South Africa: Rise Mzansi, The New Broom For South Africa's Electorate?

Rise Mzansi leadership greeting their supporters at a rally. Front centre is leader Songezo Zibi, Western Cape Premier Candidate Axolile Notywala on the left, and Gauteng Premier Candidate Vuyiswa Ramakgopa in the white jacket on the right.
27 May 2024

Cape Town — South Africans are days away from voting in what many agree is a defining election 30 years after the first time all citizens won the right to vote. Three decades later, not even a drop of rainbow nation euphoria remains - it's been drowned by corruption, crime, and poverty. And now the world waits to see what South Africans frustrated with the 30-year rule of the African National Congress (ANC) -- and also with opposition political parties like the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) -- will decide.

It has been a battle of extremes - the stalwart former liberation organization (ANC) vs a party unable to escape its roots as an opposition party in the apartheid-era white Parliament (DA) vs the radicalism of an expelled ANC member (EFF). The Democratic Party and ANC participated in the historic 1994 elections, the DA was formed in 2000 and EFF in 2013, along with several new parties like COPE, Build One South Africa, and GOOD.

Enter Rise Mzansi, the new political party whose election slogan "2024 Is Our 1994", seems to speak to a new generation of voters. Who are they, and what does this new party offer South Africans and the continent?

Songezo ZibiRise Mzansi party leader, and allAfrica's Juanita Williams had coffee while Zibi discussed the importance of rational policy positions in a coalition government, the benefits and risks of collaboration between the private sector and government in South Africa's development, and the role of African countries in global politics.

But first, who is the Rise Mzansi voter?

It's surprisingly diverse. So when we started, we thought it was 25 to 45. So it's much younger people, and mostly low-income. Let me put it like that - South Africans who are struggling. I'm using a financial services term now, because I worked in a bank, but South Africans who are struggling, who really for whom the change is an existential imperative, it's not like, you know, I'm just irritated with politics. And it's like, it's serious, we have to change because we also thought those people would be serious about organising, and being volunteers, and then not kind of do it, you know, once a month. So that's where we started, we also thought it would be mostly in urban areas. And that turned out to be true. However, there is a big surprise. So we have a lot of older women, and by older women, I mean, like, seniors, not just pensioners but 70-plus (in age). From all race groups generally, and urban and rural areas, as well. So that is one surprise.

What does that demographic mean?

I don't know. I don't know. I think look, I think it's got to do with the fact that we generally have women supporters as well. By a mile. Not like 51/49. It's like 60/40, like kind of thing.
A lot more young people than we thought. So we had all of these things about how much, you know how everybody talks about young people. And how, you know, they change things and so on. The reality though. The reality is that they don't turn up to vote, they might not be so driven. That's why we started at 25. Right? Because the guys between 18 and 24 that people think 'those are the guys' usually don't. We've had a lot more of those than we also had imagined. I mean, some of them look like kids to me. So ja, so it's been diverse, and then villages.
It's just really difficult to get to because you know, you travel long distances if you are people that you see, you know, in an urban setting, but we've been to far-flung places in Limpopo, Northwest, the Free State, and so on. So it's been diverse.

What did you do to get out into the rural areas? And how do they know about Rise Mzansi?

There were areas in which we organized, right, we set out to find and we targeted specifically people who do work in the community because we didn't want like somebody who's disgruntled within a political party who's going to turn up. And people are gonna be like, oh, yeah, but you were with the DA last time you know, what's changed? So, I mean, they are some of those people. But usually, they left that political party like three, four years before. But people phone, they send messages on Facebook and show you my Facebook. They'll be like, 'Hey, I saw you on TV. How can I organize, is there somebody in my area, I want to organize'. We get lots of those.

So there's an appetite for organizing in smaller towns?

... in smaller towns, which is really difficult, and sometimes people get upset because you're like, Okay, you need love to get to Breyton in Mpumalanga but it's gonna take us a while, we don't have the resources, and so on. So sometimes you can tell that people are getting disappointed, but most don't give up. They go and organize anyway. And then they fall under another area, like I say, Secunda or whatever. But every time they meet me, they're like, but I want to organize in Breyton.

How are you approaching being a new party? People getting to know the different members? Because I saw the Western Cape person Axolile, yes, at the UCT debate? People don't know who he is - there's a recognition factor ...

