Defend Truth


Can a real opposition please stand up?

Sipho Hlongwane is a writer and columnist for Daily Maverick. His other work interests also include motoring, music and technology, for which he has some awards. In a previous life, he drove forklift trucks, hosted radio shows, waited tables, and was once bitten by a large monitor lizard on his ankle. It hurt a lot. Arsenal Football Club is his only permanent obsession. He appears in these pages as a political correspondent.

South Africa is pretty much a one-party state, complete with most one-party state problems such as rampant corruption. Contrary to what Helen Zille might have us believe, the best thing for South Africa isn’t the Democratic Alliance, but a much weaker and, therefore, concessionary African National Congress. Cosatu, please hurry up and form a separate political party?

I asked two weeks ago where all the good men in positions of national leadership were. (Yes, yes, I know. I’m not one to spoil a good paraphrase for the sake of political correctness). Where are the people who are in it for the good of the country, and not for what they can get out of it for themselves or their parties? Where are those who have the vision to act on what will benefit us all in the long run and not on narrow individual or personal interests? Not in the DA, it seems.

I’ve always had my doubts about the DA. That party has always struck me as being a boiling cauldron of right-wingers too sophisticated for the Freedom Front, left-over Nats too smart for Orania and those jilted types who voted for Mandela out of sheer relief that the Night of the Long Knives was postponed indefinitely. Let’s not forget the thoroughly decent Democratic Party chaps. They are perhaps the redeeming feature of the DA.

DA leader Helen Zille is not unlike the ANC politicians she enjoys maligning so much – at the end of the day, she’s about what’s good for the DA.

A good example is how she handled the Chancellor House–Hitachi business. Gwede Mantashe aside, there was no dispute that the ANC’s stake in a company building a power station was heinously immoral. Yet Zille tackled the issue by claiming that the ANC would benefit from electricity price hikes. That was another ludicrously cheap victory handed to Mantashe on a golden platter. His satisfaction was almost palpable as he pompously asked how the company contracted to build the power station would benefit from a price hike. He has a point, too. Your electrician doesn’t directly benefit from what Eskom charges you for electricity.

What alternatives did Zille offer in that case, aside from “vote for us, because we wouldn’t do such a thing”?

If I had my way, she would be made to shut up and concentrate on running Western Cape. If she can convince me that her particular brand of “buttered-scones-and-cream” politics can work, I’ll rethink my stance when elections come around again. I don’t need her to tell me that the government is largely corrupt. I don’t need her to be my political conscience. The DA is an opposition party. They are Plan B to the ANC’s Plan A. That’s it!

The truth is, the DA punch far above their weight, and I just don’t see them, at least in their current form, presenting a serious bid for national power.

The real “opposition” party in South Africa is the trade union federation and tripartite alliance partner, Cosatu. Mantashe himself recently conceded that they play the role, among others, of pulling the alliance to the left should the ANC drift too far to the right. The problem is that the ANC is only too happy to ignore the other partners in the alliance when it suits them to do so. We’ve had the usual flapping of arms and grinding of teeth of late by Cosatu because the ANC “done it again”.

Zwelinzima Vavi and his deputies have been complaining bitterly over the fact that the Polokwane agreements have not been met. They’ve tried to get the issue of lifestyle audits going. Vavi even produced that now-legendary “if it’s true, then God help us all” soundbite over the ANC’s stake in Hitachi, all to no avail. To paraphrase Stephen Grootes, how long before Cosatu takes a long, hard look at its membership size and decides to go it alone?

Cosatu forming a political party and contesting elections on their own terms would be the best thing that happened to South Africa since 1994. For one thing this would severely cripple the ruling party. It’d still win the national elections, but by a barely satisfactory majority. The only way it could continue to maintain its current hold on local politics would be in coalition with Cosatu. And for another, Cosatu would drift left, taking with it the left-leaning socialists. The ANC would invariably drift to the right. As coalition partner, as opposed to tripartite ally, Cosatu would have more power to ram its ideas through, forcing concessions and moderation from the party of tenderpreneurs.

Most importantly, a weak ANC would be forced to clean its house. A weak ANC wouldn’t be able to afford expensive mistakes like Juju. A weak ANC would be lean and mean, focused on delivering to constituencies.

For this reason, I’m begging Vavi and his lieutenants to do the right thing. Bid the tripartite alliance goodbye and run as a separate political entity. For the sake of the country.


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