Defend Truth

Opinionista

South Africans are subject to the whims, machinations and internal shifts of the party political machinery

mm

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.

South Africa’s party political system is in urgent need of reform. The existing system continues to benefit the existing parties that continue to thrive on the opaque nature of party political funding, the role of business in their electoral fortunes, and the various promises and deals that are made in order to protect those special interests.

The contestation for leadership positions within South Africa’s party political environment has often been managed by delegates and party members alone. Political parties simply want South Africans to accept that contestation around policy and leadership is simply an internal issue.

However, those decisions ultimately determine how leadership positions are fulfilled, what policies are prioritised, whether governance is prioritised, and decisions around how the public purse is spent and prioritised. The attitude by South Africa’s political parties and elites has always been that internal leadership positions are purely internal matters, and that all issues of leadership and policy are confined to its party members.

Transparency is avoided while internal party matters are managed through closed rooms, backroom deals and decision-making, which is informed by deal-making and compromise. The impact of our party political machinery continues to play out across South Africa. The internal decision-making is jealously guarded and protected by party machinery negating any commitment that South Africa may have to democratic and constitutional values.

Over the past decade, South Africans have needed to rely on the judiciary in order to provide clarity and rationality when our governments have failed South Africans, failed to deliver services, failed to uphold the law or where politicians or civil servants have fallen short.

South Africans are subject to the whims, machinations and internal shifts of the party political machinery. Acutely, millions of South Africans have suffered the consequences of the internal turf battles, whether it is over policy battles or leadership positions, and this extends far beyond the lost decade under Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Mhlanganyelwa Zuma.

The internal battles have shaped the water crisis in Cape Town, the stability of administrations in Johannesburg, Tshwane, Nelson Mandela Bay, and ultimately led to mayoral chains shifting from Patricia de Lille to Dan Plato. These internal battles are often not informed by clear policy positions, but rather proxy battles or ideological battles that have very little benefit for ordinary South Africans.

The leadership election that took place over the weekend within the Democratic Alliance highlights the very point around how party political machinery seeks to manage their leadership elections as simply internal matters. The outcomes of those elections, epitomised in the leadership battle between Mbali Ntuli and John Steenhuisen, highlight the approach that candidates adopt (albeit that the outcomes were quite predictable). Regardless of any personal views that candidates may have, the simple truth is that they must adhere to the internal directives and abide by the whims of the internal machinery.

Surely, party politics should demand a greater sense of duty, of service and allegiance to the people and our Constitution? Transparency around capability, policy positions and attitude towards confronting South Africa’s most pressing issues are all handled internally. Talk of unity and the showmanship required to prop up that fallacy is used to plaster over the factional scars and wounds.

We will need to collectively work to reshape our party-political environment – we must guard against the same model that has given us the dysfunction of our current political elite. We have an opportunity to reshape South Africa so that the exercise of public power serves the people, furthers our aspirations and serves the most vulnerable.

South Africa suffered under the consequences in 2007 and for the next lost decade when a similar pool of delegates met in Polokwane to reject Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki and to embrace Zuma. We have not accepted the lessons learnt – we simply cannot trust the party political machinery to serve the interests of South African and its citizens. Contestation for leadership within political parties is not based on rationality and worse still is often not based on values or ideals of service.

Similarly, the pool of leadership across our political spectrum seeks to secure their positions by forming factions, alliances and creating slates of leadership. The consequences of slate politics, convened behind closed doors, has cost South Africa dearly, and we must demand far more from those seeking elected office and the party political machinery that seeks to further their relevance and influence.

South Africa must demand more from those seeking public office. We must demand transparency and peel away those constructed curtains and open the closed doors in order to better understand the calibre, values and views of candidates that seek to take up political leadership. We can ill afford to accept statements that internal discussion and debate should take place within political parties, and not in the public domain.

Our collective work as a society at large will over the next decade be to reimagine our political environment by requiring a heightened sense of transparency and inclusion. This work must be embraced by the members of political parties as they prepare for the upcoming 2021 local government elections. Local governments across the country are largely responsible for basic service delivery, and who leads those governments is critically important to ordinary South Africans.

We cannot simply leave political parties to carry on without accounting properly to the people of South Africa. Our constitutional democracy and blended electoral system remain intact, instead of undergoing the necessary reform and confronting the issues highlighted in the 2003 Van Zyl Slabbert Commission on Electoral Reform.

These structural challenges are not being confronted by our political parties but rather, civil society organisations have had to wrestle with the inadequacies of our existing system. The existing system continues to benefit the existing political parties that have continued to thrive on the opaque nature of party political funding, the role of business in their electoral fortunes and the various promises and deals that are made in order to protect those special interests.

The South African judicial system has been forced to find meaningful solutions within the framework of our Constitution where elected representatives have on countless occasions failed to deal with the political work. Our courts have had to provide direction around issues of party-political funding, representative democracy issues as well as the political events that have once again led to the election of yet another mayor in the Tshwane. The outcomes of certain party political elections are often predictable, but the inaction, disinterest and wilful suppression of our voices is avoidable.

We will need to collectively work to reshape our party-political environment – we must guard against the same model that has given us the dysfunction of our current political elite. We have an opportunity to reshape South Africa so that the exercise of public power serves the people, furthers our aspirations and serves the most vulnerable.

Adopting old catch phrases, printing posters, handing out T-shirts and distributing food parcels is not how we will reshape the next decade. It will require more South Africans to participate, to use their energy and frustration to reshape governance across this country. DM

Gallery

Comments - share your knowledge and experience

Please note you must be a Maverick Insider to comment. Sign up here or sign in if you are already an Insider.

Everybody has an opinion but not everyone has the knowledge and the experience to contribute meaningfully to a discussion. That’s what we want from our members. Help us learn with your expertise and insights on articles that we publish. We encourage different, respectful viewpoints to further our understanding of the world. View our comments policy here.

All Comments 1

  • I wonder how many of the existing political cadres would stay on if incomes during political terms were to be capped at an allowance of say R250,ooo per year (all living and travelling expenses handled directly by state). No personal vehicles allowed and budget vehicles, flights and accommodation only. I suspect we would see far more politicians then who only want the best for the country and not for themselves.