In a recent ANC Today, President Kgalema Motlanthe rehashes an article he wrote in the run up to the 1999 elections in which he criticised the then DP’s calls to prevent a two-thirds majority as “a fear of democracy”. In that decade-old piece he said:
Lacking a coherent or realisable vision for a better South Africa, these parties have fallen back on the promotion of fear to erode the ANC’s support and to generate a mood of resistance to meaningful change.
The ‘swart gevaar’ and ‘rooi gevaar’, now devoid of their previous menace, have mutated into the two-thirds gevaar.
If fear is the opposition’s most enduring weapon, then a two-thirds ANC majority is their latest ammunition.
He adds a postscript:
In the decade since this article was first published, the ANC has in fact held a two-thirds majority in Parliament. In all this time it has not used this majority to change the Constitution in the way that these opposition parties predicted. It is has no intention to do so now. This is the Constitution for which the ANC fought, and we will continue to do everything we can to defend it.
That is a blatant lie. With cabinet’s approval of the Seventeenth Constitutional Amendment Bill, we can see why the electorate depriving the ANC of its ability to change the Constitution is imminently sensible and vital for the sustainability of our democracy.
The bill seeks to grant wide-ranging powers to central government to intervene in the operations of local government, thereby wholly undermining local government’s constitutionally-mandated autonomy. Government is claiming it will use the bill to speed up service delivery and force municipalities to accept the role of Regional Electricity Distributors (REDs) – until now, these have been reluctant to do so, as they buy electricity straight from Eskom. But the problem with the bill is that it would give power to do much more than that. As a Sapa article mentions:
Asked why the proposed amendment did not limit itself to letting central government intervene on electricity, Maseko said the State might later need greater powers in other areas and did not want to change the Constitution constantly.
“We don’t want to amend the Constitution on an almost annual basis. If we did, it would stop providing certainty. So we thought it was better to give government the powers and trust… it will not use the powers willy-nilly.”
Past behaviour is no guarantee for the future. Just because the ANC hasn’t substantively changed the Constitution in the past does not mean that it won’t do so in the future. This much is illustrated with the current amendment bill, where the resulting unwarranted accumulation of power in the hands of central government could prevent opposition-run councils from governing unimpeded by central government interference.
With the ANC having tried their utmost to topple Cape Town’s opposition-run council (including a bid by former Local Government MEC Richard Dyantyi to strip Helen Zille of her executive mayoralty), the DA has every reason to be worried. Its Stop Zuma campaign aims to turn out enough people to prevent potential abuses of power that a two-thirds majority – and hence the ability to change the Constitution – would thus enable. Unfortunately some people claim this is irrational hysteria – “swart-gevaar” tactics by any other name. To the uninformed or the blindly bigoted, it may come across that way. But it’s not.
The DA’s track record and vision proves that its vociferous campaigning against a two-thirds ANC victory is for the right reasons. Unfortunately, though, in focusing so zealously on Zuma — which doubtless is of vital importance — an insufficient emphasis on the DA’s ideals, vision and manifesto has resulted.
For people to know that the DA isn’t the reactionary, racist minority party that Motlanthe and the ANC like to depict it as, the DA needs to work harder to put across its vision to the millions who (by dint of the SABC’s propaganda and insufficient access to information) remain unaware of what the party represents.
In advocating an “Open Opportunity Society”, the DA aims to achieve sustainable transformation by encouraging innovation not by rewarding party loyalty. Its policies, especially with regards to the challenges of dismantling the legacy of apartheid (which the ANC has entrenched), is informed by “a clear acknowledgment that there is a long history of racial discrimination and oppression in South Africa, that it was wrong and that positive action is now required to make it right. That positive action must be targeted at individuals who still suffer the effects of discrimination, not at groups. It must provide opportunity to the disadvantaged without shutting off opportunity to the advantaged.”
This is why the DA is a proponent of an Income Grant of R110 per month for people earning less than R46000 a year. This is why it proposes a voucher system “aimed at giving the most academically promising 250 000 children from low income families the opportunity to receive a better school education.” This is why it suggests giving “young South Africans who meet certain conditions an opportunity voucher, which will allow them to subsidise study costs or start a business.”
And if the proof indeed is in the pudding, then its record thus far as the largest party in the City of Cape Town’s ruling coalition is very promising. The City wrote off R1.5 billion worth of debt owed to it by the poorest of the poor. It has provided free water and electricity to impoverished areas ignored by the ANC when it was in power. It has also more than doubled the rate at which council housing is being delivered.
Both its manifesto and track record of governing Cape Town prove that the DA is a viable, prinicpled alternative to the ruling party — far from being an ethnically-based minority party seeking to deny apartheid’s painful legacy and only promoting the interests of one population segment.
Campaigning to stop Zuma from potential abuses of power is important and should doubtless be a key part of the DA’s campaign messaging. But for if the DA is to ever build critical mass, it needs to focus on getting the message through to the electorate that not only does it oppose Zuma, it is a better alternative to him and the party he leads — better for poor people, better for rich people: better for all South Africans.