I stand before you today as a son of Soweto. A father, husband, a patriot. I stand before you as a young black South African. Like many others I grew up poor, deprived of opportunities because of the colour of my skin, and the community I was born into. We never had money for university, so when I was at school I worked after class selling shoes to help the family save up for the fees. My mother – who was unemployed at the time – sold eggs to our neighbours to put bread on the table. We all did what we could in pursuit of our dreams. No matter how hard things got, we never stopped believing in a better tomorrow. Life wasn’t easy for us, but my story is not unique. It is the story of so many young people in our country – kids of my generation and, sadly, the youth of today.
I entered into public life because I wanted to make a difference in the lives of young people. To make sure that every child has the opportunities to truly enjoy the material freedoms promised to them. I love this country with every fibre of my being. And I know all of you do too. So, what I am about to say is not easy for me to talk about, and I know it will be hard for many people to accept.
I am not ashamed to admit that the events of the last few months have shaken me. Watching young people’s dreams shatter as quickly as the rand fell. Seeing our economy enter a downward spiral because of the actions of one man. This has taken its toll on all of us.
I don’t know about you but I have experienced denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, finally, acceptance – what psychologists refer to as the five stages of grief. You see, without realising it, I have been in mourning. Not for South Africa. On the contrary, my belief in our country’s resilience in the face of adversity is unwavering. I know that we can overcome our challenges. We have done so before and we will prevail once more. No, I have been mourning something else. The end of something I once thought would live forever. The demise of something that seemed woven into the very fabric of our collective consciousness. And that is the death of a once proud liberation movement that fought the Apartheid government, and for our right to belong to any organisation we choose.
It is the end of a movement that once embodied the hopes and dreams of so many of us. The demise of a movement that produced many visionary leaders – men and women who will forever be remembered as heroes of our struggle. Leaders like Albert Luthuli. Leaders like Oliver Tambo. Leaders like Walter Sisulu. Leaders like Nelson Mandela. Leaders like Ahmed Kathrada.
When Apartheid fell, the ANC was the champion of a new Constitution that sought to protect and advance the freedom of every South African. In those days, the ANC understood that we needed to build a future as one nation, united in our purpose and our destiny.
Building an inclusive society from the ashes of the Apartheid state was never going to be easy. But the ANC, under Nelson Mandela, took us forward. We saw the establishment of a social grant system that shielded millions from the impact of poverty. We saw RDP houses going up all over the country. We saw the electrification of townships and clean water brought to rural communities for the first time. We saw sewage, waste collection and streetlights where previously there were none.
I remember, as a teenage boy in Dobsonville, the feeling of hope that was all around us. We truly believed that life was going to get better. But then things started to change. By the late 1990’s, cadre deployment had found its way into official ANC policy, strengthening the party’s grip on power, but weakening its ability to deliver. Around the same time, stories of corruption started replacing stories of a caring government. As ANC Secretary-General Kgalema Mothlanthe said back in 2007:
“This rot is across the board. It’s not confined to any level or any area of the country. Almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems are occasioned by this. There are people who want to take it over so they can arrange for the appointment of those who will allow them possibilities for future accumulation.”
The Arms Deal, Aids denialism and, later, Nkandla and the Guptas would become the party’s defining moments. The ANC had caught the disease that infects so many liberation movements on our continent. And that is the cancer of corruption, rent-seeking and patronage politics.
Fellow South Africans, The corruption of liberation movements is something we don’t often talk about. This is because we tend to view the world in binary terms – a simplistic struggle between good and evil, between oppressed and oppressor, between black and white. But, the truth is, life is much more complex than that.
Colonialism was brutal because it extracted resources from African people to make rich people in Europe even richer. We never agreed to be colonised. It was forced upon us at the barrel of a gun. As a black South African whose family lived through colonial and Apartheid oppression, I have nothing good to say about those evil systems.
So let me say today in clear and unambiguous terms. There is no place for racists, homophobes and sexists in the party I lead. And there is no space for people who hanker after our colonial and Apartheid past. But, equally, as a patriot, I cannot accept the view that says we must blindly support movements who liberated us from colonialism. Because we have seen what happens to liberation movements when they are in power for too long. They go from liberator to oppressor. And we now know that South Africa is not exceptional. We now know that the ANC is following the same disastrous path as many others on our continent did.
