South Africa

Op-Ed: UDM 20-year anniversary – 2019 cannot come soon enough, says Holomisa

By Bantu Holomisa 2 October 2017

General BANTU HOLOMISA founded the United Democratic Movement 20 years ago, shortly after he fell out with the ANC and was expelled. The party has just four seats in parliament, but plays a key role in coalition and opposition politics. Here he takes stock of the past two decades, and looks ahead to his vision of the future for his party, coalition politics, and the country.

I want us to look back at what we have achieved together in the past, but to also look ahead at what we can achieve, together, working towards a united future. We have every reason to be proud about the past and be optimistic about the future – both ours and the country’s.

Today is a significant landmark, not just for the United Democratic Movement (UDM), but for South Africa. The political landscape of the country is changing fast. New opportunities are opening up.

My friends, we have made it this far and we are here to stay! We carved a niche for ourselves and we intend to build on the foundation we have laid.

It is no mean achievement. South Africa’s is a rough political market to enter, and succeed, in.

It should not be forgotten that, although we were the first new political “start-up” of the democratic era, we were not the last. Others have come… and most have also gone… the Independent Democrats were ultimately swallowed up by the DA. Cope is struggling to keep their heads above water. AgangSA… remember them? The UDM deserves to celebrate.

It seems like yesterday, but 20 years have passed since we began this brave journey.

Some said we were foolish. Others, echoing what President Jacob Zuma would later say, told me privately that life outside the ANC would be cold and lonely.

As it turns out, life inside the ANC has not exactly been warm and cosy.

Instead, those (like me) who dare to challenge the leadership and are willing to point out the errors of their ways, find themselves sent to the ANC equivalent of Siberia… or worse.

I draw no satisfaction or pleasure from this fact, but today’s ANC is a damaged organisation – riddled with deadly division, it is dangerously unstable and unfit to lead our great country.

So, my message is this: South Africa is not the ANC. And these days, nor can it be said that the ANC is South Africa. It has lost touch with the ordinary man and woman. It has lost its moral compass. It has betrayed its great history.

And soon it will face the consequences of its disregard for its fundamental duty to serve the people when, in 2019, the ANC wakes up to find that it has lost its majority.

We have had to wait patiently for this moment, but we are ready and waiting, and poised to serve our people as a member of a national coalition government.

That is what lies on the horizon. At that point, the sun will rise on South Africa and a new dawn will break. When this happens, the country’s democracy will really come of age. We can be hopeful.

Instead of taking the well-worn path of so many of our sister countries in Africa (in the post-colonial phase of a decline towards one party dictatorship), the UDM will deliver on our constitutional promise of a competitive multi-party democracy.

This is why we began our journey. We took a stand on issues such as the lack of ethics and accountability that have become, sadly, all too familiar to all South Africans.

I could sense the rot that was threatening to take a hold inside the ANC in the mid-1990s. I argued against it and instead of heeding the message, the ANC chose to shoot the messenger.

So, our starting point was accountability. We built our case based on our commitment to the Constitution and its under-lying values, but in particular, the following Three Pillars: Integritas integrity; Dignitas dignity; and Prosperitas prosperity.

If memory serves, no UDM public representative (whether it be at Parliament, Legislatures or in councils) was ever charged to appear before a court, to explain their involvement in schemes of robbing the public purse through creative accounting, tenderpreneurship or jobs for pals. Since 1999, our elected representatives have publicly lived the values of the UDM. We thank our leaders for not embarrassing us, or making a fool of the UDM.

To add to this, on several occasions we have used the institutional infrastructure that the Constitution established to hold the ANC government to account.

Most recently, of course, in the secret ballot case we persuaded the Constitutional Court that the Constitution gave the Speaker the power to order a secret ballot when a motion of no confidence is tabled against the sitting President. As a result of the case the UDM brought, the Speaker had no choice but to order a secret ballot.

And then we could see the truth: around 40 ANC Members of the National Assembly voted with the opposition that day in early August 2017. Never had more than one ANC MP voted against its whip – and even then, only once or twice. So, for as many as 40 ruling party MPs to do so, was a very big moment.

Never again could the ANC leadership deny the internal opposition to Zuma’s corrupt rule. It therefore was another nail in his political coffin. Slowly, bit by bit, we are removing this dangerous man from power.

As the Guptas have wormed their way into the heart of government, so the democratic state has been captured.

Conflicts of interest are everywhere: instead of serving the people, remaining loyal to the oath of office and to the Constitution, many political leaders and public servants have succumbed to illegal inducements. They have put their private interests ahead of their public duties.

