Overstanding the upcoming SA National Convention
This weekend will see the long awaited ‘SA National Convention’ (you can find it here). It has been building for a while, and now it is here, for better or for worse. A lot has been said by, about, and against this new formation in South Africa’s political scene. Now it is time to show and prove.
Overstand.co.za will hopefully be in attendance to observe the proceedings. You can look forward to a report back right here after the convention.
Obviously this is a politically charged moment. The ANC and its die hard supporters are unhappy about the split. The main argument coming from within the ANC is that this split- or splinter depending on who you are talking to- is merely the result of Terror Lekota being a sore loser. They argue that he does not want to accept the democratic outcome of the ANC national conference in Polokwane, where a new leadership was voted in, while Lekota and many other long serving leaders, most of whom were seen to be aligned with Thabo Mbeki, were voted out. It has also been argued that Lekota has perpetrated many of the same transgressions- intolerance of dissent and differing points of view- that he now complains of. ANC leaders even criticized Lekota in historic terms, arguing that Lekota is the least honest of those who have split from the ANC throughout its history, as previous splits were based on policy differences, such as when Robert Sobukwe left to form the PAC.
I think it is true that Mr. Lekota has to prove that this party is about more than his dissatisfaction with being voted out of the ANC leadership. Mr. Lekota and the other leaders of this new movement have to demonstrate that this movement is concerned primarily with the substantive issues they have raised, both in terms of their criticisms of the negative trajectory they see the ANC to be on, and in terms of a broader vision of values and ideas to take the country forward.
I do think the sore loser argument is invalid. Firstly, it is what is described in logic as a fallacy, basically an argument that sounds reasonable initially but is actually invalid. Specifically, this fallacy is called the ad hominem fallacy, ad hominem being Latin for ‘against the person’, in football terms playing the man, and not the ball. An argument is valid or invalid, sound or not sound, based on the set of propositions presented, whether they are true, and whether they follow one another. For example, it does not matter if a person arguing that heavy consumption of alcohol is bad for you happens to be an alcoholic, either their argument is valid or not. This fallacious reasoning is all too common in South African political discourse, and needs to be overcome as it distracts from real, meaningful debate of issues.
Furthermore, I am less concerned with the people behind the spark that ignites the fire, than the outcome. South Africa needs meaningful political competition, and it needs electoral reform. The dominance of the ANC has been such that its competition was always going to come from within, in one form or another. And thus it is likely that those people would be disaffected for some reason. Obviously someone happy with everything in the organization wouldn’t feel the need to leave.
Alot has been said about policies. ANC supporters have criticized the so-called ‘dissidents’, saying that they obviously are leaving because of personality issues, since they do not disagree with the ANC’s policies. I disagree with this argument for a number of reasons. Firstly, the policies in question do not belong only to the ANC. The policies of the ANC are formed out of the needs, ideas, energies and contributions of many South Africans. This includes some of the individuals who seem to be leaving the party. The ANC does not have copyright, for example, on the idea of implementing a developmental state to reduce poverty and create competitive industry in order to create growth underpinned by high-quality job creation and widely shared prosperity. Does the ANC own this idea?
Furthermore, being an effective party is not only about policies. There is also the question of ability to implement policies. Another party has the right to say, we share the goals and objectives of the ANC, but believe we are better equipped to implement these policies for whatever reason. That would be a reasonable argument to make, though of course the onus would be on that party to convince the populace. The space to make this argument exists because the ANC’s time in power has included genuine failures in the areas of service delivery and resisting corruption.
I think this National Convention is timely for one reason. South Africa needs political competition. It is not about the ANC, this is bigger than the ANC. Power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. It is not healthy for progressive democracy for a party to not fear the electorate. It is not healthy for progressive democracy for a party to be able to count on an overwhelming majority, no matter how badly it performs, no matter what mistakes and crimes take place on its watch. It is not enough to have opposition parties nipping at its heels to ‘keep the ANC honest’. There needs to be genuine political competition. The public needs to feel it has a choice, that there is another party who can take over if the party in power does not demonstrate that it provides the best leadership for the country. Political parties, especially those in power, need to fear the electorate. They need to constantly be aware that their job, their future, is dependent on them being responsive to the public, acting out of concern for the public interest, providing progressive leadership, and acting with integrity. When politicians no longer need to fear the electorate, negative consequences are sure to follow.
My hope is that this National Convention will go some ways to providing that competition. I think real political competition will be healthy for South Africa. I think it will even be healthy for the ANC. It will force the ANC to put its best foot forward, and confront certain negative dynamics, as the leadership will realize there is a serious cost to pay by letting things like corruption fester. Altruism does not govern the real world, that is why we have laws, to introduce consequence. In a one party state, where the ruling party is never out of power, and enjoys dominance over the state apparatus, those in the ruling party are allowed to live in a world largely devoid of consequence.
In terms of ideas and policies under consideration at the Convention, I am looking out for:
The single most meaningful way to change South African politics for the better is to have direct election of the President, Parliamentary representatives, Premiers, Mayors, etc. In such a system politicians would be accountable directly to the citizens, as opposed to the current system, where politicians are accountable first and foremost to their political parties. This concentrates power in the hands of party bosses and party politics at the expense of the public.
The resources of the state should be used to benefit the public good, not for private individual gain. This is of extra importance in a developing country such as ours, with massive poverty and developmental challenges. The masses of this land, who fought the struggle against oppression, place their hope in public servants to steward national resources to affect progress and institute real improvement of their conditions. Betrayal of this trust should be widely understood as among the most shameful, crimes, which debilitate our national project. Sadly, corruption has become routine, and even worse, many citizens have come to expect it. This must change.
The world moves on, with or without South Africa. While we intone the prayer ‘Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika’, God likes those who help themselves. We will succeed or fail based on the actions that we take collectively, every day. To succeed as a nation, we need to be a nation where merit is the prime consideration. We must create a society which rewards proven ability, good ideas, and results, instead of connections, cliques, and family affiliations. If we are not a great society that assures the best and brightest a place at the table, we will be a mediocre society, which does not take full advantage of the potential of its people.
I hope the National Convention will discuss these important issues among others, and move to address them. I hope this will take place in the spirit of progress and constructiveness, and become a valuable contribution to a serious national conversation which all political formations will take part in. I hope South Africans of all political affiliations will see this moment of debate and contest not as a period of conflict, but as an opportunity for renewal. Whatever party you belong to or support, however you choose to participate in public life, the nation is what is most important. Let us all make our contribution to making our nation great.