Defend Truth


Local elections are about saving the soul of South Africa


Herman Mashaba is the leader of ActionSA. Mashaba is the former executive mayor of Johannesburg and founder of the People’s Dialogue.

By dint of character, I detest the ‘herd mentality’ and unquestioning loyalty to an organisation or ‘leader.’ I agree with the Harvard author of the famous Leadership on the Line, Ronald Heifetz, that the most pernicious idea in the world today is that a person (or party) is ‘born to lead.’ The idea of the charismatic ‘saviour leader’ or ‘princeling’ has been the bane of South Africa since 1994.

Nelson Mandela’s beautiful legacy is that he did not see or perceive himself as the saviour leader and us as sheep: he handed the work of nation building back to us. Leadership is shared among us on a daily basis. This is why Heifetz holds up Mandela as a model leader, and why the late president is a case study in leadership across the business, not for profit, and government sectors all over the world.

While I honour the fact that Nelson Mandela was an ANC statesman, the DA today exemplifies his vision of shared leadership more than our opponents in the ANC today. That’s why in the looming local government elections to be held no later than August, both the ANC’s and the DA’s ‘leadership is on the line.’

When Mmusi Maimane stepped into the presidential vacuum and spoke about race last month, for instance, the membership did not look to him to resolve racism. Mr Maimane strategically, in fact, handed us back – country and party – the baton of leadership to make the fight against racism part of our daily and political routines.

The push for diversity and inclusivity has not just been extended to elective representation, but – more consequentially – to ideas and thoughts. We boast an army of black, Indian, coloured, and white councillors, MPs, press officers, researchers, thinkers, directors, and managers. The dynamo, however, lies in the powerful ranks of the members and branches. The party would grind to a halt tomorrow if these voices were not heeded.

So why the rap? Why does the DA enjoy impeccable credentials but finds it so difficult to prick the ANC’s race balloon – which rises as regular as clockwork at every election?

The daily assault on the humanity of black South Africans during apartheid meant that – to use a title by WEB Du Bois – ‘the souls of black folk’ themselves were ‘on the line.’ Much more than concepts of natural law, liberty, and democracy was at stake. It was the stuff of life and death. This is precisely the spot where the ANC have perversely made electoral hay since 1994.

I always knew this on a level, but it has certainly hit home during the campaign I am now running. If you had come with me to Orange Farm or, in particular, the informal settlement in Melrose Street in City and Suburban in downtown Johannesburg, you would see – to hoop back to Heifetz and Du Bois – that the souls of black South Africans are still on the line today. Our constitutional rights to safe shelter and basic services are not worth the paper it’s written on.

What I have witnessed is that on the ground, and in all truth, black lives don’t matter to the ANC. Poor and aged black grandmothers dig their own toilet pits, young black men in townships have an entirely hopeless future without jobs or decent education, young mothers queue to pump water for their families into buckets, and black entrepreneurs have no support or help to even get ahead.

So what is the ANC to do, when it has nothing left to promise because the bubble of its empty promises of the past has decisively burst? When the souls of black folk are still today on the line, the ANC knows it can still galvanise on the basis of race, and it does so unashamedly.

This also largely explains the contradiction of why the DA in office has made a material difference to the lives of black South Africans, and yet receives scant credit for it. The DA has consistently delivered improvements and progress everywhere it governs from Midvaal with its record-busting job creation to Cape Town – the most equal city in the country, and the city with the highest levels of service delivery in the country. This is our story, and it must overcome the ANC’s strategy of driving racial wedges in our society.

The 2016 local government elections require all freedom-loving South Africans to come out of their safety zone, and think carefully about their choices. Like you must soon, I also had to consider my response to President Zuma’s government, whose ‘leadership (is) on the line’ like it has never been before.

Our aim is to create a more just, humane, kinder, and opportunity society for all who call South Africa home.

Politics is for the purpose of collective action, just like any other form of human fellowship. Our collective action must be to take collective leadership back from those who believe they are born to lead, and those who see themselves as saviour leaders.

My campaign in Johannesburg is to connect with people’s experiences, and energise their souls. Please register to vote because the very soul of South Africa and our human rights-based constitution is on the line. DM


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