Monday, April 27, 2009

What was the recipe of the election’s success?

Life is a series of special moments. Last week’s election was one of those prolonged special moments strengthening our belief in the possibility of creating a country and citizenry at peace with itself. It is through these moments that we garner the determination to persevere and reach our goal of a non-racial, non-sexist society where people work and live with dignity.

We have a long way to go to achieve this but nothing is impossible.
What was the recipe of last week’s success? What were the basic ingredients that propelled us to new heights?

Over 15 years, the IEC has developed into a formidable institution. It has drawn lessons from its mistakes in the past and has concentrated on perfecting the processes that ensured improved delivery. As South Africans, it appears that as far as elections go, we have fully understood the importance of building an institution that can withstand the pressure of time and political vagaries. While we have drawn on best practice from around the world, we have crafted an institution that suits our own needs. Cursory research indicates that the IEC has largely been able to retain its staff and successfully bring in people with previous election experience during the busiest times.

Secondly, all major political parties have participated in crafting the electoral rules. The space has been created for parties to raise their objections or complaints and these by and large have been dealt with civilly. IEC officials do however complain that some leaders had a tendency to speak to them very rudely and with a great deal of arrogance. But in the main, the decisions of chief electoral officers in every province were respected because they conducted themselves according to agreed upon rules.

Thirdly, the two women at the helm of the organisation exuded a calm confidence. At no stage was the chairperson, Brigalia Bam or the Chief Electoral Officer, Pansy Tlakula seen to be fanning animosities or raising the temperatures amongst parties. Instead they were involved in endless behind the scenes discussions with party leaders to quietly convince them to compromise. Often these efforts went beyond the call of duty. Ms Bam was involved in discussions with leaders in KwaZulu-Natal when she could have said this was not her concern but the responsibility that belonged in entirety to the police. She would have been correct in law but she did what she had to do to help restore calm needed for the work to be done. The only blip on her record was her astonishing reluctance to say that the ANC had won the elections when she made the final result announcements.

By doing so, she left out one ingredient of a success recipe – graciousness in defeat.
Brigalia Bam could not get herself to say that the ANC won by a substantial margin, way ahead of the DA and COPE. It was heartening to see COPE’s Lekota congratulate Zuma at the results centre but so far we have not heard Helen Zille congratulating him or the ANC for a performance that defied expectation. Considering all the negative dramas in the lead-up to the elections, it is indeed an extraordinary achievement. It is not only a matter of emotion and history. The ANC left nothing to chance. It persuaded many of its critics on a one to one basis and ran a campaign with first-world sophistication.

By the same token, we have not heard the ANC congratulate the DA in the Western Cape for its outstanding performance. Like it or not, the ANC will have a hard time to recover its support in this province at least over the next two terms.

It will also have to study closely the patterns in the various wards. Take for example, the voting stations in Lower Wynberg where I live. At the last election in 2004, the ANC led at all three stations: John Wycliff(ANC - 36, 18 percent, DA – 24.68, Methodist Church(ANC - 41,8 percent, DA – 28.3 and St Augustine where I voted (ANC - 37.2 percent and DA – 28.19).
Last week, the electorate shifted as follows at the same voting stations: John Wycliff(DA -69.43 percent and ANC – 6.07 percent), Methodist Church (DA – 68.17 percent and ANC – 10.57 percent) and St Augustine(DA 69.89 percent and ANC 6.3 percent). All indications before the elections were that this neighbourhood disapproved of the in-fighting in the Western Cape and the ANC’s presidential candidate.
Nobody would have predicted that the DA’s sweep in this area would have been so substantial. Instead of concentrating only on its present support base, the ANC will seriously have to understand what shifted voters so dramatically if it hopes ever to lead in the Western Cape again.

The DA will also have to acknowledge that COPE has pipped it to the post as official opposition in five of our nine provinces. This is no small achievement and secures the party a place in the ongoing political landscape.

In a funny sort of way, the election has made most South Africans feel they have won. This is the fourth ingredient in the recipe for our success. The electorate has expressed its will. Everybody was free to express themselves in terms of their own conscience giving us a result that provides a solid foundation that could reinvigorate parliament.

Will our politicians squander this moment or will they find in themselves the humility to acknowledge that once again we have been given a unique opportunity to appeal to the best in our nature. It is a time for curbing the impulse to be greedy and arrogant, to behave as if one community or set of individuals have a monopoly over best performance. Bam and Tlakula have shown that talent and ability comes from every corner of South African society and must be identified and allowed to blossom.

