Guest Column

We need two centres of power

2017-11-19 05:52
(Photo: Jon Hrusa)

(Photo: Jon Hrusa)

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Chuck Stephens

The logic of not allowing Thabo Mbeki a third term as head of the ANC was to avoid “two centres of power”.

In other words, to avoid a tug-of-war between party headquarters Luthuli House and the presidency.

Right now, we could really wish that one and the same person had never been allowed to occupy both posts!

It is an accumulation of power that runs at cross purposes with the doctrine of checks and balances.

It’s like a car having two accelerators and no brakes.

South Africa has an accountability deficit, which starts with the party head becoming state president.

When he is validated by the National Assembly, he can appoint who he wants as deputy president.

This seems inconsistent.

When we get a glimpse of the DA’s James Selfe and Mmusi Maimane sitting side by side, we see the separation of powers at work.

It is counter-intuitive in a constitutional democracy for the party head to be the state president.

That is a genetic throwback to the days of scientific socialism.

Vanguardism was introduced by the pragmatist Vladimir Lenin when he concluded that the theorist Karl Marx was too idealistic.

Implicit in this is a rather low view of “the masses” (the voters).

This system works best in a one-party state. It is at odds with the dynamics of a multiparty system in a constitutional democracy.

There are two models of casting votes.

One is the constituency-based system, where voters choose an MP from their local constituency.

These MPs go to Parliament and choose their leader

. The party with the most MPs then selects the chief of the executive.

In the PR system, parties deploy MPs based on their proportional representation won at the polls.

This puts the party in a stronger position, so it lines up better with the old socialist idea of a vanguard.

MPs are now torn between voting along partisan lines, or with their conscience, or representing the prevailing views in their constituency.

Three things are making the ruling party too powerful:

. The accumulation of powers (in the executive);

. The ongoing practice of vanguardism; and

. The attitude of triumphalism.

At the time of first US president George Washington, there was not a two-party system.

Everyone was united behind the new president to shake off the yoke of imperialism.

The social organs of government still worked well – the two-tier structure of Congress and Senate in the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

It was about 20 years before the acrimony between Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson started that split MPs into parties.

Observing the US, one can see that a two-party system is divisive.

The two biggest parties in South Africa could come to be perceived along the racial fault lines that haunt us.

Thus a three-party system is the best way to give voters a choice based on policy: centrist (or broad church); alt right (true blue) and left axis (red tide).

The ANC has always been a “broad church”.

This was to rebuff the “divide and conquer” approach adopted by the colonial powers.

It was the right approach to take a century ago.

But if South Africa wants to embrace constitutional democracy and not regress into a one-party state, then electioneering must focus on policy issues.

Voters must think about the future more than the past.

Democracy is predicated on nonracialism.

It has to be inclusive. So those who dwell on race and exclusion are in fact reactionary.

Most external observers and many internal voices are saying that affirmative action in favour of the majority just doesn’t make sense.

Voting should move past whether candidates are black or white, Zulu or Xhosa, male or female – and on to policy issues and preferences.

Triumphalism can get vindictive. One party or one faction within a party can become intolerant of the others.

You cannot reconcile any kind of intolerance – whether it is of gender, race, party or faction – with constitutionalism.

Democracy is predicated on the rule of law.

Another prerequisite is citizen participation. In spiritual terms, it comes down to humility.

Triumphalists are arrogant. The notion of a vanguard is intolerant of the will of the majority.

And evading transparency by cornering the market or by “capturing” state institutions is anathema to constitutional democracy.

Yet for one to postulate that whoever wins the ANC leadership should humble himself to let another person become state president will seem incongruous to many.

Democracy is about spreading power – not about centralising it.

The dual presidencies (party and state) have been like two accelerators with no brakes.

This approach is a collision looking for a place to happen.

Those who are arrogant, cocky, chauvinistic, intolerant and vindictive are most susceptible to triumphalism.

. Stephens is executive director of the Desmond Tutu Centre for Leadership


Would it be better for SA if the head of the governing party and the state president were two people?

SMS us on 35697 using the keyword POWER and tell us what you think. Please include your name and province. SMSes cost R1.50

Read more on:    anc  |  mmusi maimane  |  governance

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