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‘Returning power to the people’ — Rise Mzansi hosts hundreds at convention to craft policies

‘Returning power to the people’ — Rise Mzansi hosts hundreds at convention to craft policies
Rise Mzansi leader Songezo Zibi. (Photo: Gallo Images / Fani Mahuntsi)

New political party Rise Mzansi hosted almost 800 delegates from all nine provinces at its People’s Convention at the weekend, where it aimed to develop the party’s policies.

‘For Rise Mzansi to look at different pathways, there are certain things you need to do differently, because if you are going to do things the same, then it means there is no change.”

Black Business Council president Elias Monage was among influential people from business, politics, NGOs and civil society to give the fledgling party Rise Mzansi sobering advice for its political aspirations. 

He was addressing delegates at Rise Mzansi’s inaugural People’s Convention, at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg at the weekend. 

Essentially, Monage was telling the party to take the road less travelled when drafting its policies, which will become part and parcel of the party’s ambition to free South Africa from “the clutches of a political establishment that no longer has any solutions or plans for the country”. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Inside Songezo Zibi’s plan for Rise Mzansi to break old politics – can he pull it off? 

Delegates from civil society organisations, grassroots community organisations and ordinary citizens from across the country trickled into the venue clad in their party regalia, turning the winding avenues into a sea of black and white.

Over the three days of the policy convention, the delegates engaged in robust discussions about how SA’s new kid on the political block could make the country a better place for all. 

According to Rise Mzasni, there were about 300 representatives from civil society organisations, NGOs and businesses, and another 500 supporters of the party — 796 delegates in all. 

Delegates sang Struggle and celebration songs while they waited for the convention to begin, before Rise Mzansi’s national chairperson, Vuyiswa Ramokgopa, welcomed the delegates. 

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Artists perform for a crowd of young people at Rise Mzansi’s inaugural People’s Convention at Constitution Hill in Johannesburg at the weekend. (Photo: Lerato Mustila)

“We said five months ago that as part of returning power to the people, we would embark on a journey of building a broad social coalition,” Ramokgopa said. 

“So, it’s important to note that we are not alone in this process. We have been engaging with various sectors of society, and today, we are joined by our esteemed guest speakers: independent representatives from business, civil society, politics, academia and community-based organisations.” 

Guest speakers included Nonhle Mbuthuma, a human rights and environmental activist from the Amadiba Crisis Committee; former statistician-general Dr Pali Lehohla; the secretary-general of the Good party, Brett Herron; the Land Party president, Gcobani Ndzongana; Sthandiwe Msomi, the national spokesperson of the South African Youth Economic Council; Elias Monage, the president of the Black Business Council; businessman Colin Coleman; and Future Elect leader Dr Sithembile Mbete.

Solutions, not slogans 

From land reform to the transformation of the economy, the guest speakers offered the party and its delegates critical advice on what it should consider when drafting its policies before next year’s general election. 

“South Africans are tired of [slogans]. They only want practical solutions, and I hope this gathering will come up with pragmatic programmes of solution,” said Land Party leader Ndzongana.

The Black Business Council’s Monage said, “Policy cannot be business as usual. It must be business as unusual.”

Delegates expressed their hopes that the policy convention would result in actionable programmes that would produce real change in South Africa.

One delegate, Fhatuwani Muswobi, a student leader at the University of the Western Cape, told Daily Maverick, “[Delegates] are not only voicing their concerns, but they are also bringing up solutions about what can be done. I’m hoping that these are the policies that [Rise Mzansi] are going to implement. I hope … there will be short-term solutions that we will see them fulfil.”

Rise Mzansi’s policy head, Mandla Isaacs, said, “This weekend is really about capturing the aspirations of the South Africa [that delegates] believe they deserve. We are really trying to imagine and envision a new society. For us, it starts with imagination and vision.” 

He said that in the coming weeks, Rise Mzansi would take everything heard over the weekend to put out a People’s Manifesto, which will articulate what the party wants to achieve in the coming years.

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Rise Mzansi policy head Mandla Isaacs. (Photo: Rise Mzansi)

“Right now, everything is very vision-centred, imaginative and broad. The aim at this stage isn’t to be practical but to be bold. The manifesto will start to be more specific about the what, and in the People’s Plan, [which will be released] early next year in February, we will be very specific about the how over the next five years.” 

Delegates have a voice 

For the first two days of the policy convention, delegates spread themselves across groups to discuss the themes that would inform Rise Mzansi’s policies and actively participated in crafting the party’s manifesto through spirited debate. 

The themes included nation-building, economy, community, climate change, family and governance. 

Slindile Sithole, a community leader who runs the non-profit organisation Zitholeni Community Programme in KwaZulu-Natal, said: “I think it’s good that Rise Mzansi is giving us the opportunity to give input into the decisions that they are making and have a say in the policies.” 

Beyond a festival of solutions

Besides creating a space for discourse and debate to find solutions to South Africa’s most pressing problems, Rise Mzansi also made the convention a space of celebration and creativity.

In line with the theme of family, there was a section dedicated to children, the Little Risers Corner, where there were jumping castles and fun activities to keep the youngsters entertained. 

Irfaan Mangera, the party’s civic alliances coordinator, said, “We can’t be speaking about young people but not engaging them in the spaces that they belong in. And where are those spaces? [They are] in sports teams, cultural groups, community events and programming that appeal to young people.”

On the second day of the convention, Saturday, 7 October, Rise Mzansi organised netball and soccer tournaments and board games for teens and young adults. 

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Young netball players participate in a tournament during the Rise Mzansi People’s Convention at Constitution Hill, Johannesburg. (Photo: Rise Mzansi)

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Rise Mzansi national chairperson Vuyiswa Ramokgopa plays chess with a young person at the party’s People’s Convention. (Photo: Rise Mzansi)

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Delegates at the Rise Mzansi People’s Convention. (Photo: Lerato Mutsila)

 UWC student leader Muswobi said, “I feel like from here on out, with everybody here, this is just the beginning. It’s amazing to see people pull through from all walks of life and for them to not feel like this is not a platform to speak.” DM 

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