One of the most ironic features of liberation movements in Africa is that at some point in their existence they seem to assume characteristics of being both a gift and a curse in the eyes of those they have ‘liberated’. A ‘curse’ in a sense that they seldom, or never, do make manifest of the political promises made to the masses during election campaigns and a ‘gift’ in a sense that, by virtue of being the ‘liberator’, they are guaranteed unwavering patriotism from by the majority of the electorates and it is such tendencies that opposition parties have to contend with in order to establish themselves as credible alternatives in the face of brutal and pompous one-party states led by former liberation movements especially in ‘third’ world countries. Importance of the opposition: Opposition parties are arguably one the most prized tenets of any established or developing democratic dispensation. This is because politics, like almost everything today, require a touch of competition in order to give the voters options of parties with whom they wish to discharge the mandate of leading for a period afforded by the law of the Republic.
The existence of a vibrant and credible opposition in a democratic society is paramount because it has to act as a guardian of the minority’s rights against unjust majority’s dominance, should it occur and above everything else keeps the ruling party on its toes or at least ought to do so. Plenty of times history has demonstrated to us that one-party rule or authoritarian rule usually emerges as a result of an unorganized opposition or one that does not have clearly defined policies except that it scores points from mishaps of the ruling party. Such has been the tendencies of opposition parties in South Africa and the biggest culprit being the Democratic Alliance. Because of blurry policies and a tug of war regarding the ideological course opposition parties ought to take differences arise and almost inevitably breakaway factions are formed which means the certain parts of the electorates which would constitute a threat to a complacent ruling party must be split. This was the case in Zimbabwe when Dr. Arthur Mutambara led a breakaway faction from the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change led by Morgan Tsvangirai and the result, a bitter one, was that MDC didn’t win enough to constitute an overall victory in order to remove President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF from office.
All this occurred because of unrefined policies and routes the opposition should’ve took and so by default the emeritus liberation movement effortlessly remained in power. A sense of entitlement begins to cloud the logic of the leaders of the ruling parties, how else would one explain the outburst made by the then deputy president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma, about his party ruling until the Second Coming of Jesus Christ? Floor-crossing weakened the opposition: The idea of a member crossing the floor to another party without losing a seat seemed like a well thought out and worthwhile exercise when the Democratic Party and New National Party,as the Democratic Alliance, were formulating it as a mechanism of impeding on the African National Congress’s ice rink smooth glide to yet another landslide victory in the run up to the general election. Little did the DA know that the floor crossing idea was nothing but a Frankenstein monster who would come back to defy and consume a chunk of its masters’ political life. In June 2002 floor crossing was legislated and it became lawful for members of parliament to defect to other parties without losing their seats.
Needless to say that such a law severely harmed the opposition parties’ ability to survive the tide of an ANC that was to consolidate itself in the National Assembly were it already was the majority. In 2005 post ‘cross-stitution’ season stood as follows for the different parties: ANC gained 14 seats and lost non thus giving them a total of 293 seats; DA gained 2 seats and lost 5 thereby leaving with a total of 47 seats; IFP lost 5 seats and had a total of 23; UDM lost 3 and were left with 6 seats; ID lost 2 and totaled 5 seats; ACDP lost 3 and were left with 4 seats; PAC and AZAPO were unmoved with 3 and 1 seats respectively, but the biggest loser was the NNP which died out, and all 7 of their seats moving to the ANC and with that the curtains fell on a party which had monopolized the political scene in South Africa for more than 4 decades. Floor crossing has since been repealed and only the ANC came out unscathed and intact and with the head of the opposition bloc on its silver platter.
Contending with the Tripartite Alliance: Most political parties on the African continent, which used to ‘Denzel Washington-lly’ play the role of a liberation movement usually invest heavily in the militarization of their societies in order to turn them into single-party ruled states. Not the ANC of 1912. The ruling party does not have to resort to military tactics in order to get the opposition to ‘behave’. In its greatest hour of need, when opposition parties seem to attempt to give the leadership of the ANC sleepless nights, all the ANC need do is press the tripartite alliance ‘button’ and its trusty steeds of the Left come out guns blazing ready to render an act simply entitled: The relevance of quasi socialism in free market South Africa. The Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party complete the alliance with the ruling party. It’s a relationship forged long ago at the height of oppression and has been dried and tested and has withstood every assault the opposition has thrown their way. And it’s a relationship the ruling party would, arguably, collapse should it cease to exist. More so Cosatu, which is the working class’s most ‘organized’ mouth piece. It is well known that the lion’s share of the ANC’s voter target resides in the working class strata of our society.
