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Nowhere is the old adage, “don’t throw stones if you’re living in a glass house,” more true than it is in the world of politics. This principle is precisely why our opposition parties in South Africa may not be able to save us from the continuous onslaught of the ANC under Zuma and his allies.
Our opposition parties suffer from a severe credibility crisis that disables them from successfully unseating the ANC at the ballot box.
To the electorate, credibility matters more than capability. The starkest evidence to support this is the most recent USA elections that saw Hillary Clinton, the most qualified presidential candidate in the history of the USA, lose to Donald Trump, the least qualified presidential candidate in the history of the USA.
This was largely because Hillary Clinton suffered from a severe credibility crisis – during her tenure as secretary of state America was permanently engaged in war, Americans felt increasingly unsafe and that their share of the pie was continuously getting smaller, and Clinton reeked of Wall Street and monopoly capital.
Importantly, for South Africans, what is this credibility crisis, why does it exist and can it be mitigated?
Let’s begin with corruption. It is without any doubt that President Jacob Zuma is the most corrupt president since 1994, perhaps even the only corrupt president since 1994. Zuma, his family and his cronies are shamelessly looting the state coffers and this is coming at an immeasurable cost to service delivery. Under Zuma, South Africa has seen more service delivery protests than under all our other democratic presidents combined.
But for the ANC to fight the corruption narrative, they don’t really have to deny it as much as only having to point out that the other side is also corrupt. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what they’re doing – and it’s working.
The ANC, rightfully, points out that the black majority of SA remains in the shackles of poverty because white monopoly capital is holding onto key economic institutions – the mines, the banks and the land. Unfortunately, this fact is true and holds more weight to a lot of black South Africans than the audacity of Nkandlagate.
Why is that? Because millions of black South Africans still wake up in shacks at 4 am every morning, take three taxis to the nearest white suburb to work in the garden or kitchen of a white family that has no idea the humiliation and indignity that poverty subjects people to. These are also the people Zuma eloquently preaches to at rallies like we’ve seen him do since the midnight reshuffle.
Crucially, those suffering South Africans see wealth – that only gets to exist because of their poverty – as a white face, because it is. To those South Africans, that is the real corruption. The corruption that often isn’t illegal but bears a greater impact. Importantly, that white face just so happens to be the same face that fashions the DA.
The DA parliamentary bench is whiter than the national rugby team, and that’s a tough standard to beat. It helps little that the DA has a black leader if the party’s most important icon recklessly tells black South Africans that their colonial suffering was kind of a good thing.
The EFF, while not seen as proponents of white monopoly capital, are seen as a party no differently corrupt than the ANC because the guy who leads the party have himself been implicated in major corruption scandals and for some inexplicable reason on his part, owed SARS millions of rands. He is no different.
So, the two major opposition parties have very little credibility to back up their vigorous protesting. The white monopoly capital narrative of the ANC does not come from a genuine place, it is completely disingenuous but it is going to resonate with the electorate because it holds true and the ANC is going to milk this cow till it runs dry.
More than that, an important feature of the ANC narrative, particularly from the Zuma camp, is that this is a real opportunity for the country to have its first female president and that only the ANC can deliver on that. While this may not be a big chat within the media now, it will definitely be after Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is officially the ANC president.
Unfortunately, opposition parties will also not be able to meaningfully protest this. Political leadership in South Africa is still pretty much a boys’ club at the highest level. This is particularly true of the opposition benches. The EFF frontline is draped in testosterone with the figure heads largely being male. It is unlikely that Julius Malema will step aside for a female leader to take the steer, even if for nothing else but strategic window dressing.
The same rings true for the DA and just about every other opposition party in South Africa. So once again, the opposition bench thoroughly lacks the credibility to effectively challenge the ANC on this.
There are various things opposition parties, as a collective, will need to change about their posture and configuration to gain the credibility of the majority of South Africans if they are going to successfully unseat the ANC and usher us into an era of a coalition politics to keep the ANC out. Chief amongst those things is to actually walk the talk.
The DA needs to lose Mmusi Maimane as parliamentary leader and replace him with Phumzile van Damme. They need to lose John Steenhuisen as chief whip and replace him with a Hlomela Bucwa, an impeccable young, black, female politician. And the DA will need to get a whole lot more black MPs on their bench.
Julius Malema needs to own up to his contribution that led to the ANC being what it is today and explain to the country how he ended up owing SARS all those millions. He then needs to sincerely apologise for that. Dali Mpofu must follow suit and own up to his SABC mess.
That is only but a few changes necessary to escape their credibility crisis.
- Dickson is a socio-political analyst and an award winning competitive debater currently ranked Africa's nr. 1 debater. Follow him on Twitter: @Oliver_Speaking.
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