It appears that Herman Mashaba and Mmusi Maimane are moving hastily to launch a political party or movement to come out of political obscurity. The two leaders wasted no time and started soliciting public views after they resigned from the Democratic Alliance last year.
This week, Herman Mashaba confirmed to the media that he intends to start a political party that will contest the local government elections in 2020.
It has become common in South Africa for prominent leaders who have been booted out of a party to form their own. This is how General Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement was formed in the 1990’s and how the Economic Freedom Fighters and Good were founded more recently. Given this seemingly entrenched culture, it can be expected that these leaders are confronted with many requests to communicate their next move.
However, the manner in which Mashaba and Maimane are approaching their initiative is too rushed. It will compromise their objectives especially for individuals who are not backed by huge constituencies.
The two leaders need to recognise that they are starting a speculative enterprise, hoping to woo constituents who have lost hope that the political process could yield any solutions to their plight. They do not have any significant constituencies whose support they can rely on. Not even the support of their followers in the Democratic Alliance can be taken for granted.
Two things may explain this haste. It may be that the two leaders are yielding to public pressure to declare their next moves. One cannot overestimate the role this pressure can play in their tactical mishap. Journalists are eager to report on developments that may shift the current political situation and ordinary people hope for a break from the three-party impasse.
Another reason for the pair’s haste may be an internal need to be involved in South African political life. This is understandable. Mmusi Maimane has been a major player in opposition politics since becoming the parliamentary leader and leader of the DA. Mashaba also seems to have found in politics more fulfilment than what he could do with his life elsewhere currently.
Despite these, the two leaders needed a little bit of patience in order to build any party of significance. The moment is ripe for a credible centrist party that will be significant enough to challenge the ANC and the DA in South Africa. The millions of potential voters who did not register to vote and those on the voters’ roll who stayed away on election day prove this point.
To remain patient and do all the necessary preparatory work to strike when it matters most is a bit challenging for leaders who are too eager to remain in the limelight. The two’s impatience precluded them from waiting long enough to first iron out their differences or hear one another out before announcing their plans. That suggests they would not be patient enough to build anything of significance.
They failed the test to be comfortable with ambiguity. To pass it, they needed to be okay with telling people that they did not yet have plans for the next move. They should have been able to contend with internal conversations about what is next and be comfortable with not having answers.
Such an approach accepts vulnerability and does not view it as something to be overcome immediately. It is what makes one aware of their need for others in society. As can be seen by their refusal to work with one another, the two leaders think they are self-sufficient.
Given his seeming self-confidence, Mashaba in particular is going to learn a lesson about the political world, which he should have deduced at no personal financial and emotional cost from the Agang South Africa experiment. That lesson is that no one is entitled to anything in politics, more so the support of voters, unlike in the business and corporate world. Allocation of benefits is always contested in politics.
While having a good offering and skills may suffice to advance in business and the corporate world, those are not enough in the political stage. That is why the extremely talented, qualified, and experienced Dr Mamphela Ramphele could not achieve as much success as relatively less qualified Julius Malema in party building.
The moment is ripe for a new political party in South Africa, one that does not have to compete for less than 20% of the national share of votes in the country, but haste, self-ambition and failure to learn on the part of those who could lead it will squander that opportunity. DM
Ongama Mtimka is a lecturer and political analyst based at Nelson Mandela University. He writes in his personal capacity