South Africa is made up of diverse communities and political interests.
Nationally, Black Africans represent 38 million people, White Africans, 4.3 million, Coloured Africans 4.2 million and Asian Africans 1.2 million. Voting patterns in this election largely reinforce these racial divides with the ANC predominantly appealing to Black Africans and the DA to White Africans. COPE appears to have drawn a cross-section of support but is way too small at this point to confirm that we are moving firmly beyond our racial enclaves. The challenge remains to find ways to reinforce our South Africanness. We can no longer say that we do not know the ingredients for success. It was in our face last week.

Perhaps the political parties can place a moratorium on squabbling for the next year before they get geared up again for public spats in anticipation of the local government elections. They could negotiate a truce through parliament for one year and call on everyone to work together in their areas to improve local conditions irrespective of which party they belong to. Parliament could assess after one year whether this has made any difference to the motivation of both citizens and public servants. We may just be pleasantly surprised.

Apart from his unfortunate recent history, Jacob Zuma is well-placed to create an enabling environment. Through the decades, this has been his abiding strength. He is known as someone who listens and brings people together. His performance during the election campaign attests to this strength. Most of all he has the capacity to bring to the centre the voice of the rural poor.
If we are to survive the present global financial crisis and tackle the huge challenges, we cannot afford to be pitted against one another. We must create a foundation for dialogue through which we can find the best ways to solve our huge inequalities. No one leader can achieve this but what he or she can do is to set the right tone so that our efforts will generate special moments that will tip our country towards greater fairness for all its citizens.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Election Day – first impressions

This was a special day for me. It was the first time that my young daughter, Ruschka, cast her vote. I was pleased that she did not discuss her choices with me this morning, nor did she seek my opinion. Not that we did not have numerous interactions over the past weeks as we discussed the news and the events leading up to our 4th Democratic Elections.

I was more excited than she was. She just took it in her stride, joked with the policemen whom she stopped from driving up the one-way street. “You will be breaking the law,” she said. They laughed acceding that they were caught out and dutifully drove all around the block to reach the voting station.
Ruschka is completing a law degree at UCT. She was born at a time when the resistance in the country was intense. When she came into our world here at the Southern most tip of Africa, she had already spent time in prison. Today I remember the how I spoke with her during the weeks of solitary confinement; how I hoped that the world for her would be a better place.

Standing in the line with our green identity books, I was so conscious of how far we had come both personally and as a country. My finger was marked with black and ink and then hers was. In the voting cubicle, I glanced to my side and saw her at the second cubicle from me. I reached the ballot box and was asked to drop the national vote in one box and the provincial vote in another. The election official did not understand why I was hesitating. “Do you mind if I wait for my daughter?” I said “This is the first time she is voting.” He smiled broadly very happy to oblige.

After voting, we chatted to staff and neighbours and then set off home. She got ready to attend a friend’s birthday lunch while I got ready to stop off at various voting stations to sense the mood. I am so pleased that she is able to live a life not overwhelmed by politics. I want her to be able to enjoy her young life, serve her community and find her own rhythm. I remember my young life being so different. When I was her age, I was reporter at the Cape Times and caught up in the intense resistance of the time. There was little time to fiddle with hairstyles and make-up.

It was amusing when the reports came through this morning that women at one of the stations were being asked to remove the nail polish. No doubt an over zealous official insisting that the black ink indicating that they had voted would not take on nail polish.
The voting stain took on a new importance when we heard that anybody displaying the stain could get free coffee at all Wimpy bars or a free bun at Nando’s.
This commercial dimension will gain momentum at the next election and who knows what treats await us. It is indeed a very different time in our country. As a young student more than 30 years ago, I was turned away from a Wimpy because I was not the right colour. My mom and I were looking for a sandwich in Grahamstown after driving many hours from Cape Town and popped in at the Wimpy only to be told that we were not white enough to buy a sandwich. Today Wimpy is offering free coffee to all citizens irrespective of race.

