The announcement this week that the ANC and a splinter group from the NNP have struck an "historic" co-operation pact proves only that those who ignore the lessons of the past are condemned to relive them.
Throughout history unrestrained power has brought only misery and oppression. Having achieved a military breakthrough in Afghanistan it is significant that the US-UK leadership has already swung the emphasis of their mission to Afghanistan's political future. They are only too aware that replacing the Taliban with the Northern Alliance will amount to no more than substituting one tyranny for another. Representative government is needed to thwart that. Only a democratic dispensation can deliver the necessary representivity.
Closer to home, the tyranny of the Mugabe regime is a result of the years during which there was no effective opposition in Zimbabwe. The only potential opposition, the Ndebele-based Zapu of Joshua Nkomo, made common cause with Mugabe's Zanu-PF in 1987. Despite its excellent showing at the polls last year, the Movement for Democratic Change came on the scene too late to have any real effect on Mugabe's absolute grip on political power.
These are the object lessons of our own time as to the evils inherent in any situation where there is no established, mandated opposition. The platitudes that were trotted out this week by Steve Tshwete of the ANC and by Marthinus van Schalkwyk of the NNP splinter group concerning "trust and nation-building" are, therefore, meaningless because they ignore the lessons of history. They are also without legitimacy because they have no mandate from those whose votes put Van Schalkwyk and his turncoats in Parliament in the first place. Just as Hansie Cronje used his position in cricket to service his greed for financial gain, so Van Schalkwyk and company have sold out their voters for political positions. Thus the question to ask is what will it profit these opportunists to gain one cabinet post but lose all credibility and legitimacy in the process?
Unable to withstand the demonising and marginalising process to which, as DA leader Tony Leon says, the ANC subjects its opposition, Van Schalkwyk and his few have succumbed to being "colonised". Five minutes in a council meeting at city hall will show that "co-operation" and "working together" with the ANC amounts to subjugation by bulldozer. Not a shred of autonomy or independence remains when minorities engage in such exercises.
A precedent of this already features in the NNP's history since 1994. Former president F. W. de Klerk himself has conceded in his autobiography that the "subordinate role" he and his party had to play in the government of national unity (GNU) between 1994 and 1996 affected them "negatively". On leaving the GNU in June 1996, De Klerk stated: "Continued political participation would be equivalent to detention on a kind of political death row. The survival of multiparty democracy depends on the existence of a strong and credible opposition.'
The significance of De Klerk's remark is that it was made at a time when the NNP enjoyed 20% of the vote, had six cabinet posts and a deputy presidency. Yet he found the climate of "co-operative government" quite stifling. Van Schalkwyk and his splinter group, with one cabinet post and a few political crumbs between them, will serve no purpose other than raking more taxpayers' money into their pockets. In that respect they'd be advised to make the most of it while they can because after the 2004 election they'll be history. The immediate damage Van Schalkwyk's volte face has caused is to hand control of the Western Cape to the ANC.
This is so because while the premier will be from the NNP he will not have a casting vote. Deadlocks will be "negotiated" by politicians at the national level. As DA chairman, Joe Seremane, has stated, "in effect the final authority over the Western Cape will be Luthuli House in Johannesburg (ANC headquarters). The people of the Western Cape will no longer control their own government." Yet 57% of them voted in June 1999 to keep the ANC out. That mandate was further consolidated in the December 2000 elections.
In the business world Van Schalkwyk's betrayal of his mandate would have resulted in his dismissal by shareholders. By his despicable actions, however, he has helped to re-develop the climate in which real and assertive leadership can be appreciated.
An article on leadership in the November 12 issue of Fortune magazine notes that crises often serve to reveal and to embellish leadership qualities. What the sociologist Max Weber called "the devotion born of distress" always surfaces in times of crisis. People want to be led - dynamically and with conviction. The true leader, the article notes, is one who can "absorb uncertainty" while standing up and being counted. He does not zigzag and lock himself away in strategy sessions. He does not deny the existence of danger. As Churchill said, "there is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away".
Van Schalkwyk's machinations have not only threatened to destroy the DA as the only bulwark South Africa has to becoming a de facto one-party state. They have also tested the mettle of the DA's leadership. The fact that the party remains solid and intact, apart from the departure of a splinter group from the NNP component, is a tribute to the energy and resolve of DA leader Tony Leon. Formed to provide principled opposition and a better alternative to the dominance of the ANC, Leon insists that the DA must redeem that promise. This has now become an historic mission crucial to South Africa's destiny.
Duncan du Bois is a DA Durban Metro ward councillor. He writes in his personal capacity.
The original was published in The Natal Witness.
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