THE POLITICAL SURVIVAL OF AGANG SA AND THE ECONOMIC FREEDOM FIGHTERS IS PERILOUS
By: Bhekisisa Mncube
One of three grounds for legitimate rule, according to the German economist and sociologist Max Weber, is the gift of grace/charisma – the authority of the “revelations, heroism, or other leadership qualities of an individual”. Weber defined charismatic authority as “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him.”
Recently two political parties have entered the political landscape of South Africa.
These are Agang SA led, by an academic, Dr Mamphela Aletta Ramphele, and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by the high school graduate Julius Sello Malema.
Both these parties exhibit the characteristics of charismatic leadership.
Both leaders are self-appointed crusaders, who, we are asked to believe, will ignite innovation, if not a revolution, in the political landscape of our country. Both of their short stints at the helm of their political outfits are not based on popular vote but some ‘revelation or heroism’ that drives them to stand up and lead.
An analysis of Dr Ramphele and Malema’s speeches in the last 30 days shows that Ramphele unwittingly considers leadership as ‘a gift of grace’. She seems to believe that she has exemplary leadership qualities that can save South Africa from its “immediate demise”. She promotes herself as a prophet ordained by the political gods to perform a special duty.
On the other hand Malema wittingly emphasises charisma, exhibiting leanings towards political demagoguery.
Both leaders frequently appeal to traditional moral values and to ideas of national grandeur. They both paint a simple black picture of their opposition, namely the ruling African National Congress, (ANC). The ANC is viewed as infested with corrupt leaders presiding over inept administration.
The main distinction is that Malema emphasises ideas of persecution and the need for revenge. The unique selling preposition of his political outfit is the nationalisation of the mines and banks without compensation and the expropriation of land, again without compensation.
Under Malema’s tutelage the white population would have to show remorse for its apartheid sins and let go of all “ill gotten gains”. The black population “will not want,” because Malema’s government will “shepherd” them and provide all luxuries enjoyed currently by a white minority. I wonder what the guy smokes!!!
Malema has also apologised to South Africans for bequeathing them a “rudderless” leader like President Jacob Zuma.
By painting a paranoid picture of the ruling party, Malema strengthens hostilities between his infant EFF and the political giant the ANC.
Presenting the distorted interpretation of the country’s state of affairs under Zuma creates a platform for EFF while it is clamouring for political space.
Dr Ramphele stresses economic values and concern for welfare of other peoples. She abhors corruption, the lethargy of the public service and political thuggery. Under her tutelage South Africa will be free of corruption, economic growth will skyrocket, political actors will be upstanding citizens, and we will all live happily ever after. If she is correct then Cosatu General Secretary Zwelinzima Vavi’s warning that South Africa was “headed for predators state where powerful, corrupt and demagogic elite of political hyenas are increasingly using the state to get rich” won’t materialise.
This analysis shows both the EFF and Agang SA propaganda machinery paint a completely black picture of the ruling party and interpret every action in terms of a paranoid fear of South Africa becoming a wasteland or at worst a pariah state overwhelmed by corruption and other social ills.
There are three common traits of parties founded on charismatic leadership. The most obvious is political adventurism of their leaders. Political adventurism in realpolitik means entering a political space with delusion of grandeur without having paid attention to the reality on the ground. Secondly, these parties are always short on concrete policies. Thirdly, the founding leaders remain at the helm long after inaugural conferences and the success or failure of the party is always predicated on the political fortunes of the founding leaders.
In conclusion, Ramphele may honestly want to cleanse our political landscape of corruption and political thuggery, but politically speaking she would be naive to think that idealim and affluent connections alone can reform SA politics. She will soon learn that the political realm is no realm for saints.
Malema on the other hand is a perpetual political demagogue who will do anything to cling to power for personal gain.
Here is food for thought for both leaders; South Africa has a vibrant multiparty political system, with 13 parties represented in the National Assembly of Parliament. According to the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) some 223 other outfits are registered as political parties in South Africa. Unfortunately power is distributed unevenly, the ANC has an overwhelming lead after having garnered 11,650,748 voters equating to 65.90 % of the national vote four years ago.
Put differently, there is no space for a new political party in South Africa, unless it’s founded on a sound ideological base with a unique selling preposition. Critiques of the ruling party are a dime a dozen, and being the loudest critic hardly makes for a viable political movement.
In conclusion, sociologists suggest that charismatic parties are anathema to democracy and usually lack ideology bases as they are “resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person”.
Both parties do stand a chance to hold at least a seat in the National Assembly come election 2014, but to cause a dent to the ANC massive electoral support is improbable.
Bhekisisa Mncube is a Communications Expert at the B74 Media Lab PR Agency and a political analyst at Gagasi 99.5.FM. He is also a Journalism MA student at the Durban University of Technology – his research area is on the intrusion/impact of PR pieces in news-reporting in South Africa.