Emerging opposition leaders signal positive change, but we’re gonna need a bigger name – Moeletsi Mbeki

Another big name from the business sector has thrown his name in the hat as a presidential candidate for the opposition in South Africa. He is Roger Jardine, the former PRIMEDIA CEO and FirstRand chair who launched a political movement called ‘Change Starts Now.’ Jardine was also reported to have had discussions with the Democratic Alliance’s John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille as the Multi-Party Charter is seeking an alternative presidential candidate. Political analyst, Moeletsi Mbeki said the problem he had with candidates like Roger Jardine and Songezo Zibi from Rise Mzansi is that they are that they were the employers of big businesses, they were not the owners of capital. To really make an impact, what is needed is that one of the captains of industry, the owners of the banks, retail companies and mining industry stand for elections and challenge the ANC. Moreover, South Africa he said did not have an electoral system that allows a central figure to rise like businessman Sam Matekane from Lesotho who won an election seven months after forming a political party.He said he believed that individuals can’t solve South Africa’s problems and that there will be no miracles that will come out of South Africa’s 2024 elections. Mbeki also commented on President Nelson Mandela’s legacy 10 years after his death and said the deal that the ANC got from the National Party was much better than expected if the ANC’s real strength on the ground is taken into account. He said the negotiated constitution is a good constitution and people who criticise it know nothing about the reality of South Africa at the time. He again blasted the ANC’s black empowerment policies saying it is the result of an elite riddled with an inferiority complex who think they should get wealth from white people and that they cannot create wealth through their own risk-taking and hard work. – Linda van Tilburg

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:00 – Introduction
  • 00:40 – Are the polls accurate about the ANC
  • 01:51 – Rise of Leaders from the Business Sector
  • 04: 08  – Discussion on the DA and Coalition Partners
  • 05:17 – The Multi-Party Charter and Opposition Parties
  • 07:25 – Will the ANC fail?
  • 10:28 – Possibility of New Leaders and Solutions
  • 12:02 – Youth Voter Turnout and Disillusionment
  • 14:56 –  Violence and Interference in the Election
  • 16:14 – DA making progress in KZN
  • 17:09 – Coalitions (DA & ANC)(EFF & ANC)
  • 20:36 – Low voter turnout
  • 22:11 – ANC’s Loss of Support in Metros
  • 23:17 – Critiques on Nelson Mandela’s legacy
  • 27:05 – Critique of BEE and the Need for Confidence Building
  • 31:10 – Conclusions

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Excerpts from the interview

___STEADY_PAYWALL___

The expectation is that ANC will fall below 50%

We actually have an accurate figure which came from the local government election in November 2021. Now that was not speculation. It was not an opinion poll. It was the voters. In that election, the national tally of the ANC for the first time was below 50%, it stood at 46%. So, we know for a fact that the ANC has fallen below 50% from a real election, which was the local government election. So yes, the expectation is that the ANC will fall below 50%.

We need key business leaders, the real owners of capital to put their names forward 

Songezo Zibi and Roger Jardine are not exactly what I had in mind. My perspective is that we require the true captains of industry—the actual owners of capital. Songezo Zibi, for instance, was an employee, first at a mining company and later as an editor at Business Day.

Roger Jardine, on the other hand, has been associated with Avenge, an engineering company. He was the chairman of First Rand and a director-general, an employee of the Department of Arts and Culture. These individuals are not capital owners; they are managers. When I referred to ‘business,’ I meant the genuine owners of capital in South Africa. I won’t mention names, but I believe you understand whom I’m alluding to.

 I won’t explicitly name names, but these are the pivotal figures in our country. They may delegate their managers to participate in elections, but for me, the critical players are those who truly own our banks, retail companies, the automobile industry, and other key sectors.

South Africa’s problems can’t be solved by one president or leader 

I don’t believe our electoral system allows for a leader like Lesotho’s Sam Matekane to become the president. Our structure revolves around proportional representation, as mandated by the Constitution. We’ve had prominent figures since democracy—Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe, Jacob Zuma, and Cyril Ramaphosa. While some promised to address our nation’s challenges, our problems are far more complex than individual leaders can solve. 

South Africa’s history spans nearly 400 years, dating back to the Dutch East India Company’s arrival. Overnight solutions are elusive, especially when tackling systemic issues, certainly not by individuals. 

