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Freedom Front Plus, the political party which champions minorities and Cape Independence, is credited with being ‘the adult in the room’ during fractious coalition discussions in Gauteng Metros. The electorate is paying attention, with the FF+ on the right side of seismic swings in two recent by-elections. Reasons why become apparent during this interview with party stalwart Dr Corné Mulder, a member of the National Assembly since 1988. Mulder, a fourth-generation South African politician, explains how coalition governments are the natural consequence of SA’s proportional representation electoral system introduced in 1994. He reaches a hopeful conclusion – positing that a ‘Rainbow Coalition’ of political parties outside of the economically destructive ANC/EFF can and will win the 2024 national election. That result, he believes, will usher in a new era of prosperity for the country. Mulder spoke to Alec Hogg of BizNews.
Corné Mulder on how his father is perceived within Freedom Front Plus
I think he played a huge role. Just to give some perspective: he was elected to parliament in 1958, in April. And I was born in that same year. So from my birth, after a few months, I have been travelling between Cape Town and the Transvaal in that instance. My father was playing quite an important role in South African politics at the stage. And people may not remember perhaps, but in 1978 it was on my 20th birthday, by coincidence, on that day there was an election for Prime Minister in South Africa and he stood against PW Botha for the position of Prime Minister. My father lost that race by six votes and then shortly after that he was forced out of the National Party, basically. And I’m just speculating. I think things could have been different in South Africa if he’d been elected on that day. People don’t really understand and know him that well. He was much more realistic and a pragmatist in that sense. And if you look at the development of South Africa, after that we went into the securocrats and most of the human rights violations happened in that militarised period after 1978 into the eighties.
On how the party has changed since 1994
When we went to parliament in 1994, the leader was General Viljoen. And it was a fascinating period because we had to marry two cultures. We had to marry a political culture with a military culture. The general was the general, and we were young politicians, but we succeeded in marrying that culture. And at that stage, the Freedom Front plus was then the Freedom Front. And we obviously went to Parliament, seen as an Afrikaner party, very much so, trying to create a vehicle for the expression of Afrikaner ideals at that stage. But the one thing that is absolutely basic in politics is that everything changes. So things did change. And as time progressed, we then went into the negotiation process for the current constitution, and the party repositioned itself at some stage by also changing our mission statement to say, but we see South Africa is a nation of nations and that we want to become the champion for the rights of minorities in South Africa, the various minorities. It’s not that simple, that it’s only the majority versus a small minority. Within that alleged majority, there are also minorities. And if you look internationally, this field of minority politics is a very lively one. Sometimes people will say, well, what is that? What does democracy mean? It means one person, one vote. No, it does not. The test for true democracy is what steps do you take to protect the minorities in your country, in your society? That is a very lively topic, so the party started to expand its membership and its representation. And as you will know, we’ve moved into the so-called coloured community. I’ve got some councillors from that community. I’ve got provincial members for the provincial parliament here in the Western Cape and you would have noticed that we’ve now also got our first councillor from the African community, the black African community. So the party is expanding in that direction and we’ve played a very constructive role throughout. Our opponents would say, you know where you stand with us and we are proud of that because we want to talk straight and the people know what they can expect. And the party has been growing since.
On embracing Cape Independence and if that has played a part in the expansion of FF+
It’s definitely one of the reasons. It’s not the only reason. I think it’s a very important reason. Specifically in the Western Cape. The Western Cape has been different from the rest of South Africa throughout for various reasons, in terms of the demographics, in terms of the composition, in terms of many things. And one must also understand that the ANC has never won a popular election in the Western Cape. So the people in the Western Cape have expressed themselves throughout, since ‘94, to not be governed by the ANC and against their will, we’ve been under an ANC government in the Western Cape. I’m also the provincial leader for the party in the Western Cape. So that specific issue of Cape Independence is playing a very strong role. And I predict that in the 18 months to come to the 2024 election, it’s going to increase in terms of importance. And if the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape doesn’t want to support that kind of thing, then well, we will see what the electorate thinks about that. And it’s in line with the party’s approach of self-determination that people should have the right to make their own decisions, that we do not want to have a centralised power. Why should Luthuli House or the Union Buildings decide what we teach the children in Cape Town? We want to make those decisions ourselves.
On the party’s performance in the by-elections and coalition governments
If you look at our electoral system, a strictly proportional representation, any proportional representation system basically calls for coalition governments. It’s abnormal in a proportional system that one party attains more than 50%. So we’ve had that since 1994 and it’s abnormal. Now, eventually, we are getting to the point where the ANC is going below 50% and this will make for coalition governments and we understand that. So for quite a long time the Democratic Alliance basically had the message, you must vote for the DA. Why? Because we are the only party that is big enough and strong enough to defeat the ANC. The electorate is not stupid. They realise that it’s not true and it’s not going to happen. That no single party is going to defeat the ANC at the polls. What’s going to happen? It’s going to be a coalition of political parties. So now people are starting to say, Well, I can vote for the party of my choice, not necessarily the party that I think is the biggest. I can vote for the party that I really feel comfortable with in terms of policy, image, leadership, etc. And then I know that they will take my votes into a coalition government to keep the ANC out of power. And I think that plays a part in terms of what’s happening at the moment. And it is interesting, as you point out, the latest by-elections indicate that it’s not only a once off; we’ve seen it now in Limpopo, we are seeing it in the Western Cape. And who knows what’s going to happen tomorrow in Gauteng?
On whether FF+ is finally on an upward trend
Absolutely. I’ve got no doubt about that. What basically happened was in 1999, it’s a long time ago, but people may remember at that stage the leader of the Democratic Party was Tony Leon. And Tony came back then with a slogan which basically just said, fight back. And people were quite disillusioned in terms of what they saw. By 1999, what they expected to happen in ‘94 did not materialise in terms of this wonderful rainbow paradise. And people wanted to hit back, they wanted to fight back, and they went in mass to support the Democratic Party at that stage. Later on, they merged with the National Party to become the Democratic Alliance, and it took basically 20 years to change that and reverse that trend. And now the trend is the opposite. And absolutely, this trend is going to be our friend, I’ve got no doubt, and we are realistic about that. It’s not as if we are going to defeat the ANC, no, but it’s not as if the Democratic Alliance is going to do so, or the IFP. What I foresee is that there will be a coalition of parties, like-minded political parties that can do that. And then the wonderful thing is those people can still vote for the party of their choice, but they know that that party will bring that vote into a combined coalition kind of thing. So I think this trend is our friend at the moment and we will see, we are basically 18 months from the next election and the party’s invigorated. We are going absolutely forward at the speed of light and people are absolutely openly coming to the fore and supporting the party, from all communities.
- FF Plus continues to eat the DA’s lunch
- Political squabbling “not helping at all” to make a case for coalitions come 2024 – Dr Corné Mulder
- An ANC-DA coalition cannot work
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