Donít forget the forgotten
Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance
22 April 2012
Note to readers: This is an extract of the speech delivered by Helen Zille, Leader of the Democratic Alliance, at the North West Provincial Congress on April 21 2012.
Let us be clear in our purpose. The DA’s purpose is to build a non-racial alternative in South Africa that governs well and delivers a better life for all. We stand for redressing the injustices of the past, reconciling South Africans one to another, delivering opportunities and services; and representing all of South Africa’s diverse peoples. In short, redress, reconciliation, delivery and diversity.
That is why we must aim to be the government of the North West province. Simple as that. It may not happen by 2014, but it will happen, and we will work hard every day to see that it does happen.
In contrast to the growing strength of our purpose, we have witnessed the continuing collapse of the ANC’s ability to lead, govern and serve. A political movement with such a proud history of fighting injustice, which has had the privilege of being directed by some of the great leaders of world history – has lost its moral compass. The human rights that people like Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu fought for under apartheid are a distant memory under the ANC of Jacob Zuma.
In fact, the Bill of Rights, the fundamental covenant between citizen and State in our Constitution, is being routinely ignored and even actively denied by a callous and corrupt government. The most marginalised in society are being forgotten. We, the Democratic Alliance, will not forget the forgotten.
Five months ago I wrote in SA Today about a tragedy that happened in this province, but which received very little national media attention.
It was the story of the four Mmupele children from a place called “Verdwaal” who died of hunger and thirst in the veld as they went in search of their mother who had gone to look for work or food on a neighbouring farm. The children were aged 9, 7, 6 and 2. They reportedly set out on their journey in a state of near starvation, and walked between 10 and 14 kms in the blazing sun (the temperature was reportedly over 40 degrees) before they collapsed and died, of dehydration and hunger. First the smaller two, who were found lying together. Then, some distance away, the older two. As if it could get any worse, the 6-year old was disabled, walked with a limp, and suffered from TB.
It is a story genuinely too ghastly to contemplate in a democracy with a Bill of Rights and a safety net of child grants intended to prevent children from starving to death.
But the misery in Verdwaal does not stop there. Verdwaal does not have water. There is a water tanker that comes twice a week, if it runs on schedule, although more often it does not. If you miss it, you have to pay R5 for a 20 litre container of water from someone who did catch the tanker. Local learners can attend the only primary school, Dingake Primary, but the closest high school is 14 kilometres away, and there is no reliable learner transport because the provincial department has run out of money with which to pay for learner transport. The department is R129million short on its learner transport budget, and can’t explain why. This means most learners don’t attend high school, guaranteeing that the cycle of desperate poverty in this community continues for at least another generation.
This is truly a forgotten place, and it is a symbol of hundreds of other communities across South Africa. But it is not forgotten by the DA.
In the weeks following the tragedy, and after we wrote about it nationally, the North West government rushed to respond. The Department of Social Development took food parcels to the mother, as did various NGOs. Premier Thandi Modise promised an investigation into the deaths. The acting North West Provincial Manager of Home Affairs, Irene Mantlhasi, ordered her own investigation to establish what happened. South African Social Security Agency (SASSA) spokesman Smangaliso Semeleni said they would ensure that every individual in Verdwaal had an identity document, which would allow them to access social grants, within two weeks.
But what has happened? Five months later, not a single person has been held accountable as a result of these investigations. Where are the reports of those investigations? Why haven’t we seen them, and why haven’t they been tabled in the North West legislature? And five months later, there are still many people without ID books in Verdwaal. SASSA did not meet its commitment. In fact, it has reportedly only registered 257 people of the almost 4000 in that community who were without ID books.
The grieving mother, Martha Mmupele, gave poignant expression to the inadequacy of the too-little-too-late response when she said “we are grateful for the parcels we have received, but they will not bring my children back”.
The DA will not let this matter go. We cannot forget the people of Verdwaal, and we cannot forget the many other people who are being forgotten in this province, and across South Africa.
The ANC in this province has forgotten the people. Don’t take my word for it. This is what the ANC is saying. The Premier, Thandi Modise, speaking just a few weeks ago in Ikageng just down the road from here, said that "the division that persists in the North West province’s African National Congress is becoming a virus that is plunging governance and the stability of politics into a crisis".
COSATU North West provincial secretary Solly Phetoe, said recently about the ANC in this province that “for them [the ANC] it is not about the servicing of poor communities in the province. Since their conference in February, they have only discussed tenders for themselves and who becomes the MEC of what”.
ANC divisions and lobbying for Mangaung is drawing even more attention away from service delivery and the plight of the poor. So we must ask, why do voters still vote for them?
