Programme Director, Your Excellencies, Dr Brigalia Bam – IEC Chairperson, Dr Barney Pityana – Principal and Vice-Chancellor of UNISA – and his wife, Deputy President of the UDM – Mr Kganyago, – representatives of political parties, Honourable Members of Parliament, MPLs and Councillors, Honourable Chief Mandla Mandela and your entourage, business and labour representatives, representatives from civil society institutions, honoured guests, members of the media, and members of the UDM.
Welcome to the 10th Anniversary celebrations of the UDM. Let me begin with a disclaimer, this address is only a schematic overview that seek to highlight key milestones and moments in the UDM’s journey of ten years and the broader issues in our political landscape as a young democracy.
On the 27th of September 1997, the United Democratic Movement (UDM) was launched and at its first congress nine months later the leadership was elected, constitution and policies adopted. In less than two years we went from launch to 14 Members of Parliament, representation in six legislatures – being Official Opposition in Limpopo and the Eastern Cape. And the following year we got more than 230 local government councillors elected nationally, and governed the KSD Municipality in the Eastern Cape.
It is exactly ten years ago that this organisation was born and we have come to mark and celebrate its tenth anniversary today. When an entity or organisation reach a certain age of maturity in its journey of growth and consolidation it is always important to pause and reflect and look back at the milestones that are characterised by achievements and challenges, that is punctuated by triumphs and tribulations. This tenth anniversary was preceded by a series of workshops of UDM members as part of a serious soul searching exercise and deep reflection on our past ten years in order to prepare for the next decades. This reflection is inevitably done within the context of our young fledgling democracy within which we position ourselves.
Historians, political scientists and commentators of all different persuasions will also reflect on the impact and role of UDM in the South African political landscape but I am convinced that history shall vindicate us.
An analysis of the role of the UDM in the past 13 years will prove beyond doubt that our objectives were always the promotion of the national interest, advancement and consolidation of our democracy and to provide a serious alternative to the ruling party. We are always guided by the highest possible goals that seek to advance our national interests in a manner that promote the principles and values that are enshrined in our Country’s Constitution and these include and not limited to fostering national reconciliation, promotion of unity in diversity and redress that seek to promote social justice. In the ultimate analysis the UDM is striving to be that catalyst or vehicle that makes democracy and freedom concrete and meaningful to every sphere and community of our society. Everyone, we believe, must have a place in the sunshine of our young democracy for them to be custodian and critical stakeholders in safeguarding and advancing of this democracy and nation-building project.
WORD OF APPRECIATION
To every member, voter, official, public representative and leader who over the years helped to build the UDM: Thank you.
To every MP, MPL and Local Government Councillor who over the years have stood steadfast and loyal despite attempts to bribe them away from the party: Thank you.
To the UDM Parliamentary and National staff who have put up this wonderful event we see here today. Events of this nature are usually outsourced, but everything here was done internally, and it is a reflection of the skill and dedication of our staff: Thank you.
To Mama Nilo Botha, the mother of the UDM, in particular we express once again our gratitude for your willingness to forget about retirement. She has been with this party since our inception. Her grey hair is indicative of her wisdom, and we are grateful that we can continue to draw upon that wisdom.
Our National Treasurer, Mrs Thandi Nontenja, also deserves to be singled out for managing our finances in manner that allowed us to stage these celebrations and for continuing to keep the books of the UDM in good nick.
In the same vein, I must thank the UDM members who are gathered here, because this time round we told you that we couldn’t pay for transport and accommodation. Yet here you are, because you could not miss this momentous occasion. We were regrettably not in a position to finance such expenses because those businesses we approached for funding informed us that they would only provide for election campaigns - although we know that millions get doled out to other parties for occasions like this. Your resolve to come here today demonstrates that we continue to maintain the culture of sacrifice that we built this party on.
To every journalist, commentator, sponsor and civil society decision-maker who treated the UDM fairly: Thank you.
To every one of the hundreds of thousands of people who have contributed over the years to the growth of the UDM in some form or another: Thank you.
To the families – including mine – who have supported those who dedicated themselves to this party: Thank you.
As an individual, as a South African, as UDM President and as a son of this beautiful land, I am deeply humbled by the dedication and support that so many people have invested in this party. On behalf of myself, and of the UDM allow me to pay tribute to each of you. I could speak the rest of the day and not even begin to properly express the incredible depth of my gratitude.
WHY A NEW POLITICAL PARTY?
Simple. People told us so. At the core of the democratic impulse of every person are two related needs: choice and voice. In other words, people desire alternatives in order to choose what best suits them, and people want to be heard, want their needs and aspirations acknowledged.
