Helen Zille denies 'air-brushing history'
Democracy is not about slavish devotion to a particular political party, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille said during a Freedom Day rally on Saturday.
"Democracy is about the freedom to choose; the freedom to change your mind," she said in a speech prepared for delivery in Inanda, KwaZulu-Natal.
A lot had been written about the "Know Your DA" campaign in the past weeks, which aimed to tell South Africans the true story of the party's opposition to apartheid, she said.
"It has been met with controversy from some quarters. We have been accused of air-brushing history, of abusing [former president Nelson Mandela's] legacy and, that old favourite, political opportunism."
Zille was referring to a DA pamphlet showing former president Mandela and activist Helen Suzman embracing, with the wording: "We played our part in opposing apartheid". It referred to Suzman as a "DA founder" and this angered the ANC, the Cape Times reported last week.
ANC Western Cape leader Marius Fransman told the newspaper the pamphlet, which was part of the DA campaign, was a "cynical and opportunistic exercise in propaganda". He said the party should not have used either of the leaders.
Criticism did not worry the party
Suzman was a member of the Progressive Party which became the Progressive Federal Party and later merged with other parties to become the DA.
The DA's communications director Gavin Davis told the Cape Times it had every right to use the image and to take ownership of Suzman's role in ending apartheid.
Zille on Saturday said the criticism did not worry the party.
"We cannot just sit back and allow the ANC's propaganda to falsely paint the DA as the party of apartheid," she said.
"The ANC is trying to use scare tactics and emotional blackmail to take away choice in South African politics. We cannot allow this to happen, which is why we are making a nationwide effort to tell South Africa the truth."
Zille said on this day 19-years-ago, every South African over the age of 18 was given the opportunity to vote in the country's first non-racial, democratic election.
"The camaraderie, the long queues and the feeling of hope we felt will live on in our memories forever."
Nowadays, many people take the right to vote for granted, she said.
'Can't be bothered to vote'
"It often shocks me when I talk to people – especially young people – and they say they can't be bothered to vote. They don't seem to understand the sacrifices that were made for them to exercise this precious right, or the power that voting affords them to change their lives."
Zille said individuals and political parties, who championed the values of the open, opportunity society for all, were now in the DA.
She listed people from different backgrounds who came together in the DA because they shared the goal of redressing apartheid's legacy through good governance, sound policies and delivery for all.
The list included Suzman, Breede Vallei mayor Basil Kivedo, who was jailed for underground activities as a member of Umkhonto we Sizwe, and Cape Town mayor Patricia de Lille, who used to be a trade unionist and Pan Africanist Congress leader.
"All of them also recognise that out of all the rights that come with a democracy, none is more important than the right to vote and, more importantly, the right to change one's mind and vote a political party out of power if it is failing to deliver," Zille said.
"If we want to honour their legacy we need to make sure we use our power to full effect and ensure that if a government is failing it is held accountable through the ballot box." – Sapa