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‘South Africa needs a democratic reset to deliver freedom and justice’

‘South Africa needs a democratic reset to deliver freedom and justice’
Songezo Zibi (Image supplied)

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.  

Rize Mzansi launch

Rise Mzansi has a bold ambition: to reshape South African politics within a decade. (Photo: Twitter)

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!

Read more in Daily Maverick: 

SA people, let’s work together to rebuild the country of our dreams

We are the leaders we have been waiting for, and our time has come to rise

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.


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Jan Munnik says:

    Very powerful! Well done Songezo and your team. Every South African should be supporting Rise Mzansi! It is our only hope!
    Let’s all make this initiative and this new movement/party work so that it can govern SA after the 24 elections. That possibility is not as far-fetched as many may think. It has happened before.

  • Stuart Smith says:

    I think you are missing a very important priority; Education. Education at school, in fact, education at all levels. How to become a good citizen.

    • dmpotulo says:

      So many political parties, all singing same song. Why not join existing parties like UDM or Action SA or Mmusi party. Agang leader Dr Mamphele said about the same thing. The elephant in the room, cANCer remains intact while opposition parties are disjointed with everyone wanting to be a leader. The opposition parties could form one movement with different constituents, speaking with one voice.

  • James Francis says:

    Let’s call a space a spade. Mqanduli is in the OR Tambo district, where the ANC controls the vast majority of wards (2021). The people there are voting ANC. If they want change, vote for it. We don’t need a democratic reset. We just need people to actually exercise their democratic power. As long as columns like these ignore the ANC elephant in the room, there won’t be change.

  • Michael Kahn says:

    Yes, Zibi, change we need and change we shall make. BUT … what is the Risee Mzansi programme? State the 10 key points – a constituency-based electoral system; civil service entry examination; declaration of teaching as an essential service; upholding the LRA; upholding environmental regulations; merit-based appointment; abolition of race-based procurement; Freedom Charter II? Codesa III? What does RM stand for?

  • Ann Bown says:

    Definitely the right time to push a reset button! Yep 2024 will either be a breakthrough year or a breakup year! Rise Up!

  • Sam van Coller says:

    Eloquent words with an excellent message from a fine South African. His party will be taking the world of ethics and integrity into the world of open power contestation – a tough road to choose. He will need a strategy that gathers momentum very rapidly behind himself as a charismatic leader. Given his critical view of all the political parties, he will presumably seek to draw supporters from both the ruling party and the opposition parties. I would hope he will rather seek to emerge as the natural leader of all the opposition parties by convincing them he is right and not antagonize them from the start. Their road, given the Liberation brand of the ANC and our past history has not been easy. It is easy to criticize them. If we don’t start turning South Africa around in 2024, it is going to be nigh impossible in 2029.

  • brian.lagrange says:

    Coming from the UK this is the first time I have read something positive. I like what you have written, time will tell!

  • Eberhard Knapp says:

    I am impressed! Very impressed!

  • Kim Webster says:

    Songezo Zibi for leader of United Democratic Front 2024!

  • David Walker says:

    I wish you well. Anyone who could possibly switch a vote away from the looming ANC/EFF coalition of corruption should be encouraged.

  • Petrus Kleinhans says:

    I struggle to understand why these references to colonialism crop up in the 21st century. In a BEEE wracked economy. How much further does Rise Mzanzi intend to go from a point where every successful entrepreneur must give up half of what you build to a black man who had nothing to do with what you built.

  • R S says:

    I wish Rise Mzansi all the best.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    I get all giddy with talk like that, despite the dismal track records of new parties. That we need a reset is beyond argument. We needed it yesterday. But, since my vote is my crown, mr Zibi, you need to make your plan public. I simply do not go on trust anymore. So, what’s your roadmap to the new Mzansi? Who’s in the car with you? Do you even have a car? I suggest one high off the ground, too deal with those bad Coffee Bay roads.

  • Paul Zille says:

    Fine words and a noble vision. But no different from every other wannabe party. And zero organisational capacity and governance experience. And no hope of acquiring these. Witness all the other attempts: COPE, AGANG, ID… the list of failure and wasted votes is long. Rise Mzansi will be yet another distraction from and dilution of the only hope of rescuing this land from ANC darkness: voting for the only opposition party with a track record of governing effectively. Go figure.

  • André van Niekerk says:

    Well said. A total reset is needed. I would like to see Rise Mzanzi announce leaders who are NOT in the current system. By definiton, a politician who switches sides is an opportunist. If you keep to your word and provide people with integrity, who does not seek for power and riches for themselves, you have my full support.

    Good luck.

    • Kim Webster says:

      You’ve got to be in it to win it unfortunately. So maybe the thing to do is simplify the ballot paper to read ANC, EFF or UDF 2024? That would mean prepublishing the candidates for DA,ACTION SA,FF+, IFP, RISE MZANZI et al and rebranding a sensible collaboration in advance.

  • Michael Flax says:

    An eloquent and thoughtful address – I would support a credible party that can draw votes away from the potential country-ending ANC/EFF coalition post-2024. However, the voting (and funding) public need a much clearer manifesto that is fully pro-growth and can complement the excellent work and inroads the DA has already done.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    You get my vote Songezo, even now. But you’d better explain better why I should trust you.

  • Brian Kent says:

    Where do we sign up?
    How do supporters participate?
    Does Rise accept donations?
    All critical questions to jump start action and build momentum!

  • Shirley Gobey says:

    Pie in the sky unfortunately. The illiterate masses will still vote for their beloved ANC. These rural ANC supporters need to be educated about their options and that a vote for any other party does not mean “apartheid will come back” or we will lose our grants. I wish him well but there is not enough time before the next election. A coalition of opposition parties is the only option.

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