When the ANC cannot deliver, when it completely forgets the people, it does what it knows best: mobilise on the basis of race and division. It is the easiest thing in politics to divide people and make them hate each other, making that the focus of the debate rather than the real issues.
So it is in Verdwaal - instead of dealing with the critical systemic issues that are keeping that community in the bondage of poverty, instead of delivering the basic services that would materially improve the quality of life of residents there, and instead of just respecting their constitutional rights as citizens – the ANC is now running a campaign to change the name of Verdwaal.
I’m not kidding. The local ANC ward councillor for Verdwaal, Jomo Matshogo was quoted in the media recently as saying, without a hint of irony: "I strongly feel that we need to move away from the Verdwaal and come up with a better name…not using names that were used by governments that undermine us as human beings”.
The ANC knows that whenever it cannot explain its own failure, or when it cannot govern, it can always rely on leveraging race and apartheid to whip up community emotions and distract South Africans from the real issues. Does he think people will accept living with no water, no ID books, no social grants, and no transport to school, as long as he changes the name of their village? He obviously seems to think so.
The ANC are masters at deflecting the debate and distracting the voters from the real issues everywhere.
Recently, the Chairman of Nedbank, Mr Reuel Khoza, delivered a relatively mild critique of the ANC (compared to the things they say about themselves) in his annual statement as Chairman. Khoza said South Africa's "strange breed" of leaders needed to adhere to the institutions that underpinned democracy. He went on to say that "our political leadership's moral quotient is degenerating and we are fast losing the checks and balances that are necessary to prevent a recurrence of the past", and that "We have a duty to build and develop this nation and to call to book the putative leaders who, due to sheer incapacity, cannot deal with the complexity of 21st century governance and leadership, cannot lead".
And yet, he has drawn a disproportionately brutal response from the ANC, who has suggested that Mr Khoza is unpatriotic for criticising the ANC government, that he is jeopardising economic development, that he is disloyal as a black South African, and that as a business leader he has no right to criticise government. Various ANC leaders including Gwede Mantashe have even gone so far as to deliver thinly veiled threats that his comments may even cost him business he gets from the ANC and government. Not one ANC leader has responded to the substantive points Mr Khoza made. Not one has been willing to debate the merits of the argument or the truths contained therein.
Instead, the ANC has been quick to create a massive and sustained diversion to distract South Africans from the real issue. Once again, just like here in the North West, they divide South Africans, mobilise on the basis of race and collectivist rhetoric, and then divert attention from the truth.
The disproportionate response to Reuel Khoza is actually a public threat to all black South Africans who dare oppose the ANC.
The response has got nothing to do with what Mr Khoza actually said. It is about intimidating people, and especially black South Africans, into not daring to step outside of the fold.
The message is clear - Opposition and criticism from black South Africans is illegitimate and disloyal, and the ANC will not tolerate it. If you know what’s good for you, shut up. And if you do speak up, they will even threaten to destroy your livelihood. And the threat works. Very few, if any, business leaders have spoken up in defence of Mr Khoza’s right to call leaders to account.
And the truth is, just like the tragedy of Verdwaal was a denial of basic constitutional rights, so too was the reaction to Reuel Khoza. In a democracy any citizen can criticise the government any time they like. The government must be afraid of the citizens, not the other way around.
When the rights of any citizen in South Africa are trampled on, all of our rights are trampled on. As Martin Luther King famously said – “an injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
In a democracy, your rights are my rights, and my rights are your rights. The best way to ensure that each of our own rights is protected is to ensure that everyone else’s rights are also protected.
So when the ruling party forgets about the people of Verdwaal, the DA must be there to protect those people’s rights as citizens. When the ruling party undermines free speech and thought by attacking anyone who dares cross them, like Reuel Khoza, we must stand up for every citizen’s right to speak and think freely. When the ruling party implicitly threatens black South Africans that they better stay in line and stay loyal, we must boldly defend their rights in a democracy to vote for any party they choose, and not to have their identity and loyalty imposed on them by a corrupt ruling party that claims to own all black South Africans.
We must be the party at the forefront of defending rights, just as the ANC becomes the party that is ever more undermining people’s rights.
We must champion the real issues that South Africans face every day – joblessness, poverty, lack of access to water and housing, and the inhibiting standard of basic education.
We are the party of the real issues.
We are the party that will not forget the forgotten.
Whatever the efforts to distract and deflect, the Democratic Alliance will stay vocal on the real issues, on behalf of all South Africans, and in pursuit of a better life for all.