South Africa

DA Congress: Helen Zille’s party vision

By Sipho Hlongwane 24 November 2012

At the opening of the DA’s federal congress in Boksburg, leader Helen Zille outlined her vision for the organisation. After scanning far and wide, the urban poor are the next target. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.

If you don’t have much money, education and live in an urban area, the Democratic Alliance is coming for your vote soon. That was the message party leader Helen Zille gave at the federal congress in Boksburg on Saturday. The hook is a simple one: this party will deliver better services and give you a better shot at making it than the African National Congress.

Zille told the story of 22 year old Akhona Mtontela in the Midvaal municipality, who is exactly the kind of person that the party seeks to attract next.

She said: “In 2010, after completing a course in early childhood development, Akhona opened a day care centre. She dreamt of growing her business but did not have the skills or experience to do so.  So she went to her local library. She saw it as a bridge to information and opportunity.  There she found information about the Midvaal Council’s leadership programme, run in partnership with the Oliphant Institute of Leadership and the North West University.  She enrolled and did courses in Entrepreneurship, Marketing, Life Skills, Leadership, and HIV/Aids prevention.

“Her day care centre has grown and she now employs five people. She says this is because of the business management skills she learnt in the leadership programme. Akhona now plans to study further, either in social work or business management.”

The conference is titled “Freedom you can use”, and the phrase was littered throughout Zille’s speech. It is a continuation of the “insiders and outsiders” party message that says that people aren’t actually free yet because they are being shut out of economic opportunities. Zille’s contention is that the DA is going to prise open opportunities for those who haven’t had them before.

“Where the DA governs, and training improves, more businesses invest and create jobs,” she said. “Almost half of the young people who were with Akhona on her leadership course now have jobs.  And almost 70% of the 2000 young people who were supported by the Western Cape’s Work and Skills programme also now have long term employment.”

She once again took exception to the ruling party’s argument that the City of Cape Town is the most unequal city in the country. She cited the United Nations’ “State of World Cities” report that says that there is a smaller gap between the rich and the poor there than in any other city in the country.

“The City of Cape Town gives nearly two million people free basic services every day.  Across the whole province, 90% of people have flush toilets, 99% have piped water, and 93% have access to electricity,” she said.

According to Zille, the DA is a party for people who want to protect press freedom, freedom to own property and freedom to join a union of their choice – It is not a party for racists, sexists, xenophobes or homophobes.

“It is not a party for people who think that life was better under apartheid,” Zille said.

While the party is geared towards being a voter-focused organisation, we’re told its membership numbers are also growing. And the more power it gets, the more people it will attract – and the greater the chance of unprincipled members. The plan is to make sure that by the time that happens, the organisation is engineered to flush them out. It is already the only party with accountability institutions, according to Zille.

Service delivery, education and jobs are the most burning issues in the country, and possibly nowhere as much as in Gauteng. Protests have billowed, the ruling party doesn’t seem able to catch up and the fruit seem to be hanging low for the DA. It has already stated that it wants to win the province in 2014, but needs more than one million new votes to win. At a press conference after her speech, Zille said the party sought to become the biggest in the province by number of votes, and then take the government via a coalition like it did in Cape Town if it cannot win an outright majority.

Which is not to say that the rural areas have been forgotten, but in order for the DA to realistically set about solving such problems, it needs national power.

According to Zille, the riots in the Cape winelands were started by people from Lesotho who suddenly lost their jobs. Farmers were being fined heavily for employing illegal immigrants, and thus stopped hiring them. That’s a policy set at national, not provincial level.

When asked what she would say to the Marikana miners, she said that the economy of insiders (business, government and big unions) would be opened up to let the outsiders in. The tragedy could have been averted if the small union that the workers wanted to join was allowed all along onto the bargaining table. Labour legislation currently allows the majority union and the company to set the threshold.

Urban problems like rubbish service delivery are very much within the ambit of provincial and local governments, so it is the more realistic target for the DA right now.

Losing Gauteng (or even Johannesburg) would not only embarrass the ANC a great deal, but potentially deal a mortal blow to its long-term control over South Africa. Ruling the country while not controlling Western Cape is still viable. Losing the powerhouse of Gauteng would shut the ANC out of a core centre of control and potentially convince big business that it should start challenging their state-dominated vision of economy.

For now however, don’t expect the ANC not to push back too hard. DM

Photo: Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille speaks during an interview with Reuters in Johannesburg November 2, 2012. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko


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