Shooting for the moon — but is there enough fuel in the rocket?

PHAKAMISA MAYABA / If the Multi-Party Charter for SA (colloquially known as the Moonshot Pact) could be viewed as DA leader John Steenhuisen’s biggest political move, the reportage in its wake was rather unenthused, far from convinced, and even derisive. Held at the same venue as the CODESA negotiations, perhaps it was because of the brazen allusion that South Africa had reached a critical turning point: the ‘failed’ ANC due to lose its ruling party status in next year’s general elections, as was the fate of the erstwhile National Party back in 1994.

iSANCO president Zukile Luyenge went as far as calling the moment “our 1994.” Or maybe because, for the traditional voter, the whole exercise – admittedly unprecedented in recent times – was somewhat unusual. Weird, even.

Those attuned to South Africa’s unwritten but entrenched social engineering would’ve jibed about how the bigwigs had to suffer each other’s presence for long enough to ensure that there were no walkouts – as happened at CODESA with the IFP. Were they dancing to a compilation of Mbaqanga and Koos Kombuis, with the late Mandoza thrown in – just to make sure the “crossover” message of a New-New South Africa was cool enough?

Brandy or Mqombothi at the afterparty? Might Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi, leader of Inkatha at CODESA, have offered his successor any behind-the-scenes advice on how to conduct oneself cordially when you’re not getting your way at the negotiation table?

To walk, or not to walk? IFP president Velenkosi Hlabisa at the Multi-Party Convention. Image: IFP Facebook page.

Oh! the creative madness of social media … On a serious note, though, this event and its ramifications have been fashioned as something of an election D-Day, where numbers count, and you can’t afford to have any misgivings about your fellow man’s trustworthiness. At this motley gathering, questions arose on whether the haphazard marriage could hold it together. Whether the overnight honeymoon wherein certain parties who had yet to iron out their kinks were possibly going headlong and naively into an engagement that was essentially headed for the rocks.

After all, some of these parties have had to contend with accusations of harbouring self-serving laager/tribal interests. Others are perceived as nothing more than liberals whose policies have no idea what this term actually means. Among the unfamiliar names were a few that we’d never seen, let alone heard of before, all gathered to bury the hatchet and speak in the mutual cause of wresting the baton of power from the seemingly indomitable ANC. The new guys on the block include the Spectrum National Party, the Independent South African National Civic Organisation (iSANCO), and ActionSA, which has enjoyed some success in the 2021 local government elections.

Yet amid all the pomp and pageantry, the carpeted foyers, and impassioned addresses, one thing was clear: getting the “fifty-plus-one” majority at next year’s general election would be no pap en vleis. Certainly not among the bevy of wine-swilling communists and socialists who make up the ranks of the Liberation Movement. SACP secretary general Solly Mapaila was amongst the first to voice his dissatisfaction.

Not a fan of the Multi-Party Charter — SACP secretary general Solly Mapaila. Image: SACP Facebook page.

Between lambasting government for being adept in organising extravagant summits but failing to fix rampant domestic troubles like crime and unemployment, he was, not  unexpectedly, more than a tad scathing about the Multi-Party endeavour. Declared Mapaila in City Press: “We see the reincarnation of apartheid and bantustan forces coming together with a sole mission to remove the liberation movement [from power], and not just a revolution movement as represented by the ANC. The liberation movement is bigger than the ANC … It is the very system of our society that is being contested.”

Fair enough. After all, symbolism and politics are hardly mutually exclusive, and as we have so often argued, not to have one’s fingers firmly on the nation’s pulse is foolhardy for anybody in leadership. Go to Europe, or Asia, or virtually anywhere else in the world, and it is Europeans or Asians or whatever majority grouping that usually runs those governments. Why would anybody feel that those norms would not figure, or that people would not tend to always gravitating towards being led by people who look and sound like them in South Africa? Or are thirty years of democracy enough to sway attitudes over to the alternative? Only the voters will decide, I suppose.

That said, even combined, the numbers mustered by the three parties that have previously competed in general elections — – the IFP, DA and Freedom Front Plus (FF+) – fall way short. Collectively, they managed around 26% of votes cast in the last election, while the ruling ANC bagged around 57%. As such, there is talk of roping in other opposition parties as well as tapping into the vast pool of the 17 or so million voters who didn’t bother casting their votes in 2019. For Steenhuisen, wooing this demographic is crucial.

The disquieting matter of an ANC-EFF coalition, if not at the core of the Pact, has clearly given the Multi-Party sleepless nights – the spectre of Julius Malema and Cyril Ramaphosa agreeing to put their differences aside over single malts and Ankole steaks at Phala Phala. As the smaller party in that friendship, Juju being rewarded with the critical position of leader in government business; moving swiftly for the nationalisation of mines and central bank while cradling a toy R5 rifle, and singing that infamous song.

The sheer thought of which would be enough to see many more people queueing at OR Tambo for the first plane out of here. Or perhaps the comrades will make him an offer so good that the man from Limpopo will find the reasonable guy in him and even stop heckling the opposition in parliament. Stranger things have happened.

For now, though, the Multi-Party is limited to doing what all parties usually do as election season gets under way — make promises. Assure South Africans that it is working in their best interests. Putting the people first. Ensuring that merit will count for something in this new order. All sound good. But of course, we’ve been here often enough not to get too excited. In fact, the one thing that disappointed this writer was how these talks seemed dominated by men in suits. “Where,” he wondered, “are all the articulate women who often represent these parties across all spheres of government?” Gender parity, gents — remember, it’s 2024 and not 1994.

This is an edited version of an article that first appeared on Phakamisa Mahlaba’s website, eParkeni.

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