Is three a crowd?

A po­lit­i­cal land­scape that has three strong po­lit­i­cal po­si­tions would ben­e­fit SA, writes

CityPress - - Voices -

The re­cently con­cluded US pres­i­den­tial elec­tions have high­lighted one of the great draw­backs of that coun­try’s twoparty sys­tem – it cre­ates po­lar­i­sa­tion that deeply di­vides the na­tion. It was one of the most ac­ri­mo­nious cam­paigns in his­tory, and the sight of pro­test­ers demon­strat­ing in the streets even be­fore Don­ald Trump has been sworn in does not bode well.

There is even talk of chal­leng­ing him in the elec­toral col­lege when it meets on De­cem­ber 19. This is usu­ally just a for­mal­ity, but there are mem­ber voices say­ing that, as in­di­vid­u­als, they can’t bring them­selves to vote for Trump. So, could there be changes?

Speak­ing of change, mo­men­tum is gain­ing to scrap the elec­toral col­lege sys­tem al­to­gether, as part of re­form­ing democ­racy. Hil­lary Clin­ton and Al Gore both lost elec­tions while win­ning the pop­u­lar vote, and this does seem ab­surd.

Go­ing back in his­tory, one has to note that Amer­ica was not a two-party sys­tem from the out­set. Back in the days of Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton, it was the Amer­i­cans against the Bri­tish – not the Democrats against the Repub­li­cans. The emer­gence of the two-party sys­tem came sev­eral decades later, in the de­bates be­tween Thomas Jef­fer­son and Alexan­der Hamil­ton.

To ap­ply this to the evo­lu­tion of democ­racy in South Africa, an Amer­i­can proverb comes to mind: “There is no ed­u­ca­tion in the sec­ond kick of a mule.”

In other words, we can adapt our own way for­ward, by the mis­for­tunes of oth­ers. Or we can fall into the same hole that they did.

The race fac­tor has com­pli­cated the emer­gence of mul­ti­party democ­racy in South Africa. It started, of course, with the ANC uni­fy­ing black tribes more than 100 years ago to counter the “di­vide and con­quer” strat­egy of colo­nial­ism. United we stand, di­vided we fall – so much so that many might pre­fer to go with the one-party state model of so­cial­ism.

At first, once democ­racy ar­rived in 1994, white vot­ers mostly sup­ported the Na­tional Party, al­though there was al­ready a third party ris­ing. Be­fore long, the Nats folded and we were left with two ma­jor par­ties – the ANC and the DA – and sev­eral mi­nor par­ties such as the United Demo­cratic Move­ment, the Free­dom Front Plus and the African Chris­tian Demo­cratic Party.

And there was the SA Com­mu­nist Party (SACP), but it had been shel­ter­ing in­side the rul­ing al­liance, largely be­cause of the great white fear of com­mu­nism. The as­sas­si­na­tion of Chris Hani is an in­di­ca­tor of that danger. But it has turned around now, with half a dozen Cab­i­net min­is­ters be­ing from the SACP – and most of them are white. In spite of the hypocrisy of com­mu­nists be­com­ing af­flu­ent cronies, it can be said that the SACP is truly non­ra­cial. It has al­ways been bound by ide­ol­ogy, and is thus mixed race.

Re­mem­ber when Mo­siuoa Lekota start­ing talk­ing about a “divorce” and the ground shook? Var­i­ous op­po­si­tion lead­ers then wel­comed the Congress of the Peo­ple to the po­lit­i­cal land­scape. By the time Agang SA was formed, the idea of new par­ties emerg­ing was not so earth-shat­ter­ing. But all th­ese par­ties were crowd­ing around the cen­tre. Only the DA could be seen to be fur­ther to the right. The left was con­spic­u­ously ab­sent as peo­ple re­alised that the ANC had “sold out” to crony cap­i­tal­ism.

En­ter the Eco­nomic Free­dom Fight­ers (EFF), which was the first party to stake a claim on the left of cen­tre. Other than the SACP, of course, which was now con­flicted in the rul­ing al­liance. This pro­voked some soul-searching among the true left­ists and soon you had some unions de­cid­ing to leave. Since then, they have formed a new fed­er­a­tion out­side the bounds of the rul­ing al­liance.

