In light of the recent violence and unrest, it is time to consider that political parties are not there to defend your interests. We need another road for change, writes Mmusi Maimane.
To those who have lost hope in South Africa’s future, this is for you.
I have a friend who happens to be paralyzed from the waist down and tied to a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A few years ago, he was the victim of a violent incident that changed his life. A group of intruders invaded his house and repeatedly shot him while he was lying in his bed, permanently paralyzing him. Despite this trauma, the possibility of emigrating – leaving South Africa – never crossed his mind.
During a routine lunch with a group of friends this week, he revealed to the group a disturbing prospect after the days of looting and violence that engulfed our country earlier this month.
Two weeks ago, for the first time in his life, he said he was considering the possibility of leaving after witnessing looting, violence, instability and lack of political and social cohesion.
âWhat other option is there for me and my family? He said, vulnerable.
After all, we cannot be naive about what is going on in our country.
As the eternal optimist of the band, it hit me hard. He was my friend – a patriot and a staunch supporter of our democratic project. I wondered how we could change our country in the near future before such disturbing prospects took root in our nation’s psyche. Because if we lose a generation of citizens engaged in the reconstruction of the country, democracy in South Africa is kaput.
Basically, the lingering effects of the past few weeks have seen many Patriots abandon this last flame of hope. Because our lack of confidence in the state, the government and the country does not meet with a counter-power of real hope.
To paraphrase an age-old proverb: Where there is no vision or hope, people uproot and leave, and a country perishes.
So where from here? In times of crisis and instability, people desperately seek “brutal honesty and credible hope,” says Nancy Koehn, professor and author at Harvard.
Here is brutal honesty. South Africa’s politics and governance are fundamentally broken. The political party system stifles accountability, discourages excellence and exists to maintain the status quo. There is no âwhite knightâ political party that can single-handedly save South Africa in a romantic way. Political parties exist for themselves, and they all aim for the âwinner takes it allâ prize to govern state and parliament.
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Consider this example. When Parliament dissolved the Scorpions Crime Unit in 2004, there was no consideration of such factors as crime statistics, budget, unit efficiency, etc. Instead, the ruling party sent a note to its parliamentarians from its Luthuli House headquarters, asking them to use their majority to end the Scorpions.
Corruption ensues, and no one is held responsible. The current ruling party, the ANC, operates as a military organization. The “generals” are at the top of the electoral list and in turn hold the real power, and form the NEC and the national cabinet. When it comes to parliamentary votes and actions, they take advantage. This is why a cabinet minister simply cannot appear before Parliament, and parliamentary committees remain inactive in response.
As a result, Parliament fails to attract the most talented, employable and skilled people. An audit of the skills of parliamentarians from all political parties will illustrate this. Instead, parties send their most loyal and often politically useful members to parliament.
For others, it is an employee pension plan. It’s at all levels – ANC, DA, EFF – the whole thing.
Presidents are crippled by their parties
To tell the truth, the Presidency is currently functioning fairly well under Cyril Ramaphosa.
It performs the functions that a Presidency should perform; he formulates plans, organizes summits, engages with the nation on questions of national importance. But still, the country is not going anywhere slowly. Because a country is not ruled by one person by decree. The President is part of a complex organizational network of government, political parties, business interests and unions.
Above all, whoever the president is, he will always be paralyzed by his political party.
It has been that way for 27 years and it is systemic.
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It is not limited to the ANC. Heads of government led by other political parties are too constrained and systematically accountable to their grassroots members. We’re stuck in a political stalemate – it’s brutal honesty that we all have to come to terms with.
Is there credible hope on the horizon? Yes. And this is no pie in the sky, far-fetched idealism. It is a practical and credible hope for a totally redesigned mode of government for South Africa.
Since April 1994, we have had no choice but to vote for a political party in national and provincial elections. But, a new path to change is being built – one that will bring real change to South Africa.
Last year, the Constitutional Court ruled that our electoral system is unconstitutional.
Parliament has been ordered to amend our electoral laws to allow independents who do not belong to any political party to stand for election. This means that our electoral system must change before the next national elections. No if, but or maybe. Now, instead of voting for a political party, you can directly elect people and community-led organizations that you think are best placed to represent you in Parliament. This new road is the solution to the domination of political parties that has taken power away from our communities and ourselves.
This will allow the government to work for us and create a government of honest, equipped and passionate citizens to improve our country. And it will re-establish direct relations between the people and their public representatives. The greatest accountability mechanism is voting at the ballot box. But we cannot simply be forced to vote for a political party. We need another way to change. It may be the start of the second transition, of real change, from a political elite disconnected to the South African people.
The recent looting and violence and the conditions of instability they have created epitomize the many South Africans in which we live. This is not due to race but to “insiders” and “outsiders”, those who have money and those who are small, those who have a job and those who are unemployed, those who have businesses and those who don’t.
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We desperately need a whole new conversation about how we break down these barriers and build A South Africa – where the economy works for all. And it cannot be a question of ideology.
For example, we need both a universal basic income and an easily accessible venture capital fund that invests in, builds and develops businesses.
It’s not one or the other. This is where a national government made up of various actors can be empowered to do what is right, and not what is politically tolerated by their parties. So don’t give up hope just yet. We have one last chance to change our country for good.
– Mmusi Maimane is the chief activist of the One South Africa movement.
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