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Without knowing left from right, many view SA politics through their own authoritarian lenses

Without knowing left from right, many view SA politics through their own authoritarian lenses
It is up to the public to decide. It is always and only up to the public to decide at the ballot box, argues the author. (Photo: Gallo Images / OJ Koloti)

In response to James Love’s assertions in his recent op-ed, when dealing with South African politics, one cannot view everything with an American-centric lens. Furthermore, calling for so-called 'right-wing' parties and their ideas to be legislated against, for fear of them becoming authoritarian, is authoritarian itself in nature.

I would like to challenge several assertions made by James Love in his op-ed.

Read the article in Daily Maverick:As 2024 elections loom, South Africa needs laws to keep small right-wing parties from controlling coalitions

To start with, I have an issue with the title of this column. Unless I am mistaken about the intention of the writer, claiming that South Africa needs laws to keep small or “right-wing” parties from actively engaging in or “controlling” coalitions is fundamentally flawed.

As the bill of rights states, “All persons have a right to citizenship and security. Persons and groups are entitled to freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression. They have the right to demonstrate, picket and petition; everyone has the right to be free from forced labour, servitude and slavery.”

As a part of the multi-party coalition in the City of Tshwane (Pretoria) and a member of the Freedom Front Plus caucus there, I would like to challenge several assertions made by Love in his op-ed. The writer asserts, “the danger of these parties steering the country’s policies towards the right cannot be ignored.”

The first issue I have with this is the term “right-wing”. When dealing with South African politics, one cannot view everything with an American-centric lens. Here, the American version of left vs right does not, and cannot apply. I will put to the readers the following challenge. When looking at American politics, groups who stand up for the rights of minority groups are considered what? Left-wing or right-wing? Left-wing, of course. Traditionally, political parties that took a public stand against racism were left-wing or right-wing? Left-wing…

Hence my point, the difference between left wing and right wing in the US and here at home are two different things. In fact, in the real world of politics, the definition of these two is not as clear-cut here as they are in the states. The Freedom Front Plus, if analysed within the scope of the American lens would not be considered a “right-wing” party. To date, the VF Plus has made a public stance for minority rights in South Africa and declared publicly that they stand against all forms of racism.

Some political analysts in this country like to try and force South Africans to see our politics through the American lens. For example, they assume that because a Party like the VF plus is predominantly made up of white voters, and that the political party stands for conservative principals, thus it is “right-wing”. This assumption is made due to the nature of the Republican party of the United States. Whereas in fact, when considering the principles of the left, can the VF plus factually be considered right-wing? Only when the author wishes to use this claim to paint one group or another with a certain brush. This brush is a dangerous one, it attempts to silence the voice of ethnic minorities and anti-racists on the political stage. 

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The second issue I have is with the claim that small right-wing parties should not control coalitions. As per the founding documents of the multi-party coalition (which was very much a Freedom Front Plus initiative), the smaller parties do not control the coalition, in fact, each member of the coalition is given an equal voice at the coalition management level. The public documents to support this claim also mention the reasoning for this. In most cases, due to the nature of coalitions, one party cannot rule without the support of the other, thus the idea of bigger member parties vs smaller ones is irrelevant. Even the smallest member parties, such as in the coalition in Tshwane, are integral to maintaining the majority of the ruling coalition, thus they are viewed as equals at the management level. One cannot rule without the other.

It is true that parties such as the Freedom Front Plus and ACDP present a conservative voice in their coalitions. The nature of the coalitions and their founding principles are contributed to and by the respective members of the coalition. Each governing coalition of the multi-party coalition has a clear set of founding principles, namely a coalition agreement that all parties have agreed to, and a manifesto for governance. In this regard, so-called “right-wing” principles, if agreed too, are only agreed to with the consent of more centre-left parties such as the DA or centrist parties such as ActionSA. 

Unfortunately for the political analysts, what happens at the ground level and management level of the coalition is different to what they see through a lens, through their preconceived misconceptions. When the author ponders, “South Africa seems to be on the precipice of an authoritarian moment”, he must first understand the ideology of South Africa’s most prominent “smaller right-wing parties”. Again it boils down to the misconception, deliberate or not, that the minority parties are “right-wing”, and the further misconception that “right-wing” equals authoritarian. 

I’m sure everyone would agree, a party that advocates for the devolution of government power, the rights of minority groups, and the abolition of oppressive and restrictive race laws is not a party that could be defined as authoritarian, far from it. 

The columnist mentions the following. “Herein lies the possible danger of this type of coalition politics: these parties could drag many coalitions to the right and implement policy that is dangerous to minorities in the country.” The author follows up with a series of examples relating to the Patriotic Alliance and xenophobic comments made by them, as well as anti-LGBTQ+ comments made by the ACDP.

Well herein lies my issue with these assertations. In South African law, as mentioned earlier, freedom of assembly, association, belief and opinion, and expression are carted for. A person, group or political party is free to develop and adopt its own ideology and identity. We walk on dangerous ground when we begin asserting that one’s beliefs are, one, authoritarian, and two, that laws must be passed to suppress them. 

I do not like the Marxist ideology of the ANC and the socialist policies of the EFF. However, I would never advocate for their right and freedom to express their views or for the implementation of them to be taken away. It is up to the public to decide. It is always and only up to the public to decide at the ballot box. 

The columnist must be careful that in calling for so-called “right-wing” parties and their ideas to be legislated against, for fear of them becoming authoritarian, is authoritarian itself in nature. His so-called rise of the “right”, is only a result of voters’ independent decisions at the ballot box. 

In conclusion, Mr Love must consider the following: 

Firstly, coalitions don’t just happen. When they are established, especially in the case of the multi-party coalition, coalition agreements and manifestos are carefully established and agreed upon by all members. 

Secondly, when assessing the political and ideological stance of a political party, don’t paint everyone with an American-centric brush. Things aren’t so black and white in South Africa and the definitions are not so clear. As the concern of service delivery remains top on voters’ minds, political leaning plays a small role in determining success at the ballot box, and the establishment of coalition manifestos. 

Thirdly, calling for legislation that will restrict and hamper smaller parties due to their ideology is dangerous. It opens the door to oppression and far worse. This is especially the case with political parties that represent minority rights. DM

Mark Surgeon is a Councillor for the Freedom Front Plus in the City of Tshwane where he sits on the Utilities oversight committee. He writes in his personal capacity.


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