First Thing, Daily Maverick's flagship newsletter

Join the 230 000 South Africans who read First Thing newsletter.

Songezo Zibi says he will run for president as he table...

South Africa

WINDS OF CHANGE, 2022

Songezo Zibi says he will run for president as he tables a manifesto for a new society; more will follow

From left: Former DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (Photo: Gallo Images / Brenton Geach) | Former parliamentary leader for the Democratic Alliance Lindiwe Mazibuko. (Photo: Sebabatso Mosamo / Sunday Times) | Public intellectual Songezo Zibi. (Photo: Supplied) | Former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. (Photo: Waldo Swiegers / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Everywhere across the land, there are sparks of new politics as the ANC reaches its end-of-life date.

The former Business Day editor, corporate executive and now public intellectual, Songezo Zibi, has put up his hand to be a future President of South Africa. In Zibi’s new book, Manifesto, he writes:

“I am prepared to lead, for I know there will be no anointed Messiah at any point in the future. This includes running for president.”

Zibi has started a movement among professionals called The Rivonia Circle to reimagine South Africa. His book is an outcome of months of dialogues and workshops with this widening circle, making it a manifesto for a future election. 

In another movement, the former leader of the opposition in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, is doing similar work.

Her organisation, Futurelect, is training young people across the southern African region as future political leaders and for senior roles in government. 

Zibi is already a totemic figure among South African professionals. He is now supported by a team that includes some of the most influential people in South Africa’s business and civil society sectors, making his a serious run. 

He writes in Manifesto: “South Africa is broken. It needs a fundamental reset. Let me be clear. I have no expectation that this reset is going to be driven by the ANC. None of us should be so naïve. 

“This reset requires the dismantling of much of the post-1994 elite consensus, in which reform means tweaks by the ANC to a system that is otherwise dysfunctional.

“It is essential not to be confused by the false promises of ANC factions for change. None of the ANC factions has any meaningful understanding of the workings of modern government, economic and social policy planning. 

“They would have used their unassailable majority in Parliament to change or evolve. They are too distracted and incompetent to deliver,” the book argues.

Zibi has held senior positions in the financial and mining sectors, operating at the coalface of government for years, so he knows what he is talking about. He was an influential editor, but left when the owners of Business Day at the time infringed on his editorial independence. 

Another political leader who may put up his hand to lead is former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. He has edited a volume of policy and governance choices that he and his co-authors believe South Africa needs to make. 

Called Better Choices, Ensuring South Africa’s Future, he co-edited with Greg Mills, Haroon Bhorat and Ray Hartley. The Brenthurst Foundation published the book with Picador Africa, and it also reads like a governing manifesto. 

Jonathan Oppenheimer funds the foundation, although the book is more social-democratic than extractive-capitalist in its outlook. The Oppenheimers have always invested in South Africa’s future because they built their substantial fortune on the country’s gold and then monopolised its rapid industrialisation.

In a webinar with Daily Maverick, Jonas said South Africa could no longer be held hostage by the ANC’s factional politics. Jonas is from the ANC and remains an investment envoy to President Cyril Ramaphosa, but he is a straight shooter about stalled reform.

He was one of the first whistle-blowers on the Gupta corruption network. The family offered him the job of finance minister — just before former president Jacob Zuma fired Nhlanhla Nene in 2015 — in return for a bribe of R600,000 on the spot and R600-million over time. He said no and blew the whistle, which was the beginning of the end of the family’s foray.

But Jonas appears to have realised the ANC is at a dead end, and he may be right.

Scenarios, polls and analysts all show the 110-year-old party is at the end-of-life stage. Scenarios developed by the Institute for Security Studies and the Inclusive Society Institute suggest that Ramaphosa will get a second term as ANC and national president. 

However, after 2024, he will likely run the country as head of a coalition government.  

New leaders putting up their hands 

Zibi leads the pack of a new generation of leaders putting up their hands.  

