Defend Truth


A change is gonna come: There’s a new political order shaking the old laager


Gugu Ndima is a proud and patriotic voter.

The evident and glaring story of the 2021 municipal elections is that South Africans are no longer afraid to move on, with or without the governing party – whether this means voting for new parties or even abstaining from voting as a form of protest.

I recall a moment in 2016 that was effervescent with anxiety as counted votes trickled in, painting a bleak picture for the ruling party in the Gauteng metros. An anxious reverberation of hope could be heard among politicians nervously looking at screens beaming IEC results, as they waited for votes from townships. 

Everyone had hoped that these votes, in strongholds of the ANC, would dramatically increase numbers to secure a majority for the party. No one anticipated the political Armageddon that would catalyse the demise of the party’s dominance in metros. 

After this harsh lesson in democracy, leaders spoke about a much-needed path of self-reflection, introspection, self-correction, self-cleansing and whatever other “self-therapy” mechanisms the ANC could conjure. 

In 2021, watching an exhausted ANC deputy secretary-general repeating the words of the leaders of 2016 about how the party had “heard” the cry of South Africans and would “reflect”, it seemed that the script had not changed, yet the lesson was now more severe. 

Whether or not the ANC has learned the lesson is not the subject of this article. There are plenty of diagnoses in the form of organisational and political reports gathering dust in Luthuli House for the “self-correction” course. 

The evident and glaring story of this election is that South Africans are no longer afraid to move on, with or without the ruling party – whether this means voting for new parties or even abstaining from voting as a form of protest. 

No one disputes the democratic foundation that has been laid by the ANC. Even as it hurtles through its own crisis, the political genealogy of the likes of OR Tambo and his generation is illustrated by the boisterous nature of South Africa’s democracy today.    

One of the positive aspects of the election outcomes is that South Africa’s democracy has truly matured. South Africans have used what is constitutionally at their disposal to reconfigure politics in the country and liberate themselves from party dominance. 

The results also show that the inward-looking era of infighting, factions and lack of organisational centrality has had dire consequences for the ANC. The ramifications will, unfortunately, be felt for many years to come, if the organisation still mistakenly believes that South Africans will languish in the period of “self-therapy”.

A crisis and opportunity point has been presented by this year’s local government elections for the entire political dispensation. A crisis for the old, who always assume that they have strongholds, has presented an opportunity for newcomers to show that it’s possible to fight “political Goliaths” even in their own territories. 

The days of parading Struggle credentials and invoking the spirits of great men and women of the past are long gone. South Africans are plunging deeper into a socioeconomic crisis, which has an impact on their present and generations to come. 

However, this is also an opportunity for the old laager to reimagine their own organisations which will speak to the current voters, who want nothing to do with political rhetoric but vote purely based on their immediate socioeconomic conditions. 

Voting is emotive, it has nothing to do with ideology or well-written manifestos. It’s a human survival decision. This statement is corroborated by the results from KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. It would be naïve to assume that the July unrest had no bearing on the election outcomes. Socioeconomic disparities characterising millions of lives precipitated what transpired in July. 

South Africans want their country to survive and overcome political parties. The mantra of “we liberated you” has lost its cachet and if the current results and voting patterns are anything to go by, no party should dare say “Do it for Mandela” in their 2024 campaigns. Voters can no longer be held ransom by history. 

Many have pessimistically argued against coalition governments, based on the experiences of the past five years. However, we ought to caution against this disingenuous scarecrow tactic. All parties in 2016 entered a new terrain with no past experience; this is no different from when South Africa entered a democratic dispensation with no blueprint in 1994 – but look at where the country is now: vibrant and growing strong. Even if there is failure, we fail forward.

Coalitions are a long-term reality, best embraced sooner rather than later. Whilst race characterises SA politics, it no longer stands as a barrier for progression or compromise. There’s a greater urgency and common ground among citizens to get things done and collectively take South Africa forward.

It is comforting and commendable to hear leaders from old and new parties speak of their willingness to engage and also affirm their commitment to coalitions, suggesting a legislative framework to manage coalitions. More and more political leaders are even advocating for transparency from the onset in order to manage coalitions. This era might be the beginning of the accountability and transparency many South Africans yearned for in local government. 

Over the past years South Africans have witnessed the commercialisation of a people-centred sphere of government through corruption and tenders. The outsourcing of many basic services has crippled the capacity of the state and at times compromised quality service delivery. The centrality of the state in addressing inequality remains pertinent, and its incapacity or erosion results in a trust deficiency, compromising the social contract.

Moralistic as it sounds, trust from citizens is the construct for government planning and implementation. For the state to be truly developmental, it needs to have tighter state-society relations. Accountability can only be strengthened by coalitions. The effectiveness and longevity of any political party now will be determined by their ability to deliver. 

Another major advantage for citizens with this new political trajectory is that all parties will now have to take collective responsibility beyond councils, they will be hands-on in appointing officials and holding city managers and other officers accountable. It will be difficult to conceal corruption or protect the corrupt. 

Political parties will now be compelled to put their best foot forward, meaning even candidates or officials who must represent them in government must be of impeccable administrative and moral discipline. 

The era of entitlement has evaporated and the power to decide the future of this country has been sent back to its rightful owners – the people. 

My parting shot to the revolutionary house. When Oliver Tambo declared 1985 as the year of the cadre, speaking of the “path we traversed” as “fraught with numerous dangers and hazards” in his January 8th statement, little did he know that in 2013 the next 10 years would be termed the “decade of the cadre”, in the hope that this era would reignite the spirit of revolutionary discipline and commitment to the democratic project.

Unfortunately, with this period drawing to a close in 2023, a year before the next national elections, that distinct cadre will not exist if the qualitative refinement of cadres is not prioritised. As the former general secretary of the Communist Party of Bulgaria, Georgi Dimitrov once said, “To pay the subscription and have a membership card is only an expression of the will to become.”   

It’s no longer a numbers game, the best must lead. 

Maweqeqeshwe ama guerrilla! DM 


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Dennis Bailey says:

    “Political parties will now be compelled to put their best foot forward” – this is an oxymoron. Once elected, the last thing politicians do is deliver on promises.

  • Just Me says:

    Regrettably, it will take some generations before our ‘so-called democracy’ matures to the state where the country comes before the party and when leaders at all levels of Government are chosen on their competence to deliver things like economic growth and services and not some outdated quazzi-revolutionary or struggle credentials.

    It will also take some generations before the majority of the electorate don’t get taken as voting fodder, and the voting fodder realize that they are getting repeatedly lied to and that the still cannot eat their ANC, or EFF, t-shirts.

    The fact that the ANC get a single vote following so much looting and corruption, and particular the theft of PPE monies during a pandemic (which amounts to crimes against humanity) is surprising. But hey, this is South Africa where so-called leaders, like Cyril, like their electorate dumb and dumber.

    The EFF even more so…..

  • Stephen T says:

    “The era of entitlement has evaporated…”
    I’m not convinced. Greed does not simply evaporate, especially when the culture of patronage has been actively facilitated by a despicably arrogant ruling party for several decades already.

  • John Strydom says:

    Yes, there does seem to be a dim silver lining somewhere, thank you.

  • Rory Macnamara says:

    good article. warning political parties they only have two years before national elections and those in coalitions better beware because they will be be counted on what they achieve or disrupt.

  • Eulalie Spamer says:

    Gugu, you are so right. The era of entitlement is over. But our electoral system puts power in the hands of the incumbents and they are not going to be persuaded to relinquish it any time soon.

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