The irrational behaviour of some political leaders is denigrating faith in the social contract that unites our post-conflict society. That same contract underpins the necessary wealth-creation efforts integral to the achievement of a non-racial, non-sexist, non-xenophobic and democratic society. In essence, power-hungry men and women are drawing the entire country into an unnecessary state of anguish, and we need to find an innovative way to emerge from this deadlock.
In November 2012, I was present in the Constitutional Court during the hearings, watching and listening to the back-and-forth between Justice Yacoob, Justice Van der Westhuizen and Advocate Mpofu among others — excited to observe justice in action. On December 18 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled the provincial elective conference of the Free State ANC unlawful and invalid. The basis for public trust in ANC’s internal democracy has been fundamentally undermined by these events. At best, trust is the only thing that the public, outside of the active members of the ANC, can have in relation to the party, and when trust disappears, what does this say about our democracy in general, especially given one-party dominance?
This excitement crashed when, only a few days later, it became apparent that those in power would ignore the case. On the contrary, and to little surprise, the great variety of profoundly disturbing features of our body politic, evidenced in case proceedings, were made all the more real: despite the seriousness of the matter, the final ruling had a meaningless impact on Manguang.
Recently characterising elements of the incumbent (ANC) regime, Njabulo Ndebele offered more generally what applies especially as a summary of these and other events: “It represents a state of affairs in which neither guilt nor innocence is established regarding events that require legal or moral resolution. In this situation, neither the truth nor the lie is allowed clear definition. It is an environment of moral anguish.”
The ability to trust in the outcomes of the Mangaung conference is forever eroded, despite its outcomes: future historians dissecting the country’s development will be forced, by fact, to write about it in ambiguous terms, terms that dissect the moral anguish described by Ndebele.
To govern effectively and legitimately officials need the trust of the people and vice versa — the incumbent party bosses, however, don’t seem concerned about undermining the trust of the people.
These events will have a cascading, denigrating impact on democracy and the future democratic experience in South Africa. Acting in a manner that cements in people’s minds the idea that South Africa is merely a semblance of democratic and lawful order, rather than a reality of accountability and justice, is an intolerable act on the part of any leadership.
Any person voting in 2014 national elections is well-positioned to ask these difficult questions and demand answers, or better, demand change.
Since the ruling party does not exist in a vacuum, such a person is also well-positioned to ask, if not the ANC, who many of us desperately want to be able to trust but simply cannot in good conscience, then who or where do they turn to voice well-intentioned rebellion against the tyrannical tendencies of a few? Some leaders, in a fallacious and undemocratic sentiment, judge questioning voters as un-African, or counter-revolutionary or by some other charge call them out as committing an offence to progress, highlighting the impossible contradiction of a non-competitive democracy they seem to be implying.
The lack of a multi-party contest is not the fault of the ANC; it is also the fault of the other players on the ballot: the often misdirected or miscommunicated action of opposition parties (eg failure to effectively resolve problems that lead to civil unrest in Western Cape) concomitant to offensive statements made by their leaders (eg referring to people choosing to travel in their own country as ”refugees”) helps to lower expectations of betterment in future politics.
At no point in a modern society should citizens or residents be made to feel that a better future is impossible, but neither should any group define them for the democratic choices they make. And when citizens or residents are made to feel this way by the entire spectrum of the body politic, then serious reform should be on the cards. The time for reform and innovation of that body is now.
Senior leaders all around, many clearly steeped in the inherited prejudices, biases and carry-over behaviours of a divided past, are leaving South Africans of all political affiliations out in the cold.
Only increased citizen and stakeholder influence and participation will push parties and political leaders to transform their approaches, take the law seriously or make them more relevant. Right now, it is as if a significant portion population is waiting for politicians who have never delivered, to all of a sudden become capable of doing so. Unless we stop waiting and stand up, nothing will change.
Achieving national goals relies heavily on collaborative governance if bottom-up transformation is to become a reality — the national democratic society implies that political parties, ruling or otherwise, trust the people enough to not only be subject to, but also change in response to public judgment and act lawfully at all times. Given the supernatural power political parties seem to think they possess over the people of South Africa, on the contrary to any ideas of equal opportunity or national democratic organisation, acting lawfully all the time is something they seem to think is beneath them.
Legislative tasks aimed at fundamental change, such as the economic enfranchisement of the majority of the population, will continue to reap lop-sided benefits that perpetuate elite prospects and fail to seriously affect South African society more broadly so long as the current culture of corporate-political materialism is alive. That culture can only be undermined if people step up to the plate and act to counter its weight.
In order to lead the process of change, and restore trust, accountability and unity to centre stage of political action, it is time for South Africans, and organised groups within South Africa, to establish a new platform with the potential to clarify the muddled hopes, visions and expectations for the future that a voter standing in the ballot box may experience.
A new platform, founded in clear purpose and conscience, can effectively cater to all South Africans that care deeply about national and international challenges, whether they support the ANC or the DA or any other party.
We need to identify an approach that galvanizes people waiting on the sidelines for the establishment to deliver, one that has a proven track record of setting the system straight when it deviates from the correct path of accountability and justice, to achieve for our democracy now, what the non-partisan United Democratic Front achieved for the anti-apartheid struggle: course correction.
History has shown that systems work best when challenged.
In times of crisis, many South Africans feel as though they are expected to automatically defend certain positions or behaviours, because of their race, economic background, or culture or sexual orientation — consequently, we don’t ever seem to emerge from crisis.
A non-partisan platform can liberate our society from this apartheid-trap; unlocking new levels of dialogue and engagement, creating space for the next generation to broker their own peace and path forward.
An independent, holistic movement, that works and acts on social and political issues in the local and national arena, can pave the way for a newer, better and freer exchange of ideas and debate among South Africans, and it is the back and forth of free ideas that creates the conscience of a democratic society and forms the foundation for future progress.
At this turning point, we need a movement to bring politics nearer to a politics of hope, fact and change that takes us further away from a politics of division, falsity and despair. At this juncture, we need to do whatever it takes to halt the tide of party bosses who choose to hamper democratic development and hold social progress custody in South Africa — some of them hardened, hypocritical fanatics of the inefficient us-and-them mentality that formed at the heart of apartheid.
Frederik de Ridder is co-founder of the African Student Leaders’ Summit, The Bluebuck Network and the InkuluFreeHeid Association; University of Cape Town Students Representative Council 2010 and also served as Secretary-General of the United Nations at G8 & G20 Youth Summits 2012. University of Cape Town BSc Civil Engineering (economics) First Class Honours 2012.