The proposed amendments to the Cannabis for Private Purposes bill that seeks to further decriminalise cannabis usage and legalise South…
by John Steenhuisen – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
My fellow Democrats; I might not be able to see all of you in front of me right now, but I know you’re there. This virtual rally is connecting us from every corner of the country.
We have watching parties in Bloemfontein and Rustenburg and Upington and Lusikisiki and Richards Bay and Polokwane and Saldanha Bay, and Soweto. This blue wave is spreading far and wide today.
I know there’s a buzz in all our provincial DA offices, and at homes where people have gathered to follow this rally online. I have felt this buzz of anticipation in the weeks leading up to today as I traveled across the country and spoke with our branches, our caucuses and our staff.
Of course we all miss doing these things live, in person. I’d much rather be standing in front of you right now. But if there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about our party this past year, it’s that we adapt to whatever challenge is put in front of us.
We innovate to find a way around, over or through, and then we get on with it. Because we know we have a big and urgent job to do, and there is no time to waste.
We have our eyes firmly set on a target, and that target is the 27th of October. Nothing will deter us.
But not everyone seems to share this urgency and this eagerness to go to the polls in October. Our opponents are trying their best to wriggle their way out of it.
They’re either simply not prepared for this campaign, or they fear what voters might say to them on the day. And so they talk about postponing, and they make up excuses.
But we will have none of that. The DA is marching confidently towards 27 October, ready for the challenge and the contest. We started our preparations a long time ago, when others were still asleep, and we are ready to take our message to South Africans in every community across the country.
Our public representatives are standing by. Our activists are standing by. Our staff members are standing by. We know this won’t be a normal campaign, but nothing this past year has been normal. And the DA has risen to the challenge, consistently, like no other party.
We have done our homework, we have built up our momentum, and we’re now ready to take on the ANC in municipalities across the country, as well as defend our own municipalities.
But I also want you to be aware of the responsibility that comes with this challenge. You must know that the DA is the only hope for turning South Africa around. We are the only party with the size, the reach, the vision, the policies and the people to be able to speak seriously and realistically about change.
We simply have to succeed, and we have to do so soon. Every municipality, every ward, every voting district that turns blue in October is one step closer to this goal.
South Africa needs this election, this year, because change cannot wait.
It’s no secret that many of our towns and cities are literally falling apart.
The list of municipalities in critical condition is now longer than the list of those that still function properly.
Service delivery has collapsed in hundreds of towns. Taps are about to run dry in the Eastern Cape. Budgets are being slashed everywhere, from housing to street maintenance to school toilets.
Municipalities owe billions and billions to Eskom and are on the brink of being disconnected.
The massive local government failure in recent years has left many communities almost unliveable. And people have had enough of this.
They’ve had to watch as politicians live it up in luxury, but then turn around and say to them: “Sorry, we just don’t have the money to replace the pit toilets at your child’s school with proper, safe toilets like we said we would. Maybe next year.”
“Sorry, but there is nothing we can do right now about the raw sewage that’s been running down your street for months.”
Or, as we read in a report just released: “Sorry but the almost R40 billion given by Treasury to municipalities over the past six years to fund free electricity to poor households has just disappeared without any of this electricity having been supplied.”
There are hundreds of stories like this of local government failures that have made people’s lives incredibly hard. Never before has it been so clear and so visible in so many places that South Africa needs change.
People are angry, and they have every right to be. We see service delivery protests every single day, right across the country.
Sometimes, just before elections, these protests actually bring some results. When the governing party realises that their failures could be punished, they quickly spring into action with a few visible projects or promises.
However, for the rest of the time – for the other four and a half years in between elections – these communities don’t see or hear from their government. Their pleas and protests are simply ignored.
But there is another form of protest that is guaranteed to get better results, and that is the protest you register with your vote.
That simple little action of drawing a cross in a block on your ballot paper carries more power and brings more change than a thousand tyres burnt and a thousand stones thrown.
That’s why this year is so critical. Millions of South Africans who have been left to fend for themselves – to find their own water, to clean up their own sewage, to cook without electricity, to do all the things their local government was employed to do – have this small but powerful window of opportunity every five years to say: No, that’s not good enough.
Once every five years they get to do a performance review of their local government. And if they’re not satisfied with what they’ve seen, they can say to their government: You had your chance to do your job. In fact, you had many chances, but you blew it. And now we’re firing you, because there must be consequences for failure.
That’s how you bring change.
If you don’t use this opportunity, then things will stay the same for at least another five years.
Albert Einstein once said “Nothing happens unless something is moved.” He may have been talking about physics, but this principle applies to everything in life. If you expect to see an action, a result or a change, then something first has to be moved.
And the way a democracy works is that you have to do the moving. You have to set in motion the change. No one can do that for you.
The very first words written down in the preamble to our Constitution are: “We, the people….”
Because that’s where everything starts, and that’s where all the power and all the responsibility lies: We, the people.
But this line also means something else. “We, the people” means that that we are one people, united in our rich diversity. Our future and our strength as a country depends on this. We cannot slip back into separate little corners of racial or cultural or language identity.
We have to find our common ground and our shared vision for South Africa.
But even more importantly, we have to fight for each other and speak up for each other. We’ll only ever be as strong as the most vulnerable among us, and so the plight of the poorest is also everyone’s plight.
The poverty that has swept across our country, ruining lives and ripping families apart, should offend and anger each and every one of us.
That is our crisis. That is our number one enemy. That’s what stands in the way of our progress as a nation.
And it is a crisis so big and so daunting that our government doesn’t even know where to start fixing it. Or how.
30 million South Africans live below the poverty line. That’s half our population.
42% of working-age South Africans don’t have jobs. That’s almost half our adult population.
And this poverty affects people in a terrifying way. It overshadows every aspect of their lives. It takes away their dreams and it threatens their very survival.
We dare not become accustomed to it. We dare not accept it as a given in our society – a problem so big and entrenched that there’s nothing we can do to solve it. Because poverty and unemployment do have solutions. We’re just not doing those things right now.
Our economic landscape has to change. It has to be reformed, but not in the way government wants to do it.
It doesn’t have to be a zero sum game, where one person loses so that another person can win. That kind of thinking will never change the lives of 30 million poor South Africans. It will only ever replace a few wealthy people with a few other wealthy people.
The only meaningful way to reform our economy is to lift millions of South Africans out of poverty and into jobs and opportunity. To give them a stake in their own future and the ability to build for themselves a life of dignity and independence.
If a solution isn’t aimed at doing this, it’s not a solution. Or at least, it’s not a solution to the crisis we should be solving.
Everything we do – every intervention, every policy, every line item in our budget spend – has to be judged by its impact on poverty and unemployment. And by this I mean its real-life impact, not its stated intention.
We have to be brutally honest when we assess these things. And that begins with asking the right questions, even if the answers are not what all of us want to hear.
Is this intervention targeted at poor South Africans, or is it really aimed at re-empowering the already-empowered?
Will this policy make South Africa a more attractive place to potential investors, or will it scare future business away?
Will these rules make it easier for a business to start up and survive or does it demand the impossible of employers?
Does this legislation protect the unemployed too, or only those who already have jobs?
Does this policy build non-racialism, or does it further divide us?
Only when we start answering these questions honestly, will we be in a position to start winning the war on poverty.
This crisis won’t be solved by who says what at the Zondo Commission.
It won’t be solved by who steps aside in the ANC and who doesn’t.
It won’t be solved by keeping dying state-owned companies afloat with billions of Rands that should be spent on more important things.
And it most certainly won’t be solved by doing all the same old things that got us into this situation in the first place.
Don’t expect to see a change if you don’t make one.
Fellow Democrats, our party is the one that has to make this change.
Only the DA understands that economic growth and job creation have to trump all other priorities and ideologies if we want to beat poverty.
Only the DA stands for values that protect and advance the rights of all the people of South Africa, and not only a certain group.
Only the DA respects the sanctity of public money and doesn’t tolerate corruption and mismanagement of funds.
Only the DA is committed to building a capable, fit-for-purpose state.
Only the DA has a national footprint big enough to be able to represent every person in every community, and to challenge the dominance of the ANC.
And, importantly, only the DA has already been handed a mandate, by voters, in metros and municipalities to demonstrate how it would govern differently from the ANC. And this has given us a track record of excellence that no other party can claim.
We don’t have to speak about what we would do in government, like every other party. Because frankly, that’s easy. Anyone can do this. The DA speaks about what it has achieved in government, and those achievements put ANC governments to shame.
The top 5 best-run municipalities in South Africa are all governed by the DA. The best-run metro is governed by the DA. And the best-run province is governed by the DA. That’s not my opinion – that’s according to independent audits and rankings.
This doesn’t mean these places are perfect. We know that there are still many challenges we need to solve and areas we need to improve on. But it is a matter of undisputed fact that where the DA governs citizens are better off and have a better chance of living a life of opportunity and dignity.
And that is what we now need to build on – to bring this DA difference to even more communities and people.
We’ve got a record of action and a promise of more.
But it is not something we can do alone. We need to harness the power of the people. We have to remind voters that “We, the people” speaks about them and their responsibilities in our democracy.
I know many South Africans are tired of politics. They’re tired of governments that don’t work and politicians that don’t do what they say. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We need to reignite the flame of democracy.
Every South African has a role to play in bringing about change. And so I encourage those who want to be part of it to go to time4change.org.za – that’s time4change written with the number 4 – and sign our pledge that says “I’m committed to getting South Africa working again”.
Let us all become active citizens and take ownership of our future.
Let us make sure our names are on the voters’ roll on the registration weekend of 17 and 18 July.
Let us declare poverty the enemy of the people, and let us not rest until every South African has dignity and security.
Let us find our common ground and stand united for a common cause. Because when we join hands we will discover that there are millions of us who want the same thing for our country. Millions of us who want change.
Let us rediscover the power that the people have in our democracy, and let us take it back from a government that has long ago stopped caring about the people.
The time for change is now.