Opinion | The revolution must start with civil society


Opinion | The revolution must start with civil society

South Africa needs a popular tsunami to oust the ANC next year. But a change in government doesn't start with political parties, says CORNÉ MULDER, one of the movers behind talks about an opposition coalition.

  • 21 July 2023
  • Free Speech
  • 7 min to read
  • article 3 of 25
  • Corné Mulder

I SERVE in parliament as the chief whip of the Freedom Front Plus. I find myself as the longest-serving MP. It’s terrible, I have been there for many, many years.

Some of you may remember that there was a person called PW Botha. When I came to parliament, he was still the president and I saw him go. Then I saw FW De Klerk take over and the transition in 1994 with Nelson Mandela. Then came Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma, and finally Cyril Ramaphosa.

I intend to stay there until Cyril is gone as well, and until we have replaced the ANC with a multi-party coalition government that can change this country for the better.

That is not going to be easy, and my concern is that we are underestimating the ANC. If we do not do this the right way, we will not defeat the ANC. I don’t think it has any inclination whatsoever to let go of power.

I don’t think the ANC is a democratic institution. I don’t think it believes in democracy. We’ve seen it in action in the metros where it was defeated, and where we were able to form coalitions.

I can assure you it has done everything legally and almost illegally to try to destabilise those coalition governments. So if we think it is going to be plain sailing getting the ANC out of government next year, we are in for a very rude awakening.

The fundamental question is this: Are we serious about trying to get the ANC out of government? If we are, we should understand what the challenge really means. It’s not going to be a question of, “well, let’s see how things develop, let’s go to the polls next year, let’s all vote and see what is going to happen".

I have been involved with the coalition project for quite a while because I have believed in coalitions for many years. And our proportional representation electoral system is supposed to lead to coalitions,  because a single party is not supposed to get more than 50% of the vote. It is abnormal.

If you look internationally, you’ll see that in Germany, for example, one party may end up with 34% of the vote and form the government. We have had an abnormal government since 1994, with  one party continuously polling above 50%. Luckily, it is now coming to an end, and that gives us the opportunity to form a coalition government.

It's important to understand that coalitions are only formed after the election. You can’t form them before the election because you don’t know what the outcome will be.

But one thing I do know is that after 30 years, it is time to get the ANC out of government. Completely out. It has had its chance. It had the best opportunities in the world to make a success of this country, and it messed it up.

It must go, in totality. If we do not do that, I am very concerned. I don’t think we can afford a further five years of ANC mismanagement and everything that goes with that.

So, if we want to be successful, we are talking about regime change in 10 months from now. 

That is not a very long time. And if we don’t do it the right way, we will not succeed. We will frustrate the electorate and send this country down a spiral for a further five years

So, what do we need to do? It is no use rearranging the 35% of the electorate who vote for opposition parties. It is a waste of time.

It is also no use to try to form a coalition around political parties alone. It will not succeed. It is no use if one party gets 2% more and another gets 1% less. So what? We will have achieved nothing.

The success of regime change starts with civil society, not with the political parties. And unless we can get all of civil society involved, we will not succeed in 2024. 

Before the ’94 process, there was an organisation called the United Democratic Front. It was a broad church of civil society: churches, trade unions, academics, the business community, individuals, you name it. Everyone got involved to achieve regime change by getting rid of the  National Party.

Unless we do that once more, we will not succeed. 

The time has come, in all sectors of society, for leaders and individuals to stand up and say: “I will do this, I will get involved. We have crossed the Rubicon and we need regime change in 2024."

We need to get that broad civil society process of a new UDF going now. It should create a tsunami effect in South Africa where everyone gets involved.

If people are not registered, they cannot vote; and if they cannot vote, they mean nothing. They can write a letter to the press but it is irrelevant. They  need to vote, and before they can do that they need to register.

This kind of broad church needs to stoke enthusiasm among South Africans to go out and register. Each individual must take responsibility. Are you registered, is your family registered, are all your friends registered? That’s step one.

There are four groups we need to focus on, starting with young people, those between 18 and 35, who have opted out of the system, who are not registered, who do not participate in politics.

The second group is older people who have also opted out of the system. They are mainly Afrikaans, many of them white people who say “it is not going to make any difference". We have to get them back into the system.

The third group is the approximately one-third of ANC supporters who are disillusioned with their own party. We need to convince them to support a new beginning. But we must do that the right way. These voters will not necessarily join some of the current political parties. But they may use other forms and other vehicles.

The last group is expatriates, people living abroad, who will vote and support this kind of approach. 

We have to get this broad church going. It should have a name, it should have an emblem, a logo, and everyone should get involved.

This broad movement should subscribe to five or 10 basic principles; those things that define international best practices and successful countries, principles such as a free market, the guarantee of property rights, non-racialism, the rule of law. Go and make that list.

Then, the political parties that identify with these principles should apply to this “UDF" and ask to join.

What will happen then? The electorate and the public will know which parties are prepared to support this process. Those parties will have their own campaigns, with posters carrying the logo of this broader entity. That way, voters will know they can still cast their ballots for the party of their choice, but after the election it will be part of a broader coalition that will govern the country in terms of these principles.

If we are not serious about this, we are fooling the public and wasting our time. The winner will be the ANC because it will  continue in power.

Our people need hope, they need a new beginning, and they need to be convinced that this country can be the best in Africa if not the world.

We’ve got all the potential, everything is here. But our people have lost hope; they don’t think it can be done.

It can be done, but only if the political parties get over themselves. Political leaders must understand that it is not about them, it is about the people.

It can be done. Help us.

*This opinion piece is based on remarks Mulder made last week at the State of the Nation conference in Sandton.

♦ VWB ♦

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