It is wonderful to be here in beautiful KwaZulu Natal.
This province has defined our national political trends over the last decade, and it is the province where so much of our party’s future fortunes will be decided.
Looking out at this Congress today, I see a party that is truly alive and growing – bigger than it has ever been, the Official Opposition in this province, with more support than it has ever had, and with more activists, branches, from 150 councilors to 201 and public representatives than ever before.
Just two years ago our party achieved what only a few years prior would have been considered an impossibility, a miracle.
We won government in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay; we won a two-thirds majority in Cape Town, and we grew our support among black South Africans across the country.
Some of these we govern in coalition, demonstrating again that South Africa works best in partnership. Our wonderful country brings together disparate histories and peoples under one Constitution. We must foster this unity and be proud of it.
There is honour in working together and finding common ground.
Some want to break down this compact, they want us to regress, they destroy schools and hark back to a time where political slogans were about a threat of violence and murder.
Not here, not in the DA.
I don’t care who finds it inconvenient or unpopular, but as long as I am leading this party we will be the flag-bearers for a non-racial united South Africa where all share in the sunlight. Not just in words but in deeds. Sisonke.
We have shown we could do what others considered impossible – build a truly multiracial, multiethnic party of government, not based on cynicism or the divides of the past — but built on a bright hope for the future.
I am so proud of what we have achieved in those new governments since then. We have shown, and are still showing the DA difference in action.
But in politics you are only ever as strong as your last election result, and you are often at your weakest after your greatest victory.
As I look out from this stage, 18 months after that triumphant August of 2016, the view ahead is filled with danger and risk.
The political playing field has changed.
No longer can we satisfy ourselves by merely taking on the man from Nkandla, who has so harmed our country this past decade, and who gave us an easy target to aim at.
And our party is learning the painful lessons of all fast-growing organisations. Our focus has been easily diverted from our core goal by navel-gazing, division, and jockeying for position.
The pursuit of power can easily overtake the pursuit of our ideals.
Let us not kid ourselves, friends.
We have even confronted the ugly and uncomfortable truth that not every DA government will always live up to the standard we set for ourselves. Some will “fall short of the glory”, as the Apostle Paul wrote.
Now, when this happens we face a choice. This is the choice the Democratic Alliance faces today.
We can allow ourselves to be consumed by division and fighting.
We can be consumed by the voices of the cynics and the critics, who write us off so glibly and who have always done so before.
Or we can prove to ourselves and to the nation who we really are, and who we are fighting for.
We can grow and be a real alternative government, or we can shrink into oblivion.
Either we can be tempered by the fire, or we can be burned by it.
I will tell you what my choice is.
Now, more than ever, we are the Democratic Alliance.
To the critics and cynics, I say: Watch us prove you wrong again.
If we are to navigate the storms ahead, we must be firmly anchored in our values and principles, and our own vision for South Africa.
With that anchor, we can boldly go out and face any storm and know that we will come out the other side more resilient, and more committed than ever to our mission.
So let us never forget who we are:
We are committed to the country we all love so much.
We love and cherish the Constitution of the Republic, whose values and vision were nurtured by our political ancestors.
We believe that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity”, not as beautiful words on a page, but as a value to live by.
We believe South Africa can emerge from the ashes of apartheid as a strong, united and prosperous people. One nation, with one future.
We know our cause is right.
We have a deep conviction that only our policies and our core liberal democratic principles can make South Africa prosper.
We do not exist just to scare the ANC into better behaviour. Nor we do exist to remain in perpetual opposition.
We are in this because we know that South Africa must “one day be governed by our values, because that is the only way it can be governed.”
In short, if the DA does not succeed, South Africa will not succeed.
I will commit my whole life to this ideal.
We want to win power. We want to be the government of South Africa.
Winning power and beating the ANC will be the first step in our true mission.
A philosopher who I admire once wrote, worry not about the platform you occupy, worry that you have something worthwhile to say.
Equally, worry not about the office you hold, worry more that you have something worthwhile to do.
We have mayors who have high office with great power. But they must use their power to confront the plight of the poor and the left out.
We must worry about that, we must get angry about that.
We must be uncomfortable and unsettled in our hearts and spirits about that!
If you are not concerned and obsessed with the fundamental injustice and unfairness in our society, then as our former Leader Tony Leon once put it, “the exits to this hall are clearly marked, and you should please use them now”.
That is why we exist. That is why we want to win power.
Not power for power’s sake, but because only we can build a better future. No one else can do it!
This is who we are, and let us never forget it.
Others talk of care for the downtrodden and the excluded. But look at our country today. It is still fundamentally the same as it has always been.
Our country is still defined by the chasm between those for whom freedom is real and opportunity is accessible;
And those for whom life is largely decided for them by where they are born and what they look like.
We are still a nation of insiders and outsiders.
We hear those who claim to really care about freedom, but who do nothing to dismantle the legacy of apartheid education which still imprisons young, black people.
We hear those who claim to really care about fairness, but who enforce a kind of new job reservation for their friends and connected few.
We hear those who claim to really care about opportunity, but who see only the opportunity for plunder and theft.
This is our mission – to build a South Africa where your chances in life are not defined by where you are born or the colour of your skin.
Where education is a liberator that sets you up for life.
Where everyone who wants to work can find a job. Where young people can feel a sense of hope about their future.
Where the corrupt will be caught and punished.
Where people can feel safe to walk the streets or let their children play in the park.
Our Values in Practice
During the terrible hopelessness and violence of apartheid, it was us who nurtured the idea that South Africa could be a constitutional democracy.
Individual liberty protected by the Bill of Rights, freedom of religion, freedom of speech and press, the security of private property, equality before the law, language rights — all of this has been achieved and we can be proud of our contribution in nurturing these ideas.
But now that the Constitutional framework has been established, and our party is in government, our values must move from theory to practice.
People must see how our values lead to a better life over time, and a more accountable government.
People must expect us to be better and different.
And know that even when we fall short or trip up, we will say so and fix it.
Most importantly, now that the Constitution protects all people, we must make it our mission to fight for those who are still excluded, cut off and kept out.
That is why we get up every day to work for the Democratic Alliance.
For the people of uMkhanyakude, where 72.2% of families live in poverty. Or uMzinyathi where 71.1% live in poverty. Or iLembe (71%), or uMgungundlovu (67.5%), or even right here in eThekwini, where 54.6% of people live in poverty.
For the 865 000 little boys and girls in this province who do not attend any early childhood development, putting them behind before they’ve even started primary school.
For the children who attend the 343 schools in this province that do not even have electricity or the 93 that don’t have water.
And for the more than 600 000 young boys and girls who start grade 1 each year that will not finish Matric.
For those young people who wake up with nothing to do and no work to go to, those who feel daily the pain of hunger, those who go to schools where teachers don’t arrive for work.
For the victims and the families of the Life Esidimeni tragedy, the greatest sin ever committed by an ANC government, a pain that we will never forget or forgive.
For those patients who will die, and who have already died, in this province because of an oncology crisis that should never have been allowed to happen.
These South Africans are the reason we exist, and the reason we get up each day.
For them, it makes no difference who the leader of the ANC is. For them, there is no “New Deal”.
Especially when the new leader was there watching all the sins of the old.
How does this change their lives in Ugu and uThukela? It doesn’t!
That is our great cause and opportunity.
Those South Africans must be able to look to the DA for hope for their own lives.
They must know that a DA government would give them immediate reason to be optimistic again about the future.
Not in 10 or 15 years. Now!
For them, we must build a party that reflects their hopes, their dreams and their current realities.
We must be present in their lives and their communities.
They must be able to look to us for hope and call on us for help.
And we better not waste time fighting about a person here or a tweet there. We better focus on what we need to achieve for our country.
Whoever is elected to lead you in KZN today, the mission is the same: we must build a real relationship of trust with those whom freedom and democracy has left behind.
Land of Opportunity
We must also rise to the challenge of asserting our values in the context of traditional and customary law, which is perhaps most relevant in this province.
One of the most important ways to change the lives of poor rural people immediately is to give them the security of knowing that their land cannot be seized or expropriated from them arbitrarily by a capricious state or traditional leader.
President Motlanthe, in his High Level Panel Report, has identified this as a core reason for rural poverty in South Africa.
We are the party that will protect the Constitutional guarantee of property rights, even while all those around us seek to abandon that cornerstone of progress in every society.
That is why we must stand up for the property rights of poor rural people living on tribal land, and let them know that under a DA government they will have security of tenure for the land their families have lived and worked on for decades.
They will then be able to invest in and grow their farms and turn unproductive land into land of opportunity.
That does not mean that traditional leadership must be dismantled. Not at all.
We must secure the land rights of rural people and ensure that those rights are legally enforceable and democratically protected.
We must also make sure that complaints of people who say they are mistreated and whose rights are infringed are investigated and resolved.
Rights must apply to everyone equally. To the powerful and the powerless. That is our fight.
What Kind of Party do we want?
This is the kind of South Africa we want.
Now what kind of DA do we want to get us there.
We need to be grounded in our values, confident in our mission and clear on what we want to achieve.
We must be relentless in winning new voters and supporters to our side.
We must constantly be building new branches in areas where we are absent.
We must be more diverse.
Let me say that again. We must be more diverse, reflecting every wonderful facet of our society.
In the past we have been excellent at winning support from minority voters. Now we must boldly go out and win support from black South Africans.
I hope that every person who calls themselves a DA leader in this room is helping to actively recruit excellent young black candidates for our 2019 election lists. Let’s set ourselves the goal of having the most diverse team of candidates ever for election 2019.
We are not interested in replacing one race with another. We are not interested in quotas.
We are not interested in only coloured people, or only white people, or only black people, or only Indian people. We are a party for coloured South Africans and black South Africans and white South Africans and Indian South Africans. For ALL the people, united in our diversity.
The DA is the only party where everyone can sit around the same table. Where everyone can have an equal voice.
Others divide. We unite.
Others burn down and destroy, we build up.
From where I stand today, our achievements of the last two years are shining examples of what we are capable of at our best.
The future is full of risk and danger, but also full of opportunity.
From here we must move out boldly and confidently to fight for those who are left out and forgotten, armed with our firm principles and our policies, and confident that only we can build a prosperous, united South Africa.
That is why we must govern.
That is why we will govern!
Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica