One Young World
One Young World

Party bosses: A tyranny of the fanatical

The irrational behaviour of some political leaders is denigrating faith in the social contract that unites our post-conflict society. That same contract underpins the necessary wealth-creation efforts integral to the achievement of a non-racial, non-sexist, non-xenophobic and democratic society. In essence, power-hungry men and women are drawing the entire country into an unnecessary state of anguish, and we need to find an innovative way to emerge from this deadlock.

In November 2012, I was present in the Constitutional Court during the hearings, watching and listening to the back-and-forth between Justice Yacoob, Justice Van der Westhuizen and Advocate Mpofu among others — excited to observe justice in action. On December 18 2012, the Constitutional Court ruled the provincial elective conference of the Free State ANC unlawful and invalid. The basis for public trust in ANC’s internal democracy has been fundamentally undermined by these events. At best, trust is the only thing that the public, outside of the active members of the ANC, can have in relation to the party, and when trust disappears, what does this say about our democracy in general, especially given one-party dominance?

This excitement crashed when, only a few days later, it became apparent that those in power would ignore the case. On the contrary, and to little surprise, the great variety of profoundly disturbing features of our body politic, evidenced in case proceedings, were made all the more real: despite the seriousness of the matter, the final ruling had a meaningless impact on Manguang.

Recently characterising elements of the incumbent (ANC) regime, Njabulo Ndebele offered more generally what applies especially as a summary of these and other events: “It represents a state of affairs in which neither guilt nor innocence is established regarding events that require legal or moral resolution. In this situation, neither the truth nor the lie is allowed clear definition. It is an environment of moral anguish.”

The ability to trust in the outcomes of the Mangaung conference is forever eroded, despite its outcomes: future historians dissecting the country’s development will be forced, by fact, to write about it in ambiguous terms, terms that dissect the moral anguish described by Ndebele.

To govern effectively and legitimately officials need the trust of the people and vice versa — the incumbent party bosses, however, don’t seem concerned about undermining the trust of the people.

These events will have a cascading, denigrating impact on democracy and the future democratic experience in South Africa. Acting in a manner that cements in people’s minds the idea that South Africa is merely a semblance of democratic and lawful order, rather than a reality of accountability and justice, is an intolerable act on the part of any leadership.

Any person voting in 2014 national elections is well-positioned to ask these difficult questions and demand answers, or better, demand change.

Since the ruling party does not exist in a vacuum, such a person is also well-positioned to ask, if not the ANC, who many of us desperately want to be able to trust but simply cannot in good conscience, then who or where do they turn to voice well-intentioned rebellion against the tyrannical tendencies of a few? Some leaders, in a fallacious and undemocratic sentiment, judge questioning voters as un-African, or counter-revolutionary or by some other charge call them out as committing an offence to progress, highlighting the impossible contradiction of a non-competitive democracy they seem to be implying.

The lack of a multi-party contest is not the fault of the ANC; it is also the fault of the other players on the ballot: the often misdirected or miscommunicated action of opposition parties (eg failure to effectively resolve problems that lead to civil unrest in Western Cape) concomitant to offensive statements made by their leaders (eg referring to people choosing to travel in their own country as ”refugees”) helps to lower expectations of betterment in future politics.

At no point in a modern society should citizens or residents be made to feel that a better future is impossible, but neither should any group define them for the democratic choices they make. And when citizens or residents are made to feel this way by the entire spectrum of the body politic, then serious reform should be on the cards. The time for reform and innovation of that body is now.

Senior leaders all around, many clearly steeped in the inherited prejudices, biases and carry-over behaviours of a divided past, are leaving South Africans of all political affiliations out in the cold.

Only increased citizen and stakeholder influence and participation will push parties and political leaders to transform their approaches, take the law seriously or make them more relevant. Right now, it is as if a significant portion population is waiting for politicians who have never delivered, to all of a sudden become capable of doing so. Unless we stop waiting and stand up, nothing will change.

