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As the last ANC Parliament looms, a new generation of p...

Defend Truth

Opinionista

As the last ANC Parliament looms, a new generation of political leaders must step forward

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Dr Marius Oosthuizen is a scenarios planner and the director for leadership and dialogue at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, GIBS. He writes in his personal capacity.

What becomes of the South African political landscape as the ANC’s self-defeating disease of incumbency takes its inevitable toll?

In 1987, Frederik van Zyl Slabbert, the Progressive Party MP and leader of the white Opposition, wrote a memoir titled The Last White Parliament: The Struggle for South Africa. He outlined his journey from sociology lecturer to party politics, and eventual democratic activism through the formation of the Institute for Democratic Alternatives in South Africa (Idasa).

The role of Idasa in creating an environment for white South Africans to talk to the banned liberation movement in exile is well known, best embodied in the Dakar Conference, or Dakar Dialogue which took place in Senegal, and brought together banned African National Congress (ANC) members and Afrikaner elites in search of reform.

Shortly after Dakar, the ANC’s revolutionary Struggle became subsumed into a transitionary democratic reformation which saw the unbanning of the ANC, the extension of political franchise to the black majority and the election of Nelson Mandela as president of South Africa.

Today South Africa is in a very different place politically. The ANC is no longer an oppressed political movement, but a ruling party two decades in government. The remnants of the Afrikaner elites who have not emigrated are safely ensconced in a BB-BEE stitch-up with ANC cronies while the back majority languish in persistent poverty. Political oppression has evaporated in the sunlight of democratic idealism and been replaced by relative socioeconomic deprivation.

Where Slabbert’s political reform succeeded in altering the landscape of political freedoms and rights, it failed to alter the trajectory of South Africa’s socioeconomic superstructure. Van Zyl Slabbert and his collaborators ought to be celebrated for their contribution to ending apartheid, and can’t be blamed for what came next at the hand of the ANC. Their activism indeed marked the “last white Parliament”, and the beginning of the ANC-dominated one.

Looking ahead to general elections 2024

As South Africa looks ahead to the general elections in 2024, we are likely to be witnessing the last ANC Parliament. The reasons are well known: grand corruption, ineptitude in basic governance and increasingly gangster-like political infighting in party structures.

Political killings have become increasingly commonplace, triggering by-elections in Joburg and KZN. From a political and economic standpoint, it is clear that the ANC cannot ride the horse that it has saddled. The liberation movement has not had a metamorphosis into an efficient governing mechanism which can deliver a better life to South Africans.

So what becomes of the South African political landscape as the ANC’s self-defeating disease of incumbency takes its inevitable toll?

In all likelihood we will see new Frederik van Zyl Slabberts, this time black men and women raging from the opposition benches in hope that the political system can deliver its own self-transformation. We are likely to see these opposition activists come to realise that our national power structures are invested in self-preservation, not reform. We are likely to see them resign from political office, as did Slabbert, and in the end see them enter the activist fray in search of new “alternatives for South Africa”. Lindiwe Mazibuko, Mmusi Maimane, Phumzile van Damme and others have already followed this pattern.

What is the Dakar moment of 2024-2026?

This time round the fight is not for political emancipation, but for economic upliftment. What is needed are not negotiated settlements, transitionary governments and political freedom. What is needed are negotiated investments, transformational economies and socioeconomic freedom. These will not be achieved in parliaments and political dialogues, but in boardrooms and by way of economic pragmatism.

A failure to grasp this new reality might result in the alternative — another generation of Van Zyl Slabberts who still think that one can change South Africa’s direction of travel from within Tuynhuys. Under that wrong assumption, the political victors will simply find themselves sitting on top of an ever-shrinking economic pie with an ever-growing base of dependency.

That is not the leadership South Africa needs. The national question is no longer one which brings political liberators face to face with white nationalists. It is one which brings black South Africans face to face with themselves in a mirror, and asks: what future do you see for this nation and how do you intend to build it?

My hope is that the last ANC Parliament ushers in a new era of political pragmatism for economic progress. That the next opposition is obsessed with broad-based economic reform rather than narrow political point-scoring. That the emerging black elite calculates the costs of allowing misrule in its own ranks. That Parliament, the apex institution for holding accountable the executive branch of government by way of oversight and the law, finally grows some teeth and gains some vision. DM

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