Choice and voice is enshrined in the country’s Constitution and it is the job of political parties – that is why the Constitution specifically refers to “multi-party democracy”. However, by the end of 1996 as the initial euphoria of our first democratic elections wore off, many South Africans realised that the current political parties did not give them the choice or the voice they longed for.
By 1997 major political developments were afoot. Many concerned South Africans noted with trepidation that vital decisions could be taken without consultation and foisted upon the country without warning. Thus GEAR – an economic policy that would destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs – was introduced without the least bit of debate. It was presented as a foregone conclusion and the RDP was ditched, even though it had been popularly endorsed and had been the electoral mandate given to the ANC in 1994. GEAR was just the first in a string of such vital decisions with massive ramifications that were introduced in this manner. Soon it was followed by the Arms Deal.
Many South Africans therefore felt that they needed the choice and the voice to address these concerns. Another important factor that played a major role in electoral politics at the time was the question of racial voting patterns. The existing political parties continued to perpetuate the old voting patterns and therefore no proper political debate could occur without race and the past becoming the dominant point of discussion. Inevitably those types of debates quickly sank into the quagmire of recrimination and stereotyping and the original important matter of debate was forgotten. These South Africans called out for choice and voice, for a new political home that celebrated diversity, acknowledged the past, but was firmly rooted in the new South Africa and its future.
Even before I make my observations it is proper to pay tribute to the founding father of our democracy, to an outstanding international statesman and an international symbol of the struggle for human rights and justice, Dr Nelson Mandela. He is a gift to the nation and the world and an icon of all time. He led us on a path to the promised land of hope, freedom, social justice and opportunity. It is a journey that we must never squander or betray as South Africans. In the same vein, let me thank him personally. When I went to invite him to be here today he immediately delegated his family to represent the Mandela family. The delegation is led by his family from Qunu, and his grandsons Mandla and Ndaba Mandela. Please convey our gratitude to him, and assure Mr Mandela that the UDM is committed to the freedom that he helped this nation to achieve.
From the outset, one of the major challenges was that the environment was hostile, very hostile. In that environment, we will never forget that our then National Secretary Sifiso Nkabinde and many others lost their lives.
These setbacks, challenges and obstacles have shaped us and the party is much stronger now.
We therefore look forward to the 2009 general election with a great sense of invigoration. It is our unrelenting belief in the great future and possibilities for our beautiful nation that beckons us to the future.
What we have done consistently since our launch is to be vocal about the burning issues facing the nation. Thus our criticism of the GEAR economic policy and our alternative policy suggestions are well-recorded. Eventually call for infrastructure development and a Government that does more was acknowledged and partially adopted as Government policy.
Yes, you will recall when we handed over the UDM policy documents – entitled “Government must do more” – in Parliament to President Mbeki. In those policy documents we outlined the need for infrastructure development and greater government involvement in the economy.
It is pleasing to note that today Government’s language has changed and they are now talking about the ‘developmental state’ and similar concepts which we had been championing since our launch. We hope that they understand it in the way we do. Because our policy is influenced by tried and tested policies, such as the Marshall Plan that rebuilt Europe after the World War 2, and indeed how the Government of the then Afrikaners uplifted them when they got their freedom.
The problem is that much of our country’s infrastructure is still of third world standard in many areas. How do we justify when we travel to the rural areas that the inadequate infrastructure they have are now totally falling apart 13 years into democracy; does it mean that rural people are not entitled to the same fruits of freedom as people in the major cities? Does it mean that they are second-class citizens?
Our consistent campaigns on matters such as the above and corruption did not endear us to certain quarters, who viewed us as an emerging electoral threat. Eventually the bedrock of democracy, that right of every South African to have choice and a voice was directly threatened with the drafting of the floor-crossing legislation.
Obviously this legislation was a major challenge for the party. The UDM took this matter to the highest court in the land and ensured that South Africans fully understood its implications. This law was meant, in its design, to haemorrhage small parties into extinction. At least now, under the relentless pressure from the public, all major political parties have come to accept that this legislation needs to go.
WHAT WE NEED TO DO
Turning to our members, we need to demonstrate our commitment to the slogan of “THINK! UDM is the right choice”. Because the truth of the matter is that the UDM has grown – but not nearly as much as it could potentially grow – and we need to intensify our growth efforts and invest our resources to identify and nurture potential leaders. Our limited resources have made this a difficult task in the past, but we are determined that many more UDM voices must be heard on a variety of burning issues facing the nation. If we do not currently possess the people with the necessary skills and experience in our ranks then we are duty-bound to go and recruit them.
