The Constitution Hasn’t Failed us, the Government Has

Helen Zille

Leader of the DA

Note to the readers: This is an edited version of the speech DA Leader Helen Zille delivered on the 10th of March, 2012, at the Gauteng Provincial Congress in Thaba Tswane, Pretoria.

Hier is ons almal vandag in Thaba Tshwane in Pretoria. Sikhona apha eThabaTshwane!

This is the City that we came closest to winning in May last year in the wonderful Province, my birth-province, Gauteng. Ndiyagoduka!

It is a province whose significance to South Africa is inversely proportional to its size.

It may be the smallest province, tucked up in the left-hand chest cavity of South Africa. But we all know what a heart means to a body. It is the small pump that keeps us going every day.

Gauteng is the heart of South Africa. It pumps the economic life blood into the furthest reaches of South Africa.

And the battle for Gauteng in the election of 2014 will determine whether South Africa suffers from heart-failure after prolonged neglect and gradual arterial sclerosis, OR whether this heart will again pump as vigorously as we know she can, to give our country a new lease on life through sustained, inclusive growth.

That can only come through a pumping economy.

In every respect, for our country’s future, Gauteng is the next frontier, for South Africa, for our democracy and the DA.

We have set our sights on what we are told is impossible, and that is winning Gauteng in the 2014 provincial and national elections. We are always being told our goals are impossible to achieve. In 1994 when we got 1,7% of the vote, we were told it was impossible to achieve our goal of becoming the official opposition — and we did it within 5 years.

When we first became the official opposition, we were told it was impossible to become a party of government, and we did it. Now we are told it is impossible for us to win more than one province, or to break through the glass ceiling of minority support. We don’t believe this either. In fact our historic election of 2011, when we won 133 supposedly safe ANC seats, was a portent of things to come. Siyaya e 2014, Siyaya!

But when we say we know we can win Gauteng, we must not under-estimate just how difficult it will be. The next election is two short years away. We all know that a week can be a long time in politics. But when you are preparing for an election, two years is a very short time. And to win Gauteng in two short years is a challenge the likes of which we have never faced before.

We are not looking to win the election for ourselves but for South Africa. SA needs the DA.

Because if it were not for us, the ANC would succeed in its heavily disguised plan to strip our Constitution of the checks and balances that empowers the people and limit the ruling party’s power abuse. If we allow that to happen, South Africa will become yet another example of a failed transition to democracy, where people end up as oppressed as they were before they embarked on the struggle for liberation.

The DA, together with the free media, an independent judiciary, every other independent institution under the Constitution as well as civil society, must each play their part to ensure that South Africa does not join the ranks of the failed states. We will not allow South Africa to become yet another transition shipwreck that litters the shores of our continent. We will keep the proud ship South Africa, not only afloat on the High Seas of Democracy, but in full sail.

And this Province, Gauteng, is make-or-break. It is the next frontier of struggle to sustain and build our democracy.

It is right here that we have to rally South Africa’s forces to defend the gains of the struggle and to take them to the next level. The ANC is no longer complacent about its grip on the hearts and minds of the majority of South Africans.

It has been receding, election after election, since it reached its high water mark in 2004. That slide has been particularly apparent in our major metros.

In Jozi, the ANC slipped below 60% in the 2011 election for the first time in our democracy. And in Tshwane the ANC fell to 55% — putting them within striking distance.

It is for this reason that Gwede Mantashe, the ANC secretary general, recently told a closed meeting of the ANC’s NEC: “If we, in the ANC carry on like this much longer, the DA will soon govern this country.”

His statement did not take long to reach me, such is the state of division within the ANC. It is wounded, and its wounds are self-inflicted which makes them so much more painful. But as we have all learnt from nature: an animal is at its most dangerous when it is wounded.

The ANC lies with its wounds exposed.

They have promised so much and delivered so little.

Remember 1994 when the ANC gave us one of the best slogans ever in South African politics: A Better Life for ALL. By using those words, the ANC was saying that the future of South Africa is not a contest between different race groups. It is a project of building one nation with one future, where everyone has the right to a fair chance in life, and the obligation to use each opportunity.

