South Africa, Politics

Op-ed: Macron’s election holds lessons for South Africa – hope has won and fear has lost

By Stevens Mokgalapa 12 May 2017

The outcome of the French Presidential Elections on Sunday represents a landmark victory in the fight for liberty, tolerance and global integration across the world. By STEVENS MOKGALAPA.

In an era in which populism, intolerance, and division based on race, religion, ethnicity and culture is on the rise globally, the election of 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron as president of the sixth biggest economy in the world sent a clear message to populists and extremists the world over: We will not be divided, because we are better together!

In a somewhat Obama-esque manner, Macron, the young and charming newcomer to politics ran a campaign under the banner “En Marche!” – a centrist, liberal and pro-European Union platform that promised to revitalise and grow the French economy, and unite a clearly polarised country. His message was exactly what fly-by-night political analysts and commentators have criticised as an outdated and failed ideological standing which they often claim is growing in unpopularity across the globe.

And yet despite this, Macron beat his far-right populist opponent, Marine Le Pen, winning 65% of the vote to Le Pen’s 34%. The people of France – unlike their counterparts in the UK’s Brexit and the US’s Trump fiasco – rejected populism, and racial and cultural nationalism, in favour of progress and an inclusive country.

Macron did what no other candidate attempted. He brought together French citizens from all walks of life to the “broad centre” of politics. A “broad centre” based on liberalism, tolerance, integration, innovation, and a government for all citizens, not just some. A broad centre that rejects any brand of politics which operates to divide people along the basis of race, culture, class, or religion.

What is even more noteworthy is that in the final round vote between Macron and Le Pen, Macron united French citizens from divergent political parties and ideologies in defeating the common enemy, being Le Pen’s divisive and backwards populism. The Socialist Party on the left, and the Republicans on the right, both officially endorsed Macron – a decision which transcended party politics and must be seen to have been taken in the best interests of the country.

In France, the election of Macron as president means that hope has won, and fear has lost.

We are faced with a similar scenario in South Africa in the lead up to the 2019 national elections, which requires some introspection for the electorate.

South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), has been in national government for 23 years. In the latter part of those 23 years, the party has abandoned its commitment to non-racialism, inclusive economic growth, and constitutionalism, and has moved rapidly towards a central message of racial nationalism, dividing citizens along the lines of race, and nationality, and essentially setting up racial tension as a way to galvanise black support for the ANC.

This move by the ANC is for two interrelated reasons.

The first is the increasingly radical stance of the current leaders within the ANC.

And the second is a deliberate and calculated attempt to scapegoat its own failure to deliver in its 23-year reign by pointing to others as both the cause and the consolidator of the dire socio-economic conditions faced by so many South Africans.

Terms such as “radical economic transformation” and “white monopoly capital” are bandied around as buzzwords to pit groups against one another for political gain.

As such, South Africans are faced with two options in at the ballot box in 2019. These are options glaringly similar to the ones which voters faces in France this week.

In 2019 South Africans can choose more racial nationalism, populism and division on the basis of race, or we can choose progress towards an open opportunity society for all. Racial division, or a united South Africa.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) as the official opposition represents a very real prospect of successfully opposing the ANC in 2019. This contest will pit directly against one another the broad centre, representing liberty and free market values, rejection of discrimination, and creating opportunity for all under the DA, against the racially divisive, state-interventionist, opportunity for the select few party – the ANC.

This speaks to the heart of why people choose liberal governments over nationalist governments. A liberal government is based on a belief in liberty and the right of individuals to seek their own happiness. A nationalist government is based on the belief that we are expected to live our lives for the state.

In many ways, Mmusi Maimane as leader of the DA will take to the 2019 election platform with a similar air about him as Emmanuel Macron. While Maimane is hard at work to create a South Africa that in which the “broad centre” prevails, he too will look toward the Presidency entering the contest with a significant vote share to win from a party that will do everything to make the election a racial or nationalist contest.

Therefore, like Macron, a space in which South Africans from all walks of life can come together around shared values – those of Freedom, Fairness and Opportunity – is the space Maimane must attract South Africans to, as Macron has just done in France.

The centrist values of liberty, tolerance, non-racialism, respect, global and regional integration, innovation, and a government for all citizens, are very alive within the DA under its current leadership, and Maimane will lead the charge for the Union Buildings with these values.

Of course, South Africa and France are two very different countries, with entirely different challenges and socio-economic landscapes. South Africa has the devastating legacy of apartheid and inequality to actively overcome. Failures to transform economic ownership, and enormous failures to change the patterns of land ownership, must be addressed in South Africa, unlike in France.

However, where the similarity does lie, and will be all important in 2019, is in who can best demonstrate to South Africa that we are better together, and not divided. The once beacon-of-hope nation, must re-find its inner hope.

In 2019, it will take a then 39-year-old centrist, liberal in Mmusi Maimane, to unite South Africans around the “broad centre” and reject the ANC’s racial nationalism in favour of progress towards truly realising the dream of 1994. DM

Stevens Mokgalapa MP is the President of the African Liberal Network (ALN)

Photo: French newly elected President Emmanuel Macron looks on at the Jardins du Luxembourg in Paris, France, 10 May 2017 during a ceremony to mark the anniversary of the abolition of slavery and to pay tribute to the victims of the slave trade. Photo:  EPA/ERIC FEFERBERG / POOL

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