Inside the motivations and ambitions of why political parties want power – Andrew Kenny

Andrew Kenny explores several questions in the article below, including why political parties want to be in government, why people choose a political career, and why voters vote as they do. Kenny reflects on the DA conference and its leader, John Steenhuisen’s speech, praising some aspects of it while being uneasy about others. Kenny also express their desire for the DA to implement policies that promote prosperity and freedom for all, but criticise the party for not being clear enough about them. The article compares the policies of the ANC and the DA and reflects on the motives of people who choose a political career, as well as the complexities of why voters vote as they do. Read more on the matter below.


Does the DA want power or principles?

By Andrew Kenny

Why do political parties want to be in government? Why do people choose a political career? Why do voters vote as they do?

I was pondering these things as I watched the DA conference last week. It was evidently a cheerful, enthusiastic and well-organised affair. I read the keynote speech by the DA leader, John Steenhuisen. Mainly I liked it although I was uneasy about the gimmickry in the “moonshot” metaphor and his somewhat patronising attitude towards the minor parties with which the DA would have to go into coalition if it ever hoped to govern.

I thought he was right to identify Julius Malema as very dangerous, but wrong to advertise him too much as someone of substance and importance (he’s just a rich little hoodlum with a loud voice). I know exactly why I want the DA to be our government. I want it to implement the policies that have proven to be successful in promoting prosperity for all and freedom for all wherever they have been implemented. These are democracy, clean limited government, free trade, free enterprise, free speech, private property, equal opportunities, and honest, efficient, impartial rule of law – and no discrimination whatsoever on the grounds of race, sex, religion or class. Does the DA espouse these policies? Sort of, but unfortunately not nearly clearly or forcefully enough.

Why do political parties want to be in government? Is it for the power and glory, the status and huge salaries and perks, and the ability to bestow patronage on family and chums? Or is it to implement certain policies they believe in? I suppose for most political parties it is a combination of the two but usually leaning towards the former. In the case of the ANC, it does have clear policies: it believes in Marxism, black African nationalism, a hatred of capitalism and the West, and the abolition of private property  ̶  for which Expropriation Without Compensation is a first step, and then Mugabe-type land grabs the next   ̶   if it is able to do so. But these policies are always in the background, a kind of default ideology it falls back on when it doesn’t know what to do. Its real practical aim is self-enrichment and power. 

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The ANC’s most ferocious battle during the struggle years was not against apartheid but against other black parties, such as the PAC, for the spoils of power once apartheid ended. It had nothing to do with policies. The ANC has indeed been mighty successful in gaining power and enriching itself, with its leaders becoming staggeringly wealthy, with the revolutionary comrades driving Mercs and BMWs, while the working classes go hungry. Its children go to very expensive schools with white teachers. while working class children die in pit latrines and are cheated of a good education by revolutionary black comrade teachers belonging to SADTU. In short, the ANC has been a spectacular success by its own lights. This is not what I want from the DA.

Why do people choose a political career? Again, there are mixed reasons. Some may do so out of a profound conviction that they want to change their country or the world. Their political principles are clear. If these principles are noble, such people can do immense good, and have done so in the past. If they are bad, they can do evil. The outstanding example was Hitler, perhaps the most honest, the most extreme conviction politician in history, who was responsible for the worst crime in history. In his writings, especially in Mein Kampf, and in his political campaigning he made it crystal clear what he stood for: a hatred of the Jews, a restoration of German might, especially martial might, the invasion and enslavement of Russia and eastern Europe, and an end to democracy in Germany. He never promised prosperity or peace; he only promised – and delivered – struggle, war, heroism, hatred and sacrifice. 

Lincoln, a hero of mine, comes closest to a good conviction politician. He seems to have sought power with the aim of ending slavery, which he hated. He did so in the end. But at the start of the civil war he was never sure enough of his political support to say openly that the war was purely about slavery. Churchill, another hero, was madly ambitious right from the beginning, desperate for fame and legacy, and got it wrong time and time again, but when he got it right, he got it very right, and eventually saved Europe for democracy by smashing Hitler. But I often wonder about his personal motives in the 1930s, just before he recognised, almost alone, the true nature of Hitler.

In South Africa unfortunately, many people choose a political career because they are too useless for any other career, and can earn a fortune out of politics if they join the right party. They care nothing about the policies of the party, just the career opportunities it offers them. Politics or crime are unfortunately the only options for many in South Africa’s failing economy. The ANC cabinet is full of utterly useless men and women earning colossal salaries who could never get a job anywhere else – unless it was a BEE job foisted on some hapless company that otherwise could not do business in South Africa. They are keenly aware of this. This is why it is common for ANC aspirants to murder each other in pursuit of a high paying government job.

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Why do voters vote as they do? This is the most complicated question of all. Where race and religion show conspicuous differences, people vote by them. Class seems to have little influence on voting patterns. Policies? There are tendencies in policies and voting but there is also much uncertainty. People do not always vote in their own interests, sometimes strongly against them. If there were a capitalist country and a socialist country side by side, the former would prosper and the latter would stagnate. People would flee from the socialist country to the capitalist country, and enjoy a better life there, and then vote for a socialist party at the next election. To bring prosperity, balance the budget and reduce debt, most countries need to increase taxation and reduce benefits. But no politician would dare to promise this in an election, and so democracies seem to lurch towards higher and higher debt. I strongly believe that the benefits of capitalism have never been strongly enough explained by any politician, with the exceptions perhaps of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. While socialists boast loudly about their unsuccessful policies, capitalists seem timid and apologetic about their successful ones. This must change. I think the DA leaders have the chance to make this change. I urge them to do so.

