OPINION: No credible alternatives in the political landscape
Image Credits : Dini Mekuto


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This election has seen more than its fair share of opportunism and even outright farce. On the liberal end of the spectrum the portfolio of liberal parties funded by a small group of white billionaires took a heavy hit when the Change Starts Now project fronted by Roger Jardine collapsed in ignominy. The DA hit its well-worn self-destruct button with an advertisement showing the burning of the national flag and Rize Mzansi’s failure to fully explain its funding and relation to the Rivonia Circle led to questions being asked about its possible connections to right wing and pro-West actors such as the Brenthurst Foundation.

Of course lack of clarity about funding, and the possibility of links to malign actors, are not unique to the liberal parties. Durban is thick with rumours about who funds MK but voters will go to the polls with no real information about who funds a party led by a confirmed kleptocrat with extreme right-wing views on social questions who enjoys politics as a militarised spectacle.

In Claremont, in Durban, T-shirts were being sold with images of Zuma and Putin. It is not clear if these are official T-shirts or not, but even if they are not it does show that anti-democratic forms of authoritarian nationalism are, ironically, competing for our votes with a promise to put an end to democracy as we know it.

In essence the electoral alternatives to the ANC are mostly a set of liberal parties funded by white capital or authoritarian and kleptocratic nationalists quite possibly funded by dubious actors, most likely people hoping to get back to looting the state.

The left is simply out of the game. There is no social democratic or socialist party on the ballot and although large numbers of people are members of trade unions, and the shack dwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo is rapidly expanding across the country, none of the popular organisations of the left have been able to build a party.

The Labour Party associated with Joseph Mathunjwa was not able to get on the ballot and there is no evidence that it enjoys any sort of popular support at all. However, bizarrely, some of the tiny left organisations did support the party on the basis that a worker’s party must be progressive. The Labour Party was known to be closely associated with the Alternative Information and Development Centre (AIDC) in Cape Town although the exact nature of the relationship is not clear and the Marxist Workers Party, a tiny sectarian outfit, gave it enthusiastic support.

This was always bizarre. AMCU is notoriously undemocratic, has never been an organisation of the left and has frequently been described as a ‘gangster union’. The union denies this but the allegations come from many quarters and are consistent in their content.

Zuma was president of the country when the Marikana massacre happened in 2012, and it was the EFF that rushed to support the striking workers after the massacre. It would seem logical for the Labour Party to have supported by the EFF but instead they have announced that they will support Zuma’s MK party. The logic of this has not been made clear but the factions of the left that saw some progressive potential in Mathunjwa and the Labour Party now have very large amounts of egg on their faces.

Unions are not inherently progressive. Global experience shows that they can also be corrupt, opportunistic and right-wing. The same is true of movements of the poor. In India the Hindu fascists have a strong base among the urban poor. Progressive politics does not automatically flow from one’s position in a class hierarchy. It comes from progressive commitments and there has never been any evidence that Mathunjwa or AMCU hold such commitments.

For some years now workers have been deserting AMCU in droves and it’s quite possible that the party announced by Mathunjwa is a one man show existing only in name. Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that AMCU members will follow Mathunjwa’s lead in terms of their voting choices.

NUMSA is a democratic union with elected leaders and yet its members did not automatically rally behind the union’s now defunct social party in the 2019 election. The lesson of that debacle is that a union cannot expect that its members will automatically follow its direction when it comes to electoral politics. Getting some sort of consensus among members of a union on who to vote for would takes months if not years of intense political work. The Labour Party has clearly not done this work and has turned out to be a farce.

We find ourselves in a situation where our democracy is certainly vibrant with a cacophony of competing parties and personalities. We are certainly very far from being anything like the one party states that so many former colonised countries became after national liberation. This is a good thing.

However, the larger of the parties that are challenging the power of the ANC are either funded by white capital or, presumably, people who are making investments in kleptocratic politics with the intention of getting a good return on their investment. And while the vast bulk of South Africans remain poor there is no real party of the left, no real party of the poor and the working class.

A vibrant democracy is not necessarily a democracy that can function in the interests of the people. For that we need democratic parties with popular constituencies, parties in which leaders take their mandates from party members. This will not be achieved if we do not break the power of money over our politics and put an end to the secrecy about party funding. We also need to build a left party that can challenge both the authoritarian and kleptocratic nationalists and the liberals.

We head into this election without any genuinely credible alternatives for those who wish to vote against the ANC. We need to fix this before the next election rolls around.

Dr Imraan Buccus is a Senior Research Associate at ASRI and a Research Fellow at DUT

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