/ 14 June 2024

Editorial: Let maturity reign

February 26 2020 Budget Media Briefing Parliament, Cape Town. Photo By David Harrison
The first sitting of the national assembly will be on Friday. (David Harrison/M&G)

The Mail & Guardian’s editorials have over the years regularly decried South Africa’s puerile political landscape. Too often it has been childish, churlish and driven by self-interest. We treat our politics like we treat our football. A league of teams to slavishly follow, and colours to brandish, despite their performance

We are at our worst when we are at the stadium; boorish and unthinking. It makes for an innocent, great day out … but terrible governance.

And so, more than anything else, we can appreciate the maturity of the last week and a bit. 

The assembly of South Africa’s imminent government of national unity (GNU) has proceeded orderly, for the most part, and brings a semblance of stability to this uncertain moment in our history. 

Those who have demonstrated a willingness to negotiate in good faith will now slot into the leadership infrastructure. Anyone who remains obstinate will be left in the cold.

With chaos so often the chief currency of our times, the achievement is worth tentatively applauding.

Of course, the principal players did not get here on their own speed. The ANC’s stubbornness, defunct introspective ability and failure to clean its own house cost the party its majority. 

On the evidence of the irresolute Ramaphosa years, there would have been no effort to rupture the status quo had voters not compelled it on 29 May.

There is no escaping the cynical reality that a government of national unity is politically expedient for all involved. The ANC retains a grasp on power, the opposition becomes a player in government without making an ideological commitment to a coalition, and everyone is gratified that Jacob Zuma has been kept at bay.

Yet even with those caveats, the resolutions of the past few days demonstrate a rare level of responsibility — and arguably are the closest any alliance could come to constituting the will of the people. 

The point of a representative democracy is to embolden the eclectic views of a nation; at least in theory, the government of national unity protects that mandate.

That is where our praise stops. We expect the new government to work. Ramaphosa has promised that a list of principles will advance “the building of a united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous nation”. 

We have been burned too many times to take those words at face value or take it for granted that the maturity of the past week will sustain itself. We plead with the new representatives of the people to make believers out of us.