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Game changer? Difficult but not impossible, Matekane’s Lesotho win may show the way to SA’s Patrice Motsepe

Game changer? Difficult but not impossible, Matekane’s Lesotho win may show the way to SA’s Patrice Motsepe
Patrice Motsepe.(Photo: Patrick T Fallon / Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Over the past 10 days, the equivalent of a political earthquake has hit Lesotho. A political party which just eight months ago did not exist is now the major party in government, governing with two other much smaller parties. In a region where most countries are facing similar problems, this bombshell development caused many to wonder if a similar earthquake could strike elsewhere. South Africa, specifically.

A closer examination of this space may also reveal how difficult it could be for entirely new political entrants, and reveals the way South Africa’s structure was set up to make it almost impossible for the Lesotho bombshell to happen here.

That said, it may be possible, under certain circumstances, for fundamental change to happen quite quickly in our politics.

It can sometimes be forgotten that we share many of our core social problems with other countries in southern Africa. If it is the case that unemployment and youth unemployment are the two biggest long-term problems we face, those are also the biggest problems in Lesotho, Eswatini, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

At the risk of oversimplifying the problem, all these countries have been unable to build an inclusive economy and provide enough income for most of their people.

Many have pointed out that a lack of resources is not really the problem. Perhaps the most recent is former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas, who again over the weekend lamented the political crisis in which we find ourselves.

The Lesotho earthquake 

This makes the massive change in Lesotho interesting to watch, and to pose the question: could what happened there mean there will be a change in other countries too?

In Lesotho, the Revolution for Prosperity Party is now forming a government, after only seven months in existence. Obviously, the people really, really wanted real change.

Read more in Daily Maverick: “Here’s why Lesotho’s political establishment has been dumped

The party itself says that this has all been about the economy, and the fact that people who used to govern simply failed, repeatedly, to create an inclusive economy. The change was in the air.

lesotho matekane sa motsepe

Lesotho’s victorious RFP leader Sam Matekane (centre). (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

The story is more complicated than that, of course. The person who formed the party, Sam Matekane, is also the country’s biggest businessman. He also happens to have made at least some of his money from government contracts, which suggests that he is not necessarily someone from outside the establishment.

In some ways, he may remind some, fairly or unfairly, of Patrice Motsepe, a man who has made large amounts of money and has strong links to the establishment, but is not a politician, for now.

There has also been subdued but persistent speculation that someone like Motsepe may one day enter politics. While he has never himself suggested as much, and it is unlikely that his brother-in-law would approve, the speculation nevertheless persists.

Changing SA landscape

Meanwhile, there are some indications that what matters to voters in our country is changing.

Certainly, there is a hunger for jobs, and this hunger is growing intensely. It also appears that the power of the ANC’s role in the Struggle is not as strong as it once was, and that the liberation dividend for the party has faded significantly. The current anger at corruption within the party, and even the outrage over the benefits given to Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers suggests the ANC cannot rely on its history, not any more.

At the same time, the four biggest political parties in our Parliament all have roots in our politics during apartheid (the ANC led the Struggle, the DA emerged from the white opposition parties during that era, the EFF comes from the ANC and the IFP was formed in 1975).

All of this has created what Professor Steven Friedman has referred to as the “hole in our politics” which can be defined as ‘who do people who used to vote for the ANC vote for now’?

Several eager individuals have tried to jump into this hole. Some are new parties and some are breakaways from more established parties. But at least one is in fact the result of the frustration of one rich person, in Herman Mashaba’s Action SA.

But while he has made progress, and has not yet fought a national election, it does not appear that he will suddenly take over national power.

Size matters

One of the key questions that is emerging is the importance of a country’s size.

South Africa is massive. Also massively complicated. It is made up of different nations, races and people who desire different things. Arguably the biggest dynamic over the past decade has been the emergence of what is often called identity politics.

However, what is really happening is maybe more complicated. In the years after apartheid, the biggest indicator of the way you would vote was how your race had been defined during that time; now other elements are coming to the fore.

It may now be that your language group, or age, or whether you live in a rural or urban area is becoming a more important element of your identity.

This may make it harder for any one person, or any one group of people, to make a major change in our politics.

At the same time, the structure of our political system may also mitigate against real change. In South Africa, if there was a change of power in the national government, that does not mean that all the provinces would necessarily change hands. And the provinces would still have constitutional authority over schools and hospitals, two of the services which matter the most to people.

It is likely that one of the important features of the next few years in our politics is more disputes in the relationship between provinces and national government. Any new movement trying to take over national power would probably have to deal with ANC governments in several provinces.

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All of this does not mean that fundamental change is impossible, it just means that it is difficult, especially for a party that would be anchored around a single personality, even one as well-known and influential as Patrice Motsepe is in South Africa.

Mind you, it would be easy to see many voters finding certain coalitions attractive. For example, if someone with resources (in other words… Patrice Motsepe-like) were to launch an almost apolitical platform, and to promise a technocratic approach, they may well make some progress.

One could imagine a person promising to make the country’s top health expert Minister of Health, and a person of known probity and ability Finance Minister, with a politically neutral expert Minister of Police, and so on.

If they were able to convince voters that they could bring an end to what appears to be the endless cycle of patronage and would prioritise service delivery above everything, this could well lead to them receiving broad support from different constituencies. That newly built coalition may turn out to be a game changer.

