THE CHALLENGES FACING OPPOSITION PARTIES IN AFRICA!

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One of the moves that can send shock waves down the spines of ANC bigwigs could be when all the opposition political parties form a single political party before next year’s elections. Should that happen, then next year’s ballot paper would have only two political parties – the ANC and the newly party formed from a coalition of opposition political parties. The choice in next year’s elections would then be between the corrupt and ineffective ANC and a baggage-free and potentially vibrant political party. The alternative scenario is one where the contest could be between the ANC and two other political parties to accommodate left leaning voters like those who belong to the PAC, Black Consciousness organizations and socialist parties.

There should no longer be a proliferation of political parties in so called South Africa. The proliferation of political parties gives the corrupt and arrogant ANC a lease of life. It becomes like, in the words of former PAC President Zeph Mothopeng, trying to kill a snake by feeding it. However, opposition parties in this country will not unite now or in the near future because there are so many issues that divide them than those that unite them. For example, the electorate votes along racial and/or ethnic lines. Moreover, as some scholars have observed, in Africa followers of such parties identify the leaders with the party and show their loyalty solely to the party leader and not to the party’s ideology. The DA does not like this observation. However, it is a fact. Even many Africans vote along ethnic and racial lines. There are, however, also those who vote along ideological lines from all racial groups, but they constitute a tiny minority. That is why the South African population needs political education – the type Frantz Fanon referred to in his book, The Wretched of the Earth. They do not need indoctrination and brainwashing. Racial polarization in South Africa muddies the waters even further unlike in countries such as Botswana which are homogeneous.

Ideologically there are only two economic and political models that can be pursued: capitalism and socialism or, to put in differently, those who prefer no state intervention in the running of the economy and those who favour state intervention in the running of the economy. The DA, Agang SA and the like minded liberal political parties prefer the former model, maintaining the status quo and defending white wealth and privileges. This is especially the case with the DA. On the other hand PAC, Azapo and other left leaning political parties prefer the latter model. Can these diametrically opposed groups from different political spectrums find each other and agree on just one thing? Is there a middle ground? This writer’s guess is as good as the readers’.

If this writer’s assessment of the DA is correct then the left leaning organizations would not want to have anything to do with pro-capitalist political parties. If the DA is not for maintaining the status quo and protecting white wealth and privilege, then it must publicly foreswear the maintenance of the status quo and protection of the ill-gotten white wealth and privilege. The left leaning organizations do not have to foreswear anything because they have history on their side.

Another weakness of opposition parties on the continent is that they are fragmented. They are invariably small and weak. This aspect strengthens the power of the incumbents. Botswana and South Africa are examples in point. In Zimbabwe on the other hand the MDC is very strong even though it is regarded as reactionary. It is threatening ZANU PF because there are not fragmented opposition political parties in Zimbabwe. The most important weakness of the African political parties mentioned repeatedly by many researchers is the fact that they are seldom grown out of big social movements and are the creation of ambitious individuals.

Financing political parties is another major hurdle on the continent. In fact, party political funding is a global problem. In South Africa, the ruling ANC controls political party funding and gives itself the lion’s share as well as engaging in unethical and corrupt business deals through its investment outfit, Chancellor House, by benefiting from government tenders and contracts. There is no regulation of political party funding because the ANC and the DA are against legislation regulating political party funding although it is the norm in other democracies internationally. Disclosure of sources of funding and regulation of political party funding are not enough. There must also be legislation limiting campaign spending which all the parties have ignored except the PAC. If there are no spending limits then that situation engenders unfair competition and elections thus run cannot be said to be fair.

The media, especially the SABC which is the public broadcaster gives too much publicity to the ruling party while giving lesser publicity to the official opposition and scant coverage to smaller political parties especially towards the elections. All ANC political party events are covered live. The recent DA Congress was also covered live yet these political parties have bags and bags full of money which they always use for advertising and do not need the SABC’s largesse. To overcome the problems opposition political parties face, there must be equal media coverage especially by the SABC. There should be less fragmentation of the opposition. Voters should be taught to vote along ideological lines and not along ethnic and racial lines or according to personalities. Ruling parties should not control funding and electoral commissions. Political party funding and campaign spending should be regulated by legislation.

By Sam Ditshego
The writer is a Senior Researcher at the Pan Africanist Research Institute (PARI).