John Steenhuisen, on the precipice of enormous change – lays down the coalition gauntlet

John Steenhuisen, leader of the DA, broadcast his views on developments in the country today which are reproduced below. He believes the country’s economy and society is at breaking point. He points out that half of all South Africans live below the poverty line, and almost half of those who want to work can’t find jobs. The infrastructure is crumbling, local governments almost everywhere have collapsed, crime is soaring out of control and there is not enough electricity to keep the lights on, let alone grow the economy. The people of South Africa have clearly had enough, and every sign now points towards the end of the ANC era, and the start of a new chapter in the history of our democracy – that of multi-party coalitions. But Steenhuisen believes there is a coordinated attack on the coalition governments of all three Gauteng metros, orchestrated by the ANC and supported by its small proxy parties. The ANC desperately needs to get its hands back in the cash register, and it will stop at nothing in its efforts to do so. He assures South Africans that the party he leads has the stomach for this fight, however, and says their entire focus is on replacing the ANC government with a coalition government in 2024: prepared for anything that might happen between now and then. – Sandra Laurence

The Coalition Alternative for South Africa

By John Steenhuisen*

My fellow citizens

South Africa stands on the threshold of enormous change.

We are fast approaching a profound shift in the way our country’s government is put together, and this will have a far-reaching impact on the lives of each and every South African.

It is a change so big that it is hard to grasp the full scope of it. The vast majority of South Africans alive today have only ever known one-party dominance.

For the past 74 uninterrupted years, South Africa has been governed by a single party with such a strong majority that all the incentives for accountable and clean governance that normally exist in a healthy democracy simply disappeared.

Without the realistic threat of removal by voters, first the National Party and then the ANC did exactly as they pleased. And as we all know, the result of this has been disastrous for our country.

Today, our economy and our society is at breaking point. Half of all South Africans live below the poverty line, and almost half of those who want to work can’t find jobs.

Our infrastructure is crumbling, local governments almost everywhere have collapsed, crime is soaring out of control and we don’t have enough electricity to keep the lights on, let alone grow the economy.

But just as it seems that things could not deteriorate much further without the country falling into anarchy, we are presented with the only lifeline that matters in a democracy: a realistic chance to change governments.

The people of South Africa have clearly had enough, and every sign now points towards the end of the ANC era, and the start of a new chapter in the history of our democracy – that of multi-party coalitions.

This means our democracy is maturing, and with this comes the prospect of accountability and responsiveness in government – something South Africa has never known.

At metro and municipality level, we have already entered the era of the coalition government. The vast majority of South Africans living in our cities and biggest towns no longer live under ANC local governments.

In two years’ time this will most likely be replicated at national level as the ANC’s support continues to plummet below 50% and a broad coalition of parties learns to find common ground in service of the people.

What seemed impossible not even a decade ago is now just around the corner as the people of South Africa realise that there is a credible alternative – a coalition alternative – right there within reach.

That is the enormous change we’re about to step into.

But we’ve known all along that this transition from decades of ANC dominance to a real multi-party democracy and multi-party coalitions would not be easy. Given its track record of greed, corruption and extraction, the ANC was not going to let go without a dirty fight.

And that fight is precisely what we’re seeing in the Gauteng metros right now.

There is a coordinated attack on the coalition governments of all three Gauteng metros, orchestrated by the ANC and supported by its small proxy parties.

The mayors of these metros – who all happen to be DA mayors – are being targeted simultaneously in an effort to destabilise these governments and let the ANC in the back door.

In Tshwane, the ANC has submitted a motion of no confidence in Mayor Randall Williams, while in Johannesburg its allies, the PAC and the AIC, have done the same to Mayor Mpho Phalatse. And we understand there are now similar plans afoot for Mayor Tania Campbell in Ekurhuleni.

This is the work of an ANC that finds itself cut off from its entire patronage network in these Gauteng metros. As a result it now cannot fund its own operation or pay its own staff, not to mention the blow this has dealt to the lavish lifestyles many of its members have become accustomed to.

It desperately needs to get its hands back in the cash register, and it will stop at nothing in its efforts to do so.

These coordinated attacks on our mayors – and also our speakers – are nothing short of a coup attempt by the corrupt.

But this goes beyond our mayors, our speakers and these individual metro coalitions. Because what the ANC is attacking is the very idea of a coalition alternative in South Africa.

By trying to scupper these metro coalition governments, they are effectively attacking our country’s chance to move on beyond ANC dominance. They are attacking project South Africa and threatening to drag us back to a place we should never, ever return to.

But I want to tell you today that this project will not fail. It is too important to fail.

We will not allow the ANC and its proxy parties to sabotage the future of our country. We have come too far already – and there is too much at stake – to let them back in now.

I can assure you that the party I lead has the stomach for this fight. Our entire focus is on replacing the ANC government with a coalition government in 2024, and we are prepared for anything that might happen between now and then.

I also have no doubt that most of our coalition partners will stand right beside us to help ward off this attempted power grab. There are many of us across multiple parties who share a vision of a South Africa that works for all its people and who believe that this vision is now well within our reach.

I am greatly encouraged by the principled stance of our coalition partners who have held the line.

But I also know that the ANC will not try to perform this power grab alone. They will seek allies in our coalitions and they will try to turn them against these coalitions. Even those who have publicly vowed to never work with the ANC are now being lured into the ANC’s fight.

This strategy could not be more transparent, and it is critical that voters connect these dots. Because if you are one of the tens of millions of South Africans desperate for change, you need to know exactly where your vote will ultimately end up.