No miracles around the corner for South Africa

The reality is that we have independent candidates alongside political parties. Let’s assume, independent candidates acquire 200 seats in the National Assembly. Do they constitute a party? Will they be able to form a government amongst themselves? These are the unknown questions surrounding independent parties.

If the ANC remains the largest political party in the country—which is still the expectation, even if it falls below 50%—it will likely have to form the government. This means putting together a coalition that constitutes the government. So, despite any decline, the ANC remains a central player in the country’s politics. 

Of course, if it needs coalition partners, its programs may get diluted due to compromises with those partners. There are several intriguing unknowns in the upcoming election. Don’t hold your breath; there are no miracles around the corner. South Africa is an old country, an old society, and miracles won’t emerge from the elections.

I’m inclined to agree with what David Pilling said in the Financial Times that the ANC will inevitably fail, but not just yet. It depends on what you mean by ‘failed.’ If you mean failing to secure 50%, then yes, it’s likely to fail. In fact, it already failed to achieve 50% in the last local government election. Yet, it remains the government of South Africa. 

The ANC will still be part of whatever coalition forms. It will continue to play a central role. 

300-plus SA political parties aren’t able to country’s problems

South Africa’s challenge isn’t solely about whether the ANC is present or absent. The real issue is that the ANC lacks effective policies to address unemployment. It struggles to manage the railway system. It cannot run the electricity power generation system. 

I don’t see anybody amongst all the political parties, we have hundreds of them, who can manage the railway infrastructure of South Africa. We have nearly 30, 000 kilometres of open rail lines. I don’t see any party, if it remains in state hands, who has the capacity to manage our railway infrastructure.

Eskom is the largest company in Africa in terms of assets. I don’t see any of the 300-plus political parties being able to make a difference in how Eskom runs, and how it is managed. This, for me, is the true challenge facing South Africa: finding solutions to our problems. all that I see and hear is people wanting powers. The South African government has a massive budget, R1.6 trillion. So many politicians and many ambitious young professionals want to get a piece of that R1.6 trillion. I’ve yet to see a single solution beyond delegating railway management to others. But that’s not a solution – it’s someone else’s solution. 

Low voter turnout expected in 2024 

I anticipate a very low voter turnout. The introduction of so-called independent candidates raises questions: Who are these individuals? How can voters make informed decisions when faced with a voting paper that lists names like Joe Bloggs, about whom we know nothing?

Who will vote for these unknown candidates? Very few likely will. Consequently, the concept of independence may fade away. Moreover, as independents, they cannot form a cabinet. Party affiliation is necessary for cabinet formation. The new electoral act, shaped by the Constitutional Court and civil society, presents challenges. While it complicates governance, it doesn’t necessarily solve underlying problems.

We’ve already had a large part of our population not voting. I think one of the main reasons is the ANC voters, especially those in our eight metros. Remember, our largest and most modern part of South Africa lies within these metros. We have eight metros in total. The most crucial ones are located in the Gauteng province: Pretoria, Johannesburg, and Ekurhuleni. Additionally, there’s eThekwini in Durban and Cape Town in the Western Cape.

These metros represent the heart of South Africa. Previously, the ANC controlled the three metros in Gauteng, and ANC voters constituted the majority there. However, that majority has now shifted. Many of these voters no longer support opposition parties or believe that they offer viable solutions. Consequently, they abstain from voting, choosing to stay at home.

This situation is particularly interesting because it reveals that even highly educated and employed individuals, such as the white population, are demotivated from voting. Essentially, it reflects a loss of faith in the ANC, without necessarily transferring that support to other parties. They don’t think the other parties are providing solutions. So, many of them are staying at home and not voting. That is the challenge that South Africa has. 

Increase in pre-elections assassinations, competition for the ‘feeding trough’

We have assassinations in this country. As far as I can make out, they are within political parties rather than between political parties. I may be wrong, but I think they are within political parties. A lot of them have nothing to do with politics. They have to do with 

the so-called feeding trough; it’s the jostling to get access to the feeding trough, especially to the tenders of the municipalities, of the metros, of the central and the provincial governments. These are a big part of the drivers of the assassinations that are happening; it is about access to the feeding trough through the tender system.

Those who criticise Nelson Mandela’s legacy know nothing about the reality of SA in the 90s

I believe the deal that Mandela and the ANC secured from the National Party was the best they could achieve. In fact, it exceeded the ANC’s real strength on the ground. The National Party held significant power as a formidable government with a functioning army, police force, and civil service. Since 1960, the ANC has attempted to undermine these structures, but their efforts have not succeeded.

