Together we can undo the harm Zuma has done to SA
Bantu Holomisa punts civil society's role in a 'new Codesa'
It was mid-afternoon on August 7, the day before the motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma.
The leaders of South Africa's main opposition parties were in a tense meeting in the Marks Building at parliament.
Speaker Baleka Mbete was to announce her decision on the secret ballot at 3.30pm and the opposition was strategising on how to respond.
A letter to Mbete's office had been drafted indicating that an open vote - the expected ruling - would be challenged in court.
There was one sticking point.
The other leaders wanted the DA's Mmusi Maimane to withdraw the motion until a court pronounced on the secret ballot.
Maimane, who had already withdrawn and re-tabled the motion once to accommodate the Constitutional Court judgment on the secret ballot, was reluctant. The DA had told Mbete it would abide by whatever decision she made. It did not join a UDM application to the Constitutional Court.
The DA was looking forward to another opportunity to name and shame those MPs who voted to keep Zuma in office.At 3.25pm the meeting was still going and the tension was building.
EFF leader Julius Malema laid things out for Maimane: the legal papers were already drafted and if Maimane did not withdraw the motion, the other parties would have to apply for an interdict to prevent the debate.
Such a breakdown in relations would have repercussions not only at national level, but in municipalities where the parties have coalitions and co-operation agreements.
Maimane gave in.
The leaders adjourned to listen to Mbete's announcement, planning to reconvene right after it to get the paperwork moving.
But the Speaker bowled them over. She granted the secret ballot.
"Baleka surprised us. We all jumped," says UDM leader Bantu Holomisa. "There was no need to proceed on the legal route."
There were more surprises the next day, when more than 30 ANC MPs voted with the opposition in support of the motion.
"I really didn't expect that many," said Holomisa. "The aim was to make a statement that there are still people in the ANC who are sober. I was expecting five or six - those who confirmed publicly that they would vote according to conscience."The outcome of the vote gave impetus to efforts for greater co-operation between the opposition parties and those in the ANC willing to act in the national interest.
Holomisa, who is viewed as a political elder, has been advocating a multiparty national convention, styled along the lines of the Codesa talks, to confront the deepening political and economic crisis.
The idea is to bring together all the political players, including the ANC, and civil society, business and labour, in a process of negotiations on South Africa's big issues.
These include reforming the electoral system, reviewing the excessive powers of the president, finding consensus on land reform, reviving national morality, reversing the social decay manifested in high levels of violence against women and children, and fostering social cohesion and nationhood.
The issues are spelt out in a "problem statement" agreed to this week by the 12 opposition parties represented in parliament. It forms the basis for a process of consultation before the national convention is set up.
"South Africans from all walks of life who are concerned with the current crisis, which includes the violation of the constitution, shall be invited to participate on an equal footing," the latest version of the document states.
Holomisa said possible changes to the constitution and policy trajectory must come from citizens.
The lack of leadership had led to a dysfunctional government and a state of "lawlessness", he said. "This is really frustrating for me as a person who was in government before. There is mediocrity in every corner."
He said there needed to be a concerted effort to address the issues that led to South Africa's credit downgrades - the lack of political stability, erosion of investor confidence and high levels of corruption.
Holomisa said he was particularly concerned by the rise of racism and tribalism.
"Zuma has taken the country back in many ways. We need to quickly move away from that situation and I don't know how ... We have to bring people together, including the stalwarts and intelligentsia, to find ways to build social cohesion."There is no party that will get a two-thirds majority any time soon. The message from the electorate is for us to work together to tackle the big issues," he said.
The talks could open the door to greater co-operation ahead of the 2019 elections. The disintegration of the ANC has increased prospects for coalition governments to lead the next administration - either ANC-led coalitions or collections of opposition parties at national and provincial levels.
As a military man, Holomisa thinks through various scenarios and envisages other forms of co-operation, although these have not yet been fleshed out or discussed with his partners.
There could be something of a nonaggression pact between opposition parties so that they do not campaign in each other's strongholds to split the opposition vote.
He said there could also be a broad front of parties, including civil society leaders, that contests the 2019 elections.
"It may take a broad front to take on and defeat the ANC's broad church," said Holomisa. "We need to accommodate this burst of energy in society, which we see outside political parties."
Much of this might rest on which faction emerges victorious from the ANC's December elective conference. A breakaway from the ANC could align with the opposition parties to contest for power in 2019.
But it will not be easy going.Events this week in the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, where the UDM's Mongameli Bobani was voted out as deputy mayor, show how difficult it is to navigate a coalition relationship when there are different personalities and agendas at play.
In a letter to the leaders of the DA, COPE, Freedom Front Plus and ACDP, which with the UDM form the coalition governing the metro, Holomisa threatened to pull out if Bobani was not reinstated.
"The DA has gone rogue in the worst manner possible. Going to the media and saying that the UDM tolerates corruption is tantamount to defamation. Making these damaging statements about the UDM in the media is also in contravention of the co-governance agreement. Why must we tolerate this?" Holomisa asks in the letter.
On a national level, the DA's move to attempt to dissolve parliament has annoyed other opposition leaders. Not one has come out in support of the idea.
Maimane bolted ahead to table the motion without consulting the other leaders - or, as it turns out, his own party.
But Holomisa said these hiccups should not detract from the initiative to work together in the national interest.
"We need to be flexible and mature," he said. "These things that have happened should be lessons for the DA to stop acting like 'Big Brother'. That is not going to work."
The crisis in the country and the unravelling of the ANC could see a major shifting of sands over the next two years.
"We don't need to march towards a second revolution," said Holomisa.
"We need to fix this one."