The following remarks were delivered by the DA Federal Leader, John Steenhuisen MP in Bruma, Johannesburg.
Good afternoon, and thank you for taking the time to come out here to Bruma and meet our team of newly-elected mayors.
We are truly excited to introduce them to you, because we know we have brought together an excellent crop of public servants.
We wouldn’t have asked you to come here on a Friday afternoon if we didn’t think it was important. But 30 months out from the next national election – and with the ANC’s destructive dominance under threat across the entire country – these men and women are going to play a critical role in shaping the immediate future of our country.
We’d like you to meet them face to face, introduce yourselves, ask them questions and get a sense of where they and the DA intend to steer their municipalities over the next five years.
But I also want to state upfront that we are mindful of the enormous challenge that lies ahead of us, particularly in the hung metros and municipalities where we are going to have to quickly establish good working relationships with our new co-governing parties.
Having been through similar scenarios in both Johannesburg and Tshwane after the previous municipal elections, we know only too well how precarious such minority governments can be.
But this will not deter us from our commitment to the people of these towns and cities, and it will not cause us to compromise our principles as a party in any way. If that refusal to compromise should mean that any of these governing arrangements are short-lived, we will still spend every single minute in office in service of the people.
I also want to assure our co-governing parties that we will do all we can to foster a productive and mutually respectful environment. We owe it to the millions of residents in these cities and towns, and to every voter who made it possible to remove the ANC there, to prove that multi-party democracy works for them.
Importantly, this team of men and women you see here today – who have been tasked with charting the way forward in 27 municipalities, including four of South Africa’s eight metro municipalities – are a team that is entirely focused on the future.
Given our country’s enormous challenges, we simply cannot afford to indulge a government that lives in the past and clings to its fading history. That will not solve our problems.
Former Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, once said, “If what you have done yesterday still looks big to you, you haven’t done much today.” He could easily have been talking of the ANC there.
And that is why voters finally cut them off in so many different places on the first of November. There was a realisation, 27 years down the line, that a liberation movement doesn’t necessarily translate into an honest, capable government.
Citizens deserve better, and now voters have chosen better. And that is why these 27 men and women now have an opportunity to help write this new chapter in our history.
You will know many of them, but I am sure there are some names here that will be new to you, and we thought it was important that you had the opportunity to meet them – to put faces to the names, and to hear from some of them what they have in store for these municipalities.
As you can see, this is a group that reflects not only the incredible diversity of our party, but also of the communities we serve. This diversity includes a healthy mix of youth and experience, including the City of Cape Town’s youngest ever executive Mayor, the very capable Geordin Hill-Lewis.
And as we say goodbye to one youthful and highly competent mayor in Midvaal’s Bongani Baloyi, we welcome another young, energetic and very talented DA mayor to the fold in uMngeni’s Chris Pappas.
You will also see here in this group the first ever women to wear the mayoral chains of both Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni metros – Dr Mpho Phalatse and Tania Campbell.
We have mayors here of three places where the DA has never governed before – KZN’s uMngeni, Gauteng’s Ekurhuleni and the Eastern Cape’s Beyers Naude municipality. This gives us the opportunity to introduce residents for the first time to what we call The DA Difference.
It also has to be said that the challenges before these mayors differ considerably. These municipalities range from settled four-term DA governments to first-time DA governments.
Twelve of these municipalities have outright DA majorities, while fifteen of them have either a DA-led coalition or a minority government in which the DA is the biggest party.
This is why our coalition negotiations these past few weeks have been of such critical importance, because we need to hit the ground running in all these municipalities. We also think the public should be privy to these coalition agreements, and we have committed to publishing all of them on our website as they are signed off. You can already access some of them on da.org.za
I also want to point out that our talks with other parties that haven’t signed coalition agreements are still ongoing. We are reaching out to these parties as we try to establish majority coalitions in these hung councils. This will be critical if we want to create stable governments that are able to best serve residents.
Maintaining this momentum through stable governments will also help us to not waste this historic opportunity to chart a new course for our country.
What happened on the first of November, and in the three and a half weeks since, has been a watershed moment in our country’s history as a democracy. I think the significance of these developments is yet to fully sink in, and it will require some passage of time and a slightly wider vantage point to truly grasp what we are going through right now.
In short, the past month has seen our country step off the edge of a quarter of a century of one-party dominance and into a brand new future that is, to borrow that well-worn slogan, “alive with possibilities”.
