ROAD TO 2024 ELECTIONS
Roger Jardine: ‘We have to fix the balance sheets of SA Inc,’ says Change Starts Now presidential hopeful
On Sunday, businessman and activist Roger Jardine officially launched a political movement called Change Starts Now. Two days previously, Jardine sat down with Daily Maverick to outline his thinking.
Outgoing FirstRand chair Roger Jardine is already sensitive about being referred to as big business’s preferred presidential candidate. It’s an “unfortunate narrative”, he told Daily Maverick this week, days before he launched his new political movement on his humble home turf of Riverlea in Gauteng.
Another myth Jardine is keen to bust: the rumour that his political movement, Change Starts Now, has already raised more than R1-billion from infatuated donors.
“There’s no billion rand,” he says. “I intend working very hard throughout South Africa.”
And there’s not a moment to spare. With the 2024 elections expected to take place at any point between May and August, Jardine could have as little as five months to build national political structures.
“We don’t have time to slog through this,” Jardine admits.
(The election is currently expected by most observers to be held either on 8 or 22 May 2023 – Ed)
A road from activism to government to business to politics
Jardine has spent the last 25 years in high-profile private sector roles, including being at the helm of engineering and media companies. He made the move into business after being one of the youngest department directors-general in Nelson Mandela’s government, one who cut his teeth in political activism while still a student.
He describes his family background as having steeped him in political consciousness, with his grandmother working for unions alongside the mother of former Judge Albie Sachs.
“As our democracy has withered and declined, I have asked myself a lot of questions about what I should be doing. And I decided it was time.”
Jardine’s candidacy has been the subject of feverish speculation in political circles in recent weeks, but in other respects has seemingly come out of nowhere. Jardine insists that this is not the case and that the announcement of his political party launch followed a lengthy period of consultation with “the community, civil society and business”.
Read more in Daily Maverick: How real is Roger Jardine as SA opposition’s next big hope?
Affable and mild-mannered, Jardine is very likeable. But few people would claim that he is a household name — while there is, thus far, little distinct difference in view between his political principles and those of multiple existing opposition parties: the DA, Rise Mzansi and Build One South Africa. Those parties have the advantage of having been working on the ground towards the 2024 polls for months longer than the Change Starts Now movement will have at its disposal.
So, why not just plough his efforts towards supporting one of the existing parties?
“To join an existing party is to buy into an existing platform,” Jardine says.
“I’m not a career politician. Given the urgency of the situation, we are very open to talking to other parties and structures. What we would like to see is South Africans coming together so we can shape a progressive political party. Citizens want something new, and through the listening tour we are about to embark on, we can hopefully find some ideas.”
Team of high-flyers assembling
One of the factors in Jardine’s favour is the team members he is succeeding in assembling around him. They include veteran activist (and outgoing Maverick Citizen editor) Mark Heywood, outgoing Helen Suzman Foundation head Nicole Fritz, the Progressive Health Forum’s Dr Aslam Dasoo, and — perhaps most notably — former UDF leader and Thabo Mbeki speechwriter Murphy Morobe.
These are highly respected individuals who have all been convinced to leave fairly significant roles to throw their lot in with Jardine – a fact which in itself has to count for something.
Addressing the Change Starts Now launch on Sunday, Dasoo explained: “I am the head of the politics desk… Part of my brief is to gather the best and brightest in the political realm.”
Many had assumed from the timing of ANC veteran Mavuso Msimang’s resignation from the ruling party last week that Msimang would join Jardine’s outfit, but on Friday Jardine told Daily Maverick that Msimang would not be part of the Sunday launch.
What of the speculation that Jardine is to be ultimately parachuted in as the presidential candidate for the Multi-Party Charter, the pre-elections coalition of eight political parties including the DA?
Jardine doesn’t answer the question directly, but says: “The spirit of a Multi-Party Charter is one that we welcome. The state of South African politics calls for South Africans to come together.”
The race elephant in the room
Some weeks ago, a senior political figure told Daily Maverick that he was convinced that any credible South African presidential candidate would have to be isiZulu-speaking. Asked if he believes that millions of South Africans are ready to rally around a president who is not a black African, Jardine says: “We are going to test the proposition. But so far, it’s not an issue in our own research.”
What Jardine’s Sunday launch of Change Starts Now made clear is that non-racialism is one of the party’s most closely held ideological principles.
The ANC has been ignoring “the constitutional injunction to build a nonracial society”, Morobe told the audience.
“We need to turn towards each other, not against each other. South Africa is being re-racialised.”
Interviewing Jardine, it was hard to discern exactly what else his party stood for. He ruled out a “wholesale privatisation of public goods”, but suggested that South Africa’s “very advanced private sector” would “have to step in to assist with services”.
Jardine said, “We have to fix the balance sheets of SA Inc. A lot of private capital must be leveraged.”
At the Sunday launch, Jardine’s vision was fleshed out a little more. His party will resist attempts to restrict civil society in South Africa. It will support social grants, but holds that they are currently inadequate. It wants universal healthcare, but is opposed to the current NHI Bill. It envisages a Cabinet of technocrats, with skills from all manner of South African sectors and the ability to fix problems like Eskom.
But for the time being, Jardine and his team are in listening mode.
“It’s early; we are going to go out and talk to communities and parties,” Jardine told Daily Maverick.
Some might dispute how “early” it really is, with elections looming ever closer. The EFF was the last major party to get going so close to an election, when it launched in July 2013 ahead of the May 2014 polls. It garnered 6.35% of the national vote.
But the audience gathered at a Riverlea hall as Sunday afternoon tipped into evening was there to cheer on Jardine’s project, enthusiastically clapping and chanting “Change starts now!”
The love and support for Jardine within that room will need to be shared very much more widely if Jardine is to get the “critical mass at the polls” that he is aiming for.
Asked if he has one pick for the South African figure he would most like to join his movement, Jardine laughs.
“I want to recruit everybody!” he says. DM
Declaration: Outgoing Maverick Citizen Editor Mark Heywood has joined the Change Starts Now movement. His last day with Daily Maverick will be 14 December 2023. He was not involved in the production of this story.