In the past, South Africa has had several defining political moments that reshaped the course of the country and affected the lives of every South African. Of course, the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck in 1652 was one such defining moment, setting South Africa on a path of colonial dispossession and pillage for more than 250 years hence.
In the 20th century, there were three political seismic events.
The first was the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 in which the two Boer-controlled “republics” of Transvaal and the Orange Free State, combined with British colonies called Natal and the Cape. It was during this period that the infamous Land Act of 1913 came into existence, stripping black South Africans of their right to own land in all but 13% of the country.
The second happened in 1948 when the National Party won the whites-only elections and pursued a policy of grand apartheid. This period unleashed untold political repression, turning South Africa into a police state that committed brutal torture and extrajudicial killings. On a grand scale, any semblance of cohesion in black communities was systematically destroyed to create a poor servant class with neither rights nor property.
Correctly, in 1974 the United Nations General Assembly resolved that apartheid was a crime against humanity. This epoch ended in 1994 with the current democratic order.
The third political seismic event occurred in 1993 when an agreement was reached on a unitary state, and the first free non-racial elections, which took place in April 1994. This not only delivered peace but the country’s first democratically elected government, with Nelson Mandela as its president.
This process resulted in the adoption of the current Constitution in 1996.
Following intensive structured listening across the country and a very careful assessment of our structural conditions, Rise Mzansi believes that our politics, politicians and governing structures are no longer able to respond adequately to the needs and cries of South Africans today. They are also unable to prepare South Africa for the profound changes taking place in the world that pose many risks to the wellbeing and survival of South Africans.
These include the climate crisis and artificial intelligence. In other words, we are unable to deal with either old or new problems, which have now turned into a crisis that worsens by the day.
Having delivered the peace in 1994, our political system has given us an unaccountable party list electoral system, and venal, corrupt politicians who do not think the people matter as anything other than voting fodder. It has entrenched in positions of national responsibility people, young and old, who believe that looking backwards is the best way of shaping the future. They hold South Africa back and impoverish its people.
There are those who believe that for profound change to happen, we merely need to remove the ANC from power, as anything other than the ANC will be good enough. This is an extremely hopeful view in the case of everyday citizens and demonstrates a concerning lack of imagination in the case of political parties.
Reshaping a country in crisis
South Africa deserves a break from the current political establishment that has so far not proposed a single structural change to reshape a country and society in crisis for the better.
Here are some of the shifts Rise Mzansi believes are necessary.
First, Rise Mzansi has set out a framework for political reforms that will restore democratic power to the people. These reforms include the electoral system to give voters meaningful powers over elected politicians, instead of party officials as it is now. It is untenable that most citizens have no clue who supposedly represents them either in provincial legislatures or Parliament, yet ours is supposed to be a system of self-government as democracies are supposed to be.
These political reforms also include providing a more representative Parliament with more powers to oversee the executive branch, and new legal changes to make government transparency compulsory. No democracy can be sustained when citizens cannot hold elected officials accountable and they are not even allowed to access information that explains decisions taken by their government in their name.
Second, we need new thinking in Parliament and in the government. The current approach to some of our most serious problems is often narrow and outmoded.
For example, politicians and policymakers tend to see little relationship between spatial injustice on the one hand, and education outcomes on the other. Many working parents spend so much time commuting to and from work they never get to actually parent their children.
Instead, the current thinking appears to be that children will eventually be able to read with comprehension even though they get limited mental stimulation, live under constant threat of hunger and have no one at home to help them with homework or their studies in general. The concept of state-sponsored child care for such parents is even more foreign, so it seems the expectation is that great developmental outcomes will happen by osmosis.
The disconnection between politics and the struggles of families, especially single-parent homes, is astounding, to say the least. And so we have a politics that pretends these challenges within families and communities are not a political problem that commands attention.
This outmoded thinking says that only a minister such as Angie Motshekga can resolve all of these by waving the policy magic wand, yet it takes much more than that to produce great, sustainable outcomes. There is little or no integrated, systemic thinking — and so 48% of all children who start school never finish. Together with those who only have matric, they make up 89% of the unemployed.
In the first quarter of 2023 there were 4.9 million people between the ages of 15 and 34 who were neither in education, training or employment. It is a human tragedy that needs bureaucratic competence and a clear theory of social change and development at a political level.
Justice and freedom
Third, being elected to political office does not amount to leadership, yet there is an entrenched belief that these are the same. Leadership is a factor of vision, the ability to see and coordinate our entire system of government and the credibility to drive a self-propelling moral idea. To Rise Mzansi, the values of justice and freedom should anchor our political and social moral grounding. No society or nation is built on an ethical vacuum such as we are doing now, and unsurprisingly failing.
The appeal of every transcendental leader has been because of their ability to minister, to unite people behind a clear moral idea. Yet, we are stuck with politicians who believe fervently in sowing divisions and engaging in crass political theatrics under the guise of serving the people when all they want is media attention so they are top of mind at election time. This is purely for political power, not any idea to fundamentally transform our society so it lives up to the aims and value of our Constitution.
Finally, non-racialism remains the most powerful socially transformative idea to come out of our shores. It is now an orphan as parties either pay lip service to it or rail against it for political convenience.
Rise Mzansi has defined a new non-racialism with measurable economic justice outcomes within one generation. The government has engaged in empty platitudes for decades, setting narrow “economic transformation” objectives instead of measures that deliver sustainable human progress especially for previously and currently oppressed South Africans.
The year 1994 was a transformative turning point that delivered a new political system, political institutions and an opportunity to move on from a past of violence and oppression. Next year, 2024, affords South Africans another opportunity to turn away from lip service democracy, party backroom dealings, corruption, collapsed institutions, loss of hope and national disunity.
Next year’s elections are the only realisable chance to pull South Africa back from the brink, redefine our national purpose and build new structures to deliver on it. This is why 2024 is indeed our “1994”. DM