🔒 Dirk Hartford: Why Rise Mzansi has won the vote of this old cynic (so far)

In the tumultuous South African electoral politics arena, where over 300 parties now grapple for attention, Rise Mzansi is emerging as a beacon of hope. Launched with fervour in Pretoria, the party’s manifesto will resonate with ordinary citizens, setting a visionary tone reminiscent of Mandela’s 1994 era. In a political climate saturated with egos, Rise Mzanzi distinguishes itself with a “For the people, by the people” ethos, appealing to a non-racial layer of activists disillusioned with current affairs. As the 2024 elections loom, Rise Mzaszi’s commitment to SA’s Constitution and law and order positions it as a compelling alternative to the status quo, with Songezo Zibi’s outfit potentially earning support from even the most cynical voters.

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By Dirk Hartford

This year’s SA electoral politics, where over 300 parties are registered to slug it out in the Big Vote, is becoming as brutal as a cage fight. But it is hard to find any among the several hundred participating underdogs with the tone, fortitude, grit and strategy of a Dricus du Plessis – or at the very least, one that shines a visionary light from our fetid, corrupt, fake news dominated political swamp.

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But Songezo Zibi’s Rise Mzansi, which launched its manifesto on Saturday in Pretoria before 4 000 of its jubilant supporters, might have done just that.

Rise Mzanzi’s detailed and ordinary people-sensitive manifesto and how it was delivered by 48-year leader Songeso Zibi (an ex-spin doctor and onetime editor of Business Day newspaper) harkened back to the heady days of Mandela in 1994 or even Cyril of the Ramaphoria period in 2017.  

Perhaps you’ve forgotten? That lovely warm rainbow nation feeling where we felt we might have a kind and honest government that respects the constitution and the rule of law and will do all in its power, with the support of all of us, to make things better for the long-suffering black poor masses of our country.

What’s not to love about that? Rise Mzanzi, although a new player on the scene, has been around for a while and is focussed not just on this year’s election (it’s hoping to get 7% of the vote – 28 of the 400 seats) but on SA in 30 years’ time.

It has been quietly and studiously working on the ground, mainly among young people, with a 1980s UDF-style bottom-up approach involving listening to the people (repeating the method which led to the ANC’s Freedom Charter in 1955) to arrive at its manifesto.

Its pay-off line is borrowed from Abraham Lincoln – “For the people, by the people” – but it also originated the idea, now appropriated by a host of other parties including the EFF, that “2024 is our 1994”.

Rise Mzanzi will and does appeal to a significant non-racial layer of UDF/ANC activists from the 80s who were on the front line of the anti-apartheid struggle and who are thoroughly disgusted with where the ANC has ended up, but can’t countenance the thought of joining the DA.

These people could include – but don’t yet – the likes of well-known names from the Mandela era like Jay Naidoo, Valli Moosa, Cheryl Carolous, Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin, Popo Molefe et al. (Yes, the same erstwhile comrades of current ANC stalwarts like Pravin Gordhan, Enoch Godongwana, Ebrahim Patel and even Cyril Ramaphosa himself.)

Unlike Gayton McKenzie’s Patriotic Alliance or Herman Mashaba’s Action SA, which seem to think that inciting poor South Africans’ residual xenophobic hatred of “illegal foreigners” is the main point of these elections, Rise Mzanzi places the responsibility for the disastrous state of South Africa squarely on the shoulders of those responsible – the criminal and corrupt ANC government.

And unlike the EFF and Zuma’s newly formed Umkhonto weSizwe party, who both project their hatred for all the ills in South Africa on either whites or “white monopoly capital”, Rise Mzanzi steadfastly and unemotionally targets the main culprits –  the corrupt Ramaphosa, the ANC he serves and their BEE and cadre redeployment strategies.

It’s hard to understand why other wannabes in this election – like the impeccable old activists Zachie Achmat and Roger Jardine/Murphy Morobe (from Change Starts Now) – don’t throw in their lot with Rise Mzanzi. Still, politics is an ego game par excellence, is it not? 

What other profession’s raison de’tre is literally “me, myself, I”. I am this – vote for me. I am for you – vote for me. You are me, I am you – vote for me. It’s disgusting, really, but this is what all politicians are about in our narcissistic, saturated society.

The EFF’s Julius Malema – the main force to be watching out for in the run-up to the elections – recently challenged journalists to find out where Rise Mzanzi got its money from. He said they were everywhere – “even in Giyani” – and guesstimated that their poster campaign had cost the party R45 million .

He said he had information that Rise Mzanzi was a project of a “foreign government” and urged journalists to get to the root of this. 

They did, and Zibi answered that their money – they do appear to be well-resourced; who hasn’t seen their posters by now? – came from their supporters, from free “marketing” offerings from the sympathisers in business, from anonymous wealthy well-wishers donating just below the R100,000 threshold where they have to go public and from more prominent benefactors who they will in time divulge in terms of the law.

Malema’s anxiety about rising Manzi’s is the biggest compliment Zibi’s party could have been paid as the EFF’s active presence on the ground is at least equal to the ANC’s if not more, these days. If they are bumping into Rise Mzanzi on the ground that is a good sign.

Rise Mzanzi’s tone, texture and political style is refreshingly admirable. For starters, they appear to be well rooted among the post-94 “born free” generation. 

Their community meetings are led by this layer who, far from preaching from a pulpit, invite their audience to sit at the same level as them and share what is on their minds and hearts. 

Imagine a political organisation which wants to know what we, the electorate, think. This is what I’ve gathered from people who have attended their meetings in the last nine months.

So, what do they stand for? Well, there is indeed a lot in their manifesto – maybe too much – including on issues not commonly talked about, like malnutrition among children. 

But also, of course, policies on jobs, education, land, food, subsidies, ending corruption, ending cadre deployment and BEE ANC style, inequality, securing borders, etc

It’s hard to find anything to fault them with on this front, even if most of it is neither new nor unique (in many respects, you could think of them as Mandela’s ANC before it revealed its true criminal self). 

It would be surprising if the DA, for example, were strongly opposed to anything in principle in its manifesto, likewise for all in the Multi-Party Coalition.

Rise Mzanzi’s language and tone, and the things they refer to in their manifesto, speak of an organisation rooted in the day-to-day lives of ordinary people while unambiguously coming down on the side of constitutional law and order.

Unlike, for example, our ex-President Jacob Zuma, who recently finally revealed his true colours at Nkandla when he said the Western justice system must be abolished and replaced by a system which gives greater authority to “traditional leaders”.

Zuma is by no means alone in thinking like this, and if there is any fault line that is going to define our political future in South Africa, it is this one. Either for the values and principles aligned with the Constitution or against them.

Rize Mzanzi is definitely for me. An excellent old social democratic organisation that hates corruption and nepotism wants the best people available irrespective of race or class for the job, cares for ordinary people, and knows economic growth and prosperity are the best ways to help solve their problems.

They certainly got my vote so far. And that’s from someone so cynical that I wasn’t even considering voting till now.

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