Rise Mzansi manifesto: A promising start marred by the troubling resurgence of racial policies – Hermann Pretorius

Rise Mzansi’s manifesto, launched on January 20, initially promises a fresh perspective on South Africa’s political landscape but falls short by endorsing race-based policies that hinder progress. While acknowledging the need for change and competent governance, the manifesto reveals a tilt towards social democracy, raising concerns about individual freedom. Despite advocating non-racialism, the party’s vision perpetuates racial classification and fails to address the root causes of inequality. Although the manifesto touches on critical issues like food security, it ultimately commits to racialist policies, reminiscent of South Africa’s troubled past.

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By Hermann Pretorius*

Rise Mzansi’s manifesto, unveiled on 20 January with ambitions to contest the national and provincial elections, brings a seemingly refreshing perspective to South Africa’s political landscape. 

Despite its initial promise, however, the manifesto unfortunately veers into familiar territory, and recommends perpetuating race-based policies and racial classification systems that have historically hindered South Africa’s progress.

The document begins on a positive note, emphasising the necessity for change and the potential of the forthcoming elections. It asserts, ‘A great many of our problems are caused by a failure to get the basics right, to do things for the common good, to take care of government finances, or to appoint competent people to important roles.’ These foundational principles are hard to contest.

However, as the manifesto unfolds, it subtly reveals Rise Mzansi’s ideological leanings towards social democracy. This direction, while arguably preferable to the ANC’s extensive state control attempts, raises concerns for advocates of individual freedom and market-driven solutions. The manifesto suggests a reliance on state intervention for societal improvement: a concept at odds with the basic classical liberal belief in the efficacy of free individuals and the potential of markets as conduits for problem solving.

Yet, it is uncontestable that South Africa has a critical issue when it comes to the quality of people in office and, regrettably, in power. The appointment of competent individuals to positions of significance is perhaps something all political parties in South Africa can pay lip service to. However, if there’s one fundamental flaw in the Rise Mzansi manifesto, it is that on the issue of competence and skill and merit, the party lacks either the insight or the courage to commit fully.

Despite non-racialism featuring as a guiding principle, Rise Mzansi’s vision of South Africa is one, like that of the NP and the ANC, in which South Africans are classified by race, divided by race, and treated differently based on race.

Using ‘race, gender and other classifications for policy interventions’ is, according to Rise Mzansi, ‘absolutely necessary in order to measure and manage the specific inequalities that result from past and ongoing discrimination’.

The wheels fall off 

It is at this point that the wheels fall off completely. Reliance on things like race is a fundamentally flawed foundation for a policy programme aimed at curing the ills that plague South Africa. As a consequence, Rise Mzansi’s policies, stuck in the paradigm of race-based interventions, fail to identify the root causes of inequality, potentially exacerbating the very issues they aim to solve.

Take, for example, the GINI coefficient that measures inequality: zero representing perfect equality with 1 representing extreme inequality. South Africa scores between 0.63 and 0.67.

As a country, we’ve often made headlines for our world-beating inequality. Headlines like ‘South Africa most unequal country in the world: Report’ and ‘South Africa Wealth Gap Unchanged Since Apartheid’, however, hide a key fact: the largest income gap between rich and poor South Africans is not between white and black, as the lazy narrative would have it, but between the richest black South Africans and the poorest black South Africans.

IRR research into the 2020 report Inequality Trends in South Africa: A multidimensional diagnostic of inequality revealed the counter-narrative truth. By 2015, the top 10% of black earners in South Africa earned 25.9% of all income, compared to 10.8% of all income earned by the top 10% of white earners. By 2015, the top 10% of black earners were earning as much as the remaining 90% of black earners in South Africa combined. Yet, this inequality is something Rise Mzansi completely leaves out of the equation when taking aim at ‘inequalities that result from past and ongoing discrimination’ and relying on the lazy and inaccurate notion of ‘race as proxy for poverty’. By assuming race as a proxy for socio-economic deprivation, Rise Mzansi’s policies are blind to ills like poverty that exist within the racial groupings.

There is something bizarre about this notion: it sometimes succeeds in convincing ‘thinking’ people to stop thinking.

If being black in South Africa automatically meant being poor, why bring race into the discussion at all? Surely then all pro-poor policies would inherently be pro-black.

If being black in South Africa automatically meant being poor, why the massive discrepancy between black South Africans at the socio-economic top and those struggling at the bottom?

Cause of poverty

If a black skin in South Africa today remained a cause of poverty, why at all is there something like a black millionaire and billionaire class – or even middle class? Did these people somehow ‘white’ their way to wealth?

Insisting on race as a proxy for disadvantage can only result in the current failure of ‘trickle-down black economic empowerment’ – of deciding what proportion of poor people are allowed to be black. This is the absurd thinking behind the ANC’s obsession with creating black millionaires. What this view of poverty says to the poorest in our country is that they should rejoice that people who look like them are growing rich, even if most of the poor are left poor.

Measuring socio-economic policies through the prism of race forces one to see poverty not as the tragedy of human potential wasted and dignity denied, but as a relative fraction that can be ironed out by tinkering with top-end results. Instead of poverty being targeted for eradication, Rise Mzansi’s approach sets up poverty as a target for proportional allocation. Instead of making efforts to deal with poverty, Rise Mzansi seeks to continue the perverse pursuit of the ‘right’ kind of poverty where the ‘right’ people are poor.

Then there is the sinister issue of racial classification itself.

Rise Mzansi as a party is comfortable enough to put forward policies for ‘genuinely black and women-owned companies’ and ‘supporting black people’, but I have unfortunately been unable to find in their manifesto their definition of ‘black’. If someone is to focus on an X-type of policy beneficiaries, one would assume a clear definition of X. Perhaps the version of Rise Mzansi’s manifesto that I downloaded omitted the page where the party calls for the reintroduction of the Population Registration Act of 1950 and its bureaucratic machine to decide to whom the words ‘white’, ‘coloured’, and ‘native’ should apply.

Whatever else Rise Mzansi might offer in its manifesto, it is impossible to get away from the fact that this is a party committing itself to the racialist policies that have cost South Africans so dearly in so many ways for so long.

Long overdue

Bringing food security and malnutrition to the forefront of our politics is long overdue and Rise Mzansi deserves credit for undertaking to do this. The abolition of cadre deployment is vital to any hope we have for a brighter future where institutions meant to serve the people actually do so. Streamlining cabinet is an easy win to score for any government after voting day.

Free marketeers might even be able to stomach the social democracy and the lighter-touch statism of Rise Mzansi’s vision for our government. But, try as it might, beneath the PR-tested, pristine-packaged allure of Rise Mzansi’s manifesto, one can hear the crunch-crunch of Vorster’s pencils being sharpened for a new round of tests.

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*Hermann Pretorius studied law and opera before entering politics and, latterly, joining the IRR as an analyst. He is presently the IRR’s Head of Strategic Communication.

This article was first published by Daily Friend and is republished with permission