In his book, he calls on professionals younger than 50 to take up the mantle of leadership. This is a counterpoint to the ANC’s older leadership corps, which has failed to modernise South Africa and its economy. South Africa is also a very young country.

“Our country should not be in this position (of ruin). It has a professional class, which, under normal circumstances, should be giving all major political parties the leadership, analytical, policy-making and bureaucratic depth they need to either govern effectively or to produce meaningful political contestation. 

“No country has succeeded without drawing on the skills, education and drive of its professional class. These are the people the country has educated in science, finance and the humanities to understand the ways of the world better and develop the ideas that will build wealth and prosperity. They are the engine of business, civil society and politics.

“South Africa’s political class is itself the cause of disappointment. While many professionals participate in politics, most appear to have accepted the position of ‘bit players’ in national life,” writes Zibi.

His book is a clarion call to his fellow travellers in the professional strata to come out and seek a leading role in national life. Zibi writes that this is a generational mission, meaning that he is unlikely to contest for political power until electoral laws are amended to end the stranglehold of political parties on presidential, national and provincial control.

That day is not far away. Last week, the Constitutional Court gave the government until December 2022 to pass an electoral amendment law that will allow individuals to run for provincial and national seats.

At Futurelect, called the aPolitical Academy until recently, Lindiwe Mazibuko is running programmes across southern Africa training leaders for positions in government and to arm those with the desire to run for office with the skills to do so. Her experience leading the opposition DA in Parliament has positioned her well. 

She will likely take a stab at running for the presidency if the laws are changed to allow for direct election.

So could Mmusi Maimane, who fell out with the DA and is now working with independent candidates. 

Within the DA, Cape Town’s new mayor Geordin Hill-Lewis earned favourable reviews from previously unthinkable corners and appears to have perfected the role of a modern-day politician.

DA policy chief Gwen Ngwenya would also make a compelling leadership candidate, and its new young mayors like Mpho Phalatse in Johannesburg and Chris Pappas in uMngeni in KwaZulu-Natal are beacons of new leadership.   

Moving in a different ideological direction, Action SA’s Herman Mashaba gave up a council seat in Johannesburg to build party structures across the country, and he is steadily doing so.

In the Central Karoo district, Patriotic Alliance mayor Gayton McKenzie is delivering on his promises with new public jobs, manufacturing plants, better roads and a grand sanitation plan to get toilets to his constituents in less than 100 days in office. He seems to be enjoying his role so much that he has stopped the anti-migrant campaign in which he and party cadres started raiding spazas owned by migrants. 

The EFF’s Julius Malema has always made it clear he wants to occupy the Union Buildings. Still, he occupies a position the opposite of candidates like Zibi and the others who are positioned across the social-democratic spectrum.

The ANC is still South Africa’s largest and most influential political party. But it no longer controls four key capital cities. 

Senior ANC leaders often warn its warring rank and file members that it can lose more critical levers unless it “renews” itself. The mantra of “renewal” is code to tackle corruption sapping the future from under the oldest liberation movement on the continent.

The new winds of change are starting to reshape South Africa’s political horizons, and it appears that there is no shortage of ideas and enthusiasm. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 45

  • This is probably the best news I have read in a very long time! We only hope that this happens and grows a groundswell of support.

  • Oh boy! SA desperately needs some new thinkers and doers for the future. Let’s hope that one of these young guns can make the difference as the ANC is definitely on its way out.

  • Thank God! And thank you brave leaders whoever you are who can vision a convincing future for our beloved land, unhooked to crooked politicians. Start talking please, not just to each other, but engage the electorate. Every newspaper this weekend should carry your views and explain how they are fundamentally different to the ANC status quo. Not woolly theory, please.

  • This piece instills hope in me that South Africa might still have a chance. Thanks DM for a “good news” article amongst many others that are saddening and tragic. I hope the December 2022 electoral reform happens!

  • The willingness of the younger generation to accept meaningful leadership positions is laudable. They have for too long been too quiet. The nature of a future South Africa is dependent on the competence, integrity, and flexibility of this younger leadership generation to do what is required to get the country back on the straight and narrow. The longer they wait, the more difficult it will be to change direction and achieve meaningful results.

