Time to Remember the Forgotten People of the Western Cape

Note to editor: This is the speech that was delivered by newly-appointed ActionSA Western Cape Provincial Chairperson, Michelle Wasserman, during a press conference in Cape Town today. She was joined by ActionSA President, Herman Mashaba, ActionSA National Operations Director, John Moodey, ActionSA National Director of Communications, Samkelo Mgobozi, and Members of the Western cape Provincial Executive Committee (PEC).

I am extremely honoured to be appointed as the Provincial Chairperson for ActionSA in the Western Cape. 

I am looking forward to growing ActionSA’s support and making sure that we establish wall-to-wall branches and structures throughout the Western Cape.  Our intention is clear: ActionSA will have enough support by the time the National Government Election takes place in 2024 to vote the corrupt and incompetent ANC government out of power and to replace it with a coalition government led by ActionSA.

Here in the Western Cape, the only province not governed by the ANC, we intend to bring the DA below 50% by demonstrating the huge disparity between the haves and have nots.

That South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world is perhaps most notably demonstrated here in the City of Cape Town.

I believe that this will happen.

As John has mentioned I have a background in law.  My legal career and my passion for social justice began 22 years ago when I worked for the Black Sash as a paralegal.

We served the poorest, most vulnerable members of our community, helping women to apply for maintenance for their children and to negotiate the court system to get domestic violence protection orders.

We helped with accessing social grants, labour disputes, over-indebtedness and unethical microlenders.  I saw how hard life is when you live in poverty.  In South Africa over 90% of our population live below the “dignity line” and of those, 50% live in abject poverty.

I went into politics in 2010 after a number of years practicing as an Advocate.

Jacob Zuma was the President then and things were falling apart.  Friends were hastily packing up and there seemed to be a mass exodus of families heading overseas to find a better future for their children.  My husband and I decided that we would stay.  I was determined to “be the change I wanted to see in the world”.

I stood in the local government elections for the DA in 2011 and was elected to the Knysna Council. I served as the DA’s Executive Deputy Mayor and later as the Speaker.  I left the Council in 2015 to complete my Masters Degree in Human Rights Law through the University of London.

I was fortunate between 2015 and 2018 to be able to consult to the South African Human Rights Commission and travelled all over the Free State Province conducting investigations into allegations of human rights violations, holding human rights educational clinics and appearing in the Equality Court to seek redress for people who had been the victims of racial discrimination.  The Free State is where I came face to face with what a Province looks like after it has been looted down to its bare bones by the ANC.

I returned to the Knysna Council at the end of 2018 as the DA’s Mayoral candidate.  Toxic power struggles and infighting in the Knysna DA caucus led to by-election after by-election.  By May 2021 I had come to realise that I did not want to stand for another term with the DA.  Although I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do after I left, I knew that I couldn’t stay on as a public representative for the DA, as I wanted to find something positive, creative and rewarding to do with my life.

I converted from being an Advocate to an Attorney, so that I could work for the public directly and opened a practice focusing on family law so that I could help women and children.

I had been out of politics for a year when I became a member of ActionSA.  I had been watching ActionSA with interest and was impressed by its meteoric growth in the 2021 elections, and by its commitment to Social Justice, Economic Prosperity, Ethical Leadership and a Non-Racial South Africa.

I sent an email to Athol Trollip (who I had met in 2010 during a selection process for the Knysna DA Mayoral Candidate position).  I told Athol that I wanted to become a member of ActionSA and asked him who I could contact in the Western Cape so that I could sign up.  Athol replied and gave me the contact details of the late Ma Vytjie Mentor.  And then, a little later, he sent me another message to say that Herman Mashaba would like to speak to me.

Later the very same day, Herman and I met and chatted online.  I have learned that Herman Mashaba is not someone who lets the grass grow under his feet.

After we ended the call, I was completely blown away by the picture of possibility that Herman had painted.  With his contagious passion and complete focus Herman had set out for me how, for the first time since the dawn of democracy, in 2024 the ANC will be below 50% in a National Election; how ActionSA is the only party that has the ability to attract enough South Africans from all race groups, to push the ANC vote right down. How we could form a coalition that would unseat the ANC government.

Not long after that phone call, Athol Trollip and John Moodey visited Knysna.  We did a small cavalcade through Ward 8 which has the ANC Executive Mayor as its Ward Councillor.  We could not travel 100 meters without being stopped by people wanting to talk to us about ActionSA and insisting on signing up as members on the spot.

I realized that I had to be part of this groundswell of hope.  This opportunity for change.  This moment in time that is as important as our defining moment in South Africa in 1994.

As Herman says: if we don’t unseat the ANC in 2024, we are doomed.

We are David facing the Goliath of unethical, greedy, corrupt leadership.  We have no choice. There has to be a change and we are the ones who must bring that change. Not for ourselves, but for our children and their children.

People may argue that the Western Cape is just fine, that it is the best run province and that ActionSA should leave it alone and focus on other Provinces.  But in the Western Cape voter turnout went down from 63% in 2016 to 48% in 2021.  Why is that?

There are many communities in the Western Cape where people have literally been forgotten by all levels of government.  I think of the Brackenhill Community in Knysna where the community still have to use pit latrines and bucket toilets despite the Constitution, the High Court, the Water Services Act and the by-laws all saying that they are entitled to basic sanitation.

It is not surprising that there are people who live in the Western Cape who compare where they live with the “leafy suburbs” with their tarred roads, clean sidewalks and neatly trimmed grass verges, and wonder why things are so different for them.

Why are some people living in what looks like utopia, while they are still living in the dust and litter, their communities plagued by crime, unable to provide for their children and desperate because they can’t find a job?

These are the people that tell me that they didn’t vote in the last election.  That they had planned to not vote in the coming election.  They are also the people who are joining ActionSA in droves – because ActionSA is committed to Social Justice, to prioritizing the poor and vulnerable and making sure that they are not forgotten; because ActionSA is a party for all the people of South Africa.

ActionSA is not new to the Western Cape – we have incredible members and activists who are constantly working hard on growing our support base and launching new branches.  Thank you to each one of you who have given so selflessly of your time, with so much passion, because you believe in ActionSA and the promise it holds.  I am really looking forward to visiting every corner of the Province and working with all of you over the next year and a half.

I would like to acknowledge and pay tribute to the work and commitment of the late Ma Vytjie Mentor under whose leadership and guidance ActionSA was started in the Western Cape.

Thank you to John Moodey for looking after the Western Cape during the period that we were without a Provincial Chairperson.  Your leadership and support as Acting Provincial Chairperson have kept the ship steady and on course.

I would also like to acknowledge the work of the members of the Provincial Executive Committee (PEC) who served under Ma Vytjie and John Moodey.  It has been a privilege to get to know each of you and to serve with you on the PEC.

Lastly, thank you Herman for your faith in me and for giving me this brutal but extremely rewarding role to play in Fixing South Africa.

Baie dankie.  Enkosi.

I thank you.