Despite the huge challenges confronting us, we have done ourselves proud today. At the voting stations I visited, the mood was relaxed. Party agents either sat together or stood around together chatting easily. I pray that once the election competition is over that everyone will find it in their hearts to reach out to one another and work together for the benefit of all the people. I am off to the results centre where a press conference will be held at 10.30 tonight.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Zille does ANC a favour

DA party leader, Ms Helen Zille, made an extraordinary statement at UCT this week that has bruised hearts here in Cape Town.
She told students that people erroneously believe that the ANC paid them social grants. She went on to explain that it was not the ANC that paid these grants but taxpayers and a significant number of taxpayers were DA supporters. It therefore could be said that more than half the grants are paid by DA supporters.
Upon enquiry, she explained her statements to me as follows in summary: There are almost 12-million social grants, and approximately 5 million individual taxpayers registered with SARS. A very significant percentage of those 5,5 million registered taxpayers were DA supporters. If it could be said that the ANC pays people social grants, it would be fair to say that the DA pays even more of their grants.

She based her analysis, she said, on the following information drawn from the SARS annual report 2007/2008. According to this report, the total tax take in South Africa is R572,8 billion. The biggest single category of taxpayers are the personal/individual taxpayers registered with SARS(5,2 –million who account for 29,5 percent of the total tax take. The corporate tax base comprises 1,5 million corporate taxpayers who contrubte 24,7 percent of the total tax take. Together they contribute 54,2 percent of the tax take – more than half.
This information she says underscores her point that the ANC does not pay people’s grants. The taxpayers do and many of the biggest category of taxpayers in South Africa do not support the ANC.

South African voters are not ignorant nor are grant recipients. Many are aware that the ANC-led government has consistently increased and extended its social grant system from one budget to another. They know they do not go to the ANC’s offices but to the government offices to collect their grants.

Ms Zille is right to point out that there more social grant recipients than taxpayers and that this constitutes a worrying dimension of our financial system. She however is wrong to imply that voters do not have the right to choose a particular party because that party’s supporters do not pay the most taxes.

The South African Constitution’s preamble speaks of “We, the people…. It does not refer to We, the taxpayers…
All citizens pay VAT. Those who are economically strong, individually or through companies pay income taxes. Those who are not strong enough to pay, often are the ones who add value to our society in different ways. The domestic worker, the gardener, the housewife contributes in equal measure to our well-being. Ms Zille should have taken the opportunity at UCT to explain to students that they are comfortable on campus because of the cleaners and other personnel who work hard for very little money. Students often are blissfully ignorant that their stay on campus is heavily subsidised by all taxpayers irrespective of which party they come from and that they owe the country their service. It would have been better for her to explain that her party is a party for all South Africans and not just the rich.

Where there indeed are grant recipients who believe they receive their grants from the ANC and not the government, it would be necessary to point that out to them. However it does not at all help to create a commitment to strengthening the sense of nation-building when students are guided to believe that those who earn more, necessarily make a bigger contribution to society.
Historically this does not hold true. The mines were worked by millions in Southern Africa who earned very little and yet have bequeathed to us a mining industry through their efforts. The buildings we see in many our towns were often crafted by those who were denied their rights as citizens and were paid next to nothing for their labour. The rich fertile lands along the Liesbeeck River were removed from the Khoi and the San in the Cape through the arbitrary introduction of deeds of sale distributed by the Queen of England. Land in Constantia and surrounds were removed from people who had lived there for generations. All these families have helped to make South Africa what it is today and they deserve to have the right to insist on the freedom to choose the party in which they have the most confidence. To suggest that the ANC is lying to the electorate that it has driven the social grant system is disingenuous to say the least.

What Ms Zille considered to be “casual comments” made at a meeting with students have more potential to bruise the hearts of many potential voters than she perhaps realises. In a single thoughtless moment she may have done the ANC a greater service than she could have intended.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Who will win the Western Cape?

The silly season is upon us. The Western Cape, the most hotly contested province in the country, is in for a roller coaster ride. All indications are that no one party will be the winner. Instead our political future is likely to fall into the hands of a coalition of parties post 22 April.
How we vote will influence what that coalition will be. It could be any of a combination of parties. The Democratic Alliance(DA) and the African National Congress(ANC) could either align with the Independent Democrats(ID), the Congress of the People(COPE) or some of the smaller parties such as the African Christian Democratic Party(ACDP), the United Democratic Movement(UDM) or the African Muslim Party (AMP).

The two front runners in the 2004 election both believe that they will retain or improve their status amongst voters. While the ANC acknowledges that some of its voters were alienated, it has set out to win back that support and believes it is succeeding. It won 45 percent of the vote in the last election. The DA says evidence suggests that it will win at least 40 percent of the vote and will lead its nearest competitor by 10 percent.

