DA, ActionSA lambast ANC’s Putin-Friendly stance, say most SAs support Ukraine

Shooting down every one of the ANC’s justifications for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, DA leader John Steenhuisen says their leadership’s thin façade of neutrality has left them on the wrong side of history, seriously miscalculating global sentiment. That he was talking to the heads of all diplomatic missions in South Africa this week is no small thing, given his comparisons of service delivery data in ANC and DA-run municipalities. The differences are stark and the best evidence of why a change in government is overdue to address the crisis we’re in. If you think that’s overly dramatic, read the evidence Steenhuisen outlines. Crisis in Chinese (which the ANC should understand given their close relationship with China), means danger and movement. With half of SA’s population unemployed and 17 million on social security grants, the Ukrainian crisis will aggravate things. Time is few and SA’s dangers many, says Steenhuisen, but we’ve reached an opportunity-rich tipping point for change. – Chris Bateman

You’ll find DA’s values at the heart of a reimagined SA – John Steenhuisen

Note to Editors: The following speech was delivered by the DA Federal Leader John Steenhuisen to Heads of Mission, Deputy Heads of Mission and Political Chiefs representing diplomatic missions from around the world at the US Embassy in Pretoria today.

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, members of the diplomatic corps, I thank you for the opportunity to speak here today, and to share with you a perspective on South Africa from the vantage point of the official opposition – to touch on the biggest challenges facing our country right now, and to then set out the DA’s vision for South Africa.

But in the light of what is unfolding in eastern Ukraine right now – and given this audience here today – it would be remiss of me not to start there.

Let me be very clear: The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin is an act of war for which there is no justification.

The history of Ukraine and the Soviet Union does not justify it.

NATO membership does not justify it.

Ukraine’s aspirations to pursue liberal democracy or EU trade do not justify it.

Decades of tensions between East and West do not justify it.

Lies about so-called Nazis in Ukraine do not justify it.

And propaganda about Russians in Donetsk and Luhansk requiring “liberation” does not justify it.

There is no moral ambiguity in this situation. The line between wrong and right has not been this clearly drawn since the 1940s, and the vast majority of nations were quick to take a position on the right side of that line.

Most of the world cast its vote in the United Nations to condemn Russia’s actions and call on Putin to withdraw his army. The vast majority of nations have approved economic sanctions against Russia in an effort to compel it to cease its hostilities. The vast majority of world leaders have spoken out clearly and strongly against this violation of international law.

But South Africa and its president are not among them.

“We can’t pick sides,” said President Cyril Ramaphosa, before going on to do just that by blaming NATO and the West for Ukraine’s devastation. No one believes that the ANC has not already picked their side. No sensible person can fall for their ruse of “neutrality”.

President Ramaphosa might have chosen his words carefully to avoid stating outright his support for the Russian cause, but his ANC comrades were not always so careful. When the Defence Minister and the Chief of the Defence Force attend a cocktail event in honour of the Russian military on the very day of the invasion, you know which side they’ve chosen.

When the ANC in the Western Cape attend a Russian consulate function celebrating 30 years of diplomatic relations between the countries immediately after the start of the invasion, you know which side they’ve chosen.

And when Social Development Minister Lindiwe Zulu proudly states that “Russia is our friend, through and through”, as Russian bombs rain down on apartment buildings and hospitals in Kharkiv and Mariupol, you know which side they’ve chosen.

Perhaps the ANC’s own oligarchs – those who have built their fortunes on dodgy political connections and corruption – oppose action against Russia’s oligarchs because they fear that their day of reckoning will also come?

Some have tried to argue that the ANC government speaks for all of us here in South Africa when they refuse to condemn Russia and Putin, but that is simply not true. Most South Africans do not support the ANC’s position at all. A recent poll by The Economist concluded that the overwhelming majority of South Africans are against, or strongly against, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

My own interaction with citizens, business leaders, civil society and religious leaders has found the same. Ordinary South Africans are good people. Most are appalled by what is happening in Ukraine right now and have deep sympathy for the innocent people who are being attacked and killed by a tyrant. And most South Africans are mortified that their government has chosen the side of the tyrant.

