RISE MZANSI LAUNCH - OPED
‘South Africa needs a democratic reset to deliver freedom and justice’
This is the speech by Songezo Zibi at the launch of his political party, Rise Mzansi, at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg on Wednesday.
South Africa has lost a spark, optimism, the belief that better things are possible because of the state of politics. The question is whether we give up to cynicism or draw on ourselves to bring a new day. Today is not about another attempt to win an election – it is about how we regain hope and the belief that a better life is possible. That requires that we draw deep from within.
My home is Mqanduli in rural Eastern Cape. It is where I herded cattle, sheared sheep and tilled the land for maize, beans and pumpkins. Oosenza, oocetshana, oosolontsi. It is this life that helps explain why I am here today.
Mqanduli is where, at three weeks old, my single-parent mother left me in the care of my grandparents so she could start at her first job as a teacher. When I was old enough and working, I set down my own roots there and built a home. Ndiligoduka.
So, as much as we speak English in the cities we end up in, or at events such as this, deep down some of us are instinctively village people. And for important occasions like today, my instinct is to speak isiXhosa, which brings a certain sense of gravity to the matter.
So, please bear with me and my village stories just now. It is what I know, and the best way I can articulate why the work we do is unavoidable.
To get to my village, you take the Coffee Bay and Hole-in-the-Wall off-ramp on the N2 just south of Mthatha.
Anyone who has been on the road to Coffee Bay will tell you that it is even hard for 4x4s. In some places, driving off-road is safer than what remains of the tar. I can tell you confidently that there is someone watching me right now who is confirming this to the person sitting next to them. That road is bad and that 62km can take up to two hours if you are not familiar with it.
Mqanduli is a typical small town under this government. It is collapsing under the weight of political neglect and incompetence. The neglected government buildings on one side of main street are built on land that used to belong to a local family, confiscated by colonialists in the early 1900s.
On either side of this road, and all the way to Coffee Bay, are homes and communities that have never had piped water or a flush toilet, ever! The town itself doesn’t have a municipal sewerage system.
The people of these communities are unseen, unheard and uncared for. They are black people, mostly black women.
Because there is almost no spatial planning, people have no specific addresses. This means an ambulance, when one can be found, struggles to find houses when there is a medical emergency, especially at night. Sometimes people die waiting for an ambulance, or on the slow journey to hospital.
Those of us who are from there leave our loved ones for the cities to earn a living. This is the same journey our forefathers made to the mines, leaving land, families and communities that struggle to retain the structures that make communities functional and stable.
It is here that, somehow, people must find work in a local economy that virtually does not exist because it only relies on the public service. Yet this land is some of the most fertile in the country. Its natural tourism assets are world class, but there is very little infrastructure around them.
The people of these communities are unseen, unheard and uncared for. They are black people, mostly black women. Daily they toil to build a life for their children and try to hold their communities together.
At night they live in the dark and sometimes are terrorised by crime, some of which is committed by young people in the community who have no opportunity and no hope. These young people are introduced to the prison and can no longer find work because they have a criminal record.
The story of Mqanduli is the story of every little rural town or township in South Africa. It is a story of dispossession, of spatial exclusion, racist oppression, destruction of family and community structures, and denial of opportunity. It is a story of political neglect and structural violence. It is a story of past and present trauma they bear with dignity and resilience.
It is a story that all of us must care about because we want to be one people united by the same values and sharing a dream of the country we all deserve. This is a dream we have lost as politics has come to symbolise corruption, the arrogance of power and an embarrassing eagerness to conclude political deals – and the people be damned.
You cannot achieve the vision we set out, and the sweeping changes we propose, without political power.
This story underlines how much unfinished business we have in South Africa. This should not be the case after 30 years of democracy.
Today we have invited you here for two reasons:
First, we are tabling a grand vision and framework of how to significantly change South Africa – stop this crisis, stabilise the country and deliver the fruits of democracy. That work is a generational mission that will transcend elections and draw sustenance from the millions of people who will become part of this movement.
Second, Rise Mzansi intends to register with the Electoral Commission to contest the 2024 elections with a national list across all nine provinces. You cannot achieve the vision we set out, and the sweeping changes we propose, without political power.