Or even in my case, by the way, it's taken time, still taking time, because especially when we also are trying not to emphasize personality. Right? Because that's like the big thing in South African politics where, you know, Zuma forms a party, and it's about Zuma. It's not about him, right. The reason we didn't want that, is that the flaws of that person. The message and the culture are more powerful than any one person, but in politics, that also matters.
People ask, who's the leader? Yeah, so we had to do that as well, which for me feels a bit invasive. Because I've had to share parts of my story. And Axolile and others. I've had to do the same, but I think that part is gonna take time.

We're trying to not be that. The message and the culture are more powerful than any one person, but in politics that also matters, people ask, who's the leader? So we've had to do that as well. You know, which, for me feels a bit invasive because, you know, like, I've had to share parts of my story. And Axolile and others have had to do the same. But I think that part is gonna take time. It will take time.

Ja, because it gets up in your personal life, right?

It does. But also when you're not doing it for the attention it is difficult. I mean, we have the rally, like this last Sunday, in Ruimsig. And, you know, like doing that whole crowd waving thing, and it's like, a lot for me, it's like it's draining, not because I don't like people, but it kind of feels too much like the old politics that we know. But people want it so that they can see you.

And also the energy. I mean, of course, it's going to be draining, because those people are fully focused on you. Yeah, that amount of attention would be draining. Oh, and speaking of attention, Mabine (Rise Mzansi communications) and I were speaking about the Rebecca Oppenheimer funding and why it got so much attention. I was saying, Well, you know, if there's anything that can make people's ears go up, it's the name Oppenheimer. And then, of course, the amount of money. And I was quite impressed with how open you were after listening to some of your statements about funding and who gave you money, and who didn't give you money. Because it's something that political parties hold on to quite tightly. And in fact, legislation was needed to actually get them to say... With the Oppenheimer funding, you know, there are lots of conspiracy theories. What's interesting to me is she came on board knowing that you have a wealth tax ...

No, no, we didn't have it, by the way, as a specific thing at that time. But she knew because she is very attentive. And she's very intellectually engaged. So we had several discussions before. Before we got a donation. It wasn't like, you know, that's what people think they think the donors approach you. It's the other way, obviously, you know, you go and you look for money, and you talk to introduce yourself, but we explained social democratic politics, and we had this engagement. And that's the idea that those who have more, pay a little more so that those who have less can also do well. The wealth taxes aren't actually a lot - like one and a half percent. And somebody's stock portfolio can grow 8% a year.

So it's not a big deal. It raises a lot of money. But, I mean, we haven't even spoken about it. With her or with any of our donors, by the way. Eh, we had another donor yesterday, a black businessman, he never mentioned the wealth tax, it would affect him. Because he understands the politics. And we've been talking to that guy who only donated yesterday, since like, last year, beginning of last year. But so he knows everything. So he donated after the wealth tax thing. And these are the things that within South Africa and voters need to get because the ANC has muddied the waters with donations so much. And the secrecy has made it difficult for people to believe that there's nothing there. When I talk about how Rebecca and I met, at which date it was, and so on, I don't know if we're the only political party that does that. Nobody else does that. And we get punished for it?

I wanted to speak about some of the challenges that the continent faces and get Rise Mzansi's take on what is happening. Firstly, with Kenya, the Haiti situation, and the fact that they plan on sending troops through to Haiti. It's seen as the US has given funding to Kenya's government, and President Ruto has taken it upon himself to be the kind of ally that will volunteer his police force to go to Haiti to sort out the "gangs". And I'm putting those in quotes because whether they are gangs or not, is a question.

Haiti is a mess.

So, I know Kenya quite a bit. Right. And Kenya has a very long history of cooperating with the US. And that relationship became closer after the 1998 bombings in Dar es Salaam. And Nairobi. Because the Kenyan government at the time, and I think the president at the time was Daniel Arap Moi. For years, they've been basically cooperative. The second thing is that Kenya also has a long history of providing peacekeepers, internationally, like Bangladesh. And it's not like a new Kenya's international involvement and cooperation with the US is, is really for me not that big a surprise. Like, the third thing is that I think this President, William Ruto, I mean, let's think of the Ukraine, Russia resolution. I don't know if you know what the Kenyan Ambassador told the Russian government at the UN General Assembly that this is not the days of empire, where you go and you invade countries and that kind of thing. So that was not necessarily in defense of the US, but it's a position that Western governments would like. So what am I saying? It's not that big a surprise. Yes. The good thing for me about it is that we complain quite a bit about US involvement in various parts of the world. Right. And, and the world is kind of tired of seeing American soldiers in other countries. So if there is another government, an African government that can help sort out the situation, it's not US soldiers - why not do it? Who's to do it? Because we don't like American soldiers in other countries. Right. Okay. So which soldiers must it be? So we don't want Americans, fine. I agree with that. Never ends well, right? So I agree with that. Which soldiers must then go because somebody's gotta go.

