The following speech was delivered by the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen, in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth today.
My fellow Democrats,
Today we stand before the people of Nelson Mandela Bay with a plan in our hand to turn NMB into the metro it can be.
A plan that will not only give the residents of NMB the dignity that comes with dependable basic services, decent housing and reliable public transport, but will also fling open the doors of this metro to investors, businesses and entrepreneurs, creating jobs for thousands more people.
This plan is our DA Manifesto for Local Government, and it is the blueprint we will use to get cities and towns across South Africa working again.
But there’s one thing you must know: Not all plans are the same.
Other parties will come to you and say: But we also have a plan for NMB. We also have an election manifesto.
And that’s where you need to look very carefully at what these manifestos say. Because it is easy to fill your manifesto with every wild fantasy you can think of. It’s easy to promise the world if you have no intention of keeping any of those promises.
If you look at the ANC’s manifesto, it’s just a list of things they haven’t done for two decades, but now want you to believe they will do after the 1st of November. That’s not going to happen. It’s pure fantasy.
Our manifesto is not just a wish list of free things. Our manifesto takes into account all the real world constraints like budgets, human resources, backlogs and maintenance neglect after decades of ANC government.
It’s a workable, realistic plan built on a foundation of the many successes we have already achieved in local government. A record of action and a promise of more.
No other party can offer such a manifesto.
There are only two parties that have ever governed cities and towns in South Africa – the DA and the ANC – and the ANC wouldn’t dare ask you to look at their track record in local government because it is a mess.
But in the DA manifesto you will see that we have backed up every single pledge we make with our actual track record of what we’ve already achieved on that particular issue where we govern.
And that’s because we have a proud track record in local government. In the municipal rankings by Ratings Africa, the top five municipalities are all DA-run. That’s a remarkable record when you consider we govern less than 10% of South Africa’s 278 municipalities.
All the failing, dysfunctional municipalities are run by the ANC.
That, alone, is all the reason you’ll ever need to vote for the DA. Because local government is all about delivery. It’s about water, electricity, sewage, refuse removal, road maintenance, street lights, public transport, housing and local law enforcement. These are the things that directly influence quality of life.
If a local government cannot get these basics right, the people will suffer. And we are seeing this suffering in dozens of dysfunctional ANC-run towns.
But what also happens when local governments fail to get the basics right is that businesses have to shut down or relocate to places where they are guaranteed the services they need to operate.
And once the businesses leave, these towns become economic ghost towns, and the people who remain there are left with very little hope of ever finding work and building a future.
We’re on a mission in the DA to stop this from happening. We’re on a mission to rescue South Africa’s towns and cities from this decline, and to breathe some life back into them.
I was in Midvaal in Gauteng on the weekend – a lone DA-run municipality in that province – and there you will find one of the clearest examples of the difference an efficient, responsive local government can make.
Midvaal is attracting new investment all the time, while all around it the local economies have stagnated. And the only difference is that Midvaal has a government that inspires confidence – a DA government that gets things done.
But importantly, Midvaal has also had its DA government for ten straight years now, and that is when you start to see the big rewards.
The same thing happened to Cape Town. Because voters entrusted the DA with a second, and then a third term in office there, we were able to bring our long-term vision to life.
Today, successful towns and cities like Midvaal and Cape Town and Stellenbosch and Drakenstein and Mossel Bay are all reaping the benefits of multiple consecutive terms of DA governance, and they now operate on an entirely different level to ANC-run towns.
That’s what we want for Nelson Mandela Bay too. Because this metro has everything a city needs to prosper – harbours, rail, road network, spectacular natural beauty and some truly special people.
The potential of this metropolitan municipality is enormous. It could be South Africa’s next Cape Town. It should be South Africa’s next Cape Town – a city where people go in search of opportunities, not a place people have to leave.
This should be one of our country’s busiest cities – a thriving economic hub that maximises its huge manufacturing, tourism and agriculture potential.
All it needs to achieve this success is a solid stretch of uninterrupted, unencumbered DA governance.
And let me tell you, we came so close in 2016. Close enough to be the biggest party in the metro. Close enough to be the leading party in a coalition government. Close enough to start putting our vision for NMB in place.
But not quite close enough to finally seal the deal.
