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Menings | Opinion > SeminaarKamer | Seminar Room > English > Essays

The age of national conventions, new political formations and realignment: New challenges in nation-building


Jameson Maluleke - 2008-11-11

South Africa is currently passing through a period of uncertainty in which civil war or everlasting peace may result, depending on the ANC's adoption or rejection of the ANCYL president Julius Malema's battle cry, "Ready to kill for Zuma".1 This is the era which will go down in history like the one vividly captured and penned down by Dickens's literary genius: 2

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us ...

Former President Thabo Mbeki's unceremonious recalling from the presidency on one hand has undoubtedly unleashed unprecedented anger among Mbeki's colleagues and supporters alike. On the other hand, 48 million people are still confused, concerned and angry at the ruling party leadership for opting for tit for tat retaliation rather than for negotiation to iron out party leaders' differences.

Never in the history of this country had it ever chanced that a president and his entire cabinet were instructed to pack and go by a party which Mbeki had served for more than half a century. Never in the history of this country had it ever chanced that our image would be so blackened and ourselves to be made to look so stupid for firing a head of the state.

Some of Mbeki's cabinet members who resigned in solidarity with their boss went so far as to convene a national convention to hear people's opinions concerning the political upheaval in the country.

Political parties are representative of a society. To this end, every citizen has all the rights to form political associations if he/she is convinced that the country is heading for a political void. For instance, service delivery failure, coupled with empty promises which later mutated into in-fighting and mud-slinging compelled some of the ex-ANC members to contemplate establishing a new party.

The ANC has lost touch with the society it claims to represent. It neither listens to the people nor does it speak on their behalf. It has long ceased to be the voice of the voiceless as it used to in days of yore. In fact, the ruling party reminds me of our old blind neighbour's elder son who guided his father using an old stick. He used to lead his father to the local store to collect his welfare grant, and to the market place to buy groceries. He kept the old man's money in a secret spot in the hut, and was "ready to kill" any of his younger brothers who dared to intrude there. The boy had enough pocket money to buy whatever a youngster of his age could need or desire. When his younger brothers hinted at his misguidance and corruption, he would go berserk and turn into a ferocious beast. He would accuse them of being usurpers with the intent to mislead their father and to live on their father's sweat and toil. Whenever the war of words started, the old blind man had nobody to take him to the bathroom, the clinic or the spot where he collected his social welfare grant.

Similarly, while the haughty ANC leadership is engaged in a showdown, service delivery and the fulfillment of promises are compromised. Forty-eight million South Africans go hungry, the same forty-eight million are without a shelter, the same number of people experience bad water shortages all the year round.

It is against this background that people behind the formation of the new party convened a national convention to try and find a solution to the impasse. Billed as "the point of no return, a symbolic gathering to usher a new beginning" (City Press, November 2), the national convention which took place at the Sandton Convention Centre on November 1 has transformed our political landscape from one that was characterised by turmoil and turbulence into a beacon of hope. It is destined to release millions of fellow countrymen from the ANC's iron grip. Attended by more than 4 000 people, the national convention can be summed up in a phrase thus: "South Africa has spoken." It cuts across as a barometer to gauge people's feelings concerning the future of sociopolitical justice in their motherland.

However, forming a new party creates an impression that South Africa's social problems can best be solved by establishing more parties. Contrary to this erroneous, reckless thinking, the more parties are established, particularly fly-by-night parties, the more our social problems remain unsolved. The number of political groupings has nothing to do with service delivery, poverty eradication or the protection of human life and property.

Numbering more than ten political gatherings, one would think that our country has enough parties to create the oft-quoted "better life for all". With party leaders demonising one another and crosstitutes crossing the floor from one party to the other for their own selfish end, parties have not moved an inch to serving our people with dignity.

As for parties formed after 1994, many of them are ethnocentric splinter groups hopelessly failing to serve the nation as they had initially intended to. They are reminiscent of the old homelands political parties as each one serves the leader's ethnic group.

The party about to be born will be an exception. Judging by the success of the national convention two weekends ago it is clear that the South Africans are tired of a party which took them for a ride in the past fourteen years. They want a new party now. Unlike small politicians whose equally tiny parties sprang up overnight, the people advocating the establishment of the new party were honest and clever enough to organise a national convention to meet the people, to hear their cry, to answer their call, and to ask to carry their mandate.

When it was first hinted that a new party was in the offing, detractors were quick to point out that one cannot form a new party merely to gang up against the ANC. They also claimed that hoisting sentiments and the premise that "Zuma is wrong" as reasons to form a breakaway party would only boomerang with negative spin-offs. In the light of the positive outcome of the national convention, detractors have since resorted to name-calling - conventioneers and their sympathisers have been called "snakes, dogs, dissidents".

The fact that the convention was dubbed "national", and that thousands of people from across the political spectrum attended, is reason enough to believe that the start of the new party will be a success beyond our dreams, and that it will not fall victim to the ethnic trappings which continue to bedevil other opposition parties.

Pundits do agree that there is no better time to start a new party than the present moment as political sentiments and emotions are high.

The presence of almost all political parties and their leaders is a good indication that the realignment of all political formations is long overdue. The national convention, as coordinated by organisers of the yet to be born party, has level ground for any new strong party to start. Forming coalitions or small regional parties is not an answer; regional party leaders should swallow their pride and consider realignment to accommodate millions of South Africans who are without a political home. There are no noticeable differences among various parties in terms of principles and polices.

Of all the political parties, only two or three (the South African Communist Party, Pan African Congress and Freedom Front Plus) have divergent ideologies. The rest have such similar liberal democratic principles and policies that it would be a good thing for them to amalgamate and form one huge party. For instance, what differences do the ANC and the Democratic Alliance have in terms of policies except that the latter is white dominated? Only ethnic difference set the Independent Democrats (ID) and the United Democratic Movement (UDM) apart. What stops them from coming together and forming one formidable party that would not only serve their own people, but also stand up to the ANC?

We need decisive, exceptional, value-based, visionary leaders with good reputations to pull us out of this mess. Let the new party start, the people have spoken!


References

1 Victorian English novelist Charles Dickens, 1812-70. Famous introduction in his masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities.

2 The ANCYL president has been widely reported in the media to have said that his organisation was "ready to kill for Zuma".