The DA offers a number of reasons why it will win at least 10 percent more than its nearest competitor in this province. While the party garnered 27 percent of the vote in the last national elections in 2004, it won 39 percent in the local government elections in 2006. The ANC won the same but “is now split and cannot hope to win that much support in this election.” By-election results at the end of last year, said the DA, suggest support has grown among Coloured African voters in the metro. The third reason that contributes to it winning is that more DA supporters than ANC supporters turned out for both the recent registration weekends. Lastly, the party runs a tracking poll every day and this suggests that it is on track to win over 40 percent of the vote. Despite this, the party cautions against over-confidence. “Predicting the outcome of the elections is a tricky business,” said spokesperson, Ryan Coetzee. “Every vote counts and none should ever be taken for granted.

The ANC appears to be painfully aware of its challenges but is upbeat that it is successfully winning back its core supporters.
“We have gone for deep organisation as well as a high profile presence” said ANC spokesperson, Jessie Duarte. The party is not depending on the media and chooses instead to speak directly to the voters. “We are successfully bringing people back into the ANC who had withdrawn,” she said.
It is confident that it can depend on the black African vote and the coloured African working class and the farm workers in much of the Overberg and outlying areas. It does not consider COPE to be a major factor in the Western Cape or anywhere else.

Most smaller parties expect to improve their performance because the situation is so fluid. Compared to its 80 branches in 2004, the Independent Democrats (ID) now has 212 branches in this province. It expects to improve its past showing of close to eight percent.
“We attend to people’s problems and are finding that they are continuing to join,” said Patricia De Lille. “We are a bridge across all communities,” she said.

The presence of COPE however introduces a major unknown factor. It appears to be reaching out for support amongst all sections of the electorate and as such could potentially impact on the ANC, the DA and the smaller parties. For example, it has targeted both farm workers and farm owners in the Stellenbosch area and claims to be making considerable impact. “We want to find all the talented individuals we can in order to make the Western Cape a shining example,” said COPE’s spokesperson, Mr Sipho Ngwema. “We do not believe we have a monopoloy on good men and women and want to hold hands with as many people as possible who can make a difference to our lives,” he said. While it only opened it provincial office last week and cannot boast of a strong formal infrastructure, it will promote itself at existing public events starting this weekend. While a number of ANC branches have moved over to COPE lock stock and barrel, COPE’s strategy is encouraging its members with large personal networks to reach out to their friends and acquaintances.

Who will succeed in winning the hearts and minds of the people of the Western Cape?
This province has the third largest population in the country. About 4,8 million people reside in this most diverse region of the country. Their political future lies in the hands of 2, 6 million registered voters who potentially could go to the polls in April. This number represents 400,000 more voters than in 2004 with more than half of the new voters being from the 16 to 29 age group.

Nationally, Black Africans represent 38 million people, White Africans, 4.3 million, Coloured Africans 4.2 million and Asian Africans 1.2 million.

In the Western Cape, there are less than a million Black Africans, 2,2 million Coloured Africans, over 700,000 White Africans and 24,000 Asian Africans. Cape Town and surrounds where more than 70 percent of the voting public resides is the oldest town in South Africa. Its population demographics speak of a history of colonial plunder that wiped out large parts of the indigenous Khoi and San communities and injected a slave community drawn from Asia. Successive apartheid administrations actively excluded black Africans from this part of the country.

Since 1994, the black African vote in this province has remained largely stable. It has consistently gone to the ANC. This is the first time that there are expectations that this pattern will shift. For example, in Langa, the oldest township, the ANC is facing fierce competition from COPE. In response, the ANC organised its December 16th event in that area at the end of last year. It brought in its president Jacob Zuma who attracted a large crowd that was however largely from outside Langa.

In Worcester and the Boland areas where it has traditionally been strong, it’s deputy and the country’s president, Kgalema Motlanthe paid personal courtesy visits to key influential supporters last month. Anecdotal evidence suggests that there has been a considerable swing towards COPE in Worcester. Similar evidence suggests a stronger support of the DA in Khayelitsha and Phillipi than in previous elections. The ANC is also taking some strain in the Southern Cape amongst both black African and Coloured African sectors.

