The following remarks were delivered by the Leader of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen MP, during his True State of the Nation (TSONA) address at the Centre for the Book in Cape Town today.
A broadcast of the speech can be accessed here.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Members of the diplomatic corps,
Members of the media,
Fellow South Africans,
For those of you who are from out of town, welcome to the Mother City on a beautiful summer’s day.
I hope you’ll enjoy your stay here in DA-run Cape Town. There is no better city in the world to visit in the height of summer.
But since the people of this city first elected a DA government in 2006, Cape Town has come to represent so much more than just being a world-class tourist destination.
Cape Town, along with other places where the DA enjoys outright majorities – most of the Western Cape, Midvaal in Gauteng, Kouga in the Eastern Cape, and, more recently, uMngeni in KwaZulu-Natal – provides a glimpse into what South Africa could have looked like nearly 30 years into our democracy.
In the midst of the accelerating collapse of national government services all around us, best exemplified by permanent load shedding, most people are deeply concerned about the trajectory our country is on.
Polling from the Social Research Foundation says that nearly 70% of people believe South Africa is headed in the wrong direction.
IPSOS puts the number even higher, at 74%.
Yet, alarming as these findings are, they also enable us to pose an important counterfactual question.
How would South Africans have felt about the future if the whole country was heading in the same direction as Cape Town, Midvaal, uMngeni, Kouga, and other places with solid DA majorities?
How would investors have looked at South Africa if the national government did not tolerate corruption and embraced the private sector as a partner, like the Western Cape does?
What would South Africa’s global reputation have been if we sided with Ukraine and the free world against Russian aggression, like all DA-controlled governments have done?
While I do not suggest that DA governments are perfect, I am confident that most people would be far more hopeful about South Africa’s future if the national government delivered honest and quality services at the same level as the Western Cape, Midvaal and uMngeni.
And rather than being in danger of again becoming a “skunk of the world” due to the ANC’s support for the criminal invasion of Ukraine, I suspect our country’s global standing would be trending upwards if we did the right thing by standing against Russian aggression.
To my mind, there can be little doubt that a South Africa on the same positive path as DA-run governments like Cape Town would have been a country on the up.
A country making progress in overcoming serious challenges, and growing evermore confident in our ability to become the winning nation we dreamed of being in 1994.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We all know that the reality of the South Africa we inhabit today is far removed from this vision.
As we gear up for President Cyril Ramaphosa’s fifth State of the Nation Address since the ousting of Jacob Zuma, we need to take a big step back and view that period in its entirety.
Because it is easy to get carried away by all the shiny new baubles on the tree – the new 10-point plans, the new task teams and commissions, the new tzars and dreams. We get those every year.
But Cyril Ramaphosa was sworn in as president five years ago. He rode in on a promise of reform and was carried to the Union Buildings on a wave of goodwill and euphoria following the disaster that was the ANC government of Jacob Zuma.
We all know that today there is very little left of that goodwill, and even less confidence that things will improve.
If Thursday is truly about setting out the State of our Nation, we’re going to have to look past the carefully crafted smoke and mirrors and the cherry-picked stats, and take in the bigger picture of the full five years of this administration.
Because that’s how you will see whether we’re making any progress at all, and where we might be heading as a country.
Look at the country’s trajectory on crime. Look at the trajectory on unemployment. Look at the trajectory on infrastructure maintenance and investment. Look at the trajectory on capital and skills flight. Look at the trajectory on load-shedding. Look at the trajectory on poverty.
See where we now stand on each of these things, and which way the trend is heading.
The reality for ordinary South Africans – as opposed to the pampered ANC elite who have insulated themselves from the government failures they engineered – is that life has progressively become harder and harder over the past five years.
Increases in the cost of living have far outstripped earnings for almost every South African, and most certainly for those trying to survive on social grants, which is now almost 50% of our population. That’s the 18.4 million South Africans who receive a social grant, plus the 10.5 million recipients of the Covid social relief of distress grant.
For these people, the sharp rise in the price of a basic basket of goods along with multiple above-inflation fuel price increases and electricity tariff hikes, has made life unbearably hard.
And that situation is only going to get worse this year, as indefinite high-stage load-shedding wreaks havoc on our economy, shuts down businesses, and sends even more people from the workplace to the social grants queue.
