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The thin blue line and the rising red tide of populism

In 2016 the Democratic Alliance (DA) achieved what was previously thought to be impossible: the political disruption of South African politics, says Athol Trollip.

Led by a capable national leadership team, elected at its elective conference one year earlier, the DA won a two thirds majority in Cape Town and emerged to lead coalition governments in Johannesburg, Tshwane and Nelson Mandela Bay (where the DA received the largest share of the vote outside of Cape Town).

This was a resounding victory by any measure and an outright rejection of Jacob Zuma’s ANC.

In Nelson Mandela Bay the DA was elected on an offer of stopping corruption, improving service delivery and tackling unemployment.

In 19 months we have made significant progress under difficult circumstances. Achieving progress that lasts, takes time, even more so if its predecessor was chaos. Real progress is only possible when we lead with our values.

Named after our iconic President, Nelson Mandela, it was the very abandonment of his principles and values by former ANC Metro administrations and their cronies that brought Nelson Mandela Bay to its knees.

“Something is not right,” Crispian Olver writes in the opening chapter of How to Steal a City. Indeed something was terribly wrong; dishonesty, sleaze, fraud and corruption. It is precisely this that voters rejected in the 2016 election.

The abandonment of a universal set of values and principles opened the flood gates for unprecedented greed and ultimately the capture of the state for which the ANC was punished.

If political parties do not stand up for their values they will fall, and fall hard. This the voters will guarantee as they did in the biggest metros in the country in 2016.

This is an important lesson for the DA as we return to our tri-annual elective conference to elect a national leadership that will have to navigate a new political terrain post Jacob Zuma. This new terrain will require our political compass to be calibrated according to our values and principles, our true north must be our core purposeā€¦

I firmly believe that the DA remains the only political party that is home to all South Africans from all walks of life.

We are the most diverse and representative party because people are attracted to our values of freedom, fairness and opportunity and our genuine commitment to redress, reconciliation, delivery and diversity.

We have experienced organic growth in all communities because we have stayed true to our values and been guided by our principles.

I have personally witnessed and nurtured the growth of the DA for 25 years and never shied away from a contest where I felt strongly about the future of the party. I’ve often said that the battle for integrity is worth it, even if you stand alone.

My credentials in this regard are well documented. I have faced defeat but never felt defeated because my commitment to our cause is underpinned by our values. I mean it when I say that when we lead with our values we win, even if it appears as though we’ve lost.

That is why now is not the time to succumb to the pressure of other political parties who seek to define us according to their own values and principles.

This begins with the tabling of a motion of no confidence in me as executive mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, because of the colour of my skin and our party’s position on land.

The EFF would have us abandon our principled positions on property rights and non-racialism in their bid to oust me and my colleagues in Nelson Mandela Bay.

If we were to concede it would signal the death of the DA. In these difficult times we must stay true to our cause because it is an honourable and worthy one.

So, in Nelson Mandela Bay I will hold the thin blue line and stay true to these important principles as we stare down the rising red tide of populism that threatens to engulf our party as it has the ANC.

Trollip is executive mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay.

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