Speech by the Chief Whip of the Democratic Alliance, John Steenhuisen MP, during the debate on the State of the Nation address.
At the outset let me join my leader, Mmusi Maimane, and the many other speakers who have congratulated the honourable President, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa, on his election as our president. We join together in celebration with the many South Africans to whom much hope and excitement has been given for a new dawn.
We celebrate too, the closing of the chapter on the Zuma presidency. We, on the opposition benches do not share the sentiments of many of the ANC speakers today who have praised Zuma and thanked him for his service.
The truth is that Zuma was bad for the country, bad for our democracy, bad for our constitution and bad for our Parliament and we are glad to see the back of him.
For far too long, his countless acts of omission and commission sucked the oxygen out of this Parliament and suffocated the many important issues we should have been discussing: getting South Africa working again and, more importantly, getting South Africans back to work.
We have to obsess about the 9 million of our countrymen and women who have been pushed into the unemployment queues, the millions of our families who live in poverty and an education system that is failing our next generation miserably.
We, as the official opposition, look forward to once again debating these important issues of our time. We look forward to placing our offer unashamedly and our policy alternatives proudly before the people and this house.
We look forward to engaging with all parties on these issues. This is precisely what we should be doing in this house and these are the types of debates we should be having.
But it would be a mistake to ignore where we are and what got us here, for as philosopher George Santayana said:
“Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”
And that’s why I do find it rather odd that being on this precinct for the last week and listening to many of the speakers today, it has struck me as extremely odd that I am yet to come across a single MP who actually supported Jacob Zuma. Odd because this is the same Jacob Zuma who:
– Slavishly protected and defended for the last 8 years by the very people to my right, who today cheer his demise;
– Despite being found by the court to have violated the Constitution, was shielded from accountability by the same people to my right; and
– Was saved every time by the ANC who protected him in countless motions of no confidence.
Listening to the ANC speakers today it was frankly weird seeing how they were trying so very hard to pretend that they are some new government that has been elected for the first time, not the same old hacks, Zuptas and hangers-on who have been in power for 24 years.
The same party in government that has brought South Africa to its knees.
No matter how you try and rewrite history, you cannot re-imagine what is a matter of public record: The ANC owned Jacob Zuma and Jacob Zuma owned the ANC. You created him, you enabled him and you protected him.
Many of us on the opposition benches had already raised our hands a long time ago:
– We wanted to be there to expose and stop the corruption;
– We wanted to be there to prevent the abuse of power;
– We wanted to be there for the poor and the downtrodden; and
– We wanted to be there to vote out a corrupt president
But while there were others in this house who did everything they could to push down our hands, we doggedly continued to raise our hands and we will continue to raise our hands for our people, for our country, for our Constitution and for our Parliament!
Mr. President, We must learn from the lessons of how Zuma was able to capture the state, subjugate our Parliament and tame our institutions. One man could never have been able to wreak so much destruction on his own.
Whilst you set to work on fixing the executive arm Mr. President, we here as members of this house must introspect very honestly and carefully about how we fix our Parliament and address its failings over the last 8 years to ensure effective oversight.
We must meaningfully take on board our share of the blame and the criticism. We must examine our failings to effect proper oversight and we need to firewall this Parliament and our institutions to protect them against this ever, ever, ever happening again.
In the blush of this new dawn, we must not be lulled into complacency or be hypnotised and charmed into naivety. We must learn the hard lessons from the Zuma years and ensure we hold President Ramaphosa accountable, fearlessly and in a meaningful, thorough way.
If we do this as a Parliament it’s the very best service we can offer our people and the very best service we can offer you and your government, President Ramaphosa.
If we do not learn from the mistakes of the last 8 years, we will simply be condemned to repeat them.
And to do this is going to require enormous courage, for without courage, the renewed hope will give way to a false dawn and the new promise will be rendered stillborn.
The American poet, Maya Angelou, perhaps put it best when she said:
“Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage, you cannot practice any other virtue consistently.”
And your courage is going to be heavily tested Mr. President, because rooting out the corrupt businesspeople and other parasitic ticks that have sucked off the state and government for 8 long years is going to be the easy part.
The hard part is going to be when you need to go after those in your own party: councillors, MPLs, MPs and ministers who are involved in ripping off and robbing the people, and yes Mr. President even those in your top six.
The true test of courage will be your ability to stand up to your own associates. The real test will be whether you are able to put the country before your party and the people before your patrons.
You have been dealt a bad hand by your own party but you simply cannot have a new deal, when the only Ace in your pack is actually a joker.
South Africa is a proud nation and we are all proud South Africans. We can do better as country, we can do better as a Parliament and I have no doubt with the courage to confront the corrupt.
Provide relief for the poor and provide opportunity for the young so that we can start writing the new chapter for our beautiful land. It’s going to require the best efforts of all of us and the DA stands ready for the challenge!