Constitution, not National Democratic Revolution, is North Star of new Cabinet

by | Jul 2, 2024 | General | 0 comments

By Paul Hoffman

Governing South Africa according to constitutional principles does not accommodate the National Democratic Revolution’s essential striving for comprehensive control of ‘all levers of power’.

There was a lot to watch on the telly on 6 June 2024. After a very long wait, President Cyril Ramaphosa emerged from a meeting of the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC, which he chairs. He announced his authority to extend an invitation, pre-agreed with the NEC, to the parties represented in Parliament and the provincial councils to join him in forming a government of national unity, swiftly dubbed a GNU.

His constitutional prerogative to appoint his Cabinet was thus broadened in a manner that befits a hung Parliament in which his own team makes up only 40% of the seats available.

The invitation was interesting and novel, not only because it came on the same calendar day as the 1944 Normandy landings, or the start of Operation Overlord, which effectively ended the war in Europe against the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler, now known as World War 2.

Before the presidential announcement, the news channels were full of stories of the commemoration of the landings, attended by elderly ex-servicemen who took part as teenagers, and hordes of their descendants, all only too happy to celebrate the victory that ended the horrors that Hitler inflicted on the world and, through the victory won, kept it free for future generations.

South Africa participated in that war on the side of the Allies ranged against the axis of Germany and Italy. It was a close-run thing for the country. Many Nazi sympathisers, mainly in the ranks of Afrikaners, were still smarting less than 40 years later from the excesses of Britain’s war in South Africa at the turn of the 20th century.

That devastating war against women and children, far less elusive than the Boer commandos in the field, is now called the Second South African War in the history books. With its concentration camps and scorched earth policies, Britain earned the antipathy of the Afrikaners.

Nevertheless, in a spirit of reconciliation, the cabinet decided to enter the war on the side of the Allies by a narrow margin, rather than remain neutral. This move led to a split in politics and to the rise of the National Party, which, against expectations, won the general elections of 1948 and remained in power until Uhuru dawned for all of SA in 1994.

The modern tendency to regard whites as a monolithic group overlooks this part of our history.

These long-ago events could not have been further from the minds of the NEC members who thrashed out the terms of the offer made late at night by their leader. The full text of Ramaphosa’s speech is recorded here. Its vital take-home message is that:

“From the results of these elections, it is clear that South Africans expect their leaders to work together to meet their needs. They expect us to find common ground, to overcome our differences, and to act and work together for the good of everyone.

“We are committed to ensuring that a Government of National Unity has the means and the ability to build an inclusive economy, create jobs, end corruption, tackle crime and improve the provision of services.

“In establishing a Government of National Unity, we would be building on a rich history of cooperation across divides of politics and ideology.

“We would be drawing on an experience with which South Africans are familiar, and which served our country well at a time of great difficulty and division.”

The president also reiterated the commitment of his government to the rule of law and the Constitution. This approach accords with the oath of office that all public representatives take upon assuming office.

There is no mention in the statement of “democratic centralism” nor of the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) so beloved of the cadres deployed by the ANC to assume what it calls “hegemonic control of all the levers of power in society”. Hence the reference to “cooperation across the divides of politics and ideology”. Hegemony is of course impossible when the ANC has only 40% of the vote.

These omissions are significant and deliberate. They signal the end of a fruitless quest which the ANC and its alliance partners have pursued relentlessly as their “strategy and tactics” since they took over as the dominant party in 1994.

Not only has the popularity of the ANC shrunk considerably and at an ever-increasing pace, it has little to show as evidence of the success of the NDR.

Indeed, peace, progress and prosperity are achieved where the NDR is not pursued, as is evidenced by the success of the Western Cape, where the ANC has not governed since 2009.

The Western Cape’s provincial government has been a laboratory for the type of dispensation that the president envisaged in his late-night statement on D-Day. A country, not only a single province, governed according to constitutional precepts.

The “separate development” policies of the apartheid regime were rightly criticised for showing no development where separation was effected and no separation where development was successful. So too with the NDR – in the absence of revolutionary zeal, the nation prospers; and where revolution is pursued, it does not progress.

