Time for a bold new movement

2008-03-27 00:00

To help achieve a culture of human rights, we need to have a parliamentary opposition which has a realistic chance of becoming the government. At present this is simply not possible, despite the good work done by the Democratic Alliance and other smaller parties.

When I walked out of Parliament, I also resigned from the then Progressive Federal Party. I did this in order to try to see if there was a way of bringing different groups and parties together to focus on negotiation politics, which would have been difficult — if not impossible — to do as a member of one particular political party. Nonetheless, I maintained a great interest in the work of the PFP and its successors, the Democratic Party and the Democratic Alliance. I knew many of those who represented the party at different levels and admired their opposition to the then racist policies of the National Party. Furthermore, people like Colin Eglin and Ken Andrew deserve very high praise for the contribution they made to the negotiations that began in 1990.

Eglin’s successor was Tony Leon, a young, bright lawyer, very knowledgeable about politics, strong on strategy and totally unafraid to speak his mind and to offer alternatives, particularly to the new ANC government. Unfortunately, in his eagerness to propagate his strong liberal values, he often came across as abrasive and even shrill. As a result, he left himself wide open to the charge of racism. I have no doubt that he is no racist, but he certainly made it easy for his opponents to accuse him of being one.

His successor, Helen Zille, I have known for many years, and I have a deep regard for her. She is smart, principled and courageous, although perhaps overly ambitious? It is such a pity that she is not twins! Zille has a huge capacity for work and I suppose this influenced her to seek the national leadership of the party while remaining mayor of Cape Town. I think this was a grave mistake. Cape Town is an extremely difficult city to govern. Local politics, particularly at council level, is very messy. There is a great deal of backstabbing and all sorts of problems arise from the clash between blacks, coloureds and whites. A strong, consistent and permanent hand on the tiller is needed in order to run Cape Town, and it is impossible for Zille, despite her amazing abilities, to give all her attention to the city. There must be times when local government officials need her to be present or want to seek her advice and guidance, when she is preoccupied with national issues or is away from Cape Town.

Conversely, as national leader of the Democratic Alliance, the main opposition in Parliament, she should be spending her every waking moment thinking about how to strategically confront the current crisis in the ANC — and indeed South Africa itself. Instead, she is constantly caught up in local issues. Surely there must be good people in the DA who could take over as mayor? Zille should be in Parliament. This is not to detract in any way from the highly impressive and able DA parliamentary leader, Sandra Botha, but that is where the leader of an official opposition party belongs in a democracy. In my opinion, it is vital that the DA, under the leadership of Helen Zille, should do everything in its power to consolidate the opposition. It is not a question of taking over, but it seems to me ludicrous that Helen Zille and Patricia de Lille, another very courageous woman and leader of the Independent Democrats, should be in separate parties. Between them, they could spearhead a combined effort to offer an even stronger, more coherent opposition to the ANC government.

But I don’t think that our political future should stop at consolidation of the opposition. The crisis in the ANC and its impact on South Africa as a whole offers opportunities to think outside the box. We have experienced the politics of repression and resistance as well as the politics of negotiation. We are now a democracy, but a democracy that is faltering at very crucial points. We cannot allow the scenario of being a virtual one-party state to continue. The ruling party acts, sometimes wisely, sometimes not; the opposition opposes, sometimes wisely, sometimes for the sake of opposing. We need to break away from this. It is so predictable, so stale. There needs to be something fresh, something new.

I believe that the time has come to consider with deadly earnestness the politics of realignment. There is considerable disillusionment in the ruling party. There are many within that party who are asking the question, “Is this what we fought for?” They are tired of inefficiencies, of the stop-start approach to the scourge of Aids, of the nightmare of inadequate energy resources, bad judgment at local government level, the widening of the gap between rich and poor. This disillusionment is not something unique to people in opposition. I believe there is a growing number of people within the ANC who are deeply disappointed in the lost visions and discarded ideals that once characterised the ANC. Many watch with dismay as their ideals and values are trampled into dust.

