Leadership: What will it take for new candidates to unseat an ANC that’s on the path to oblivion?
What comes after the party of liberation? Are we headed for a “Macron moment”, as a friend said to me this week?
And who is that Emmanuel Macron who unseats all the establishment parties? Someone from the ANC? The current crop of opposition leaders? Or someone from civil society, a left-leaning activist or a business-leaning candidate? A populist?
I have followed and been fascinated by the UDM since its formation in 1997 when Bantu Holomisa was bundled out of the ANC for doing the right thing: exposing a fellow cabinet member for allegedly taking a bribe. In firing Holomisa the ANC failed its first ethical and moral test of the new South Africa. The arms deal soon afterwards cemented its failure.
I ran into Holomisa often in the run-up to the 1999 election. The ANC in the Eastern Cape was rattled by the man’s popularity. I remember meeting the ANC’s Mcebisi Jonas on the outskirts of Umtata just weeks before the election and he told me that they had to push hard in the area to ensure they saw Holomisa off. In the event, the UDM got 3.42% of the vote nationally and an impressive 13.6% in the Eastern Cape.
Holomisa has been an exemplary MP. He has harried the ANC on principle. He is the one political leader in SA no one is ashamed to proclaim they voted for even when the numbers show that they did not. Why isn’t he a success – why do South Africans not vote for him? Only a measly 184636 people (1%) voted for the UDM nationally in the 2014 election compared to the ANC’s humungous 11.4 million.
Many others have come after Holomisa. The ID peeled off from the PAC. The Congress of the People splintered off the ANC, followed by the EFF five years later. Agang came along and imploded spectacularly after a horrendously ill-informed and extremely short marriage to the DA. The Inkatha Freedom Party’s anti-democratic tendencies birthed Zanele Magwaza-Msibi’s National Freedom Party. It, too, is staring death in the face.
New parties and formations have not been very successful in post-apartheid South Africa. The EFF makes a lot of noise, but it is worth reflecting on the fact that it only attracted 6.35% of the vote in its first outing compared to the 7% that COPE attracted in 2009.
So what should we make of the admirable Makhosi Khoza’s flirtation with the idea of a new political party? Even with the ANC imploding, chances are that it would fail. It would fail not because Khoza is incapable or not politically savvy. Khoza is all of these things and more. She is outstanding at every level. Yet, so is Mamphela Ramphele. So is Terror Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa, for that matter. So is Holomisa.
They have failed because they went straight from narrow party politics to narrow party political platforms. They learned nothing about building social movements – and unseating a powerful “movement” called the ANC.
The United Democratic Front of the 1980s first built momentum around an idea of change and grew a leadership around that. Emmanuel Macron did it very quickly in France, harnessing young people around the idea of change, building a social movement, and parlaying that into a political party.
Ramphela was on the right path in this sense, but spoilt it all by jumping too quickly into party politicking and alliances she did not need.
Being anti-ANC is not enough. Building momentum around the return of ideals of unity, non-racialism, fealty to education and hard work, non-corruption, non-sexism, open democracy and prosperity is the way to go.
It cannot be done by one individual, even if it can be led by one (such as a Khoza, perhaps).
I am more persuaded by what Pravin Gordhan and Mcebisi Jonas are doing – building momentum around issues of accountability in the private sector and public sphere. The ANC’s failures will make it easier for them, should they so wish, to trigger a new political movement.
Perhaps that’s where our Macron moment lies, but messier.