We have to be thankful to Mandela’s leadership for the deal he produced which is the constitution that we have in South Africa today. While there is room for improvement, the current constitution serves our country well. It may not be the best in the world, but it is a solid foundation for our needs and purposes.

For those unfamiliar with the reality of South Africa during the period from 1950 to 1990, it’s essential to recognise that the National Party had built a formidable military industry and army. It was no pushover. 

In conversations with Pik Botha, I asked why they chose to negotiate. His response highlighted their immediate challenge was that white citizens would resist any destruction of their standard of living to defend apartheid. In essence, the threat of white backlash posed a more immediate challenge to the National Party than any other factor. So, they had to negotiate. As I often emphasise, South Africa’s history is complex, with many moving parts.  

BEE is a result of a black elite inferiority complex who feel they can’t create their own wealth through risk-taking and hard work 

BEE is a manifestation of the colonial mindset of the ruling black elite in South Africa. The ruling elite in South Africa has this inferiority complex, and it wants to be like white people, but it wants to be like white people through consumption rather than through being productive. It wants the white people to give them assets to consume. That’s what black economic empowerment is. This is not an elite that is production-oriented, a creative elite like you see in Asia. This is an elite that’s riddled with an inferiority complex and it feels it cannot create its own wealth through its own risk-taking and hard work. It must get wealth given to it by white people. 

So, these are mega fundamentals of the South Africa problem, which is why our railways fall apart because the elite who inherited them not only have no skills, but they don’t see them as important because all they want is to use them to consume, not to produce.

The ANC gave a false promise to South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa gave South Africans a false promise that he could solve the problems. But in real terms, they haven’t got that capacity. They haven’t got the foundation. South Africa is floating because of the private sector. The political elite has no role in the private sector. If anything, it’s undermining the private sector through mismanagement of those aspects of state assets that impact on the operations of the private sector, like the railways, the ports, electricity, and so on. 

BEE should never have been adopted. It should never have been adopted because reinforces the inferiority complex of the Black people. We want to build confidence in our Black population so that they can start to take risks. They can have the confidence to say,

I can own a farm and I can manage a farm. I can own a little enterprise and I can run it. BEE tells you; I can’t own anything. I need a white person to give me wealth if I need wealth. I can’t create wealth myself. So, it reinforces the inferiority complex that the middle class and the black elite inherited from the colonial period.

Why South Africa can’t emulate the Asian tigers in growing its economy

Many people wonder why we are not like the Asian tigers. They often say we should emulate Asian countries—South Korea, Taiwan, and Malaysia. But why aren’t we like China? The answer lies in understanding why we cannot simply emulate South Korea or Taiwan.

The ruling elite in South Africa, particularly the black ruling elite today, emerged as a product of colonialism—specifically, British colonialism in the 19th century. Their vision for South Africa is paradoxical: they envision it as a successful colony, devoid of racial discrimination, yet primarily focused on raw material production. This perspective is crucial to grasp.

In contrast, Asia’s elites do not share this mindset. They continue the legacy of their pre-colonial counterparts. Colonialism did not obliterate the old Asian elites. For instance, India had a caste system before British colonialism, and it persists today. India’s society remained relatively intact. Now, of course, I don’t like the caste system, but that was Indian society. 

Similarly, India’s predominant Hindu religion predates colonialism and continues to shape the country. In South Africa, our indigenous religions, such as ancestor worship, existed before colonialism. However, we have since transitioned to being a Christian country.

Moreover, the industries that thrived in South Africa before colonialism have been decimated.

So, you have to understand that, for example, the industries that South Africa used to have before colonialism have all been destroyed. Consequently, the skills levels of the population, such as handicrafts, no longer exist. In contrast, in Asia, these traditional skills were never destroyed.

Asian societies preserved their foundational skills, allowing them to build upon that base and develop modern skills. Unfortunately, South Africa lacks this foundation. We must essentially start from scratch with the majority of our population. By ‘majority,’ I refer to the African and coloured communities, which together constitute nearly 90% of our population.

These communities do not possess the necessary skills. Therefore, we face the task of rebuilding South Africa in a more fundamental way. Only then can we develop the capacity to become an industrialised country, akin to how Asia successfully industrialised.

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