Friday, May 28, 2010

DA Newsletter 28 May 2010

On Wednesday the DA won two by-elections, one in Heideveld/Gugulethu and one in Grabouw. These were considered safe ANC seats. The DA has never come close to winning them in the past. What's more, if there are any white voters in either of them, it cannot be more than a handful.

These results should put an end - once and for all - to the ANC's repeated lie that the DA is a white party, that we are "racist" and that we want to bring back apartheid. These attempts to discredit us just don't wash anymore: the DA has now won eight seats from the ANC in by-elections since the 2009 election. In fact, the ANC has not won a single by-election in the Western Cape in this period.

What does this tell us?

It tells us that more and more people who have always loyally voted for the ANC now realise that the ANC does not own them. They understand that blind loyalty requires them to sacrifice the most effective power they have in a democracy. That power is the right to change their mind. Exercising this right is actually a responsibility. It is what holds politicians accountable for their actions. Voters who exercise this right drive development and progress.

The result in Grabouw was even more significant than Heideveld/Gugulethu, because Grabouw is the first ward the DA has ever won where there is a majority of black voters. In 2006, the last local government election, the DA won only 9,6% of the vote in this ward. On Wednesday this week, we won 48,13% compared with the ANC's 44,8% (down from 71,7%). This sea of change warrants detailed analysis, but the DA's excellent candidate (who connected with all voters) and the high standard of political organisation had a lot to do with our success.

The DA has over the past four years established a very strong voter base in coloured communities, as the Heideveld/Gugulethu results re-confirmed. But significant progress amongst black voters has eluded us until the breakthrough in Grabouw.

This breakthrough is not only in the interests of the DA. Breaking the racial logjam is essential for democracy in South Africa to survive. If elections are always a racial census, one party will always be in power. This has been the root cause of the 'failed state' phenomenon on our continent. Knowing they won't ever be voted out of office is what leads politicians to abuse power and to steal people's money in an ever-worsening spiral of corruption. They have the freedom to loot with freedom from accountability.

The greatest political challenge we have in South Africa is to ensure that voters' choices are not based on race, but on alternative policy choices for the future. A shift closer to this ideal is in everyone's interest, because unless we achieve it, the chances are great that we will also end up as a failed state.

But before we get carried away about the latest results, we must bear in mind the greatest obstacle to consolidating our democracy: a ruling party which tolerates the Constitution (and the democratic rights and freedoms it contains) only as long as it is winning elections.

This week's victory was tempered by the behaviour of ANC activists who - aided and abetted by senior ANC leaders - tried to violently disrupt a DA meeting in Gugulethu on the eve of the by-election. This showed the lengths the ANC will go to when it is threatened in an area it considers its own. It was an ominous foreshadowing of what could be unleashed in the future when the ANC realises it is in danger of losing a national election.

Such incidents form part of a growing pattern across the country since August last year. In addition to what happened in Gugulethu this week, DA meetings have been violently disrupted in Kaya Sands, Soshanguve (both in Gauteng) and in Tlokwe in the North West province. Our Youth Leader in Mpumalanga received death threats when he exposed ANC corruption in the Thembisile municipality. A DA activist was shot in the neck in Atlantis in the Western Cape while putting up posters for a by-election there.

The ANC's efforts to stop the DA from campaigning are mirrored in its attempts to prevent us from governing. This week in Khayelitsha the ANC Youth League destroyed toilet enclosures erected by the City of Cape Town, despite the protestations of the residents they were intended for. This was followed by the Youth League's call to make the entire city "ungovernable" by vandalising all council-owned property. "We are going to destroy everything," announced Loyiso Nkohla, ANC Youth League regional executive member.

In parallel, are the ANC's attempts to curtail our powers where we govern through legislation. The draft Green Paper on Co-operative Governance that I discussed in this newsletter last week is one such example. It is designed to reduce local and provincial governments to mere implementing agencies of the national government - regardless of the mandate the governing party in a province or municipality has from the voters.

The ANC's determination to retain power by any means necessary points to the great paradox of our times. For our constitutional democracy to succeed there must be an alternation of power at national level - because the longer the ANC is in power, the more it will abuse that power. But the greater the likelihood of the ANC losing power, the more the ANC will use unconstitutional and even violent means to hang on to it.

It is like something out of Joseph Heller's Catch 22.

How do we solve this conundrum? How do we succeed in winning power from the ANC when the more successful we are, the more the ANC will try to close down the democratic space?

This is no easy task because it depends, to a great extent, on the leadership of the ANC itself. It will depend on whether or not they respect the Constitution and the limitations it places on their own power. And we know that the current ruling clique believes that the ANC is more important than the Constitution; that liberation is about seizing all instruments of power, not the limitation and dispersal of power.

Nevertheless, we must work hard to entrench a democratic culture in our country. Just like two football teams agree on the rules before a game and accept the outcome - even if they are on the losing side - so too must political parties. People need to internalise these rules and hold political parties to them.

We will play our part by continuing to expose the ANC's unconstitutional attempts to shut down the democratic space. We will show people that the victims of the ANC's anti-democratic tendencies are not opposition parties, but the people themselves.

Most importantly, we will continue with our mission of building an open, opportunity society for all in the places we govern. We will show how, in practice and over time, this is preferable to the closed, crony society for comrades only.

As recent by-election results show, more and more people are already getting the message. But this is no time for complacency. We will redouble our efforts to take this message beyond the Western Cape and bring about lasting and meaningful change in our country.

Signed Helen Zille

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