The following speech was delivered by DA Leader, Mmusi Maimane, on acceptance of the 2017 Avicenna Leadership Award at the Avicenna Leadership Academy in Utrecht, Netherlands.
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and distinguished guests,
I am truly humbled to be here today to receive the Avicenna Leadership Award.
This award is testament to the hard work we, the Democratic Alliance, have been doing for many years now in an effort to restore the democratic project in South Africa.
South Africa’s history is one of competing racial nationalisms. It is a history of the Dutch Settlers who came to the Cape of Good Hope, British Colonialism, Afrikaner Nationalism and now African Nationalism. Ours is a history of a people being marginalised and excluded in the land of their birth.
Europe knows all too well the terrible impact nationalism has when it is taken to its final bloody conclusion. Europe had to fight to defeat the evil of nationalism and to establish, once and for all, the values of tolerance, modernity, inclusiveness, and the rule of the law. Now, 70 years later, nationalism and hate is on the rise again on this continent.
We hope, in the words of a slogan that has become popular once more for obvious reasons, that “love will trump hate”.
My fight in South Africa today is to help write an entirely new chapter for our country, where competing nationalisms do not define the future of young people.
I am a child to two parents who came to Soweto as migrant workers under Apartheid. My mother worked as cashier, in a system that did not recognise her self-worth, and my father worked for a lock-making company. One can’t help but wonder what trajectory they would have had if Apartheid had not pushed them to the excluded fringe of society.
My parents believed that, despite their background, if they worked hard their children could have a better tomorrow. Their devotion made it possible for me to escape the cycle of poverty that still traps so many black South Africans today.
Nothing has undermined our new democracy more than the evil scourge of corruption, which has been underpinned by the grand project of capturing the state for the purposes of personal enrichment.
In developing societies, the state can be a powerful tool for spreading opportunity more fairly and alleviating poverty. But the state can also be used crudely to funnel money to the corrupt, and thereby to further impoverish and punish the poor.
We cannot secure a better future until we crush the evil of corruption in our present. This is why my party has been so devoted to this cause.
It is an honour to be recognised for this work because it confirms that we’re making an impact. And it confirms that this impact is seen and felt far beyond our own borders. We are part of a connected global community and it is important that we have allies.
When South Africans were battling the oppressive Apartheid government in the 1970’s and 1980’s, they leant heavily on the support of allies abroad. We know that the anti-Apartheid movement was strong and vocal in the Netherlands, and we thank you for that.
Today, 23 years into our democracy, we find ourselves face to face with a new, insidious threat that will require a similar level of global solidarity to overcome.
It is time for us to liberate ourselves from the liberators. We must break the cycle of corruption and maladministration before there is nothing left on which to rebuild South Africa.
The party I lead is committed to rebuilding South Africa into a strong and stable democracy with a robust and inclusive economy – a country that not only works for all its people, but also reaffirms its place in Africa and the world. And while we know what a mammoth task this will be, we also know that we have the tools to succeed.
You see, the project of the DA is built around inclusivity. We don’t believe in the divisive rhetoric of failed liberation movements and radical populists. We don’t mobilise people around race and ethnicity.
Instead, we have a set of well-documented values. And our message to voters, to business, to civil society, to opposition parties and even to moral elements within the ruling party is simply this: If you share our key values, then you can be part of this project.
These values are Constitutionalism, the Rule of Law, a belief in an inclusive market economy, zero tolerance for corruption, non-racialism and the building of a capable state. I truly believe that if we succeed in rallying a majority of South Africans around these six values, we will be able to transcend the narrow Nationalism that has dominated our country for so long and build the South Africa we all want to see.
I was asked to speak here today about my dreams and my achievements. Well, this South Africa I’m describing here – growing, prosperous, inclusive, safe and tolerant – that is my dream. And playing a part in bringing about this change in the country I love is the only achievement I’ll ever be interested in.
You can be a part of this effort. Come to South Africa. Invest. Start businesses. Buy our products. A new beginning is coming for South Africa, and when it does, I am asking you to help us achieve our dream.
I hope that, should I ever speak to you again at this forum, it will be to report back on our country’s transition from post-liberation politics to a true democracy with freedom for all our people.
Thank you for this award, on behalf of the people of South Africa.