  • Come Dec 2022 and this ConCourt ruling will probably be “shelved”. To pass this “electoral amendment law” to allow individuals to run for provincial and national seats will prove to be their death knell.

  • Well written and hopeful news by someone who is brilliant at investigative journalism. This is the best news weve had in a LONG time. Thank you.

  • I will be doing an in-depth interview with Songezo Zibi as part of the State of the Nation Webinar series, in the coming days. To watch it, visit sona.co.za or our Facebook page.

  • Some hope and cause for optimism at long last. I wish all the new ‘players’ much success. Can you imagine how great SA could be with all of them collaborating in a meaningful way?

    • Let the coollaboration (spelling intended) begin full frontal and in DM space. Please DM take the initiative here and host a new leaders of SA webinar. We don’t trust other platforms. This thing need traction. 168?

  • This is exactly what is required, a generation of skilled, energized and committed – who believe in SA, want to be in SA, want to build an SA for all. I can already hear all the cries against this movement – but for all the good that the ANC and the broader movement achieved and we should remain ever grateful for that in ending apartheid, sadly it’s decline into relative contested chaos, cadre deployment ahead of skills and capability and gross corruption have deeply undermined its future. I happily put my hand up – I believe in Mzanzi! Come on!

  • It is a move in the right direction. However, to become president the Electoral Act Amended Bill needs to be totally restructured to make provision for a direct elected president. What is certain is that the ANC won’t be able to form a government on its own in 2024. The Struggle continues.

  • First signs of hope for many a month. Let’s hope something decent comes out of it. We need the energy, enthusiasm, vigour, action and fresh ideas of young people to help the country rise out of the fetid muck into which we have been dragged by the ANC.

  • For long have we been hoping for fresh blood, people with gravitas to put up their hands. Holding thumbs that Songezo Zibi and/or any of those mentioned in the article or others can make us proud

  • Thank you, DM, for this positive article. I have long suspected that there are many citizens of all races and genders who have the intellectual ability and professionalism to put our country above personal gain. Let us rise above petty politics and corruption and be a proud South Africa again. You have given us hope.

  • This is the best news I have read in a long, long while!!!
    Now, if the ‘good guys’ can back each other and get their supporters to do the same, Create a new party. Lay the groundwork for the future, govern for a period to make sure things work as they should. Then separate into different, respectable parties if needed……that would be great(insert THAT meme here). I think SA is ready for change.

  • Great news, but one man doth not a movement make. We need to see a wealth of talent organising behind this. Adding Mcebisi Jonas and Lindiwe Mazibuko to the mix would be a great start. Throw in a couple of parts Thuli Madonsela, stir in some Phumzile van Damme, garnish with a sprinkle of Imtiaz Sooliman and serve HOT.

  • All the comments above are unsurprisingly positive and rightly so. But am I the only Insider who finds the new system for dealing with comments instituted by DM cumbersome and inefficient?
    First, one has to pass a kindergarten level test on previous comments. One is then congratulated and told that one’s comments will be submitted for moderation. One then has to wait several hours for the moderator to decide whether one’s comment passes muster or not.
    The result is, as in this article, that other Insiders have already made comments similar to one’s own thoughts but they are hidden from view for several hours awaiting publication thus making one’s own potential comments redundant.
    I have suggested to DM before that Insiders should be treated as adults, allowed to have their comments published, but there should be a mechanism for other Insiders to ‘Report’ comments that are thought to be uncivil or misinformation. My suggestion has been met with a stay silence by DM on two previous occasions.

    • I agree
      When moderating the comments, I have no idea to what they pertain – difficult to decide if the comments are relative to the article
      And I have realized that I really enjoy the different points of view

    • ‘Autospell’ changed my ‘stony’ in the last line of my comment to ‘stay’ without me noticing. Apologies for my oversight.

    • I agree. I have also sent DM a comment and – no reply. Those Insiders making comment should do under their own name and then should be treated like adults.

