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MALAIKA MAHLATSI | Opposition parties short of concrete ideas on how to transform SA

Merely unseating the ANC is not enough to transform the country

Several political parties have made a commitment to ensure that the country has a 'stable, viable and effective' government, with the ANC and EFF on the opposition benches. File photo.
Several political parties have made a commitment to ensure that the country has a 'stable, viable and effective' government, with the ANC and EFF on the opposition benches. File photo.
Image: Antonio Muchave

Several opposition parties in SA have announced that they will be holding a national convention to unseat the African National Congress (ANC) in the general election next year. In a statement, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Freedom Front Plus (FF+) ActionSA, National Freedom Party, United Independent Movement and Spectrum National Party made a commitment to ensure that the country has a “stable, viable and effective” government – one in which the ANC, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and “their proxies” are relegated to opposition benches.

On the surface, the statement reads like a solid foundation on which the “moonshot pact” that the DA has been raving about for months will be built. But upon deeper analysis, the fatal flaws with this convention are evident.

Listening to the DA and the parties that are to form part of this “moonshot pact”, it is clear that there’s no concrete strategy not only to govern, but to bring about much needed socio-economic transformation. There has not been a clearly defined strategy on how the eroded capacity of the public service will be rebuilt, save for criticism about the cadre deployment policy, which is opportunistically associated with the ANC. In reality, not a single political party can claim to not be deploying its own cadres where it governs. Furthermore, the practice is not inherently wrong as the opposition wants South Africans to believe. It is global practice for a governing party to deploy within the administration its own cadres in order that the party’s political objectives may find expression in legislation and administration. This is why government administration in the US, UK EU and elsewhere in the world, is reflective of the governing party or coalition of the day.

Government is an ecosystem – a complex one at that. A concrete strategy of transforming SA would have to engage with the question of how to reconstruct this ecosystem in both form and substance. There can be no question that in its current form, our government is not capable of fashioning a developmental state. Capacitating it for this requires not only the professionalisation of the state, but an interrogation of its very ideological expression. Additionally, critical analysis must be had on the relevance and effectiveness of provinces and district municipalities in our country’s system of government.

Themba Godi, the former chairperson of the Standing Committee on Public Accounts, once attempted to pitch the debate high on this question, contending that no coherent and convincing conceptual argument has been provided about why between the national and local government there should be two other levels – provincial and district. It’s an analysis that requires depth, and one which opposition parties have failed to engage.

Another point that begs for reflection is the state of municipalities under coalitions. There is no debate that coalition governments in our country have been characterised by perennial instabilities that have had a devastating Impact on service delivery. The administrative cost of managing the instability of coalitions has been colossal.

The DA, which has struggled to effectively manage coalition governments, has yet to convince the country that it has developed both sense and maturity to lead a “moonshot pact” of any nature. Some of the parties forming part of this national convention have had explosive confrontations with the DA about its tyrannisation. How such contentions are being addressed in order to ensure better functioning coalitions next time around is yet to be explained by the DA and its allies. And yet, we are being asked as an electorate to place blind faith in these organisations.

To me, what all this talk about a national convention to unseat the ANC signifies is the debilitating lack of imagination and a calamitous retreat from the habit of thinking on the part of the opposition. I can’t help but wonder when opposition parties will finally start to have concrete ideas about how to govern and transform SA. When will they learn that unseating the ANC is just not enough?

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