File picture: Nqobile Mbonambi/African News Agency(ANA)

I have repeatedly said in Parliament that the IFP will support the government when it does the right thing. We are a constructive opposition. But when it does the wrong thing, we will certainly speak.

This past weekend, as I visited seven different voting stations, I met people from all walks of life who were responding to the Independent Electoral Commission’s (IEC) last voter registration weekend. The conversations we had were fascinating, for they were in equal measure worrying and encouraging.

Almost every conversation started with enthusiasm over the chance to vote. But then came the reasons.

Elderly women in KwaMakutha expressed concern for their families who were struggling to survive on an old age grant. Corruption, they said, was eating the food that should be on their tables.

Young students in uMlazi were worried about getting jobs because they believed you needed to be politically connected or willing to grease a few palms to get work.

In eManzimtoti, I heard small business owners lament the death of viability because the economy had collapsed under this government. Investors won’t come, they said, because expropriation without compensation was just another way of saying “land grabs”.

In Chatsworth, the issue of social cohesion loomed large because racial tensions and divisions were being sown and the government was doing nothing to stop it.

Residents of KwaMashu were worried about crime, particularly against women, and angry the government was not protecting them.

I’ve heard these things before, in countless places. They are the pervasive cry of a nation in distress. It’s terribly sad that this is the narrative of our democratic South Africa on its 25th anniversary.

If a correspondent from the future visited 1994 and asked what people would be saying ahead of this sixth democratic election, predictions would surely have tended towards the positive.

Our democracy should be strengthened by now, government should be a well-oiled machine primed for service delivery, inequality should be a thing of past, and our economy should be thriving.

Instead, we are wrestling with a striking incongruence between what is being said by those at the top and what we all know.

Our country is in crisis. Yet the president is asking us to give him a chance to restore the integrity of the ANC and fix the problems it created in the governance of our country.

Is that a fair request? The question is really whether it’s a request made in good faith.

The image the president would like to convey is of the cavalry riding into town to sort out the mess someone else created. But that is not the case. He and his cabinet are not newly arrived, conjured out of thin air, to do a clean-up job. They are part of the collective that failed us.

That’s why it doesn’t ring true when the ruling party says that ANC comrades fingered in the state capture inquiry were operating in their “individual capacity”, as though their leadership in the ANC can be separated from the position they hold in government; the position that bestowed the authority that they abused.

If the president was fully committed, and able, to restore the ANC’s integrity and fix the governance problems created by ANC leaders, he would have taken the first opportunity to rid cabinet of bad apples. Yet to everyone’s surprise, the bad apples remained.

I said that these conversations are worrying and encouraging. The encouraging part comes back to the fact that people are standing up and getting involved, through political activism and through their vote. The crisis we face has galvanised revolutionaries of goodwill.

I see it in the number of people registering to vote. I see it in the number of new memberships in the IFP. I see it in by-election results where the IFP has been taking wards away from our old opponents. But mostly I see it in the way people talk. They are not just angry, or frustrated or disappointed. They are provoked. They’re ready to act.

This places South Africans in a uniquely receptive frame of mind. Many will easily embrace the divisive rhetoric of firebrands. But so too will they be open to a message of hope, if it speaks to them in a voice they can trust.

I am determined to sway South Africans away from the firebrands, towards hope, unity, possibility and peace. I believe we can rescue South Africa. But it’s we, the people, who will do it.

Our Struggle for liberation was not to enrich the few, but to liberate the many. Now that the many are free to choose their leaders, let them choose wisely.

* Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi is the leader of the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP). 

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Tribune