In the 2019 general election, the DA learnt a lesson that SA needs to learn too: real progress comes by doing the hard yards, not by taking the shortcuts.

Throughout the 60 years since its inception in 1959, our party’s mission has been to entrench liberal democracy in SA. In its pursuit of electoral support, and mindful of the gathering crisis in our country that is sinking ever more people into desperate circumstances, the DA turned to quick-fixes, yielding to the populist temptation to tell people what they wanted to hear and show them what they wanted to see.

But there are no shortcuts in life, really. Political parties everywhere need the same things: philosophical coherence; values-based, decisive leadership; and public representatives who are committed to the cause. The DA is no exception.

And so, our party is going back to the basics, to do the hard yards of building trust and support through grass-roots activism, good governance, principled opposition and an authentic message proudly rooted in our liberal values.

As a nation, we have to do the hard yards of fixing SA’s broken education system, delivering better health care, ensuring safer neighbourhoods and enabling a successful economy.

We will grow the calibre and diversity of our public representatives by doing the hard yards of intensifying our recruitment process to attract a wider range of high-quality candidates from all communities into our party and by intensifying our training and development programme to ensure our public representatives have the skills and attributes required to truly serve their communities.

My mission as interim leader is to unite the party around our founding purpose, which is to promote individual freedom by ensuring every person has not only the right but also the means to live a life they value. Simply put, our fight is against poverty and for prosperity.

In SA, 99.9% of those living in poverty are black. And the harsh reality is that both poverty and racial inequality are growing. However, this does not require the DA to forsake its liberal principle of nonracialism, which is what it had begun to do in recent years.

On the contrary, the continued pursuit of race-based policies has contributed to the gathering crisis the country faces today. BEE and affirmative action have acted as a brake on economic growth, a figleaf for corruption and a deterrent to investors. They are exactly the kind of shortcut that has failed SA, serving only to enrich a relatively small elite at the expense of the masses.

To put it bluntly, the ANC’s “progressive, transformation” agenda has been downright regressive. It is neither broad-based nor empowering but in fact elitist and anti-poor.

The DA I lead will unashamedly advocate for true nonracialism. By nonracialism, I mean an unequivocal rejection of racial classification and crude racial preferencing. And, importantly, I also mean an unequivocal imperative to right the wrongs of SA’s unjust past in which the black majority were excluded and dispossessed on the basis of race.

So, the DA’s redress (compensation) policies will prioritise those who remain excluded to this day: the over 30-million South Africans trapped in dire poverty. The critical point is that when you target the poor in SA, the beneficiaries will still be black.

But the stark reality is that there are no shortcuts in the fight to reduce poverty rather than merely alleviate it. No country is special. As a nation, we have to do the hard yards of fixing SA’s broken education system, delivering better health care, ensuring safer neighbourhoods and enabling a successful economy.

Right now, our economy is crippled by shortcuts that are trapping us in a high-debt, low-growth situation. Borrowing R1bn a day to pay for thousands of unproductive public servants and to bail out failing state-owned companies is a crippling shortcut. Look no further than crashing SAA to see it’s really a shortcut to a dead end.

We need to cut these expenses and target our resources on developing the infrastructure and skills that will enable a growing, job-creating economy that lifts more people out of poverty and into opportunity. These are the hard yards that the DA is committed to.

We need to train and incentivise our teachers rather than lowering the pass mark. We need to fix our hospitals, clinics and health departments rather than making lofty promises about National Health Insurance (NHI) that cannot be kept. We need to undertake an effective and efficient land reform process rather than derail our entire economy with populist talk of expropriation without compensation.

Voters may temporarily be seduced by the appeal of shortcuts. However as living standards slowly, inexorably deteriorate, they too will come to learn the folly of shortcuts.

SA will turn the corner only if we do the hard yards. The good news is that now we have one party emboldened to speak up for the rational, evidence-based answers to SA’s problems. And not a minute too soon. The 2021 elections are almost upon our party, while a ratings downgrade is almost upon SA. The time for business as usual has passed. It’s now time for action.

• Steenhuisen MP is the interim leader of the DA.