Address at the Centre for Conflict Resolution re The Future of Opposition Politics by the UDM President (12 November 2008)

Ladies and gentlemen

In hindsight we can view Polokwane December 2007 as a watershed moment in our political history; it has ushered in a new era in SA politics. Many would've thought that the Polokwane Conference of the ANC would've served to consolidate that party after years of internal squabbles. Instead it became the point of no return, leading to the axing of President Mbeki as head of state, and the splitting of the ruling party.

Nor have we seen the last of the aftershocks of that political earthquake, because after the next elections we will see the beginnings of a radically revised electoral map. And lest we look at the 2009 results and seek the similarities with previous election outcomes, let me predict confidently that it will be the shifts that matter, because they will continue to expand and by 2014 the ruling party will stand a very certain chance of being reduced to the opposition benches.

This is not as farfetched, even if Jacob Zuma is fond of claiming that they will rule until Jesus comes. He must realise by now that that prophetic date is coming faster than he expected.

One thing is certain, the majority of citizens of South Africa have come to realise the need for an opposition. 14 years ago people associated opposition with being opposed to the liberation ideals and transformation. But people have seen how the comrades have enriched themselves and failed at service delivery, coupled with large-scale unemployment. Now citizens are beginning to question whether they will continue to tolerate these people who are hiding behind the rich history of the ANC, whilst behaving in ways that are in contradiction to those principles. Indeed we have seen this in the defiance campaigns and civil unrest that have occurred all over the country in the past five years. Communities have blocked off roads and highways, staged protests and committed acts of violence to demonstrate their unhappiness with continued service delivery failures.

The role of the current existing opposition political parties can never be underestimated. We continue to air these wrongdoings by the ruling party. It is the opposition party campaigns around for instance the Arms Deal saga that has seen both Mbeki and Zuma not finishing their terms. It is some of the opposition parties who campaigned against floor-crossing from the outset. The attempts by the ruling party to intimidate the judiciary have also been vehemently opposed by the opposition parties. There are many other instances where the opposition parties have acted to prevent abuses by the ruling party.
The question of party funding regulation as well as the need for electoral reform are both long-term campaigns driven by some of us in the opposition. Voters have noticed our role. Hence it is not strange that the COP is also speaking the same language with us, although only yesterday they were in the government.

The happenings in Zimbabwe have served as a lesson to South African voters of the dangers of one-party dominance. South Africans are now ready to accept that they shouldn't put all their electoral eggs in one basket.

The next playing field that needs to be levelled now, which is threatening our democracy is the abuse of the SABC by the ANC outside Government. We have heard that the Head of News and other senior SABC members have been summonsed to Luthuli House to coerce them as part of the ANC strategy to promote a culture of intolerance towards political opposition.

Another issue that needs be acknowledged is that the opposition, fragmented as it may appear, is that there are many commonalities amongst us. This has kept the fires burning among voters that a single alternative can be created that includes some of the current opposition parties.

The movement by Lekota and others, if carefully planned can be part of a solid foundation for such an alternative in the future. The advantage for them, is that now we have a mass exodus of ruling party leaders who understand the passage of the struggle joining the ranks of the opposition.

We expect that the policies of the COP and many of the opposition parties are not going to be that different from that of the ruling party, especially those parties who are concerned about poverty. We might disagree on the details and technicalities, but many of us agree that poverty and unemployment is a major crisis. Just like most of us are in agreement that Education is in a mess. Many people have observed that the ruling party's policies are often not the problem, it is on implementation that the ruling party has failed.

One of the major obstacles to service delivery that the UDM is campaigning for is the depoliticisation of the civil service and the Chapter 9 institutions. This is how we will be able to make an immediate improvement in service delivery. Such a process must address the deployment of so-called 'cadres' into strategic positions in Government and the parastatals, which has institutionalised corruption. These people then work hand-in-hand with business people who sit with them in the ANC NEC and structures, and you will find that they know long before any other business people about the major state contracts coming up for tender.

