What makes a winning party

2009-02-25 00:00

What will distinguish parties' delivery on promises? The ANC and opposition parties sing the same tunes except on the issues of the Scorpions, the arms deal investigation and the direct election of the president, premiers and mayors. In the past, attempts by opposition parties to distinguish themselves from the ANC by occupying the ideological space to the left or to the right of the ruling party failed to attract the votes. The ideological centre of politics that the ANC occupies allows it simultaneously to draw from liberal, conservative and radical thinking to define its approach to these common problems. Alternative parties have realised this and have started moving towards the centre as well; hence the similarity in the manifesto promises.

However, if they are going to topple the ANC while it is facing internal difficulties, opposition parties must offer alternative ideas and ways of doing things. To offer new ideas, they should be bold and courageous in the marketplace of ideas. They should spend less time telling South Africa how horrible the ANC is and how deficient its current leadership, and say more about how qualitatively different their approaches are to the same issues and whether they have the quality of leadership that they say the ANC lacks.

But just as they have echoed the ANC's push for more social grants and better rural development, opposition parties have also followed Cope's promise of a leadership with integrity. The IFP talks about a moral leadership, the UDM promises honourable leadership, the DA says its leaders are ready to govern, Azapo espouses leadership based on ubuntu É the list goes on. Cope has gone further and installed Bishop Mvume Dandala as de facto head of the party in the hope that people will find him more appealing than Zuma, an unusual move in unusual times.

But opposition parties assume, like Cope, that the moral standing of the head of the party will compensate for a lack of depth in leadership at other levels. Most parties parade the same old leaders who failed to lead them to growth in the past two national elections and yet hope to do better this time. It seems that it is a capable and competent leadership that is needed.

What is critical is whether parties have the capacity to drive the agendas they promise, whether they can listen to and connect with ordinary people and whether they can transform the state into efficient machinery for service provision.

It is the depth of leadership that is going to make a difference rather than grandstanding on the basis of morality. Actually, many parties that promise a breath of fresh air are guilty of weak internal democracy and fragile internal cohesion. The ANC leadership nationally is in crisis management mode. Cope has a leadership by arrangement, while the IFP, UCDP and the UDM are stuck with their founders. The DA is balancing between the old Nats and orthodox liberals, and hoping to attract black voters. Smaller parties are too fragile to exercise leadership over society.

Can these parties deliver on the promises that they make to South Africans if they fail the test of democracy and leadership internally? What difference will they make in the lives of ordinary people? Parties have to demonstrate the leadership qualities that they promise to show once they are in power.

Dr Siphamandla Zondi

Dr Siphamandla Zondi grew up in KwaHhobhu near Dalton, KwaZulu-Natal. He read in African studies at the former University of Durban-Westville (UDW) and University of Cambridge, lecturing for short stints at UDW and the former Rand Afrikaans University. He later co-ordinated the SADC integration programme at the Africa Institute of South Africa and is currently the director for Southern Africa at the Institute for Global Dialogue. He runs a consultancy on strategy and policy development. He and his wife, Nomusa, have a daughter, Thando. He describes himself as a "devout Christian and a casual ballroom dancer". He says he doesn't like people who make excuses for not trying a little harder.

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