In 2016 the DA won 57 out of the 120 seats on the NMB council. We were just four seats short of an outright majority here – an outright majority which would have meant five years in which the DA wouldn’t have to rely on flip-flopping coalition partners making ridiculous demands.
Getting those extra four seats also would have made us safe from the attempts of the corrupt to force their way back to the feeding trough they had become accustomed to.
Because that’s exactly what happened here. Only two years into our term, the coalition of corruption pulled off what can only be described as a coup.
They managed to convince one councillor to abstain from a vote – and by “convince” I think you all know what I mean – and that vote put Nelson Mandela Bay back in the hands of the very people who had been bleeding it dry for years.
Another two years later, at the end of 2020, we finally managed to oust them again and put our own mayor back at the helm, but by then all the good work of the first two years under the DA-led coalition had already been undone.
It was an incredibly frustrating chapter for Nelson Mandela Bay, because this metro came so close to freeing itself for good from the corrupt and the incompetent.
The list of achievements the DA-led coalition managed to rack up in those first two years were very impressive indeed.
They managed to turn the city’s R2 billion of debt into a R650 million surplus, and cancelled over R600 million worth of corrupt contracts.
For the first time ever this metro received a AAA credit rating, and NMB went from the second-least trusted to the second-most trusted metro in South Africa, after the City of Cape Town.
The DA-led coalition also established NMB’s first ever Metro Police Force, as well as putting the city’s Integrated Public Transport System buses on the road for the first time.
They immediately went about resurfacing roads that had been neglected for decades, covering over 55,000 square meters, and replacing bucket toilets – reducing these from 16,000 to only 6,000 in those two years.
Under the DA, this metro also managed to achieve the best spending of its Urban Settlements Development Grant, which meant that this grant was then increased by a further R178 million.
Across all departments, and by every metric and criteria, the DA-led coalition had started to turn this metro around, and they had managed to do so in only two years.
But then came the council coup, and from August 2018 till December 2020 NMB was back in the hands of the ANC and its friends. And in those two years everything came to a halt again here.
When the DA administration got back into office in December last year, everything had to start from scratch again, but they’ve wasted no time in ramping up delivery.
Over 300 unlicensed and unserviced metro police vehicles have already been put back on the road, and the total backlog of municipal vehicles with expired license discs has been reduced from 1100 to zero.
Pipe leak repairs have tripled since January, and sewage complaints resolved have doubled since then.
Capital budgets are being spent once more, invoices are being paid faster, grants for housing developments have been reinstated and more title deeds are being processed.
Slowly, this metro is being turned around and pointed in the right direction once more, but it could have been so much better if this project had not been interrupted by the coalition of corruption.
The only way to ensure that this does not happen again is by giving the DA a full mandate to govern. I’m talking about five uninterrupted years in the driving seat, with no one else yanking at the steering wheel or pulling up the handbrake.
If you’re still unsure about the DA’s offer, please read our manifesto, and particularly the parts where we speak of what we have already achieved.
Many of these sections are of particular interest to Nelson Mandela Bay – such as our efforts to shield Cape Town from Day Zero and keep the taps from running dry.
NMB is facing its own serious water crisis, and over the next few years it is critical that its precious water resources are managed responsibly. It is also critical that water infrastructure is maintained and that water augmentation projects are launched.
No government in the world has more experience with this than the DA. When your metro is facing the prospect of taps running dry, you want a DA government in charge.
Similarly, if you want your metro to start reducing its reliance on Eskom so that it can avoid load-shedding, you want a DA government in charge.
If you want your potholes filled, your pipe leaks repaired, your street lights fixed, your roads resurfaced and your refuse collected, you want a DA government in charge.
If you want your metro to look out for your safety and protect you from criminals beyond the limited protection that SAPS can offer, you want a DA government in charge.
And if you want your metro to welcome investment and make it easier for businesses to operate and create jobs, you most certainly want a DA government in charge.
In four weeks’ time you’ll have the opportunity to vote for a local government that can make all of these things happen. So when you look at the options on the ballot paper, ask yourself: Which of these parties can honestly say it gets things done?
You’ll see there is only one. And that is why, on the 1st of November, you have to vote DA.
Viva, DA! Viva!
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