For as long as civil society movements and opposition parties fail to work together, the governing party will go unchecked, writes Solly Moeng.
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Even the laziest online search of media coverage of South Africa, particularly a read through opinion pieces and the constant social media conversations about the country by South Africans themselves, will reveal that there is no shortage of ideas about what could possibly help the country overcome its ongoing challenges and get out of the rut it has been thrown into over, arguably, the past two decades.
Sadly, however, many of the conversations limit themselves to sharing video and personal anecdotes of the latest unethical conduct, theft, destruction, abuse, corruption in action, etc., instead of suggesting ways to make it all come to an end. The mere expression of outrage has become the norm.
This is probably just a form of subconscious offloading; there is nothing wrong with it per se because all humans under stressful situations – such as many South Africans find themselves in – need to offload to lighten the burden. But talking forever about the problem without taking concrete action against it hardly ever makes it go away.
Countless columns and books have been written, discussions have been had in similarly countless conferences, as well as television and radio talk shows. A combination of harsh and constructive criticism has also come from global investors and media gathered at the annual World Economic Forum (WEF) long before the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic.
None of the above has stopped, but going by very little or no action being taken to correct mistakes, strengthen the rule of law to ensure there are legal consequences for crimes committed against the best interests of South Africa, as well as to implement policies that stand a better chance to help the country begin of what will surely be a long-turn around and recovery, all messages and advice seem to constantly fall on deaf ears. Those who should hear the cries and do something about them go around as if they have become immune to all criticism. They probably have.
After almost 30 years in power, the perennially (mis)governing ANC, what used to be regarded as a glorious liberation movement and party of Nelson Mandela, has long become used to the trappings of power. Echoing Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF in neighbouring Zimbabwe and other former liberation movements across the African continent, the ANC and people who support it, including its army of disappointed veterans and elders, seem incapable of imagining it out of power and South Africa blissfully carrying on without it.
In fact, the possibility of the country being free of its wrecking-ball, socioeconomically devastating grip, and no longer needing it, seems to scare it the same way that an emotionally abusive partner fears the day when the mind of the abused would be freed of all the fear that keeps them in their manipulative grip.
Divisions only serve the ANC
The rapid proliferation of small opposition parties throughout the South African political landscape – some of them only represented by a single or a handful of parliamentarians in the National Assembly – serves to help the ANC remain in control of crucial policy-making muscle and the patronage networks, especially at national level. Some of these small political parties might have been founded by individuals driven by well-meaning intentions to change the status quo, but many of them end up being vulnerable to the manipulation of bigger parties, particularly the ANC, immediately after elections when they get offered seemingly lucrative, influential positions in exchange for votes on crucial matters that come up for debate.
It doesn’t help that the electoral system as it has been since the dawn of the post-apartheid political dispensation favours party interests ahead of voter interests. With none of these opposition parties being directly accountable to voter constituents, they often simply switch their priorities at the expense of the electorate, once voted in, in favour of narrow political and material ends. They know that they have no obligation in-between to report back to the people who voted them into office and to take regular consultative feedback from them. It will be in the best interest of South Africa’s fast-maturing democracy for ongoing discussions about the need for changes in the country’s electoral system to reach satisfactory completion, in line with the spirit of South Africa’s Constitution, and be implemented without delay.
SA must take back its power
Sadly, the splintering, therefore weakening, of South Africa’s political opposition space does not stop in that environment. The civil society space is also experiencing a fast-growing plethora of movements of all kinds, created by well-meaning citizens to address localised concerns, such as:
- community clean-up,
- the filling of potholes,
- neighbourhood security watch,
- water shortages, etc.
They also address national concerns such as:
- the worsening electricity crisis – which began some 15 years ago and can therefore not be blamed on the Russian invasion of and war in Ukraine,
- conditions in the education and health systems,
- crime in general,
- the "mafia-isation" of South Africa’s economic clusters, which have been taken over by organised criminal networks that thrive on racketeering and kidnappings for ransom,
- ineffective policing,
- and countless others.
While many of these civil society initiatives have noble intentions and have proven to make a positive difference in the lives of citizens relying on the work they do, especially at local levels, they too are not immune to the prevalence of ego-driven individuals who believe that only they can and should lead, and that they are personally indispensable for the work done by their movements.
If South Africa is to undergo the desperately needed systemic changes that must happen for it to begin a convincing, irreversible, journey of recovery – reputationally, socially, economically, and in terms of institutional integrity - following close to two decades of institutional abuse and neglect, South Africans must come together, united in their civil society movements and political party formations, and agree on a redefining set of principles, policy proposals, and values, that must be embraced by those who plan to contest elections in 2024.
The task that must be realised for this unity is of national importance and survival, bigger than any one person’s ego and any one party or civil society movement’s ambitions.
If such a national collaborative process is to be undertaken, shielded from any possible hijacking for sabotage and other malicious intents, egos must be set aside and the collective interests of the country and all who legally reside in it must be prioritised in the spirit of the Constitution, with energies coalesced into an unstoppable movement for positive change.
Solly Moeng is brand reputation management advisor and MD of strategic corporate communications consultancy DonValley. News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.