Can the madam spell disaster?

Bulelani Mfaco

The Democratic Alliance formed through a merge of smaller parties, has had to transform from a ‘white’ party to a party for all, Tony Leon led it to become the official opposition then Madam Zille leading it to being a party in government. With smaller municipalities here and there, the biggest notable achievement would be the DA’s victory in the Western Cape where no party had ever won the province with an outright majority.

Not just victory on the ballot but the party has served the Cape better than the National Party & ANC did in their short term. The victories both the Cape Town metro and Province did not come easy, it took the effort of many hard working DA staff members, dedicated public representatives and party supporters not just a simple dissatisfaction with the ANC government as many analysts suggest. After one year of being on local branch executive committee I learnt the hard way what it means to serve and by the end of the term, I did not want anything to do with politics.

The phone rang nonstop, calls, sms’s, and emails, even on weekends there were meetings to attend and reports to compile, add work and my studies then forget about having a social life. The work ethic in the party is amazing and even more amazing is seeing that on the elected public representatives serving in government, Western Cape Housing MEC Bonginkosi Madikizela once said in a meeting that as a leader you must be available 24/7 to the people you serve; although they cannot be in two places at once, they always respond or get someone in their offices to do so. This starts with an ordinary member helping out wherever they can, branch executive members, councillors, mayors, MECs and all the way to the Premier and leader of the party. If they can’t help you, they simply find someone who can.

I remember seeing Nkosazana Vuyokazi Mathanzima walking on crutches on her way to Delft to assist during a by-election there, the DA won on that day and Mathanzima was also elected councillor in the 2011 for her dedication to serving the people, I often wondered why on earth is this woman always busy helping out wherever she can in her community and in every DA event even though she was walking with crutches, and the slogan she chanted often in party gatherings said it all “Abantu kuqala, kuqala abantu” (People first) which every DA public representative in Khayelitsha chants explained her commitment, councillor Mathanzima put the needs of the people first, she wasn’t going to sit at home for months and months whilst her community needed her leadership. This is what every public representative should do, of course not neglecting their health but when you commit to serving the public, you should do exactly that.

This commitment to serving the public is what propelled many to get involved in the first place, a lot of politicians may claim to be committed to serving the people but a few actually do. You would think after voting at least six times, we would be able to identity which politicians are sincere about serving people, but looking at our current leaders in government, it seems that serving the public is foreign to them. From Nkandlagate to the tenders being awarded to family members of government officials and their pals, often not delivering the service the tender was awarded for such as in KZN where government spent millions buying equipment that was not even needed in the community, it was bought simply because the company owner had connections in government who organised the tender. If it was a private business, you wouldn’t spend millions buying things you don’t need but anything is possible in government because there are very few people in government leadership who are committed to serving the public.

The DA’s ability to identify and nurture talent has introduced us to a new kind of leadership, the kind that does not come with baggage (struggle credentials) but come with a lot of hard work, commitment, dedication, a new breed of politicians who are only in politics to serve not because of what role they played in the struggle. The likes of Mmusi Maimane, Tim Harris, Lindiwe Mazibuko who have come through the party’s ranks on service not connections to the past but looking to create a better future for all, their commitment to building the party so that it may one day govern the country inspires me and sure a substantial number of South Africans are also inspired by the new faces instead of the old men and women who keep reminding us of our ugly past while the comrades loot in every sphere of government.

Many of the DA’s public representatives come from various political formations, this is due to the fact that the DA has gone through several merges from its days as the Democratic Party which was also formed through a merge of smaller parties who shared similar values. The most surprising merge was in the year 2000 when the Democratic Party merged with the New National Party and the Federal Alliance to form the DA, the merge was to build a formidable opposition to the ANC. But in 2001 the New National Party broke away and merged with the ANC. The only common value the DP and NNP shared was their fear of a one party state, and the NNP found it easy to be part of that dominant party, perhaps they believed the analysts who said that the DP would not grow after the 1999 general elections.

