In this edited version of a speech delivered by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane at the DA Western Cape Provincial Congress, the opposition leader urges delegates to aim to win the hearts of more voters ahead of the 2019 General Elections.
Let it never be said that we don’t live in interesting times. We are a nation going through the process of change and rebirth. We are experiencing the renewal that is part of a healthy democracy. And all of us in this room have an important part to play in this transition.
Whether you realise this now, or perhaps only later in hindsight, this is a momentous moment in our country’s history. Our actions, in government here in the Western Cape as well as where we hope to soon be in government, are shaping this history as we speak.
This places a massive responsibility on our shoulders. We carry the hopes of millions of South Africans, and we dare not let them down.
We owe it to them to constantly remember our promise we made in every election we’ve contested. And this promise is that the DA offers the people of South Africa a complete change from the disaster of the ANC government.
Not an incremental change. Not better in certain aspects of governing. Not a bit more responsive or a bit less corrupt. Complete change.
Everything – from the way we behave in government to the way we interact with communities to the way in which we implement pro-poor policy – must set us miles apart from the ANC. There must be vast, clear blue water between our respective policy offers and between our respective conducts.
We all saw what happened in East London when the ANC tried to hold a Provincial Conference in a province mired in factionalism and corruption. That kind of violent behaviour does not belong in a democratic society, and the public was understandably outraged.
But let me warn you here: That level of factional violence doesn’t just happen overnight. It builds and builds in an organisation if left unchecked. It quickly becomes the culture of an organisation if there is not a disciplined focus on a common goal.
So, while we often talk about what the DA is, I would like to remind you today of a few things the DA is not.
We are not a party that mobilises and consolidates around race. If you’re running for a position of leadership, and your message – whether overtly or between the lines – is that you represent a certain race or group, then you’re in the wrong party.
The DA doesn’t have white and black and coloured voting blocks. And being of a particular race can never be a reason to support any candidate. One of the things we stand for, as a party, is the abolishment of all forms of racial nationalism, and we cannot allow even the smallest element of this to creep into our language and our internal campaigns.
Another thing the DA never has been and never will be is a party of patronage. Anyone who has ambitions to attain power in order to dispense jobs, favours and opportunities must do so in another party.
Anyone who tries to mobilise support within the DA on the back of the promise of patronage is no better than those whom we criticise day in and day out. It must be our focus, at all levels and spheres of government, to identify and stop the spread of patronage in its tracks.
Then, the DA is not a party of big egos. We see, in other parties, what happens when the organisation becomes a cult of personalities. It never ends well – not for the party and not for its voters.
If you are a public representative in the DA, then you will always be, first and foremost, an activist. Your most important work will be in communities, interacting with the people who put you in your position and to whom you owe your loyalty.
No one in the DA is too big for this kind of work. No one is too big for campaigning and door-to-door visits. No one is so important that he or she cannot take to the streets and do the work that helps us win the hearts and minds of South Africans.
Because, believe me, we still have many hearts and minds to win over the next 18 months, and particularly in communities where we have been historically weak.
There are now 16 million South Africans who live in DA-led governments. But that means that there are still 40 million South Africans who do not. And even in the cities where we govern, we do not always have majorities.
So every single voter is of precious importance to us. We can’t ever afford to treat voters like the ANC does. We are the DA! We are different.
We will respect and value every supporter and voter, and we will show it in our conduct.
We will treat every voter like they are the voter that will make the difference between us winning and losing, because really, they could be!
It cannot be that we allow a tiny party like the PAC to make a by-election comeback against us in a ward right here in Cape Town. It cannot be that we lose a ward in Bergriver to the ANC. All this tells me is that we are getting complacent, and that can never happen.
Fellow Democrats, complacency is your biggest enemy right now.
We can’t just govern well – that’s not enough. We must be activists in communities. We must be present and vocal and we must use every opportunity we have to share our vision and our values with the people who still doubt whether a DA government will look out for them.
Millions of South Africans are finding it extremely hard to break free from the party of their parents, the party of the struggle, and put their faith in the DA. This is not because they don’t think we’d make a capable government – all the evidence points to the likelihood that the DA will govern South Africa very well.
No, they struggle to make that leap because they don’t know us well enough. What they’ve heard about us has mostly come from our opponents, and it is not flattering. The result is that they don’t trust our intentions.
They don’t know the kind of South Africa we want to build. They don’t know that our efforts will be focused on bringing the poor and excluded back into the economy. They don’t know that we stand for the desperate and the marginalised in society. They don’t know that we champion a post-racial South Africa with opportunities for all.
They believe the untruths and the propaganda because that’s what they’re being told. If we want them to believe otherwise, then we are going to have to go out and tell them otherwise. All of us, no matter your position in the organisation.
56 million people depend on us to get it right. Some of them know this already and have committed their vote to the DA. Many don’t know it yet, but we’re going to have to reach them before we go to the polls in 2019.
When you vote to elect leadership here this weekend, I expect you to put aside all other considerations and loyalties, and think only of the millions of people who have no one else to turn to other than the DA to help secure their future.
We have objectives here in this province, and we have objectives nationally. Whoever is elected by the end of the weekend will have the task of ensuring that these objectives are aligned so that we can both fulfil our mandate to the people of the Western Cape, and offer the people of South Africa the change they so desperately need.
The new leadership in the Western Cape will have no time to waste, because there is still a ton of work to be done. It’s not good enough for us to simply retain the province in 2019 – we must also show significant growth in our support among black voters.
We also have big promises to fulfil to the residents in the towns and cities where we govern. If we’re talking about demonstrating the difference between us and ANC, that is where we need to focus our attention.
The leadership elected today will need to be the leader for the whole province, especially for those who did not vote for them. They will need to bring this DA family together, and get it focused on one thing only: doing even better in 2019!
I expect these things of every leader elected in the DA, and I expect it of those who will emerge victorious today. And I will hold them accountable on that score.
Our commitment to delivering better services to more South Africans is what has set us apart. But this didn’t just happen by itself. It is something DA governments have had to constantly work at. And we dare not become complacent in this provinThis period – towards the end of the second term in office – is typically when complacency could set in. The first term is all about renewal and change, and the second term is usually about consolidating plans and working on long-term solutions.
But this is also when governments start to feel secure in their position. And this security can lead to an inflated sense of comfort. Today I want to shake you from this comfort. Just as our target result in 2019’s national election is by no means a forgone conclusion, your results here in the Western Cape are not a done deal either.
We’ll be in with a good chance of winning Gauteng in 2019, and possibly threaten the ANC in other provinces too. By then, the Western Cape would have had a DA government for ten years. The example you set here is of immense value to our campaign throughout the rest of the country.
People want to know what kind of government the DA can be. They want to know how a DA government will look and act five or ten years down the line. They want to know what really sets us apart from the ANC government that has let this country down so badly.
This is your mission. Not just to be a party that governs for all here in the Western Cape, but to play your part in ensuring that South Africa gets the new beginning that we need.
Maimane is a leader of the Democratic Alliance