DA's interim Leader John Steenhuisen at the DA head office in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
DA's interim Leader John Steenhuisen at the DA head office in Johannesburg. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The DA's newly elected interim leader, John Steenhuisen, wants his party to build a constructive relationship with the ANC in parliament but insists that this does not mean it will take a “softyly, softly” approach when vigorous opposition is necessary.

Steenhuisen is also parliamentary leader of the DA and leader of the official opposition. As such he has already had a meeting with President Cyril Ramaphosa and hopes that such meetings will continue in future to facilitate an exchange of ideas. He has also been promoting his ideas for the DA around the country.

In an address to parliament’s Press Gallery Association on Thursday, Steenhuisen said the old notion that the DA and the ANC were enemies had to be relinquished. He wants the DA to reach out to the governing party in the spirit of co-operation, to find common ground and solutions to the country's problems. He wants the DA to propose alternative solutions when it disagrees with the ANC rather than simply bashing it.

“I know such common ground won’t always exist — there are some issues on which we fundamentally disagree — but there is plenty we can agree on. And if we are to making parliament work for the people, then we have to be open to co-operation.

“We cannot continue to play these games of political one-upmanship in parliament while our country sinks further into debt, poverty and unemployment. Our responsibility is to the people who voted us into parliament, and not the parties who placed our names on their lists.”

Steenhuisen said, for example, that he agreed with a large part of finance minister Tito Mboweni's economic reform document and would support its implementation. He said parliament needed to rally behind policies that promoted economic growth as this was the only way to tackle poverty, inequality, unemployment and debt. “If what we do inside the House does not contribute to this growth, then we’re doing the wrong thing,” he said and the DA would oppose this.

He noted that in the past, the National Assembly had descended into “a daily circus of insults, disruptions and even violence. And you have seen, first-hand, the deep polarisation and paralysis of parliament that this has caused”.

“How do you explain this to ordinary South Africans who see these ugly scenes on TV? They know that members of the House are paid well to do a crucial job, but all they see is grandstanding and insults. It is little wonder that voters are increasingly losing faith in the democratic process. We need to turn this around in this sixth parliament. We need to re-establish parliament as a place of big ideas, vigorous debate and service to the people of this country.”

Steenhuisen emphasised the need for parliament to exercise oversight over the executive and government, something it had failed to do in the previous parliament. It needed to go from being a lapdog to a watchdog.

The DA is in the process of drafting a number of bills specifically aimed at strengthening oversight and building an accountable and capable state. Steenhuisen said he wanted the party to be a party of ideas.

Steenhuisen said an oversight standing committee on the presidency needed to be established as it was the only department that did not have an oversight committee and was therefore allowed to operate without any scrutiny.

ensorl@businesslive.co.za