Achieving national goals relies heavily on collaborative governance if bottom-up transformation is to become a reality — the national democratic society implies that political parties, ruling or otherwise, trust the people enough to not only be subject to, but also change in response to public judgment and act lawfully at all times. Given the supernatural power political parties seem to think they possess over the people of South Africa, on the contrary to any ideas of equal opportunity or national democratic organisation, acting lawfully all the time is something they seem to think is beneath them.

Legislative tasks aimed at fundamental change, such as the economic enfranchisement of the majority of the population, will continue to reap lop-sided benefits that perpetuate elite prospects and fail to seriously affect South African society more broadly so long as the current culture of corporate-political materialism is alive. That culture can only be undermined if people step up to the plate and act to counter its weight.

In order to lead the process of change, and restore trust, accountability and unity to centre stage of political action, it is time for South Africans, and organised groups within South Africa, to establish a new platform with the potential to clarify the muddled hopes, visions and expectations for the future that a voter standing in the ballot box may experience.

A new platform, founded in clear purpose and conscience, can effectively cater to all South Africans that care deeply about national and international challenges, whether they support the ANC or the DA or any other party.

We need to identify an approach that galvanizes people waiting on the sidelines for the establishment to deliver, one that has a proven track record of setting the system straight when it deviates from the correct path of accountability and justice, to achieve for our democracy now, what the non-partisan United Democratic Front achieved for the anti-apartheid struggle: course correction.

History has shown that systems work best when challenged.

In times of crisis, many South Africans feel as though they are expected to automatically defend certain positions or behaviours, because of their race, economic background, or culture or sexual orientation — consequently, we don’t ever seem to emerge from crisis.

A non-partisan platform can liberate our society from this apartheid-trap; unlocking new levels of dialogue and engagement, creating space for the next generation to broker their own peace and path forward.

An independent, holistic movement, that works and acts on social and political issues in the local and national arena, can pave the way for a newer, better and freer exchange of ideas and debate among South Africans, and it is the back and forth of free ideas that creates the conscience of a democratic society and forms the foundation for future progress.

At this turning point, we need a movement to bring politics nearer to a politics of hope, fact and change that takes us further away from a politics of division, falsity and despair. At this juncture, we need to do whatever it takes to halt the tide of party bosses who choose to hamper democratic development and hold social progress custody in South Africa — some of them hardened, hypocritical fanatics of the inefficient us-and-them mentality that formed at the heart of apartheid.

Frederik de Ridder is co-founder of the African Student Leaders’ Summit, The Bluebuck Network and the InkuluFreeHeid Association; University of Cape Town Students Representative Council 2010 and also served as Secretary-General of the United Nations at G8 & G20 Youth Summits 2012. University of Cape Town BSc Civil Engineering (economics) First Class Honours 2012.

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    • bernpm

      “A non-partisan platform CAN liberate our society……………….”
      “A new platform, founded in clear purpose and conscience, CAN effectively cater to……………….”
      “An independent, holistic movement, …………………………….. arena, CAN pave the way for a newer…………”

      “At this turning point, we NEED a movement………………….”

      Seeing that you seem very active on a variety of platforms and relatively young, I challenge you to use your contacts and turn your observations into practice by producing an electioneering paper for all parties who support your ideas.

      We have read enough “we can, we should, we need”. As “the youth has the future” start beating the drums of reform to make your points in 2014.

      We oldies expect more from you and your friends than another blog.
      Wishing you success.

    • The Creator

      The failure of the ANC to heed the appeals of the Free State party membership was not due to the existence of party bosses, it was due to the fact that the Zuma leadership of the ANC put Zuma’s re-election ahead of the interests of the party.

      Incidentally, the UDF was certainly not a non-partisan organisation; it was an organisation of ANC supporters and opponents of apartheid. What were you smoking when you wrote that sentence?

