The following speech was delivered today by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, at Daily Maverick’s The Gathering, in Midrand, Johannesburg.
Good morning to my fellow guests, studio audience and everyone following this discussion on TV, radio and social media.
I’d like to thank the Daily Maverick for hosting this event, because it is crucial to speak about the issues facing our country in a mature and respectful manner.
It is indeed ironic that we need to travel away from the hallowed halls of Parliament to find some decorum in our discourse. I hope that we can achieve that here today.
Public debates like these are a crucial part of our democratic process. Long may traditions like The Gathering continue.
And long may media outlets like the Daily Maverick continue to do their important job without fear of favour.
In these times of news censorship, the public broadcaster’s banning of political TV adverts and the refusal to show anti-government protests, it is crucial that the remaining independent media outlets paint the real picture.
Ladies and gentlemen,
In less than two months’ time South Africans will go to the polls to elect local governments in over 200 municipalities. And when we do so we will be choosing the custodians of both our democracy and our economy.
It is important to remember this, as both our institutional democracy as well as our country’s economy and its ability to create jobs are under threat.
And I’d like to state upfront that there is only one party in South Africa that is up to this task. There is only one party that has the proven commitment and the proven ability to safeguard our democracy and grow our economy.
As we head towards our fifth Local Government Elections, it is clear that our democracy is maturing. And by this I don’t mean the level of our political discourse. I mean the way in which voters align themselves.
The spread of votes between the smaller parties has become almost negligible, leaving only three realistic contenders – represented by the first three speakers here at The Gathering. And that’s a sign of a maturing democracy.
I say “represented by the first three speakers”, but of course that ignores a very obvious elephant in the room. Julius Malema and I are here as leaders of our respective parties, but the leader of the third major party is conspicuous in his absence.
Yes, I know President Zuma is a busy man, with many important things on his plate right now.
Between shopping for a jet, appearing in court, lining up a lucrative Russian nuclear deal and keeping a long-distance relationship in Dubai going, there isn’t much time for anything else.
But, from a voter’s point of view, he should be here at this important event. Because in this election year, many, many South Africans are still waiting for answers from him.
I must say that I was expecting to see Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on the stage before me. At least, that’s what was promised in the draft programme.
But it would appear that Cyril Ramaphosa was pulled from the event at the last moment.
No offense to Zweli Mkhize, but the ANC clearly struggled to find someone for this job. Given a few more days and I suspect we’d be down to Des van Rooyen.
So let’s get on with the event before we witness another reshuffle.
In 55 days’ time we will put our democracy to the test.
I say this because, although we’ve had plenty of successful elections over the past two decades, none of these have truly tested our democracy.
This kind of test only happens when there is a threat to the governing party’s grip on power. And that is where we find ourselves today.
It is critical that our democracy passes this test. We need to know that our government can change hands without parties resorting to violence and electoral fraud.
We need to treasure our democracy, because – although it is not perfect – it is our miracle.
Democracy was fought for so that we could resolve conflict peacefully – through the ballot box.
Somebody once said that the ballot is more powerful than the bullet.
We are at a time in our history when all South Africans, including those sharing this stage with me, should remember these words.
We lived with the bullet for 400 years. It was the threat of the bullet that sustained colonialism and Apartheid.
We must never go back there. Instead we must embrace this democracy – however imperfect it may be. And we must work together to build our democratic institutions.
Most importantly of all, we must effect change through the ballot. That is what this election is about.
Those who talk about taking power through the barrel of a gun do not understand what the struggle for democracy was about.
And those who talk about taking power through the barrel of a gun lack ambition.
They should be setting their sights on winning elections, not resorting to mindless threats of violence.
The good news is that 26.3 million South Africans are registered to vote in these upcoming local government elections. That’s an increase of 11.3% over the 2011 total.
This a sign that voters are getting ready to use the power of the ballot to effect change.
More than a million of these voters will be making their mark for the first time. And if we’ve learned one thing in the past year, it is that young South Africans refuse to be taken for granted.
Young people have made it clear that they will not tolerate a government that doesn’t keep its word.
These first-time voters represent a generation with little to lose and everything to gain. A generation of which almost two-thirds can’t find work, having stepped out of a failed education system and into a stalled economy.