I think that the issue that Kenyans who are against it have and some analysts have said is that they are sending police officers and the police officers in Kenya are notorious for extra-judicial killings...

I know I know, I know, in Kenya, like they like you're running away from stealing something and the okes shoot you...

So it's not peacekeepers being sent. I think that that's the major issue. And particularly because the Haiti situation is not a simple one. So for America to go in there - they've been involved for decades.

Ja, and it hasn't worked.

And it hasn't worked. And they've tried and tried different things. And now their attempt is to send in a Kenyan police force, who have no experience of what is happening in Haiti. And also have a history of shooting to kill.

Look, I mean... So here's my thing, and I take that point. Okay, I still think ... So firstly, Haiti does need an intervention. And it needs to be an international intervention, honestly, it needs to be I think that country has really collapsed, right, just in terms of its ability to manage its own affairs, right? I think though the ideal way to do it for me would be through a multilateral structure, I think you would still end up with Kenyan cops going because Kenya has got this appetite. The other is Rwanda, right? And also Rwanda has extrajudicial killings, you understand, we are dealing with a problematic continent, we've just got, we've got dealing with a problematic continent, because also like, we're gonna say Nigerian cops. Same, same. Egyptian, same same.

South African. Same, same.

So the point is, that's why I was saying earlier, I don't know if they'll ever be a perfect solution. What usually matters is the rules of engagement. Because you also don't want to use soldiers in a situation where I mean, look, I believe they should in that situation, to support police work. But this is usually complicated because soldiers are trained to shoot people, outright. And they will respond to stone throwers by shooting them. Cops have a variety of skills the army doesn't. But it's not a perfect situation. I mean, I understand, I've got Kenyan friends. And I understand why they would be especially under this President.

And who's a new president general has come in and made so many changes as well. I mean, this issue also, is an example of backlash that has been happening all over the continent, with not wanting American or French involvement, and not wanting any outside involvement. I mean, the Niger is, is a case in point, the whole Sahel situation ... is that we must sort out our own problems. But what's your take on that? Because the UN has its own issues, our governance body, the African Union, is described as toothless. I mean, it sounds like you're in support of international interventions, based on what you said. And there's been a backlash against those ...

So I am in support of international interventions in a general way where they are warranted, right? So for instance, I was in high school, when there was something called UNTAG in Namibia, United Nations Transition Assistance Group under Martti Ahtisaari. That's an international intervention. It's necessary for that transition. We can't say no, right? In the eastern DRC, South Africa has troops there. Again, I think it's warranted. In Mozambique. Again, these things are never perfect. They're never comfortable. But I think where they warranted and there is a multilateral structure in place and rules of engagement. And by the way, I do think that countries like the US and so on, the wealthy countries should fund those things.

They must fund those things because African countries don't have the money. It costs a lot of money to do those things. And the complaint that the UN has always been about how the US doesn't pay its dues, well, we can't have it both ways you know you do so if you want to do it ourselves and in the rich countries are willing to pay for ... let them pay for it. We don't have the money. We've got socio-economic problems here. So rather than having US troops, like on our doorstep, or anybody's troops, they must give us the money and if we can do it, then let's do it. But what Africans risk with this conversation, which is influenced by geopolitics, is that we risk harming ourselves. It is in nobody's interest, to have those strange military dictators in the Sahel, it is nobody's interest, it is not going to end well. And there are bought accounts and so on that glorify them on TikTok in particular, because the message there is democratic doesn't work, you need strong men, they are cool.

This is how you should have a government in Africa, which is going back to the 80s. So what I see actually as a bigger risk than sending Kenyan cops to Haiti, as a bigger risk, is that Africa is being Balkanised again, in terms of the 60s, 70s, and 80s Cold War politics. Because the other side of the coin are also deeply undemocratic powers like China and Russia. And all of these, there's a scramble for Africa, again, based on whether the idea of democracy works, or doesn't work.

So we must not self-harm because when a country like South Africa, basically goes out on a limb for a country that is number 40-something of trading partners, like Russia, you ask yourself, what are you doing? What are you doing and in whose interest are you acting? Because certainly, it can't be in South Africa's interests.

