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Will of the people triumphs over self-serving political elite

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Enjoying rare fellowship while waiting for results are Action SA’s Herman Mashaba and the ANC’s Gwede Mantashe at the National Results Operations Centre (ROC), Gallagher convention centre in Midrand. Picture: Itumeleng English/Independent Newspaper / May 28, 2024

By Saths Cooper

This election has provided us with many lessons which none of us can afford to ignore.

The first is that people count, will always count and should always be put first. People will make their stilled voices known, especially when they are otherwise ignored, taken for granted, looked at with disdain, treated as mere onlookers in the determination of their future, except when they are courted every few years when their vote is necessary to proclaim that we have a functioning democracy.

The second is that people do remember, and have a remarkable memory of those who they will entrust, if only tentatively, after so many years of plaintive, patient warning, when narrow party politics and their terrible consequences have all but torn our country apart.

Having been on the receiving end of all that’s wrong with how our country (mal)functions, being rendered beggars in a land of plenty where ill-gotten wealth is shamelessly flaunted while South Africa remains the most unequal society on earth, the gap widening between rich and poor, with the highest unemployment and the lowest employment rate globally, the voting public has reacted in the only way they can, without resorting to other self-defeating, and easily violent means.

The third is that our deeply divided country has reached that watershed moment in its fragile democracy when the personal interests of politicians and their rigid – often irrelevant – positions have to take the back seat to what is in the objective interests of all of our people, not one or the other group, however important that group feels it may be. None of us possesses the power of truth, without reference to those we should relate to and with whom we should find common cause, ending the chasm that separates us from realising our common humanity.

The fourth is that politicians cannot but listen to the will of the voting public, made abundantly clear by returning a hung verdict on the old and newer parties, trusting none with another five years of bickering, grandstanding and empty promises, guaranteeing them a very good salary while the majority eke out a miserable existence.

The fifth is that if there is goodwill and open communion amongst those who claim to be our political leaders, bereft of the trappings of their positions, meaningful ways can be found to break the apparent impasse that the election results are forcing all of us to confront. In times of crisis a few rise to restore stability, reduce anxiety and fear, creating the conditions to prevent future crisis, shock and confusion.

That time has now come. Our country needs the calibre of leadership that sheds the shackles of that which has brought us to this deadlock, steadily avoiding backroom deals of convenience and perpetuating their old roles in whatever position of power they may have been. That self-serving route of convenience will ignore the massive cry from the voting public, not forgetting those who did not, and who are not registered as voters, and will certainly result in creating more social uncertainty and economic insecurity.

President Ramaphosa, former president Zuma, Messrs Steenhuisen, Malema, Hlabisa et al, now is the time to demonstrate your leadership that serves kith, kin, constituency and country. Create the conditions for a different national conversation, leaving none behind, reversing the current trajectory of more poverty, inequality, lack of compassion, community and caring, endangering the gains since the advent of democracy in our troubled land.

Show us a path away from a winter of discontent, and worse. Join together to form a government of national unity that we well know ably ushered in our democracy 30 years ago. Any other path will merely patch over the fissures that will emerge to engulf us in a vortex of despair, hopelessness and fratricide from which we will not be able to recover.

Many close to you will urge you not to do this, giving you strident rhetoric and various specious reasons why you should seek another way out. Is there a more cogent and sustainable way forward? Will you heed the people who have voted and act in the interests of all of us, not the few? You can bring us together, even when the shrill few will not recognise nor acknowledge that we need one another, revealing that human face that eludes us. Will you seize this historic moment and forge a nation in the southern tip of Africa?

Not a colour, a class, a language, a belief, a race, a gender, an ethnicity, or other divide that keeps us from realising ourselves and the vast potential we have when we work together, staunching the slide into more strife, entrenching that which is wrong in society and our nascent democratic system, which keeps the majority dangerously on the peripheries. Do the right thing and leave an abiding legacy of hope and opportunity for the future of our children and those yet to be born.

Prof. Saths Cooper is the President of the Pan African Psychology Union, a former political prisoner and leader of the Black Consciousness Movement and a member of the 1970s group of activists.