Address by the (UDM President at a Women's Banquet at Gallagher Estate, Midrand, Gauteng (18 September 2008)

Ladies and Gentlemen

Welcome and thank you for joining us tonight as we celebrate the leadership and progress of South African women.

We were supposed to host this banquet in August, Women’s Month, but it was not possible for various members of the UDM leadership due to a number of unforeseen personal crisis cropping up. Not least of these the passing away of the mothers of two of our senior leaders. So as we gather here in honour of women I would like to dedicate the evening to these two mothers and all the other mothers who play such a pivotal role in the development of every person.

We are glad that we are able to host this evening now, with a wide range of UDM leaders present, in order to treat this event with the stature it deserves.

After the last election in 2004 about 40% of the UDM MPs we sent to Parliament were women. It’s not a bad start and we intend not to see a decline in those figures. We also pride ourselves on the fact that it does not require a great deal of last minute imposition of quotas on the candidate lists to ensure that female representatives reach the highest office. It is part of our party culture to encourage leadership, irrespective of gender – or any other criteria for that matter.

Tonight you can see some of the women who have leadership positions in the UDM, including the UDM Caucus Chairperson – Mrs Nkabinde, the National Organiser – Mrs Msiza, the National Treasurer – Mrs Nontenja, the National Office Administrator – Ms Warffemius, and Mrs Nilo Botha – a UDM veteran. The President of the UDM Women’s Organisation, Mrs Qikani, is not here tonight due to other responsibilities, and she is also the UDM representative in the NCOP.

As a country we should be thankful to the ANC for its progressive policies on gender activism. It has helped to set the scene for women to advance into all sectors of society. There still remain many challenges. In the last fourteen years the focus has been mainly on women occupying higher office at decision-making level, but the country has not succeeded at that yet. This is because these institutions have been dominated by men for decades.

The way forward to advance gender equality is to shift the focus to broader empowerment, instead of the current approach of given select positions at the top to women. Such a process should form part of the economic and development policies of the country.

When gender equality is resisted in some institutions, the excuse frequently advanced is that there are not suitably qualified or skilled women to occupy certain positions.

In other words, it will require an integrated approach for training and imparting skills and education to grow the pool of women who are qualified to tackle any job. It is our responsibility as society to invest much more on intensifying training for women, to level the playing fields in all sectors of employment.

Gender equality also means that women should have a greater say in matters of development. For instance, if there is going to be a development project in a suburb, village or township the women of that area should be in a position to question whether the environmental impact assessment has been performed, in case the development will affect their quality of life.

Do not hesitate to engage us and tell us how the UDM can be more proactive on women’s issues. We are keen to learn how we can promote your needs and concerns in policy-making and the legislative framework. The women gathered here tonight are among the most experienced and qualified people in the country and we would appreciate any advice and guidance that you can offer us.

The women in the UDM and associate structures of the UDM Women, Students and Youth all work towards fulfilling the UDM Mission.

Real freedom for all is the UDM’s mission. The achievement of freedom for all can only be gained through massive socio-economic delivery. Our point of departure is that this can only be achieved by a government that is willing to invest in its own economy and people. This is a philosophy that says: Government must do more!

Indeed it stands in stark contrast with the thinking of other parties that hold the view that Government must do less and everyone else must do more.

It should never be forgotten by South Africans that the imbalances and backlogs which we inherited in 1994 requires a Marshall Plan to address them; whether you talk about education, producing food, or many other things. We feel that since 1994 the government has missed opportunities to correct many of these imbalances. No one would ever have thought back then that the ANC Government would spend close to R99 billion on the arms deal instead of investing in social security.

As South Africa progresses towards the third decade of political freedom, the UDM undertakes to translate that into social and economic freedom as well.

On public platforms and in Parliament we have been campaigning for these issues. Parliamentary records, the media and our own website bear witness to these campaigns.

An analysis of the role of the UDM in the past 11 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 Constitution and these include and not limited to fostering national reconciliation, promotion of unity in diversity, redress that seek to promote social justice.

In the ultimate analysis 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.

However some of these UDM positions may not be known by people because of insufficient marketing by ourselves. We started off well and we had a very strong team Parliament, which unfortunately was targeted by the ANC during the floor-crossing era. Obviously that affected the human and financial resources at our disposal, which hampered our marketing efforts. Just to demonstrate the quality of our MPs, almost all of those that were enticed to the ANC are now Ambassadors, MECs or Parliamentary Whips.