So the DA has been able to attract a large number of its public representatives and supporters from various political formations who share common values. This is the DA tradition the madam is pursuing when she called for the realignment of SA politics, but this time, the DA would do well to do away with such a tradition of merges but build on its successes. The party which received only 1.7% of the vote in 1994, 16.7% in the 2009 general elections, now enjoys a 24% of the vote after the 2011 local government elections. The DA has been able to grow its support base without the merges, if the ANC will “disintegrate” as the madam says it will continue to do so in the future, why not let the ANC fall apart and enhance the DA’s strengths inorder to appeal to the non-voters and ANC suppoerters to join the DA and build the new majority the madam wants to build through the political realignment ‘process’?

The madam suggests that there is no time to waste, there needs to be a sense of urgency, political parties that share four core values with the DA should do like the ID did and join the DA. This did not sit well with United Democratic Movement leader Bantu Holomisa who wrote to leaders of opposition parties in parliament opposing the way the DA merged with the ID, but open to discussing other possibilities which I would imagine include forming a new political party similarly to the formation of the Democratic Alliance in the year 2000.

Already you have disagreements on the way things should be done which is why we have many political parties in the first place, because while values might be the same, the way things are done in each party completely differs. If the DA and the UDM shared the same ‘core values’ and were run in the same manner, I’d most probably be a strong UDM supporter seeing that my biological father holds a leadership position in the party and has contested elections for public office under the UDM banner, and yet I did not vote for the man who brought me into this world but voted DA. Values alone are not enough, the way in which a party conducts its business such as electing public representatives plays a big role in deciding which party people should vote for, not just that but the ‘quality’ of the public representatives also plays a major role especially with the nature of South African politics where electing leaders becomes a popularity contest and not based on the capabilities of the candidate. Ask conference delegates what criterion they use in deciding which candidate to vote for.

The identification of sincere leaders who genuinely want to effect change is no easy task and most parties in South Africa do this by way of voting for the most popular not who is can lead the people, this is the trend in most African countries, when policies/values are overlooked for most popular and you end up with a Zuma, Mugabe or Morsi in Egypt. You simply nominate, and majority elects whomever they like, note the word ‘like’ when it should be who can demonstrate that they are capable of leading the collective in the direction that will hopefully achieve the organisation’s objectives and fulfill government’s constitutional mandate which is ensuring the realisation of the constitutional rights by all who live on this land, and that is the major difference in most of these opposition parties in South Africa, in the DA you apply as you would for any job, an interview is conducted after that the electoral college holds more interviews for the shortlisted candidates and they vote on who they believe is the best candidate for the job.

Whilst many people criticise the electoral college for having a small group of people deciding who should represent the majority, the problem with having the majority decide on which candidate to put forward is that the majority often goes with whoever chants the best slogans, and besides, the electoral college suits South Africa’s electoral system, a PR system gives parties the right to appoint representatives so the public representatives represents the party not the voter. Electoral colleges ensure that no chairs fly when its time to elect public representatives, and that the best candidate is put forward.

Many of the DA’s public representatives who come from other political formations where things were done differently have had to embrace the DA’s way of selecting public representatives and found it to be fair. The trouble with the political realignment the madam calls for is that she seems to be compromising on the organisation’s values for the sake of diversity. When former ANC Eastern Cape Premier Nosimo Balindlela resigned from COPE and joined the DA, the madam is quoted saying “Balindlela’s core values will take South Africa forward” but if you look at Balindlela’s track record in government, you will agree that her ‘core values’ are exactly what this country does not need.

The then Premier Balindlela had to be forced by the courts to release a survey on how people perceived her government’s performance, perhaps it was too embarrassing? One of the core values of any democracy is openness, but Balindlela believes in openness only when it suits her needs. Then there was the Pillay Commission’s report which she delayed its release and made all sorts of excuses for not releasing it, am very sure she would still make those excuses today and wouldn’t have released it if it wasn’t for the opposition, ironically the DA criticised her for it as the commission was investigating the Balindlela administration’s misconduct.

