• Programme Director
• The faculty dean, Prof Van Wyk
• Our hostess, Ms Busi Khaba
• Staff members
• Monash students
• Ladies and gentlemen
I want to thank our hostess, Ms Khaba, for reaching out to me and inviting me to have a chat with you today.
I see many fresh faces in front of me and it is heartening to see young South Africans still interested in politics as a field of study. Well done to you and your teachers.
I say this because millions of young South Africans are apathetic towards politics; not seeing the link between politics, government and their daily lives. This is a gospel you need to spread, especially amongst your peers.
2. The link between my world and your world
It would not be wrong to say that in most fields of study, we have – on the one side – the academics and researchers and – on the other – the practitioners.
I am of course a practitioner that started my political career, just before Madiba dragged an unwilling nation into what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called “the rainbow nation.”
What a breath-taking image this is; that our diversity can be moulded into a thing as special as a rainbow.
3. The miracle of 1994
You might be too young to really appreciate the miracle of 1994 and what the rainbow nation meant.
We very narrowly escaped a full-blown bloody civil war. The fear and anger that ruled the hearts of both the oppressor and the oppressed would have seen this country in flames.
You have of course studied this, but I want you to internalise what Madiba must have felt, having been given the task to be president of the new South Africa.
He must have asked himself:
• How do we unite a nation with this deep gorge separating them?
• How do we bring the ultra-left and ultra-right to the table e.g. those who incited fear of a black rule and those who thought him a sell-out to the whites?
• How do we convince the millions of ordinary South Africans, who found themselves in the middle, that everything is, simply put, going to be okay?
Can you imagine this responsibility?
4. The induction of the rainbow nation
Madiba clearly thought there was merit in Desmond Tutu’s idea of a rainbow nation and it was immortalised in his inaugural speech:
“We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. We enter into a covenant that we shall build the society in which all South Africans, both black and white, will be able to walk tall, without any fear in their hearts, assured of their inalienable right to human dignity – a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world.”
5. Politics in the new South Africa: trusting democracy
Even though we entered a democratic era with the so-called rainbow nation, we had (and still have) much to learn about democracy. Saying that we should be on par with the “established democracies” is an error in thought.
Some of these established democracies, makes the twenty-four years we have been on the road, look like chump change. We still have a long way to go before South Africa has two main parties vying for political supremacy.
It is still early days and we have already seen the majority party losing support as time has gone by. We have seen old foes disappear and the arrival of new kids on the block. It makes for exciting material for you to study I am sure.
There is an old joke about democracy, that, in retrospect, 10 million voters can be wrong. But that’s the way democracy of course works.
What we need to question in terms of our own democratic system is that the gap between public representatives and the voters is too wide.
Yes, our proportional system allows for the voice of the smaller parties to be heard, but the average South African would not be able to tell you which member of parliament (MP) serves their interests in a particular area. I doubt whether the MPs know either.
The United Democratic Movement (UDM) has campaigned for quite some time that ours should be a mixed electoral system:
A) a constituency-based system that allows for greater accountability and
B) a proportional system that still gives space for minority voices to be heard.
The UDM also argues that the president of the country should be elected directly by the people. Just think, if we used this method, how differently the terms of office of our former president could have played out.
6. Politics in the new South Africa: the slippery slope of corruption
After Madiba handed over the baton to his successors, the country started sliding down the slippery slope of corruption.
It is a sad fact that South Africa has indeed regressed from the ideals of 1994. In fact – to illustrate this point – in the mid to late nineties, one could not even whisper the word corruption in Luthuli House’s corridors. It was a big taboo and it could lead to one’s expulsion from the African National Congress so fast it could make your head spin. I speak from experience!
Institutionalised corruption presents an interesting philosophical conundrum i.e.: are all individuals corrupt to varying degrees and we should expect no less? Or is there corruption because we tolerate or even laud it? Maybe it is a little of both? What we do know is that corruption invariably hurts the man and woman on the street; those who can least afford it.
For example, we today have commissions of inquiry that have been tasked to get to the bottom of some of the worst singular acts of corruption in South Africa ever.
The state capture inquiry being one of them, as well as the yet to be convened inquiry into the allegations of corruption at the Public Investment Corporation (PIC).
The alleged looting of your parents’ retirement moneys, invested at the PIC, literally runs into billions of rands!!
Simply put, the hyenas have stripped the nation of the “easy meat”, as shown by the Auditor General’s report, and have now turned their immoral jaws onto the PIC with bogus black economic empowerment (BEE) deals.
What is clear from these transactions is that selected cadres, close to the ruling elite, have been using the BEE policy to concoct unsustainable schemes in the name of empowerment and job creation.
A serious and responsible government would not have jeopardised people’s retirement monies in such a reckless fashion. Instead of creating a national fund to empower all South Africans, the PIC’s resources have been tapped to line the pockets of the “lucky few”.
Of course, as we have seen with the Steinhoff scandal, corruption is not only the domain of political appointees, government officials and public representatives.
One can however argue that corruption in government has, of late, been at an all-time worst. This brings the UDM’s argument full circle i.e. how different our country would have been managed if the people were directly represented in parliament.
You will tell me in the question and answer session whether you think the UDM’s idea of direct representation has merit.
7. Politics in the new South Africa: the land debate
Because the land debate is at the front of our minds, I want to share a few quick ideas with you.
We must all agree that, as we ushered in the new South Africa, the issue of land was placed on the backburner. Political emancipation was item number one on the agenda.
The land issue, as a tool to achieve economic emancipation, should have been addressed much sooner to avoid the emotional tug-and-pull we are now witnessing.
On this score, the UDM has long argued that there should be an economic Codesa of some description, where we can all gather under one roof to discuss the macro economy with land at the apex of this debate.
I dare say, that if the powers that be had listened to the UDM, South Africa would have had a smoother ride on the road to economic freedom.
8. Politics in the new South Africa: a government of national unity
Lastly, I want to address the constitutional provision of a government of national unity. This is an idea that echoes from 1994, but it has again become relevant as we march on to the 2019 national and provincial elections.
People think it’s a cliché, or a redundant argument, that “every vote counts”. You will tell me if you differ from this point of view.
It is easy to see how each person’s vote gets lost in the millions of votes cast, but the 2019 elections could possibly be a watershed moment in South African politics.
Political pundits have predicted that it is not likely that the coming elections will produce an outright victor. This is the first time in the history of the new South Africa that this is likely to happen and brings the importance of each of our votes to the fore.
The so-called king-makers will therefore be the “small” political parties. This will be a test for democracy in our country; I am sure that you as students and lecturers will watch the run-up to the elections and the results like hawks. Enjoy the viewing pleasure.
People sometimes say that they live in the most exciting part of a country’s history, but irrespective of which era we live in, this remains true.
You certainly live in an exciting time in South Africa’s history and you have a responsibility to participate. It will be remis of me, as a politician, to not encourage you to vote for the UDM, but the more important point is that you should at least vote.
If you have not already, go and register and encourage your peers to do the same… make a fun outing of it and go and register.
Take to heart my message that if you don’t participate, other people will make decisions on your behalf. You will sit dry-mouthed on the side-lines and murmur your dissatisfaction to an indifferent government.
I sincerely hope that you, young people, will dip your feet in politics for we certainly need young blood to be infused in government and South African politics.