Reviving the South African dream
Our goal is to build a country based on the principles of Justice, Freedom, Equality, Solidarity and Integrity. These are not just Rise Mzansi’s values, but the values we believe must anchor how we revive the South African dream. They are for all South Africans.
We cannot have Justice when we are surrounded by economic injustice.
We cannot have Freedom unless we wipe out poverty.
We cannot have Equality if we do not end Inequality.
We cannot have Solidarity if we do not have a new non-racialism that sets out to end racism and build real national unity.
We cannot have Integrity while corruption is driven from the very top.
That level of transformation needs the participation of all of society. This is why we are building Rise Mzansi as an inclusive movement. These values and goals must be a way of life that informs what we do in politics, civil society, business and the public service.
We have become a society ruled by politicians, guided by laws they ignore, and divorced from any moral anchor. We are led by individuals who lack seriousness and depth, and have no respect for the people.
Our national politics today is like a used furniture shop. Every piece has been bought and sold numerous times… Some of it has even been stuffed with foreign currency.
The reason we are in a crisis is not for lack of good people – it is because the good people have surrendered the political space to those who do not deserve. This is our country and our democracy. It must be a societal mission to return both to the people. This means getting involved today, not tomorrow. And it means getting rid of the same political game and its tired practitioners who have brought us to this point of crisis.
The gains of our democratic South Africa have gone into reverse.
- Violent crime is at intolerable levels;
- Our economy is dying for lack of electricity and growth because of political neglect, incompetence and corruption;
- Unemployment today is higher than it was 15 years ago;
- Millions of people are lucky to have all three meals a day, and too many children suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and stunting;
- Our municipalities are falling apart – and our roads, bridges and railways are crumbling before our eyes;
- We remain among the world’s most unequal societies, with historical fault lines marked out by race and sex;
- The corruption that is endemic to the ruling party has spread like cancer into the state, and the rest of our society. We now have too many people with no sense of what is even right and wrong; and
- Our foreign policy, previously a light among developing nations, has moved from non-alignment to misalignment with our constitutional values.
South Africa needs a reset, a new direction, new energy and new leadership.
South Africa’s political system is broken. Instead of a government of the people, by the people and for the people, we have a government of the political parties, by the political parties, for the political parties. Where to get anything done you need to litigate!
Our national politics today is like a used furniture shop. Every piece has been bought and sold numerous times. Every piece has been slept on, spilled on, stained, and ravaged by time. Some of it has even been stuffed with foreign currency. Every piece has witnessed shady deals and false promises, whether shouted or whispered. At one time this furniture was fit for purpose; now it needs to be cleaned out!
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The establishment tells us that there is nothing wrong with our political system, and all that is needed is to remove the ANC. Yet we cannot build a new future on a political system that is unaccountable, unresponsive, corrupt and removed from the people. We cannot use the same rules that delivered the unserious people who call themselves leaders today.
We must be bold and change the rules. Our documents set out a political reform programme that can finally deliver real democracy.
The political system is not the only thing that is broken. The nation-building project has also lost its way because we have not delivered economic justice.
Instead, prominent politicians whip up nationalist and racist divisions to mobilise their political bases and drive us further apart. There is not a single major political party today that can claim to have a programme to build national unity in South Africa. Not one!
- The ruling party has come to represent failure, despair, incompetence, corruption and outdated ideologies. Millions of its own supporters deserve a better political home, one that takes their dreams seriously instead of using them as fodder for personal enrichment and power;
- The largest opposition groups have reached a dead end, electorally and politically. Many of their voters, too, want to see a competent and capable partnership that can unite South Africans and lead our country effectively; and
- A minority, with crude sloganeering, with the unmistakable hint of violence on its breath, threatens to tear apart our country’s democratic fabric. They also thrive on the politics of despair and anger but no practical solutions.
We have been divided and taken advantage of for too long. Rise Mzansi intends to unite South Africans around a goal that until today has remained only words: The people shall govern.
Rise Mzansi’s vision is to build an equal, safe, united and prosperous South Africa in one generation. We know it cannot be done overnight. But that work is urgent and needs to start tomorrow and proceed with urgency.
