Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Online Letter
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Last month I participated in a delegation to Berlin, Bonn and Brussels under the auspices of the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. Mr Mosiuoa Lekota from the Congress of the People as well as leaders of centre-right parties in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo were present. We held a one day Conference in Brussels: Elections in Sub-Sahara Africa: new dynamics in the party systems. The political context of the Conference was that Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa have now held their fourth general elections since their democratic transition in the 1990s.
We interrogated the key issues pertaining to the health of democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. In all four countries, former liberation movements continue to dominate political and social-economic life and traditional opposition parties find it difficult to gain traction and carve a space. In response to widening discontent with their ruling parties, new political movements have emerged in Southern Africa. The pertinent question is, of course, how much support will they be able to garner?
Further away, Uganda established its multi-party system in 2005 and held its first competitive elections in 2006. For the forthcoming elections scheduled for the beginning of 2011, observers fear a similar eruption of violence that marred the elections in Kenya in 2007 and 2008. We asked what lessons can be learned for the region from the Kenyan example?
Moving eastwards, the first pluralist presidential and democratic elections were organised in 2006, but due to a fragmented party system and an opportunistic political culture, opposition parties are met with substantial difficulties to gain support for their political alternatives. We asked, will local government elections in the DRC provide political opportunities for opposition parties’? En passant, one should mention that though all democracies represented provide serious challenges, we should be particularly concerned that, from a political science perspective, the DRC is tipping perilously close to being a collapsed state like Somalia.
The most vivid impression one took away from this superb one-day conference was the striking similarities between our democratic cultures. I was delighted that with the intervention of myself and that of the Honourable Lekota’s, we almost formed a unified picture of the South African scenario. As in 2005, all party leaders reported without exception, about the inexorable tendency of ruling-parties to blur the dividing lines between the ruling-party and the state the longer their incumbency stretches out. Both Mr Lekota and I expressed the view that in South Africa we are beginning to see the green shoots of an authentic democratic culture.
I argued that the opposition, despite the electoral preponderance of the ruling-party, is inculcating an understanding among the citizenry of the interconnected linkages between the burgeoning culture of entitlement and institutional incapacity within the state as key factors in both the enrichment of an ANC low-level kleptocracy (you could, I think it is fair to say, insert any of ruling parties of the countries represented here), and the failure of the public service delivery on the other hand.
When we met in Berlin in 2005, I had opined how difficult it was to explain a highly theoretical concept in a procedural democracy with "solidified" voting patterns. I said that while the electorate has started to join the dots, the electoral tree has not yet yielded much fruit for the opposition – apart from the Democratic Alliance’s success in the Western Cape. But I am convinced that the polar icecap, which is South African politics, has at least begun to thaw, and on a lighter note considering the life and death nature of the situation that is being discussed in Copenhagen, this is one form of geopolitical warming we can welcome.
All leaders, as I review my notes, observed that their parties have been vulnerable to the chequebook politicking and random acts of electoral irregularities. I informed the leaders of how here, according to the Sunday Times, the ANC used state resources to deliver food parcels to bribe voters in April’s general election. And by way of anecdote, according to Mr Daviz Simango, the award winning Mayor of Beira in Mozambique, the President had seven helicopters at his disposal for the election campaign. We all felt that we do not receive a fair wind from our respective media houses.
On this note, I laid out what I believe are the clear challenges for the IFP to play its full role in South African politics: in order to attract new voters, the IFP, has to find a way to challenge the negative view of the party in constituencies that have not previously voted IFP. This was a recurring theme from all leaders pertaining to their own parties. In order to do so, we must be fearless in taking on entrenched orthodoxies in the academic establishment. We all also agreed that we had to find new ways of getting our public policy messages into the public domain, despite the media fixation with personalities – one of the banes of modern political culture. In short, the opposition needs to be associated in the public mind with issues like climate change and social justice.
We also attended the European People’s Party Congress in Bonn which represents the centre-right governments of the European Union. It is the largest group within the European Parliament following the recent elections. There were excellent contributions on how Christian Democracy and the social market should be shaped in the twenty-first century in order to respond to the challenges of globalisation. I had the privilege of listening to the likes of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, one of the famous leaders of the Ukraine’s "Orange Revolution". One was struck in particular by the rousing passion of the leaders from the former Communist countries in the East. They, of course, know how precious freedom and authentic democracy is.
We were in Berlin just a few weeks after the twentieth anniversary celebrations of the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the famous Velvet Revolution that swept the detritus of Communism away. We were reminded of the example of Poland’s solidarity that began in the gritty shipyards of Gdansk. Solidarity, we know, united all Poles irrespective of creed, class and, yes, politics, in the common endeavour to defeat the evil of totalitarianism. Solidarity won Poland’s first democratic election and the courageous Lech Walsea became the first president. Today, Solidarity is no longer represented in Poland, as a vibrant multi-party system has taken root. The brave Poles are now, once again, at the heart of Europe and a member of the EU family. The lesson is clear for us all in Africa: no party – or politician – has a freehold on power. Let opposition take heart!
Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP