Twenty-five years ago the leaders of the then two biggest parties in South Africa – Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk – appeared on live TV in a 70-minute-long pre-election debate.
That would be the last time South African voters would see presidential candidates going toe to toe in debate. Since then Thabo Mbeki twice turned down the opportunity to debate his opponent in 1999 and 2004, as did Jacob Zuma in 2009 and 2014.
In the past two decades, the ANC’s support has been on a steady decline as South Africans have begun to realise that the party has little to offer them and has, in fact, wasted years of opportunity to forge a better future.
A little more than a year ago President Cyril Ramaphosa was elected into office and what has become clear is that his election was a mere bandage on a septic wound. In reality nothing has changed for the millions of people who were subjected to the disastrous Zuma years. The ANC is the same broken bus, driven by a different driver, under the instruction of people like Ace Magashule and David Mabuza. Essentially, a vote for the ANC will not strengthen the hand of the passive participants in the destruction of South Africa, it will embolden some of the most insidious characters in democratic South Africa, people who have single-handedly destroyed provinces and brazenly stolen from the public.
The SABC had scheduled to hold the Big Debate, the presidential debate, for the first time in more than 25 years. Ramaphosa – unable to mask the real ANC that he merely works for – ran away from this platform that would expose him and his empty promises.
This proves beyond any doubt that the organisation not only lacks the political will to fix South Africa, it simply does not know how. And it is scared of the people.
On the contrary, the DA has put forward a compelling offer to the country ahead of the national elections.
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South Africa is facing down the barrel of a gun as the unemployment figures continue to climb to unprecedented levels. Almost 10 million of our people are without work and the jobs bloodbath continues unabated. This debate would have provided an opportunity to tell the president and the nation about the solutions the DA has tried and tested where we govern.
These include how a DA government would cut corruption and create an environment where investment can take place and jobs can be created. And how the DA plans to implement the National Civilian Service programme which would see thousands of young people being given an opportunity to obtain industry experience and earn a stipend.
Because, in truth, the debate in South Africa is about the future, not the past. Our nation is in crisis and in need of urgent reform. We need both political and economic reform. This necessitates a reduction in the ANC’s majority. This is crucial if our politics will mature beyond the broad categorisation of our gender, race and religion. This period is about a new start; a post-liberation era. A time when we can debate ideas and ideals, when we can coalesce around values, not the immutable aspects of our identities. That is why the DA will always stand for nonracialism and the promotion of diversity.
But this is not enough. We must reform our economy to ensure we create more wealth and opportunity for more South Africans. We need to break up concentration in our economy and to give more power to private citizens – not the state. We need to sell flailing state-owned enterprises and ensure that our cities are the centre of the development so that small businesses thrive. According to Stats SA’s General Household Survey 2017, only 59% of homes have a job in them. That means 41% of our households – many more than 6 million households – do not have a single job and rely on grants or remittances. This is unsustainable and is the source of incredible hardship and deprivation for millions of families. We must put a job in every home.
President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Tebogo Letsie/City Press
Our society needs leadership. Our country was broken down and our families were divided due to centuries of apartheid. Migrant labour took away our fathers and apartheid spatial networks divided families. Our challenge today is to reenvisage our societies. And I am now convinced more than ever that our nation’s pressing challenges can be solved only by a DA government.
Ramaphosa may have a vision for a great ANC, but I have a vision for a great South Africa.
If he had a record to defend, a vision to articulate then a debate would have been a great place to express these, his running away tells me that both the above does not exist.
Ramaphosa’s cowardly response to rise to this occasion confirmed to the country that he is not in charge of his party and his is an organisation that is completely devoid of any credible solutions to the plight of the South African people.
Without the party fanfare and the support of his handlers, it would be impossible to expect him to articulate authentically an offer that would inspire our people. That is why we believe the only way to effect real change is to vote out the party that has tired and empty policy offers which have continued to fail the country for the past 25 years.
Maimane is leader of the DA