New political party, RISE Mzansi wants to rebuild a non-racial democracy in South Africa – Songezo Zibi

Songezo Zibi is a former newspaper editor and political commentator who was the chairperson of the Rivonia Circle, a platform that drew inspiration and courage from the Rivonia Trialists. Courage, he is going to need in the robust and sometimes even violent political world that he is entering. Zibi comes from a tiny rural village, called Mqanduli in the Eastern Cape that he calls one of the unseen communities of the country, where people have never had piped water or flush toilets and who live in fear of crime in the dark. He told BizNews that RISE Mzansi will soon register as a political party, but that it wants to be more than that. South Africa’s newest political leader is envisaging a non-racial movement and the RISE Mzansi National Leadership Collective will soon embark on a series of town hall meetings across the country to shape a People’s Manifesto, and – Linda van Tilburg

Some extracts from the interview

Appealing to a truly non-racial cross-section of South Africans including Afrikaans farmers in the North West

RISE Mzansi is a call to action. In simple terms, the name itself RISE means to rise up and step forward and participate in politics so that you can change the country for the better because it is not going in the right direction at the moment and all measurable metrics are getting worse. So, we are going to be registering, we say, in a trial commission to contest future elections starting next year. But essentially, this is a call to action for South Africans to save their own country. 

We understand that the political problem needs to be solved differently and I think people will understand when I say there’s something bigger that we lost as South Africans. It is the sense that we can solve our own problems. Loadshedding is really frustrating and the reason is that we don’t think it can be sorted out. It doesn’t look like it can be sorted out. Crime is really frustrating. It doesn’t look like it can be sorted out. We don’t know how to win or succeed at things anymore. There are so few success cases in the public sphere that you get a sense of what is broken in South Africa. So, we are trying to do a lot more than just win an election. We are asking the question, after these last 30 years of democracy, what has worked? What hasn’t worked? How do we shape the next 30 years and fix the politics and the government? Therefore, we appeal to a cross-section of people, a truly non-racial support base, including Afrikaans-speaking farmers in the North West. 

Trying to bring back 14 million registered voters who chose not to vote in 2021 

I think if you take all eligible voters together, there are about 42 million. In 2021, only 30% of them actually voted. That’s a major fragmentation. I think we all need to ask how do we bring back the 14 million out of the 28 who are actually registered but chose not to vote. Something is putting them off. We’ve applied ourselves to that question and that is why we think that we will be able to have a diverse support base. We’ve seen this diverse support base already. So, the ideas we are placing on the table, the vision of placing on the table the values is the uniting message. The ANC used to stand for non-racialism. It doesn’t anymore. The Democratic Alliance is not that champion. The EFF is not that champion. So how do you bring South Africans together behind a common vision if you take on nationalistic or siloed approaches to how you do politics? So, we’ve chosen inclusiveness as a mantra that we use to build this organisation and to build this movement. 

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Raising money for a political party is as hard as capital raising in business

One of the things I’ve had to learn is that fundraising is as hard as capital raising in business. For politics, it is very hard, especially when you have not announced like we did yesterday. So, you are going to people, you present a concept and you say, this is what we want to do, this is how we want to do politics and so on. People generally say really, really, really interesting concepts. So, please come back to me in a few months and you need the resources to get to the starting block. What I’m trying to say is I know people assume that because we’ve been professional in how we’ve done this that we have got lots of money. It’s actually because we’ve put in a lot of effort and we are proud of what we are doing that we’ve been able to get this far. But, our total funding requirement is still 92, 93% short between now and the next election. That’s a fact. If you don’t have a political track record or business track record, it’s really difficult for people to fund it. Now that people have seen the reaction, they’ve seen our ideas, they’re beginning to say, okay, you’re serious. We like what you are saying, let’s talk. 

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Political violence is a serious concern

A lot of people don’t know this, but I come from a very political feminist, extremely political family since the seventies. I grew up with political activity. I was in the Pan-Africanist Congress and Azapo, so politics is not new, but we must talk about the violence. That’s one of our biggest concerns. I think if you begin to show traction, as we are beginning to already, a lot of people are not going to be happy about it because it threatens their interests and their positions and political violence is now growing in South Africa, even within parties. So, it is a real concern of ours. But at the same time, I come from a family where people have actually died for the country and so, I don’t operate on fear, to be honest with you. Otherwise, we would never do what we need to do for the country. 

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If you don’t want to work with other political parties, you may be in opposition forever 

Coalition is our reality now in South African politics with anybody who says, I don’t want to work in any coalition, well, maybe they just want to be in opposition forever. If you want to fix the country like we need to, we accept the reality of coalitions. The only point we have made concerning John Steenhuisen’s [Moonshot Pact] announcement is that you can’t unite based on not liking the ANC. There has to be something bigger. What are we sharing in that? Do we share a vision of how to fix South Africa? Do we share the same principles or what? What principles are going to inform this coalition? It’s not just the principles of government but also the values that bring us together. So, you have to construct this properly. What is really important to us is that the entities that have kept South Africa alive or South Africans surviving in these years of chaos over the last decade are civil society and business. How do you exclude them? We want to be inclusive.

So, if we are going to discuss the future of South Africa, you want alliances across the board and maybe it is the political background from which we come, which is a Congress movement background, whether it is PAC or ANC or AZAPO or whatever. In that ecosystem, we really believe in alliances. Go to the churches, go to the civic organisations. You have a conversation. We’ve been doing that. You say that the country is in trouble, we need to pull together. We need to unite behind the same values. We need to make sure certain people or types of people are not in government anymore. Do that and unite South Africans. Don’t say, let’s get together as political parties and do a deal alone. People know that ultimately political parties will get together, but they will feel that we are being seen and we are being listened to and these political parties understand what pains us and they will do everything that they can. So, that’s our gripe with it. Don’t continue with the deal-making in this way, be inclusive. 

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