Maverick Citizen


A National Convention — a potential solution to SA’s political ‘crisis’


Mokheseng Moema is a livestock farmer with an interest in SA politics and history. He holds an Honours degree in Public Policy and Administration from UCT.

For society to begin walking in the direction of national consensus, civil society, labour and business will have to begin working with political parties and the government in order to find solutions to the problems faced.

We are in a crisis. That was the general sentiment reached by speakers present at the 2023 Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation Inclusive Growth Forum. Delegates gathered for the third time since 2019 (see earlier reports here) not only to discuss the challenges faced by the country, but also to offer an assortment of solutions, ranging from how to correct the education system, root out corruption, re-capacitate the state, and ultimately overcome the high levels of inequality and poverty plaguing the country.

While there was acknowledgement that the government’s credibility is at an all-time low, having brought about slow economic growth and progressively weaker social outcomes in the last decade, delegates pointed out that more could be done by business, labour and civil society in resolving the myriad of challenges the state is gripped with. 

Moreover, they stressed that both would have to step up their efforts for the nation to meet even a fraction of the targets set out in the National Development Plan by 2030.

Sitting in the room one could feel a sense of urgency. Too much time had been spent talking, with very little accompanying action. 

It was within this context that two key proposals were made. 

One, that a ‘Drakensberg Minute’ containing all of the Forum’s resolutions be drafted and published. 

Two, that the Forum advocates for the holding of a ‘National Convention’ to map out a way forward.

The need for a national consensus 

The motive behind the latter proposal, which was touted by former Deputy Minister of Finance Mcebisi Jonas, is to create a platform wherein a national consensus can be forged amongst political actors and the rest of society on a programme of action, if you will, that should be pursued — quite similar to the social compact often touted by President Ramaphosa. It followed Jonas’ observation that there is currently a crisis of legitimacy affecting all political parties. 

I suppose then the question that should be foremost on our minds is whether there was ever a national consensus to begin with? 

If there was, when did the first cracks emerge? 

Whatever the answer is to either question, there can be no debate on the validity of Jonas’ claim that the country currently lacks a binding vision on where it needs to be and how it intends to get there. There is clear evidence of this, be it the steady decline of voter participation in elections over the years, the proliferation of political parties — some of which mobilise along ethnic lines — and a growing trend of general despondency, with a recent Afrobarometer Survey showing that 73% of people felt that the country was going in the wrong direction. 

Jonas did not go into great detail on how exactly this newfound national consensus would look like, but he did suggest that it should be one that seeks to bring about a connection between ordinary citizens and their political leaders.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Who will lead the Moonshot Pact? Seven opposition parties kick off national coalition convention

The political conundrum 

For such a convention to have any sort of impact, the build-up towards it would have to focus on gathering the views of the public, as well as receiving a list of demands and proposed solutions that can be canvassed by non-state leaders. These can centre on identifying which areas need targeting and what short to long-term corrective measures can be implemented. Those views would then be captured on a single document which could be used not only to hold political parties accountable going forward but also to guide their actions.

But, even if political parties agree to form part of the convention, resolving their differences will prove to be a challenge. This is primarily due to the electoral decline of the African National Congress over the years, particularly in the metros, which has made contestation between political parties even more fierce, with each one eyeing a seat at the negotiation table. The end result of this has been greater polarisation between the constituencies belonging to the opposition and that of the governing party. 

Although these two constituencies share the same fundamental objectives each has a different model, whether it be political, ideological or economic, for how these can be achieved. With all of this in mind, it is difficult to see how those differences would be bridged through a convention because at the end of the day the greatest incentive for political parties to act remains the threat of an electoral loss or the opportunity to gain power. 

For instance, faced with that threat the National Executive Committee of the ANC has touted a creative idea to gather society’s demands and place them on a People’s Charter that it will use in any coalition negotiations. 

In the same breath, spurred on by the opportunity of electoral success, several opposition parties have gathered under the umbrella of a Multi-Party Charter for South Africa which has agreed upon key priorities and shared governing principles. To this extent, parties are already moving in the direction envisaged by the proposed convention.

This is a welcome development. And this touted national convention could also be used as an opportunity to capitalise on these efforts by applying additional pressure to ensure that they continue. 

Whether a national consensus can be forged in this current climate remains to be seen. Even if it can, this will most likely happen over a long period as this process usually takes time. But for society to begin walking in that direction, civil society, labour and business will have to begin working with political parties and the government in order to find solutions to the problems faced. 

Enough talk and armchair criticism, as delegates at the KMF Growth Forum put it. Now is the time for action to create a South Africa for us and future generations to come. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Until the anc and eff is removed from parliament altogether nothing is going to change

  • . . says:

    The best thing they can do is encourage people to vote out the ANC, by highlighting the failures of the ANC in terms of policy first and foremost and then the corruption and poor leadership. This is unlikely to happen as business tries to stay on the side of the majority party and civil society and labour share many ANC ideals.

  • Cunningham Ngcukana says:

    I listened to the diffuse idea of a National Convention from Mcebisi Jonas on the JJ Tabane show when at the same time Moeletsi Mbeki was saying something substantial on radio. I needed to hear this idea of the Convention and what it ought to achieve and there were no tangible issues except the question of change of the trajectory of the direction of the country. He was suggesting that the under funded civil society leads this and how it would fit into the current political framework he was very empty on it. The first issue would be whether political parties would accept such outside the electoral system that says that the electorate must vote out those who are not fit for purpose and vote in those they think can do the job. Holomisa has been to his credit been calling for an economic Codesa because economic issues have been left out of Codesa. The suggestion of a national convention goes counter in my view to what the Interfaith group seeks to achieve, an active citizenry that does not leave issue to politicians under the theme “Our Country, Our Responsibility”. I found the faith organisations approach very interesting and many political parties were absent despite the invitation except Rise Mzansi. The critical question to Jonas is how would you have a process that relies on political parties without an active citizenry and I found the concept good but the substance flawed.

  • Hermann Funk says:

    There are three pillars that a functioning democracy is based on: a) public sector, b) private sector, c) civil society. As long as these three sectors are out of balance a country becomes dysfunctional. An overpowering political sector leads to what we experience in SA. If the private sector is too powerful, big corporates will make sure the laws will be to their benefits (lobbyism). There has to be a balancing power that only civil society can become. How to create this?

  • Anthony Kearley says:

    Please recall that in a democracy, you the citizen are given one political power and only one, the power to vote. That implies one political duty and only one, to vote (soberly and wisely), not the duty to somehow mobilize civil society and business into a creature capable of fixing everything the state could but won’t. It strikes me as bizarre that so many commentators call on us to wrestle with state issues, instead of simply calling on us to replace it.

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