Mmusi Maimane's first speech as DA leader

2015-05-10 19:19
(Amanda Khoza, News24)

(Amanda Khoza, News24)

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Friends, colleagues, fellow Democrats, Bagaetsho, Dumelang. 

It is wonderful to be here in the Eastern Cape, my ancestral home. Ndizalwa yintombi yakwaMaduna, OoGubevu, OoJiyane, OoTiba kumandla waseCofimvaba

The great South African novelist Nadine Gordimer once said: “A truly living human being cannot remain neutral.” 

I guess that’s why, when I look around this hall, I see so many people who are truly alive.

All of us are animated by the idea of building a better tomorrow. All of us carry the belief that, out of the ashes of apartheid, a prosperous and united South Africa can emerge. 

Sometimes we disagree with each other because we care so much about the future we want to build. And that is okay.

It is healthy for us to engage in robust debate. But, equally, there is no room in this party for those who seek to divide, or those who mobilise on race. 

We must challenge each other’s ideas in a constructive manner. For this is how we learn from each other and grow stronger. 

In this campaign, we have had debates on television, on radio and on the pages of newspapers.

We have criss-crossed the country to put forward our ideas and challenge the ideas of our opponents. 

In the process, we have shown South Africa what it means to be a truly democratic party, united in its diversity.

Our party remains strong, even when we disagree with each other, because it is built on a rock solid foundation of shared values. 

That’s what makes us different from other parties. We contest elections, and when they are over, we work together to fight our real enemies. Our real enemies are poverty, unemployment and inequality.

And so I want to say to all of you, whether or not you voted for me, let us unite today behind our shared values.

We are guided by our values. It is our values that unite us. And I want to tell you today: it is our values that will lead us to victory.

That is because we stand together with many South Africans who share the same set of values as us. 

The people who share our values cannot be defined by race or by class. They do not live in a particular part of the country. 

The people who share our values are the millions of people, from all backgrounds, who want to work hard, to provide for their families and to live in peace.

Our values can be summed up in these three words: 

Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity.

In a free society every individual has the freedom to make their own choices about the life they want to live. That is why we completely reject discrimination on the basis of race, gender and sexual orientation.

In a free society every person has the power to improve their lives, because freedom means nothing without opportunities. Every citizen must be given a chance to be the best they can be.

I know the difference that opportunity can make to a person’s life. 

Like many people living in Gauteng, my parents were migrant labourers who had come to eGoli in search of a better life.

My mother was raised in the Eastern Cape with her parents and 6 siblings. My father, landless and jobless, came from the former Bophuthatswana in the 1960s to settle in Kagiso on the West Rand. 

My parents worked hard to give us the opportunities they never had. I went to a state school in Roodeport and did well enough to get into university. 

I was lucky to be given these opportunities. And my parents were loving and supportive. They gave me the confidence to seize each opportunity that came my way.

They are here with me today. Mme le Papa, Ke A leboga. 

My parents have not always agreed with my political choices, but I know they are proud that I am in a party that opens up opportunities. A party that has today elected the child of a cashier as its Leader.

Not everybody I grew up with has had the same opportunities as me.

I have a cousin who, like me, grew up in Dobsonville. He was raised by a single mother who did her best to provide for the family on her very small income.

My cousin went to a school where the teachers often arrived late and sometimes not at all. Most of the kids never had textbooks, and there were no after-school activities to keep the kids off the streets. 

My cousin dropped out and never managed to get his matric.

He has been without work now for several years. As a consequence, he has been lured into a life of drug abuse and criminality. At the age of just twenty-five, he is unemployed. Worse than this, he is unemployable.

This is the tragic story of too many young South Africans. The hope and promise of 1994 has no meaning for them.

It is a fact that most young black South Africans continue to be denied access to opportunity, just as their parents were during apartheid.

This is what we must change if we are to succeed as a nation. As Democrats, we will work tirelessly to create a fairer society. 

A fair society is a more equal society. It is a society where every child, whether they are born in Soweto or Sandton, has the same chance of making a success of their lives.

A fair society is also a non-racial society. And I want to make it absolutely clear today that non-racialism does not mean being colour-blind. 

We cannot pretend that apartheid never happened. We cannot ignore the fact that apartheid was a system that defined us by the colour of our skin. 

It was a system that could put a pencil through your hair. A system that dictated where you could live, where you could work and who you could marry. 

These experiences shaped me, just like they shaped so many young black people of my generation. And that is why I simply don’t agree with those who say they don’t see colour. Because, if you don’t see that I’m black, then you don’t see me.

This doesn’t mean our skin colour must define us forever. The system of racial classification devised by Hendrik Verwoerd was evil and deplorable, and we cannot stay trapped in that way of thinking. 

We must triumph over the evil of apartheid by building a new bridge into a new future. We must not remain victims of our yesterday, we must believe in tomorrow. 

We can transcend race. But this can only happen if every South African acknowledges the injustices of apartheid; and it can only happen if we all recognise that the racial inequality of the past remains with us today.

And so we will stand firm on our commitment to implement policies that redress the legacy of the past. 

We will stay resolutely committed to a system of social security to protect people from extreme poverty.

Where we govern, we will continue to deliver high quality basic services such as water, electricity and sanitation.

We will focus on education because too many children still receive an inferior education, and we know that a good education is the foundation of a successful life. 

And, above all, we will push for measures to grow our economy and create jobs. 

Democrats, South Africans

Unemployment in South Africa stands at 36%. Of those who are unemployed, 66% are young people, just like my cousin. 

