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Give us a grassroots government

Supporters of Agang cheer at the launch of the party, which, the writer suggests, is just a black version of the DA.	Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Supporters of Agang cheer at the launch of the party, which, the writer suggests, is just a black version of the DA. Picture: Boxer Ngwenya

Published Jul 16, 2013


Johannesburg - The emergence of several political parties is misleading. These include Agang, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the not-so-recent Cope.

It creates a false impression of a vibrant multipartyism, a “wide” choice for voters at the polls, and to a lesser extent that the ruling party will be dethroned soon.

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South Africa’s multipartyism has the numbers, but lacks substance. The fact that the DA’s Western Cape has officially adopted the National Development Plan is a clear indication of the fundamental synergy between the ruling party and the DA. Ironically, both are now vying for each other’s constituency: the ANC wants a major presence in minorities, while the DA wants black votes. Their main difference is which party can implement better the liberal economic system.

Enter Agang. This is just a black version of the DA. In fact, it is difficult to take a position on Agang simply because it is not known what it stands for.

At least this is so at the ideological and policy perspective levels.

From its only leader, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, the focus has been on matters of good governance and education.

However, there is no indication that Agang will pursue better delivery of education outside the policy ambit of the current ruling party. Moreover, there is no indication that it will pursue anti-corruption outside the current policy, legal prescripts, and change in the existing institutions.

Rather than a political party, Agang bears the character of an interest group, or an NGO with a specific focus on good governance. Properly located, Agang belongs to organisations such as Corruption Watch, Amnesty International, or environmental organisations. Therefore, at the polls, it will only offer a choice numerically – not substantively.

Cope positioned itself as the “real ANC”. Hence the name Congress of the People – a reference to the 1955 gathering that gave rise to the Freedom Charter.

Cope has evolved into an internal “Conflict of the People” through the courts.

More than anything else, voters have given a parliamentary platform to an ANC angry elite that lost the Polokwane leadership battle. Rather than the hope Cope claimed to bring to voters, it has contributed to voter mistrust of politicians and political parties. Similarly, Cope has offered an additional number, but offers no substance to voters.

The following can be ascertained from the emergence of the EFF: had Julius Malema not been fired from the ANC, the EFF would not exist. In fact, the term “Economic Freedom Fighters” is contained in the ANC Youth League’s “Declaration of the 24th National Congress”. It reads in part: “The 24th National Congress was ideologically, politically and organisationally the most definitive in the struggle for economic freedom in our lifetime.”

The declaration ends: “Issued by the African National Congress Youth League (Economic Freedom Fighters).”

Technically, the ideological dogma of “economic freedom fighters in our lifetime” belongs to the youth league, and is endorsed by the ANC.

However, the youth league’s national executive committee (NEC) accepted Malema’s leadership personality cult. The now defunct NEC hero-worshipped rather than thought and led with him. This idolisation of Malema has made it easy for Malema and Floyd Shivambu, upon expulsion, to appropriate to themselves the ideological dogma of economic freedom fighters.

The idolisation has so weakened the youth league that it is incapable of defending its own national congress resolution and declaration.

The national task team established to rebuild the youth league suffers a legitimacy crisis since its members did not rise out of an elective process; they were anointed into decision-making positions. The team has further weakened the youth league by disbanding provincial leadership structures.

The EFF, therefore, is the unofficial version of the ANC Youth League.

It is the autonomous youth league that is not limited to 35 years of age for its membership.

Moreover, it enjoys the autonomy to stand for elections on its own.

What sets the EFF apart is that it has identified the vacuum in leftist, Africanist and black consciousness politics.

The left and pro-poor political spectrum has been vacated by the SACP as its elite leadership is seeking cabinet accommodation rather than advancing a communist agenda, while the Africanist block of the Azanian People’s Organisation and the PAC has failed to adjust its political dogma to post-apartheid politics. What Malema and Shivambu have done is to take the youth league to the left into a position vacated by the SACP, recapture the Africanist political dogma and couch it with more youthful and modern political rhetoric.

The EFF, therefore, does not bring something new to South Africa’s political scene, but it does bring something different from the existing political parties. It has modernised old redistributive politics of land expropriation and sharing of minerals. Given South Africa’s unacceptable levels of poverty, inequality, and joblessness, the EFF’s leftist political pronouncements will find favour among the electorate who feel that they have been economically marginalised by both apartheid and democracy.

While the ANC will articulate on job creation, the EFF will say white people must share their wealth. The EFF, therefore, reintroduces an old policy debate: economic growth versus wealth redistribution.

In the early 1990s, the ANC advocated the redistribution of wealth. However, as it became clear that the ANC would become the government of the day, it lost the debate to the liberal prescripts of property rights, economic growth, and attraction of foreign direct investment as the basis of post-apartheid economic policy.

But as much as the EFF might bring a pro-poor leftist discourse, it has one thing in common with Cope: it emerges from a leadership fallout at ruling party level. Therefore, at face value, it will be grouped with the United Democratic Movement and Cope.

The African history of multipartyism indicates that parties that emerge to challenge, and even dethrone, liberation movements-turned-governments usually come from the grass roots.

These are informed by the daily struggles of ordinary people.

In South Africa, these would be the genuine formations central to service delivery protests.

They are founded in the poverty of living conditions that result in isolated struggles that eventually merge to form a major national political movement.

At this stage, the ruling party has lost all its legitimacy as a vehicle for a better life.

Until a political party emerges from the daily experiences of the poor masses, we need to curb our enthusiasm with the mushrooming of political parties emerging from the fallouts of the political elite.

* Dumisani Hlophe is a political scientist, and hosts the blog You can follow him on Twitter @KunjaloD

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

The Star

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