White opposition politics has been discredited and the main hope for black opposition, the Pan Africanist Congress, is in tatters. A new black opposition party is needed, argues Vuyo Mvoko
OUR battle has not ended with the hoisting of the colourful new flag and the singing of Nkosi Sikelel’i Afrika. And it would be reckless to leave the custodianship of opposition politics to “repentant” Afrikaner nationalists and “liberal democrats”.
Former exploiters whose police and army tortured and killed black people in the name of law and order, many of these politicians will support a black majority government only for as long as it does not threaten white power and privilege.
What South Africa needs is a strong black opposition party, now and after the Government of National Unity, to act as the conscience of an ANC preoccupied with national unity and reconciliation.
We must not make the error of thinking that because of its traditions and popular support, the ANC will automatically respect democratic values and look after the material needs of the black masses. The ANC is a mixed bag of people from different backgrounds: treason trialists, former apologists of apartheid, socialists, capitalists, workers, homeland leaders. Just as in other parts of Africa, it is distinctly possible that black majority rule may work against the interests of the black majority.
Township people are not going to listen to the National Party’s criticisms of the ANC — however valid — because it is perceived as a white party. Because the ANC is an overwhelmingly black organisation with a history of being a liberation movement, the tendency in townships will be to turn a blind eye to its failings.
A vocal black opposition party would have the legitimacy in black eyes which the NP and the Democratic Party will never achieve. Such an opposition role cannot be played by the Pan Africanist Congress, which was all but destroyed in the election. The organisation got everything wrong — from gatecrashing negotiations with no agenda to mimicking the ANC.
The PAC leadership equivocated about the Azanian People’s Liberation Army and the “one settler one bullet” slogan, leaving its membership behind. Senior party officials played “footsie-footsie” with homeland and tricameral parties in a desperate bid to form alliances, while former community councillors and a host of other discredited people topped their candidates lists. The disappointment was great to sympathisers who thought the PAC was a principled and an analysis-driven organisation.
Azapo has the most commanding track record if it can shed its militant rhetoric and direct its energies towards parliamentary politics. It also has the most articulate, experienced and thoughtful leadership.
Because of its national standing, it has the potential to pull together the various African nationalist and socialist fragments in the country, including disillusioned militants of the PAC and far-left splinter groups.
Such an alliance would have to promote and give meaning to ill-defined concepts like nation-building, affirmative action, and reconstruction and development. Its approach would be based on mass aspirations and not on white fears.
It would act as a watchdog over corruption, incompetence, elitism and the squandering of resources.
On the economic front it would press for policies which empower people, such as industrial democracy and selective nationalisation. Its sympathies would be with working people, and it would reject the recently expressed view of President Nelson Mandela on June 16, that “we are keeping a balance between the aspirations of our people as well as accommodating the interests of business. We have won this election, for those who do not know, because of the financial support of big business”.
It would scrutinise the role of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in impoverishing African countries, before sending ied appeals for help. Rather than being cowed by white farming interests, it would press for land redistribution policies aimed at satisfying black land hunger. It would reject the compromise position of the interim constitution on land, and its emphasis on “willing buyer willing seller” basis.
Rather than placating upper-income whites in the name of reconciliation and stability, it would push for progressive taxes to fund development, job creation and social welfare. It would sympathise with the attack on Thabo Mbeki at a press conference in London, in which wealthy South Africa was accused of competing for aid and investment capital with dirt-poor African countries like Rwanda.
In its foreign policies, it would seek ties and co-operation with Africa first, then the rest of the Third World, rather than Europe and the United States. Recognising that the interest of the West and Western multinational companies in South Africa is primarily self-centred and exploitative, it would press for stringent conditions for foreign investment. These would include affirmative action policies, living wages and conditions, compulsory social investment and the recognition of representative trade unions.
It would support the labour movement as well as pushing for labour legislation which strengthens unions. It would see it as its particular brief to represent and fight for the most vulnerable sectors of society — the homeless, the jobless, the disabled, the young, the sick and the old.
Its Africanism would lead it to push for symbols the masses need to feel this is their country: for appropriate holidays (like June 16), for appropriate monuments, and for the renaming of places and even the country.
In contrast with “communist” parties in the past, it would take seriously such aspects of democracy as freedom of expression, including freedom of the press; freedom of association; and artistic and religious freedom.
In short, the party would be one which espouses a true democracy — based on popular control over and participation in government — rather than mere multi-partyism.