• Programme Director,
• Future Leaders,
• Ladies and Gentlemen.
Before I launch into the United Democratic Movement’s (UDM) vision and policy on certain issues, I want to sketch a bit of background of how we started, since that informs much of our policy and work.
Almost twenty years ago, after I was unceremoniously expelled from the African National Congress (ANC), I started a consultation process with South Africans on the need for a new political movement or not. With those that followed me, we started the National Consultative Forum.
As it happened, Roelf Meyer left the National Party around the same time and formed the New Movement Process. We were on the same page and established the UDM in 1997.
It was clear to many of us, already at that point in time, that South Africa’s political landscape needed to change. And, as recent events have shown, that need still exists. But we can talk about that a little later.
The UDM has had to box in the heavy-weight class since its inception and we acknowledge that our support has waxed and waned since 1999.
In 2003 and 2005, chequebook politics robbed the UDM of talent, resources and influence when the so-called ‘floor-crossing legislation’ was still in action. The UDM fought that law, tooth and nail, because it allowed public representatives to leave one party for another, whilst those individuals did not have votes confer upon themselves.
No! Voters made their mark behind the name of the UDM. We were happy that our efforts paid off when the legislation was abolished in 2009.
This leads me to an argument that the UDM has made for some time i.e. that we need a mixed electoral system which draws from the strengths of both constituency-based representation (to ensure that an individual public representative is held accountable) and proportional representation.
The UDM also advocates that South Africans should directly elect their President instead of having a person foisted on them by a ruling party. If we had used this system, we might have avoided the tears and embarrassment we have suffered at the hand of our current President.
Directly electing their President allows the people to ‘hire and fire’ that person if they are dissatisfied with his/her performance.
The UDM also strongly believes that candidates for Cabinet must be vetted at public hearings to ascertain whether they are fit for office. Once again, we might have averted the current leadership crisis, because in such a scenario we could ensure that our leaders in government are qualified and capable. Using such a system might be a bit cumbersome, but we can at least force some measure of stability and accountability.
2. The challenge of competing as a political party in South Africa
There are inherent weaknesses in the funding model for political parties in South Africa. What that means for the UDM, and other smaller parties, is that we are hamstrung in performing our duties.
Advertising costs money; public relations (PR) cost money and things like the core task of electioneering is particularly draining as most of our activists come from disadvantaged communities and we need to support them in their work. It’s literally a question of buying food to keep them sustained and keeping petrol tanks filled.
Any party may have the most brilliant and creative solutions to our problems, but if you can’t effectively get your message out in public, it neutralises your hard work.
We cannot get away from the fact that the current funding model for political parties is not conducive to multi-party democracy.
The funds parties receive from the Independent Electoral Commission, as well as those that Parliamentarians receive to do their work (called the Constituent’s Allowance Fund), are divvied up proportionally based on the percentage of support a party gets at an election.
In addition, the big companies that earmark money for democracy development (in their social responsibility kitty) also spend that money proportionally.
What this means is that, the parties with a good election performance gets the lion’s share of the money. The result is that the strong become stronger, irrespective of their performance and policies, and the less-strong are weakened further. It is a vicious cycle.
In addition, when we approach companies with sound reasoning as to why they should support the UDM, and therefore democracy in South Africa, we are told that they do not wish to sponsor the UDM, because it will lead to loss of business with government.
The ANC, and even the Democratic Alliance, have millions-and-millions of Rands to spend on party and electioneering activities. In addition, there is some element of abuse of state resources to bolster party propaganda, especially at election-times.
For your information, the UDM does not have, and never had, a PR company to develop sexy advertising campaigns and programmes. We have sustained ourselves through mere word of mouth.
3. Unpacking political realignment
Our version of political realignment does not refer to a ganging up of opposition parties against the ruling alliance, but rather a regrouping of people around new concepts that were brought up in the wash of momentous political change over the years.
The results of the last two National and Provincial Elections showed that the South African electorate wants a system where two large parties, of similar strength and size, compete for the mandate to govern.
The UDM is of the view, that a healthy realignment of our political landscape will culminate in the emergence of two major political parties, with some smaller cause-based parties – as is the case in established democracies such as in the United Kingdom, France and the United States of America.
4. The emergence of coalition governance after the 2016 Municipal Elections
Considering that we have different ideologies and philosophies, the so-called “smaller parties” have the challenge of finding each other. The advantage is that the precedent has been created in different places in the world where, political parties with different interests, work together without losing their identities.
That said, the results of the 2016 Municipal Elections are a clarion call to all political parties to join hands with communities and civil society to provide visionary leadership to the Country.
The UDM has always understood coalition government as a form of cooperation between political parties who agree on specific principles and programmes to address the challenges of service delivery. Central to these is the immediate need to create jobs, eradicate poverty, fight and uproot corruption and promote good governance.
I must however admit that being a coalition partner in two municipalities, in the Johannesburg and the Nelson Mandela Bay metros is challenging. The wide spectrum of political philosophies of the various parties has inherent challenges. We don’t always agree, but we keep our minds open and work hard at finding each other.
