SA Today: Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity. A New Chapter Opens for South Africa

zille3-440x281My fellow Democrats,

It is an immense honour to be here today and speak to you, for the last time, as the DA’s Federal Leader. To say that this is an emotional moment for me doesn’t begin to describe it.

The DA hasn’t just been a big part of my life. It has, often, felt like my whole life. Because I know, as you do too, that if the DA succeeds, South Africa succeeds. We are bound together by the belief that the best we can do for our country, and all our children, is to realise the dream we had at the dawn of our democracy 21 years ago: to turn South Africa into a country of freedom, fairness and opportunity for all.

Inkululeko, Ukucingelana, namathuba kumntu wonke.

I am moved and humbled by the support you have given me today, as you have done so consistently, even in the most difficult of times.

It’s almost eight years ago, to the day, that I stood before many of you at our Federal Congress in Midrand and gave my first address as Federal Leader.

A lot can happen in eight years. A lot did happen.

Not one of us in that hall on the 6th of May 2007 could have predicted where the DA would be today.

To quote my predecessor, Tony Leon, who is here with us, and to whom I pay a great tribute: it was not written in the stars that we would grow from a tiny opposition party, on the brink of extinction in 1994, to become the official opposition within five years, and then a party of government soon afterwards.

It happened because all of us were passionate about making South Africa’s democracy work. This meant preventing our politics from degenerating into a contest between competing racial nationalisms. Against the odds, we believed it was possible to build a new non-racial majority to defend the rule of law, and grow an economy capable of creating the jobs our people so desperately need.

We knew if we could achieve this, our democracy would flourish; if not, it would perish, as has happened in so many other countries that have attempted the perilous passage from authoritarian rule to democracy. More have failed than succeeded.

The DA was and remains determined to see South Africa achieve what so few have been able to, and for our country to become a beacon of hope for the developing world, ‘n baken van hoop vir die ontwikkelende wêreld.

Single-mindedly we set about achieving our goal. We lived from election to election, pursuing our vision and implementing our strategies.

That is how we grew from a party of 338,000 votes in 1994, to over 4 million last year. In the process the DA became the most non-racial party South Africa has ever had, and the only one that has grown in every national election. And believe me, that trend is about to accelerate.

This Congress heralds a turning point, not only for the DA, but for South Africa – ‘n keerpunt vir Suid-Afrika.

Utshintsho olukhawulezileyo loMants’ Afrika.

In 1994, when we had a mere seven MPs, we were by far the most effective opposition, outperforming parties many times our size. Today with 102 MPs (including the NCOP), 91 Members of Provincial Legislatures and 1,656 councillors, we are known both as a party of effective opposition and a party of good governance, that delivers for all.

We are the only party that has managed to dislodge the ANC from seats of power, through the ballot box, and we now govern a province, a major metro and 26 local authorities across the country.

And that was just the start. As we approach the 2016 local elections, we are knocking at the door of three more metros, one of which we meet in today. With the same drive and passion we showed in bringing DA-led government to Cape Town ten years ago, we can do the same here, and in other cities and towns across our country.

Dit gaan weer ongelooflike ywer en passie kos, maar ons weet dis moontlik.

Many of you will recall the debate we had when I was elected leader, and decided to remain mayor of Cape Town rather than return to Parliament. It was a controversial decision, but, in my view, essential to our strategy of building our brand as a party of government. Looking back, it also had an additional advantage.

My remaining mayor opened up other important leadership platforms, enabling a new generation of leaders to emerge, reflecting our growing diversity and depth. Today every South African can recognise themselves, their life experiences and aspirations, somewhere in the DA’s leadership ranks.

We have worked hard to become the change we want to see in South Africa, a party for all the people who share the core values that we have brought together in the Values Charter we are about to adopt and launch.

It is easy to take our achievements for granted. But now and again it is important to press the pause button, and appreciate just how far we have exceeded the most optimistic predictions of what we could achieve.

As you all know, I’m not one for predictions, because they assume the future is fixed, and just waiting to be reached through the passage of time.