You don’t have to be an economist to know that this is an unsustainable situation, and we are fast approaching its breaking point.
Already, government’s social grants spending this financial year will reach a massive R364 billion, and is expected to take up almost 60% of our entire non-interest spending over the next three years.
Now factor in the shrinking tax base and the steady exodus of capital, businesses and skills, and you will see that we are headed for an unprecedented crisis if we don’t find a way to drastically change course to ensure we can keep paying for life-sustaining social grants.
Last July’s riots will seem like a tame dress rehearsal the day government can no longer pay social grants. We cannot risk such a situation.
If we want to right this ship, it will have to be done on multiple fronts simultaneously.
We have to get our economy expanding beyond the dismal 0.3% forecast last week by the South African Reserve Bank. We have to find a way to stop skills and businesses from leaving our shores and to bring in new investments. And we have to help a lot more South Africans move into the dignity of a job.
We have no time to waste.
But a glance at our performance on every critical metric over the past five years says that we are doing none of these things, and that we are in fact regressing.
Arguably the most telling of these metrics is the hours, or days, that we have spent under load-shedding since 2018, because this is by far the single biggest impediment to investment and growth.
In 2018, South Africa spent a total of six days under load-shedding.
Since then, it has gone up every year – first to 22 days, then 35 days, and in 2021 we spent 48 days under load-shedding.
But it was in 2022 that the wheels really came off and our country spent an incredible 157 days under load-shedding. Sadly, it already looks like 2023 is going to smash that record.
Just this past Sunday, Eskom set a dubious new record for the longest ever streak of uninterrupted load shedding: a staggering 984 consecutive hours – and counting.
This is not a country on the mend. This is a country falling apart.
Despite all the bluster and PR spin, this is Ramaphosa’s true legacy: he has only added five wasted years to the nine he likes to blame his predecessor for.
This is a country that is losing hundreds of billions of rands in productivity, and hundreds of thousands of jobs, to an ANC-made crisis.
A crisis for which everyone – from the DA to energy experts to media commentators – has been proposing the same simple solutions. But thanks to its ideological stubbornness and its deeply entrenched web of patronage and corruption, those solutions have always been a bridge too far for the ANC.
Of course, load-shedding is the most visible and most threatening state failure to affect South Africans, but it is by no means the only one.
Our post office has collapsed. Our freight rail network has collapsed. Our passenger rail service has collapsed. Our ports have all but collapsed. Our police service is losing the war on violent crime. And municipal service delivery in hundreds of towns across the country is virtually non-existent.
These failures have been a long time coming, but with the move to permanent high-stage load-shedding, government failure has reached into every home in a way that can no longer be countenanced.
For many who have recently packed up and left the country, Eskom’s collapse was the final straw. For the millions who remain here, load-shedding is a daily source of despair and anguish – a metaphor for what life under an ANC government has become.
In every community I visit, this has become the theme of our conversations. People feel furious and powerless at the same time.
The most common comment I hear from South Africans is “John, we don’t know what to do.”
And my answer to them is always the same: As long as we still have a working democracy, failure doesn’t have to define our future. Thanks to our democracy, we still have a way out of this.
Right now, the people of South Africa are facing the most important fork in the road in a generation.
Our choice of road will determine whether we end up a failed state with a collapsed power grid and social anarchy, or whether we embark on the long, arduous journey to recovery, and ultimately prosperity.
Because as much as some may try to complicate our options, it really is a simple binary between the ANC and the DA.
This is why the question of how very different things could have been if the national government operated according to the same values and principles as DA-led local and provincial governments, is more than just an interesting thought experiment.
It is, in fact, the single most important question we must consider if we want tomorrow to be better than today.
That is because, as the 2024 election fast approaches, the DA offers the only credible, better alternative way forward for our country.
And let’s be clear about it: what the DA offers is better. Look no further than right here in Cape Town, where residents are already protected against up to two stages of load shedding. It is thanks to DA policies that Cape Town is set to start buying extra electricity from businesses and households, and why hundreds of megawatts in private projects are on the way to end load shedding here before anywhere else in South Africa.
Where the DA governs outright, potholes are repaired, sewerage is collected, and infrastructure is maintained. And as the failures of national government accelerate, DA local governments are increasingly taking over services like electricity generation, public transport and policing.