We have all suffered as a result. Billions have been wasted… money that could, and should have been, spent on social services. It should have been spent on decent housing; on hospitals and health care day centres; on safety and security, on land redistribution; on skills development and training, and creating new jobs.

More than any other party, the UDM has understood – from the very beginning – the dangers posed by conflicts of interest of the sort that now contaminate the whole of government.

That is why we took a stand on Advocate Pansy Tlakula and her mad moment of misjudgement in using her power as CEO of the Independent Electoral Commission, to award a R320-million lease for a property owned by her business partner, an ANC MP. We approached the Public Protector, who upheld our complaint. Unwisely, Tlakula resisted the Public Protector’s findings… but she lost in court and was forced to resign.

Once again, we were vindicated for our principled stance on an important matter of public ethics and integrity.

Earlier still, we had challenged the floor-crossing legislation. We lost that case, but we can be proud that we made the argument and took a stand. It helped people understand what a despicable thing floor-crossing was.

Also, since its inception, the UDM has suggested the Afrikaner as an example of what can be achieved when a government enables and empowers its people to pull themselves, and it, from the dust.

After the South African War, in 1910, hundreds of thousands of dejected Afrikaners streamed to towns in search of employment. This phenomenon was called “the poor white problem”. These days we have “the poor black problem”.

As one journalist so eloquently put it: the Afrikaner “… inaugurated a new phase of industrialisation, based mainly on three things: cheap electricity, cheap steel and cheap finance.

For cheap electricity, the Afrikaners created what was then known as Escom (1922); for cheap steel, they established Iscor (1928) and for cheap finance, they founded the Industrial Development Corporation (1940)”.

In 1999 the UDM ran with the slogan: “The challenges of our time; Government must do more.” It is as relevant today as it was 18 years ago. It is a sad fact that the ruling party has neglected the people of this country, especially the so-called formerly disadvantaged.

Instead of flourishing State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) – many of which we inherited from the Afrikaner – rumours were abound that the ANC government wanted to use Public Investment Corporation (PIC) funds to bail out failing SOEs. It is worse that this is not the first time they bailed out the SABC, SAA, etc, etc. This is utter nonsense; you ran these SOEs into the ground and now you want to pilfer people’s retirement money. Lamasela.

The UDM does not play the short game. We are patient, as well as principled.

This is a record of political action, in support of the Constitution and the principle of public accountability, that we should be proud of.

I congratulate each and every one of you who has walked this path together. You stuck with the UDM. Your loyalty is now being rewarded as our vision of a collaborative, multi-party approach to solving the big problems that face the nation becomes a reality.

The year 2019 will be a watershed year – I have no doubt of that. Regardless of who wins in Midrand, and takes on the poisoned chalice of succession to Zuma, the ANC is beyond redemption.

It talks of self-correction, as it limps desperately towards December. But let me tell you this: the only “correction” that can now save them – and all of us – is at the ballot box. My friends: 2019 cannot come soon enough.

Recently, I was in Germany, observing their elections. It was interesting that the real political conversation was not about the election campaign itself, but what would happen afterwards when a coalition government would need to be formed.

Coalition politics requires certain skills, to cope with the tensions that can easily arise – as we are now learning in Port Elizabeth.

A lot of water has flown under this bridge, but last Sunday, before I left for Germany, DA leader Mmusi Maimane called to arrange a meeting with me. We indeed met on 17 September. During our conversation, he conceded that the DA, as a larger partner, had made mistakes in dealing with the coalition partners. He committed to rectify them.

Let me stress this: coalition government is not easy. Inevitably, when different parties (with different histories, different value systems and different world views, make the commitment to work together), it requires patience, tolerance, a willingness to forgive a mistake of judgement and, sometimes, pardon intemperate or unwise language and decisions.

I therefore say to the DA and Mr Maimane, our door is open and we are willing to listen and work together for the benefit of the people. But what we are not willing to do, is to be used as a step-ladder in another party’s fight to attain power. The UDM is an independent organisation and we will jealously guard our reputation.

One of the few advantages of getting older, is that one has learnt a few lessons and developed a very, very thick skin.

It has long been the UDM’s hope that the opposition should work together and, where possible, collaborate and form coalitions. The UDM’s slogan: “Towards a United Future” is quite apt in this instance.

In line with this ideal, the UDM has for years advocated for South Africans to converge under one roof, to discuss our problems and to find solutions as a collective. The reality is, that the problems we face as a nation will never be solved by one political party.