Every party is going to have to think long and hard about where they’d like to see South Africa after 2024. Because when we speak of a coalition alternative following the next election, we’re not only talking about one possibility.

Right now, according to the latest polling, there is a mere 11 percentage points difference between the ANC and the DA. This means that a coalition government post-2024 will either be led by the DA or by the ANC.

There are two – and only two – realistic outcomes.

Every party – and every leader of those parties – will have to decide which of these two options they want for our country. And they’re going to have to play open cards with their voters on this.

I can only speak for the DA when I say that our commitment to bringing about change for the people of South Africa will not waver. Our project is to replace the ANC government, and we will see this project through.

We will continue to engage with all parties that share our core values as we look towards 2024 and beyond. Because our coalition – the coalition of reform, accountability and delivery – will need to be ready to step into national government in less than two years’ time.

We will also continue, through these metro coalitions, to serve the residents as best we can, because people need to see and believe that coalition governments are not only possible, but also that they can be effective.

Now I know it is easy to become despondent in South Africa. Between the relentless crime waves, the rolling blackouts, the sharply rising food and fuel prices and one of the world’s worst unemployment crises, it’s sometimes hard to find the silver lining in our country’s prospects.

Add to all of this the decay that has been allowed to set in across our cities over the past two decades through neglect, incompetence and corruption, and it is understandable that residents of these metros might feel that things have slipped so far that they might never be turned around.

But I assure you that this is not true. Each of these Gauteng metros has already made real progress in undoing the decades of damage, stabilising the finances and re-starting service delivery.

These coalition governments in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Ekurhuleni are working, and we dare not allow this momentum to be broken now.

Let me to give you some examples of this, because I know it’s not always easy to identify the progress when there is still so much that needs to be done. And particularly when much of this progress is the unglamorous and the invisible.

These examples are just from the past year.

In Tshwane, 171 new Metro Police officers were added to the city’s law enforcement. The City also ramped up fines for cable theft and vandalism to help protect its critical infrastructure, and R10 million has been allocated to the City’s Metro Police Department to fight cable theft.

Tshwane has more than doubled the budget allocation to its various social relief programmes for indigent households, and this now stands at R3 billion. It has increased the budget allocation for water and electricity infrastructure maintenance and builds by R100 million.

The City has also embarked on a recruitment process for 5000 EPWP workers, it has upped its revenue collection rate from 63% to 77% and Mayor Randall Williams has tabled a plan to end loadshedding in the metro through existing power stations as well as new gas turbines, at no additional cost the the City.

There is still much to be done in Tshwane, but it has undoubtedly turned a corner and is making clear progress. And that is what the ANC is trying to stop through these attacks.

In the City of Johannesburg there is an equally long list of successes by its coalition government, and it is precisely because of these successes and the commitment shown by Mayor Mpho Phalatse to restoring the shine to the City of Gold, that she is being targeted and bullied.

In the past year, an additional 1800 Johannesburg Metro Police Department officers have been deployed in the inner city.

Residents of Lenasia now have a brand new 15-megalitre water reservoir, over a hundred City buses have been completely refurbished, and the old Kaserne building was imploded to make way for 1500 low-cost housing units in the Joburg inner city.

The City has set aside R200 million for 20 new fire engines, it has set aside R1,3 million for 150 park rangers to make Joburg’s parks safer, and it has committed to building ten new clinics over the next three years, as well as extending the hours of 47 existing clinics.

Johannesburg is clearly a metro on the mend, which is why the ANC has set its proxies on the mayor in an effort to derail the coalition government.

In Ekurhuleni the list of achievements is no less impressive. The Metro Police Department there gained an addition 470 officers over the past year, and there have been increases in the budget allocations for electrical maintenance, water infrastructure repairs and road and pothole repairs.

The City has also taken the fight to loadshedding by awarding 46 tenders to small-scale independent power producers, along with signing a renewable energy wheeling deal and approving the installation of one of the country’s largest solar microgrids.

Under the coalition government led by Mayor Tania Campbell, Ekurhuleni’s credit rating has recently been upgraded – a clear sign of a metro pointing in the right direction, and also the reason she now has a target on her back.

It is hard, slow and often thankless work cleaning out the rot and turning these struggling metros around, but that is exactly what is happening across all three Gauteng metros.

Many didn’t give them a chance, but these coalition governments are working. And they are showing South Africans a clear path away from ANC ruin and towards a better future.

The ANC knows this. They know that voters have started to recognise this path from where we are today to where we need to be, and they know that this path does not involve them. And so they have launched a desperate attack to stop this from happening.

This attack will likely continue all the way to the 2024 elections, and possibly beyond. But we dare not lose heart. Too many people are counting on us along with our committed coalition partners to do the right thing.

We cannot let them down, and so we will stand up to anything the ANC throws at us.

We are not intimidated by these coordinated attacks and we will certainly not allow anyone to derail this project of righting our ship and steering her towards a better future.

I urge all parties to take a step back and see the bigger picture here. See what game the ANC is playing, and decide whether they want to be roped into that strategy.

And at the same time I urge every South African to hold these parties responsible for their actions through their votes. If you dream of a post-ANC South Africa, then let it be known that you will not tolerate the prospect of your vote being handed straight back to the ANC.

This is our one chance to break free from the shackles imposed on our country by 74 years of one-party rule, and our only pathway out lies in a coalition alternative in service of the people.

I give you my word that the DA will do everything in its power to build such a coalition and keep it united in pursuit of the biggest goal: an end to ANC dominance in South Africa in 2024.

Thank you.

  • John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance.

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