The thriller would have to be the Balindlela administration not accounting for R30 billion of the R32 billion it spent on the 2005-2006 financial year, as Premier she was the accounting officer for the Eastern Cape government, 4 government departments (housing, health, education, and social development), very crucial to the poor province had received the largest share of that R32 billion about 80% and couldn’t account for most of it. This clearly demonstrates that Balindlela had failed as Government’s leader in that province, the Auditor General cited lack of leadership as the major contributor to the poor management of funds, no control measures and little to no consequences for government officials misconduct. And madam Zille says that Balindlela’s core values will take this country forward? Clearly accountability is not one of her core values judging by her past, or should we compare Premier Balindlela to Premier Zille’s performance to see the difference?

The DA has many public representatives coming from the ANC and other smaller parties, they have all gone through the DA’s electoral college and proved that they can represent the party in any sphere of government. Representatives such as Nkosazana Mathanzima, Councillor Yalezo, Councillor Gwanxu who came from the ANC and have dedicated their time to serving Cape Town residents. Then there are more senior party representatives such as Councillor Grant Pascuoe who came from the ID before the ID had even considered the merge with the DA, Pascuoe serves as DA chairperson for the Cape Town metro region.

Minister Bonginkosi Madikizela who moved from the UDM to the DA, MP Watty Wattson who serves as Chief Whip in parliament, he joined the National Party in the 60s when it was fully enforcing its Apartheid policy in government, many would find it hard to believe that such a person can hold such a senior position in the party that seems desperate to prove that it has transformed from being a ‘white’ party but such individuals really challenge our beliefs in Mandela, Sisulu, and Tutu type of reconciliation. Wattson has served the DA at local government, provincial government, and now serving at national government. And there are many others in all spheres of government who serve the DA with distinctions, who have changed their values and challenge us to change ours. But the difference between them and Balindlela is that they have proven in the DA that their values have changed, Balindlela on the other hand has the madam making excuses for her administration’s failures, blaming it all on the ANC. Perhaps we are so accustomed to blaming the ANC for everything that goes wrong and forget that the ANC is an organisation that wouldn’t exist without supporters and leaders, leaders such as Balindlela who blame all the bad stuff to external factors but would be happy to take credit for the good stuff, if we can find anything good that her administration did. After listening to the madam blaming the ANC for Balindlela’s failures as Premier, you’d swear that Balindlela was just a puppet for the corrupt lot or some kind of an angel if one existed in politics.

The disaster in this case is the madam compromising on the DA’s values when she said that Balindlela’s core values would take this country forward, if this is the indication of things to come with her political realignment, unfortunately nothing much would change in South Africa except reduced minority parties in the national assembly if we are still ‘recycling’ the old ‘gang’ that got us in this mess in the first place. It would be dumb of anyone to reuse a used condom to prevent an infection wouldn’t it? Why then call for a merge of the likes of the IFP’s Buthelezi who seems to be the IFP’s life-president, have you noticed that the party hasn’t had a different president since its formation? The same goes for the UDM’s Holomisa.

The madam admitted herself how difficult it was to manage a coalition in Cape Town now how easy would it be to manage these smaller parties coming together to take the ANC on? Say by some miracle they succeed, who would be president? The problem with merges is that someone has to compromise something, the leaders of most of these smaller parties care much more about positions than values, they simply freak out when their positions are challenged. Will they have to be offered positions for the merge to be a success or they’ll merge and break away when things don’t go their way much like the New National Party did? If the madam starts compromising on values whilst she seeks power, am very afraid of what will be compromised when and if she gets that power, but again, it has been proven that in politics values change when ever it suits the actor’s needs. In Egypt they replaced a dictator with a new and improved one, if you compromise on accountability, how different will your government be to our current one?

Bulelani Mfaco

Political Science student at the University of the Western Cape. Risk Management Consultant on building sites (Safety Health and Environmental Management). Community involvement includes voluntary work for NGO's such as the Art of Living Foundation SA, the Earth Child Project and served on various community forums in Khayelitsha.

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