MICHAEL BEAUMONT | Herman Mashaba has achieved the near impossible: to build an alternative

South Africa is desperate for a credible alternative that has proven to be able to deliver real change, not the current set of parties that are on the decline

10 September 2023 - 18:44
By Michael Beaumont
ActionSA will host its inaugural policy conference this week to adopt solutions-based policies that form the basis of its 2024 election campaign.
Image: ANTONIO MUCHAVE. ActionSA will host its inaugural policy conference this week to adopt solutions-based policies that form the basis of its 2024 election campaign.

This coming week, ActionSA will host our inaugural policy conference where we will adopt solutions-based policies which will form the basis of our 2024 election campaign. It is a very proud moment for our three-year-old party as it marks another milestone in our dedication to unseat the ruling party and start the work to fix South Africa. In a country where the success rate for new political parties is less than 1%, ActionSA emerged as the sixth biggest political party in the 2021 elections, despite contesting only six municipalities out of 278, and is set for further exponential growth in the 2024 elections.

Patrick Bulger’s recent column ‘Crude Cut: a short back ’n sides for SA’ is therefore unfortunate and misses the great potential ActionSA has to reshape South Africa’s political landscape. His main criticism that our president Herman Mashaba attempted to use the death penalty to address South Africa’s crime disaster in a populism act, misses the very reason it was first proposed.

Having worked with Mashaba for three years in the City of Johannesburg as his chief of staff, I had the privilege to witness first-hand the characteristics of this remarkable leader. Unlike the majority of politicians in South Africa, Mashaba was never enticed by the high salaries offered in public office (he didn’t need to be) but was solely motivated to do something to address the decay in our economic capital. His near obsession to turn around the city’s inner city was born directly out of his outrage that people, including children, were being exploited by slumlords in inhumane conditions that included child trafficking and prostitution.

From his very first days in the mayoral seat, he repeatedly raised concern over the demise of the rule of law in South Africa. Mashaba was deeply concerned that South African law was selective in who it punishes: the poorest seemed to always be on the short end while the politicians and businessmen who bankrupted our country got away. His death penalty proposal was exactly to address the situation of lawlessness in South Africa, where women face the daily fear of being sexually assaulted and raped. Instead of being helpless in the situation, Mashaba wanted to do something to restore the rule of law.

His belief in restoring the multiparty coalition in the city of Johannesburg was also out of the belief that a multiparty coalition which includes the Patriotic Alliance would be better for the residents of Johannesburg than the current ANC-EFF coalition which includes the PA. We have recently seen that bad governance comes with a body count in communities like Marshalltown, and Mashaba wanted to ensure that this doesn’t happen and that good quality service delivery is restored for all residents in the city.

The fact that ActionSA is led by a leader who is capable of challenging his beliefs with the perspectives of industry professionals and experts is something to admire. Can you imagine where South Africa would have been today if it were led by such a person over the past 14 years? Mashaba has always maintained that leaders must surround themselves with strong people that challenge assumptions. After hours of debate in the senate — which includes senior advocates, private businessmen and activists — Mashaba realised that the death penalty may not be feasible in the South African context, but found a suitable alternative in a tough-on-crime policy which would keep violent offenders in prison, never to be released to harm again.

He was convinced by people within the justice service that, as Patrick mentions in his column, the state simply does not have the capacity to fairly adjudicate who might receive the death penalty and therefore may advantage those with resources who may abuse the system. Equally, the most unequal nation in the world, when combined with a broken justice system, would execute poor innocent people and release guilty wealthy people. This is something which Mashaba and ActionSA simply won’t allow, which is why we are tabling proposals at our policy conference this week which speaks to increasing the length of prison sentences, reintroducing the scorpions to prosecute high profile cases, and forcing prisoners to start contributing to society instead of simply taking.

Mashaba’s change of mind speaks directly to the values which ActionSA was born with. The People’s Dialogue ahead of our launch saw millions of South Africans contribute to our key values and helped shape our foundational beliefs. When we embarked on our policy formulation process for the 2024 elections, we aimed to stay true to how we were formed and hosted more than 14 expert-panel engagements, town hall sessions, and consultations with our members and received input from everyday South African people.

We took this approach because we believe that the solutions to fix South Africa will not come from politicians, but from those South Africans who work to overcome our greatest challenges on a daily basis. We also believe that plans and policies are only part of the picture: implementation remains the most important driver of change. By listening to South Africans’ real-world experience, we tried to ensure that our plans would be aligned with our implementation capacity, rather than just another suite of documents that amount to not much more than a policy wish list.

Unlike what Patrick would like to cynically believe, this is not populism but instead a commitment to refinement and re-evaluation to ensure that what we present to the South African people is the most credible and implementable plan of action. We didn’t want our solutions to be pie-in-the-sky dreams but that they are able to inspire millions of South Africans across the country that a better country is better.

What South Africa is desperate for is a credible alternative that can and has proven to be able to deliver real change, not the current set of political parties which is seen to be stagnating and losing support. Both Mashaba and ActionSA remain steadfast in our commitment to providing this alternative. One thing is for sure, the work of fixing South Africa will need leaders who are rooted in the hopes, needs and views of South Africans rather than cynics who contribute only their words.

*Michael Beaumont is ActionSA’s national chairperson.