Let the words of young South Africans remind us why our country is worth saving

Issued by John Steenhuisen MP – Leader of the Democratic Alliance
24 Sep 2022 in News

Below is the Heritage Day message of the Leader of the DA, John Steenhuisen, that was broadcast this morning.

My fellow South Africans

Today we pause, as we have done for the past 28 years, to reflect on our heritage, both as a nation and as individual citizens, each with our own unique blend of culture, language and history.

Because that is what makes our country so singular in the world. We are not a one-size-fits-all nation. We are a tapestry with incredible detail – a bright flower bed with a bit of everything in it.

Our diversity is what makes Heritage Day so special. Because no two South Africans celebrate it in the same way or for the exact same reasons.

That same diversity should also be South Africa’s biggest advantage when it comes to building a prosperous and shared future.

Nowhere in the world will you find a greater melting pot of people, and this gives us an unrivalled richness of ideas, innovations and inspirations. Unfortunately we are yet to fully tap into this richness – so far we have only scratched the surface.

But I assure you, when we do – when we learn how to really embrace our diversity and make it work in our favour – South Africa will take off. There is no limit to what our country and our people can achieve.

This is something that is often repeated in speeches or in marketing campaigns – that South Africa is alive with possibilities. But in recent years, people have perhaps started to doubt this.

The reality of our country’s many challenges – the poverty, the unemployment, the corruption, the crime and the load-shedding – has a way of overshadowing our possibilities and our potential.

Understandably, people become jaded. Some even lose the will to carry on fighting.

But we cannot allow that to become our mindset. Everything that made South Africa worth fighting for is still there. We just need to remind ourselves of these things, and direct our energy there.

I’m sure you agree with me that our country is worth saving.

That’s why we decided to do things a little differently this Heritage Day. Instead of focusing on adults, we turned to a younger generation of South Africans to get a fresh view of our country – one not yet tainted by the worries and disappointments we adults so often associate with South Africa’s future.

We launched a poetry competition for young South Africans in two age groups – six to thirteen, and fourteen to eighteen – and asked them to tell us in a poem, in the language of their choice, what they love about South Africa.

What we received over the past two months has been simply phenomenal.

Not only are our children incredibly gifted with words, they also possess an insight into what makes South Africa so unique and so special that really catches you offside. Reading through the entries, it is hard not to get a little choked up.

Because these children have a way of saying things that many of us have lost sight of.

We received hundreds of entries in six languages, and our judges had to deliberate long and hard to whittle them down to six winning poets – that’s a first, second and third prize for each of the two age categories.

If you sent us a poem and your name is not one of these six, please know that these were not easy decisions, and we loved each and every entry. Your love for South Africa really shone through, and your gifted way with words helped us see our country in a new light.

I’ll also admit that I needed some help with translations of some of the entries, but I was so glad that I did get to read these wonderful poems in languages that I cannot speak. They evoked such rich imagery that I was tempted to climb in my car and take a long road trip.

It gives me great pleasure today to announce the names of the six winning young poets.

In the six to thirteen years category, third place goes to seven year-old Sinethemba Xaba, with a delightfully playful poem called “Rato la Afrika Borwa”; second place goes to twelve year-old Franco Barnard with his poem “Wat ek liefhet Suid-Afrika”; and first place goes to twelve year-old Amber Travers with an untitled poem that really evokes the most beautiful imagery of our spectacular country.

In the fourteen to eighteen years category, third place goes to sixteen year old Lucy Parsons with her lovely poem, “Rough Cut Gem”; second place goes to eighteen year old Abigail Kuhn with an untitled Afrikaans poem asking our country and its people to be blessed; and first place goes to seventeen year old Nonkazimulo Zwane with a beautiful poem in Zulu titled “Engikuthanda NgeNingizimu Afrika”.

But there’s no point in hosting a poetry competition if these poems aren’t going to be heard and read. And so I encourage you to please visit our social media platforms where we will post not only the text of the six winning poems, but also videos of the young poets themselves reciting their work.

Please make sure to go and read and listen to these poems. They will cut straight through all the negativity of our news cycle and really touch your heart.

And on a day like today, when we reflect on all the things that make our country and our heritage so special, that is something we could all use.

To the six winners – congratulations. Enjoy your cash prize, and please don’t ever stop writing poems and stories and songs about this amazing country of ours. You have a gift, and you need to use your gift to remind others what it is about South Africa that is worth fighting for.

Arguably the most encouraging part of this poetry competition was the diversity of entries we received. Young South Africans from all walks of life, and from communities spanning the length and breadth of the country, writing in the majority of our country’s languages.

It wasn’t lost on me that of all the parties in South Africa, only the DA could elicit such a diverse response. That’s because there’s only one party in this country that is trying to build a shared future for all the people who live here.

This was confirmed in a recent independent poll into South Africa’s political landscape by the Social Research Foundation, which found that the DA’s support among black, coloured and white South Africans is almost equally split at 32%, 31% and 30% respectively.

No other party comes even close to this kind of diversity. And that is why we will ultimately succeed, and why the DA’s ideas, policies and vision will form the foundation of a new, re-imagined and prosperous South Africa.

The future of South Africa has to be shared. It has to be written together. And this can only be achieved by a party that unites rather than divides.

When I see the results of polls that show a growing DA to be the only truly diverse party in South Africa – and when I see the incredible diversity of young South Africans writing to us on what they love about this country – I am filled with hope.

Yes, I know we have vast challenges – more than most other countries. I know life is hard for many South Africans and it’s not always easy to see the sunshine up ahead in these dark times.

But I also know that we have so much that is worth saving and worth fighting for. And I assure you, the DA has the heart for this fight.

We will never lose hope, and particularly not when we have such a gifted, eloquent new generation of South Africans reminding us to stay in the fight.

I ask you to please join us. Together we will be unstoppable. Together we will save this country we all love so much.

Thank you.