But now that floor-crossing is over we are re-branding ourselves and rebuilding, with woman leaders too, and growing the UDM into an alternative future government.

Tonight we hope to start a dialogue, not just amongst UDM members but among all the guests here about how we can expand the opportunities for all South Africans, including women. We are grateful that people of your calibre have come to share this evening with us.

This culture of talking to one another as South Africans, and talking to each other about the issues that affect us on a daily basis, will help us to ensure that our democracy does not slip through our fingers.

Many institutions, including political parties make the mistake of looking inward and not asking the broader public what their views are on the challenges facing us.

Despite all the challenges we are facing in this country we need to look to the future and develop strategies to overcome our obstacles and move forward as a nation. We need to sustain the ability that we demonstrated during the CODESA negotiations, which the world praised as a miracle. Whenever there is an overwhelming problem we need to gather and forge a united way forward irrespective of political affiliation, as we did at CODESA.

Luckily these days we have a Constitution to guide us on what sort of solutions we should be pursuing. It was for this reason that the UDM has advocated for a National Convention. Such a National Convention involving all South Africans, would look at the progress and review the inherent defects in our system since the advent of democracy.

It is especially necessary in the field of economy and education to consider whether we are delivering on the promises we made to ourselves leading up to 1994. We need to consider whether the current culture of dependency being fostered by the state will take us out of the backlogs and imbalances caused by the social engineering of the Apartheid regime.

Allow me to address you on the state of the nation, as we see it, because we need to understand where we are today.

One thing is certain, the state of the nation today is vastly different from what it was before the 2004 election. Especially since last year matters have changed radically. The events since Polokwane will have an impact on how we take the country forward.

So much has been done to transform the society and to improve the conditions of those who were in the margins of our society during colonialism and apartheid. We applaud the government and all key role-players for these gains. We are however disturbed by social ills, political pathologies, the health pandemic, the crime rate and moral drift of our society.

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, 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.

When we debate the state of the nation we cannot escape the outcomes of Polokwane. We are faced with a ruling party that is split down the middle. The infighting is playing out in local, provincial and national government departments as well as the parastatals. Service delivery has ground to a halt in many places as a result.

This infighting has permeated to campaigns against our judiciary and some of the Chapter 9 institutions, where there seems to be an obsession to replace any person who was appointed by – or seem affiliated to – the outgoing President.

If this trend is allowed to continue we must expect more turbulent times, when people trained over years are simply replaced because they are viewed as so-called Mbeki-loyalists. Such a disruption in continuity and loss of skills will only undermine service delivery further.

Just look at the current turmoil surrounding Zuma and Mbeki and the threats to dump the country into a constitutional crisis by removing the President on the basis of vague inferences. Such a step would be complicated further if they replace one President with another who has not yet properly dispelled the serious allegations made against him.

It is a pity that we are allowing the country to fall into the trap of a campaign that was designed to portray Mr Zuma as a victim. Hence we witness the victorious victim mentality by those who undermine the institutions of our constitutional democracy.

It is precisely because of this situation that the people of South Africa are asking: where is the alternative? Opposition parties like ourselves are under tremendous pressure to do something, because of the uncertainty that the ANC’s infighting has caused.

Indeed we must all agree and admit that we have learnt our lessons and won’t fall into this trap again. The time has arrived for South African voters not to put all their eggs in one basket. Voters must now begin to resist the domination of one party over all the others.

As we are meeting here this evening one could have used the opportunity to canvass your membership of the UDM, but I don’t think it is necessary. At times such as these people can remain members of the ANC if they wish, but still vote elsewhere to strengthen the checks and balances.

We should not be despondent about what is happening now in the ANC. We should be grateful that it is happening now, and not twenty years later, because then we could have gone down the path of many other failed states. At least we are now in a position to learn the potential dangers of a one-party state before too much damage is done. Multi-party democracy is meant to ensure a balance of power that counteracts the arrogance and greed that overwhelming power tends to breed.

The calibre of people here tonight cannot be underestimated; you have immense influence in various sectors of society. We would like to continue on a one-on-one basis our conversation with you about strengthening multi-party democracy. Building the foundations of a potential alternative government is an expensive exercise and we would appreciate your advice on how we should approach it.

Somebody will still do the official vote of thanks, but allow me to personally thank you for making time at such short notice to attend tonight. Also from my side I would like to thank the CEO of Enterprise Magazine for creating awareness about my environmental awareness campaign in the latest issue of Enterprise, copies of which will be distributed tonight.

I thank you.

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