The premier candidates for the different parties are expected to be in fierce competition.
Both the DA and the ID are sending their party leaders into the fray underscoring the importance with which they view the elections here.
Helen Zille will be pitted against Patricia De Lille. With the COPE’s Alan Boesak thrown in, voters can expect to be bombarded as well as entertained.
Interestingly, the ANC remains undecided about its premier candidate. Its spokesperson, Ms Duarte, says that the organisation will not run a campaign based on the personality of its premier candidate but on the strength of the ANC as an organisation. This does however point to an admission of the fractiousness of ANC politics in the Western. Will it be the current premier, Lynne Brown or the current head of the elections team, Chris Nissen.
“We are going to take our time to decide who will be our premier candidate,” said Ms Duarte.

They do have some time on their side. Within the present fluid political climate, a week becomes a very long time. Anything can happen. Events can create changed circumstances in a flash. It is both scary and exhilarating that many voters appear to be undecided. Scary because they may withdraw from the political process but exhilarating because they may act in a way that could inject fresh dynamics into local political life.

With the high levels of competition amongst the parties, it is most likely that many voters will go to the polls. In doing so, they will give democracy a huge thumbs up. By all standards, six weeks is a long time in politics. Much will depend on the impression parties make in this time. The difficulty for the voter is that most of them come with the same message. There is in fact very little different in the stated aims of these parties. The difference lies in the levels of trust that people feel and how convinced they are that they can depend on one party to act in their interests rather than another party.
The choices are tough. When we cast our votes, we will have to consider what alliances we will strengthen. Will Helen Zille be able to bring together a coalition of parties opposed to the ANC as she has done in the City Council? Will the ANC be able to make an alliance with COPE , the ID and the AMP and once again run the provincial government? Or will Alan Boesak be the kingmaker?
If all the smaller parties join a coalition with the DA, it will end ANC rule in the Western Cape.

There are considerable unknowns in this election. The most rewarding outcome would be a balance of power between the different parties so that they could seriously consider cooperating in the interests of all the people of the Western Cape.
There are clearly enormously talented individuals in every party. It will be a pity if they pit themselves against one another after the elections. They have the freedom to do so until April 22. Let’s hope they have the wisdom to combine their strengths in all our interests after the passing of the silly season.


* The terms used to describe different communities are terms created by myself because I believe we should find new inclusive terms.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The ANC and Niehaus- Where does this confusion come from?

Politics is ninety percent perception. This is considered accepted wisdom. The messages that political parties send out in the run-up to the elections thus become crucial as they compete for the public vote.

With just ten weeks to go before the elections, the National Assembly has concluded its session this week freeing Members of Parliament to campaign across the country.

Those at the coalface of every political party will be under enormous pressure to make the best possible impression in the public mind. Besides the policies of each party, citizens will make decisions based on the extent to which they can trust the individuals associated with that party.

The exposure of the ANC’s Carl Niehaus could not have come at a more inopportune time for his party. In a short space of time this year, he has become the public face of the organisation eclipsing his team mate, Jessie Duarte who had become the spokesperson post-Polokwane. He has confessed to a string of activities that point to him being an individual of extremely weak character. Not only has he acknowledged forging the signatures of four Gauteng MECs while he was running the Guateng Economic Development Agency(Geda), but has left behind a string of bad debt and broken promises made to people who say they have lost thousands of rands. Further disclosures continue to come to the fore.

While some in the ANC say they had no conclusive knowledge of his past conduct, they do admit that there were rumours doing the rounds in the organisation. They could be excused for believing that the stories being spread were a consequence of intense office politics and had no real basis in fact.

However, there were those who knew more. Surely they cannot say they did not know that Niehaus had certain tendencies that could discredit the organisation. The present Gauteng Premier, Paul Mashatile, had some idea that this man was untrustworthy. Then there were all those whom he borrowed money from. One has to assume that they did not know the extent of his borrowing but it was a talking point in some circles.

The concern here is not that Carl Niehaus is a disturbed individual. This sadly is his problem and the problem of his family. The concern is that the ANC could have appointed him to such a crucial position. Surely there are many smart young people who could have done the job? It brings to mind the irrepressible Parks Mankahala who at 30 years of age became spokesperson for Nelson Mandela. With a good support team, he became one of this country’s most admired media spokespersons and will be remembered for his skill and flair.

The concern too is that both his response and the ANC’s response to the disclosures were not unequivocal. He did the right thing by offering his resignation but then left the door open for his organisation to decide. The secretary-general of the ANC, Gwede Mantashe, was hesitant. If he had understood that politics is ninety percent about perception, he would have realised that “looking after” Niehaus was not his immediate priority. His immediate priority was to protect the interests of his organisation so that the public could trust him.

