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Public commentators who adhere to the ANC’s worldview of sustaining its spirit even if its body is rotting

Democratic Alliance registration posters in the Cape Town CBD on 22 June 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / ER Lombard) | Unsplash / Max Kleinin | DA leader John Steenhuisen. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Voters cast their ballots at a by-election in Boksburg on 19 May 2021. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

You’d think the choice in this year’s local government elections would be clear: where the ANC governs, things fall apart; where the DA governs, we get things done. But there is a cadre of journalists and commentators who will have none of this.

Nearly everything the African National Congress now touches turns to failure. Municipalities in ANC strongholds aren’t just struggling to deliver services, they’re falling apart. North West is the best example of how bad a powerful ANC has become for local communities. Never mind the municipal audit disclaimers, the theft of Covid-19 relief funds, and the easy escape made by officials implicated in the VBS heist. The billions in taxpayers’ money not spent on repairs and maintenance, or on renewing existing substations and water treatment plants, will have implications for years to come. Power and water outages will become more frequent, and income derived from these services will dwindle. Investment will flee. It is an institutional death spiral. And unless the ANC is replaced by the Democratic Alliance in this year’s local government elections, the rot is likely to spread. 

The good news is that there are governments that are bucking the national trend of decline, and they are mostly governed by the DA. Most clean audits are produced by DA governments. The top five most financially sustainable municipalities in South Africa are all run by the DA. Poor households have access to the most reliable basic services in DA-run governments. Thanks to the returns of a decade or more of getting things done, DA governments in Cape Town and Stellenbosch can now invest in their own energy generating capacity. In this way local DA governments are well placed to protect the communities they serve from state failure. You don’t have to believe me, the Auditor-General, Ratings Afrika, Stats SA, or the dedicated men and women who run the country’s best performing municipalities. Ask the folk who move in ever-increasing numbers to DA-controlled towns and cities in the hope of a better life. Even under difficult national economic conditions, the DA is better at creating the conditions for upward social mobility, including economic growth, investment, jobs, and improved basic services. 

So, you’d think the choice in this year’s local government elections would be clear: where the ANC governs, things fall apart; where the DA governs, we get things done. But there is a cadre of journalists and commentators who will have none of this. Steeped in the ANC’s worldview, they bemoan the former liberation movement’s corruption and incompetence in government but can’t bring themselves to denounce its toxic combination of racial nationalism and state control. They see the economy backfiring, the decline of the developmental capacity of the state, and vulnerable communities suffering as a result. But they can’t connect the dots between this malaise and the implementation of ANC policies and the adherence to the ANC worldview. The ANC’s spirit must be sustained, even if its body is rotting. 

John Steenhuisen (Photo: Supplied)

This is why Stephen Grootes, writing in Daily Maverick last week, says that the DA has failed to capture South Africa’s imagination. Unable to see beyond the ideological horizons of the ANC, Grootes is in fact referring to his own imagination. Too difficult to imagine is the idea, supported by evidence at every audit cycle and most indicators of good government, that a liberal democratic party that rejects racial identity politics has a better roadmap for governing South Africa. And so, soft ANC apologists like Grootes are suckers for anything that makes the DA look just as bad as the ANC. What can possibly be worse than a corrupt, inept racial nationalist government that sees its own politicians as proxies for the African people, self-licensed to eat on their behalf? An opposition composed only of and supported only by racial minorities and defending only their interests. And so, the worse the ANC performs, the more pressing the need to hang this tag around the DA’s neck. 

Last week Clement Manyathela became bizarrely enamoured by the racial composition of a list of DA election campaign managers. And Grootes was keen to jump on the bandwagon. Ignoring exceptional black leaders in the DA, including the majority of our provincial leaders, all of our metro mayors, and the party’s heads of communication and policy, he draws an adverse conclusion about the DA’s “image of inclusion”. He also suggests that the DA’s defence of gun rights is a play to the insecurities of white men. But what if – and this might push the limits of Grootes’ imagination – there is a significant number of black people who share the interests the DA is fighting for? What if, just as Grootes is blind to black DA leaders like Ivan Meyer, Solly Msimanga, Albert Fritz, Jane Sithole, Gwen Ngwenya and Siviwe Gwarube, he is also blind to the black people who are lawful, licensed firearm owners? 

The same point can be made about protecting property rights, pension funds, and medical aid reserves against the grabby hands of the state, the other major battles being fought by the DA against the ANC and the EFF (the ANC’s fundamentalist faction). Black South Africans have no less a stake in these issues than anyone else. Without a modern industrial economy, secured by property rights, a free society, and a capable state, there will be no middle class to aspire to, no chance of rapid upward social mobility to redress the inequities of the past. To create the kind of society envisaged by our Constitution, South Africa needs a party like the DA, capable of seeing and fighting for shared South African interests that cross racial lines. To continue to get things done, on a bigger scale, in more towns and cities, we won’t be using the failed roadmap of the ANC. The choice now is simple. South Africans can choose the ANC that is failing in government or the DA that governs well and gets things done. DM


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All Comments 18

  • Steenhuisen, your attack on Stephen Grootes is totally uncalled for. As the leader of a political party, in this case the official opposition, you should have listened to Stephen and questioned the validity of his comments. Readers, and voters, can decide for themselves whether Stephen’s comments are credible. But immediately you go on the defensive, exposing yourself as a weak leader. Many citizens will possibly agree that most municipalities under DA control seems to be better managed than those managed by the ANC. But why don’t you remain focussed on that? As an ex-DA supporter, I have similar feelings as that of Mr Grootes. But one thing sticks in my mind. For 50 years I have voted for the DA, including previous party names. In that 50 years I have never been contacted by the DA in any format possible….SMS, email, and especially direct home contact. And no, I am not now an ANC supporter, or any other existing party. I will however support a new party, lead by a Black leader whom previous was in a senior position at the DA, and you let that person go, as you let others go, such are your failures!

    • Coen, your intense dislike of the DA is obvious across all the comments you make on this site. That is fine. But I suspect you have been brainwashed by the incessant negative media coverage of the party, and choose to ignore the real world success in delivery that the DA proceeds in municipalities where it governs. This matters much more than the superficial skin colour of the party’s leader.

      Also … lucky you for never having received communication from the DA … how did you achieve this ? Most South Africans have the complete opposite problem.

      However, if you do want to be on the DA’s contact list, I can assure you this is quite an easy task to achieve.

      • “…… you should have listened to Stephen and questioned the validity of his comments. Readers, and voters, can decide for themselves whether Stephen’s comments are credible.”

        Steenhuisen is right to call out the blatant double standards of accountability in the media.

        • I was coming here to write this. Glad to see someone already pointed it out.

          South Africans judge the DA and ANC by completely different standards. It’s funny how when it comes to the ANC, they find forgiveness in their hearts for what is essentially a criminal network, while a simple list of white people is enough to berate the DA for on television and in op-eds.

        • There have been no ‘failed experiments’. There have been individuals, with possess their own agency, and using this agency chose to leave to try become leaders of their own organisations (and many many others actually still remain within the DA).

          I would highly recommend you don’t gobble up the stories Mashaba, Maimane and the crew push in the media. They are savvy politicians … who are quite capable of spinning a story to suit their own agenda … and not the poor downtrodden black politicians they love you to think they are.

          • Ryan, believe what you wish. I have my opinion on what played out after the last National elections on 8 May 2019. You have yours. If you are so obsessed about Steenhuisen’s article and his critique of Stephen, why did you not respond directly to his article, rather that trying to pull me to pieces as a respondent, with words like “brainwashed, gobble up”?

          • By the way Coen – I do think a lot of your commentary is often somewhat decent. But many people in SA are just absolutely gatvol of the unfair media coverage of the party, and its obsession with race.

        • By the way Coen – I do think a lot of your commentary is often somewhat decent. But many people in SA are just absolutely gatvol of the unfair media coverage of the party, and its obsession with race.

          • Ryan…lets leave it there. I have been a DA supporter for 50 years, and do no condemn them at all. Never have. Agree with your last 5 words. But please, go and read Stephen’s article again, and then decide whether Steenhuisen’s attack is justified as the leader of the DA. However, I firmly agree with van Damme, that the clique within the DA has, and is, damaging the party

    • While I do understand where you are coming from (even though I do not agree) and you can have your own opinion of the DA, do you think that Stephen’s argument, that the DA only supports self defense for gun ownership due to upholding white privilege and appeasing their racial fear as a fair comment? It’s a low blow, and there is no proof for any of this. It is this kind of comment that John is referring to…and he is completely correct to refute it and question Stephen’s motives in bringing it up.

      Critique about the DA is absolutely fine, I would even say necessary, as they really really do need to do something about their PR, but I do expect a publication such as the DM to stick to facts and not personal conjecture of a writer who clearly personally has issues with the DA and some of its members.

  • Delivery and clean governance. Everything else is identity-politics noise, which is a fight you will never win. The DA needs to sort out its PR communications. Hire a good advertising agency ( or that skill set ) and tackle your community perception problem. Because the governance results are not the issue.

    • Good grief, to believe that form matters more than substance in these times is a clear indication of how deeply in trouble we are.

  • One of the issues is that previously disadvantaged people have never had money and have never paid taxes. Their position in life has not changed. It has never been their money. They do not understand that the money needed to improve their lives is the tax from wealthy and middle class people irrespective of colour. Only when there are many many more people in this country having their hard earned money stolen will they then realise what the ANC has done to them.

  • The mental gymnastics people go through to find anything to discredit an obviously better option (the DA) is astounding. I guess its easier to do such contortions of the mind when a lot of us are so far removed from the failing state in our ivory towers that we don’t see the massive impact ANC failures have had, and continue to have, on the less fortunate in this country. The vast, every growing chasm between the real world performances of the DA and the ANC is hopefully too hard to ignore for most voters.

  • Having realised the futility of rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic, some journalists are now keen to discuss the colour of fabric on the deck chairs.

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