A new leader in the driver’s seat

We sat down with the newly elected DA Leader, John Steenhuisen, to talk about where he’s coming from and where he intends to take the DA.

ChangeMaker (CM): First off, congratulations on being elected leader of the Democratic Alliance! If we rewind back to the beginning of your career, what made you first decide to get into politics?
John Steenhuisen (JS): I decided to go into politics because of my frustration with the status quo in our country, where South Africa’s immense potential was being squandered at the hands of an inept government. I also took it upon myself to inform and lobby young South Africans that they should not allow older generations to make decisions based on our divided past, for a future in which they would have to live. I had, and still have a great desire for meaningful change in our country, and that’s what inspires me each and every day. 

CM: How do your daughters feel about having a father so much in the limelight? 
JS: My daughters are generally very proud, but it does come with a fair amount of pressure which they handle with enormous grace and resilience. 


CM: There’s been a lot of noise in the media over the last year about what’s going on behind closed doors at the DA. What do you say to DA supporters on this score? 
JS: It’s completely normal for political parties to have internal debates, and the DA prides itself on this as it is a sign of a healthy, democratic organisation. The DA does not make decisions unilaterally, we always have open consultative processes with our members and representatives to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard. We make decisions which are evidence-based, and in line with our party’s constitution, values, and principles, and I’m very proud of that. I think it is great that debates take place internally, as members of the Party need safe spaces to have robust discussions for the future of the Party and its processes.


CM: Where do you want to see the DA when it’s time for South Africans to head to the polls again at the 2021 Local Government Elections, which look set to take place in September?
JS: I want people to see that the DA as the only clear alternative to the wide-spread municipal failure across the country. Not only do we have the people and the policies, but we also have the clean track-record of governing in a way which uplifts all South Africans and all communities. I want South Africa to see that the DA is the only political party where there is a space for us all, regardless of the colour of our skin, our religious affiliation, where we come from or who we love. Politics is vital in our country, and I want South Africans to realise that there is a very clear link between the way they vote, and the way they live. 


CM: South Africa is of course currently recognising 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence (GBV). We once saw a placard at a GBV protest outside Parliament that said, “end the men-caused violence crisis”. What is your message to the men of South Africa at this time?
JS: We don’t need 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence, we need 365. As men, we have got to step up and call each other out – this is the collective responsibility we must take. There are many good men in South Africa who do not commit acts of gender-based violence, but we must realise that there are men who behave in an abhorrent way towards women, committing acts of harassment, abuse, and rape. We must be man enough to call them out when we see this happening. We have a duty as fathers, brothers, husbands, and sons to instil within the younger generation of boys and men that this culture of gender-based violence is not healthy or tolerable in our society. We have a duty to ensure that women feel as safe as men in South Africa no matter where they are or what they’re doing. 


CM: And finally, reflecting on #20Plenty, which was trending at the start of the year, what does our nation have to be hopeful about as we close the chapter on what has been, in reality, an incredibly difficult year for everyone?
JS: I don’t think we’re closing a chapter. The Covid-19 pandemic has merely shown up how eroded our country and our government have become under the ANC. Unless there are fundamental reforms in our government, the difficulties under which we continue to live will merely carry over into the new year. We need a deep reform agenda to make tough decisions and take South Africa out of zero growth and economic stagnation. Unfortunately, President Ramaphosa has squandered his first year of presidency and not delivered anything. We are South Africa’s only hope with the policy certainty, the leadership with an overwhelming mandate, and the stability to bring about change and bring about the necessary reforms our country needs to lift people out of poverty and into prosperity, and to get South Africa back on a growth trajectory.

WATCH DA Leader John Steenhuisen’s acceptance speech