This insistence that the ANC looks after its own is erroneous. It is not looking after its own. There are countless activists and members who have made enormous contributions all over the country who are not being looked after. And rightly so. It would be impossible for the organisation to make this its mission. But when it says the ANC “looks after its own”, it says that it is “looking after” those whom it has chosen to “look after”. And this is a message that is clearly communicated to those whom it has chosen not to “look after”.

It is not the ANC’s responsibility to look after anyone. It is its responsibility to run an organisation that will express the will of the people and to protect the interests of those who have voted for them. Its history however places a further responsibility on its shoulders. Whether it likes it or not, it carries the hearts of many in the palm of its hand. Many whom I have spoken with over the past months are unable to move to a point where elections represent a period of normal competition between different political parties. It remains for them more about the heart and the emotional attachment to an ideal they fought for.

There appears to be no distinction between support given to an individual in need of help and protecting the integrity of the organisation. Surely the integrity of the organisation must at all times be uppermost in the minds of its members and leaders. The ANC was built with the sweat of thousands over nearly a century. It is an organisation that carries the spirits of countless South Africans in its bosom. And it is being unwittingly trampled upon with a casualness that is astounding.

Where does all this confusion come from? Why could Mantashe not say that Niehaus will face an immediate disciplinary hearing and will henceforth be removed from any position of authority pending the outcome of such a hearing? Why did he not say that the ANC will not allow any of its staff to bring disgrace to the organisation and will not tolerate or sanction conduct that falls outside the norms of healthy societies? In not doing so, he is chipping away at the public trust.

Where does all this confusion come from? Does it have its roots in the compromise made at the negotiating table? Did we take the trade-offs made then as part of the normal course of things? We did not punish those whose conduct destroyed our social fabric because we considered ourselves to have been at war. Instead, we called for full disclosure and in return granted amnesty for those who transgressed. How full Niehaus’s disclosure has been is uncertain. Nevertheless when caught out, he hung his future on disclosure or confession. This is not surprising considering his strong theological background. However, trading truth for amnesty, may have been a useful way years ago to navigate past a difficult patch in the life of a nation.

The rules we adopted then were designed to take us through a period of transition. They were designed to deal with our past and to find a way to move on as a collective. The problem appears to be that this set of temporary rules has permeated the body politic. Those rules were forced upon us at a particular time but cannot be the norm. The Constitution and the law it upholds are the norm.

Even more so, the Niehaus affair sends a strong message of moral degeneration. Even if the law does not find him guilty, he is by his own confession, guilty of immoral conduct.

Surely it is in the interests of the ANC to send out a message that is unequivocal in its condemnation of such behaviour. If it does not do so, it further confuses an already confused message.


Friday, January 23, 2009

Will COPE help bring real change?

Outside the city of Cape Town, in a northern suburbs home, COPE party leader, Mosiuoa Lekota, sips a glass of cold apple juice. A small boy, with large innocent eyes, toddles into the lounge and he takes him onto his knee as he speaks. There is no sign of the anger, agitation and frustration he displayed a few weeks ago when he left the ANC. The child too is still and quiet sensing the calm.
The past weeks of contact with South Africans of all walks of life have energised Lekota. “We are attracting people from all sectors of society, many who had abandoned politics,” he said. “Young people in particular see in COPE a party of their time.”

He ascribes his sense of well-being particularly to acknowledging the mistakes he and others had made. “I share responsibility for failures in full,” he said. “It is not for lack of effort. It is partly because we missed some fundamentals.” He feels peaceful since deciding to make a fresh start. “There is nothing more painful than being at loggerheads with one’s conscience,” he said.

The party he leads will launch its manifesto in Port Elizabeth on Saturday barely two weeks after the ANC’s impressive launch in nearby East London. Will their manifesto signal a changed approach to the huge challenges facing our country? Will this inject fresh hope into the body politic or can we expect more of the same?

Lekota identifies two areas that require considerable change – non-racialism and economic empowerment. COPE will not challenge the broad philosophy of these policies. Instead it believes that substantial change has to take place with the implementation.

Huge effort has gone into popularising the idea of non-racialism but some fundamentals were missed in implementation. “On the side of the ANC, we did not read the mood and were unable to fashion an approach that would help all sections of the population feel they belonged,” he said.