We have often spoken of this moment in the past – of a post-ANC South Africa where the liberation movement finally makes way for a healthy and truly multi-party democracy. That moment has arrived.
What this means is that, not just our party but indeed the whole country, is going to have to get a lot better over the next five years at collaborating. We have now entered the era of coalitions and cooperative governance, and this calls for a maturity in our politics that has often been missing until now.
The days of operating in political silos are over. The sooner we can figure out who our allies are in this mission of building better cities and towns, and building stronger and safer communities, the better off everyone will be.
And so I want to say to our mayors: You will find these allies all around you. They might sit in the council chamber under the banner of a different party, but many of them want to see the same improvements to people’s lives as you do.
We have to find ways to still remain firm and true to our principles, while building and maintaining bridges with council colleagues from other parties. Nowhere is this more important than in the minority governments – and particularly the Gauteng metros – where we are going to have to write a whole new chapter on selfless and cooperative public service.
Then you will have allies outside of politics, but your cooperation with them is no less important. Reach out to NGOs, to civil society, to churches and to educators. Pay attention to groups and individuals who approach you with suggestions – be open to ideas.
You’ll have allies in the world of business and industry too. You’d be amazed at how many businesses genuinely want to be part of the solution – and are willing to share their time, money and expertise – but either don’t trust political parties, or have been ignored or dismissed in the past.
You will also find that your towns and cities might have a wealth of talent and expertise that has already entered retirement, but sill has a lot to offer. Don’t let this treasure chest of experience go to waste.
In short: Look beyond your own benches, form partnerships and take help when it is on offer. You have a massive responsibility, so don’t try to do it all by yourself.
A fair bit of that help will also come from the DA itself, which is what today is about. We have brought all our mayors together to meet with the party’s leadership as well as our governance unit, to outline the critical work that needs to take place in the coming months.
Each mayor will receive the DA’s Ready To Govern guide – which our governance unit has been painstakingly compiling over several years – and which covers critical parts of the job such as legislation, budgets, appointments and caucus management.
But today is also about establishing working relationships between the mayors themselves. So much of the work we do in government relies on experience and institutional knowledge. While we thrive on the fresh energy that our young leaders bring, we’d be lost without the wisdom and knowledge of those who have seen it all and done it all.
Sessions like these allow us to spread this wisdom and knowledge, along with all the little tricks of the trade that make running a government or managing a coalition possible.
And it lets us reaffirm what the DA brand means in government. When we say on our posters, billboards and TV ads “The DA gets things done”, it means nothing if that’s not also what residents see in their communities.
When we, quite rightly, point out that DA governments are far and away the most pro-poor governments in the country, we need that to be the lived experience of all residents across all communities of all the towns and cities where we are in charge.
This cannot be lip service and campaign slogans.
Which is why the immediate task before these 27 mayors and their administrations is to give life to the line that we get things done, and particularly in our country’s most vulnerable communities.
Of course, this challenge differs greatly in these different government situations.
Where we’ve had stable governments with solid majorities over multiple terms, resulting in healthy finances and proper budgets, our plans can include big innovations and investments.
But where we are stepping into vulnerable governments – and where the municipal finances have been neglected and depleted over the years – there has to be a more incremental and conservative approach to turning things around.
In these vulnerable metros and municipalities, our mayors are going to have to focus first and foremost on strengthening workable coalitions, drawing up a short-term plan for urgent delivery, and obtaining a detailed picture of the municipality – from its financial status, debt and income to its infrastructure backlog, service delivery arrears and current projects.
This team of mayors knows what is expected of them in the coming months and years. They know that this important moment in our country’s history comes with great opportunities, but also great risks.
They know that any DA government or DA coalition doesn’t merely assume the regular duties of a local government, it also takes on the responsibility of shielding residents from the failures of national government.
It goes beyond the call of duty to keep residents safe where SAPS has failed.
It goes beyond the call of duty to fight for control of passenger trains where PRASA has failed.
It goes beyond the call of duty to fight for control of the ports where Transnet has failed.
It goes beyond the call of duty to make its town or city loadshedding-proof where Eskom has failed.
And it takes on the responsibility to grow the local economy and create jobs despite the continuous failure by national government to do so.
These are big responsibilities, but each and every mayor here has gladly shouldered them. And that fills me with hope and inspires confidence for the next five years.
I now call on some of our newly elected mayors to briefly introduce themselves, and to give you a short overview of their vision and plans for their municipality, starting with Cape Town’s new Executive Mayor, Geordin Hill-Lewis.