By Geoff Embling, DA Ward 4 councillor
John Steenhuisen was accompanied by the DA provincial leader, Andrew Whitfield, and the DA constituency head for Makana, Kevin Mileham. At a packed venue with some attendees needing to sit at tables outside the sliding doors, John hammered home the importance of registering and voting by stating a proverb attributed to the Greek politician Pericles, “You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you”. John brought the words to life by noting that politics is so interesting in you that it can reach into your house and turn off your lights. It can also turn off your taps, in the case of Makana.
John used the local example of Kouga Municipality (Jeffrey’s Bay/Humansdorp area), and Umgeni Municipality in KZN to show how a municipality can change with an outright DA majority in council. In Umngeni Municipality (Howick/Midmar/Hilton area), the DA won a majority by a mere 300 votes. With the help of provincial and national support, Umngeni has achieved a rapid turnaround in service delivery in the space of a year and a half. If 300 residents had stayed away from the polls because they were not interested in politics or believed that their vote didn’t count, or if they had decided to vote for a smaller opposition party, the DA would have needed to enter into a coalition to run the municipality.
Coalitions are difficult at the best of times and usually break apart when the smaller “kingmaker” parties are offered deals, bribes, and power that they cannot resist. John mentioned the current situation in Nelson Mandela Bay, which is run by a DA-led coalition under Mayor Retief Odendaal. A vote of no confidence was recently tabled against Odendaal after seven senior municipal officials in Nelson Mandela Bay were placed on suspension due to suspected fraud and corruption. The DA relies on the votes of its coalition partners in Nelson Mandela Bay, meaning that all the great work that Mayor Odendaal has done could potentially be uprooted due to the fact that the DA does not have an outright majority to vote the motion down.
A media reporter questioned John about the alleged lack of diversity within the DA. John responded that roughly one-third of the DA’s vote comes from the white population and that the DA is by far the most diverse party in the country. This makes sense if one considers that the DA gained 22 percent of the vote and that the white population in South Africa makes up 7.5 percent. Simple arithmetic shows that the vast majority of DA supporters are non-white.
John spoke about the threat of moving Makana’s High Court to Bhisho and stated what the DA is doing on a national level to oppose the move. The DA has appointed Glynnis Breytenbach, a former prosecutor for the National Prosecuting Authority and the DA’s Shadow Minister of Justice in Parliament, to spearhead the DA’s fight against the removal of the High Court. John joked that the difference between Glynnis Breytenbach and a Rottweiler is that the Rottweiler eventually lets go! Glynnis has been widely publicized recently for lambasting the G4S director on Thabo Bester’s escape from prison, and if you watch this video you will see what John means.
John discussed the importance of local politics and forming strong DA branches to enable residents in each ward to meet up and strategize how to register residents and grow the DA vote, and he appealed to all residents to get involved in their local branches.
There was good public participation at the event, with a lot of time given to questions and answers, and it was enjoyable and a great success.