History has many lessons for the politicians of today. Currently, “whites” constitute just 7.7% of the population, down from 25% at the time of Union in 1910.

In the May 2024 elections, only 16% of eligible voters supported the ANC. Only 58% of those who supported the DA would have been classified as “white” under apartheid.

Like the National Party of old, the ANC has splintered several times since it assumed its dominant party status in 1994. First, the UDM hived off in a huff, then came COPE, the EFF and finally, last year, the MK party emerged to snatch third place in the parliamentary elections.

The Nats had similar problems with the HNP, the Conservative Party and eventually smaller groups like the AWB.

Whether one analyses the history of political success and failure in the apartheid era or the post-1994 “rainbow nation”, all of the history has this in common: the Allies won World War 2, creating for SA the opportunity to promote human freedom in such a way that all now enjoy equal rights and the freedoms guaranteed to them in our much-admired Bill of Rights. This would not have been possible had the followers of Adolf Hitler prevailed in his war.

The long walk to freedom for all in SA has been longer than for most, but it could not have succeeded in a Nazi-dominated world.

Freedom is, however, a responsibility as much as it is a right. The ANC must be concerned that only 16% of eligible voters supported it in the last election, and fearful that even fewer will turn out for it in the upcoming elections at the local level in 2026 and the national level in 2029.

There is a reasonable apprehension that opposition parties will mobilise the huge proportion of voters who did not choose to vote in 2024 and thereby further reduce the vote share of the ANC. The thought of an early election due to the hung nature of the current Parliament must terrify those who work in Luthuli House. Hence, the invitation to join a GNU.

Many in South Africa today have the horrors of World War 2 imprinted in their DNA as an intergenerational wound that knows no class or colour. The sacrifices made by those who volunteered to fight Hitler’s armies in Africa, Italy and elsewhere in Europe have left scars that linger.

Intergenerationally transferred post-traumatic stress in the survivors of that war, and in their families, explains why D-Day is marked so fulsomely each year, and especially so when a big round number comes up.

The facts are that 80 years after the invasion, D-Day is still able to dominate headlines, give rise to ceremonies and evoke memories of loss, heroism, sacrifice and suffering. These facts show that the passage of the years has not dimmed the effect on ordinary folk of the mighty effort to see off Hitler.

There was, and is, a need to preserve the freedoms that were included in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 and are now refined in the SA Bill of Rights, which is Chapter Two of the Constitution.

The NDR was always aimed at establishing “hegemonic control of all the levers of power in society”, a goal that is politically unattainable in a constitutional dispensation that values multi-party democracy under the rule of law so as to ensure governance that is open, accountable and responsive as set out in Section 1 of the Constitution.

The president’s references to the Constitution, the rule of law and “ending corruption” in the invitation extended by him on 6 June 2024 could signal the ANC’s abandonment of the NDR. The late Kader Asmal, a member of the Mandela and Mbeki cabinets, pleaded for this abandonment with his colleagues in Cabinet, to no avail.

None of the parties that responded positively to the invitation to form a GNU have any special attachment to the NDR. Governing SA according to constitutional principles does not accommodate the NDR’s essential striving for comprehensive control of “all levers of power”.

On the contrary, the separation of powers, the constitutional checks and balances on the exercise of authority, and the prohibition of laws or conduct that are inconsistent with the Constitution all point away from the NDR and toward the “better life” that the Constitution envisages.

The work of the new Cabinet announced on 30 June will become impossible should the NDR be revived or resuscitated or simply continued by the ANC; the team drawn from 11 parties has the prospect of succeeding beyond all expectations if the president’s unexpressed intention was indeed to abandon the NDR in favour of constitutional values.

South Africans of goodwill who value their freedom will wish for the success of the Cabinet announced on 30 June; its overall performance will be in the hands of its members who should regard fealty to the values of the Constitution as their North Star.

If this outcome is what is envisaged by the reference to “cooperation across the divides of politics and ideology”, then peace, progress and prosperity are possible. DM

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