South Africa

Right of Reply: Pierre de Vos is conflating doing a job with making sure a job gets done – DA

By Geordin Hill-Lewis 2 February 2018

Professor Pierre de Vos accuses the DA of conflating party and state in the Cape Town drought crisis, a charge that cannot go unanswered. The Chinese Wall between the party and the state is a key tenet of liberal democratic principle and DA philosophy. The erosion of this principle at a national level has been a key reason for the capture of the civil service and state entities by a rent-seeking political elite, driven by the revolving door between Luthuli House and the state. By GEORDIN HILL-LEWIS.

South Africa currently has a party-political electoral system, and mayors, premiers and presidents are not elected directly(although the DA has proposed to change this). Voters vote for the party of their choice, and parties select who best should fill executive offices in government. Those governments must implement the policies of the party that voters elected, and are accountable for their performance both to the party and ultimately to the electorate at election time.

When there is a crisis in government, voters can and should hold the governing political party accountable. This is natural and welcome, as for democracy to work properly there needs to be a direct relationship between electoral support and performance in government. It is one of the many immaturities of South Africa’s democracy that voters are still so lenient on a national governing party that has been so disregarding and callous with the responsibility they hold.

In the DA we do not shy away from this accountability. We want voters to know and trust that they can consistently expect much better, cleaner, more accountable government from us than from any other political party. That is what we call the “DA difference”. This does not mean that we don’t from time to time fall short. But it means that when we do, we act quickly to fix it and are honest with the public.

The decision by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane to take personal political control of the response to the Cape Town drought crisis is one such moment. It was becoming clear that the City of Cape Town, primarily in the person of Mayor Patricia de Lille, had not been completely upfront with the party and the public about the severity of the situation, or about how to avoid the dreaded Day Zero. Perhaps even more important, the City had implicitly taken on its own shoulders the responsibilities of the national government, namely the provision of bulk water. The City failed to hold the feet of the national government to the fire and had given them a free pass. As a result, the public had overwhelmingly come to believe that it was the DA government that has failed, and quite understandably so.

The turning point came when the mayor announced that Day Zero was “probable”, unleashing a wave of panic and water stockpiling that actually made Day Zero even more likely.

With anger reaching boiling point, it was clear drastic intervention was necessary. Maimane’s intervention has been to ensure that DA office bearers in our governments do the best possible job in responding to this major crisis, and do what the public expects of a DA government.

To do anything otherwise would have been in dereliction of the DA’s democratic duty to voters, with profound consequences for the management of the drought response. Maimane instructed the transfer of power of the management of the water crisis to the deputy mayor. This change was achieved in a legally sound way: first through a DA caucus discussion and decision and then through a normal resolution of the full council.

The DA holds all its elected office bearers accountable for their performance in government. Not to do so would be an absurdity. De Vos effectively concedes this when he concludes: “The governing party must ensure that its representatives in the city council does its (sic) job.” This is exactly what Maimane has done. He has ensured that DA representatives do their jobs.

De Vos must be conflating the democratic imperative for parties to hold public representatives accountable with an unconstitutional intervention in the day-to-day running of government. The latter has not happened. Maimane has convened a drought crisis team made up of elected DA office bearers. He has not instructed civil servants, nor would he.

De Vos has a problem with an important government decision – who should manage the drought response – being taken by a party leader not directly elected by the voters of the City. And yet this is always the case. Again, no governments are directly elected in SA.

Does he find it “intensely undemocratic” that new ANC president Cyril Ramaphosa has instructed a new Eskom board to be appointed, even over the objections of the elected president? South Africans don’t, and it is doubtful that Capetonians have a problem with the fact that there is now considerably more co-ordination and open communication since the intervention, and Day Zero is being pushed back progressively.

Rather than Maimane organising “a few water trucks to provide water to the city”, as De Vos would have him do, Maimane is focusing on getting our governments to respond in a more effective, co-ordinated way and mobilising wider public support for cutting daily consumption. This is still the only way we will defeat Day Zero together. We have grown accustomed to the ANC’s preference for stony silence in the face of every crisis. But that is not the DA’s model. DM

Geordin Hill-Lewis is Chief of Staff in the DA Leader’s Office and a Member of Parliament

Photo: Democratic Alliance leader, Mmusi Maimane addresses Cape Town residents on the City of Cape Town’s plan to prevent Day Zero. 24 January 2018. Photo: Leila Dougan



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