It's high time to take hate out of our politics
Former US president Bill Clinton underlined the perils of America's polarising politics in his celebrated address to the Democratic convention a few weeks ago.
"Though I often disagree with Republicans, I never learned to hate them the way the far right that now controls their party seems to hate President [Barack] Obama and the Democrats," he said.
The Republican extremists who now dominate the party will hear anything bad about Obama's Democrats and nothing good.
Sadly, things are not that different here. After a respectful start in 1994 in which everyone from the Freedom Front to the Pan Africanist Congress was accorded the right to a view and a voice, our politics has turned bitter.
The Democratic Alliance fuelled that polarisation with its "Fight Back" campaign in 1999 and its "Stop Zuma" slogan in 2009. But the ANC has done nothing to mute the enmity, dismissing anything with a DA label, regardless of its value or credibility.
Our politics is determined far less by the value of an idea than by its origin. It is not surprising, therefore, that the ANC dismissed DA leader Helen Zille's important address to the Cape Town Press Club last week with a chorus of playground jeers and sneers.
"Anyone who read stories attributed to the DA leader, Helen Zille, calling for the formation of a new political party to challenge the ANC, would be forgiven for laughing throughout the article and for thinking this was a comic streak," the Eastern Cape ANC said.
Zille spent some time building her case that the ANC of 1994 was imploding into something less noble and quite incapable of delivering the better life that was its liberation promise.
But the important part of her address was the proposal of a greenfield programme to build a new party.
The current ANC leadership will, of course, contest the view that the party is falling apart. It is their leadership and their livelihood that is on the line. But it is a view as popular among the still-principled old guard of the ANC as it is among academics, civil society and the opposition.
The ANC and the DA have in the past spent too much time campaigning against each other and too little campaigning for themselves, their ideas and their values.
Zille has changed the tone of her public message to some degree and her party has increasingly offered detailed policy alternatives to address issues from economic growth to education and job creation.
Last week, however, she argued that we would have to break the mould of our inherited political structure if we are really to move South Africa forward and upward at the pace we need to break the back of poverty and unemployment.
"The truth is that none of our existing political parties, as currently constituted, can credibly offer this on its own. It is time for political leaders to catch up with reality," said Zille.
She said South Africa needs a convergence in the political centre, of everyone who is committed to four core values:
Defending our constitution and securing its promise of equal rights and fair opportunities for all;
Nurturing genuine non-racialism on the basis of reconciliation and redress;
Growing an appropriately regulated, market-driven economy that can achieve the levels of sustainable growth needed to reduce unemployment significantly and lessen inequality; and
Building a state that puts competence above party loyalty, values service and punishes self-interest and corruption.
So that's her opening bid and a good place to start a conversation about a fresh frame for opposition politics in South Africa.
This does not presume that the ANC has to be opposed because it is the ANC. It assumes that democracy only works if there are at least two credible options.
We see all around us now the evidence that disproves the ANC's argument that all the democracy South Africa needs can happen within the party. The battle within the ANC is not one of ideas, it is one of access - to power and to money.
For as long as South Africans continue to return the ANC with the 60%-plus majorities we routinely give it in elections, we will continue to delegate our democracy to a small sample of the population.
Americans will choose their next president about seven weeks before we choose ours. But while every registered US voter will have a say, we will rely on the good judgment of 4500 delegates to the ANC's national conference in Mangaung.
They will go to Mangaung with a non-binding mandate to vote for the candidates preferred by their structures, but will be free to make whatever crosses they choose when the time comes to vote.
Each vote cast will speak for 2845 registered South African voters - or just over 10 000 citizens.
This system is fertile ground for corruption and an uncomfortable place for idealism. But the alternatives, rooted as they are in our long and often dark past, are a bridge too far for many of the people made increasingly uncomfortable with what the ANC has become.
So Zille is right that it really is time now to redesign our political landscape - but it must be more than just a renamed coalition of the old.
Mergers and name changes have served us well since 1986, when the political sands began to shift, but the ground is firming.
It is time to build something new based on defined foundations and on values that can stand against the values of a renewed ANC.
Let's see advocates of a market economy go up against those of a developmental state on the basis of detailed policies and convince their shares of the electorate.
Let's see candidates campaign for a place in deployment, for party loyalty or redress.
Everything around us that stands does so because it represents an equal balance of opposing forces. A managed balance of opposing forces can make a plane fly and land safely again.
A new political force without the ballast of history could realign our democratic forces and let us fly higher, further and more safely - regardless of who is in the pilot's seat. Perhaps then we could take hate out of the equation.