The generation of ANC leaders who took us over the threshold of democracy have bowed out one by one. In their place have arrived people who care only about the riches they can extract for themselves and their friends and families. They steal from the poor under the guise of ‘radical economic transformation’, empowering and enriching nobody but themselves. And that is why the progress we made in the early years of democracy has stalled.
Just ask one of the 9 million people who wake up every day without a job and with no real prospect of finding one. Just ask the millions of parents who can’t support their children, and the children who can’t support their parents. Just ask the child who exits our broken education system – unprepared, unskilled and unemployed. Just ask the 17 million welfare recipients who wonder whether their grants will be paid on time.
We have a government out of touch with the people. They have forgotten what it’s like to try and feed an extended family on a single social grant. They have forgotten what it’s like to send your child to school hungry, hoping that she’ll get something to eat once she’s there. They have forgotten what it’s like to spend half your meagre wages just to travel to a low-paying job. They have forgotten what it’s like to live in a makeshift home that leaks in the rain and bakes in the sun. They have forgotten what it’s like to wake up every day without a job and no hope of ever finding one. The ANC is the party that claims to champion the cause of black South Africans. But the reality is, the longer the ANC governs, the more black people will suffer. We need to recognise, in their words and their actions, the danger this party holds for our progress as a nation.
When the advisor to the Finance Minister says that we need to become broken like Venezuela before we can rebuild, we must take note. We must think what this could mean for us, five or ten years down the line.
The ANC has become an obstacle to our progress, and we need to start visualising our future without it. We need to start speaking of a vision of South Africa that isn’t weighed down by baggage and bled dry by corruption. We need to look towards a post-ANC South Africa. Because it would be a mistake to think that Jacob Zuma is a rogue element in the ANC. It would be a mistake to think that the last remaining good guys in the ANC can change a culture of corruption that has become endemic to the party. It would be a mistake to think that the ANC can self-correct.
If we want to save ourselves – if we want to limit the damage and rebuild this country for our children and theirs – then we need to start thinking differently. We have to start thinking of a post-ANC South Africa, and how this South Africa can look and work.
The legacy of Tambo, Sisulu and Mandela is being destroyed by the very party they once served. It is now up to us to become their torchbearers, and take our country forward to non-racialism and prosperity.
We all know that we need to change the path we’re on. Our future depends on our ability to realign our politics around a set of values instead of race. We need to start believing that change is possible, and that this change can only be initiated from outside the ANC, not from inside it. But our new path will require courage from all of us, because it will be unfamiliar. It will look like nothing we have ever known. It will be a new beginning, a fresh start.
It will require a commitment to certain non-negotiable values. It will require us to put aside petty differences so that we can work together to chart a new course. It will require political leaders coming together from all parties to build a new majority and govern South Africa.
This is a lesson we must learn from other countries on the African continent. Take Kenya, for example. After decades under the corrupt Kenyan African National Union, opposition parties put aside their differences in 2002 to form the Rainbow Coalition that swept KANU from power. In Senegal’s last election in 2012, it took a united opposition rallying behind the Alliance for the Republic Party to put an end to President Wade’s attempt to grab a third term in office. And in the chaotic 2010 election in Ivory Coast, it was a four-party coalition supported by former rebel forces that brought an end to Laurent Gbagbo’s violent rule.
Coalitions, and political realignments have played a vital role in preserving democracy on our continent. And this is where our future lies too.
ANC leaders are so enmeshed in the party’s corrupt web of patronage that they couldn’t operate outside of it – even if they wanted to. And this is why the ANC as we know it cannot self-correct, no matter who is elected their leader in December.
There have been calls from some quarters for a new CODESA. Others claim that the root of the problem is our Constitution. We don’t agree with this approach. We have one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. On paper, at least, it protects people’s freedom and advances it. What we need is a new government willing to put the Constitution into action. A coalition government aligned around the values that are essential to take us forward.
