling allegations surrounding Beaufort West. These allegations strike at the core of good governance, accountability, and prioritizing the needs of the people over the self-interest of politicians. The current situation surrounding Beaufort West raises serious concerns and casts a shadow over the PA and Mr. McKenzie. It is crucial that these allegations are thoroughly investigated and clarified, as long as they remain unresolved, they will continue to undermine trust and credibility.

Alec Hogg: Once again, to conclude, when people look at South Africa, the rational mind observes the track record of the ANC and the DA in the Western Cape, where things run smoothly, almost like a different country. Having lived in Gauteng for a long time and now residing in the Western Cape, in a rational world, the choice would be clear. But why isn’t it?

John Steenhuisen: It’s because of our history and past experiences, as well as the absence of a viable path to victory for the opposition in the past. Since 1994, every election has been a predetermined outcome. However, the upcoming election is likely to be the first in 75 years where no party will secure a majority. It will also be the first post-democracy election where the ANC’s victory is not a certainty. In the past, many voters have felt that their vote doesn’t matter, and thus, they’ve chosen to stay home, assuming the ANC will win regardless. However, we now have the opportunity to present a compelling alternative offer to South Africa – one that can revitalize the economy, generate employment, fix the broken education system, ensure safety, and put an end to load shedding. The remarkable aspect is that we have tangible evidence to support our claims. The DA-run Western Cape has achieved a 98% share of all net new jobs in the last quarter, experienced a 14% reduction in crime through our localized policing initiatives, witnessed a 10% decline in gender-based violence and sexual crimes, and attained significantly better education outcomes compared to the national government. We have a functioning public transport system, accessible healthcare within a 5-kilometer radius for everyone, and a commitment to economic growth and infrastructure investment. These are the objectives we aim to achieve at a national level. Therefore, it is crucial that people support the DA, allowing us to become the cornerstone of a new majority in South Africa that can extend these advancements to other provinces. This will be our mission over the next 15 months – to present a compelling offer to South Africans and encourage them to vote for the change they desire, rather than simply complaining or accepting the current situation. Change doesn’t happen on its own; it requires an active act of will from voters who come out and vote for that change. That is the message we will convey to citizens across the country.

Alec Hogg: At BizNews, we have always believed that one should never underestimate the intelligence of the common person, but also never overestimate their knowledge. From what you’ve shared with us, it appears that the challenge for the DA lies in disseminating the knowledge of the very real success story in the Western Cape and demonstrating that it can be replicated elsewhere in the country. I’m Alec Hogg from BizNews.com, and John Steenhuisen is the leader of the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s Official Opposition.

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