By 2006, after various permutations of this slogan, the ANC reverted from a promise to “a plan to make local government work better for you.” After 12 years of democracy, they had managed to come up with a plan. When that didn’t get very far, the ANC told us, during the May 2011 local elections: “Together we can build better communities.”

So what now? Where do they go next? Unfortunately there is no more place to hide.

So now, predictably, the ruling party is looking for a scapegoat. And like every other failed liberation movement, they are turning on the Constitution, the central pillar of our democracy and our freedom.

Like most ex-liberation movements facing the prospect of losing power, they are turning against the Constitution that stops them abusing power — in order to stay in power. They want to strip the power away from people who plan to change their government through the ballot box. And they are going to do it through false pretences.

They are going to argue that they have to change the Constitution because they need more power to bring a better life for all. That argument is false. They know that our Constitution not only enables, but mandates a governing party to realise the so-called “third generation” rights, which are the socio-economic rights to land, work, health, housing opportunities, education and social services.

That is why, until now, the ANC and the DA have agreed on one very important thing: we were both deeply proud of what we all described as “the most progressive constitution in the world.”

In fact the ANC used to like it so much that it claimed sole authorship and ownership of it. The ANC was always claiming to have written the Constitution single-handedly when we know the truth is that the DA’s predecessor parties had a major hand in negotiating and drafting it, including some of its most important clauses.

We will have to keep reminding the ANC of its fulsome praise for the Constitution, because behind the scenes, within ANC ranks, the assault on our Constitution is gathering momentum. We don’t believe President Zuma anymore when he woodenly reads words, written by someone else, in his State of the Nation address, describing the Constitution as an “embodiment of the values that the ANC stood and fought for, including the independence of the Judiciary and the rule of law.”

Anyone who has seen the impact of cadre deployment in the Judicial Service Commission, or understands what the government intends to achieve with its “review” of Constitutional Court judgements, can only say: Ja, Right! Once-upon-a-time that may have been so. But this fairytale won’t automatically have a happy ending.

Because behind the scenes there is a raging debate within the ANC, which breaks through the surface from time to time, like an ominous shark-fin announcing the predator beneath. It came recently in the form of Ngoaka Ramathlodi, a Zuma confidante, who described our Constitution as a “fatal compromise”. This was uncharacteristically open — much of this talk will be camouflaged in the future, but we must learn to recognise it in the give-away weasel words.

So, what happened? What went wrong between the point at which the ANC claimed a monopoly on the “most progressive constitution in the world” and the “fatal compromise”?

What went wrong is simply this: the ANC failed in government.

They failed to deliver on any of their promises, plans and contracts. And more than that, they came to face, for the first time, a threat at the ballot box from the DA. They have succeeded primarily in centralising power in the hands of the ruling clique, in cronyism, cadre deployment, and corruption, all of which are rapidly taking South Africa in the direction of the criminal state.

And the only thing that can stop this trajectory is if enough people stand up and defend our Constitution, because it is the only thing that can defend us from the head-long slide to a full-blown criminal state.

We must let the ANC know: “Don’t touch us on our Constitution.”

In the 2009 election we succeeded in keeping the ANC below a 2/3rds majority, which is what it would require to change the Constitution — but sadly the ANC can still get it with the support of some of the tiny parties. The Freedom Front Plus, for example, broke its election commitment to the voters and now serves in Zuma’s Cabinet. In any combination, the smaller parties could give the ANC the numbers it needs. So the voters must believe us when we tell them that we are the ONLY party that can be relied upon to prevent the ANC changing the Constitution unilaterally. We will not let them do it.

But don’t expect the ANC to go into the next election being upfront and honest with the voters that it wants a mandate to destroy the most progressive constitution in the world.

No, they will be far more subtle than that. Beguiling.

During their mid-year policy conference, you will hear ANC leaders say that South Africa needs a “Second Transition”.

This sounds appealing, and it is meant to.

But believe me, it is the biggest, most skelm con-trick perpetrated on South Africa since democracy. It aims to convince South Africans to willingly participate in the destruction of their democracy, like a phalanx of millions of Turkeys marching in step towards Christmas.

