To my mind

Finweek English Edition - - News -

A WELL-WORN LIB­ER­TAR­IAN eco­nomic pre­cept holds that the mea­sure of free­dom is in­evitably the net re­sult of the dam­age wrought by one party’s choice on an­other’s in­ter­ests. The in­tense volatil­ity in South Africa’s body politic in re­cent weeks – cul­mi­nat­ing last week in the ob­se­quious an­tics of for­mer De­fence Min­is­ter and ANC chair­man Mo­siuoa Lekota, who went off to an­nounce a con­ven­tion for the launch of a new po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion – may seem a long way off from eco­nomic the­ory. How­ever, the drum-beat­ing be­tween the new ANC lead­er­ship and Lekota – who will prob­a­bly be­come leader of a new op­po­si­tion party later this year – along with mount­ing dis­af­fec­tion among some mem­bers of the rul­ing party over the re­moval of for­mer Pres­i­dent Thabo Mbeki from high of­fice is most cer­tainly the po­lit­i­cal face of that the­ory.

In a clear in­di­ca­tion of a party hos­tile to plu­ral­ism within its ranks and by a quirk of his­tory, the de­feat by Ja­cob Zuma of Mbeki‘s play for the ANC pres­i­dency un­leashed the very forces that would re­sult in Mbeki‘s oust­ing – fol­lowed by the res­ig­na­tion of a rump of cab­i­net min­is­ters and the cur­rent push for an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal plat­form.

So far, the cost to the ANC lead­er­ship of its hubris has been ephemeral. But the chal­lenge to the party’s his­tor­i­cal dom­i­nance – if it is to arise – is prob­a­bly the best proxy of our free­dom from the rul­ing party’s mo­nop­oly on democ­racy since 1994.

For the ANC lead­er­ship this is tricky ground. Hav­ing re­lied on the de-le­git­imi­sa­tion of op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics to pre­serve unity in its ranks – a re­al­ity flow­ing from the coun­try’s racial his­tory – this strat­egy may no longer be ad­e­quate to beat off an elec­toral chal­lenge to an ab­so­lute ma­jor­ity. But even if it did the prospect of a dom­i­nant party usurp­ing the demo­cratic process in Par­lia­ment is un­likely to hinge on the le­git­i­macy bar­ri­ers to a truly com­pet­i­tive democ­racy.

The fact re­mains that Lekota – for all his foibles and his­tor­i­cal bag­gage – rep­re­sents the first and only cred­i­ble al­ter­na­tive (shorn of the racial hang­over that has been the ANC’s key to re­pro­duc­ing its power) to a party that has ef­fec­tively mythol­o­gised democ­racy in its own im­age.

And while it may be true a gen­uinely open po­lit­i­cal con­tes­ta­tion has tended to oc­cur only in so­ci­eties far less po­larised (racially and eco­nom­i­cally) than ours, what the cur­rent change in our body politic lacks in demo­cratic bon­homie it more than makes up for in prag­matic ac­com­mo­da­tion.

It’s worth em­pha­sis­ing here the fact that the ANC’s op­po­nents may have lit­tle chance of gal­vanis­ing an elec­toral ma­jor­ity at the polls next year is ir­rel­e­vant. To some ex­tent, op­por­tu­ni­ties for a new op­po­si­tion party (and mi­nor­ity par­ties gen­er­ally) will de­pend on fac­tors out­side their con­trol: the ex­tent to which the gov­ern­ing party suc­ceeds in en­trench­ing its own dom­i­nance in years to come and whether its sup­port will en­able it to gov­ern without the in­flu­ence of mi­nor­ity par­ties – or the de­gree to which a less mono­lithic ANC will see co-op­er­a­tion with mi­nori­ties as a means of re­solv­ing prob­lems.

What mat­ters is the emer­gence of a new po­lit­i­cal par­a­digm that de-mythol­o­gises our un­der­stand­ing of democ­racy: that de-le­git­imises a sin­gle party’s his­tor­i­cal claim to power based on its lib­er­a­tion cre­den­tials.

It’s there­fore in­cum­bent on all democrats – black and white – to en­cour­age, even ac­tively sup­port, a process that loosens up the tight rein of the ANC and mod­ernises our cul­ture of pa­tron­age.

The mo­men­tum for change – af­ter 15 years of stale­mate – is in Lekota’s pub­lic in­vi­ta­tion to a very broad con­stituency of con­cerned cit­i­zens within the ANC and out­side its ranks to at­tend a na­tional con­ven­tion to dis­cuss the fu­ture of this coun­try. The se­duc­tive ap­peal to mi­nor­ity con­stituen­cies is an ini­tia­tive that could her­ald the clo­sure of an era in which op­po­si­tion pol­i­tics was stig­ma­tised by the rhetoric of sec­tar­ian in­ter­ests and racial priv­i­lege.

* Ed­i­tor Colleen Naudé re­turns next week.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.