Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Much has been said recently about the imminent demise of South Africa's newest arrival on the political circuit, the Congress of the People. If reports are to be believed, the divisions within its ranks are so severe that they cannot be resolved. The failure of Cope would have serious implications for our young democracy.
Cope came into being on a wave of euphoria, pledging to wage a new struggle for democracy, the rule of law and the sovereignty of our Constitution. I was excited about the formation of the party and what it meant for the strengthening of opposition politics. It was a watershed moment and we hoped that Cope would grow.
But its internal power struggles have hurt its efficiency as the official opposition in five of our nine Provinces. And now it seems the South African public doubts that Cope will be able to rise from the ashes. In a recent reader's poll by Independent Online, the question was asked whether Cope has political staying power – 84% of respondents said "No".
After coming into being almost overnight prior to the 2009 elections, Cope has learnt a hard lesson; opposition politics is a dreadfully tough business to be in and is not for the faint-hearted.
Cope's first obstacle was coming face to face with the limitations of a severed cash flow. Without the kind of money the ANC has at its disposal, a political party becomes a proverbial sitting duck. Money makes the world go round, or so the saying goes. Without money, political parties cannot successfully compete with the ANC. The IFP worked hard in the run-up to the 2009 elections, only to find the ANC had invaded some of our strongholds offering food parcels for votes with taxpayers' money. These dodgy campaign tactics were widely reported on by the Sunday Times.
Furthermore, South Africa should be very worried about the ANC's Hitachi deal with Eskom, which will generate so much money for the ruling Party in the years to come that competition from opposition parties will be laughable. This is a bad portent for democracy.
Cope has also had to deal with the sudden loss of a free media pass to mass publicity that comes with being part of the ruling Party. Bias in the media is something we opposition parties are well acquainted with. We know of the ANC's well documented quest to control the media. One thinks of the Mail & Guardian's exposé of the ANC pressurising the SABC to reduce coverage of Cope before the 2009 elections.
I recently participated in a debate on the SABC's Interface, on the future of opposition politics in South Africa. Ms Tsepiso Makwetla asked the panel of opposition leaders whether we will be able to grow our support base sufficiently to successfully take on the ANC in the 2014 elections, bearing in mind that all of the smaller opposition parties shed support in 2009. The IFP, DA, Cope and ID shared the 20 or so minutes on Interface to state our case for opposition politics. Ironically, a few weeks earlier, as South Africans reflected on the first year of President Zuma's administration, a full hour of primetime television was dedicated to selling the successes of the ANC.
So the question in my opinion should be: how can we develop a robust and vibrant opposition in South Africa when the playing fields aren't level and media coverage is so clearly skewed in favour of the ruling party?
The IFP's experience of media prejudice is old, but persistent. News channels skipped any commentary from the IFP following this year's State of the Nation address, parliamentary budget debate and presidency budget debate. The usual line up on the news is ANC, DA, Cope, and then ID, as though the IFP simply doesn't exist.
One would think we would get better treatment in KwaZulu Natal. But even there a Zulu newspaper, Isolezwe, is running a series of cartoons denigrating me and the IFP every other day. The problem is that the articles, cartoons and commentary have very little substance, and very little truth, leaving readers with a poor understanding of what is really going on within opposition parties. Many South Africans mistakenly think the IFP has split, and some say we are now just another Cope.
While the IFP is suffering divisions and internal ructions, we maintain a level of unity that enables us to stay effective. Our focus has not shifted from service delivery and strengthening democracy. But it is hard to get the true message out when the media isn't interested and money is scarce.
Unity is a prerequisite to the survival of any party. Without a unifying leader, Cope's divisions may indeed be irreparable. In the dog-eat-dog world of politics, a struggling party doesn't stand much chance.
Dr Anthea Jeffrey's latest book "Chasing the Rainbow", a critical assessment of South Africa's progress since 1994, observes how the ANC regards opposition parties as an unnecessary hindrance. It considers itself the sole, authentic voice of the people. This makes the fight for survival of opposition politics more treacherous, and more important.
Right now, opposition politics stands on unsteady ground. If Cope and the IFP both fail, opposition politics will lose almost 11.97% of voter support.
The balance of power will irreversibly swing to the ANC, giving it the power to do as it pleases; even change the Constitution. Our democracy will be dead and buried.
Only fair and equal representation in the media, and regulation on how political parties are funded, can save our democracy. I am a keen conservationist and the first to say, "Save Opposition Politics Now".
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe
Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi 082 729 2510.