HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsAfrica 2012 – When minds meet – people, party and state

Africa 2012 – When minds meet – people, party and state

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April represents a special historical month for South Africa, Africa’s largest economy, and Zimbabwe, a celebrity country that is now a global household name perhaps for the wrong reasons, but nevertheless an important African address.

Both countries will celebrate 18 and 32 years of democracy and independence, respectively. They are neighbours separated by a river, but share a common history and their future is inextricably linked.

The African National Congress (ANC), a party that turned 100 on January 8 2012, was elected four times to put its representatives in the state. Its representatives have been in charge of the state for the last 18 years.

The party has entrusted four individuals with the right to lead the state. The first President was Nelson Mandela, followed by Thabo Mbeki and then briefly by Kgalema Mothlante and now by Jacob Zuma.

With respect to Zimbabwe, the last 32 years has been dominated by Zanu PF, whose first son in government has been President Mugabe for the entire journey.

As is the case in any democracy, the people are sovereign and the legitimacy of any representative form of government must necessarily be premised on their consent. We can assume that the post-colonial and post-apartheid construction of the State and the character that the State has taken represents the aspirations of the majority of the people in whose name the liberation struggles were waged in many of the African states.

If we accept that the business case for any political non-governmental organisation (NGO) is to seize State power and use it to better the lives of the majority then we are compelled to reflect on the journey travelled to determine whether the outcomes reflect the aspirations of the majority.

It is easy to establish a political party for when a few minds meet and agree that they shall be available to offer themselves to represent people who share the same vision, a political party can be formed.

The post-colonial experience has produced its own institutions, but what is significant is that parties that fail to win the support of the majority and, therefore, seize state power, typically face insurmountable financial, logistical, security and other challenges.

The viability of any NGO must be based on the support of its members and yet regrettably many of Africa’s NGOs, including political parties, survive on the generosity of non-members who are principally foreign.

The financial health of Africa’s political institutions is to a large extent miserable largely because the business of politics has been sufficiently undermined by the perceived behaviour of the few that have invested in the career of politics. Career politicians are difficult to convince that their knowledge does not represent the universe.

In the case of Zimbabwe and South Africa, one would expect to see dynamic organisations in which renewal of faces and ideas is automatic and seamless.

Political NGOs by construction and performance are underpinned by volunteers and yet in reality such institutions are sustained by financial blackmail and other tactics premised on a quid pro quo arrangement in which it is possible to buy influence through financial contributions.

If one were to audit the financial books of Africa’s governing parties, I have no doubt that one would be shocked to find the perilous state in which the finances are in.

Notwithstanding, organisations that are incapable of putting together business models to sustain themselves are easily trusted to lead the State and the people to a destination characterised by responsibility, accountability, prosperity and equality.

The people should govern, but in reality political NGOs are controlled and managed in a mafia style in which the will of the members is subordinated to the will of the few wise men and women.

The structure of many political NGOs in a hierarchical manner limits the space for democracy.

In the case of South Africa, it is easy to appreciate the current state of ANC not only because Julius Malema must fully be aware that the party is institutionally weak, but more significantly that the voice is more important than action in shaping the character of the party and nation.

After 100 years of existence, it is instructive the party faced significant logistical and financial challenges in hosting the anniversary and more importantly in effectively and efficiently managing its affairs.

Although the policy of non-racialism and non-sexism exists, in reality white South Africans and foreign-born nationals have largely chosen to remain outside the political bus and in so doing surrender their future to the few minds that have made a business and career case out of politics.

A political NGO ought to provide a platform for members to exchange ideas and also to set up mutual aid benefit associations that can make it attractive for non members to join. Regrettably, Africa’s political NGOs outside the state have little to show for their existence.

When minds meet to debate the political and national questions, they invariably look to the state to do that which they are incapable of doing as card-carrying members.

There is no reason why, for instance, Zanu PF members could not set up their own New Mutual instead of looking to Old Mutual as a source of salvation.

If Phillip Chiyangwa had any doubt that his participation in Zanu PF has nothing to do with the will of the people he sought to represent, the decision by the politburo to reject his election as vice-chairman of Mashonaland West confirms that for one to be relevant it is important to invest in being understood not by the masses, but by the party brand custodians.

People must come first, but the reality suggests otherwise. The people are usually reduced to instruments that are then used as a football by political players whose eyes are fixed on State power for the benefit of the few who are lucky to ride in politically driven wagons. The wagons of political actors are typically filled with close associates.

The state is a creature of citizens. Its viability depends on the involuntary transfers of income collected either from direct or indirect taxation.
The social contract in which many states are located suggests that state actors must act in the interests of the people that finance the state in as much as political actors must act in the interests of the people that create and give legitimacy to them.

Party members typically represent a small segment of the population and yet when such members are placed in the state they rarely reflect on the true meaning of state power and how it should be discharged in the interests of inspiring people to believe that their personal futures are prosperous and secure.

After 32 years of independence, the outcomes in Zimbabwe are obvious, but little attention is focused on broadening the conversation points beyond the historically determined class and racial relationships. A better life will not come to be simply by slogans or dwelling on the pain of the past.

Even in South Africa it is obvious that if people remain outside the political bus in the mistaken hope that their future is secure in the hands of the politically active, a rude awakening is coming.

The majority of members of political NGOs are poor and, therefore, any person that hopes to use such people to assume state office is compelled to advocate pro-poor policies and programs.
Such programmes are premised on extracting value from the rich to the poor using the state as a vehicle.

To sustain a distributive system one has to encourage wealth creation. However, the process of wealth creation is premised on self-interest and therein lies the problem.

Political actors often find it difficult to trust any other person to assume their positions because ultimately the political space is consumed by greed and deception.

In the quietness of the time of political actors, there is no doubt that they begin to believe that no future of the party or state is secure without their intervention and, therefore, they invariably invest in limiting the number of actors in both the state and party.

Mutumwa Mawere is a businessman based in South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity.

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