For a long time, we lacked the leadership, as well as the numbers. The ANC brand was too resilient, and the electoral market was too tough to penetrate meaningfully.

But, slowly things have changed. New leadership, as well new parties, have arrived.

My role – and it is no secret – is to play the “uncle” role. There are two very strong-minded, determined (and in many respects, talented) young men now competing for power and challenging the ANC. You know, of course, who I am talking about.

But, they are young. Their judgement may not always be perfect. They will also have to learn that in politics, ruthless ambition must be balanced with a sense of timing and patience.

Frankly, I am enjoying the responsibility that comes with this role. And I am certainly relishing the opportunities that come with a stronger, more cohesive opposition, that is willing to work together; united in the common interest.

But we must earn the right to govern. The next 18 months will be decisive. All of us in the opposition, both on the national stage and in the municipalities where we now find ourselves in government, must recognise that our primary responsibility is to the electorate.

We must continue to play the long game. We must act maturely. There will be disputes between us; and rightly, there should be continued debate about ideas and policies.

But, we must not allow those inevitable disagreements to get out of hand, otherwise the electorate will look at us and reach one conclusion: that the opposition cannot be trusted with government; they are not ready for coalition politics. And then, they may say: “Better the devil we know” and return to the ANC.

We simply cannot allow the ANC to escape the crisis that they have created for themselves and the country. History will never forgive us if we do.

So, the future is bright – but only if we are smart and clear-minded in understanding the nature of the opportunity that now presents itself.

We must continue to work hard to build trust between us. We must develop the culture of coalition politics, just as the Germans from many decades of experience, have done. We must figure out how to negotiate common programmes for coalition government that accommodate all of the main priorities of the different coalition partners.

In this, we must recognize that opposition to the ANC, and to the Zuptatarisation of the state, is not enough to bind us together. We must find other sources of unity – based on the principles of constitutionalism, of economic transformation, and social justice.

Above all, we must find a single, compelling narrative about the economy and job creation. Jobs, jobs, jobs. More than anything, we must create the right environment to convene a strategic conversation between the major players in our economy. Big trade-offs are necessary; there must be sacrifice and sharing of our wealth.

But such a strategic conversation is impossible to imagine without a trusted government to do the convening. And this is where we in the opposition can really make a difference – by offering a credible alternative.

South African business is crying out for new political leadership. Investors are desperate for a fresh approach from government. Both want policy certainty, not populist rhetoric and reckless, empty demands for so-called “radical economic transformation”.

They want to be able to trust public institutions. They want to deal with professionals in the public service and in the Cabinet, not cowboys in the service of the Gupta family. This is the crisis the country faces. We must hold those responsible to account.

But, we must also prepare an alternative narrative, a different vision for transforming our economy and creating the jobs that will deliver decent livelihoods to our people.

So, while the August 2016 local government elections gave us a bridgehead and a glimpse of a brave new world, we have to get our acts together and deliver now that we have begun to dismantle the ANC’s monopoly on power.

Working with partners in the opposition and in civil society, we will continue to fight for accountability. Those in power must always be made to explain themselves, to justify their actions, their use of executive power and their policy choices.

That is what accountability means. And we have played our part in turning this democratic principle into practice. We have helped animate the institutions established by the Constitution, giving life to them by taking cases, making complaints, pursuing those who abuse public power and ransack the public purse, and using our hard-earned seats in national and provincial legislatures to pose tough questions of ministers and MECs.

I say again: the UDM can be rightly proud of its record and its accomplishments over the past 20 years.

So, life “outside” the ANC has proved to be anything but cold or lonely. I have been accompanied by wonderful, dedicated people, such as all of you who are gathered here today.

The UDM is a tight-knit community of patriots, people who care deeply about our country and their fellow citizens; who are committed to the constitutional principles of human dignity, freedom and equality.

Twenty years is a remarkable achievement – and we must celebrate it wholeheartedly as we tackle the future, united in our dream to transform South Africa into a Winning Nation.

But it is just the beginning. We are still marching in the foothills of our ambition. The summit lies still some way off. But, while there will still be great challenges to overcome, I believe we can get there.

I know now that our vision of a fair and just South Africa, in which everyone has the chance of decent life, served by an honest, accountable government, enhanced by a truly competitive, multi-party democracy, is within reach. DM

This is an edited extract of Bantu Holomisa’s 20th anniversary speech in Midrand at the weekend.

Photo: UDM leader Bantu Holomisa (UDM photo)

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