Therefore in the next six months it is vital that we do a skills audit of our party, in particular among the youth. Many of them have graduated in the last ten years. We need to compile a database to ensure that we begin to involve them in important tasks like policy development. It is crucial that we build a strong internal UDM intelligentsia that can engage with the challenges facing the nation. It means that the youth, students and women need to evaluate their own structures and strategies in order to coordinate their activities with the mother body.
This month we are re-launching our website. It will require that the youth, students, women and national structures should make use of that facility to engage on a regular (fortnightly or even weekly) basis with issues affecting the daily lives of all South Africans.
The wish of most political parties is to run the Government one day. Obviously the UDM cannot expect to step into national government tomorrow. But in the immediate future our target for our ascendancy plan must be to ascend to a higher position, preferably as the official opposition. But we cannot hope to achieve that if we do not have branches in every town, village, suburb etc. etc. If we spread that way we will quickly produce the leaders and capacity to become the first and most realistic alternative to the ruling party. This afternoon, as you can see from the programme, in the closed session, we will debate the draft Ascendancy Plan produced at the recent Strategic Workshop and ratified by the NEC.
STATE OF THE NATION
For instance, the UDM warned from the outset that the Arms Deal was ill-conceived, too expensive, ran counter to massive social delivery demands and was riddled with corruption. The rest is history.
What we cannot deny is that this Arms Deal is eating away at the core of our body politic like a cancerous tumour. Until such a time as we hold a fully independent Judicial Commission of Inquiry, we will not be able to rid ourselves of this cancer.
We must register our concern and call for decisive action to nip in the bud the signs of civil disobedience we see on a daily basis, where there is destruction of property, stoning of cars and disruption of major traffic arteries. It is a pity that the genuine frustrations of the people of this country have been hijacked by people for the purposes of political infighting. It has to stop. We cannot allow these instigators to undermine the gains we have made since 1994, and indeed undermine the good role we are playing on the continent.
Our assessment of the state of our democracy yields mixed results with both positive gains and disturbing elements. These are:
Like we did with the floor-crossing legislation, the UDM must take the lead, even if we need to go the highest court to have the current policy reviewed. There is no way that it can be fair that the ruling party can get hours to launch their manifesto whilst other parties have to make do with a few minutes. It is utter rubbish. It seems this policy is carefully designed to promote a one-party state. While other political parties have to beg for recorded snippets, the ANC’s manifesto launches and the closing rallies (siyanqoba) are given blanket live coverage.
Unemployment and poverty is a direct contradiction of freedom. Real freedom – political, social and economic – provides dignity to a nation. On the other hand, unemployment and poverty undermines it. Similarly, crime, rampant HIV/AIDS and inadequate education are all factors that undermine freedom. Whilst Apartheid undermined the majority’s dignity and freedom, the current levels of unemployment, poverty, crime and HIV/AIDS are taking many South Africans back to that same state of hardship and suffering experienced under Apartheid.
OUR COMMITMENT TO NATION BUILDING
South Africa needs people who are not always trapped in the past but seek new possibilities in a new society; people who are not swallowed by the tide of entitlement and dependency; people who ask what we can do for the society rather than what we can get from the society.
The UDM has played a significant role in this regard by uniting South Africans in their diversity.
We are living in a global village therefore no serious political party can ignore this reality. The real challenge is not whether we need to engage with the global system or not but rather the nature and quality of engagement that benefits us as a nation and not leave us worse off.
A worrying feature of our economy is the number of people who have been excluded from the formal financial, banking and credit sectors. Slowly that is being addressed, but before the majority of the country can properly begin to access credit they are now faced with new obstacles and threats due to the manner in which the Reserve Bank manages interest rates.
Are we running an economy that coincides with the realities of a developing world economy, because we are running the highest interest rates among developing countries? When we question the Reserve Bank’s decision-making we are told that the Reserve Bank is independent, yet it seems that the large banks and corporates have influence. The effect is that exorbitant interest rates and the threat of interest rate hikes hangs like an axe over newcomers to the credit market. It excludes vast numbers of people from owning their own homes, whilst the small percentage that do succeed in obtaining home loans or small business loans are under constant threat of repossession and bankruptcy due to escalating interest rates.
I appeal to our members, as we leave this venue and begin the march towards the 2009 elections and beyond, that we must read the minds of South Africans today. We should understand that:
Make them THINK! UDM is the right choice!