Address by UDM Deputy President on Political Re-alignment as a guest speaker at the Independent Democratic Party's National Congress (20 March 2010)

Ladies and gentlemen

Thank you for the opportunity to address you today. UDM President, Bantu Holomisa extends you his best wishes and apologises for his absence due to urgent personal matters.

The clarion call from the general public in the past fifteen years has been for the opposition parties to work closely together in order to avoid one-party-dominance, which has proven elsewhere to be a system that breeds corruption and arrogance of power. 

The UDM, as early as in the 1999/2000 financial year, took a decision to engage other political formations in discussions that could culminate in the formation of an alternative government for South Africa. Of course this was an endorsement of a concept espoused by the UDM at its inception. The UDM entrusted this task of talking to other parties to Mr Holomisa, as well as the UDM Chairperson and two senior Members of Parliament.

The National Congress of the UDM in 2001 also endorsed this notion. The UDM Discussion document called:

  • “CONSOLIDATE AND BUILD A STRONG ALTERNATIVE” released in October 2001 for our Second National Congress (December 2001)
  • as well as the UDM Discussion document called “A CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE PARTY AND STATE OF THE NATION” (June 2000)

both contain arguments for realignment. Both documents were endorsed at the UDM’s National Congress of 2001.

You should take note that a meeting amongst the leaders of the UDM, IFP, the then Democratic Party (DP) and the New National Party (NNP), did not produce good results in this regard. Instead the DP and the NNP saw an opportunity to merge and form what we call the Democratic Alliance (DA) today. Even that ‘marriage of convenience’ did not last long, as the NNP pulled out and migrated to their erstwhile foes, the ANC.

It was during this crazy period where every attempt was made to call all people who were former members of the NNP to carry their political possessions in their suitcases and converge under the ANC’s hegemony. Indeed it looks as though a word was sent to all former architects of Apartheid that their future was more guaranteed if they join the ANC.

Indeed, this was a re-alignment of a special kind but nevertheless one which should be viewed as having contributed to the strengthening of the reconciliation process given the history of both parties.
It should be noted however, that the ANC of today and the NNP represent a predominantly wealthy social group who inherited social and economic privileges from the previous dispensation. No wonder the resources of this country only circulate within the circles of this hegemonous group. One wonders whether the deal between the two during the CODESA period will ever translate into meaningful economic freedom for all.

So, when we engage in debates on political re-alignment, we would like to remind our colleagues of the UDM’s policy and Congress positions such as our call for this country to hold an indaba to find solutions to our economic woes. We should take note that President Zuma and his party have ruled out the possibilities of such a meeting. Why is the ruling party government failing to open up a debate on its macro-economic policies to enable the exploration of alternative models that would minimise job losses and create alternative employment?

It should be noted that in order to re-dress the economic disparities of the Apartheid era we cannot afford to leave that responsibility to individuals in the ruling party or their chosen consultants. This is a matter of national importance and they must therefore be addressed by a national indaba comparable in scale and depth to the CODESA which resolved the Apartheid political conundrum.

Let me remind everyone of our initial debate on the need to re-align politics in South Africa. We said as far back as the 2001 UDM National Congress that:-
“We would like to note that there is a strong opinion that the transformation process cannot be confined to the economic sphere only and that in the political arena transformation is also needed. South Africa has a painful history in which racial divisions and social inequalities have coincided with party political formations. The resultant antagonisms and mutual suspicions will continue to mar our society for some time yet, because they cannot be easily wished away by the Constitution that highlights the non-racialism and unity in diversity, today, South Africans are still voting along racial lines, e.g.: Blacks vote for Black political parties and Whites vote for White political parties.

Proponents of this view suggest that such a transformation will culminate into the emergence of two major political parties in the centre stage of national politics in our society. Experiences in established democracies elsewhere give credence to this view. Britain, France and USA are examples that come to our mind. The economic and political stability of these countries is common knowledge.

We are convinced as a party that such a process will need the support of and acceptance by the majority citizens of this country. Such support will not only give legitimacy to these developments but most important will prevent them from degenerating into tendencies wherein appeals to racist and narrow class interests are utilised as a vehicle for the mobilisation of followers in pursuit of short term gains. The 1994, 1999 and 2000 election campaign by some political parties is a living testimony.

