Editorial: Making our mark

By this time next week, the African National Congress will be headed for its third term in office and there it will stay until the ”Second Coming’; if an exuberant Deputy President Jacob Zuma is to be believed.

But, in vibrant democracies, regular and constitutional changes of government are vital. Waiting for Jesus is not an option; the ANC should serve time on the opposition benches in future.

Ten years on, how healthy is our democracy? Unlike those of several of our neighbours, it does not hang in the balance. South Africa is up there with countries like Kenya, Botswana and Mali as beacons showing that stable democracies can flourish on our continent.

Sustainable developing nations are those that establish effective institutions, and in this respect we have succeeded. To a greater or lesser extent, the executive, legislative and judicial arms of government function. The Constitutional Court has displayed an activist streak that bodes well for the next 10 years. President Thabo Mbeki begins his second and final term of office on April 23.

The economy is set on a braver path that promises a more caring hand for the vulnerable – the children, the aged, the sick and the jobless.

On the foreign policy front, it is gratifying to have found our place on the continent and to recognise that our history and future is and must be an African one.

South Africa has also tried to bolster Third World unity and promote Third World interests, through trade advocacy and by promoting multilateralism in world affairs.

In 1994, on the eve of the election, the Mail & Guardian reflected on what life might be like the next day. We predicted there would be  â€“ lots of cock-ups, ”plenty of confusion, a fair amount of corruption and a great deal of frustration. But in the end we’llmuddle through ‘-we always do.” The conclusion is still apt .

But 10 years is long enough to stop much of the muddling and raise the bar of what is acceptable in government. The inept, hapless and corrupt must go – only the ‘ best should govern.

Since it was unbanned, the ANC has been less than selective about who is admitted to its leadership ranks. How can a dirty politician like Mpumalanga’s Steve Mabona be in office? Why do we have a beetroot for a health minister? Anti-graft laws have been enacted and institutions have been set up to fight official dishonesty – but too often the ruling party appears reluctant to crack down on wrongdoers in its own ranks. As a result, the cancer of corruption is slowly spreading into the nation’s soul.

And a culture of sycophancy in the ANC means there is little public debate about its policies. This allowed Mbeki’s controversial questioning of the link between HIV and Aids to delay government’s rollout of comprehensive treatment programme for too long.

South Africa has plenty of catching up to do – and making sure that our next generation is born and raised Aids-free must be at the top of its list of priorities.

The ANC must also realise that solidarity should be expressed with people, not just with other parties and with governments. To do so would be to see Zimbabwe through a very different prism. The government’s refusal to denounce the rape of democracy and state-sponsored violence in our northern neighbour has left the impression that its commitment to human rights is skin-deep.

But what of the rest of the opposition parties which are critical to a functioning multi-party democracy? There are undeniably men and women of good will and great ability in their midst.

Feisty Patricia de Lille deserves a place in Parliament. So does the Democratic Alliance’s Tony Leon, an effective parliamentarian. Without the United Democratic Movement’s leader, Bantu Holomisa, South Africa would be a poorer place. The country’s continued stability demands that Inkatha’s Mangosuthu Buthelezi continue to be regarded as a senior politician.

But, as an institution, the opposition has failed to inspire during this campaign. It has tended to try to distinguish itself by challenging the ruling party from its right.

As a newspaper of liberal ideals and a left-ward economic stance, we cannot support the death penalty, the trampling of worker rights or the early demise of employment equity and broad-based empowerment, which are the standard recipe of the major opposition parties. The Democratic Alliance’s rightish stance on these issues sits uncomfortably with its enlightened social welfare policies, including support for a basic income grant. We strongly support the multiparty principle but that does not mean supporting just any kind of opposition.

The M&G probably identifies most strongly with the ANC’s left-wing allies – but they are not standing in this election. On balance, the ANC is still closest to the newspaper’s core values of constitutionalism, social democracy and non-racialism. Fears have been raised that the ANC will win a two-thirds majority, enabling it to change the Constitution at will. But we should not forget that the gallows, a two-tier labour market and phasing out equity plans will also require constitutional change.

There are no surprises in store for the country next Wednesday, but the real work for the ruling party will begin as soon as Mbeki is inaugurated. We’ll be watching its performance with a keen, critical eye. And both as journalists and South Africans, we look forward to the day when a credible opposition party, with enlightened policies, can challenge the ANC for power through the ballot box.


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