The Chinese will never go out on a limb for us. On this ICJ thing. Did the Chinese support us? Do you get what I mean? They didn't. So we must not be stupid about these things. And I feel that our politicians in South Africa and on the continent become so naive and stupid about what they should do and why and how, that they harm us. We've gone out on a limb on a number of things, and our so-called BRICS partners fold their arms and they watch. We're the only ones who go out there, it's not wise.

Africa risks harming itself with simplified ignorant geopolitical positions. And there's a lot of that and we must avoid, I think the solution is, as much as I think the Rwandan government is, you know, is problematic in many ways in terms of internal issues. But those guys have understood their foreign ... their geopolitical management is sophisticated. They don't get involved in these scraps, have you noticed?

Ja, they definitely focus on themselves, and we'll leave it at that.

Ja, they don't get involved, and when they get involved, they meddle there in the DRC. But those guys, you won't hear them saying anything about Putin or Biden, right? And I think that there is a skill that you need to navigate so that you can focus on your prosperity, and so on. And most guys on the continent. I mean, let me talk about South Africa. They are not sophisticated.

So what does a Rise Mzansi government look like? What do you think your chances are?

I'll be open - we've been looking at coalitions for a long time. For a long time. There'll be a coalition government now. There'll be a coalition government in 2029. There will be more coalition governments in 2026 at the local government level - that is the reality of our politics. We may or may not be in coalitions this time, right? Because there are pros and cons to who is available to go into a coalition with - it's a serious consideration. And the way the votes turn out, may not kind of work. Let's say you might end up in a coalition with MK and the like, well, that's not a coalition that you go into. Because those guys have said no, ditch the Constitution. What I'm saying is in a coalition government, what we try and do is to be the grown-ups in the room. We try and be the grown-ups in the room.
And it can be hard because South African politics is silly. Grown-ups can also act in buffoonish ways - scream, and so on. Which actually, when I think about the 90s, it never used to happen. It's a culture that has just degenerated together with the ANC's degeneration, right? All the way to the formation of the EFF.

We've also tried to have rational policy positions. So in other words, don't make promises that you are never going to meet, you undermine the credibility of the system, the political system. And so that is what we will try and bring into government. Sort of being more measured, looking at all risks and other things that you should consider before you make a decision so that you don't harm the country with whatever policy position.

Looking to bring some calm to proceedings in Parliament - is that the aim?

I was in a debate in Bo-Kaap last night. It was raucous, there was Nazier Paulson, the EFF guy. He was his usual self. And, but you know what? So I'll tell you this, I'm gonna show you something. This rational politics works because I'm gonna show you something that somebody from the PAC sent. Here it is, you see, sent to another colleague of mine.  (Shows a WhatsApp message from a PAC representative appreciating his example of not heckling or shouting during the debate.)

So people do see the example. I've done the calling out even last night. I said to Nazier, listen, this is why people get turned off by politics. You don't have to heckle. You don't have to shout, you can make your point once and with clarity. And it's just as effective. Just don't shout unnecessarily. And people applauded. And I wasn't doing it for the applause. It's like, somebody has to say these things. You know what I mean? So anyway, that's what we're trying to achieve as well.

I want to get back to the coalition discussion. Do you have policies around that? What are your criteria, have you mapped that way forward?

Not in minute detail, because you don't know which parties will get how many votes. However, there are some principles. So firstly, the political parties where the quid pro quo in the conversation is, that we have to protect our people, like we can't get arrested and that kind of thing. So those guys are out. Because we are here because of corruption. A lot of the time, so that's important. The second thing is the commitment to a five-year deal. You can collapse coalitions every time you know, there's something you don't like, really, let's grow up. So that's the second thing. The third thing is that we don't need to ideologically agree with you unless your position is unconstitutional. Right? Otherwise, if it's just an idea that is not similar to ours, and we don't like it, we can still do a deal. Because if we only worked with parties that only agreed with us, then we should have won the election. You know what I mean?

Okay, so the reality of coalitions is that you work with people you don't like and finally, really dealing with this thing of political influence in government - undue political influence. So that relates to so-called cadre deployment. Political appointees have no business in the professional civil service. That will protect South African people because what you want is you want civil servants who actually just don't care who's in power in terms of whether their jobs are secure, whether they service people in a certain area or not, they just do the work as it should be done. I think that's really important.

What South African political parties don't seem to understand is that when you professionalize the civil service, you protect even the political parties that are in power. It's the best form of protection because you just bring in the professionals, and they sort things out. They move on, the people are happy, they're like, Hey, you are great. What do our guys try and do? Things take longer ...

