/ 13 June 2023

Magic formula: Maimane, Mashaba and Zibi working together

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In the landscape of South African politics, we witness the rise of various splinter groups and political formations, each presenting their own vision for the country.

Despite their like-mindedness on various socio-economic and political matters, these groups struggle to consolidate their respective visions and establish a viable alternative.

Instead, they often fall into the trap of portraying themselves as custodians of hegemonic power rather than true societal servants. This phenomenon not only delays the execution of the democratic revolution but also hampers the progress towards a more inclusive and prosperous South Africa.

Let us analyse the speeches of three prominent leaders: Songezo Zibi of RISE Mzansi, Herman Mashaba of ActionSA and Mmusi Maimane of Build One SA. While each leader presents a distinct vision for South Africa, there are notable similarities in their rhetoric that reflect their inclination towards hegemonic power custodianship.

Zibi delivered a speech at Constitution Hill during the media launch of RISE Mzansi. He eloquently painted a picture of the struggles faced by rural towns and townships. He emphasised the story of Mqanduli as a representation of colonial dispossession, apartheid spatial exclusion, racist oppression and political neglect. These injustices, coupled with a loss of faith in the current political system marred by corruption and arrogance, underscored the urgent need for change. Zibi’s call for a shared vision, values and a united front in pursuit of justice, freedom, equality, solidarity and integrity resonated with those who yearn for a revived South African dream.

Maimane drew upon biblical symbolism to rally support for Build One SA. He compared himself to the prophet Moses, highlighting the need for a visionary leader to rescue South Africa from the grip of political oppression.

Maimane’s emphasis on education and job creation as the foundation for progress aligned with the aspirations of a nation longing for economic justice and upward mobility. By rejecting traditional ideologies and embracing radical centrism rooted in ubuntu values, Maimane sought to transcend divisive politics and unite South Africans under a common goal. 

Mashaba wove a compelling narrative of a future South Africa defined by hope, prosperity, and shared opportunity.

Invoking the words of Martin Luther King Jr, he envisioned a dynamic and vibrant economy where all South Africans would be equal participants. He emphasised the historical marginalisation of the black majority, highlighting the pressing need to break free from corruption and implement policies that unlock economic opportunities. Mashaba’s emphasis on community, ubuntu and the inclusion of diverse voices resonated with those who sought an alternative that went beyond political rhetoric.

Common themes and rhetoric

Recognition of past and present problems: All three leaders acknowledge the historical and present-day struggles faced by South Africans. Zibi speaks of colonial injustices. Maimane refers to the leverage of the Egyptian pharaohs and the struggles of the past. Mashaba mentions the painful past and the marginalisation of the black majority.

Critique of the current political system: The leaders express dissatisfaction with the current state of politics in South Africa. Zibi criticises the corruption, arrogance of power and the lack of people’s mandate. Maimane states that parliamentarians are dragging their feet in reforming the Electoral Act. Mashaba highlights the implementation of legislation that benefits a politically connected elite while leaving the majority struggling.

Focus on inclusive prosperity: All three leaders emphasise the importance of prosperity and equal opportunities for all South Africans. Zibi envisions a prosperous and united South Africa, while Maimane pledges to focus on inclusive education and equal job creation. Mashaba speaks of a dynamic and vibrant economy where prosperity is shared by all.

Call for political reform and new leadership: Zibi argues for political reform and a reset of the nation-building project. Maimane calls for radical centrism and a rejection of divisive politics. Mashaba presents ActionSA as a solutions-based alternative to the failed policies of the current government, driven by the voices of South Africans and policy experts.

Commitment to community and ubuntu: Both Maimane and Mashaba emphasise the importance of community and ubuntu values. Maimane’s Build One SA focuses on working with and for the community, while Mashaba envisions a South Africa where people care for each other in the spirit of Ubuntu.

Hegemonic power custodianship

But beyond their shared recognition of the problems, these leaders prioritise the acquisition of political power as the means to implement change. In Zibi’s speech, he emphasises the need for political power to achieve the vision and sweeping changes proposed by RISE Mzansi.

He criticises the current state of politics. Emphasising that “there is not a single major political party today that can claim to have a programme to build national unity in South Africa. Not one,” Zibi argues for a political reform programme to bring democracy back to the people and build a capable state. These elements reflect a desire for political power and the portrayal of RISE Mzansi as the custodian of that power to bring about change.

Maimane positions himself as a rescuer, invoking the biblical figure of Moses who saved the Israelites from oppression. He pledges to make Build One SA differently from other political parties as an umbrella movement that supports a constituency-based electoral system. He calls for a return of power to the people and aims to protect the weakest and most vulnerable citizens. This rhetoric of rescue, differentiation and community-centred leadership reinforces the perception of Maimane and Build One SA as custodians of power.

Mashaba uses the rhetoric of prosperity, hope and imagination to present ActionSA’s vision for a future South Africa. He criticises legislation that enriches a new politically connected elite while leaving the marginalised majority struggling. Mashaba paints a picture of a healed and prosperous South Africa.

His dream would revive the South African vision of 1994, and “share ActionSA’s vision for an inclusive and prosperous future for South Africa”. He positions his party as a solutions-based alternative driven by the voices of South Africans and policy experts. This rhetoric portrays Mashaba as a custodian of power, offering a vision of a better future under his leadership.

These leaders’ speeches exhibit common themes of political power, representation and the promise of a better South Africa. They present themselves as the custodians of that power, offering visions of change and prosperity. But the problem lies in the difficulty of consolidating these visions and missions into an alternative because of the individual ambitions and lack of collaboration among these like-minded groups. The desire for power and the focus on individual parties hinder the progress towards a unified and transformative movement that can truly challenge the status quo and bring about the democratic revolution South Africa needs.

Magic formula

While political power is undoubtedly crucial for effecting change, there is a lack of emphasis on collaboration and unity among the like-minded political formations. The emphasis on contesting elections, registering as a political party and acquiring power reflects a desire for self-interests rather than a genuine commitment to serve the people.

To establish an alternative, these splinter groups must overcome their inclination towards custodianship. Leaders such as Zibi, Maimane and Mashaba can form a unified executive inspired by the Swiss magic executive formula. By collectively holding executive power and making decisions collaboratively, they can demonstrate a commitment to shared governance, inclusivity and cooperation. This approach would integrate diverse perspectives, leverage the strengths of each leader and foster effective policymaking and implementation. 

The democratic revolution requires a commitment to the principles of justice, freedom, equality, solidarity, and integrity, as Zibi highlights. Only by recognising the need for a shared purpose and working together can these like-minded groups overcome their differences, consolidate their visions and missions, and establish an alternative that brings about the transformative change South Africa needs.

Zimkhitha Manyana lectures international relations at the University of the Witwatersrand and is pursuing his PhD in political science at the University of Johannesburg.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.