They are frustrated and impatient. And if anyone chooses not to listen to them or fails to take them seriously, they are making a big mistake.
These young South Africans may be labelled “born frees”, but many of them haven’t tasted real freedom.
This is because they have inherited a deeply unjust society. Through no fault of their own, millions of young, mainly black, South Africans have to contend with a daily reality in which Apartheid’s legacy still governs just about every aspect of their lives.
They watched as their parents waited patiently for the economic freedom that was meant to follow their political freedom. For 22 years their parents waited, and most of them are no closer to achieving this today than they were back in 1994.
This new generation will not wait 22 years for freedom. They will not wait for someone to deliver it to them. They will stand up and get it themselves. And in less than two months’ time, they’ll have their first chance to do so.
Which brings me back to the choices these voters have.
On the one side is the ANC – the party of their parents. The party that was meant to deliver a better life for all, but has today been reduced to a shady network of patronage and corruption.
Instead of staying the course and completing the transition from liberation movement to capable party of government, their leadership chose to abuse their power and to steal from the people of this country.
The party has betrayed its values and it has betrayed its voters. And this is not just a Jacob Zuma problem. It is an ANC problem. The party is corrupt to the core and, in defending Zuma, the ANC has shown, over and over again, that it cannot change from within.
Mr Mkhize has obviously been deployed here today because of his loyalty to Jacob Zuma. It is Mr Mkhize who just announced that Mr Zuma will feature on the ANC’s T-shirts, even though he must know that every one of these T-shirts will cost the ANC votes.
Now that’s what I call blind loyalty.
It reminds of the loyalty once shown by somebody else towards Jacob Zuma. A man who once said he would kill for Zuma.
This is the same man who today proudly says that he would take power in South African through the barrel of a gun.
Julius, tell us why do you like violence so much? Do you not remember the violence of the 80s and 90s? Do you not remember Boipatong? Sebokeng? Have you forgotten what happened throughout KwaZulu-Natal in the build-up to 1994?
Julius, why are you promising civil war when South Africans want peace?
Why are you promising the bullet, when we have the ballot?
It is because, deep down, you know that most South Africans will reject your policies at the polls.
The reality of government exists in a different universe to the make-believe world the EFF has been selling. There is a gap as wide as the Karoo sky between what they pledge to voters and what their economic policies can deliver.
Anyone can make promises of free houses with many rooms, high-paying jobs and self-sufficient municipalities with food and services for all. But there is simply no way the EFF can deliver on any of these promises.
On Wednesday Stats SA announced that our GDP had contracted by 1.2% in the first quarter of 2016. This spells disaster for 8.9 million unemployed South Africans who hoped to find work.
They have been failed by the ANC government at national level, and they have been failed by the ANC where it governs in towns and cities across the country.
But even this is a picnic compared to what would happen under an EFF government.
Make no mistake, whatever ruin awaits our economy under the ANC will accelerate tenfold under the EFF.
To get an idea of what this would be like, just look at what is unfolding in the EFF’s socialist utopia, Venezuela.
Not too long ago, Venezuela was a thriving, modern democracy. That was until Hugo Chavez – a self-proclaimed “champion of the poor”, much like my friend, Julius Malema here – sold them his utopian vision.
The result was the most spectacular economic implosion you’ll see in any country outside of a war situation.
Every public service has collapsed, inflation sits at triple digits, 70% of the population lives in poverty, infant deaths and mortality rates are skyrocketing and violence and looting are the order of the day.
Chavez’s experiment in central economic control has ruined a once-flourishing economy. So, if the EFF ever does take power through the barrel of a gun, this is what we can look forward to.
Or if you want a quick referendum closer to home on the EFF’s brand of state-led economy, just ask any of the two to three million Zimbabweans in South Africa who fled the misery of Mugabe’s regime what they think.
Because Mugabe’s policies devastated his country and forced millions across the border to escape hunger and poverty.
The Zimbabwean economy today is half the size it was 15 years ago when Mugabe started his land grabs. The collapse of Zimbabwe is a very accurate blueprint for life under an EFF government.
South Africans know this. They saw what Mugabe did to Zimbabwe, and they recognise the same thing in Julius Malema and the EFF.
They also know that if you allow the taking of power through the barrel of a gun, then you must be prepared to accept living under the barrel of a gun.
