Defend Truth


South Africa is poorly served by its politics


Andrew Ihsaan Gasnolar was born in Cape Town and raised by his determined mother, grandparents, aunt and the rest of his maternal family. He is an admitted attorney (formerly of the corporate hue), with recent exposure in the public sector, and is currently working on transport and infrastructure projects. He is a Mandela Washington Fellow, a Mandela Rhodes Scholar, and a WEF Global Shaper. He had a brief stint in the contemporary party politic environment working for Mamphela Ramphele as Agang CEO and chief-of-staff; he found the experience a deeply educational one.

We should not be mistaken or confused about the uncertainty, chaos and rot currently on show in South Africa. This is all about self-indulgent and short-sighted leadership.

The events across Tshwane this past week have rattled many of us, especially those who have been caught up in this turf war. That chaos has already taken three lives with a number of roads being barricaded, shops and businesses looted and vehicles burnt. Yet, there are no calls to #PrayForTshwane or #JeSuisTshwane and there seem to be no solutions on offer.

Hashtags have certain limitations, such as #SleepOutZA (disclaimer, about a year ago I critiqued the concept under the tag of #CEOSleepOutZA), which are often just theatrical and do not address the structural and societal issues that perpetuate those very problems. Similarly, a simple reactive approach to events around Tshwane and the apparent revolt against the parachuting in of Thoko Didiza as the ANC’s mayoral candidate will not be enough.

South Africans should not simply see the events in Tshwane this past week as signs of instability in the African National Congress or factionalism or tribalism, but rather as a sign of something far bigger. This is not simply confined to our body politic but rather is a worrying reflection on the state of our country.

Sadly, the self-indulgent party-political agendas have come out to play and we have seen its ugly head across the board in the games being played by politicians as the capital burns. We should be careful about how we confront these issues. We cannot simply reduce this to factionalism or tribalism but we need to address the root cause of this dysfunction.

We should be shaping the approach as to how we deal with the contestation of elections but also the role that real participation and democracy have to play in the internal machinery of our political parties. Far too much is taken for granted. Far too much is assumed. We are extending a never-ending rope to our politicians with a hands-off approach that has seen the rise of the worst kind of arrogance and hubris.

What is evident as the embers cool in Tshwane is that South Africa is poorly served by its politics. There was a time when we were willing to debate, engage, reflect and even to go so far as to internalise different ideas into our thinking, leadership and even in the very government that claims to serve the people of South Africa. A democratic and constitutional South Africa was not simply forged by relying on a blind allegiance to one sort of ideology or interest but rather there was an attempt to balance competing interests.

Surely there should be room in a free South Africa for new ideas and a different approach? Instead we seem intent on shutting off the space for thought. Our body politic is obsessed with shoring up its own positions at any cost. South Africans need to carve out more space for robust and real debate. The contestation for ideas, thought and different leaders is essential if we are ever going to confront the issues facing generations of South Africans.

The events unfolding in Tshwane are not about those new ideas, new approaches or even about a new kind of leadership. No, the events in Tshwane are about parachuting in Didiza, protecting the interest of one camp against the interest of another within the ANC. That fight has compromised the interests of people living in Tshwane. This is not about what is best for Tshwane but rather about how best to protect the status quo. South Africa is better than that. We are not people who should be concerned with propping up leaders or people. We need to be better than this.

The decision of the ANC to deploy Didiza to Tshwane may be because she is a fresh face and a compromised candidate for the region to lead the campaign in a highly contested and competitive race against the Democratic Alliance and the Economic Freedom Fighters.

Can we trust the national leadership and provincial leadership of the ANC? The people of Tshwane have emphatically said no this week.

Unfortunately, that disgruntled group have resorted to public violence as well as targeting foreign shop owners in the chaos.

The cost is far greater than simply favouring Didiza over local leaders. We have been reduced to the unthinkable where race, sex, tribe and creed matter more than the requirement that our leaders are here to serve.

The true cost is that we are allowing leaders in this country to defend the indefensible, and in the process not just letting them destroy the internal democracy within those parties but also degrading and undermining our democracy and future. DM


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