A loaded opposition can backfire

2009-08-20 12:30


AS WE await details of the mooted mega-opposition front against the ANC, we must correctly analyse South Africa’s political reality today.

Those who detest illusions will agree that South Africa is in the clutches of a serious leadership crisis. The thread that connects society and its leaders is in desperate need of mending.

Nothing epitomises this more than the recent service delivery protests. In almost all the affected communities, councillors literally had to run away to escape the threat posed by the very people they lead.

People at grassroots level generally feel a sense of abandonment by the political entrepreneurs who now sit comfortably in air-conditioned offices elsewhere.

President Jacob Zuma’s good reception by the residents of Siyathemba informal settlement near Balfour last Tuesday was more a case of, ‘Finally, the man himself is here to listen to us’.

But Zuma will not be able to visit all troubled communities himself.

Most political parties regain life only during elections. Sadly, their thinking fits Edmund Burke’s apposite characterisation: “Our new fanatics of popular arbitrary power maintain that popular election is the sole source of authority.”

Indeed, the recent protests are proof that elections are not enough to strengthen ties between the masses and leaders. You can be voted in today and be expelled violently the next.

Therefore, those who hope to lead South Africa in the future must first rediscover practical ways to reconnect with ordinary people.

Necessarily, reconnection will have to include dealing with the ubiquitous material flamboyance of leaders in all spheres of government. It must also entail punishing corrupt politicians and injecting moral and ethical consciousness into our governance culture.

As those who contemplate the formation of an opposition front against the ruling party proceed with their secret plans to metamorphose into something stronger, the parties face a fundamental question: Who will lead their united front and why?

Bringing players from old and new political backgrounds will certainly undermine cohesion.

We may also need to rely on prophets to predict what the political character of the mooted mega-opposition front against the ANC will be like. One hopes that the new formation will not be named Anything Against the ANC (AA-ANC).

Who thinks that Hellen Zille, Mosioua Lekota, Patricia De Lille, Bantu Holomisa and Mangosuthu Buthelezi can easily become a solid unit?

The leadership infightings currently under way in Cope and the IFP render this question more complex.

There is indeed no single path in history.

But opposition parties currently engaged in unity talks in our own country could learn from the experiences of the Rainbow Alliance in Kenya and the Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe.

In both these countries, key founding leaders later splintered to form variants of their joint formation against the ruling Kanu and Zanu-PF, respectively.

In South Africa, the divorce between the then DP and the NNP should also teach us some lessons.

Yet, is it mainly the beneficiaries of patronage who would argue that South Africa’s democracy does not need a much stronger opposition.

Part of the reason people resort to violence is that they hardly see a viable political alternative to the ANC. In most communities, opposition parties are either weak or nonexistent.

Thus, it becomes ingrained in the collective psyche of ordinary people that violence against incumbent ANC councillors would induce replacements by the ruling party.

As the ANC continues to worry about the disconnect between many of its councillors and communities, and as opposition parties secretly prepare to combine their eggs to form an omelette, ours is to hope that someday South Africa will be rescued from its current leadership crisis.

  • Mashele is head of the Crime, Justice and Politics Programme at the Institute for Security Studies. He writes in his personal capacity

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