South Africans do not want a country built on violence and threat, and they will reject this though their vote.
Our change will come through the ballot, not the bullet.
Ladies and gentlemen,
There is only one party with a plan to turn our cities into hubs of economic growth, even in spite of a failing ANC national government.
By treating entrepreneurs as the heroes of a new struggle for economic freedom, we can turn unemployment in our cities around.
The DA recognises that businesses large and small, and not government, are the creators of jobs.
We need to encourage investment in our cities so that jobs can be created. This means cutting red tape and supporting emerging entrepreneurs.
It means investing in the kind of infrastructure that facilitates growth. This includes building integrated public transport systems, rolling out broadband and upgrading water and sanitation infrastructure.
And we know that waste and corruption are the enemies of growth and jobs. The cleaner the local government, the better the chances of attracting and retaining investors.
These things are the basics of good local government. And most of the battle is won by doing the basics right.
There is also only one party here in this debate that can make promises to voters of a better life, and back these promises up with a proven track record in government.
And when I say a proven track record, I mean verified by independent reports and data on issues ranging from employment to service delivery to clean governance.
Just look at the recent report by the independent organisation Good Governance Africa, which found that nine of the ten best-run municipalities are DA-run.
Quite an exeptional achievement when you consider that we currently govern 26 out of more than 200 municipalities in South Africa.
And look at unemployment, for example, the greatest challenge we face as a nation.
According to the latest Quarterly Labour Force survey by Stats SA, the Western Cape’s unemployment rate is 23%. That’s the expanded unemployment rate, which includes all those who want to work but have given up looking.
The national expanded unemployment rate is 36.6%. That’s a differential of more than 13%.
In Gauteng, the DA-run municipality of Midvaal has an expanded unemployment rate of 18.8%. In the other Gauteng municipalities, this ranges from 24% up to 35%.
The message is clear. Where the DA governs, more jobs are created.
Where the DA governs, people also have the highest access to basic services, and particularly the free portion of these services.
The Stats SA Household Census Report released this week confirmed this when it found that over 98% of poor households in the Western Cape had access to a basket of free basic services.
That is more than 50% better than the average for South Africa as a whole, and the strongest proof that the DA is improving the lives of people in the poorest communities.
The reason why the DA is successful at delivering services is because it runs a clean and efficient operation. The DA doesn’t tolerate corruption and waste, and this translates into direct benefit for communities.
If you want a clear indication of the level of corruption in a government, then you need to look at its unauthorised, fruitless and wasteful expenditure.
In the ANC-run metros of Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay, this figure was R2.2 billion in 2014/2015. In the DA-run City of Cape Town it was zero.
21 of the 26 DA-run municipalities received totally clean audits – in other words, unqualified with no findings.
The facts speak for themselves: Poor South Africans are better off where the DA governs.
Of course we have not achieved everything that we would like where we govern. It is a work in progress. But we are moving in the right direction.
This is why more and more South Africans are choosing the DA. It is why people like me, who once voted ANC, are making a different choice.
And people are seeing through the ANC’s racial propaganda. Every time the ANC plays the race card, it loses more credibility.
Because people out there know the truth.
We are working hard to bring the DA to new communities across South Africa – to engage with people and give them an insight into what our party really stands for.
And it is paying off. We are growing membership and activism in black communities that had barely seen the DA a decade before.
For the first time the DA has a candidate in every single ward in South Africa, and the vast majority of these candidates are black.
Our support is growing in every single province, and particularly in our metros. The DA is the future government of this country. It’s just a matter of when.
Unlike our opponents represented here, both of which parties thrive on stoking the fires of racial division, I am proud to say that the DA is a home to all.
We are proud to represent white South Africans and we are proud to represent black South Africans. We are proud to represent young, old, straight, gay, Christian, Muslim and Jewish South Africans. And we are the only party that can honestly say this.
Our diversity is our strength.
So, while others divide, we will unite.
When others threaten violence, we will offer peace.
And when others fail, we will be there to get our country working again.
We are positive because we believe in the power of people to effect change.
We are positive because people are rejecting the failed policies and the broken promises of the ANC.
We are positive because people are beginning to make a different choice. And they are choosing the power of the ballot over the bullet.