There is a recognition in the three main political parties – the ANC, DA and Cope – that the country is suffering the consequences of poor leadership and it simply isn’t on the right path.

Sitting next to Cope leader Mosiuoa Lekota at a cosy “On the Couch” event at the District Six Museum, DA leader Helen Zille argued that the political contest would be between “the populists” and “the constitutionalists”. There were people in all the parties who were defenders of the constitution, she believed.

Lekota agreed that there were all sorts of lurking signals that the populists in the ANC were getting the upper hand. Brandishing a copy, he said: “The day this constitution is thrown away, that would be the most dangerous thing.”

It is clear that the two opposition parties – with a few others in tow – are well on their way to forging some sort of new alliance. We could see a Patriotic Front emerging of like-minded parties. Lekota, a former publicity secretary of the old United Democratic Front (UDF), said the UDF was constructed of disparate groups that shared one thing: abhorrence of apartheid authoritarianism.

They operated separately but spoke with one voice on values they shared. Although the structure and name of this new front or alliance have not yet been forged, one suspects that Lekota will play a leading role in the new political construction.

It is probably not by accident that Lekota has been putting on a noticeable performance in the National Assembly in recent weeks, most notably pointing out that the ANC alliance was losing touch with its constituency, deliberately ignoring rebel trade unionism – which fuelled the recent disaster at Marikana – at its peril. He said voters needed an alternative to the ANC, which was being characterised by cabinet ministers living it up at luxury hotels, tenderpreneurism and misspending of tax money.

On Wednesday the Parliamentary Press Gallery Association had an interactive session with Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe. He pointedly avoided questions about whether he had ambitions to be ANC president, other than saying that even to “drop a hat” was construed as a pre-Mangaung “signal for something”. However, he was outspoken about politicians “not exactly covering themselves in glory”. Of course, he didn’t mention who they were, but one would guess he was talking about his own cabinet colleagues.

Pressed on what signals he could send to give the country a shove in the right direction in light of Mineral Resources Minister Susan Shabangu complaining about the “conspicuous consumption” of many of the mining elites, Motlanthe said: “I suppose I can complete the sentence – [conspicuous consumption] in the midst of poverty… and grinding poverty.” It was a clear reference to the Lonmin tragedy.

Citing Martin Luther King’s crusade against the “the degenerating feeling of nobody-ness”, he said business and the government had to take note that the political climate was potentially revolutionary. Motlanthe said the distribution of wealth was unfair and “very skewed in favour of a handful of people”. Pressed on whether the government had lost touch with citizens as demonstrated by service delivery protests, he said: “We are not covering ourselves in glory as public representatives. In many respects we are failing our people.”

His message was that capitalists and politicians needed to take a hard look at themselves and pull up their socks, by seeking workplace stability and reasonably paid workforces rather than chasing big salaries and profits. Zille and Lekota would surely agree with him on that score.