OPINION | Why political parties need to collaborate now more than ever

29 January 2021 - 10:30 By Herman Mashaba
ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba.
ActionSA leader Herman Mashaba.
Image: Sunday Times / File photo

If the last year has demonstrated something beyond all doubt to South Africans across the racial, gender, language and political spectra, it is that the continued governance by the ANC would be catastrophic for our country.

Our government didn’t suddenly become corrupt, destroy health care, render the civil service ineffective and lose the confidence of business during the pandemic. We entered this pandemic with these features of our government already well established.

All that Covid-19 has done is make these long-established features more visible, relevant and closely associated with the suffering of the people of our country.

This is precisely why ActionSA’s call this week for opposition parties to come together is more important now than ever before. I have written to the leaders of the ACDP, Cope, DA, IFP, UDM and FF+ to come together and initiate talks.

A few points of clarity are required at this point. First, we exclude the EFF because hate-spewing socialists are not ever going to be part of the solution. Second, the idea is not to change the independence or identity of each of these parties; it is to find common ground.

That this idea had to come from a party that is only a few months old is an indictment on others and not us.

It is time that opposition parties work together in their response to government’s epic failure to manage this pandemic. The lives and livelihoods of South Africans depend on an urgent and effective rollout of the vaccine.

We foresee opposition parties working together to collectively monitor the situation on the ground, raising the truth when our government is deceiving us, and working to ensure that the space for corruption is minimised in this vaccine rollout. If ActionSA alone can perceive these benefits, the addition of other parties would only serve to broaden the possibilities.

However, opposition parties must come together to address what is most urgently needed for our country: the unseating of the ANC. We will go further to say that SA and the ANC cannot exist in mutual prosperity. For South Africa and its people to prosper, the ANC must be out of government.

This is something that opposition parties can and must do – come together to find common ground on the unseating of the ANC.

The ANC is declining. Its grip on municipalities and provinces is more tenuous, and the 2019 general elections saw ANC support fall to 57%. All of this was true before their very public mismanagement of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the suffering this has dealt all South Africans.

The challenge is that South Africa does not have an opposition party that is strong enough to remove the ANC alone. It is going to require a number of parties to work together, to find that necessary common ground, and stop fighting among themselves for their share of an ever-decreasing opposition vote.

When the 2021 local government elections have come and gone, there will be many municipalities that will require coalition governments. Yet, since 2016, political parties have proven to have not been ready for the maturity required to be part of a coalition government.

Can you imagine how South Africans could come together, and be galvanised, behind a grouping of political leaders who lead the way in putting their differences aside in order to save our country?

This must change.

Like it or not, coalitions are the future of South African politics. Debating the desirability of this fact does not change it. Political parties need to come together to start building a common agenda that will pave the way to more stable and successful coalition governments.

During my tenure as the mayor of Johannesburg, I ran the most complex and successful of these coalitions for three years, and so I appreciate more than most that the challenges of coalitions shouldn’t be an electoral afterthought.

In the 2019 general elections, 18.3 million South Africans of voting age did not vote. That is about 8 million more than those who voted for the ANC. These 18.3 million South Africans have given up on voting because there is no hope that the ANC can be unseated by any of the existing political parties.

Can you imagine how South Africans could come together, and be galvanised, behind a grouping of political leaders who lead the way in putting their differences aside to save our country?

South Africa has more than 20,000 voting stations across its landscape, some of them in the urban centres and others in the furthest-flung rural villages. The reality is that the scope for elections to be stolen in South Africa is dependent on how far and wide they can be monitored by observers and party agents.

The ability for opposition parties to develop a collective voice in their representations to the IEC and in protecting the will of the people in elections is a function of how well we can work together.

During The People’s Dialogue public engagement process that led to the establishment of ActionSA, millions of South Africans made it clear that they want political parties to work together towards achieving their collective interests.

They hate the petty, finger-pointing, point-scoring that has characterised the opposition landscape in South African politics. They want the ANC unseated from municipalities in 2021, and then in the provinces and national government in 2024. They want opposition parties, collectively, that are capable of putting aside their internal political self-interest and put the needs of South Africans first.

We have made this call publicly because we believe these engagements should happen in the full view of the people of South Africa. We are aware that our invitation may be dismissed, that is the prerogative of each of the parties, but that itself will be an important demonstration to the South African people.

What happens next is to be seen, but it is going to take leadership and forward-thinking that transcends individuals to save our country from the ANC and turn it around.

  • Herman Mashaba is the president of ActionSA.