The DA says that it is a liberal party with the liberal principles of liberty, the rule of law, equal rights, equality of opportunity, no discrimination by race or sex, and free enterprise. But in the past, it has been rather fuzzy on these “core values”. Much too often it has bowed to the ANC’s destructive racial policies and its identity politics, and has been quite rightly condemned for being “ANC-lite”. This applies particularly to the ANC’s policies of affirmative action, BEE, employment equity and transformation. The ANC claims that these policies “redress the injustices of the past” and “correct the legacy of apartheid” and “make sure everyone has the same place at the starting line”. They do nothing of the sort. They amplify the injustices of the past, they extend the legacy of apartheid, and they make sure that poor people do not have the same place at the starting line. The ANC knows this perfectly well. No ANC minister would dream of sending his or her own children to a school with 92% black affirmative action teachers. Do they really believe that the best way of “redressing the injustices of the past” for a poor little black girl whose parents suffered under apartheid is to have her taught by unqualified affirmative action teachers at a SADTU school rather than having her taught by qualified and dedicated white teachers whose parents benefited under apartheid? Of course not. They know that such SADTU schools are destroying the education of poor black children and robbing their lives of hope. 

The DA must stop cowering and apologising before the public on these ANC policies. They must reject them all loudly and aggressively. They must tell the people clearly that the ANC is lying, that these policies harm the great majority of black people and enrich only a tiny minority of ANC cronies. The best speech I ever heard in parliament was in February 2016 by Gavin Davis, then the DA Shadow Minister of Basic Education. (Where is he now?) It was entitled “Smash the SADTU protection racket” and it showed in graphic detail the way SADTU, with the full support of the ANC leadership, was destroying the education of poor black children – while its leaders sent their own children to Model-C schools with white teachers. The DA needs more people like Gavin Davis, and more forceful expositions of the ANC betrayals and lies.

The same is true of the ANC’s dreadful, job-destroying labour laws and minimum wages, a leading reason for our catastrophic unemployment and economic stagnation. The laws do not protect the poor, they only protect the rich against the poor. Our iniquitous bargaining councils, enforced by law, have the sole result – and probably the sole purpose – of shutting the poor out of the formal economy. Enforcing a minimum wage of, say, R3,500 a month results in poor people going jobless and hungry, and sometimes starving. Small black employers simply cannot afford to pay their workers R3,500 a month. What right have the rich and powerful to stop a poor man from accepting a wage that will feed his family? Why does the ANC think it better for such a man to starve rather than work for a wage he chooses to accept? The DA should reject the job-destroying labour laws and the job-destroying minimum wages, but it doesn’t. Instead it wrings its hands and apologises and meekly accepts these odious laws. At a free-market conference some years ago, I asked a senior DA politician why the DA didn’t openly reject these destructive laws. He smiled sadly and said, “It would be electoral suicide for us to do so.” There I believe he is totally wrong. If the horrible damage of these horrible laws were clearly explained by the DA, using posters and ads if necessary, I have no doubt the electorate would understand only too clearly. 

Here is another deep question of democratic politics. Should a political party promise the electorate what the party believes is right or should it promise them what opinion surveys show the electorate would like? I believe the former – very strongly – unless, of course the party is after power alone, and has no principles of its own. It seems sometimes that the DA is too strongly influenced by what it thinks the electorate wants. For example, it seems to think, or seemed to have thought, that you need black leaders in the DA to attract black voters. In other words, it began to dabble in identity politics. It did appoint black leaders, whom everybody assumed, rightly or wrongly, were appointed on race not merit. Most of these appointments went sour, and harmed the DA. I believe the DA should make it clear that it now appoints its officers on merit alone. If you see a black face in the DA, you may be absolutely sure that she or he was appointed on merit, on qualifications, experience and competence, and that race had nothing to do with it. It is true that voting up to now has been to a large extent on race; but I think the DA is in a strong position to change that, and should do so.

Steenhuisen said of the coalition government that the DA hopes to lead, “With the DA at its core, this is a government that will: 1. End load-shedding; 2. Bring unemployment below 20%; 3. Halve violent crime; 4. Defeat cadre deployment to build a capable state and improve education and healthcare; and 5. Devolve more powers over electricity generation, public transport and policing to capable provincial and local governments.” (I’ve put in the numbering and changed his punctuation.) All very worthy but points 1, 2 and 3 give no idea of how they are to be implemented. Point 4 is good, but should be widened to “defeat” affirmative action, BEE and employment equity as well. Point 5 is wholly good. In other words, his intentions are good, but he needs to be more specific and more forceful.

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The DA’s greatest strength is its fine reputation for clean, honest, efficient local government. The Western Cape is the best-run province; in 2008, Helen Zille, of Cape Town, was voted the world’s best mayor; DA-run municipalities have the record of the cleanest audits of any in the country. The DA should make more of this. It is often too diffident about its achievements. It should beat its own drum a bit louder. The new mayor of Cape Town, Geordin Hill-Lewis, seems to be doing just this. Good for him. Looking over what I have just written, I see I have said repeatedly that the DA must be clear and bold about its policies and explain them very clearly. Explain! Explain! This is what the DA must do.

South Africa is close to despair. I’ve never known people so despondent. Almost everyone who can is speaking about emigration, and urging their children to do so. Those who cannot are just bunkering down, preparing for the siege, going into exile in their own communities, shutting themselves off from the misery and collapse about them. There is no hope from the ANC at all. They are not only unable to rescue South Africa from decline into poverty, corruption, violence and disintegration, but seem to have no desire to do so. Ramaphosa is weak, and as callous and incompetent as the rest of his party. The EFF is just a more extreme version of the ANC, as useless and corrupt. I don’t know much about the policies of the IFP, Action SA or the IFP. The DA is really our only hope, and so an enormous responsibility falls upon it. I hope it bears it well. The future of South Africa depends upon it.

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR.

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