He argues that the language used by the democratic government has sustained an apartheid mentality. “We should strongly have spoken about South Africans,” he said.
In terms of Chapter three of the Constitution, citizens were all equally entitled to rights and benefits and all equally bound by duties of responsibilities, he said. “We communicated a message that in this democracy you pay tax but when it comes to your rights, you are less of a citizen.” COPE will stick closely to the founding provisions of the Constitution and make sure that the language used be fully inclusive.

This will require a neutral approach to economic empowerment. Instead of emphasising black economic empowerment, COPE will call for economic empowerment for all and provide assistance to those who need it based on a means test. “In all sections of the population, people are poor. We need to find ways to reverse these trends in all communities,” he said.

If COPE has its way, Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) will become Grassroots Economic Empowerment (GEE). The country will become a food exporter not a food importer by working the land effectively and will increase the production of tradeable goods. Since 1994, the industrial sector in the country has slowed down dramatically, forcing South Africa to import many goods.

He is sensitive to the need to fashion an approach that will draw on the strengths of all South Africans irrespective of race, gender or religious affiliation.
Not only was there an emphasis on being black, there was also an emphasis on being ANC. “We need to depoliticise the civil service and draw on people from all political parties with the necessary skill to do the job,” he said.

For Lekota, COPE has revived people’s hopes of achieving a genuine democracy. “If we stay on course, we will inject new life into the political process.”

Will his message of change resonate with the South African public? Much depends on his parties conduct over the next few weeks. The proof will be not in only in what they say but in how they conduct themselves. The reality is that many of those who have moved into COPE bring their experience of the ANC with them. The question is whether or not they will leave behind that which is bad and take with them that which is good?

Genuine change requires serious personal reflection. Listening to Lekota and observing him suggests he has done some soul-searching. When the pressure builds up over the next few months, it will be interesting to see whether he will remain resolute in his determination to chart a different course – one that recognises as Mandela said that there are good men and women in every political party. There are good men and women irrespective of race who are keen to work to make South Africa function optimally.

By Freedom Day this year, we are likely to know whether we have reached a level of freedom that allows us to consider new and fresh ideas and welcome these into the body politic. The danger however remains that in the process, we may carelessly break down painstaking gains that have been made. Once again, the challenge will be how to find the balance between the old ways of doing things and the new. In his inaugural address on Tuesday, US President Obama put his finger on the essence when he said : “Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends – hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism – these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to those truths.”

Since 1994, we have moved our country towards the contemporary and dominant way of the world. We have been encouraged to believe that greed is acceptable, that personal well-being requires massive accumulation of material wealth, that the welfare of our neighbours are not essentially our responsibility, that there is no right or wrong. The rapid collapse of the global economy says something different. It challenges us to reconsider the dominant way of today’s world and will force us to rethink our “anything goes” approach.

It is the dreams of greater equality and kindness that moved us to create a movement for change that found expression in the ANC. It is those values of peace and goodness that we all yearn for. COPE will just be another one of the many political parties, if its leaders are not seen to be seriously reflective of how they have conducted themselves in the past and demonstrate in right actions a commitment to a fresh approach.
Observing Lekota, it appears that he has taken a step in the right direction. He has indeed been given a second chance but he needs to know that for him and those around him, there will be not be a third. COPE has a huge responsibility. It will not be easy to breathe fresh life into our fledgling democracy again if citizens discover that hidden behind the rhetoric and veneer of deepening democracy lies a shallow interest in self-promotion. It is not only poverty that destabilises public life. It is the perceived unfairness in the way important decisions made and politics is conducted.
If we cannot reshape the way in which we do the business of politics, what will be the future of that small boy with the large innocent eyes perched on Lekota’s knee?


Zubeida Jaffer, journalist and author of recently launched Love in the Time of Treason is Visiting Associate at UCT’s Centre for African Studies. Read her blog at

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Innovative leadership or a laager mentality:

Today, January 8, 2009, the ANC turns 97. When it meets to launch it election manifesto in East London on Saturday, it will set the tone for the upcoming elections.
Just three years away from scoring its centenary, this grand movement of Africa can either retreat into a laager mentality or provide the innovative leadership South Africa sorely needs at this testing time.

Indications behind the scenes are that the movement contains elements of both responses. There are some who say that the ANC has made many mistakes but has largely been able to manage the politics of difference. This ability, they say, is the most critical strength needed in a country with so many diverse interests. In the end, it knits together the hopes of the widest cross-section of the South African population and has until recently not been challenged on this front. While COPE challenges this hegemony, this too has been sited as a tribute to the strength of South Africa's democracy led by the ANC. There have been spats and tensions but not to the extent that could spill into full-blown violence with the potential of civil war. They argue that in the past few weeks, all parties have intensified their contact with the people and have found small pockets of intolerance. The greatest possibility for friction lies between the ANC and COPE and it is here that the most work will have to be done to curb hot tempers that could provoke physical clashes.

