Democratic Alliance leader, John Steenhuisen. (David Harrison/M&G)
The usually controlled John Steenhuisen was rendered visibly emotional on Sunday when he thanked his wife and daughters for their sacrifices during his career, after he was announced as federal leader of the Democratic Alliance.
Steenhuisen quickly righted himself though, and also extended “gratitude” to his opponent, Mbali Ntuli.
Although the official numbers were not made public, the Mail & Guardian understands that Steenhuisen received 79% (1 443) of delegate votes, with Ntuli garnering 361.
Ntuli and Steenhuisen both hail from KwaZulu-Natal, where Steenhuisen received 68% of votes cast.
In Gauteng, he garnered 78% of the vote, 91% in the Western Cape, 97% in the Eastern Cape, 84% in the Free State, 86% in Limpopo, 97% in Mpumalanga, 86% in the North West and 97% in the Northern Cape.
Of the just more than 2 000 delegates who took part in the conference, 88.6% voted.
Acknowledging the fight waged by his younger opponent, a beaming Steenhuisen said: “Mbali, you did not make this an easy race,” before leading delegates gathered at Durban’s Tropicana hotel in a round of applause for 32-year-old Ntuli, who was also present at the venue.
“You fought me every step of the way, and didn’t give up,” said Steenhuisen, adding that the contest was a democratic display of leaders being elected instead of “anointed”.
“We choose our leaders on the basis of their ideas, the content of their character, and their potential to lead our party into new territory. And Mbali, long may this democratic tradition continue in our party.
“I did not run to become the leader of this party for its own sake. I am here today because I want to take the DA to greater heights in a fight for our country where each and every citizen has the power to build a dignified life.
The 44-year-old said the win had rendered him “more determined and more energised” than when he first began his political career in eThekwini as a councillor 21 years ago.
“The task ahead of us will not be an easy one. Our country is in serious trouble, and the stakes have never been higher.”
Steenhuisen said he was confident that the DA would one day be at the core of a national government “that will unlock the boundless potential of each and every South African and of our country”.
He said the vast majority of South Africans were “warm-hearted, honest and hard-working people” trying to build futures for their families, but were surrounded by injustices and corruption.
“We are not a nation of thieves and criminals beset on destroying our country. And yet, each and every one of us is exposed to thievery, criminality and decline on a daily basis.”
He described the ANC-led government as being “utterly incapable and corrupt” and “hell-bent on telling citizens what to do”.
“People are poor because government crushes entrepreneurship, growth and job creation. Excessive state control is the reason why people can no longer take the train to work, and why government would rather spend the little bit of tax money that is left to fund an airline that we do not need,” said Steenhuisen, to prolonged applause.
The country’s vulnerable citizens may soon stop receiving social grants, he said, because corruption was bankrupting the state.
The “incapable state” was in the way of citizens prospering, he said, with the government’s solution being more even more state control.
“The more the central planners fail, the more furiously the central planners plan.
“And so we face the prospect of the state taking away private property. In the future, you may no longer be able to take out private medical insurance, and there is a very real fear that the pension that you have spent your lifetime saving for, will be taken away from you.”
The government was no longer content with controlling citizens, he said, but wanted to “own” them. “They are coming for your home, they are coming for your health and they are coming for your savings.”
There was good news though, he said, because citizens were beginning to reject state control, not wanting to be dependent on a “failing and corrupt state”.
Steenhuisen said people are tired of being told what to do by rulers who look out for only themselves. People want to stand on their own two feet as self-reliant, autonomous human beings. They want power and freedom to make their own choices and build a life they value, he said.
“This is what the DA will offer under my leadership — people power, not state power.”
Power was to be directed to citizens he said, who would then decide for themselves “how to build lives of value”.
Helen Zille was announced chairman of the DA’s federal council, with Refiloe Nt’sekhe, Anton Bredell and Jacques Smalle named her deputies.
Dr Ivan Meyer was elected unopposed as federal chairman. James Masango and Thomas Walters were elected unopposed as his deputies.
Dr Dion George was elected chair of federal finance, also unopposed.