Democrats, we simply cannot go on like this. As a party we are quick to get angry about the sustained attack on our constitution and our institutions. But we must be equally angry at the insider-outsider economic policies that have trapped too many of our people in poverty for far too long.

We must structure the economy so that young people have opportunities to start small businesses, an economy where we leverage state owned enterprises as skills incubators by offering apprenticeships.  

We must move vigorously to roll out a youth wage subsidy that will encourage private enterprises to absorb young school leavers. This is essential so that they can access skills and knowledge to build successful careers. 

We need a job-creating labour regime where trade unions protect their members, but not at the expense of keeping unemployed people locked out of the economy.

On Friday I visited Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University here in Port Elizabeth. I met young people there who burn with ambition to create a better tomorrow for themselves. Like the students of Fort Hare, they are dreaming of a different future, and they are making a different choice.

They dream of a society where the children of domestic workers can go to university and emerge as teachers, lawyers and doctors. They want freedom that they can use. 

Freedom, fairness and opportunity. These are our values. 

They are the values that will guide us to victory because so many South Africans share them.

These values will underscore the message of hope we will take to the nation in the coming years. 

We will show South Africa that, when Nelson Mandela died, his dream of a rainbow nation did not die with him. 

So let me quote the words of American writer Maya Angelou, who passed away shortly after our beloved Madiba.

She said:

“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else's cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. Who may not call God the same name you call God - if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody.” 

Democrats, we need to be a blessing to everybody.

We need to be able to connect with every South African who shares our values but does not yet vote for us.

We need to overcome racial, cultural, religious and economic barriers and build one nation, with one future. 

This was the journey that Tony Leon began in 1994. When he took over the DP, it was a tiny suburban party. But he managed to broaden the DA’s appeal to new voters, increasing the party’s support from 1.7% to 12% in just ten years.

When Helen Zille was elected just eight years ago, she promised to take this project to a whole level. It is worth recalling today what she said in her acceptance speech back in 2007:

“We must convince all South Africans that our party is truly a home for all the people. And to do that, we cannot merely tell them, we must show them.   We must not only welcome new members, but create opportunities for new leaders to emerge, so that our party looks and feels like the nation we want to lead.”

You just have to look around this hall to see that Helen achieved her objective. Her resolute commitment to diversify the party’s leadership, membership and support base was one of the reasons we were able to double our votes in her eight years as leader – from 1.9 million to just over 4 million.

Helen Zille. Siyabulela!

Democrats, the next part of the DA story still needs to be written. 

I want it to be the story of how the DA challenged for power at a national level and won.

I want it to be the story of a party that was victorious because it stayed true to its values.

I want it to be the story of how a non-racial party built a political home for all South Africans. 

‘n Samelewing waar jou toekoms nie bepaal word deur die kleur van jou vel nie.

Democrats, it is not going to be easy.

It will be difficult because our goal is to win support from voters of all races, at the very moment that racial mobilisation is on the rise. 

Those who mobilise on race have no interest in building our nation. Their goal is to break down the constitutional democracy that so many great South Africans painstakingly built.

As the legendary Sophiatown poet, Don Materra once wrote:

Bulldozers have power.

They can take apart in a few minutes

all that has been built up over the years

and raised over generations

and generations of children

The power of destroying

the pain of being destroyed,

Dust ...

Democrats, we need to make sure that our message of hope is more powerful than their message of hate.

While they are tearing down statues, we will be building schools and creating jobs.

While they illegally invade land, we will be implementing successful land reform programmes.

While they trade on the divisions of the past, we will position the DA as the party of tomorrow. 

While they play on people’s fears, we will connect with voters on the basis of shared values.

We must defend the Constitution of the Republic at all costs.

We must ensure that everyone is equal before the law. 

We must continue to pursue our legal battles against the powerful and the corrupt.

So President Zuma, if you are watching, please note: we are still coming for you.

Make no mistake Mr President, you will have the day in court you have been asking for.

You see, Democrats, nobody is above the law. And, equally so, no political party has the divine right to rule this country.

So when we talk of a second transition, we refer to the process of political power shifting from one party to another peacefully through the ballot box.

Democrats, we can make historic gains in the local elections next year.

We will retain the City of Cape Town.

We can win power in Tshwane, our nation’s capital.

We can even win power in Johannesburg, our country’s economic heartland.

And, we can win power right here in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Democrats, the future is bright if we all work together as a team. And I know that we will emerge from this Congress strong and united. 

I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to serve as your leader. I will do my best for all of you. And I know that the entire leadership team elected today will do the same, as will our leaders in governments across South Africa. We will serve the people, not the other way around.

In closing, I would like to thank my incredible campaign team. Honourable Members, you ran a truly brilliant and positive campaign. You made history, and to you, I pay tribute.

And, finally, to my gorgeous wife, who has to put up with this crazy life I have chosen. Thank you for supporting me during tough times. And thank you for being a wonderful mother to our children KG and Daniel. You are a true champion. Together, let’s pursue the dream of a truly liberated South Africa.

Democrats, I want to leave you with one final thought.

When we leave Port Elizabeth today, every step we take will be one step closer to the Union Buildings. 

We must and we will win power in our lifetime. We will be the next government of this beautiful country.

Because change is coming! 

Morena Boloka Setchaba sa heso 

God seën Afrika 

Nkosi sikelel' iafrika

Let us live and strive for freedom, in South Africa our land.


Read more on:    da  |  mmusi maimane  |  port elizabeth  |  politics

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