The Communist Party by its title sends a clear message of what its aims are. So how does it feature in this political three some? It is quite simple, part of the SACP’s mandate is to retain skeptics who might wish to cast their vote to parties that are aspirant socialists. They do this by ‘formulating’ policies that preach ‘socialism’ and sell them by asking ANC leavers, why they seek a ‘socialist’ party when they have communist representing them in the alliance? The fact that the ruling party has unwavering support of labour and working class constituents means that the part can take risks and experiment with people’s livelihood and not lose a moment of their sleep on their luxurious gravy train of free market enterprise and access to lucrative tenders for all past participators in the mzabalazo. Surely when the writing begins to clarify itself on the wall of reality about the fact that the majority of working class folk have been fed lies like infants suckling milk from implanted breasts, a few strikes and marches will be organized by Cosatu and SACP. Quotations from the freedom charter of old will be cited and praise poets of the marginalized: Zwelinzima Vavi and Blade Nzimande will hand over memorandums and tell the angry workers and unemployed to leave it in their capable hands in the alliance.
The monolith that is the alliance triplicates the tasks that lie ahead of opposition parties and their quest to reach out and sell their ideas to the greater populous. Potential meat on the opposition bone: The DA: Former DA leader, Tony Leon, was quoted, by Zwelethu Jolobe in his paper: ‘Thing fall apart, can the centre hold?’ The state of coalition politics in the Cape Metropolitan Council, (HSRC Press 2006), as saying “We are going to give our democracy the best 10th birthday present it could hope for: we are going to create a genuine two-party system. We are going to give people a real choice, and we are going to give government a real run for its money”. Unfortunately such bold and ambitious outburst were met by megre policies in the DA. The DA which, since 1994, has deeply rooted itself as the official opposition has not done enough beyond playing watch dog to the ANC every move and pragmatically casting its net wide enough to catch the attention of voters are not from affluent backgrounds. Not only does the party have to scramble for a micro percentage of votes not claimed by the ANC, it also has to deal with the politics of race. This is because the DA has positioned itself as a spokesperson for the white community, a move which has seen them lose potential votes of black people in the middle class level of the income group and who’ve escaped the hypnosis the ruling party has on the previously disadvantaged.
Recently when parlianment members were about to elect the new president, the DA nominated a man they rejected as a presidential hopeful Joe Seremane. So why have him ‘contesting’ Republic presidency when they didn’t want him to lead them. It is such uncalculated move that cost them a chance of being a threat beyond just metropolitan politics. The ID: Patricia De Lille’s struggle credentials speak volumes. It is this lady who first broke the need for a thorough assessment of the arms deal. She heads an effective party called the Independent Democrats. Unfortunately for her, the greater believers in the party are the minority Coloured community and largely based in the Western Cape. The IFP, UDM and FF plus: The Freedom Front plus is an Afrikaner based party, which slugs it out with the DA on the white terrain. They are not much of a threat to the ruling party. The difference between the Inkatha Freedom Party and United Democratic Movement is that their support bases speak isiZulu and isiXhosa respectively. They are provincial threat in the Eastern Cape and Kwa Zulu Natal. The PAC and AZAPO: If well organized these would probably be the opposition parties that would be able to give the ANC a problem. But they are seen as too radical and unable to attract voter confidence.
The Pan Africanist Congress has two faction led by the Letlapa Mphahlele and Thami Ka Plaatjie and the Azanian People’s Organization have one seat in the National Assembly and their president , Mosibudi Mangena, has been enticed and diluted by a cabinet position as minister of science and technology. Conclusion Taking into consideration what I’ve attempted to out line in the afore passages it makes sense why the opposition muscle in South African politics has to be strengthened. We have seen examples of one party rule in the post Polokwane mayhem when the new ANC leadership dictated for the quick dissolution of the Directorate Of Special operations and the bill that gave parlianment the authority to say who shall assume power of the national broadcaster’s board of directors. And to a certain extent the manner in which the ruling party undermines the public’s submissions during public hearings. The worst assault would be the creation of a media tribunal which has been mooted time and again. I am not saying the that the ruling party is on a quest to make life unbearable for the citizens of the Republic, but that if they are not given a reason to keep their game up they will relax, because nothing would be disturbing the status quo. Opposition parties are an asset to any democratic dispensation and their continued existence, even if they are second fiddle to the ‘rulers’, insures in a way that tomorrow never dies.