I would like to assure you today that the ANC government does not speak on behalf of South Africa when it comes to Russia and Ukraine. They speak for themselves and their own narrow financial interests only.

Hiding behind a veneer of neutrality, and citing entirely disingenuous rhetoric of struggle allegiances of days gone by, they pretend that their refusal to condemn Russia is somehow noble and justified. But it is not. It is a disgrace that has brought shame on our nation.

Already, over the past two decades, South Africa’s place in the world has been defined by some shameful foreign policy decisions on the part of the ANC government. Their decision to effectively keep Robert Mugabe in power in Zimbabwe under the guise of “quiet diplomacy” has brought untold misery to the people of that nation, which continues more than four decades after independence.

Their scheming complicity in helping Sudan’s former dictator, Omar al-Bashir, evade arrest and flee the country was one of the lowest points in our recent history.

And their refusal to allow the Dalai Lama entry into South Africa on three occasions, including for the 80th birthday celebration of his friend, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, as well as for a summit of Nobel prize laureates, was beyond the pale.

If the ANC did indeed speak for all of us on the global stage, our shame would be huge. But they don’t. And I trust that enough people out there know that the people of South Africa are better than that.

This is why I was immensely proud when the DA-run Western Cape provincial government symbolically lit up the legislature building in the colours of the Ukraine flag. And similarly, when the DA-run City of Cape Town did so with the beautiful City Hall building. The people of Ukraine must know that even though our government has taken a cowardly and immoral position, they are not the voice of South Africa.

The rest of us stand with Ukraine against its oppressor.

We reject tyranny and we condemn the brutality of a war criminal like Vladimir Putin.

But just as the ANC does not speak for South Africans on Russia and Ukraine, it is becoming increasingly clear that they don’t speak for the majority of South Africans on domestic issues either.

In last year’s local government elections, they were pushed below 50% for the first time in the history of our democracy. And on a low voter turn-out, too. This marks a tipping point in our country’s history. Because, while we have already seen the ANC lose majorities in a province, in several metros and in dozens of municipalities, we are now seeing it happen on national level, too.

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Democratic Alliance (DA) leader John Steenhuisen delivers the Democratic Alliance’s “The Real State of the Nation Address” at the Speaker’s Corner on February 08, 2022 in Cape Town. (Photo by Gallo Images/Die Burger/Jaco Marais)

This has opened the door to an entirely new path for our country. A path full of uncertainty and change, but also one that, for the first time, might not involve the African National Congress.

After almost three decades, South Africans are finally learning that a liberation movement does not necessarily translate into a government, and that traditional voting allegiances based on race, history and identity are not necessarily in their best interest. Our democracy is maturing, and with this comes a number of teething pains, such as tricky coalition or minority governments. But these are steps we have to take if we are to break free from the shackles this ANC government has placed on our society with its cold war-era approach to life, politics and the economy.

If we are to have any chance at success, then the DA’s brand of liberal democracy – built around constitutionalism, non-racialism, the rule of law and a passionate belief in the enterprising spirit of individual human beings – will have to stand at the centre of this reimagined South African society.

We are going to have to learn, very quickly, to make an even better case for these principles, because they must become the cornerstones on which we rebuild our country. We have to shatter the idea of an all-powerful state that owns and controls everything, and at whose mercy its citizens must live.

And we have to empower individual South Africans to take ownership of their lives and their dreams, and not to simply sign all of it over to a government that has neither the ability nor the will to improve their future.

This sounds simple enough, but it is a monumental task in the South African context, where almost half our adult population is unemployed and more than 30 million citizens live below the upper-bound poverty line.

Over 17 million social grants are paid out every month in South Africa, and this number grows by the day as more and more people join the ranks of the unemployed.

Selling a vision of dignity and independence from the state is not that easy when people have so little hope of finding work.

