Meeting of Leaders of Opposition Parties

Remarks By

Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
President of the Inkatha Freedom Party

 Pepper Club Hotel, Cape Town: 25 November 2011


There has been great public interest and speculation about the reasons for a meeting which has brought together all the leaders of the main parties which are not in government. Somehow, we ourselves are confronted with the same questions about the significance of our meeting and what we can expect from it.

The starting point of our reflections must be found in the fact that we are all here. We came here because we all felt that it is politically necessary for us to begin a dialogue on matters of importance. We all know that the people of South Africa expect us to generate something which can change the stale politics of South Africa. The people of South Africa know instinctively that the country is not doing well and is in the process of becoming worse. They know that they cannot look to those in power to address the many issues afflicting them.

There is serendipity in this meeting taking place just three days after the National Assembly voted on the most controversial piece of legislation since our liberation. The Protection of State Information Bill, which I, like many others, refer to as the “Secrecy Bill”, has coagulated public perceptions on something which could be a watershed change of political events. The entire opposition was united in opposing this Bill. The country saw our unity and appreciated it. On this occasion the united opposition has acted as the legitimate representative of the South African people in respect of a fundamental matter of principle, when those in power acted against the will of the people.

We must build on the momentum created by this event. As a party, the IFP subscribes to the joint call to challenge the constitutionality of the Secrecy Bill by means of a petition to the Constitutional Court to be signed by one third of the members of the National Assembly. We need to do this as soon as possible. But we must also give to our action a more profound and general meaning.

The country wants moral leadership which it can trust. Unfortunately, this is not coming from the ruling party. We are swamped with never ending reports of corruption, incompetence, maladministration and blunders; all this against the backdrop of a government which lacks both vision and leadership.

There is something we have in common which brought us here today. We must explore what that is and reflect upon whether it is something which can respond to the political needs of our people and what our country needs. Undoubtedly, there are many and real differences amongst our parties, which accounts for the fact that we are different parties, with different histories, different policies and different takes on many issues. We must acknowledge and respect these differences because they reflect differences within the electorate. We would not be furthering our electoral fortunes nor would we be serving the will of our people if we suddenly were to become a single party.

Yet, we do have something in common which is bestowed upon us by the present circumstances of history. Without wanting to blow my own trumpet, I dare to say that we represent leaders sustained by principles and with a deep sense of respect for the Constitution, the State and the public interest. Our common platform is that of leaders who wish to protect the public interest and juxtapose themselves to leaders in government who have been seen by the people for what they are, namely, people in the extravagant and relentless pursuit of their own personal interests.

We are leaders who hold dear the values on which our liberation struggle was commenced more than 100 years ago. We abide by the values which inspired our liberation and forged the new South Africa. We hold in our hands the moral compass which the ANC dropped a long time ago. How do we convey this to the people of South Africa in a manner which is both effective and credible?

For me, it is not a matter of creating a new church, no matter how broad a church that may be. For me it is matter of bringing together several churches in a coalition or alliance of people of values to juxtapose our commitment to the Republic to those who have no church, no god but their own self enrichment, no values but their survival and no vision, but that which can be reached a few inches beyond their noses.

Just by standing together we are beginning to project a new image which places in better focus our values for the country and its people. Our track record is known. Most of us cannot reinvent ourselves. Surely there is nothing I can do now which may reinvent what I have done and all that I have been in my past 65 years of my political career. Yet, my sense is that each of us will somehow be different in the eyes of our people if we cooperate more closely.

We cannot speak of unity of the opposition, but about cooperation. Our goals should be that of providing an alternative to the people of South Africa. After all, the President is elected by Parliament and not at the elections. If the ANC is cut below the 49% threshold, we all get an opportunity to participate in the election of the President. Under the present conditions, the best thing that could happen for South Africa is to have a President elected by Parliament through a process of negotiations which forces the ANC to put up somebody who enjoys the confidence of the opposition.

However, for this scenario to be credible in our own eyes and in the eyes of the electorate, we must commit ourselves here and now not to contribute to propping up and supporting the ANC when it needs it. Unfortunately there are many dimensions to corruption, and one which we have witnessed of late is the ANC offering political bribes to bring political organisations within its fold. We must make a commitment not to break ranks as the ANC increases the price of these political bribes, whether they are ambassadorial positions or Cabinet posts.

In this respect, a crucial test will relate to whether we can stand together, as a matter of principle, in not giving the ANC the required majority to amend the Constitution. We are all opposed to the 18th Constitutional Amendment, for good reason. But we must bring this commitment beyond this specific constitutional amendment. We should assert the rule that the Constitution ought to be amended as little as possible and, if it is to be amended, this needs to take place within the process of annual review of the Constitution contemplated by the Constitution and conducted by the Constitutional Review Committee. This avoids the piecemeal amendment of the Constitution which has thus far deteriorated several of the guarantees negotiated during the constitutional settlement.

The success of any political initiative aimed at giving the country a government not controlled by the ANC is predicated not only on ANC voters not voting for the ANC, but also on significant ANC leaders joining our ranks. Therefore, we need to create a broad-based political space which may enable leaders and constituencies which subscribe to ANC principles to come into our midst, recognising that those principles are now better protected here. We need to send a message that those leaders are welcome if they are committed to the rebirth of our Republic and share our values.

It is a reality of our country’s politics that people follow leaders, and we should not be naïve in thinking that we can always reach the electorate without bringing on board their chosen or traditional leaders.

It is important that we maintain the momentum and do not let the press dictate our agenda. I suggest that a Coordinating Committee be established to identify other initiatives which we can take together.

The Honourable Lekota and I have challenged the Government’s refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama. Our application will be heard on the 6th of December by Judge Dennis Davis. I am told that many groups are trying to organise a presence outside the courthouse on this matter, which has had such great international profile. It would be nice if they could be assisted with the relevant logistics, such as getting a permit from both the Police and the courthouse. Many more of these initiatives can be taken to assert in a visible manner our capability of working together.

However, our main attention must be placed in rural areas. Undoubtedly, the discontent against the ANC is going to be growing at a much faster rate and be more visible in urban areas as social and economic conditions deteriorate because of the recession. However, one must not underestimate the growing discontent of people in rural areas.

We need to find initiatives which make it clear to rural people that we recognise their importance and we, collegially, can produce a plan for development in rural areas. In this respect, my suggestion is that we task the Committee to look specifically at the issue of rural development and the thorny issues of land affairs, land distribution and traditional leadership.

Much more could be said. But I know that in processes of this nature we need to take one step at a time without putting too much on the agenda. I know that the time between now and the election is short. But we cannot force the pace, even though we must move without hesitation and with consistency of both action and purpose.

First and foremost, we as leaders must be able to trust one another. I have walked on many paths with many fellow travellers of convenience. My long journey is nearing its destination. I am the eternal optimist. I am the eternal enthusiast. I will give 100% of my energies to anything that can serve the future of South Africa, even though I may not be around to reap the benefit of my actions. I hope that, as I do so, I can find an equal measure of commitment on the side of all those I travel with.