If you like sausages, you shouldn’t watch them being made. This aphorism aptly applies to our country’s transition to democracy. History teaches us that the making of democracy everywhere is a messy, often unappetising business. There is no single recipe for success. Some transitions fail.
Today Business Day was the first to publish Helen Zille’s article on politics: Malema poses both a threat and an opportunity to South Africans who want to keep Nelson Mandela’s non-racial and inclusive legacy alive
The entire article should be viewed or downloaded but here are some extracts courtesy of Business Day.
Threat to constitution
First, let’s acknowledge the threat.
Malema is dangerous because he taps into a rich vein of resentment and anger, particularly among many marginalised and unemployed young people. He gives their rage a voice. He relieves their sense of impotence. He offers quick-fix solutions to complex problems. And he absolves people from any personal responsibility by blaming a wide spectrum of scapegoats.
On the surface, it seems as if Malema is waging an indiscriminate war to build his profile and power base. But if one looks beyond the rhetoric, it is clear that Malema is doing battle with our constitution.
Power broker and huge opportunity at centre
If the ANC Youth League holds the balance of power, Julius Malema will be the power broker. Whoever is elected will hold the position on Malema’s terms. My current prediction is that the youth league replaces Gwede Mantashe with Fikile Mbalula, but retains Jacob Zuma as a figurehead.
This scenario would be deeply depressing if it were not for the huge opportunity Malema has opened at the centre of South African politics. Malema’s ANC has left a vacuum which was once filled by Nelson Mandela and everything he symbolises. His values of nonracialism, inclusivity, reconciliation and redress are looking for a new home. The Democratic Alliance (DA) embraced these values, clearly and authentically, during this year’s election. But that was just the beginning.
Realignment of politics
But the realignment of politics goes far beyond established parties. It involves the whole of society, and this process, too, is well under way. In fact, the rest of society is probably ahead of political parties on the issue of realignment. Malema has shaken people out of their lethargy and created a new energy among many to take responsibility for protecting the gains of our transition and reversing the setbacks. The Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution is one such example and, with many others, could play a pivotally important facilitating role in the realignment process.
I have no doubt that, when the chips are down, most South Africans will rally to protect the gains of the past 17 years and work for a shared and equitable future.
But this collective energy will dissipate if it occurs in the absence of a credible and practical plan to address SA’s biggest single challenge — the crisis of unemployment and poverty. A clear plan, that galvanises people across boundaries, both in civil society and politics, is the only antidote to Malema’s economic populism and racial nationalism.