There’s a quote by a Hungarian physicist and Nobel laureate called Dennis Gabor, that sums up how the DA got from where it once was, to where we are now, and where we still can be. Gabor said:

“The future cannot be predicted, but futures can be invented.”

Die toekoms kan nie voorspel word nie, maar ‘n toekoms kan geskep word.

Ikamva alinokuqashelwa, ikamva liyakhiwa.

All great inventions start as visions that initially seem beyond the realm of possibility. The DA envisioned what South Africa could be; and we are making it happen. Not by waiting for the future to unfold, but by constructing a new pathway into the future. And we are further along the road than most people believe.

Just last week, the blue machine reached the University of Fort Hare, achieving what no-one would have predicted, an overall majority — 52,5% — in the Student Representative Council election.

Fort Hare is the alma mater of many of South Africa’s most iconic leaders, like Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu.

What a triumph for our democracy it would be if this Metro, named after the father of our nation, Nelson Mandela, were to emerge from the 2016 local elections with a DA-led government. That tribute to the world’s most revered leader is within our reach. We can invent that future.

Ons kan daardie toekoms skep.

Singalenza elo kamva.

We know how hard we are going to have to work for every single vote. We never take our voters for granted, not those who have always voted for us, nor those who are considering voting for us for the first time. We have to show that the DA is the only party committed to building a fair and inclusive South Africa for everyone.

Make no mistake – what we’re trying to do is hard. Dit is geweldig moeilik.

Inzima kakhulu

It is not only about having the best policies to jumpstart our economy, and the conditions for growth to create the millions of jobs that our people so desperately need.

If elections were only about good policy, we would have been in government long ago.

Given the tragedy of our past, building trust between South Africans is an essential foundation.

Kufuneka sakhe isiseko sokuthembana emZants’ Afrika.

Vertroue is inderdaad ‘n noodsaaklike grondslag.

We need to reassure people that we recognise how the deep injustices of the past still haunt our present, and that we’re committed to redress that comes through real opportunities for all, not just for the elite few.

We must, where we govern, show how our pro-poor budgets and good governance result in a better life and greater opportunities for everyone.

And we must let people know – loud and clear – that the DA is a party for all South Africans, regardless of the colour of their skin or the language they speak.

Ons moet mense hard en duidelik laat weet dat die DA ‘n party vir alle Suid-Afrikaners is.

Singumbutho wabantu bonke.

It’s a tough ask, which is why our opponents won’t even try it.

It’s far easier to drive people apart, than to unite those who have been historically divided.

It’s far easier to focus on diversions and grandstanding than to address the real reasons for poverty and inequality.

It’s far easier to chant slogans in parliament than to do the hard yards, fighting year-in and year-out, for accountability through our democratic institutions.

It’s far easier to play the race card whenever someone makes a point you can’t answer, rather than engage them with an honest and open mind.

It’s far easier to look after your politically connected friends, and pretend that this is transformation, than to broaden opportunities for all the people.

It is far easier to keep blaming the past than to try to fix the present and build the future.

Dis baie moeiliker om die hede te herstel en aan die toekoms te bou.

The DA is the only party that follows this difficult route, because we know that one of the most famous political quotes in our history is true: There is no easy walk to freedom. We mustn’t pretend it has suddenly become easy now.

Ayikho indlela elula eya enkululekweni.

We know that there are no short cuts on this long and difficult road. But we are also acutely aware that South Africa is in a race against time.

Suid-Afrika is in ‘n wedloop teen tyd.

A race against time to rescue our institutions of democracy from being captured by a corrupt network to protect themselves from criminal charges. A race against time to create confidence in the future, and attract the investment needed to grow our economy and create jobs for millions of South Africans who are fast losing hope and patience.

But the good news is that South Africans are increasingly realizing that they have the power to win this race.

They know, like the students of Fort Hare, that their vote is their power to hire and fire a government, if it betrays their trust.

Democracy only works when elected leaders fear the power of their voters. It is the best possible news for our democracy that voters are making their power felt.

