UDM welcomes convention to turm the page on one-party dominance statement by the UDM President (1 November 2008)

Politicians must account to the marginalised (both urban and rural) who have been neglected over the past 14 years, according to the United Democratic Movement. New parties or coalitions forming out of the social upheavals of recent weeks should eschew the politics of patronage and deliver on the socio-economic imperatives required to underpin political freedom.

"We must treat people not just as voting cattle but the citizens to whom we are responsible," UDM Leader Bantu Holomisa said. "What I'm hearing is that what South Africans want most is an accountable, ethical and incorruptible government that delivers on its promises."

The UDM Discussion Document presented to the National Convention is available at www.udm.org.za

Speaking at the National Convention in Sandton at the weekend, Holomisa confirmed many people were looking for a new political home and he welcomed new parties and encouraged them to publish their platforms to spell out their principles. He proposed that like-minded parties should then meet as equals to discuss how to build a strong new movement to articulate the issues arising from the convention.

"This Convention confirms our right to raise questions when we witness unscrupulous people hijacking the democratic project to enrich themselves, break the law and loot the resources of the country."

"Many of the country"s ills have been exacerbated by the ruling party"s failure to distinguish between the role of the party and the role of government," he said.

This had allowed internal squabbles to sidetrack and derail institutions like the SABC, the National Intelligence Agency, provincial administrations and many municipalities. Systematic campaigns to undermine the democratic state resulted in the resource- and time-draining establishment of the Hefer and Khampepe Commissions of Inquiry, whilst paralysing delivery.

Holomisa said he also expected that the social elite running government and institutionalising corruption as it enriched itself with taxpayer money and hid behind liberation credentials would resist change and try to discredit the Convention.

"One thing is certain, the strategy of giving one political party the mandate to address our national challenges has been a failure," he said.

Indications are that the ruling party will not tolerate the launching of any new parties and will disrupt meetings and declare no-go areas, he explained.

This same hostile environment was experienced by the UDM when violence was used to deter people from joining the party. Added to this was a deliberate blackout by the public broadcaster of UDM policy positions when it was launched.

"It won"t be a level playing field," Holomisa cautioned. "We will need to cooperate as political parties to ensure that elections will be free and fair."

He advised those forming a new party that one of the biggest inhibiting factors will be lack of access to the public broadcaster to publish their policies and positions and challenged the SABC to prove him wrong.

"They will discover that they will be lucky to get four minutes on national news to present their manifesto to the nation during the election period, yet the SABC will give the ruling party"s manifesto launch and major rallies hours of live coverage, an abuse of state resources that even the old National Party never committed."

The IEC will need to answer to party leaders whether it will be business as usual as far as the SABC, the involvement of NIA, and the capturing of election results are concerned.

"Failure to allow us to be heard makes us exiles in our own country."

Holomisa said he hoped the Convention would re-commit parties to the goal of improving the quality of lives of the people of South Africa as a national objective.

"Realignment is a process, not an event," he said. "By embracing members of civil society and not just political alliances South Africa can ensure it harnesses opportunities to buttress its freedom by growing jobs, improving education and healthcare and guaranteeing security and property rights.

"The people are waiting to hear from us - how do we rescue this country from the embarrassing situation we find ourselves in, when the ruling party violates such basic principles such as accountability, consultation, inclusiveness, respect and decency""

The UDM calls upon South Africans in all political formations, civil society, business and academics to take stock and concede that we should leave the baggage of the past behind and embrace the opportunity to carry our society forward and write a new chapter in our history.

The UDM remains committed to multi-party democracy. This is an opportune time to turn the page on one-party dominance

To advance the debate the UDM proposes the following process:

a. Engage in informal discussion with all stakeholders, as we have started this weekend, to identify the various policy positions that are needed to improve the lot of South Africans.

b. If there is an emerging consensus to establish an alternative government, we should establish a Committee of Parties with equal status (it will need to include other stakeholders in society such as Labour, Business, Traditional institutions, Youth, Women, NGOs, etc).

c. This Committee of Parties should, in consultation with their leaders, work out the following:
i. a vision
ii. a vehicle to drive the process, including the question of leadership
iii. areas of agreement and disagreement on our values.

d. If there is consensus, the Committee should call a Summit of Leaders to send a message that we are serious about political realignment in South Africa. It is at this Summit that the leaders may decide on what the next stage in the process will be.

e. The UDM view is that an appropriate format for discussions will be a second bigger National Indaba/Convention of Political Parties and sectors of society to be convened after the 2009 election.

f. Such an Indaba/Convention can set up Commissions to deliberate on different policy areas.

g. The Commissions would report their findings to the Indaba/Convention, indicating differences and agreements on key areas and principles underlying party platforms.

h. It would be the responsibility of the Indaba/Convention to take resolutions, on the most important aspects of this process, which would be a commitment to an accepted common vision of an alternative government.