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Home  »  African Leader   »   Defending Our Democracy: A New Narrative

Defending Our Democracy: A New Narrative


Amid the clamour of competing narratives crowding the South African political space, it is important to start thinking – and speaking – about the future of the country in a new way. By Ryland Fisher.
Image: Cyril Ramaphosa Image: Cyril Ramaphosa

As we get closer to the ANC’s elective conference in December, intolerance is becoming more prominent and people are less likely to listen to those they perceive to be their opponents. Already we have seen how some people are trying to divide society into those who support what they have termed “white monopoly capital” and those who oppose it.

Opposition or support for the idea of white monopoly capital has become an indicator of which camp you find yourself in, if you happen to be an ANC member or supporter. But supporters of anyone who opposes a certain faction in the ANC are also seen as supporters of white monopoly capital, irrespective of whether they are ANC members or supporters. In fact, the narrative that the people in this faction wish to promote is that no right-thinking ANC member cannot be a supporter of white monopoly capital.

But what this narrow thinking and sloganeering does is to plaster over cracks that have emerged in the ruling party over the past few years, particularly between those who believe that they have the right to “feed” from public resources and those who believe that the ANC should return to its mission as an organisation that serves for the betterment of society.

There appears to be no end in sight to the divide that exists in the ruling party, at least not until after the elective conference in December.

Drawing the lines

While using slogans and rhetoric, it appears the groupings within the ANC are divided mainly between people who support Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to become the ANC president in December, and those who support current ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa to ascend to the top position.

But a large grouping, comprised of mainly civil society organisations, has also been formed outside of the party to try and influence its direction. At the same time, opposition parties seem, in many cases, prepared to put their differences aside in order to put pressure on the ANC. There is clearly a need for a new narrative in our search for solutions to the many problems we face in this country, but it is debatable whether or not the ANC is in a position to pay attention at the moment, with the organisation being consumed by a succession battle likely to become uglier over the next few months. But our troubles began long before the succession battle, and opponents of Jacob Zuma blame the President for much of what is wrong in the ANC and in the country.

Joel Netshitenzhe, ANC national executive committee member and the organisation’s policy guru, warned last year that the ANC could lose the 2019 election unless it regained its integrity. Speaking at an Umkhonto we Sizwe council meeting in Johannesburg in December, Netshitenzhe said that the ANC should consider vetting its leaders. “If anyone with a minor qualification can stand, branches get bought, and this can happen with monies getting stolen and you have voting cattle in ANC conferences. Anyone can take over the ANC.”

He warned against the abuse of state security agencies, and said there was a growing trend among leaders, whenever they faced a revolt from disgruntled citizens because of their abuse of power and state resources, to resort to unleashing the state security agencies on them.

“The danger is that when the social tinder threatens to catch fire, manifests (itself) in various ways … the security agencies can then become the first and the last line of defence,” said Netshitenzhe. “We end up depending on the security forces rather than on social delivery, on exercising our authority and legitimacy.”

Meanwhile, the recent email revelations about supposed affairs conducted by Ramaphosa have been laid at the doors of the security agencies.

Looking to the future

Many people in politics and business find it very difficult to predict what is going to happen in South Africa over the next few months, or even what should happen.

Anglican Archbishop Thabo Makgoba feels there is hope, but only if there is unity of purpose. “We must work to overcome the skewed racial ordering of our economy and the inequality which it produces,” said the archbishop, “not by indulging the rapacious greed of a few politically connected individuals, but by building a new, fairer society which distributes wealth more equitably for all. Everything we have accomplished since 1994 has been the result of building bridges between different interest groups.

“Let all of us – whether rich or poor, whether black, white, coloured or Indian, whether Christian, communist, Muslim, Hindu or Jew – find one another in a powerful, united coalition which puts first the interests of the poor and thereby the interests of all of us.”

Jay Naidoo, former trade unionist and minister in Nelson Mandela’s first post-democracy government, felt that there was a need for a second liberation struggle. “The struggle for freedom in South Africa has delivered a democracy that only benefits the minority of our citizens,” said Naidoo.

“We now need a second liberation led by women, youth and all left behind, and that respects Mother Earth. Women understand the collective; they are the heart of the families in this country and are at the coalface of the daily struggle of the majority.

“When we understand the social and economic challenges of women and give them equal access to productive assets and leadership opportunities, South Africa will be in a much different state than it is today.”

New thinking

Dr Leslie van Rooi, former head of the Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert Institute for Student Leadership at Stellenbosch University, who was recently appointed Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, said that, as in other countries around the world, it was important for South Africans to think anew about our democracy. “This must be a deep conversation, not only about political dispensations but also about, and perhaps specifically so, our constitution, our institutions, our growth and development as a nation, our schools, our universities and our communities,” said Van Rooi. “This is a conversation that all of us will have to partake in.

“It is only this conversation that can lead to an understanding of democracy that can best fit and be expressed in our context. It will be a democracy that will not be based on the idea that it is our time to eat… It can never only be us eating. It should much rather be a democracy where we can continue to work so that everyone, our people, can feast.

“Where we invest in the feasting possibilities for many generations to come. Democracy is not an us game – it is a we, the people, conversation. Without this possibility, our society cannot stand. And history will judge us accordingly.”

Former finance minister Pravin Gordhan warned recently that there were people trying to undermine the Reserve Bank. “We have to tell our citizens what price are we going to pay, even if we disagree with monetary policy, don’t undermine the institution,” said Gordhan. “Have a constructive debate on monetary policy. Debate it in a way where we don’t destroy institutions, but come up with better answers that will serve all of the citizens of South Africa.”

As the security agencies are seen to be supporting one side in the ANC succession battle, there are others who feel the Reserve Bank supports the other faction. The danger of expecting state-owned entities to take political sides is that they might lose focus but, also, more importantly, they could lose respect.

It is important for South Africans to seek solace in the constitution and use this respected document as a way of finding solutions to the political challenges we are facing.

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