Commentators, armchair critics, and others have expressed surprise at my campaigning for the DA in this election. Their surprise surprises me. The future of our country depends on a strong, growing challenge to a corrupt and irredeemable ANC.

It is incomprehensible, given what we know of the ANC and the way it functions, that there are commentators who still think the ANC can save SA from the ANC; that a weaker DA will somehow help the ANC reform itself.

The harsh truth is that the ANC is irredeemable because it is a large spiderweb of corruption, held together by patronage links among compromised individuals. Former president Jacob Zuma was right when he said the ANC would never put him in the dock to answer corruption charges because he knows too much about everyone else.

This is also the real reason the entire ANC list is populated by ethically compromised individuals (even though the party’s own integrity committee says they are not fit to hold office). They know too much to be left off. They have to be kept inside the tent, lest they sing outside.

Frankly, anyone who votes for that list becomes an accomplice to corruption. It is impossible to see how SA’s interests can be advanced by a resounding mandate for such a list. It symbolises what the ANC’s policy of cadre deployment means in practice.

Cadre deployment has brought the SA state to the brink of collapse. Yet the ANC has announced it will reinforce the very policies that facilitated cadre deployment, state capture and rampant corruption.

The more the economy declines as a result, the more the ANC elite seeks to scapegoat minorities, while threatening expropriation without compensation and the forced investment of pension funds into chronically corrupt, bankrupt state-owned enterprises.

The truth is the ANC elite and its policies are actually responsible for increasing unemployment and extreme poverty. And all the ANC has to offer, judging from its manifesto, is a short-cut to the misery of Venezuela or Zimbabwe.

Amazingly, there are many decent people in the ANC who privately acknowledge that the internal battle for the soul of the ANC was lost long ago. If coalitions are on the cards after May 8, the ANC majority is far more inclined to align formally with the EFF, which will marginalise the ANC’s constitutionalists even more.

The best hope for the future of constitutionalism in SA is a stronger DA. This will enable us to form a magnet for a political realignment that draws together constitutionalists in all parties, and across all barriers, to build a new majority. This cannot be done by anyone in a party as hopelessly compromised as the ANC — especially not when its leader is as conflict-averse as President Cyril Ramaphosa appears to be. His “long game” will only lead us further down the wrong road, to the point of no return.

More than ever, SA needs a strengthened DA. We are the only party that can challenge the ANC from a position that seeks to defend the rights of all South Africans. We are the only party with a track record of good governance. We are not perfect, and no doubt some internal soul-searching is required. But, unlike the ANC we are entirely redeemable because we do not consist of a compromised patronage network of corruption, where each has to protect the other so all can stay out of jail.

In the DA we generally encourage debate, and there are many of us who do not hesitate to use the space we have to challenge policies and ideas. A stronger DA makes us more confident to engage the issues.

Identity politics, the political philosophy that underpinned apartheid, is being resurrected as a “progressive” philosophy by the EFF as it aims to achieve a reverse takeover of the ANC, uniting long-standing allies such as David Mabuza and Julius Malema. They are using race to mobilise segments of society in their headlong march to implement the policies that have caused the collapse of every economy anywhere they have been tried.

Identity politics is even more dangerous for minorities. Small ethnic parties will consign minorities to permanent marginalisation. The only antidote is to work together with constitutionalists of all races, and in all parties, to build a new majority that has a chance of winning an election, and that will govern to protect freedoms and extend opportunities to all. This is the only way of defending every individual’s rights to language, culture, property, religion, freedom of speech and association (among many others).

In 2016, the DA got more votes than the ANC in Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, Cape Town and elsewhere. This happened because enough people understood the importance of building nonracial majorities that could withstand the danger of racial nationalism, represented by Zuma and Malema. This required millions of voters to step away from historical animosity and stand up for each other’s rights, against state capture. We were up to the challenge.

A well-known aphorism tells us that success in politics is never final, and mistakes are rarely fatal. The DA has made mistakes. We are composed of human beings, fallible and imperfect. However, the DA’s mission — to realign politics away from race and towards values — is critical for SA. The DA’s record in governance is unmatched, by every measure, from service delivery to infrastructure projects, clean governance, and job creation.

The DA has had tough debates to produce a manifesto that leaves no-one behind, honours the constitution and continues the march to a society united in its diversity. This is the project I took over from Tony Leon, and that Mmusi Maimane took over from me. That project is alive and well, and with the DA governing for more than 15-million people today, our record stands head and shoulders above the rest.

This is not the time to retreat into self-flagellation and self-doubt. The only way to strengthen the rule of law, build a capable state and advance individual rights is to strengthen the DA.

My past differences with the leadership of the DA pale into insignificance given the stakes in this election. So, of course I am campaigning for the DA. I love this country, and I want every person living here to have the opportunity of reaching their full human potential if they are prepared to exercise self-discipline and make a big enough effort.

SA can only be secure in its democracy if elections open the possibility of government changing hands peacefully through the ballot box. Reinforcing the single-party domination of the ANC in this election will take us in the opposite direction.

This is quite clear already. In the future, when we look back it will be obvious that a vote for the ANC was a vote for SA’s continued decline. It will be as obvious then, as it already is today, when we look back at the election of 2009 and wish we had done more to “stop Zuma”.

• Zille is a former DA leader.