5. A little bit more on our founding tenants
The UDM’s vision reads as follows:
“We are the political home of all South Africans, united in the spirit of South Africanism by our common passion for our Country, mobilising the creative power inherent in our rich diversity, towards our transformation into a Winning Nation.”
The core values which the UDM upholds and promotes and upon which it fundamental policy positions are based are:
• respect for life, dignity and human worth of every individual;
• integrity in public- and private life;
• the individual rights and freedoms enshrined in our Country’s Constitution;
• tolerance and respect for the rights and freedoms of others;
• solidarity in the common spiritual ownership of all that is good in our Country;
• national self-discipline based on an acceptance that each right and freedom carries with it a corresponding and equal obligation and responsibility;
• national moral regeneration towards a clear distinction between right and wrong, between what is acceptable conduct and what not, between good and evil;
• economic policies based on moral values and;
• freedom of religion and worship.
Those are lofty, but achievable, ideals.
For the purpose of today’s discussion, and to remain topical, I wish to focus on “integrity in public- and private life”. The reason why I want to do this, is to highlight the conundrum facing South Africa today.
After the ANC Working Committee’s pronouncements yesterday, one South African summarised the situation as follows:
“Deputy President is wrong.
Secretary General is wrong.
Treasurer General is wrong.
Integrity Commission is wrong
SACP is wrong.
COSATU is wrong.
Rating Agency S&P (Standard and Poor) is wrong.
Concourt was wrong.
Public Protector was wrong.
SO, only Zuma is right?”
I want to add: “the opposition is wrong”. We are in this mess, precisely because our Country’s President does not, judging by is actions, epitomise integrity in public- and private life.
I am not going to unpack this further, because I am sure that you keep abreast of the news as it breaks, but feel free to ask tough questions in the Q and A session just now.
6. Some key UDM policies in a nutshell
The UDM has batted on anti-corruption wicket since its inception and we never wavered. It is precisely because corruption bleeds the Nation dry that we keep our focus on this issue.
Another of our points of departure is: “Government must do more”. Meaningful government intervention is needed to ensure economic growth and the UDM therefore advocates, what could be called, “conscious capitalism”.
While the UDM recognises the valuable role that markets should play, it is of the firm belief that Government must play a key role in creating a stable policy environment and developing the economy for the benefit of our people.
Government must have an awareness of purpose. It must be sensitive to our people’s needs, especially the most vulnerable of our society and, most importantly, it must be responsive in a constructive manner.
One-in-three South Africans survive on grants. That is the harsh reality. And, although “Government must do more” can be interpreted as a mandate to make more money available for grants, that is not the best it can do. Government must in fact do more… to help people, to help themselves.
Another issue, which I am sure is close to your hearts, is education. We have one of the most unequal societies in the world and our economy is not growing. An educated and healthy citizenry is needed to grow and develop our economy so that we are capacitated to eradicate poverty and inequality, and to generate employment.
The UDM is of the view that South Africa must develop and maintain an education system that produces school-leavers and graduates that are equipped with balanced job-related and life skills to enter the job market, economy and greater society and be productive and responsible citizens.
The genuine demand for free, and quality, higher education has unfortunately been turned into a political matter, which is effectively being abused by the contending factions of the ruling alliance.
South Africa cannot afford a situation where education is used to settle political scores. We desperately need strong higher education institutions that produce students with the relevant skills for our socio-economic development.
The UDM believes that special attention should be paid to poor students who are unable, or is struggling, to pay their tuition fees.
We agree that subsidies for the children of domestic workers, or worse, unemployed persons, cannot be the same as those for the children of advocates, doctors and investment bankers. The reality is that there are those deserving students who need to be totally subsidised by government.
But where will we get the money? Well, let’s start with a Government, which must stop splashing public money on wasteful and unproductive expenses.
It is with a sense of loss that I mention that former Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, last year, called on departments to save money and cut costs. It was reported, at the time, that R35,2 billion was spent on consultants, travel, catering and entertainment. The UDM has long held the view that the continuous outsourcing of government work, which ought to be done by civil servants, is expensive and perpetuates poor service delivery.
On 27 September 2017, the UDM shall mark the 20th anniversary of its existence. We will celebrate this achievement by reviewing our policies and repositioning the UDM at centre stage of the South African political landscape and discourse.
The UDM prides itself on being a ‘listening party’ rather than a ‘dictating party’.
I therefore invite you to participate in this policy review process as this is a platform for young South Africans to share their concerns, express their hopes and participate in finding creative solutions to our problems.
Make yourselves part of the UDM’s vision to make South Africa a ‘Winning Nation!
Understanding the United Democratic Movement – Address delivered by Mr B Holomisa, MP (UDM President) at the ‘Understanding government’ week, 2017 ASRI Future Leaders Fellowship Program in Auckland Park, Johannesburg on 6 April 2017