It gives me great pleasure to be here today to speak about how the Democratic Alliance (DA) is using e tools in our ‘permanent campaign’ to change South Africa.
The DA is the second-largest and fastest-growing political party in South Africa. We govern the province of the Western Cape, the city of Cape Town – one of the world’s leading global cities – and many municipalities throughout South Africa.
As the ‘Third Industrial Revolution’ gathers pace, we have witnessed how the diffusion of power is reshaping and flattening the world. While the DA is wired, connected and networked, our political opponents, the African National Congress (ANC), have not moved with the changing times. They rely on old fashioned mediums to communicate their message and remain stuck in the 1980s trade union style campaigning.
The ANC’s public representatives still use plodding Marxist-inspired language referring to ‘comrades’ and the ‘second transition’. All the while, South Africans, young and old, are moving away from old forms of political communications. The ANC is lagging behind the curve of history, which is being relentlessly pulled forward by the pace of technological change.
Constantly looking back to the past, the ANC’s electoral campaign depends upon mobilising past narratives of apartheid, division and race. This is holding them back from connecting with this digitally switched-on generation.
I have the privilege of leading the official opposition in the National Assembly. In contrast to my counterparts in the ANC, I am proud to say I remain ‘connected’ the entire time both inside and outside of parliament.
Recently, the day after a member of the governing party criticised me for delivering my speech in Parliament from my iPad, a newspaper carried a story asking why modern politicians would not want to use technology to work more efficiently.
As a young politician I cannot imagine how hard it was to do the job before the advent of the iPad and smartphone, and often wonder why any political party would choose to be resistant to the many advantages offered by technological innovation.
This is especially true of how the DA practises politics in contrast to the present government. In South Africa, the DA is seeking to pioneer a new kind of activist politics in which everyone can participate from the city dweller to the remotest villager.
Due to South Africa’s vast geographical territory, the new technologies mean that my DA colleagues and I can constantly interact with the public. The DA is the most digitally savvy political party in South Africa, and this reflects the dynamism and creativity of our fast-changing society.
Our social media campaign is always positive, and enables us to speak to people in a way that is not mediated by the traditional press. One could call it the new politics of the neighbourhood.
Let’s take a quick glance at internet penetration in South Africa. The country has an astonishing 95% mobile telephone penetration, and over 70% mobile internet penetration. The level of desktop internet penetration is 14%. Facebook use stands at 10% of the population.
There are one million users of twitter in South Africa and growing. Of the close on 5 million Facebook users, 60% are aged between 18 and 34. The youth age cohort is the largest source of traffic to the DA website. South Africa is a youthful country. Instead of expecting young people to come to us, the DA goes to where young people are.
The DA is perhaps best known for its twitter presence. DA leader Helen Zille was one of the first politicians to use twitter, and she has a bigger following than President Jacob Zuma.
The DA knows that all politics is local, and so we pioneered the Twitter Town Halls in South Africa during the 2011 local government elections to bring our politicians closer to the people. DA public representatives replied to live questions in real time. Until then, South African voters were not used to seeing their public servants giving unscripted answers to their questions.
The DA also uses twitter to find new talent and ideas.
An example is how we recruited our New Media manager, Al Mackay. Al worked at a branding agency before joining the DA, but he was always politically and civically-minded. He used to tweet a mixture of branding, marketing and politics and started building up a following on those topics. Al put it like this: ‘that is the great thing about twitter – a community forms around you based on your interests’.
Al was part of a social media movement known as futurecapetown which aims to represent the views of citizens in the developments of this global gateway city – and this resulted in him being noticed by people in the DA. Having established online relationships with a number of key DA people, when the right vacancy came up – it went looking for Al.
On Facebook, Helen Zille’s Facebook page has 215, 000 fans and the others, like the page of our National Spokesperson, Mmusi Maimane, are growing fast.
We use this social media platform to share good news about where the DA governs – these are the most popular posts – as well as photographs, graphics, videos of campaigns and rallies, and links to news stories on our website. Our page is increasingly interactive with polls, tests, and responses to comments.
Last week marked a particularly exciting breakthrough. The largest social network in South Africa is called Mxit, and it is simply based on the mobile telephone, which takes advantage of the blanket mobile phone penetration in the South Africa market. This month, the DA launched a portal on Mxit to inform, listen to, and help educate citizens. We are the first political party to do so.
With over 10 million active users in South Africa, and approximately 750 million messages a day, this is an extremely important social media tool to interact with young people.
At our first Live Talk session last week, my parliamentary colleague, shadow minister of finance, Tim Harris, and I attracted 38, 000 people to a debate about the Youth Wage Subsidy. This was hugely significant because the plight of young people without jobs is the most important challenge we face in South Africa today.
According to our National Treasury, the Youth Wage Subsidy would benefit an estimated 423,000 South Africans and create 178,000 new jobs for young people.
The genius of this social medium was that Tim and I were able to explain how the youth wage subsidy would work in simple language, and correct some of the false claims made by South Africa’s largest trade union, Cosatu, which vehemently holds opposes the implementation of the policy and has held it up in negotiations for over two years.
Again, we had an opportunity to showcase how the Democratic Alliance governs better. There was keen interest in the DA-run Western Cape’s version of the Youth Wage Subsidy programme. Since 2009, it has resulted in 2500 jobs for young South Africans, with a retention rate of 70%.
The DA has been concerned that cold statistics might hide the human face of the tragedy of youth unemployment: one in two young people under 25 in South Africa is without a job. I know this issue is also blighting the European Union from Spain to Greece too. The big difference though is that South Africa lacks the means of the European social welfare system, which is also under strain. We both face the risk of widespread social unrest.
This is why we launched our Face of Unemployment campaign to get young people who are unemployed to send in their photographs via social media and e mail. We then, on Youth Day, marched with them to demonstrate the human face of the unemployment crisis.
Because the DA wants to change South Africa, with the South African people, for the South African people, the DA is engaged in a permanent campaign based on the platform that we are better, together. The youth, and indeed people of all ages and backgrounds, are standing up, being counted, organising and marching. You’ve seen this here too.
The new politics means that the DA can use new technologies to help build a better tomorrow. And in a very organic and practical way, we are using the social media platform to promote reconciliation. One of the beautiful functions of the social media platform is that it provides an empathetic lens for young people – everyone in fact - to start looking at each other through one another’s eyes. The DA message is clear through our social media platforms: we are better together than we are on our own.
In terms of our political campaigning, we are also using the Internet to help organise our supporters in a way that would have in the past required an army of volunteers, although we have, and need many more volunteers.
We are also generating video content to introduce the public to our public representatives and people on two YouTube Channels: one for parliamentary content and the other for DA Youth. This includes ‘behind the scenes’ clips, footage of citizens, rallies, election campaigns, interviews, newsclips from television, and flashmobs.
The internet also connects the DA to the world’s best networks. As a party, we believe in the potential of e tools to harness creativity and find innovative solutions to complex public policy problems.
In many ways, the parameters of public policy are becoming smaller in today’s ever shrinking world. Yet, ironically, this does not make finding the right solution for specific problems like youth unemployment and reconciliation easier. This is why, best of all, the social media platforms provides us, the Democratic Alliance, with the means to listen, to learn, and respond to the millions of South Africans we proudly serve.
So as we strive to the bright new horizon, the DA will continue to use e tools to go to where the young people are. We will remake South African politics together.
I thank you.