Those in the ANC who believe the depth of leadership experience within the organisation will not fail the country at this critical time say that the election contest must be based on the appeal of the manifestoes of the different parties. They intend doing all they can to encourage citizens to focus on this and move away from unneccesary belligerence.
There is a response running parallel that provokes great concern. Instead of acknowledging that the political dynamic has changed requiring fresh responses, this view glibly argues that COPE is a counter-revolutionary movement funded by foreign interests. The term counter-revolutionary within the South African liberation context implies that the activities fundamentally oppose all the values fought for and seeks to reverse the gains made in transforming the society into a more egalitarian place. The label is used in much the same way as the United States of America uses the term Islamic Fundamentalism. It is often a shallow way to deal with real criticism and a refusal to recognise the limitations of one's own response. Unfortunately what flows from this approach is that it gives permission to restrict, to crush and ultimately to kill. Within the Soviet context, counter revolutionaries were enemies of the people.

Those in the ANC intent on promoting this view need to consider that they sow the seeds of destruction. They are encouraging an analysis that will further narrow the space for difference. In the past, the challenge has essentially been to manage differences between the political thinking and interests of the old order and the new. This year brings the challenge of handling political difference that has evolved from within the new non-racial democratic order.

This is not to suggest that the democracy is fully in place. While the constitution is in place, the conditions of hunger and inequality remain huge challenges that diminish the dream of a social democracy. Much remains to be done and will still have to be done what ever the political configuration after the elections.

Good leadership and able practitioners are needed in the key sectors of health, education and security. The COPE phenomenon has shown that there are people who can be brought into the political arena who can add fresh skills and talents. While this may inject much needed enthusiasm and healthy competition into the political process, it says little about the strengthening of our crucial institutions essential for the comfort and security of our daily lives.

Irrespective of who leads, the challenge of building proper institutions as firm pillars of a well-functioning country remains. Parliament, the hospitals, the media, schools, the police and others need to fulfil their primary functions. Traffic departments across the country appear to have taken their jobs seriously by halving fatalities this festive season. What was it that changed? We need to look closely at this success story.

The media in particular will have its work cut out. Its primary role is to provide the public with enough information to make informed decisions and give voice to the powerless and marginalised. So far both the electronic and print media have broadly overemphasised the COPE phenomenon to the disadvantage of all other political parties. From a media point of view, this can be excused to some extent since news also tends to focus on what is new. By its very nature, we are trained to move the story forward, looking at all times for new dimensions that sometimes gives greater clarity. We are also operating in an international climate that affirms quick fixes and instant gratification. The emergence of COPE feeds into that hope that something different is happening that can help us find fresh energy to consolidate close to a century of organised effort. Not only does it create the political space for strong effective alternatives but also provides the pressure on the ANC to self-correct instead of drifting into a laager. The media will have to navigate the changing political terrain artfully. Its responses can either encourage the worst inclinations amongst all of us or help to bring out the best. In the interests of building a respected and solid media practice, it will need to be seen as fair conducting itself without fear or favour. Unfairness at this point will go a long way to diminish its important social role. Fortunately, some media outlets have recognised this and are putting mechanisms in place to safeguard against unfairness. The Star, for example, has commissioned the Media Monitoring Project to provide weekly reports on its levels of fairness during the elections. These reports will be published regularly.

While the media continues to express considerable discomfort with a Jacob Zuma presidency, there has to be acknowledgement that a substantial section of the public will vote in favour of him. His popularity cannot be presented as blind support for a man who is an idiot. He brings to the centre stage the interests of communities that have often operated at the margins of urban discourse.
Dismissing him and all he represents as traditionalist is no different from glibly pulling the counter-revolutionary label out of the collective hat.

We are poised on the cusp of a great opportunity that will test our ability to respond with great maturity as never before. If the ANC does not set the tone on Saturday, greater responsibility will fall on the shoulders of other political parties and civil society. We can do well to be spared such expenditure of energy on the political process at a time when all our efforts are needed to sort out and consolidate the functioning of our institutions so that all South Africans are able to enjoy an improved quality of life.