I mean, that's gonna be a process, though to do, especially the civil service. It's like when you get service nowadays, it's definitely dependent on where you go, who you are ... almost like another process that we went through, which I don't think was a good one when we changed from apartheid, when the service people were all under that system. And just chucked everyone. And then people were untrained.

It's going to be a process. It's also a part of the culture, organizational culture, and organization in the form that the government is an organization. You need public servants who are quite ....senior public servants who are very intentional about doing this. I was talking to a friend of mine who used to work in the presidency in Thabo Mbeki's time. And if you are going to a political event, such as an ANC conference, you had to take leave. By the time Zuma was imprisoned, you no longer had to take leave, you just went, you see how the blurring of lines can happen? Right. And people coincide their business travel with the conference, but they're not actually doing the work of government. All of those things are part of the political culture. So we have to weed those out, and it will take years.

And you're in for the long haul?

We've got to be in for the long haul - Rise Mzansi's vision is a 15 to 20-year mission, it's 15 to 20 years, it's going to take long, it's going to take very long to fix the culture, the way things are done, the way systems work, and that kind of thing. The government is the biggest organization in South Africa. Companies take years to transform, large companies, and they're not even a fraction of the government.

What kind of response have you had from the private sector on the wealth tax? People believe that the private sector's proximity to the government is either a very good thing or a very bad thing. There doesn't seem to be a middle ground. You know if the companies get involved, the poor are going to remain poor. If they don't get involved, the service provision is going to go down.

South Africans exhibit the signs of any society that's going through historical trauma. They are suspicious of everything, to their own detriment a lot of the time. Right. So I understand it from that perspective because when you say private sector to people in their minds, they think white people, right, that's what's ringing in their minds is white people with money. That's who the private sector is.

I have worked in the private sector, and properly regulated the relationship between the private sector and government or between business and government, let me put it like that, because the private sector is just too broad, between business and the government is a necessary one. Let me make an example. I started working at Volkswagen. Volkswagen has the practice of working with what is now Nelson Mandela University, to inform them of how technology and things are changing. So that they can also evolve the training of engineers and so on accordingly, and they put money into the institution. So that it's able to do that transformation so that it can provide skills to the organization and I think other companies do the same. Okay, that's a good thing. The institution is not being captured. Okay. It's necessary co-operation. That's one example.

Business against crime, where business works with the government and other organizations to fight crime. With the police taking the lead, that's a good thing. I can go on infrastructure, etc. The government doesn't have enough money. So if businesses can also invest in infrastructure, Why not? So what happens when you have extremes is that you can lose all of that advantage because some people have decided no, no, no, not by the people in the private sector, as citizens. Like, you know, I wish that in my community in Mqanduli, there were large companies to also do the CSI and build sports fields. And I wish they could do that. But we don't have it, and the government doesn't do it. So there are no facilities. And my question to you - are you happy now? You can't be happy.

So a properly regulated relationship can be a good one. The problem is, that the ANC fellows have tended to ask, so how can I get a cut? Now, what happens when that relationship works that way, and because it's that way inclined, the business people are also likely to kind of extract favours, because they know that people are amenable to providing those kinds of favours in exchange for a trip here or whatever, then it becomes contaminated. And that's also harmful.

Is there anything you want to say as we're at the end of our time?

It's a final thought. And it's about the continent. And that is, I really think that the continent is at risk in this geopolitical re-contestation, again, between China, Russia, and the West, and so on, and the continent is going to have to navigate this environment carefully. Because it has major cultural ties with the West. If Africans are gonna travel anywhere, anytime it's to the West, okay? If they're gonna do business, anytime, anywhere, it's like they fly to London, France, the US and that kind of thing.

We really don't need to switch, we actually don't need to switch - we need to expand. We need to expand our cultural, diplomatic, and economic ties, not switch. There's no need to switch, we need to expand. What does that mean? That means we need to be just as likely to travel to China, Japan, and so on. Right? And it's okay that you travel as much as you do to the US and the UK and Germany as you do to Eastern countries. And that's something that is my way of approaching this.

The second thing is, we must never put ourselves in a position where we go back to the 80s again, where it's cool to be undemocratic. Because what that does is it nullifies the power of the people, and all of these powers go back to only dealing with one man, a move to someone who is going to whenever the people's feelings, you know, are inconvenient for them, just send soldiers on the street. Because that's what will happen.

We must be careful of the things that we wish for ... we must continue to try and pursue democratic consolidation, and deepening democracy, and Africa will be fine. But if we continue to act in the interests of superpowers, whichever they may be, we will remain underdeveloped and poor, and our best talents will always leave to go and work and contribute to these superpowers.

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