RESHAPING SOUTH AFRICA
Rise Mzansi – amid political turmoil a new movement is being born
Without fanfare or making exaggerated promises it can’t guarantee, Rise Mzansi, a new political movement, is taking shape after months of conversations between activists led by the Rivonia Circle.
Rise Mzansi has a bold ambition: to reshape South African politics within a decade, by combining local mobilisation aimed at lifting communities up, with winning electoral power through the ballot box in 2024 and beyond.
At the moment, Rise Mzansi is as much a vision born of necessity, and a declaration taken by activists on how to achieve it, as it is a tangible organisation. However, it comes after a year in which the Rivonia Circle says it has taken the temperature of South Africa’s democracy and, after careful listening, identified what needs to be done to rescue it.
Part of that solution, it says, is for an independent ethical civil society movement to be prepared to contest for power at the ballot box.
Voter disaffection is not voter apathy
Pointing to the deepening trend of not voting (“Turnout in the 2019 general election dropped to 66% from 73% in 2014; turnout in the 2021 local government election dropped to 46% from 55% in 2016”), the Rivonia Circle claims it is not just the ANC that is failing to resonate with people in South Africa, but all political parties.
“Voters remain politically interested: they are just not being engaged in the manner and over the issues they prefer. Existing political parties are not actively listening to voters: their actions and positioning miss where voters are at.”
At a press conference held last month to publicise the results of a quantitative survey on voter attitudes, Songezo Zibi, the chairperson of the Rivonia Circle, explained “where our insights come from”. It’s clear that the Rivonia Circle has been busy. According to Zibi: “Since early 2022, the Rivonia Circle has interacted with thousands of South African voters.” He mentioned:
- Twenty-six focus groups held in Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Mthatha and Ulundi;
- More than 35 Democracy Builder (DB) workshops held with community activists in seven provinces;
- Six launches of Zibi’s book, Manifesto: A New Vision for South Africa, which drew hundreds of interested people;
- A youth-centred “Activist Exchange” of 500 activists at nine different venues in Johannesburg in August; and
- Community town hall meetings.
Then, in October and November 2022, the Rivonia Circle organised two national “Mobilising People’s Power Workshops” that drew in hundreds of activists. The workshops focused on activating South Africans to participate in politics. The first was addressed by Nsé Ufot, the CEO of the New Georgia Project, a successful campaign that has changed electoral politics in Georgia in the US particularly by registering hundreds of thousands of previously disaffected black voters. The victory by Raphael Warnock, the Democratic Party candidate in the senate run-off on 6 December, is testimony to that.
Read in Daily Maverick: “Our vote has no value, say despairing South African activists”
‘South Africa must rise!’
It was the last of these two workshops held on 26 November under the banner “South Africa Must Rise” that consummated a decision to burst the political bubble.
“No one can say we got behind a closed door and had a discussion and they don’t know what was said. Every moment today was on the internet,” Zibi told the assembly (watch it here). This workshop was addressed by an impressive and diverse mix of young activists including Irfaan Mangera from the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation (AKF), who told delegates how every day he gets calls from young people wanting to be active in the Kathrada youth clubs “to take this baton forward”.
Read in Daily Maverick:
“They are not apathetic or disconnected from society… despite the noise and naysayers who are invested in this terrible and brutal political culture we continue to build.”
Mangera (watch this young man in future) said his “generational mission” was “about enabling people’s power once more so that when we chant ‘Amandla!’, the response is not just a chant, the response has meaning, and people practically feel empowered to take this democracy forward.”
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On the crest of this wave the meeting resolved to explicitly start a movement whose volunteers pledge to “be loyal to the Constitution in all we do” and to “work together to build an inclusive movement, driven by the people, on the foundation of new alternative politics to contest for political power in Election 2024”.
On Monday at a Rise Mzansi briefing session, attended by the first cohort of volunteers, young activists spoke with excitement and trepidation of the challenges ahead. In the words of one:
“The politician’s worst nightmare is now coming true: Civil Society is rising to contest the political space. Not only do they have to worry about opposition parties anymore, now they’re gonna have sleepless nights about going against Civil Society as well! They actually have to contend with THE PEOPLE now! What did they expect? Did they really expect to be left alone like kids in a candy store to plunder and destroy it as they please????”
This sentiment reflects the manner in which the recent political crisis generated by the Phala Phala debacle has only added to the activists’ sense of urgency and mission.
Watch: SABC interview with Songezo Zibi on the current political crisis
Phala Phala, which dominated headlines to the detriment of stories about World Aids day 2022 or children eating cow dung in the Eastern Cape, comes across literally as a case of politicians fiddling with themselves while Mzansi burns.
In Zibi’s words, “the ANC has no time to govern because it’s too busy with internal political matters, whether it’s the leadership contest or one or other corruption scandal. It’s important for South Africans to realise that as long as that leadership remains in place the problems that hurt South Africans on a daily basis are not going to be resolved.” DM/MC