Guest Column

Mabine Seabe: We can no longer afford the ‘politics of politics’

2020-02-03 12:02
Mabine Seabe with former DA leader Mmusi Maimane at Parliament in June 2019. (Jan Gerber, News24)

Mabine Seabe with former DA leader Mmusi Maimane at Parliament in June 2019. (Jan Gerber, News24)

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In politics, to communicate effectively you need to be able to understand the people of South Africa, which many politicians, young and old, have lost touch with, writes Mabine Seabe.

It was during the last decade that South Africa hosted a euphoric FIFA World Cup; Siya Kolisi raised the Webb Ellis Cup; the much lauded but now forgotten National Development Plan was adopted; Nelson Mandela took his last breath; major metropolitan jurisdictions experienced a change in party-political leadership; and in 2012, the country watched on live television as the government gunned down its people.

It was in this busy decade that the EFF was founded. It was in this decade that the DA elected its first black leader. 

For most of the last decade I had a front-row seat to dramatic shifts in our body politic.

In 2013, I began my professional career with the Democratic Alliance. I worked in the communication engine room of the DA - starting off as a publicist on a fixed term contract to eventually leading the directorate. These were some of the most rewarding but also the most taxing years of my short life.

I had the privilege of working with some of the brightest minds in politics and the art of communication; some of whom are now life-long friends.

I learned from and advised politicians, from different eras and political persuasions, who truly care about the state of South Africa, and see politics as a calling to serve, especially the marginalised. 

I saw people's dignity being restored "overnight" because newly elected governments understood their role and the officials did their work with pride.

There were great political achievements - growing significantly in Gauteng in 2014; the sustained legal cases, which helped safeguard our Constitutional order; changing governments in the country's major metros; the DA filling a stadium for a rally for the first time; filling the streets of Johannesburg for marches on issues from everything from job creation to e-tolls and state capture; and the election of the "Obama of Soweto", Mmusi Maimane, as leader of the DA in 2015 in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Equally, I saw the damage that can be done to the grass when the elephants fight, to rephrase the old adage. I’ve seen egos get in the way of positive change.

 It would be wrong to reflect on the good days, without looking back at the bad days too.

There was the ill-conceived decision to work with AGANG; the loss of voter support in 2019; the manner in which matters of race are debated (this is a societal problem, but the expectation would be for leaders to be more responsible and empathetic when dealing with race); and the management of leadership squabbles.

There are many instances on both the good and bad sides of the spectrum when reflecting over my time at the DA.

Every experience, whether I was directly or indirectly involved in the decision-making, shaped my understanding and application of communication.

There is no better battle for a communications professional than a political party - you tell the good news and you tell the bad news; sometimes you've got to make bad news look good; you are constantly innovating and working on beating your opponents; the timing of the message is as important as the message itself, and so on.

Your work is to make the impossible possible. 

In politics, to communicate effectively you need to be able to understand the people of South Africa, which many politicians, young and old, have lost touch with.

I nonetheless, find solace in the fact that there are politicians who are quietly doing the work that they were elected to do. Their voices aren't the loudest but their work will change and has changed the lives of many.

For the sake of building a more prosperous nation the "politics of politics" between and within political parties needs to stop. Of course it is not this simple, but if our politicians and the private sector puts muscle behind the issues they agree on, much more can be achieved. 

The reality is that the goodwill and patience of South Africans is wearing thinner and thinner, not only because past promises have not been delivered on but there is little indication from leaders that the next year will bring with it easier times.

Those with the power and will need to get to work.


- Mabine Seabe is co-founder of Stratagem Consultants and former DA communication director

Read more on:    da  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  politics


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