Asking people to turn their backs on the party of their parents and grandparents; the party of the liberation struggle – and to be the first generation to do so – is a hard task. Particularly given our country’s brutal and unjust history which has left people deeply resentful and suspicious. But it is a step we are going to have to take if we want to make progress. And I am reminded here of the text of a speech delivered by Robert Kennedy, all the way back in 1966, to a group of students at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

Speaking about the role that individuals play in shaping a nation, he said:

“This is the heaviest responsibility of all – a burden men have often refused by turning rule and ideology, belief and power, over to an all-powerful state. History is full of peoples who have discovered it is easier to fight than think, easier to have enemies and friends selected by authority than to make their own painful choices, easier to follow blindly than to lead, even if that leadership must be the private choice of a single man alone with a free and sceptical mind.

But in the final telling it is that leadership, the impregnable scepticism of the free spirit, untouchable by guns or police, which feeds the whirlwind of change and hope and progress in every land and time.”

The future of South Africa lies in the hands of individual South Africans with their own dreams and aspirations. Our change and our progress will be realised when those individual South Africans unshackle our country from its stifling past and cast off this heavy ANC anchor that is dragging us down.

We believe there is hope because the majority of South Africans want to live in a thriving, accountable, democratic state. There is hope if those who have been sitting on the sidelines stand up to be counted when called on to vote. But that will have to happen very soon, or there won’t be much left to save.

The perilous state of our nation is often expressed in numbers and graphs – unemployment, GDP growth, debt, poverty, inequality – but these can never fully convey the reality that millions of poor South Africans have to face every day. For this, you’d have to take a drive through our country’s sprawling informal settlements, through our broken small towns and our forgotten rural landscapes where people have long since given up on the dream of a better life.

We may not be at war, like the bombed-out cities of Ukraine, but large parts of South Africa resemble a war zone. Every service, every institution and every piece of infrastructure that is managed by government or one of its state-owned entities has all but collapsed. Our rail network has been destroyed, or carried off piece by piece to the scrap metal merchants. Our water and sewerage infrastructure is crumbling and polluting our rivers and coastlines. And our state electricity supplier is unable to meet even the shrunken demand of our stagnant economy.

On top of this, sharply rising food, fuel and energy prices are a powder keg waiting for a spark. We saw what this could look like in the riots and looting of July last year, but once the effects of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine start to hit our economy, that social unrest could easily flare up again.

We simply do not have the luxury of time nor the financial reserves to ride out this volatile period of history and hope that things improve somewhere down the line. All over the world, countries are trying to exit the Covid pandemic while preparing for the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But here in South Africa both of those crises are secondary to our biggest crisis of all: three decades of bad ANC policy and crippling ANC corruption. Our economy was already decimated long before Covid struck.

We’d already been in recession, our credit rating was already junk, and our unemployment numbers were already around 40% before anyone had even heard of the coronavirus. Everything that has happened since then – our government’s heavy-handed, unscientific and ongoing response to Covid-19 – just added fuel to an already-blazing fire.

Today, young people in this country feel entirely powerless to change what seems like a bleak future. Half of them don’t even sit down to write their final matric exams, and very few of those who do will enter tertiary education or find a job afterwards. Their hopelessness and their disillusionment is our biggest crisis.

That is why I say we do not have the luxury of time. We might not survive another five years of this ANC national government’s disastrous approach to the economy. And the fabric of our society will not hold forever.

Already we are seeing rips starting to appear in this fabric as people seek to blame others for their desperate situation. The scapegoating of foreigners for everything from unemployment to housing shortages and business opportunities is becoming more and more prevalent.

And predictably, this xenophobia is being fanned by a host of political parties and their populist leaders. At a time when we desperately need level heads and compassion, too many are trying to score cheap political mileage by encouraging distrust and resentment of immigrants.

It’s hard to think of a time since the early 1990s when our country felt more precariously positioned than it is now. But this is also the first time since the early 1990s that a different pathway has seemed possible for South Africa.

Along with the ANC’s slide below 50%, we now also have a situation where the DA leads more governments and governs for more people than ever before.