The argument will go like this. Our “first transition” that has taken place since 1994, was a “political transition” from authoritarian rule to democracy.

The “second transition that the ANC wants to launch during its centenary year is the “social and economic” transition. After 18 years, it finally wants to get around to the much spoken about but little delivered “better life for all.”

At last, you might say. Except for the fact that the intention is clear. City Press and Rapport pierced the veil recently when they wrote that “The ANC is contemplating dramatic changes to the country’s constitution, including scrapping the sunset clauses and changing the powers of the Reserve Bank”, thus eroding its independence. As part of this “second transition” the ANC is justifying its review of Constitutional Court decisions and a so-called “transformation” of the judicial system as well.

We all know this is Orwellian double-speak to disguise the blatant attempt to turn our criminal justice system (from the prosecuting authority to the courts) into an extension of the ruling party. We know that this so-called Second Transition will be the transition to a failed state.

The DA must do everything it takes to ensure that every South African knows what is at stake when they make their cross on the ballot paper in 2 years time.

It must be the catalyst to galvanise South Africans and show the ANC that it will not govern till the Second Coming. We will stop their so-called Second Transition long before that.

We will expose the lie that the ANC needs to change the Constitution at all to achieve the socio-economic transition. Not only does the government have all the powers it needs in the Constitution to drive the socio-economic transition, in fact the Constitution MANDATES it to do so. It is actually unconstitutional for them NOT to do so.


And now they want to fail you further by scrapping provisions in the Constitution that protect you from power abuse. And if every South African does not understand this by 2014, then the DA has failed in its duty. Either that, or the people will get the government they deserve.

Interestingly even COSATU’s Zwelinzima Vavi has told his own supporters that if they simply keep voting for the ANC, the party can safely ignore them. During the march against e-tolling this week, Vavi said the ANC had betrayed its voters by introducing e-tolling after it promised not to. According to reports, Vavi said “the ANC had taken its constituency in Gauteng for granted, as e-tolling in the Western Cape had been scrapped immediately when the DA opposed it.”

Right on, Zweli. The majority of COSATU members in the Western Cape voted for the DA (along with many others) in the last election, because they know their vote is their power to bring change. You do not change a government in a march or a strike. You change it in an election. And that is what the voters in the Western Cape did, and those in Gauteng will soon follow suit.

Let us examine what else the voters in the Western Cape achieved through their vote. The Western Cape has by far the most successful land reform projects in the country with a 70% success rate as opposed to 10% elsewhere in the country; the Western Cape has turned around the 6-year decline in education under the ANC, particularly among the poorest schools, one of which — in Khayelitsha — is now among the top ten performing schools in the Province. The Western Cape has one of the most successful ARV roll-outs in the world, with a mother-to-child transmission rate below 1%. And contrary to popular myth, Cape Town is the least unequal City in the country, it has the lowest level of unemployment, broadly defined, and is “the best metro in the country for service delivery” according to the BEE ratings agency, Empowerdex.

That is not to suggest we are anywhere near perfect. We still have a long way to go to achieve a better life for all. But at least, where the DA governs, we are making progress in the right direction.

So the message is clear:

If you want successful land reform, you don’t need a new constitution — you need a new government.

If you want better education, you don’t need a new constitution — you need a new government.

If you want better health-care, you don’t need a new constitution — you need a new government.

If you want a growing economy and more jobs, you don’t need a new constitution — you need a new government.

This is the message we must bring to South Africa. And the DA must win a second province to demonstrate this beyond reasonable doubt. That Province is Gauteng, the Golden Heart of South Africa.

Gauteng, you can do it. You started the ball rolling in the first by-election since the local government election when you won Merafong from the ANC for the first time since democracy. We have repeated that in Polokwane, in Mogalakwena, in Thembelihle and in Thaba Chweu since then. All these over and above the 133 seats we took from the ANC in May last year.

So Gauteng, the DA is on a Roll.

Are you ready to catch the wave?

You can do it for your province

You can do it for our country

You can do it for our continent, Africa.

You Can, you Must, and you Will.

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