South Africa: We Have An Opportunity to Rebuild the DA. Let's Use It

The Democratic Alliance leadership at a media briefing after the election of John Steenhuisen, second left, as interim leader.
press release

The following remarks were delivered by the DA Interim Leader, John Steenhuisen, at Nkululeko House, Johannesburg following his election at Federal Council today.

My fellow Democrats,

The DA is not in a fight over ideology or a fight for power. Our fight is to push back against the tide of poverty that has engulfed the lives of so many men, women and children in our country.

Our fight is for the prosperity and the dignity of millions of South Africans who are still waiting for their freedom.

I know that the DA has both the people and the ideas to win this fight. That’s why it is critical that we waste no time in turning our setback into a comeback.

As we set off on this path, I want you to know exactly what you can expect from me.

I will shoot straight. I will not have different conversations with different people. My views will be consistent, and you will always know where you stand.

My door will be open to you at all times. And you should always call me by my first name, John. We are colleagues and we are public servants. We are not a party of leader worship and deferential titles.

The DA is about big principles, not big personalities.

We must also be a party built on organic authenticity. There are no shortcuts in this and we cannot fake it. We need to put down genuine roots in every community, or else we will have no hope of winning hearts there.

Members and activists, and the branches they form, must lie at the very core of the Democratic Alliance. These structures are the umbilical cord that connects our party to communities.

Then the DA must be a party that defines itself in government.

First and foremost DA governments must be compassionate. They must care deeply for the communities they serve, and this compassion must always reflect in how we deliver.

The “DA difference” can’t just be a slogan – there has to be a clear difference in the lived experience where we govern.

This has to be so obvious and so consistent that people cannot help but talk about it.

But importantly, the DA also has to be a party grounded in values, and not one led by whatever happens to be the populist cause of the day. Just because we’re at the centre of our political landscape, doesn’t mean we must try to be everything to everyone.

The DA must be a fixed and steadfast signpost that South Africans can depend on, and not a weathervane spinning in the ever-changing wind.

Of all the major parties, we’re the only one fighting for a truly non-racial South Africa, where real equality of opportunity will mean we won’t have to try and engineer equality of outcome.

The DA also believes that the legacy of the apartheid must be corrected through targeted redress.

Apartheid was a brutal and unjust system that continues to haunt the lives of millions of South Africans two and a half decades after it came to an end. Those who still suffer the effects of past discrimination need to benefit from redress.

But we don’t need to resort to crude race classification to do so. We can target redress policies directly at the poorest in our society, almost all of whom are black.

The fact is, 25 years of race-based redress policies have made things far worse for the poor and the unemployed. Redress must actually improve the lives of poor South Africans, rather than just enrich the elite.

It is spurious to argue that only race-based policies can lift people out of poverty. That is a false choice.

We will be a party marked by generosity, empathy, and deep commitment to fighting poverty. And we will be a party that sees every person for their true worth and limitless potential, not just as a demographic statistic.

If liberalism is about individual freedoms, then our number one priority is to fight for the substantive freedom of all South Africans. Because you cannot live a life you value if you are hungry, poorly educated, live in unhealthy conditions, and fear for your safety.

This is why the fight against poverty has to lie at the very heart of everything we do.

The DA I lead will not waver in this. We will pursue this goal of fighting poverty wherever we are.

We will do so in opposition.

We will do so in government.

We will do so wherever we have an activist or a ward councillor.

We will carry on fighting to improve people’s lives until the results are undeniable and they have no choice but to talk about us.

This will take time, because there are no shortcuts when it comes to building trust.

When we do, ours will be a story that cannot be ignored.

That is my vision for the DA – a party built through organic authenticity.

A party whose actions speak far louder than its words.

A party whose achievements in government say it all.

A party with values as strong and immovable as bedrock.

I am asking every one of you to commit to this vision too. If we all agree on what we’re fighting for, then whatever other differences we might have becomes irrelevant.

Thank you.

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