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WE HAVE to accept that ours is a troubled political space.
The traditional hope of the oppressed, the ANC, is as riven with divisions as the party that was supposed to shake it out of its comfort zone, Cope.
The less said about the insignificant, ethnic or region-based parties such as the IFP, United Democratic Movement and Independent Democrats, the better.
Forget the howlers who will tell you the ANC is more united now than it was during the Thabo Mbeki era. It is not. It is just that opponents can swear at each other more openly.
ANC members shooting each other in Lusikisiki last week and the suspension of Western Cape leaders Max Ozinsky and former premier Ebrahim Rasool are two of the many examples of these divisions.
Honest ANC leaders openly talk about how state power and the ability to dispense patronage has turned comrades against each other in a life and death battle.
It is no inconsequential matter that the ANC does not agree whether the words of the Freedom Charter are still to be regarded as gospel or whether the passage of time has rendered the 1955 document a mere guide.
Cope remains crippled by factionalism. The battle for the soul of the party as led by Mbhazima Shilowa and Mosiuoa Lekota threatens to kill off whatever media and voter goodwill the party received in its early days.
In a post-racial society the more coherent Democratic Alliance would have been an ideal alternative. Whatever you might say about the DA, you are always certain what it is you hate or like about the party.
But we are not yet a post-racial society. The DA is a "white party" at a time when many of us remember too vividly the horrors of white rule.
The DA might, on paper, be the most non-racial party in South Africa. But it would know better than most that in politics perceptions are more real than statistics. Its leadership and style makes it a white party with a majority black membership.
Our only hope seems to lie in a critical and civil society that will refuse to be embedded. A credible and articulate and black-led civil society seems the only way out of this morasswe are in.
Cosatu's brave opposition to the government's genocidal Aids policy and quiet diplomacy is the standard by which this civil society could measure itself.
The Treatment Action Campaign is another grouping we could learn a lot from.
Unlike the Black Management Forum, which is wasting an opportunity of having real influence by thinking that chanting slogans impresses the ruling party.
Cosatu and the TAC were firm about placing the interests of their constituencies ahead of any cosy relationship with state power. They were prepared to pay a high price for their principled position.
The BMF has unfortunately started its "non-shop-floor" activism in a manner that suggests it wants to take its cue from Luthuli House. Why else does a seemingly professional body ask Julius Malema to address it? What was it hoping to gain?
Career politicians have failed us. To keep returning to them for our salvation is to make ourselves suckers forpunishment.
It is time that those of us who stand outside of party politics develop such a coherent body of knowledge and principles that politicians will be forced to come to us for validation, rather than the present situation where they think we need them to advance our dreams.
Power must return to the people.