Opinionista Mmusi Maimane 6 April 2014

Competitive politics should be celebrated

South Africa seems on the verge of becoming a truly competitive democracy, where the divide between the privileged few and those who can’t access the lion’s share is no longer quite so pronounced.

No one can ever say the South African political landscape is boring. With constant shifts in our politics, I believe that our future holds some exciting prospects.

I have written before about how a competitive democracy ensures accountability from those elected to public office. Fear of losing power is the greatest way to keep politicians in check, and retain power with the people.

I do believe we are on the verge of seeing that beauty in South Africa. Key battleground provinces are emerging at the ballot box – the Western and Northern Capes, and especially Gauteng. We are also seeing shifts in places where the ANC has shown historical dominance, most notably the Eastern Cape.

As these shifts in our politics become more obvious, there is also a new type of character emerging in our public space.

More and more, we are seeing people who have become ashamed of the corruption and economic policy shortcomings of the ANC. Often these are people with some degree of privilege and also voices in the public space – commentators, celebrities, and especially twelebs.

But how often have we seen people on public platforms beat their drums for months on end about how government is failing us, only to turn around and endorse the ANC closer to elections?

This group of people, whether they realise it or not, are the gatekeepers of the system of insiders and outsiders in South Africa.

If we are honest with ourselves, it is because we have lost the integrity in our politics that there is an increasing amount of South Africans left on the outside of our economy.

Honest entrepreneurs battle to succeed because the spending power of government through tenders is available only to a select few.

People desperate for even short-term work need to prove membership of a political party to get a job picking up rubbish or trimming hedges in a Public Works programme.

Land across South African townships is unavailable for people to own, invest in or gain equity from because title deeds are not forthcoming to government housing beneficiaries.

Then there is BEE, a policy capable of creating thousands of jobs in South Africa. But we don’t weight the scorecard to reward companies who actually create jobs. Instead the scorecard and a corrupt tender system favours the same individuals over and over again.

We forget also that BEE is only a small part of the entire South African economy that we need to be opening up to every ordinary South African.

Of course the most obvious example of insiders and outsiders is the rule of law. Through control over the levers of power, some people stay out of prison and some go to prison. Most notably our president.

These developments in a land of so much beauty is why I believe so passionately in the ideal of an open opportunity society for all.

A society where tender committees and housing databases are open to public scrutiny. A society where BEE truly opens up opportunities so that small businesses with job-creating potential can compete for contracts.

A society where there is political will to promote strong independent institutions and the rule of law. A society that respects the rights of individuals to fairly acquire employment and opportunity.

That destiny is within our hands to create. We must celebrate the increasing competitiveness of our politics, promote it at the ballot box, and avoid the urge to gatekeep out of fear, nostalgia or protection of privilege. DM



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