Old dogs learning new tricks in the game of politics

2008-12-20 00:00

There is no doubt that the country’s youngest party, Congress of the People, has shifted party politics in South Africa ahead of the national government elections. For the first time since the first non-racial elections in 1994, the ruling African National Congress is taking the people of the country very seriously.

I have always said that the opposition does not have the balls to steal from the ANC and that the latter is a threat to itself. This could not have been truer when members of the party across the spectrum left the ANC and formed Cope, and, in the process, siphoned off members and other useful resources.

There is no doubt that the ANC will emerge from the upcoming elections limping and tainted, but the question should be to what extent this will happen.

The problems the party is facing did not start yesterday but started just before the turn of the century when the “new guard” for president Thabo Mbeki took over from Nelson Mandela as leader of the party. That was the day robust and constructive debate and meaningful engagements stopped.

Major decisions with far-reaching effects were taken with little or no consultation with the caucus of the party and critical information about the government was shared within the inner circle of the chosen few members of Cabinet. Of course, most of those members also happened to be members of the party’s national executive committee (NEC), its Cabinet if you will. It is therefore no surprise that most of the senior members of the ANC who joined Cope were members of the Cabinet and the NEC. Cope has based its position solely on issues and matters that they helped uphold while they were members of the party and government.

A serious indictment would be if Mbeki is behind Cope and fights against the same policies that he put in place, however arbitrarily.

The ANC has had to wake up and smell the coffee and, for the first time, cannot take for granted that it will be voted into power by default. The next elections will be a true test of how this country’s democracy has matured and how far we have come as a country and as an electorate. It will also be interesting to see how the major opposition parties grow from their previous performances in the 2004 elections. If they are to attract members, they need to adapt to the political landscape or they will eventually die. They need to start making some inroads and start having a serious impact on the politics of this country if our wonderful democracy is going to thrive.

It would not help for Cope to get the same proportion of votes as other opposition parties such as the Inkatha Freedom Party, the Democratic Alliance and the Independent Democrats. It is better to have a pit bull terrier with a firm bite than to have a chihuahua barking from afar.

But then again, although they are underdogs, every dog has its day. Notwithstanding that they have been aptly called dogs, it seems they are indeed old dogs with new tricks.

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