Since the poor elec­tion re­sults this year, there is now some se­ri­ous in­tro­spec­tion go­ing on within the SACP. It may con­test the 2019 elec­tion in its own right. Or are we watch­ing the emer­gence of a left­ist or labour party? One can see that a con­stel­la­tion could be form­ing on the left that will in­clude the SACP, the EFF and the new post-Cosatu labour fed­er­a­tion. Maybe a coali­tion at first? Maybe called the United Left?

A sim­i­lar thing hap­pened in Canada, which has ended up be­ing a three-party democ­racy – not a di­vi­sive two-party sys­tem like the US. Dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, in re­sponse to bit­ing un­em­ploy­ment and poverty, a new party was formed in western Canada called the Co-op­er­a­tive Com­mon­wealth Fed­er­a­tion (CCF). It went on to form a pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment in Saskatchewan that was re-elected to five con­sec­u­tive terms. The CCF was the first so­cial demo­cratic party to be elected into power in North Amer­ica. Its poli­cies were in­flu­en­tial – in fact, you can prob­a­bly trace the DNA of Oba­macare back to the CCF as it is just the lat­est in­car­na­tion of what the CCF dreamt of. Then, af­ter sev­eral decades, the CCF merged with the Cana­dian Labour Fed­er­a­tion, which was a union of unions – not a po­lit­i­cal party. But only western Canada was in­dus­tri­alised, so you also had the merger of west and east into the New Demo­cratic Party.

His­tory is re­peat­ing it­self, and, to avoid the sec­ond kick of the mule, South Africa should aim for a three-party sys­tem. A new (labour?) party on the left, with the ANC hold­ing the cen­tre and the DA over on the right gives vot­ers a choice – with­out the ac­ri­mony and re­sent­ment that a two-party sys­tem breeds. We are al­ready ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some level of gov­ern­ment-by-coali­tion. Very of­ten in a three-party sys­tem, the third party holds the “bal­ance of power”, and we are al­ready start­ing to see the pos­i­tive ef­fects that can have on ac­count­abil­ity and ser­vice de­liv­ery.

An­other phe­nom­e­non is that vot­ers “hedge their bets”. They vote for one party on a na­tional level and then opt for a dif­fer­ent party in the lo­cal elec­tions. This is an­other way to achieve checks and bal­ances. You can’t ex­pect the ju­di­ciary and the chap­ter 9 in­sti­tu­tions to bear the to­tal bur­den of trans­parency. Try hav­ing one party su­per­vise the other. We are al­ready see­ing this in some met­ros that have slipped away from ANC hege­mony. There are so many more per­mu­ta­tions and com­bi­na­tions in a three-party sys­tem. And it means that par­ties have time for in­tro­spec­tion and can re­fresh them­selves from time to time. In Bri­tain, there are ba­si­cally three par­ties too – labour, lib­eral and con­ser­va­tive. The big­gest challenge in South Africa will be to get a sys­tem that won’t al­ways line up along the usual fault lines of race. The DA is al­ready claim­ing to be the most non­ra­cial party, al­though the SACP has the best record so far on that score. If one race only has one choice when it comes time to vote, how will we ever move to­wards non­ra­cial­ism? This is one danger in the EFF’s land in­va­sion ap­proach to wealth re­dis­tri­bu­tion – it pits blacks against whites. While the his­tory of South Africa is one of seg­re­ga­tion, apartheid and ex­ploita­tion, good lead­er­ship gets peo­ple to see the so­lu­tion, not just the prob­lem. Lead­ers should take us for­wards not back­wards. And if we have three ma­jor par­ties of­fer­ing a menu of op­tions, we can start pulling to­gether for change, and get past the ac­ri­mony. I am speak­ing of the process here, with­out back­ing off from the dream des­ti­na­tion of equal­ity and non­ra­cial­ism. Stephens is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Des­mond Tutu Cen­tre for Lead­er­ship

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