Steenhuisen clarifies contentious party issues

DA chief whip, John Steenhuisen, addresses the audience at the Hout Bay library last week.

Despite being told to “shut up” by President Cyril Ramaphosa in Parliament, DA MP and chief whip, John Steenhuisen, says he would rather endure such a rebuke from Mr Ramaphosa than Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Mr Steenhuisen was guest speaker at the DA Hout Bay’s branch meeting at the Hout Bay library on Thursday May 10, two days after Mr Ramaphosa emphatically told him to quiet down.

“We should be thankful for having Ramaphosa, even though he tells me to shut up. I would rather have him than Dlamini-Zuma do it,” he quipped.

The ex-wife of former president Jacob Zuma lost to Mr Ramaphosa in the race for the ANC presidency last year, scuppering her chances of ascending to the highest position in the land.

Mr Ramaphosa is viewed as being key to luring foreign investment to South Africa.

In front of a packed library hall, which included residents from all Hout Bay’s communities as well as EFF and ANC representatives, Mr Steenhuisen sought to clarify the DA’s position on several contentious issues, notably the removal of Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, the land expropriation bill and how the party viewed the country at the moment.

He admitted that the DA had made mistakes in respect of the mayoral issues and apologised for the “mess” over the De Lille saga, adding that the party understood people were angry.

“We had two choices: we could have made the easy choice and swept matters under the carpet, or we could confront the issues. In the final analysis, we took steps to ensure that what we have in Cape Town is an administration that shows it is accountable to its people,” he said.

He also addressed media reports that divisions were being sown in the DA as a result of party leader Mmusi Maimane’s comments about the discrepancy between black poverty and white privilege.

“His (Maimane) point is that there is deep inequality in South Africa, and the gaps are widening. There is nobody in this room who can deny that is the case. Mmusi wasn’t pitting one race against another. What he was saying is that if we don’t confront this, radical agendas will take grip. But the media set it up as a zero-sum game, black poverty versus white privilege.”

Mr Steenhuisen painted a picture of the current reality in which provincial governments had to do “more with less”, but the DA was pushing for limited funds to be spent on housing, electricity and water and sanitation.

When houses were handed over to beneficiaries, they should receive title deeds without delay. “This gives people dignity and an economic lever, as they are then able to run their businesses from home.”

Turning to the land expropriation bill, which makes provision for expropriation without compensation, Mr Steenhuisen said it was not necessary to amend the constitution.

He pointed out that former president, Kgalema Motlanthe, had drawn up a report on impediments to land reform. In the report, it was stated that the handover of land had dropped off significantly under Jacob Zuma’s presidency, and that only 1.7% of the national budget was spent on land reform. In addition, the government spent more on VIP protection for cabinet ministers than on the entire land reform programme.

Since banks were the biggest property owners in the country, expropriation without compensation would make them loath to grant home loans, with the result that it would actually be young black South Africans who suffered.

“Black South Africans are far more reliant on getting big bonds, since they don’t have access to the generational wealth of many white South Africans. So there would be negative consequences if the bill is passed.”

While the DA welcomed Mr Ramaphosa’s presidency, the party was concerned that questionable figures from the Zuma regime’s inner circle remained, including Deputy President David Mabuza and Home Affairs Minister Malusi Gigaba.

“It will be hard to keep out the rot when you have these people around,” Mr Steenhuisen said.

Far from the at-times belligerent figure seen in Parliament, Mr Steenhuisen was relaxed and open to questions from audience members, and while he did not always have specifics relating to Hout Bay and Llandudno at hand, he was happy to answer queries as best he could.

Questioned on what the DA was doing to assist rural communities, he said it was vital that investment was attracted to the country so that rural towns did not die, and that small business was encouraged in those areas.

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To residents Camilla Wilson’s and Ziyanda Phandle’s concerns on what would happen to housing developments promised to Imizamo Yethu under Patricia de Lille’s tenure, he said the City should honour those commitments, and he would be disappointed if they were not.

Hangberg resident Lee Smith accused the DA, as the Western Cape’s governing party, of paying lip service to communities, and not delivering on its promises. Mr Steenhuisen said he could hear his frustration, and apologised, saying the DA simply had to do better.

He also agreed to meet personally with Mr Smith and others to understand their hardships and poor living conditions in Hangberg. Another Hangberg resident, Donovan van der Heyden, stressed the need to empower residents to establish bona fide small businesses in the area, beyond spaza shops and informal home businesses.

“We don’t want handouts – we want you to help us develop ourselves,” he said.

Matt Mercer, the administrator of the Hout Bay Organised Facebook page, asked what the DA was and what it stood for currently.

“There is the narrative in the media that a black man can’t have white people below him,” he said, referring to Mr Maimane. “But South Africans have got to get this idea out of their heads that white people can’t work for black people. This mind-set has to change.

“There are racists in the
DA, without a doubt, but there are racists in all parties. As South Africans, it is our job to call such people out.”

Questions pertaining to local issues that Mr Steenhuisen was unable to answer were fielded by ward councillor Roberto Quintas, whom some in the audience accused of not engaging with them effectively.

Others, however, said Mr Quintas had been far more visible a figure in Hout Bay than his predecessors.