    • Erik

      Hi Bernpm — The InkuluFreeHeid movement is in fact the solution I am describing. Please visit for more information and participate in solving the problem.

    • Erik

      Hi The Creator. Thank you for your comment. The UDF was never formally allianced to the African National Congres nor was the African National Congress a political party contesting elections in an ordinary constitutional state – it is within this frame, and considering that the UDF had hundreds of affiliate organisations across the spectrum, many of which had contending interests, that the UDF can be considered a non-partisan (in the open democratic sense) formation. Also, useful for our purposes today, such a formation, working together with a broad sweep of stakeholders, can be highly effective, and even though it may lean politically left or right, it can still be non-partisan in principle.

    • Sterling Ferguson

      @Creator, the people in SA can’t elect their officials in the government and hold them accountable in SA.

    • bernpm

      @ Erik…..”Please visit for more information and participate in solving the problem.”

      Thanks for the hint. I did visit the site. Not in all glorious details but enough to get the flavor.

      I did pick out as a useful move(ment) or activity :

      Will follow and alert. Wish you all good luck and perseverance.

    • The Creator

      Sorry, Erik, but that’s the most vacuous political intervention I’ve seen since the “Let South Africa Speak” campaign before the State of Emergency — and that campaign consisted entirely of anodyne bumper-stickers.

    • Tofolux

      @Frederik, ja ne, on reading yr credentials, I immediately knew that here again, I am faced with an anti-ANC and anti-black tirade. Let me tell you why. Your decriptive goes as follows, ”irrational behviour of leaders (pray tell who?), the power hungry, trust (the lack of concern) , characterising elements, legal and moral resolution, moral anguish, erosion of effective governance, conscience, un-African, counter-revolutionary, lack, modern society (what modernism, pray tell) snr leaders, elders with inherited pregjudices, bias, division, abandon” Now you tell us we must “establish something new, with clear purpose, clear conscience, effective and correct the course”. Now, given this undertone, can you please explain why you need to insist of these descriptions to premise your debate for (maybe) a healthier democracy or is it the mooting for a new political party?

    • maggielou

      How can you be taken seriously if you can’t even ‘quote’ someone properly. Maybe it was just a malicious, deliberate omission? There is a huge difference between ‘refugee’ and ‘educational refugee’ …. but it obviously serves your purpose better to twist things.

    • OupootZA

      Reviewing the past 12 months, even going back to the 2011 elections, we see more and more social activism around politics in particular. That is heartening to hear. Whether its called a “platform for democratic dialogue” or “movement for democratic change”, or “social democratic movement” – what we need is political choice for voters. A constituency representative system in national parliament will not work – in fact, it may strengthen the ANC’s grip on Parliament, thus allowing further abuse of power by the executive (and parties). Our own constituency model for municipal wards shows how ineffective it will be in disciplining politicians & holding them accountable. Experience from the rest of the world shows a PR based system is best when constituencies are geographically spread as is the case in SA. Our PR system will be more effective if no party has an absolute majority in Parliament & has to govern by coalition. In an ideal democratic situation, we should have 400 parties representing the voters in Parliament (ea party having only 1 seat/vote), but that would make governance nearly impossible.

      The message to voters in 2014 should be: “vote for the future, not the past” And: “your not betraying the stuggle / Freedom Charter if you vote against the ANC” And for voters: the best choice for SA’s future is if you vote for the oppostion, any opposition, whether thats the ANC in SA or the DA in the WCape. Even if its for the KISS or Socialist Party or Christian…

    • bernpm

      @OutpootZA: “the best choice for SA’s future is if you vote for the oppostion, any opposition,…….”

      followed by: “do not NOT vote…..spoiled votes are divided over all parties per % of the result of valid votes count.
      If ANC has 50% of the votes, opposition together 20% with a 30% non valid votes. The ANC will get an extra 15% (50% of 30%) votes. Thid makes the ANC’s end result 65% and close enough for a Parliament majority in seats.