And what are these values? To begin with, we have to agree that a free and open society is the only way forward. Guided by our Constitution and the Rule of Law, we must cherish our free press, our freedom of speech, our freedom of movement, our freedom to love and marry whom we want, and all the other liberties that came at such a high cost. We must also agree that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, and that our future lies in overcoming the legacy of racialised inequality. As stated in the preamble to our Constitution we have a duty to “heal the divisions of the past and establish a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.”
Then we must agree that a growing and inclusive economy is non-negotiable. The fact is that too much wealth in our country is concentrated in too few hands. We need empowerment policies that give everybody a stake in our future, not just those with political connections and friends in high places. We have to make South Africa attractive to investors and we have to help businesses create jobs. We have to agree that our people can only be truly free when they have escaped poverty and can stand on their own two feet.
Everything we do must be geared towards undoing the legacy of Apartheid and giving people the dignity that comes with financial independence. We must agree that we will only meet the challenges of our people through a capable state. This means qualified, fit-for-purpose appointments and an end to cadre deployment.
Powder kegs like Coligny ignite because communities have run out of patience with an incapable and uncaring state. They happen because our government has failed to redress the legacy of our past. They happen because the reconciliation project of Nelson Mandela has been destroyed by those who came after him.
Our job is to resuscitate the idea that all South Africans – black, white, Indian and coloured – are better together. And finally, we must agree that corruption can never be tolerated. Nothing will sink our project faster than corrupt government officials and their private sector counterparts.
In summary, the values that must form the core of our political realignment are: constitutionalism, inclusive economic growth, non-racialism, a capable state and zero tolerance for corruption.
This is real transformation, this is real redress. Anyone who shares these values will be welcomed on board. And this includes people in the ANC. There are still many good men and women in the party who want what’s best for South Africa. It is time for each of them to accept that their party is irredeemable; that our country’s salvation lies in building a new political formation united around shared values.
And so my invitation stands: if you share this vision for South Africa, then it is time to join together as allies. And our alliance must extend beyond party politics. It must include labour, business, civil society and religious bodies.
We can halt the slide. We can rescue our country. We can build a tomorrow that breaks free from our painful yesterday. In this tomorrow, I see a post-ANC South Africa where the balance has been restored – where the government serves the people – and I want you to picture it too.
Imagine a government that places the needs and the rights of our school children ahead of the needs and rights of a union. Imagine a government that goes beyond promises and actually delivers access to higher or tertiary education for all. Imagine a government that enlists young South Africans in a programme where they can learn the skills and gain the work experience to set them up for life. Imagine a government that frees up our markets and rolls out the red carpet for investors so that millions of desperately needed jobs can be created. Imagine a government geared towards helping entrepreneurs succeed beyond the difficult first two years. A government that invests in a venture capital fund aimed specifically at restoring justice.
Imagine a government that restructures our economy to allow small and medium enterprises to thrive alongside big business. Imagine a government that places cities at the forefront of development. A government that understands the role these cities can play in building infrastructure for growth. Imagine a government that puts the safety of its people first. I’m talking about creating a police force twice the size of our current one with visible foot patrols in every community. Imagine a government that not only secures our borders to control immigration, but also makes it easier to attract scarce skills and to trade across these borders with our neighbours.
Imagine a government that doesn’t cripple our state-owned enterprises with cadre deployment – where only the most qualified get the job and where ordinary people can gain shares in these enterprises. Imagine a government committed to modernising our industries – one that invests in research and design so that we can compete globally in manufacturing. Imagine a government that expands opportunities so that fewer people are dependent on grants, but doubles the grant income for those who need it.
This is the South Africa I see. This is the tomorrow we are building. Now is not the time for apathy. Now is the time to stand up, together, and be counted. Now is the time to look around you and to realise that most people want the same thing as you do. We’re not enemies. We all love South Africa, and we’re all prepared to fight to save our country. That makes us allies.
The death of the ANC has given us the opportunity to rebuild our beloved country the way we want it to be.
Long live South Africa!
By Mmusi Maimane,
Leader of the Democratic Alliance.