But it would have to be someone — or a group of people — with name recognition and who are actually believed by voters. Patrice Motsepe may just believe he fits that profile.

There are many reasons why it would be very difficult to make major change happen in our country quickly. But it should never be forgotten that change is not impossible. Lesotho has just shown the way. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    Indeed, change is absolutely possible and must, for we can’t limp around like wounded rats betrayed by the empty promises of an era passed. Hopeful Stephen. We need some hope. Lets hope it not wishful thinking!

  • Gerhardus de Jager says:

    Congratulations, Stephen Grootes, on one of the best politcal comments I have read in a long time and every word of it makes sense. If only this could be brought to the attention of possible role players and prospects who could put this in action – the a-political “coalition” especially, makes a lot of sense.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    The problem I find in this analysis is to compare two countries that differ in history, size economy, political system and electorate. Secondly besides these differences are the Madlala – Maimane convoluted amendments before parliament that will have 2024 run on a very different electoral system than in the past and the implications of the amendments are not fully understood except for the snippets of opposition by civil society. The irresponsible judgement by Justice Madlanga will have far reaching implications for the 2024 elections and I doubt even the ANC and Cyril have a full understanding of their implications as
    Vali Moosa has alluded.
    The other issue is for people to think they know Motsepe and make a lot of wrong assumptions. That fellow has just no spine nor principles as he wants to be everything to everybody and not have anyone hurt. To mistake a BEE rich person as a Neil Froneman who does not take bullshit, and is not everything to everybody but has principles is misleading. Being BEE and running a business and taking risks are two different things. His sister married to Jeff Radebe is more of a hardcore business person with strong leadership qualities. She is far better than Patrice Motsepe. Patrice was with Zuma yesterday and today with Cyril and tomorrow he will be with Zweli Mkhize. He was with Mbeki during his tenure. We need leadership with a spine.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    Ramaphosa had the chance to be/initiate this change. His spinelessness destroyed this opportunity.

  • Lisel Krige Krige says:

    Not at all surprised at your line of thought. It makes radical sense.
    It need not be seen by some as drawn from a simplified comparison. Many (like myself) may rather see it as drawn from the recognition of a shared dire need for the most imperative kind of significant change.

  • Brian Algar says:

    I truly believe South Africa needs an apolitical leader to stand up and galvanize all the good people in this country to turn it around. Imagine having the best people running each sector, only focused on making the right decisions for the country, and not for the select few. If South Africa prospers, all her people prosper. It’s no good for the infantile EFF to shout about uplifting the poor all the time, and not understanding that in order to uplift the poor, there has to be a functioning economy. We need a trusted figurehead to surround herself with good people, and we can build from there. There are so many people who want this country to succeed but feel helpless in the face of no leadership. Ms. Thuli Madonsela, gather Mcebisi Jonas, Prof Jonathan Jansen, Prof Glenda Grey, Maphela Ramphele, Busi Mavuso and other excellent South Africans around you and you will get the most overwhelming support from Good South Africa.

    • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

      The political salad you are addressing will never wash anywhere . You cannot have a political party without politics or bring together people without clearly
      shared vision and values. Mcebisi Jonas who has a chequered history in the Eastern Cape where he was accused of ransacking the Eastern Cape Development Corporation and nobody in that Province takes him seriously.
      He is in the Pillay Commision Report on corruption in the Eastern Cape, Sometimes a pickpocketer may not agree to a heist or bank robbery but he remains a pickpocketer and petty criminal! Busi Mavuso has a lot of confusion in her brains because we are not going to eat state capture everyday of our lives and it certainly cannot be taken out of workers. If you are put in a board of entity ransacked by state capture you cannot be giving the excuse of state capture for failing in your duties because you were appointed to address these issues and her conduct as Eskom board member was despicable! Mamphele Ramphele mired herself in the DA – Agang saga and did not look good as a leader. Glenda Grey was good during Covid and whether she has a grasp of politics is another matter. To be an educationist does not mean you can provide political leadership for Prof Jonathan Jansen. Mcebisi Jonas understands the issues facing the country but lacks the necessary political capital. Writing books that are read by the elite does not help. You need to have the capacity to engage
      the poor and other sectors of society.

  • Andries Breytenbach says:

    Professor Steven Friedman’s “hole in our politics” – who will those who used to vote for the ANC vote for now’?
    I believe a more important question (or hole) is one that many political commentators ignore; Any (new) party who could convince half of the more than half of eligible voters who don’t vote, to vote for it, could win the next election.

  • Grenville Wilson says:

    Would anybody entering SA politics now, no matter how senior that person is, and their followers on the ground be immune to the scourge of “Political Assassination”? Like the Taxi industry and now the construction industry, much of the Transport industry, and politics, are run and unfortunately controlled by Mafia style groupings, each with their own agenda and interests, using violence, blackmail and as we all know murder as a means to an end. Very very sad, maybe an opinion piece or article from DM on how our beloved country can pull out of this suicidal nose dive would be great.

  • Rob Wilson says:

    Interesting analysis. Yes, it can happen. Look what happened in Germany in 1933.

  • Ian Callender-Easby says:

    Fuck, at this point in time any new idea is to be seriously considered. The current circumstances need a real ‘out-of-the-box’ solution🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻

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