John Steenhuisen stated that the DA would under his leadership offer “people power” and not state control as he said was the case with the ANC-led government.
NEWLY elected DA leader John Steenhuisen has vowed to give the ANC in government a run for its money as he officially took the reins of the party through a landslide victory on Sunday.
Delivering his acceptance speech at the end of the two-day virtual congress, Steenhuisen said that the DA would under his leadership offer “people power” and not state control as he said was the case with the ANC-led government.
“We are going to fight and give ownership to every law-abiding, honest and hard-working citizen regardless of their background, to build a life that they value,” he said.
Steenhuisen, who has been serving as the DA’s interim leader during a turbulent political period which saw its former leader Mmusi Maimane resigning in October last year, went up against fellow contender Mbali Ntuli for the party’s top job.
Maimane and several other senior black leaders who dumped the DA in the past year have accused the party of being captured by conservatives who were opposed to redress.
Steenhuisen vowed to correct mistakes that he said were committed by the party by engaging in mixed messaging and looking for popular shortcuts.
Steenhuisen, who is white, said the party would try to move away from “populist shortcuts”, aiming to provide economic opportunities for all.
“People have had endless debates about the meaning of liberalism in today’s world. For me, liberalism in its purest form is a commitment to give power to the people so that they can decide for themselves how to build lives of value,” he said.
“There have been times when the DA failed to be a dependable ally in the people’s fight for power and for a while we lost sight of who we were and what we offer, clear principled and decisive leadership.
“Fortunately, mistakes don’t have to be fatal provided we learn the lessons from them,” Steenhuisen said.
The newly elected DA leadership included Helen Zille as chairperson of the federal council while James Masango and Thomas Walters were elected her deputies.
Ivan Meyer was elected unopposed as federal chairperson with Refiloe Nt’sekhe, Anton Bredell and Jacques Smalle were elected as his first, second and third deputies respectively.
Following the party’s bad performance in last year’s general elections which coincided with electoral growth for the Freedom Front Plus, the DA has subsequently pushed for stricter adherence to what it calls its core liberal values to win back support.
Steenhuisen said the party had in the last year embarked “on an existing journey of introspection to fix that which was broken within our party” which he said would be intensified under his stewardship.
“I can tell you today that the days of breaking trust with South Africans are well and truly over. Under my leadership, the DA will never again turn our back on our core principles. We are a liberal party committed to non-racialism, a social market economy and a capable state that empowers citizens and cares for the vulnerable,” he said.
Some of the moves made by the party were to exclude race from its economic policies as well as in its values and principles at its recent policy conference despite the criticism that this would drive away black voters.
Political analyst Keith Gottschalk said South Africans would look at the diversity of the whole DA leadership at the congress and the way black leaders were treated to make sense of the meaning of Steenhuisen’s election.
“For example, when visitors to the public gallery in Parliament look down, they see a slab of white faces in the DA benches. Will this change when the DA selects candidates for the 2024 elections? Some DA leaders of colour have complained that DA disciplinary complaints are ’weaponized’ against them, to hurt their careers,” Gottschalk said.
Ntuli is among the black leaders of the DA who also accused the party’s federal legal commission of being politicized.
Resolutions adopted by the party included outlawing cadre deployment and the deregulation of the labour market and collective bargaining to create jobs, among other things.