That is why the ANC is shrinking. They have nothing left to offer except distant struggle credentials and empty race rhetoric.

They are stuck in the past. They are failing the present. They cannot win the future.

This Congress marks the start of a new chapter for South Africa.

Hierdie Kongres vorm die begin van ‘n nuwe hoofstuk vir Suid-Afrika.

Le nkomfa luphawu lesiqalo esitsha soMzantsi Afrika.

As we head towards next year’s local government elections, and then onto 2019, we must remain unified and unwavering in our purpose to re-ignite our people’s belief that the South Africa we envisioned, 21 years ago, is indeed possible.

And, if we stick to the plan, the DA will form the backbone of a new national government in the foreseeable future.

As we move closer to the Union Buildings, we have to redouble our efforts to attract the best and brightest talent into our party, because a capable state is essential for success.

And everything we do must be rooted in the values expressed in the Charter we’re about to adopt.

Because it is these values that connect us to each other, and to our voters. Dit is hierdie waardes wat ons tot mekaar, en tot ons kiesers, verbind.

When we speak of concepts like Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity — Inkululeko, ukucingelana, namathuba — It is important that these aren’t empty words. They must have real meaning.

Freedom is not just the stroke of a pen at the ballot box. Freedom is meaningless unless you can use it to improve your life.

The kind of freedom that comes with a quality education, safe communities, and a growing economy, creating jobs that pay a living wage.

The kind of freedom that enables you to escape the poverty trap and live a life you truly value.

Fairness, to us, means two separate but interconnected things.

On the one hand Fairness means a just and equal society, free from the scourge of patronage, corruption and politically-connected economic insiders and outsiders.

A society where there is a direct link between the effort you put in and the rewards you get out.

But ours is also a fundamentally unequal society because of the injustices of the past. And this is why Fairness also means our commitment to tackle inequality through targeted programmes to close this gap.

And finally, Opportunity refers to everything we provide, as a capable DA state, to help people improve their lives.

These Opportunities range from quality education and training to facilities like libraries and job centres. They include assistance and guidance in starting a business. They include decent healthcare and a social safety net to protect the most vulnerable in our society.

It is then up to people to become active citizens who recognize and use their opportunities to build a better life for themselves and their families.

These three concepts – Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity – underpin all our policies and all our actions. They are the clear blue water separating us from our opponents.

In adopting our new Values Charter today, we are saying to every person in South Africa: The DA government you vote for will do everything in its power to put you firmly in charge of your own destiny.

It’s fitting that our Congress is being held here in Nelson Mandela Bay.

This is the Eastern Cape – traditionally the ANC’s heartland. But the DA tore up that script last year when we pushed the ANC below 50% in Nelson Mandela Metro for the first time, and that trend is gaining momentum.

That’s the thing about momentum – it’s irresistible. Once you have it, it picks up pace and is very hard to stop.

The DA’s new leadership – to be elected tomorrow – can count on every ounce of my support to make this a reality.

Ndizakuzixhasa iinkokheli zethu ezintsha.

We have been working towards this goal for half a century – from those early days when Helen Suzman was our lone voice in parliament, and refused to be drowned out or shut down.

Now that destiny is within our reach, and it falls to us, in this hall today, to make it happen. Masiyenze yenzeke. Ons moet dit laat gebeur.

Your commitment and your unwavering sense of duty to your country has inspired me every single day.

We have been, and must remain, a party united in service, not torn apart by internal power struggles.

This time tomorrow you will have a new Federal Leader. If he has the same support that I received, from all my colleagues and from my beloved family, I have no doubt that we will invent a future that guarantees a prosperous, inclusive country for future generations.

We have only one shot at this, and millions of South Africans are counting on us to succeed. We cannot and we will not let them down.

Ons kan en sal Suid-Afrika nie teleurstel nie.

UmZantsi Afrika ungakholelwa kuthi.

Ungandinwa nangomso.

Thank you all so much.

Helen Zille

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