The real battle begins for the NFP

2011-02-01 00:00

THE birth of the New Freedom Party (NFP) turns out to be an old affair in that the party was actually registered about three months ago. Some felt betrayed by the founders of the party and its most famous latest recruit, Zanele kaMagwazaMsibi.

The name and party colours suggest an intention to become the reformed Inkatha Freedom Party. Many ordinary people may not be able to make a distinction during election campaigns and as they cast their votes. It now turns out that the party will focus its electioneering on areas which the IFP controls, targeting areas where the IFP fired prominent mayors and councillors in order to stem the Friends of VZ tide. I have noticed also that the Friends of VZ platform has been overshadowed by the new political platform.

The first concern is that it is a party whose ideas are yet to be developed when, in fact, sustainable political parties should be embodiments of ideas that gave rise to them in the first place. Ideally, there should ideas about solving society's problems and meeting the needs of people who are not well served by existing political parties. These ideas should perhaps be discussed with groups of people who then buy into them, followed by the creation of a political organisation to galvanise support for and provide space for supporters of the ideas.

Speaking on one of the vernacular-language radio stations last week, another prominent IFP defector, Dr Ziba Jiyane, expressed doubts about the future of the new party, saying it seems still to be committed to IFP ideas and has no vision of its own. He explained that the reason he left is because his ideas on responsive democracy could not take root in the IFP.

But then my assumption is that a significant number of voters cast their votes on the basis of sound ideas and policy proposals by political parties or politicians. I am assuming that there is sufficient political-policy literacy among voters. I forget the fact that many voters actually follow image, sentiments and familiarity. This is partly why VZ is the talk of KwaZulu-Natal mainly. The "persecution" of her supporters has generated a lot of support for her and turned people against the IFP. But she must know that her decision to leave the IFP will also generate support in the opposite direction and project her as having betrayed those who remain behind.

Despite not having a political idea or policy agenda of any sort yet, the NFP has already drawn large crowds to its meetings. Its launch in Durban had a kaleidoscope of supporters, or should I say possibly inquisitive observers, people who may disappear when it comes to the hard choices of taking party membership and getting involved in the difficult task of building party structures. At that point, the party will only survive if it has developed some rudimentary structures to allow for internal expression or democracy or if at that point the political ideas develop. Otherwise, what happened in the Congress of the People or the shenanigans that diminished the National Democratic Convention (Nadeco) into a dot on the South African political map will happen to the NFP.

The new party has a long list of decisions that should be made, beginning with what its general stance is on issues facing municipalities, given the fact that it has declared its interest in contesting elections.

Another is the party identity. The party has to decide whether it locates itself on the left or the right of the political spectrum. This will help guide the new party on how it should relate to existing parties and their powerbases, otherwise the sentiments of its leaders will colour the party when opportunities present themselves for the party to form alliances or to be the opposition.

The suggestion that the party will find out from the people themselves what they want the party they did not establish to be like and fight for is an abdication of responsibility on the part of the founders and leaders. It is an attempt to be very democratic at the expense of clarity of mind and courage of conviction.

Of course, the organisational culture will have to evolve quickly because should the party get its candidates elected in the municipal elections, the party will need norms and rules to guide their performance.

I worry about any party simply accepting all and sundry, simply because these people are equally disgruntled with the old party. Unless the party makes decisions on its internal management, these old horses may derail or wreck the new wagon.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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