This is my first weekly newsletter as leader of the Democratic Alliance. I have assumed this position at a perilous time, when our country is slipping backwards and faces the real prospect of becoming a failed state.
So I’d like to use this opportunity to set out my agenda for the DA, essentially to answer the question: What are the most effective things the DA can do to help fix South Africa and get the country back onto a path to prosperity? As I see it, there are two overriding imperatives.
First, where we already govern, we must do so to the very best of our ability, prioritizing delivery to the poorest communities. Doing so will have consequences that extend far beyond the lives of those we serve and the borders of our municipalities and the Western Cape. If DA-run areas are fixing, building, working, growing, innovating and thriving, it will reignite trust in the DA and hope in SA. This is essential, because I believe the party has a central role to play in fixing South Africa.
The DA has long been associated with good governance. The Western Cape is a well-run province by any standard and I am confident of further improvements, such as from Premier Alan Winde’s safety plan. Yet we have seen a decline in the quality of services delivered by some DA governments over the past few years. While I am DA leader, good governance will be a non-negotiable top priority.
To this end, we are working to ensure that every single DA-run government has the most capable and committed leadership available to us. Good governance starts with good, values-driven leadership at all levels of the party, by individuals who place service to others over self-promotion. I’ve taken action to replace the dysfunctional Mayor of George and will take similarly swift action against any other DA mayors or public representatives who act against the interests of the people they were elected to serve or who fail to perform to the high level expected of them.
The DA is in talks with all signatories to coalition agreements with the party, including UDM leader Bantu Holomisa, because together we have enough seats in council to take back Nelson Mandela Bay Metro from the ANC and reinstate good governance there. The UDM enabled the ANC to get into government there in the first place, so it is not an easy conversation to have. But, to my mind, the need to return NMB metro to good governance for the sake of those who live there should be uppermost.
The second overriding imperative for the DA is to build a new majority in South Africa. Ours is an incredibly diverse nation, yet I firmly believe most of us share the same core values of a non-racial society that upholds the Constitution and the rule of law; an economy that is market-driven; and a state that delivers to all rather than to a connected few. It is these values that will put South Africa on a path to prosperity.
At first glance these values may seem obvious to you, but in fact they imply some sweeping reforms that will cause short-term pain before they produce long-term gain.
True non-racialism, for example, requires that we reject race-based policies in favour of policies that treat people first and foremost as individuals, rather than primarily as members of a group. A market-driven economy requires a far lower degree of state intervention in our economy than we currently see in South Africa today. And a state that delivers to all requires government to stand up to those vested interests (unions etc) that currently benefit from the status quo, a system which favours incumbent employees and large firms while placing high barriers to new entrants to the economy.
The challenge is to get all those who share these values to work together, since we are all located in different parties, including in the ANC. We’re also located in different mindsets and many of us differ strongly on other issues despite our shared core values. Yet South Africa’s current catastrophic situation requires us to muster the same sense of urgency and the same sense of “common cause” as in 2016 when the country united, albeit temporarily, against state capture. The DA has a central role to play in this.
Our nation stands at a fork in the road. One way is the path of populism and short-cuts and appealing-sounding socialist solutions. It seems attractive to many at first glance. But ultimately it will collapse our economy and immiserate our society, locking people into dependence on a corrupt, incapable state. The process is already underway, with policies such as property expropriation without compensation, national health insurance, asset prescription and nationalising of the Reserve Bank already on the table.
The other path puts power back in the hands of people and communities. It leads to a free society, in which individuals have the freedom and opportunities to make their own living and their own choices. This path leads to enterprise and innovation and growth. It has tremendous power to transform our society, to reverse apartheid patterns of deprivation and inequality. Not through the intervention of the state into every aspect of our lives, but through the aggregated efforts of millions of free people operating in an enabling environment. It is the path to prosperity and the DA under my leadership will strive to build a new majority who will choose this path.