Johannesburg - Political arrogance remains popular in our country. Reactions on Saturday to the launch of Dr Mamphela Ramphele’s new political party, Agang, suggested irritation with its mere existence. Some ANC politicians and supporters seem to think their party has an inherent right to govern. Some DA politicians and supporters seem to think their party has an inherent right to be the official opposition.
Such sentiments stem from a disdain for political competition. However, what should we, as voters, make of the now official launch of Agang as a political party?
First, political competition enhances democracy. The chances of more responsive and accountable government increase when there are credible alternatives to the incumbent government. It is only when the ANC feels it has a real shot at losing the elections, or dramatically falling in electoral numbers, that it will be the best possible party in government that it has not yet been. Political competition is therefore good for the ANC and, more importantly, for you and me as voters.
The DA, though a very capable opposition party, also suffers complacency in its role as an opposition. It is complacent because it faces no competition from smaller, disorganised opposition parties. It, too, could benefit from political competition in the opposition benches. The DA still refuses, for example, to critically self-examine its relationship with black voters, both in how it communicates with us and in relation to the social justice question.
Enter one Dr Ramphele. She accused the DA the other day of not understanding the scars of apartheid and suggested a few weeks back that social justice will be her focus rather than a left-right positioning, ideologically.
That is music to black ears tired of the ANC but sceptical of the DA. How the DA will respond, I don’t know. But it can only help the DA, and therefore benefit us as voters, to be kept on its toes.
I have always thought that an opposition party can be a serious threat to the ANC only if it is unashamedly race conscious, deeply historic in its analysis of the status quo and demonstrates a firm commitment to social justice. Agang, if it is smart, should go where the DA fears to go.
But all of this rests on a number of assumptions about Agang that might not be true. The party has got a lot of sympathy for not yet being clear about its policy direction. This sympathy, in my view, is misplaced. It’s great to go on a tour of the country and listen.
Heaven knows, we can do with politicians who don’t think that they have a monopoly on how to solve our problems.
The bottom line, however, is that a good leader needs to be a strong thought-leader. Ramphele’s speech on Saturday gave an excellent analysis of what is wrong with the government. But it contained nothing by way of a solitary solution. Nothing. We just heard a list of aspirations about how cool it would be if we all have jobs, can go to good schools and live in a corruption-free society.
Agreed. But how do we achieve that society, Dr Ramphele? Agang will not be the competitor to the DA and the ANC that we need it to be for the sake of our democracy if the party doesn’t quickly develop sound policies. The party’s policy head, Professor Mills Soko, reportedly said the policies will be based on “pragmatism”. What does that mean, though?
So if Agang wants the goodwill of some voters to be sustained and converted into actual votes, it must offer us policies immediately.
Last, the biggest challenge for Agang is far less intellectual. It still lacks the reach of both the ANC and the DA in the country. The two biggest parties have well-established electoral machines with many thousands of volunteers across the country that can be unleashed on voters instantly.
Agang is but a new political party based on hope rather than on deep organisational structure and machinery doing work in the trenches. It is difficult to see how it will gain quick traction in communities. So far it has relied on the media for airplay. The ANC, for example, doesn’t need the media as much as a party like Agang does.
But as the elections get closer, and many more parties get media airplay, Agang will need to rely on its own party resources to get into communities and canvass for votes. It is difficult to see how such an operation can effectively be put in place to make Agang a serious political player in 2014 already.
In the end, Ramphele might have to pretend to have huge hopes for 2014. Secretly, however, the party must be sensible and look beyond 2014.
* Eusebius McKaiser hosts Power Talk With Eusebius McKaiser on Power FM 98.7, weekdays, 9am till midday.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.