South Africa’s political circus: Wannabe Presidents multiply as 2024 elections loom – Solly Moeng

In the lead-up to the 2024 general elections, South Africa finds itself amidst a political spectacle. As disillusionment with the ruling ANC grows, a parade of aspiring presidents and formations flood the scene, armed with flashy yet vague promises. Notable among them is Roger Jardine, an anti-apartheid activist turned business leader, who launched “Change Starts Now” with a pledge to index social grants. Meanwhile, the political landscape sees unexpected mergers, resignations, and even a potential announcement from former president Zuma. Amid this chaos, a Multiparty Pact on the centre-left struggles to unite against the ANC, leaving South Africans yearning for a people-driven political narrative.

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The Dizzying  Fragmentation of the SA Political Landscape

By Solly Moeng

As South Africans at home and in the diaspora watch helplessly, dazed and feeling defeated and dis-empowered, an increasing number of wannabe presidents and political formations enter the fray on, almost, a weekly basis ahead of the 2024 general elections. Each of them is armed with colourful, yet half cooked and thumb sucked messages with no clear policy underpinnings, that it believes will sway a good percentage of voters to it, either from the perennially misgoverning African National Congress (ANC) or from the growing number of the disconnected, those who have opted out of the system and no longer believe that elections can change the political direction of the country. Such voters are either persuaded that the ANC is too entrenched to be weakened and defeated – like a deadly tick clinging on to its host – or that it will never hand-over power peacefully, without bloodily pulling down the entire democratic edifice, if it loses the elections.  

Just a few days ago, a new formation – “Change Starts Now” – was announced by a well-known former anti-apartheid activist, senior government official and, lately, senior business leader, Roger Jardine. In a passionate and, many agree, well articulated speech delivered in front of his mother and a crowd in his childhood township of Ennerdale, Jardine took time to remind South Africans of what they already know and have to live with on a daily basis; the abuses and humiliations they suffer at the hands of his former political home, the ANC. He went on to outline a basket of promises of what he would deliver on if elected president. 

His address was almost reminiscent of current president Ramaphosa’s maiden speech as president, first of the ANC, then of the country. He too had spend years in the private sector before returning to politics. Many believed that his stint in business would have armed with effective leadership skills.  

Standing out in Jardine’s list of promises was a sure vote winner, that under his government social grants would be inflation indexed to ensure that those who rely on them – some 47% and growing of the population – are never short changed. He wasn’t too clear about how he would ensure that the long suffering economy would be grown to increase jobs and job opportunities and reduce this unhealthy reliance on social grants by otherwise physically and mentally able citizens.

While the country was still trying to unpack Jardine’s stylish waltz into the political fray, entertained by predictably infantile insults by the ANC’s ever bombastic secretary-general, accusing him and those who worked with him of something akin to being traitors of the revolution (yep, the Soviet Union might be long gone, but not in ANC land) and of being funded by white monopoly capital seeking to undo the gains of the said revolution by unseating the ANC, other wannabes made their own moves, confirming the adage that South Africa is a paradise for political news coverage.  The ANC secretary-general’s panic was probably also worsened by a resignation – since reversed – of Mavuso Msimang, a respected ANC stalwart, who was rumored to be preparing to join Jardine’s movement. 

In the past 24 hours, well-known political flip-flapper, Carl Niehaus, also formerly of the Zuma (ousted former president) faction of the ANC, booted out of the party for alleged misconduct, announced that the party he subsequently formed with others – the African Radical Economic Transformation Alliance (ARETA) – would be merging into feisty Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF). Malema is also formerly of the ANC, having been booted out of the party in 2012. He launched the EFF the following year, in 2013, and has managed to grow it impressively to third position after the ANC and the Democratic Alliance (DA) by attracting, mostly, disgruntled young South Africans who felt economically marginalised and failed by the ANC. 

Niehaus has also invited several left-wing parties – the Azanian People’s Party (AZAPO), the UDM (United Democratic Movement), PAC (Pan Africanist Congress of Azania), the (African Transformation Movement (ATM), the South African Communist Party (SACP), and the African People’s Convention (APC) – to consider following his ARETA into the EFF.  All of these parties are either ANC off-shoots or historic partners. The SACP is part of the perennially misgoverning Tripartite Alliance, together with the ANC and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu). They continue to send endless delegations of “cadres” to China and to Russia to, apparently, learn governance tricks and, seemingly, how to stay forever in power.   

While South Africans can be sure that there is very little, probably even zero (never say “never” in politics) chance of any of the left wing parties invited by Niehaus following him into the EFF, their collective headache is far from ending, as all of these parties are led by (mostly) men who have shown very little interest in uniting the diverse people of South Africa under a shared set of ideals to build a country that, in line with the constitution, would be a home for all. They’re all on an emotionally laden -Soviet and African nationalism inspired – political race that is underpinned by a “zero-sum game, winners take all” political philosophy. They’re all located on South Africa’s middle to far left political spectrum.    

On the centre-left of the spectrum can be found an emergent political pact – the Multiparty Pact -between the DA, ActionSA, Inkatha Freedom Party, The African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and several smaller parties who have seen the need to coalesce around a set of still-unclear principles in order to increase their chances of either weakening the ANC’s hold on power or defeating it altogether. It is a strange kind of pact, however, because going by their regular respective public utterances, levels of mutual suspicion among the people who lead it seem unhealthily high. 

They get a point for having come to the realisation that none of their parties can, on its own, materially weaken or defeat the ANC. But they get no points for failing to formulate and announce a joint, multifaceted, winning campaign, informed by what South Africans want, to attract voters beyond their normal members and followers, particularly from the growing number of those who have opted out of the system – described further above – who come from all age and population groups. It also doesn’t help that each one of the leaders in the pact see themselves as future president. They’re said to reject outright any idea of an unprecedented weakened rotational presidency that would emerge from a winning joint campaign.

As I write this, former president Zuma’s team has alerted South Africans that he too will be making  a major announcement, on Saturday, 6 December. Speculation is rife that he will either follow his buddy, Niehaus, into the EFF – which seems very unlikely – or announce his own party – which is more likely, probably with his son, Duduzane, as co-leader of sorts. Duduzane has already done several media rounds announcing his presidential ambitions, but both father and son might still have the criminal justice system knocking on their doors for suspected crimes linked to socioeconomically devastating state state capture and other forms of corruption.                  

 It is clear that there is no logic in the people of South Africa continuing to sit back and watch political events in their country as if they’re watching a movie in whose script no roles were allocated to them. The answers to what kind of country must emerge from the coming elections must come from the people, no longer from the men and women in politics whose priorities remain rooted in their own belly buttons. 

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