Winston Churchill said “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others”. In the aftermath of the political storm following the ConCourt ruling, which followed #GuptaGate, which in turn followed the Van Rooyen financial disaster, it is useful to look at historical trends in other post-liberation African countries. A political transition inevitably happens within the first 30 years of liberation (details below).
Tanzania, and Zambia underwent those first transformations in relative peace and with minimal upheaval. In Tanzania, transition from a one-party state to a multiparty democracy happened after 30 years. In Zambia, Kenneth Kuanda was voted out of power after 28 years, and accepted the country’s decision.
Namibia, which is possibly the most successful post-liberation success story in southern Africa, has yet to have a “party transition” but after 15 years Sam Nujoma smoothly handed over to his successor. However, this is no guarantee of peaceful democracy as Kenya demonstrated when, after 15 years under Jomo Kenyatta, his political heir Daniel arap Moi maintained ruthless control for the next 25 years. So one party essentially held political control of the country for 40 years and the first political transition that followed has been marred by violence and enormous social distress.
Zimbabwe is interesting in that the first transition would have happened in 2005 (25 years after independence) when the MDC, according to most independent sources, won the elections by one seat in the National Assembly. However, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF withheld the results for two weeks and then announced a 73 percent victory for themselves.
So as South Africa finds itself 22 years into democracy and facing its fifth round of local government elections, let’s look to our medium-term future. Between 20 and 30 years after liberation there is a major political shift in a post-liberation country; so we can assume that we are going to have the same thing here. Indeed, we are already in that 20-30 year time frame.
The obvious question is, how is that transition going to happen? The doom-sayers predict Zimbabwe and Kenya; the hopeful among us are rooting for Zambia and Tanzania.
Will South Africa take the safe route or the chaotic one? And politically (leaving aside cultural, legal, social, economic, and state issues which will all be driving towards transition in various forms) the major fact that will determine the route is – how willing will the party of power be to accept democratic transition and hand over power to the country’s next choice?
It is worth asking this question now for two reasons. The “ANC of today” including the NEC, the entire Cabinet, the parliamentary caucuses of both houses, the Women’s League and Youth League seem intent on maintaining the ANC first, South Africa second policy. Their lack of action, unanimous support for an “unconstitutional president”, and weak apologies all point in the wrong direction.
In Oudtshoorn it took more than a year of legal action before the ANC handed over power once they had lost the majority in the council – in the process wrecking the financial structure so badly that the municipality was placed under administration. But – the ANC eventually left. It was inevitable even though they could not believe it.
The “ANC of yesterday”, who have become increasingly vocal about the need for Jacob Zuma to either step down or be removed, has also not made any significant censure of the actions of the whole party. Whether it be the venerable Ahmed Kathrada, or the formerly powerful Trevor Manuel and Cheryl Carolus, or ex-allies like Zwelinzima Vavi, they seem to be treating the crisis as a “one man leadership problem”. As yet, there have been no calls for the ANC to put the country first, even if it means losing power.
There have been two major splits from the ANC in the last 10 years, Cope and the EFF, but so far that has resulted in minimal electoral damage to the ANC, and no real loss of power. The DA have kept on growing strongly at the ballot box, and have repeatedly proven effective administrators, but have yet to make that leap into becoming a viable political threat to the ANC. But they are all forces for change that will get stronger, until the tipping point. That is not a matter of opinion, it is simply historically inevitable.
But lest we get bogged down in despair let us remind ourselves of how powerful the forces outside the ANC are. Big Business and Big Money forced Jacob Zuma’s first major retreat when he was given no choice but to fire Des van Rooyen. The media’s relentless exposure resulted in the Guptas leaving their South African empire vulnerable as they fled (apparently) to Dubai. Thuli Madonsela has been a beacon of strength and hope as she has carried out her work against a background of vilification and harassment. And last week the Constitutional Court led by Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng gave the entire government a snotklap that will leave its head spinning for months to come.
I suppose it comes down to this. Does the ANC realise that change is inevitable? And will it choose to put South Africa first and the ANC second and accept that change? We can only hope, prompt and pressure them to stay true to the ideals enshrined in the Freedom Charter, and the magnificent examples of their liberation leaders Mandela, Sisulu and Tambo. The clock is ticking for them, and when the alarm rings to tell them their shift is over we had better make sure that they leave the keys behind. DM