Our analysis of the changing socio-political order in South Africa indicates that there will be discernible political shifts along interest group divides, distinguished by common concerns and aspirations and not along racial lines as we witness today. This process will move towards the crystallisation of two major political streams, which express the ethos of the beneficiaries of the established order, on the one hand, and the aspirations of the emerging major social groupings that are marginalised on the other hand. This will necessitate the emergence of two political formations representing these interest groups.

The UDM National Management Committee mandated the party to engage other formations in discussions that could culminate in the formation of an alternative government for South Africa.

In all discussions our point of departure as a party is the recommitment to the principle of improving the quality of lives of the people of South Africa as a national objective agreed to by all parties during the negotiation process in 1994.

This point of departure informs our insistence in all discussions on realignment, that the long-term objective of an alternative government must address the needs and receive the support of the majority citizens of our country.

It is for this reason the UDM in its discussion with other parties and public utterances insist on encompassing people beyond the existing formations and reach out to all spheres of society.

The UDM’s view is that an appropriate format for discussions will be a National Convention of Political parties including other sectors of society.

 The realignment phenomenon, it must be clearly understood, is not an alliance of political parties. It is a re-writing of the political map, a realignment of ideas, the regrouping of people around new concepts that have been thrown up by the changes that have taken place.

We call upon South Africans in all political formations, civil society, the business sector, academia etc, 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.”

In discussion documents presented to UDM structures we proposed the following steps to advance the said debates:-

  • Engage in informal discussion with all stakeholders, as we have started, which will begin to identify the various policy positions that are needed to improve the lot of South Africans.
  • 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).
  • That Committee of Parties should, in consultation with their leaders, work out the following:

                        i.          a vision.
ii.         a possible vehicle to drive the process, including the question of leadership.
                        iii.        areas of agreement and disagreement on our values.

  • 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.
  • The UDM’s view is that an appropriate format for discussions will be a second bigger National Indaba/Convention of Political Parties and sectors of society.
  • Such an Indaba/Convention can set up Commissions to deliberate on different policy areas.
  • The Commissions would report their findings to the Indaba/Convention, indicating differences and agreements on key areas and principles underlying party platforms.
  • 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.

The agenda which is being proposed currently amongst leaders of opposition parties is:-

  • Co-operation inside and outside Parliament;
  • Co-operation in 2011 Local Government Elections;
  • Co-operation for the 2014 National Elections.

Already the prophets of doom have stated that realignment of opposition politics will not succeed because of different ideologies. However, you need not be a political scientist to understand how political labels have been dished out internationally. The debate these days is about the improvement of the quality of life of the people all over the world. It is for that reason that the ANC of today is composed of capitalists, socialists, communists, so called ‘hardline-leftists’, Separate Development architects like the NNP, Christians, Hindus, Muslims and many other religious formations. One thing we cannot deny on all these groupings, especially the mixture of political class mentioned above, is the equitable level of their consumption pattern.

Mr Holomisa serves as the interim chairperson of the Multi-Party Forum Secretariat which was established in 2007 to coordinate the activities of political parties and to engage with other stakeholders such as the IEC. Had it not been for the establishment of this Forum, the opposition would not have enjoyed live coverage on SABC TV and radio stations during the 2009 election period.

Indeed the Forum identified issues which required short and long term solutions. For the first time in the history of opposition parties, party agents cooperated in monitoring the 2009 Elections.

This debate on political realignment among the opposition parties is a process not an event and it will take some time to complete.

The UDM structures are debating these matters and will take a formal decision at our National Congress later this year. In the meanwhile the UDM has appointed an internal committee representing our structures; that committee will be ready to engage with this process as soon as it formally begins.

In conclusion allow me to quote Martin Luther King: “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality; tied to a single garment of destiny. What affects one of us directly affects all of us indirectly. As long as there is poverty in the world, no one can be totally healthy.... strangely enough I can never be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be. You can never be what you ought to be, until I am what I ought to be.”

I thank you.