I addressed a breakaway meeting of all our mayors last weekend, and in that room were 36 DA mayors. In fact, the DA is involved in the governing of 38 municipalities right across the country. This includes four of the country’s eight metro municipalities, along with outright majorities in flagship municipalities such as Midvaal in Gauteng, uMngeni in KwaZulu-Natal and Kouga in the Eastern Cape. And, of course, we also govern the Western Cape province.

Never before have so many South Africans lived in DA-run cities and towns, and this gives us a precious opportunity to show instead of tell what we can do.

With two years to go before the crucial 2024 national and provincial elections, each of these DA-run municipalities presents a chance to demonstrate what we call the DA Difference; the visible and tangible improvement in quality of life that can only be achieved through responsible, responsive and empathetic governance.

This is what we pride ourselves on; the fact that we don’t just talk about making changes or bringing progress. We are already bringing about change and progress. We get things done.

We take immense pride in achieving clean audits in our municipalities because this indicates that we’re spending public money responsibly and where it matters.

We take immense pride in the fact that DA-run towns and cities consistently head up the basic service delivery statistics, because access to things like clean, running water, flush toilets and reliable refuse collection are life-changing for many people.

We take immense pride in offering the best access to public healthcare, or the fact that, where we govern, more children remain in school until their matric exams than anywhere else. We take immense pride in every single house or housing opportunity we hand over to a family, with full title deed, because we know that property ownership will unlock the doors to the economy for millions. Which is why we will never stop fighting national government’s plans to destroy property rights through expropriation.

All of these things are the basic job description of a local government, and the DA does them far better than anyone else.

But it’s not enough for us to simply do the things that fall under our own job description as a local government, because that would still leave people at the mercy of an incompetent national government when it comes to critical services such as electricity provision, policing and rail transport.

And so, our governments have had to step in, more and more, and take on some of these duties and responsibilities, in order to shield citizens from the worst failures of national government.

An obvious example of this is our efforts to spare people the worst effects of electricity load-shedding. You may have heard about the plans of several DA-run metros and municipalities to start procuring their power directly from independent producers instead of relying on Eskom. Already the City of Cape Town manages to spare its customers at least one stage of load-shedding compared to the rest of the country. Soon it will be in a position to make the metro entirely Eskom-proof.

Another area where citizens have been badly let down by national government – and where DA-run local and provincial governments have stepped in to fill the void – is in policing and community safety. Our fight is to ultimately decentralise policing, to put it in the hands of those who know and understand the communities they serve.

But until we achieve this goal, our governments have introduced several law enforcement programmes to help augment visible policing in high-crime areas. One of these – the LEAP programme in Cape Town’s gang-ravished Cape Flats – has already shown remarkable success.

Over the next two years, our ability to demonstrate this DA difference where we govern is the best election campaign tool we could have asked for. This, along with some truly innovative new policy positions we have just adopted on topics such as energy, housing and migration, is what sets us apart and positions us as a national government-in-waiting.

We have long spoken about a coming realignment of politics in South Africa, where the old alliances will give way to new formations around shared values and governing principles.

That time is now. Our country is entering a phase of rapid social and political change, and the DA is going to be at the heart of this change.

This is not going to be easy. It will require a lot of hard work and will to make it happen. And it will require the support of those international partners who place store in the democratic values that we share; values that make up an ethical political economy as much as they do an ethical foreign policy.

But let’s not fool ourselves. Democracy has been on the wane for some time across the globe.

There has been a constant slide to authoritarianism since the mid-2000s. According to Freedom House’s latest report, only about 20% of the world’s population lives in countries classified as ‘free’, down from 46% in 2005. In sub-Saharan Africa, that number is just 9%.

Unfortunately, this slide has often been aided and abetted by donors who place ‘strategic matters’ such as counter-terrorism and peacekeeping programmes – and sometimes, great power rivalry – ahead of human rights.

Lord Palmerston famously put it that countries have no permanent friends or enemies, only perpetual interests. That may be true, but Ukraine has reminded us that those interests can also be long term and values based.

Let me put it this way: if the much-overdue Western action on Ukraine is to be meaningful, it has to take in Africa along with other regions. In practical terms, three actions stand out for external partners of African people.

