ANC, EFF and DA are equally at sea while SA sinks - Businesslive

7 October 2019 - The pity is that where political parties are not prepared to risk embracing change, the rest of society is condemned to the risks that come with changelessness.

Michael Morris

We could not have wished for a clearer reflection of the sterility of our politics than the revelation over the past week of just how our three major parties think about the country, and their failure of courage in embracing change.

All three — the ANC, DA and the EFF — give the impression of being unwilling to think afresh about a society so desperately in need of fresh thinking.

By no means the least consequential depiction of this wasteful condition was son of the soil Julius Malema’s deceptively mocking rebuttal of Institute of Race Relations senior policy fellow Helen Zille’s invitation to join her for tea and a chat. [Zille has voluntarily suspended her position, having decided to contest the election for the post of chair of the federal council of the Democratic Alliance.]

His intended mockery of Zille — “I think you are lost, are you not looking for #Sassa offices?” — was ironic. Far from portraying himself as a fearless contender, Malema only exposed the limit of his confidence. No wonder chicken memes were soon clucking their way across social media.

The EFF leader’s absence from Tea with Helen would hardly rattle the nation, yet in a country that often imagines itself incapable of civil disagreement, something is lost when a vocal figure such as Malema implies it is pointless talking about ideas. He loses, but so do we all.

The ruling party is led by a man who, to his undoubted credit, last week launched his weekly “From the Desk of the President”, to tell the country what he is doing about the serious problems we confront. (“Almost everyone I meet ...” he writes, “is deeply concerned.”)

Nearly two years after his elevation, Cyril Ramaphosa is still asking us to bear with him. Published as a pre-Nasrec manifesto in December 2017, the will-dos and want-tos of last week might have merited more serious attention.

But, when his government has only stiffened its resolve on expropriation without compensation, National Health Insurance, prescribed assets, the Mining Charter and race-based empowerment — in the face of compelling evidence that these are key agents of SA’s decline — a letter that says anything less than “we have seen the damage our policies have caused, and we are going to scrap them for the country’s sake” is not assuring.

The DA, which — having once enjoyed the enviable image of being an inevitable government-in-waiting — has so dithered over its liberal convictions that it is viewed derisorily as merely a softer version of the ANC. The 2019 election result came as a jolt, interrupting the steady post-1994 growth that had made the party seem the likely author of SA’s post-ANC era.

Central to its fate is an argument — provocatively advanced by colleague Hermann Pretorius last week — that as long as the leadership of the party is determined by the profoundly illiberal racialist rationale that defines ANC policy-making, the DA will not regain its status as a credible alternative, and wouldn’t deserve it.

If Pretorius succeeded in focusing acute attention on a cardinal problem, the party’s response was all petulance and obfuscation: who led the DA and why was for party insiders to settle; anything else was meddling. Others, but only by a feat of wilful intellectual contortion, pretended Pretorius’s argument was racist.

Absent throughout was anything like the serious discussion most people want — about making the most of the country’s talents, skills and ambitions as the surest path to a free, fair and flourishing society.

The pity is that where political parties are not prepared to risk embracing change, the rest of society is condemned to the risks that come with changelessness.

• Morris is head of media at the Institute of Race Relations.