I believe that the ANC will face an electoral reversal in 2014. They might still scrape into national government next year, albeit losing several provinces in the process, but one more term will simply serve to expose their weaknesses and to harden the resolve of a generation who have grown up with a surplus of ANC election promises and a severe shortage of delivery on those promises.

Another democratic reality that is militating against continued ANC rule is that PR electoral systems, as we have in this country, invariably lead to coalition governments. Examples abound internationally throughout Europe and elsewhere, whilst locally we can already see that reality being reflected in Local and Provincial Governments. The ruling party's traditional majority is becoming a thing of the past.

Thus one of the first things we can observe when we speak of the future of the opposition is that it will include, at times, the current ruling party. We should not view this as a disaster or with any glee, because the ANC in opposition will be a very powerful contributor to deepening democracy. The quality of opposition will be enhanced if the ruling party or coalition and its opposition both have experience of governance.

Of course the COP also needs to demonstrate its credentials in an election. We have been gracious in welcoming them, but that should not be construed as a blank cheque. The COP needs to meet certain standards.

Firstly, it will need to establish an identity and policies that are recognisably distinct from the ANC. Secondly, they will need to prove themselves at the polls ' demonstrating that they represent more than a number of spurned ANC leaders. Thirdly they will also have to demonstrate after the elections that they are not merely a Trojan horse who captured the votes of disgruntled ANC supporters only to enter into a cosy relationship with the ANC after the election.

Once they have met these three standards, the UDM and other opposition parties will be more than willing to negotiate with them not only in terms of governing coalitions in various provinces that are up for grabs, but also to begin the long-term discussion of completing the realignment of the political landscape with the creation of a new organisation capable of realistically contesting the 2014 elections with a view to becoming the next government.

We have already in places like the City of Cape Town demonstrated the power of coalition governments and cooperation among the current opposition political parties. We are justifiably proud of the relationship we have fostered there and the tangible service delivery results it has provided to the citizens of that city.

We have proven that among us we have the leadership capacity, the policies and the management skills to run a large and complicated administration in an effective manner.

After 2009 we are confident of extending that type of partnership into several provincial governments. The Western Cape, Eastern Cape, Northern Cape, and even Gauteng are all up for grabs. I dare say that even supposed ANC strongholds like the North West and KwaZulu Natal are not halfway as certain as the ruling party would like. Indeed as they lose members and organisational capacity to the UDM, DA, ID and the mooted COP, the ANC might discover that it is hard-pressed to secure majorities in half of the provinces.

We are quite excited about the prospects of coalition governments rescuing the people of neglected provinces such as the Eastern Cape, where citizens have been crying out for leadership and service delivery. Indeed, once we attain that foothold and demonstrate to voters that we are capable of delivering where the ANC has failed, the foundation will be laid for the historic 2014 elections.

The UDM was founded on the basis of bringing South Africans together and ' united in our diversity ' create a better future for all. Our commitment to the Constitution and our concern for uplifting all South Africans are the reasons for our existence. Inspired by that underlying objective we appeal to a significant number of South Africans. We have found that a growing number of opposition parties, and indeed many within the ANC have also gravitated towards a similar underlying objective.

I believe that it is the basis for our parties' individual electoral growth in the forthcoming election, and also the basis upon which our supporters are beginning to ask us to look towards building a single strong alternative government.

Perhaps we should have called today's debate 'The future of democracy'
not of 'opposition politics' because the future of our democracy will indeed be determined by the certainty that no single party can rule indefinitely and relegate all other political parties to the opposition benches eternally. That is the essence of democracy and that is what will protect us from the excesses, abuses and arrogance of single-party domination.

This country has experienced single-party domination under the National Party, and now also under the ANC, and we have learnt a valuable lesson: Never again shall we entrust our destiny to the vagaries and factionalism of a single political party!

I thank you.

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