DA leader Helen Zille did probably not count herself among those who should “pocket their egos” when she invited other party leaders to commit harakiri to make the DA a bigger opposition party, writes Pallo Jordan in BDlive
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Oudtshoorn. 4 October 2012. 08h50. IN THE late 1980s, when the issue of negotiations came onto SA’s political agenda in earnest, the African National Congress (ANC) leadership discussed and adopted an internal position paper exploring various scenarios for negotiations. Like any party entering negotiations, the ANC’s optimal scenario was one most advantageous to it.
Consequently, the paper projected what might be described as a Manichean political universe in which the ANC “good guys” sat across the table from the regime’s “bad guys” to sort out SA’s future.
Such a view was attractive as it simplified matters. It was also preferable to a round table, where the ANC might be neutered by being surrounded by a host of ostensibly independent political players who were in fact surrogates of the National Party regime.
By the time FW de Klerk unbanned political organisations and released Nelson Mandela from prison, the political terrain had changed. In the Transkei, a group of military officers led by Bantu Holomisa had overthrown the authoritarian regime of George Matanzima and were eager to forge links with the liberation movement. Similar coups had taken place in Venda and Ciskei.
The KwaNdebele homeland had been thrown into disarray by dissidents who rejected the entire homeland system and who had established links with the United Democratic Front (UDF) and other democratic structures inside the country. In KaNgwane, the homeland administration of Enos Mabuza was in alliance with the UDF and had a long-standing relationship with the ANC.
There had also been shifts in the otherwise conservative Afrikaner nationalism, a sign of a willingness to talk. The upshot was a realisation that the political arena the ANC would have to operate in was more complex than the binary opposites of liberation movement versus racist regime.
Recognising the pluralist character of the political terrain was a precondition for a viable negotiation strategy. The Convention for a Democratic SA (Codesa) involved virtually every political formation in the country, barring a few, such as the Black Consciousness Movement and the Unity Movement of SA.
Well into the future, April 27 1994 will be remembered as SA’s Freedom Day; a decisive turning point that all democrats cherish. It was also an object lesson for all the wannabe Cassandras who had to eat their metaphoric hats as those dignified processions calmly snaked their way into the polling stations.
But April 27 arrived in an environment of trepidation. The date was agreed upon one year earlier, precipitated by the murder of Chris Hani on the Easter weekend of 1993. We pride ourselves as a nation for navigating the transition from apartheid to democracy without the violence that had been anticipated, but the last three years of apartheid witnessed unprecedented levels of violence. It emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that much of the violence was deliberately orchestrated in an attempt to thwart progress to democracy.
But even as the other parties prepared themselves for elections, the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) said it would not participate. As election day drew nearer, Constand Viljoen led a column of Afrikaner rightists into Mmabatho ostensibly to support the tottering homeland regime of Lucas Mangope. It was only after a nasty shooting incident on March 11 that they withdrew and Viljoen registered the Freedom Front to contest elections on March 13. Both the IFP and the front were persuaded to pull back from the brink with assurances that they would have a voice in the legislatures of the country.
These thoughts came to my mind as I read Helen Zille’s call on the leaders of opposition parties to join forces to constitute one super-opposition. I don’t think Zille counted herself among those who should “pocket their egos” when she invited the other party leaders to commit harakiri to make the Democratic Alliance (DA) a bigger opposition party, commanding close to 33% of the electoral vote, rather than the 12% who voted for it.
Until recently, the DA was most insistent on the pluralism of our electorate and charged that the ANC’s political dominance conveyed the false impression of a country under the sway of a monolith, when in fact there are scores of bodies of political opinion that it does not represent.
Like the reptilian monster from which she derives her nickname, Zille intends to gobble up the other opposition parties one by one while protesting that she’s eating into the ANC’s electoral base.
While the options chosen at Codesa did not deliver a perfect electoral system, they were a genuine attempt to craft a system that would be as inclusive as possible. Collapsing opposition parties into one will not enhance the quality of the opposition.
The overwhelming majority of voters find the ANC’s policies credible. The opposition will displace it when it can do likewise.
• Jordan is an ANC national executive committee member.