Let's Think

South Africa’s massive chance to a fresh start towards national unity

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There is no doubt that the outcome of the recent municipal elections has marked the end of the first phase of South Africa’s journey to a mature democracy. It also created a massive opportunity for the development of a true rainbow nation.

Nothing more clearly signals the end of the era of so-called liberation politics than the collective result in the province of Gauteng. If it had been a national election, the African National Congress, with only 45.85% of the votes, would have lost its control over the province.

Four out of the country’s metros produced hung councils, signalling not only that the centrist Democratic Alliance has broken out of its mostly Western Cape enclave, but also that the days of all-dominating ‘race politics’ are over.

Furthermore, the ‘new normal’ of coalition politics, we foresaw as far back as before the 2014 general election, has now become reality.

In the confusing drama of coalition negotiations, with plenty of often conflicting public posturing (sometimes bordering on scenes from the theatre of the absurd), the huge opportunity that this situation creates for a sense of national unity and a deepening of democracy gets lost.

Stable coalitions

Coalitions at local level without a backdrop of some sort of national agreement between the participating parties are unlikely to work in the mid- to longer term. They can indeed be a recipe for constant conflict – also within the parties.

At least some sort of declaration of intent or agreed upon goals for local governance – an agreement on focus areas and/or goals – will be needed.

And herein lies the opportunity to create a national vision to replace the hereto dominant ANC National Democratic Revolution (NDR), with its communist-like approach, which has now clearly become redundant.

On this front the smallest of political parties and their leaders can have an influence far beyond their numbers – maybe because they are not in contention to lead any governmental institution themselves. It could also propel local government to a position where it could exert a strong influence at national political level.

Example from Holomisa

In this regard the efforts of United Democratic Front leader, Bantu Holomisa, should be applauded.

Holomisa, experienced in the role of bridge builder – he assisted in forming the coalition that saw the DA take over Cape Town in 2006 and was the driver behind a project to get opposition parties to cooperate on certain issues in parliament – last week, after a joint meeting on 7 August, released a statement on the issue of coalition on behalf of four smaller parties.

The statement proposed “a firm commitment among all political parties to the convening of an urgent National Convention, led by political parties and all other social partners, to consider and resolve on”, among other things, the following:

- Land question;

- Property ownership;

- Nationalisation;

- Electoral reforms;

- Party funding legislation;

- Strengthening of the chapter nine institutions.

“At the centre of the proposed national convention should be how best to address the urgent need for economic emancipation of all citizens, in particular the historically disadvantaged individuals and groups.” (The full statement can be read on Holomisa’s Facebook here.)

We think

We are of the opinion that this statement by the four parties, which include the Economic Freedom Fighters, are correct when it concludes:

“A cooperation by all political parties is what South Africans have called for in these elections. Accordingly, parties that agree on what has to be done going forward must ensure delivery of efficient and effective services to the people, and pursue unity of purpose in earnest.

“Perhaps the saying: Individually you are fierce warriors, but when you fight as one you are most powerful, better sums up the approach.

“We must enter into cooperation on objectives that do not derail the mandate of the electorate and our manifestos. In the crafting of a framework for possible cooperation, it must be clear upfront why it is desirable for us to embark on that as a both a tactical and strategic way forward.

“Centrally, any coalition/cooperation requires a strong commitment to the need to service the people, thus putting community first.”

Here is an opportunity to launch South Africa on a positive development trajectory that should not be squandered by the political leaders of the day.

by Piet Coetzer

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