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Roger Jardine. Picture: Veli Nhlapo
Roger Jardine. Picture: Veli Nhlapo

You’d have to be blind not to realise that South Africa is in an absolute mess, and on the precipice of state failure.

I could easily list all the issues, but every South African is affected daily by some or all of them, be it load-shedding, a lack of access to water, inadequate sanitation, alarming logistical bottlenecks and crime. Also, let’s not forget the scourge of corruption that continues unabated, despite the excellent work of the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture. On top of that the frightening prospect of an ANC-EFF alliance looms large, given the likelihood that the governing party will fail to obtain an outright majority in next year’s elections.

For this reason, the emergence of Change Starts Now, under the leadership of Roger Jardine, seems at first glance to be a welcome alternative. Reports that the party has R1bn of funding from various business leaders appears to add further credibility to it.

Despite some confusion about Jardine’s exact standing in relation to the DA, one could perhaps understand how some, including potential funders of Change Starts Now, might conclude that additional votes for the DA-led multiparty charter could result in a favourable election outcome in 2024. After all, more votes for the coalition should surely be supported, given the ANC’s dismal failure?

Sadly, however, I believe this thinking is based on a flawed understanding of the voter landscape. Without trying to sound like a prophet of doom, I believe this initiative will fail to get out of the starting blocks — or will at best stumble at the first hurdle. Business leaders would do well to think long and hard about their financial support for an initiative that will likely fail to move the needle in any meaningful way. In my view, Change Starts Now will not get the opposition coalition over the line, and any mention of Jardine as president is premature at best.

Why do I say this? For any party to make inroads in an ANC-EFF alliance majority it must simply take votes away from the ANC. Or encourage disenchanted ANC voters — those who have lost faith in the governing party but won’t vote for any other existing party, least of all the DA — to return to the polls in support of a viable alternative to the ANC.

Support for the DA is likely capped at 25% at best. Even if financial backers were to throw another R1bn in its direction it would not increase its performance at the polls in any meaningful way. It’s the simple reality of our voter landscape.

It is difficult to see how Jardine and Change Starts Now will even come close to attracting votes away from the ANC, even more so now that Change Starts Now’s discussions with the DA are out in the open. Instead, Jardine and his party are far more likely to take votes away from the DA and fragment the opposition even further, thus achieving the exact opposite to what our country desperately needs.

Longer term, in a worst-case scenario, this may even result in the gradual demise of the DA.

Funders are under a serious misapprehension if they believe that parachuting in a new political party will result in on‑the‑ground support by a diverse voter base and result in key additional votes. Surely they should realise this.

A ‘third way’

While Jardine should be commended for standing up to be counted, I am concerned that the outcome of these efforts hasn’t been thought through and that his party will serve and appeal to an overly narrow base. And so its publicised financial support, considerable as it seems, will not translate into meaningful and broad‑based voter support.

Before I am accused of being overly pessimistic, let me say that I am extremely positive about a viable “third way”, which I believe to be worthy of support. Newly formed political party Rise Mzansi is already operating well and represents a realistic alternative with its broad-based, inclusive, nation-building approach. The party is channelling its much-needed efforts into the communities that matter, which could make a meaningful difference in next year’s elections.

Still, saving the country for the benefit of all requires money. I can only urge business leaders to consider using theirs in a far more effective way to bring about change. Given the precipice on which we find ourselves, we all simply cannot afford not to.

* Butters is an independent analyst

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