These people have no other political home. There is no way they can join existing opposition parties. Black leadership is imperative. When we read the newspapers, we see the strong views of young blacks who are disillusioned with the current leadership. They are educated, widely travelled and well read, and they don’t want to settle for mediocrity, inefficiency and corruption. It is true that they cannot be swayed by Helen Zille or any other current opposition politician. From within the ANC itself there need to emerge black leaders who are willing to stand up and be counted. One thinks of a man of integrity like Cyril Ramaphosa, and hopefully there will come a time — soon — when he will re-emerge and enter the political mainstream. He is on record saying that the Constitution must be the yardstick by which we conduct our politics, and he knows the values which are enshrined in our Constitution. It is a radical step and a tough ask: it would be like leaving his family! But I do hope that he and others will be equal to the task. This is not a blatant anti-Zuma approach; it would not be so much against as for something: for values, for the rule of law, for equality before the law, for poverty alleviation, for efficiency at all levels of government, for a new set of priorities to root out corruption, to work for genuine non-racialism, to take seriously the awfulness of Aids.

Ramaphosa could never do anything so bold on his own, but the debate has to start somewhere. The politics of realignment is an idea whose time has come. There will be many who will pooh-pooh this, who will say it is sheer idealism. There will be many detractors. Ramaphosa might well distance himself from what I have suggested, but what is the alternative? Keeping the ANC together at all costs? Perpetuating a virtual one-party state? Holding on to an eternal opposition, always the bridesmaid, never the bride? Why can’t we start a debate that will allow people who belong together in terms of strong democratic and moral values to find one another and start talking to one another about this possibility? Why can such a debate not become so loud a clamour that, in the end, people will cry out: “Why the hell is my name not on that list? I too believe in a substantial and significant change. I want to be part of a new movement.”

It may be that these are the muddled and jumbled thoughts of an idealistic dreamer with his head in the clouds, perhaps even senile! Somewhere it is written: “Young men shall dream dreams and old men shall see visions.” It is necessary to see a vision of South Africa very different from what it is today, and to work towards that end. Is it so bad, so wrong-headed, to have a vision of a South Africa with efficient, clean governance, where the freedom of the media and the rule of law are not at risk; a country of which we can be genuinely proud; where people can sleep safely in their beds without fear of violence; where women can be respected and protected; where children can be truly protected; where impoverished villages and towns and cities can receive genuine assistance to give meaning to life for so many millions who continue to live in poverty?

There are those who ask me, “Are you an optimist or a pessimist in contemporary South Africa?” My reply is that I remain an optimist. I believe that there are sufficient good people — wise people — in this country who can bring it back from the edge of the precipice; that we can climb that mountain again and make a fresh start; that we can harness the energies and the skills of all South Africans to overcome the formidable challenges that we face. But, for this to happen, we need to break with the past and begin in earnest to work towards a realignment in politics, and while this should be inclusive, the lead must come from black South Africans, from within ANC ranks. Perhaps we should take a leaf out of Zimbabwe’s book. A former minister of finance, Simba Makoni, has opted out of his own ruling party in order to oppose Robert Mugabe. Whatever the outcome of his decision, he has at least broken the logjam, and that takes guts. Are there men and women in the ANC who will show similar courage? If there are, they will find many thousands from all parties who will follow their lead. But the time for talking and debating is over. The time for action is now.

•A Life in Transition is the story of Alex Boraine’s lifelong fight against injustice, in a career that has spanned the church, business, parliamentary and negotiation politics, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and transitional justice in the international sphere.

Boraine grew up in a working-class family. He was appointed president of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa in 1970, worked as a consultant for Anglo American, and was elected to Parliament as a Progressive Party MP in 1974, resigning in 1986. Together with Frederik van Zyl Slabbert he founded Idasa, which orchestrated the 1987 meeting with ANC leaders in Dakar, Senegal.

Boraine served beside Archbishop Desmond Tutu as the TRC’s deputy chairperson from 1996 to 1998. He has travelled to some of the world’s most turbulent trouble spots to share the South African experience and to assist those countries in their search for a democratic culture and sustainable peace.

The book will be available in bookstores in April.

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