Too many political parties

2009-01-20 00:00

Change is here and he’s finally living in the White House. I wanted Barack Obama to win for many reasons, least of which was his African descent or left-handedness. Obama’s lack of long-term experience in big political positions meant beating the odds in more ways than one.

Writer Charlene Smith wrote recently: “Obama has shown us that ... sometimes it is not experience that counts, it is inexperience. The junior senator from Illinois was not tainted by old hands saying ‘this is the way it has always been done and so must be done,’ he created a revolution in doing it his way. He led a team, not a choir of sycophants.”

That for me sums up a real victory — a lesson in bold and brave leadership that makes up in vision for what it lacks in experience. In a fast-paced, can’t-keep-up-long-enough world of survival, experience is often overrated. Just ask the new United States president who, at under the age of 50, went from “Barack who?” to the most powerful man in the world in just one principled and inventive campaign.

The lesson for South Africa is to stop being so uncreative. In a vibrant society, people should get excited about problems. Yes, excited. Problems necessitate solutions. Great solutions require a mix of many things — learning from the past and being practical, fair and ethical. What’s often missed is creativity and the ability to inspire hope that problems will be solved, the way Obama did.

Take political campaigning. The Democratic Alliance’s “fight back” campaign was interpreted as “fight blacks” by imaginative racial rivals, and the DA’s plan to get dark voters backfired. With 70% of South Africa being Christian, Kenneth Moshoe, leader of the African Christian Democratic Party, is still not the president. And has anyone even heard of the Peace and Justice Congress party, the Employment Movement of South Africa party or the Christian Democratic Party? They were there, on the 2004 ballot sheet. And as for the ANC, out-of-the-box thinking is almost sinful, because dissent or debate means betrayal of party loyalty.

Brilliant solutions emerge, first from a battle of ideas — no battle, no brilliance.

The ANC will win again because those who complain about it will not get off their backsides to vote for someone else. Amazingly, that is over 50% of all eligible voters, enough to topple the status quo in just one election. That’s amazing. Half the country doesn’t vote. I could become president — yes, me — if I could convince them all to vote for me. Or at least register to vote on February 7 and February 8. There is a huge market that is left untapped and nobody’s doing anything about it.

Despite Obama’s astounding victory, which has all sorts of socio-psychological, political and global implications, I would hate to be an American voter. The choices are too few. Could you imagine if two Hendrik Verwoerd and Julius Malema personalities were the only candidates? Now vote.

Yet despite our local diversity, minimal creative solutions emerge for our social ills. The Independent Electoral Commission website has results for 21 parties in the last election and claims to have 152 registered parties. Wow. Where are they? Who are these people?

What impact have they made? And why have they not yet joined forces, found common principles to stand for and become a united democratic force to be reckoned with? Wikipedia lists at least 30 parties that are now nationally defunct.

One reason is probably their lack of creativity. We’re seeing it with Mosiuoa Lekota who is trying to strike terror into the ANC’s soul. I’m happy that this means slicing the ANC’s bid for absolute control, but is there logic in yet another party? There is strength in numbers, but only when united. Scattered voices mean a fragmented opposition which means lone rangers fighting an already lost war. Lekota might not cope.

Nobody is going to be holding their breath waiting for this year’s election results. But the obviousness of the ANC winning should not be so obvious. Will Lekota use his inside knowledge of the ANC to do something creative? Will Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, Bantu Holomisa and the numerous religious parties sit around a table and map out a common vision that accommodates their diverse supporters and either unite or align themselves so that come March, the rainbow nation is not just shades of green, yellow and black.

Can the odds be broken here too?

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