As the collapse of ANC-run governments accelerates at the same time that the DA pushes the boundaries of innovation and good governance, the gap between these two paradigms is set to become a yawning chasm by 2024.
There is simply no realistic path to fixing South Africa that will not rely heavily on the DA bringing this demonstrated track record of good governance to bear at national level.
In fact, there are only two realistic scenarios for what South Africa’s future could look like.
Before we look at those, I want to emphasise the word “realistic” in the previous sentence.
There are only two realistic scenarios for what South Africa’s future could look like.
The 2024 election’s silly season is fast approaching, during which you will hear all kinds of self-serving yet entirely unrealistic promises.
Tiny opposition parties will promise things they can never deliver.
No-hope politicians will try to convince you that a ragtag 10-party minority coalition will somehow magically bring about the policy stability our country needs.
Wannabe strongmen will argue that scapegoating our Constitution is the populist silver bullet we need to deal decisively with the multifaceted crisis we face.
All of this is smoke and mirrors.
The truth is that there are only two realistic possibilities on the table for what South African politics will look like after the 2024 election.
The one is the horrifying prospect of a government that continues to operate on the basis of the failed ANC paradigm of state control, cadre deployment and patronage.
The other, hopeful, possibility is of a government that charts a new course, guided by the DA’s values and principles: accountability, non-racialism and a steadfast commitment to the rule of law and a social market economy.
Think about it with me for a moment, and you will see that those really are the only two realistic choices we face.
On the one hand, an election result that sees the ANC scraping together a 50% majority will obviously mean more of the same.
Corruption will continue unabated as the ANC continues to practice disastrous policies like cadre deployment.
The government will continue to regard private enterprise with hostility, to hold a monopoly over critical economic sectors, and to provide substandard education and healthcare services.
As a consequence, load shedding will continue, poverty and inequality will grow further, and accelerating capital flight will turn the South African economy into an isolated basket case.
Equally, an outcome that sees the ANC teaming up with small parties – with or without the involvement of the EFF – will yield a government guided by an even more intense concoction of the same failed ANC patronage politics that got us into the current mess.
For proof that a coalition dominated by the ANC offers no prospect of change, look no further than what is currently playing out in Johannesburg.
There, the ANC has handed the mayoralty to a proxy party that got less than 1% of the vote in order to continue leading that city down the path of ANC-engineered decay.
While Johannesburg is nominally led by a mayor from another party, the reality is that it is, once again, under the control of the same old ANC-style politics.
In effect, it is an ANC government in a slightly different guise.
In a scenario where the ANC scrapes together an outright majority in 2024, or where it teams up with proxies like the EFF and small parties, we will simply walk faster down the same road to ruin we are already on, because there would have been no course correction.
In this scenario, what we get after 2024 will fundamentally still be a government dressed in Yellow, perhaps just wearing a red beret and some orange socks.
On the other hand, we have the only other realistic – and far more hopeful – option.
This is the option of a government guided by the same DA values and principles that have put a place like Cape Town onto a fundamentally better trajectory than all ANC-run governments.
While the exact configuration of a new government built on DA values and principles is hard to foretell, any such majority coalition will, by definition, feature the DA as the anchor tenant.
This will be a government dressed in Blue.
I am sure that the next 14 months will feature intense speculation about what our next national government looks like, but there is one thing we can all be certain of already: that new government will either be led by the ANC, or by the DA.
Even those who hope for some new party to be formed, or for a “purified” version of the ANC to form a breakaway before 2024, cannot escape the reality that such splinters would not get anywhere close to 50%, and would therefore also have to choose between working with the party it came from, or throwing its weight behind the DA.
That Blue or Yellow are the only two credible choices, is confirmed by an important story published this past weekend in the City Press newspaper.
According to the ANC’s own internal research, the party is now polling below 40% – even as low as 37% – as fed-up voters look for an alternative that can solve load shedding, stop corruption, reduce crime, and bring down rampant unemployment and the unaffordable cost of living.
And which party do voters see as the only credible alternative? The DA, which the polls put at 27% – up 7% since 2019, and still growing steadily towards 30%.
That the difference between the ANC and the DA is now as low as 10 percentage points demonstrates conclusively that 2024 is going to be a two-horse race.
Anyone who tries to convince you that a party outside of the ANC or DA could lead the next government, is either dishonest or delusional.