Our movement is open to every South African who wants to build a nation that cares. This is the work of patriotic South Africans, not party loyalists.
We stand for:
- A society that is fair – where class, race, gender or disability do not determine who succeeds in life and who doesn’t;
- A country governed by the rule of law, where life is not cheap, and the powerful are equally subject to the law;
- A society where economic justice, inclusion, growth and investment are not opposing concepts but part of the same package that delivers a prosperous life; and
- A nation where climate justice is about human well-being and protecting our natural environment – not a fight between the elites about coal and renewable contracts. Rural subsistence farmers are losing their livelihoods. People’s homes are being swept away by floods. Thousands of people in the coal belt have respiratory diseases.
Surely, we are not suggesting they all be forgotten again.
Our movement, Rise Mzansi, was not born in the used furniture shop.
In November 2022, hundreds of patriotic South Africans met to discuss the country they wanted to build and how to build it. What followed was a powerful pledge to:
- Be loyal to the South African Constitution;
- Work in our communities and volunteer to find solutions to make our communities safe and prosperous;
- Work together to build an inclusive movement, driven by the people, to contest for political power in Election 2024; and
- Develop ethical, accountable leaders capable of leading our country and communities.
It is this pledge that has brought us here today and will fuel the building of this movement. Those who would hastily dismiss us should understand that we have been building from the ground up, not the top down.
This is what “the people shall govern” means.
That said, we believe there are four urgent thematic priorities.
The first is Political Reform to return democracy to the people and to build a capable state. That political reform programme must include electoral reform, government and judicial reform. These will underpin efforts to clean up, capacitate and professionalise the civil service.
The second is safety. South Africans are unsafe in their homes, in their communities, on the roads and in their places of work. It is not just violent crime that is keeping us in distress but communities that are overwhelmed by drug trafficking, drug addiction and a disintegration of social structures.
The third is building an economy that creates jobs and opportunities for everyone. South Africa is not poor. We should not be having so much poverty. We have natural wealth such as minerals that are critical for the green economy, world-class tourism assets and arable land for producing enough food for every South African, and exporting it to the world.
We have a world-class financial system and deep capital markets. But our economic policy is essentially about keeping the post-colonial structure intact. We are also failing to get very basic things right. Mining investment has lagged other mineral rich countries because our licensing system is corrupt and inefficient. We export far less than we should because we have stifled investment. Companies pack up and leave municipalities that are being run to the ground by corrupt cadres, leaving hundreds of people unemployed and their families without an income.
This illustrates the importance of municipalities to deliver basic services and rebuild our economy. Our municipalities are falling apart. Water and sanitation are failing – to say nothing of electricity. Our basic infrastructure is falling apart. Localities are riddled with crime. But every business exists in a locality. We cannot rebuild this economy while the very areas in which we hope to build an economy are falling apart.
Earlier I spoke about the road to Coffee Bay. How are we supposed to build an economy and create jobs when the very basic infrastructure such as a provincial road is not there?
Finally, we must root out corruption – not only in national government and state-owned enterprises, but the degrading, humiliating corruption people suffer through at the local level.
2024 is our 1994. We are at a crossroads. If we do not intervene now it will be too late. It needs something deeper than just party politics. It needs a shared vision, a shared value system, an inclusive culture that seeks to unite and involve all South Africans.
Our population is very young, and yet they are kept hidden in leagues and agencies but not at the centre of politics. Rise Mzansi is an opportunity for young South Africans to lead and build a different future.
To those in the current system who reduce politics to the art of the deal, we say “no deal” without the South African people.
To those who say South Africa is broken beyond repair, we say: you are wrong. This beautiful land belongs to all of us, and it’s worth fighting for.
No one is coming to save us. Decide whether we are going to rise and rebuild our country or die in despair, and on our knees because we don’t believe in ourselves. There will be no perfect knight in shining armour. No perfect politics. No perfect options. It is time to choose ourselves. It is time to choose our collective legacy.
Now is the time for South Africans to rise. Now is the time for South Africa to rise. DM
Songezo Zibi is the leader of Rise Mzansi.