  • Eusebius McKaiser has a similar article over on Times Live from a few days ago. While I trust McKaiser about as far as I can throw him (not far), he does mention that one of Zibi’s recommendations is to dispense with the provincial levels of government.

    The only reason we have provinces in the first place is because it was a begrudged compromise from the pro-communist ANC made to the pro-federalists among those negotiating the post apartheid structure of South Africa. The ANC stubbornly refused true federalism at every turn because it directly undercut their centralised authority. They probably knew all too well that federalism by its nature antagonises widespread corruption and were thus vehemently opposed to it because that’s exactly how they intended to accomplish their version of a ‘redistribution of wealth’ (i.e. to themselves). Since the 90s the ANC has tried several times to get rid of the provinces in a blatant move to consolidate their already heavily centralised power.

    Now why would Zibi want the same thing?

    I’m sorry but this alone leaves me with a great deal of scepticism until such time as I have read his book and understood what kind of vision Zibi has for this country. I am thus hesitant to risk heaping congratulations upon him, which may soon turn into complaints.

    • Agreed. For a man who espouses such a consistent “voice for accountability, good governance, nation building and for the creation of a dynamic, inclusive economy”, his views on abandoning our devolved provinces jars. The most successful economies and democracies work on federal type systems – just take a look at the top 10 GDP per capita countries.

  • Question is whether these people can overcome their egos and work together? If not, they will further confuse and fragment the electorate, prolonging the agony for South Africans and making an eventual recover that much harder.
    Actually, we don’t need new manifestos, movements or parties. These are the product of delusional, self-obsessed individuals. We know what is wrong and how to fix it. Look at which parties are delivering on the ground and have the organisational and management capacity to go beyond slogans and manifestos, and govern effectively.

    • PZ’s is the only comment to notice the fundamental flaw and wishful thinking common to the desperate flights of fancy shared by the hopefuls named by Ferial.
      SA already has a number of fully-constituted, experienced political parties whose policies differ significantly from the ANC’s. If a significant politician has given up hope on the ANC, then sift through the alternatives, decide which one’s policies are most closely aligned to what you want, and join that one. Work your way upwards in that party over the years, until you are senior enough to force the changes you wish to its policies, and then serve in the party that conquers the ANC at the level your efforts have earned for you.
      Start your search for a home by writing off parties that rely on ethnic solidarity for their support, and make sure to respect the party elders on whose shoulders you will stand. Don’t delude yourself that a new party can be built from scratch to success in five years by an individual with ambition, and don’t be impatient.
      I note that many of the hopefuls named in the article failed to reach the top in the DA (Or, having reached the top, failed to carry the party, never mind the electorate, with them). PaulZ above is absolutely correct in dismissing these hopefuls as “delusional, self-obsessed individuals”. Egotists too I might add.

      Besides, the quality of Business Day deteriorated very significantly under Zibi’s editorship.

  • This is what I’ve wanted to hear for a long time – real hope in the amazing people of South Africa. I listened to the interview by John Matham with Songezo Zibi and WOW – this man has done his research and with intellectual humility. It appears to me that his perpective is realist, humane and balanced. The article creates a sense of Unity that could exist with a coalition of the groups who represent economic, rational and humanitarian perspectives. Does that make sense I wonder? On this Youth Day 2022 I am again hopeful for this land and it’s peoples. I stand for Ubuntu – an ‘African Consciousness, the Art or Virtue of Being Human as a way of life supporting well being, treating all people as human beings with respect & dignity.’ – Mfuniselwa John Bhengu, Ubuntu: The Essence of Democracy, (Novalis Press, Cape Town, 1996)
    I like to believe that this is what I heard in both the conversation on Cape Talk and in the inferences in this article by Mz Haffajee.

  • Positive news indeed. The SA political wheels have been reinvented more than once before, only to be punctured by incompetent, unqualified and reckless cadre drivers. Let those who lead and manage be qualified to do so. DM, you are doing a good job. Thank you.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted