DA is on the right track and must stay the course: John Steenhuisen

23 September 2020 - 17:58
John Steenhuisen wrote a letter titled "The DA is Changing for the Better" to DA congress delegates on Wednesday.
John Steenhuisen wrote a letter titled "The DA is Changing for the Better" to DA congress delegates on Wednesday.
Image: Freddy Mavunda © Financial Mail

DA interim leader John Steenhuisen says the party is on the right track since it changed direction about a year ago after an internal review of its disappointing election performance.

“We have changed direction and the party is on the right track. Now we need the courage to stay the course, and to reject any attempts that seek to divert us back on to the road to ruin,” said Steenhuisen, who is a front-runner for the position of DA federal leader ahead of the party's elective congress next month.

Writing in an internal letter titled “The DA is Changing for the Better” — addressed to congress delegates on Wednesday — Steenhuisen said over the past 12 months the DA has shown it possesses the necessary courage to admit when it made mistakes and to fix those mistakes by fundamentally changing for the better.

He lauded the party's decision to have a post-election review, saying it did something that “no other political party had ever done in the history of our democracy”. Steenhuisen said through adopting the recommendations contained in the review report, the DA recognised that its existing status quo was no longer sustainable.

“To be in a position to fix SA, we first had to hold ourselves accountable for years of strategic drift and poor leadership. Above all, we had to change,” he said.

Almost a year later, and a lot has changed for the better, he wrote.

In the wake of the general election, then DA leader Mmusi Maimane asked Ryan Coetzee to chair an independent review into the party’s election performance and broader circumstances.

The report, which was made public in October 2019, found that an overwhelming view of those who made submissions or with whom the panel held discussions was that Maimane, while immensely talented, committed to the cause, hardworking and widely liked, could be indecisive, inconsistent and conflict-averse.

This had led to:

  • a lack of clarity about the party’s vision and direction;
  • confusion about the party’s position on key issues;
  • the erosion of the party’s unity of purpose;
  • deep divisions within the national caucus;
  • a breakdown in trust between the leader and some of the party’s structures;
  • a failure to produce a credible policy platform; and
  • a general erosion of discipline across the party.

Shortly after the report was released, Maimane stepped down as DA leader and eventually left the party.

On Wednesday, Steenhuisen said the ambiguity about the DA’s vision for SA was gone. “We are an unashamedly liberal party built on the values of freedom, fairness, opportunity and diversity,” he said.

“And our mission is to give expression to these values by building a society based on openness, constitutionalism and the rule of law, a separation of powers as well as between party and state, federalism, a social market economy, nonracialism and redress that works for those who need it.”

Guided by these foundational values, the party's policy conference also adopted a new economic justice policy that is equally unambiguous, he said.

“This policy sets the DA apart as the only political party in SA that wants to build a truly non-racial society where each individual is judged based on the content of their character, not on the colour of their skin.”

He said the party's embrace of nonracialism further set it apart as the only party with a plan to redress the effects of racial discrimination and injustice through means-tested empowerment that works for the 30m citizens who are still trapped in poverty, while eliminating race-based elite capture and corruption that, he said, had turned ANC cronies into billionaires at the direct expense of the poor.

These new policies represent progressive and principled change, and serve as clear proof that the DA is rapidly regrowing its backbone, he said.

“From a party that for a time tried to become an alternate ANC, the DA is now firmly on the road to becoming a true and principled alternative to the ANC.

South Africa cannot be saved if opposition parties merely offer voters a different version of the same poison that is already destroying our country.
John Steenhuisen

“This is hugely significant because SA cannot be saved if opposition parties merely offer voters a different version of the same poison that is already destroying our country.”

Steenhuisen said what SA needs is an antidote to ANC ideology and that the DA now offers that antidote, which is proof of just how far the party has come in less than 12 months.

He said the DA could not return to a status quo where leaders are willing to sacrifice its core principles, or where members of the party fuel division and ill-discipline by attacking the DA in the media.

“Our own review report singled out this issue as one of the major deterrents to people voting for the DA, because voters don't like it when a political party is fighting among itself instead of fighting for South Africans,” he said.

He congratulated DA members for their courage during the lockdown and during the policy-making process leading up to the policy conference.

“It is now abundantly clear that we have not wasted this crisis and that we will continue changing the DA for the better, and that we have closed the chapter on the failed status quo that triggered the need for a review report in the first place.

“We have already come a long way, and our resolve dare not falter now. We must continue to do all we can to change the party for the better by ensuring that we never get dragged back into confusion, division and ill-discipline.

“That is why we must continue to support the policy unit as it reviews all of our policies, to bring them in line with our new values and principles document ahead of the 2021 local government election.”