EDITORIAL: Imagine a new political home
The difficulty will be to get career politicians to leave their ambitions at the door
Former ANC MP Makhosi Khoza, who left the party last month expressing horror at its moral decline, has begun to talk about the need for a new political party. This has been reported widely as a move by Khoza to start "her own" political party.
If that is the intention then it is a project that will surely fail. SA has welcomed a string of new parties since 1994, most of which are still only just breathing. Worst performer of all has been the party closest to where Khoza’s ideas seem to lie: that of Mamphela Ramphele’s Agang.
But if the intention is, as she has put it, to help build "a new political home" for South Africans, it is an endeavour very much worth thinking about. The two biggest political parties, the ANC and the DA, are close to their sell-by dates.
In the case of the ANC, the party of liberation brought many benefits, both material and political, to the black majority.
But, 20 or so years after the advent of democracy, it has rendered itself unable to complete its historic mission of building a new society. Consumed by internal battles and riddled with corruption, the ANC is a party on an irrevocable path of decline.
So the question is not whether SA needs a new political party, it is how to go about building one
The DA too has outlived its usefulness. Its key achievement since 1994 has been to unite minorities and involve them in the political life of the country in a way that has given meaning to multiparty democracy. It has championed the Constitution and used it effectively to keep the abuse of power in check. But it has been unable to rise above its historical baggage. At the end of the day it is a party of privilege that has united people on the basis of their opposition to the ANC. It does not have a recipe for growth or a coherent platform that can capture the hearts and minds of the majority of South Africans.
So the question is not whether SA needs a new political party, it is how to go about building one.
The difficulties experienced by Agang and COPE and the inability of the Independent Democrats and the UDM to break out of their ethnic and regional moulds show that starting a new party in SA is not such a simple matter.
Apart from the question of who will lead (which has tripped up most of the new entrants), political parties need infrastructure and organisation, they need activists, they need experience and know-how and they need money.
While the most successful has been the EFF, which has had the advantage of an exceptionally charismatic leader, it has been able to adopt a political stance – both outward and inward – that a middle-ground social democratic-type party would not be able to emulate.
Aware of these difficulties, other dissenting voices in the ANC have preferred to rather mobilise among civil society, not leaving the ANC but being openly critical. This includes groups such as Save SA, the ANC Veterans and also a large part of the South African Communist Party.
On occasion, though, some of these dissenting voices, as well as some in opposition parties, have begun to express support for the idea of a kind of broad, open process in which all parties, formations and individuals could explore a platform of shared values or goals. It is an essential first step and the timing of it, who calls it and what the terms of participation are will be critically important.
Agreeing on values and goals, though, is likely to be the easy part: constitutionalism, inclusive growth, nonracialism, the need for a capable state and zero tolerance for corruption are basic starting points.
The difficulty will be to get career politicians, who are already well on their way to carving out their personal political future in their respective political parties, to leave their ambitions at the door.