First, there is a need for a more carefully calibrated policy that links domestic democratic conditions to donor benefits, including access to funding, markets and training. In other words, bad guys should not get benefits.

Second, donors must find the means to support elections. Elections do not, by themselves, determine the quality of a democracy; that is a measure also of the health of institutions and the rule of law, among other aspects. But without a free and fair election, little progress can be made in creating the sort of competitive political systems that produce better outcomes for their citizens. Devising a platform for transparent electoral support is an imperative for Africa’s often beleaguered and bereft election parties.

There should be no shame in supporting Africa’s oppositions; indeed, it is the West’s best hope for maintaining their Palmerstonian interests.

Third, the swathe of Southern African liberation movements that voted to abstain in the recent UN General Assembly vote on Ukraine is a reminder that the threat of authoritarianism is a clear and present danger to our region.

Altering this trajectory from the inevitable train smash that lies ahead should become a proactive priority for the West, not least in its messaging. A failure to do so will only make it complicit in our collapse.

Simply put, the DA’s ability to influence and lead the crucial process of change here in South Africa relies on far more discerning and involved global support.

Allow me to end with another quote from that same Robert Kennedy speech in Johannesburg in 1966:

“So tomorrow’s South Africa will be different from today’s – just as tomorrow’s America will be different from the country I left these few short days ago. Our choice is not whether change will come, but whether we can guide that change in the service of our ideals and toward a social order shaped to the needs of all our people.”

I believe South Africa has already opened the door to this change. And I believe it is the values of the DA – constitutionalism, a capable state, the rule of law, non-racialism and a healthy market economy – that will guide South Africa through this next phase of its development, and in service of its people.

We look forward to walking that journey along with South Africa’s international partners who share these values.

Thank you.


Press Statement by Herman Mashaba, ActionSA President:

SA Government’s position on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine does not reflect the views of all South Africans

ActionSA met with the Ukrainian Ambassador in South Africa, Liubov Abravitova.

This afternoon, following the ANC-led South African Government’s abstention in a UN General Assembly vote on a resolution denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine and calling for its immediate withdrawal, ActionSA resolved to take a clear stance on the matter and met with the Ukrainian Ambassador in South Africa, Liubov Abravitova.

The primary intention of the meeting was to convey ActionSA’s support for the Ukrainian people and that the ANC government’s position does not reflect the views of all South Africans.

The refusal to denounce this war places South Africa on the wrong side of history together with a list of countries known for their human rights violations and disdain for democratic principles, and promotes geo-political leftist propaganda of clear-cut lines between global forces of good and evil.

Our blinding and unending allegiance to countries that the ANC government deems to have been our anti-apartheid struggle allies cannot be allowed to continue unchallenged.

Having come out of apartheid just over 27 years ago, South Africans should not be desensitised just because the Russian invasion of Ukraine is taking place far from our shores. In fact, we should be outraged, given that what is happening in that part of the world has direct implications for our own national and geo-political security.

Global agricultural products, food and fuel prices are soaring, putting even more pressure on the poor who are already buckling under the overwhelming oppression that comes with extreme poverty and who are struggling following the economic blow we have all suffered as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Cyril Ramaphosa’s government whose delusional idea that abstaining demonstrates a strong stand on some principle cannot deny that South Africa’s recent performance on the global stage under his party’s rudderless leadership has fallen severely short of the ambitions identified at the dawn of our democracy.

Since the presidency of Thabo Mbeki and his quiet diplomacy on Zimbabwe, we have seen our government drift further and further away from the principles embedded in our Constitution.

While we do not view Russia as an enemy, in the end, President Putin’s show of force against the Ukrainian people must be seen as nothing less than tyrannical and reminiscent of Hitler’s invasion of Poland, a globally devastating moment in history that led to the eruption of the Second World War.

ActionSA’s affirmation of our country’s post-apartheid foreign policy based on “our belief that human rights should be the core concern of international relations” and “considerations of justice and respect for international law”, compels us to stand in support of the Ukrainian people as well as the international community to avoid the possible international catastrophe that is war.

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