EDITORIAL: Avoid populist politics for good governance

Sunday April 28 2019

The Republic of South Africa (RSA) is to hold the General Election on May 8 this year in which 400 legislators for the National Assembly and members of the nine Provincial Legislatures will be elected.

This will be the sixth General Election under the universal adult suffrage system since the country abandoned the apartheid system in 1994.

The multiparty, multi-racial elections on April 26-29, 1994 saw the African National Congress (ANC) of the majority black population win by a goodly 62.65 per cent of the 19.7 million total valid votes cast.

According to the RSA Constitution, the ANC national leader, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013) became the first black to assume the Presidency– beating into second and third places respectively the apartheid National Party led by Frederik Willem de Klerk (27 per cent of the total valid votes) and the iNkatha Freedom Party (IFP), led by fellow black, Mangosuthu Buthelezi (10.54 per cent of the votes).

In any case, the veritable Mandela and his close aides cobbled together a government of National Unity (GNU) comprising the ANC, the National Party – mostly made up of Afrikaners – and the iNkathaParty of mostly Zulus (IFP).

President Mandela became Head of State and government for only a single five-year term (1994-99), during which he tried to create a ‘Rainbow Nation’ out of a country that had been immersed in apartheid for generations, a system of segregation/discrimination on racial grounds.


The phrase ‘Rainbow Nation’ was coined by Archbishop Desmond Tutu to describe post-apartheid South Africa, following that country’s first democratic elections in 1994. This envisaged a single nation-state in which different tribes, races, religions and cultures live together in harmony...

Situation is worsening

However, this is yet to happen 25 years down the road, post-apartheid. In fact, the situation on the ground is worsening by the day, as South Africa drifts from the path to a rainbow nation and onto a nation that is on the brink of a fate worse than internecine apartheid.

Today, politicos engender xenophobia, fuelling their followers by slogans and rhetoric to ‘see and treat’ non-South Africans in their midst as enemies who must somehow be obliterated from ‘Mandela-land.’

And, as the years after the Mandela Presidency became decades, the politicians not only drifted from the envisaged rainbow nation status; they also drifted further and further apart from each other. That is how and why today we have trouble-fomenting political parties like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by the fiery Julius Malema, and the Democratic Alliance – this time led by a Black, Mmusi Maimane.

What is going on in South Africa today amounts to populist politics. Generally considered an elusive term to definitively pin down, ‘populist politics’ nonetheless includes elements of “political rhetoric/approach that deliberately appeals to ‘the people’ – usually by conceptualizing politics as a conflict between a conspiratorial elite and the public will.”

This must be avoided at all costs in the best interests of bona fide democracy and general good governance.