Just think about the mathematics: at 27%, the DA is bigger than the EFF, IFP and the next four parties combined.
Instead of fragmenting the opposition vote among tiny parties with no realistic shot at leading a government, doesn’t it make far more sense to consolidate support behind the DA, so that we can close the remaining 10% gap and overtake the ANC?
Here is a fact that few people may know: if the 14% of voters who are currently fragmented among dozens of tiny parties that will all get less than 1% of the vote switch to the DA before 2024, our support will grow to over 40% and we will overtake the ANC.
All of this makes it clear that the pragmatic, mathematical reality is that any road to forming a new government which commands over 50% of seats in Parliament after 2024 will either run through ANC-town, or through DA-ville.
So, what are the implications of all this?
It is simply this: anyone who wants to see South Africa turn away from the failed approach that has put us on the road to collapse, and get onto a new path of recovery and growth, needs to back the DA.
And there are promising signs that a majority of voters are ready to dump the failed, Yellow way in favour of a new, Blue way.
Analysis conducted by the Social Research Foundation last year showed that the underlying societal shift required to bring about such profound change is already happening.
For the first time ever, the DA came out as the number one choice for all voters when it came to effective service delivery, clean governance, good policies and ensuring accountability.
At the same time, the ANC was most associated with breaking promises, only caring about itself, and being anti-poor.
Clearly, the DA’s work over the past three years to take on the issues that matter most to voters, is paying off.
Through our campaigns to reduce the cost of living, end cadre deployment, devolve policing powers to competent local governments, improve basic service delivery, and beat back loadshedding where we govern, we are winning over more and more people from all backgrounds.
This, too, is reflected in the SRF research, which shows that the DA has by far the most diverse support base of any party, drawing support in equal amounts from all major demographic groups.
And, it shows that the DA has now overtaken the ANC as the largest party in urban South Africa.
Taken together, the DA has put in place the necessary ingredients to ensure that the whole of South Africa embarks on the fundamentally different and better path that places like Cape Town are already on.
What remains is for us to take our message of hope across the length and breadth of this country in the lead-up to the 2024 election. The plans to do exactly that are already at an advanced stage.
But it is not only voters who need to confront the clear binary choice we now face.
Businesspeople, international investors, diplomats, media commentators and members of civil society organisations will also have to make a choice about the future they want to see here.
If you are in a position of power, you have a responsibility to help this country make the right choice out of the two options before it.
Change is in the air and our future is on the line.
Influential members of our society must not allow a withering ANC to intimidate them into silence.
I call upon all of you to use your democratic right to freedom of speech to take a stand in favour of the DA leading national government after 2024.
I believe that the vast majority of you will ultimately agree with the shifting voter sentiment that the DA offers the only credible way out of the deep hole South Africa finds itself in.
If you count yourself among the group who want this country to embark on a fundamentally better path, then use your voice in the service of change.
Because that is ultimately what democracy demands of us.
It offers us the possibility of peacefully changing direction. It gives us a way out when we recognise that the road we’re on leads to a dangerous dead-end.
Democracy gives us the opportunity to assess the binary choice between more of the same under the ANC, or a better way forward under the DA. But it will not make the choice for us.
That is up to each and every one of us. By using our influence to persuade those around us to make the right choice. By speaking up about the nature of the binary choice facing South Africa. And ultimately by using our power at the ballot box to effect the change we want to see.
The True State of our Nation is that the people have a binary choice to make that will irrevocably shape South Africa for generations to come.
Nothing that President Ramaphosa says on Thursday will change this reality.
In fact, Ramaphosa is the one who has taken us down this path of failure over the last five wasted years, during which time this country has rapidly gone backwards on every conceivable metric.
The truth is that he has had his chance, and spectacularly blew it.
The future of this country is no longer up to him, or to his party.
History has overtaken Cyril Ramaphosa.
The future now rests with the people of South Africa.
It is now up to each and every one of us to find our voice and strengthen the only party that offers a credible, better alternative for South Africa.
That party is the DA, and in 2024 we must form a new government that is built around the same values and principles that have already put places like Cape Town onto a better path.
It is for precisely a moment like this – where we are confronted with a binary choice between oblivion and reconstruction – that we have a democracy.
Now is the time to use it to save our beloved country.