As the ANC crum­bles, it’s time to choose

Vot­ing for an op­po­si­tion party is a real­is­tic op­tion, but they must work on their poli­cies

Mail & Guardian - - Comment Analysis - Prince Mashele & Mzuk­isi Qobo

The ma­jor­ity of South Africans, es­pe­cially black peo­ple, are se­ri­ously dis­il­lu­sioned. They be­lieve they have been aban­doned at sea by their trusted cap­tain. The prob­lem is that black peo­ple had bought into the pro­pa­ganda that the ANC was or­dained to rule “un­til Je­sus Christ comes back”. It is now more than clear to all think­ing peo­ple that the ANC has reached the last days of its life. And most black peo­ple do not know how to go on with life with the ANC out of power.

The re­al­ity of po­lit­i­cal life is that, if you do not make a choice, choice im­poses it­self on you. There are peo­ple who stayed at home dur­ing the 2016 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tions, un­will­ing to vote for a rot­ten ANC, but lack­ing the courage to make a cross next to the head of an op­po­si­tion leader.

Choice im­posed it­self on these peo­ple. In the met­ros of Tsh­wane, Jo­han­nes­burg and Nel­son Man­dela Bay they now live un­der a new gov­ern­ment they re­fused to imag­ine. Change does not stop com­ing sim­ply be­cause your eyes are closed.

His­tor­i­cally minded peo­ple do not fear change. They face and em­brace it with courage. Life is con­stantly in flux. What is born must die. It does not mat­ter how dearly it is held by a man’s heart. It is said that, when the wife of fa­mous philoso­pher John Stu­art Mill, Har­riet, died in Novem­ber 1858, he moved to an apart­ment over­look­ing the ceme­tery, hop­ing for some kind of spir­i­tual fel­low­ship with the de­parted flower of his heart. Alas, what is gone is gone.

Po­lit­i­cal change is nec­es­sar­ily un­set­tling. When rul­ing par­ties are in power, they cre­ate close cir­cles of pa­tron­age. They dis­trib­ute largesse to syco­phants who are will­ing to do the bid­ding of pow­er­ful politi­cians. But there are the gen­uine ex­pec­ta­tions of vot­ing masses that, once in power, the gov­ern­ing party will gov­ern well and de­liver qual­ity ser­vices.

This is pre­cisely what mil­lions of South Africans had ex­pected of the ANC. Zuma and his fel­low mon­ey­men have cor­rupted the ANC be­yond re­pair and re-en­gi­neered the party to be­come an in­stru­ment of per­sonal wealth ac­cu­mu­la­tion.

The un­set­tle­ment of change is also psy­chopo­lit­i­cal. South Africans are gen­er­ally loyal po­lit­i­cal an­i­mals. They have fixed and set­tled po­lit­i­cal ideas about po­lit­i­cal par­ties. This is both a func­tion of our coun­try’s unique his­tory and the nascency of our democ­racy.

In older Western so­ci­eties, cit­i­zens are born into flex­i­ble po­lit­i­cal cul­tures, in which par­ties come to and are re­moved from power from time to time. The idea of chang­ing a gov­ern­ing party when­ever it of­fends vot­ers is well es­tab­lished. In South Africa, vot­ers treat po­lit­i­cal par­ties like hus­bands and wives. It is fi­delity all the way, no mat­ter what.

This is why the ANC has be­come so ar­ro­gant. The party treats vot­ers, es­pe­cially black peo­ple, as if it is mar­ried to them. In a mar­riage, part­ners fight dur­ing the day and still share a bed at night. A voter who al­lows a po­lit­i­cal party to treat him or her like that has given away his or her po­lit­i­cal power. The logic of democ­racy as a sys­tem of gov­ern­ment is pre­cisely to give the voter a stick with which to pun­ish ar­ro­gant po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

Is there an al­ter­na­tive for the mil­lions of black South Africans who have been left high and dry by the ANC? Yes, there is. Es­sen­tially there are two op­tions: ei­ther to form a new po­lit­i­cal party or to sup­port an ex­ist­ing op­po­si­tion party of your choice. But the op­tion of form­ing a new po­lit­i­cal party to chal­lenge the na­tional elec­tions in two years’ time is un­re­al­is­tic.

Form­ing and con­sol­i­dat­ing a new po­lit­i­cal party is not a walk in the park. It is as phys­i­cally and in­tel­lec­tu­ally de­mand­ing as it is fi­nan­cially ex­pen­sive. It is easy to ex­cite peo­ple about a new po­lit­i­cal project, but it is very dif­fi­cult to weld di­ver­gent char­ac­ters into a co­he­sive ide­o­log­i­cal and op­er­a­tional en­tity.

The most real­is­tic op­tion is for South Africans to choose new po­lit­i­cal homes from ex­ist­ing op­po­si­tion par­ties.

The Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters (EFF) is there for black peo­ple who are at­tracted to the the­ory and prac­tice of na­tional so­cial­ism. This party has now con­sol­i­dated it­self as a for­mi­da­ble po­lit­i­cal en­tity with a co­her­ent mes­sage and iden­tity. It wants to ex­pro­pri­ate land from white peo­ple with­out com­pen­sa­tion and na­tion­alise mines and banks. There is no am­bi­gu­ity about the EFF’s agenda. If you think this rep­re­sents a bet­ter fu­ture for South Africa, vote for the party in 2019.

It is not for us to tell you not to vote for any party, but it is our view that a party that ad­vo­cates the in­ter­ests of one racial group is not the best op­tion for South Africa.

This is a se­ri­ous weak­ness the EFF may wish to cor­rect in its ide­o­log­i­cal stance and mes­sages. His­tor­i­cally, black South Africans have re­jected ex­clu­sively black par­ties such as the Pan African­ist Congress. The of­ten ig­nored truth is that black South Africans do not hate white South Africans. They sim­ply want jus­tice and equal­ity.

The EFF might also want to re­think its rad­i­cal pos­ture. Al­though the party seems to be fash­ion­able among some black youths, the idea of at­tack­ing ev­ery­thing that is white may turn out to be the very damp­ener on the EFF’s ap­peal to the broader pub­lic.

When re­flect­ing on mat­ters soberly, most black peo­ple could be scared that a pos­si­ble EFF gov­ern­ment would lead to Robert Mu­gabe’s mess in Zim­babwe, or to the un­mit­i­gated dis­as­ter that Venezuela has be­come. South Africans have seen many Zim­bab­weans beg­ging at street cor­ners. They do not wish to see that hap­pen­ing to their own broth­ers and sis­ters, in the name of “rad­i­cal eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tion”.

Hav­ing said this, it is for the EFF to de­cide what to do with its own ide­o­log­i­cal soul.

Be­ing the largest op­po­si­tion party in South Africa, the Demo­cratic Al­liance is another real­is­tic op­tion for South Africans who have been left stranded by the ANC. The DA has the ad­van­tage of hav­ing gov­erned a prov­ince — the Western Cape — and big met­ros. Al­though some peo­ple may quib­ble about the DA’s per­for­mance in the Western Cape, no one can say the party has no ex­pe­ri­ence in gover­nance. Ide­o­log­i­cally, the DA is also un­am­bigu­ous. It is a lib­eral party that be­lieves in open op­por­tu­ni­ties for all. If this is mu­sic to your ears, vote for the DA in 2019.

In our view, the DA has weak­nesses it must cor­rect if it hopes to earn the trust of the ma­jor­ity of black South Africans. The per­cep­tion that this is a party for white peo­ple is fu­elled by the com­plex­ion of the party’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Par­lia­ment and in its lead­er­ship struc­tures. The idea must be to open up space for black thinkers who can add value to in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions in the party and who can con­vince mil­lions of black vot­ers that the DA is truly a South African party.

The DA must also con­sider the roots of its lib­eral ide­ol­ogy in a so­ci­ety con­sti­tuted by pop­u­la­tion groups who were sin­gled out and eco­nom­i­cally dis­em­pow­ered by colo­nial­ism and apartheid. How does lib­er­al­ism deal with the group dis­em­pow­er­ment of black peo­ple? Can lib­er­al­ism ex­plain away the fact that whites, as a group, were em­pow­ered by suc­ces­sive mi­nor­ity regimes?

Con­cep­tu­ally, the the­ory of lib­er­al­ism is be­dev­illed by the same fun­da­men­tal de­fect that plagues its ide­o­log­i­cal op­po­site — com­mu­nal­ism. The idea of a pure self that leads an au­tar­kic ex­is­tence is as fic­tional as the idea of a self­less hu­man be­ing whose en­tire source of hu­man ful­fil­ment is the pur­suit of so­cial in­ter­ests.

Be­yond mat­ters per­tain­ing to ide­ol­ogy, the DA and the EFF would be well ad­vised to ur­gently em­bark on re­cruit­ment. Both par­ties cur­rently do not have the ca­pac­ity to gov­ern South Africa.

As South Africans con­tem­plate po­lit­i­cal change in 2019, there is an el­e­ment of doubt about whether ei­ther the DA or the EFF has a pool of cred­i­ble and tech­ni­cally com­pe­tent lead­ers who can be ap­pointed as Cabi­net mem­bers, or to lead na­tional in­sti­tu­tions.

South Africa is faced with real and daunt­ing chal­lenges. Both the DA and the EFF need to demon­strate that they are ready to gov­ern. This must be done through the ar­tic­u­la­tion of sound poli­cies as well as through demon­stra­ble hu­man cap­i­tal.

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