By Nontshisekelo Shange
South African politics is shifting. There now exists the potential for political players to leave behind larger parties without joining or forming another one. On 11 June 2020, the Constitutional Court declared the Electoral Act, 1998 unconstitutional to the extent that it prevents independent candidates from running for public office. This would allow political candidates to run for the presidency without having to be affiliated with a political party. This changes the future of South African politics, particularly for young politicians.
On 20 November 2020, the Wits University Debating Union held an exhibition debate as part of a series of events hosted by Accountability Lab South Africa in partnership with The Danish Embassy of South Africa. These events are aimed at encouraging youth and citizen interest in ethical civil service. The students debated the motion: ‘This house supports the rise of non-partisan youth politics’. The debate was hosted by eNCA broadcaster, Shahan Ramkissoon.
Listen to the full debate below and scroll down for more highlights:
Lindokuhle Mabaso, acting as prime minister of the proposing team, argued that the issue with partisan politics is that “an individual becomes the essence of a party”. She used political parties such as the ANC and EFF as examples, noting their fixation with the past as opposed to making a lasting change based on policies.
“There has been slow and minimal effort to respond to the concerns of the youth. This is exemplified in the way in which the youth accounted for the group that voted least in the previous national election,” says Mabaso.
The rise of non-partisan politics will help the youth build unaffiliated and unbiased opposition to the existing political parties, Mabaso argued. “The youth is encouraged to engage in politics, not by validating the politics of existing parties… but interrogating existing knowledge and critically assessing which ideology best serves society.”
In his rebuttal, as leader of the opposition, Dan Lee, said:
“The type of partisanship that exists in SA right now has a level of institutional incontinuity that makes it impossible to make yourself a non-partisan political actor.”
Dan Lee used examples such as Herman Mashaba, who left the DA in favor of nonpartisanship but has now started his political party, Action SA. In youth politics, Dan Lee states that “non-partisanship does not result in representation,” using Wits university’s current SRC as an example: only one out of 13 SRC members is not associated with a political party.
In their response, the team proposing the motion said that youth politics is already moving largely towards non-partisanship, with movements such as Fees Must Fall being led mostly through individuals or coalitions. With new laws in place, this opens up a wide array of new possibilities for the South African youth.
It was a fascinating debate. It reminded the audience that as these new possibilities open up, the challenge will be encouraging the public to leave behind a familiar reality and open themselves up to the possibilities of non-partisanship.