As we wait to find out how seats will be distributed in Parliament, let us consider the need to change the language of politics. Why do we call the party with the most votes the “Ruling Party” when they really should be called the “Serving Party”? Isn’t the only Ruling Party in South Africa is its citizenry?
There has never been a revolution without a change in language. When language changes, minds change; when minds change, governments change.
If the party with the second-highest number of votes can develop new terminology and to use it when speaking to voters, then by local elections it would have gained a bigger audience. At every talking engagement, every debate and at every casual reference to what they would do as the winning party, the DA could take pains to distinguish themselves as a potential “serving party”, a glowing and humble alternative to the “ruling” ANC. Many South Africans believe that the DA is a “white party”. But nobody worries about the skin colour of the people serving them. Emphasizing this difference, over and above other efforts to prove its non-racialism, is how the DA could win more votes.
Yes, efficiency reports and clean audits touch people’s minds. But the language of servanthood will do more to humanize the DA to black voters than anything else. Black people who lived through apartheid understand servanthood only too well; this new terminology would be such a tender and soothing touch upon their souls.
We need to stop communicating the realities of accountability, equality, non-racialism, democracy and servant-government through words like “ruling” and “opposition” parties. To many, it merely sounds like the ruling party rules through and represents democracy, and the opposition party opposes that democracy. Many people don’t know better than to think this way. By allowing this falsehood to slip through, this outdated terminology lends itself to being used to fuel fears that the DA would bring back apartheid.
The reason the ANC got away with saying, “The DA will bring back apartheid” for months is that the DA has played by the terminology of rulership. And when given a choice between what they perceive as white and black parties, black people would rather choose black rulers. The deck is stacked from the word go, and it’s stacked because of the words we use. Just as the DA realized the need to explain its origins, it needs to do itself another favour and run from the terminology of rulership. To continue playing there feeds the lie. It’s trying to beat the ANC at a game that the ANC could never lose.
For months, I have been told things like, “You must support black political parties. They secured your freedom. You don’t want to be ruled by white people. They’ll take you back into apartheid.” In response, I have pointed out that if anyone “rules” this country, we will go into some sort of apartheid-like experience anyway. That is why we cannot afford to elect rulers, only servants. On the stand, Nelson Mandela said, “I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.” The people we vote for ought to exercise power beneath and alongside the people. The DA can claim more ground by turning standard political rhetoric on its head to bring about a psychological revolution. Words are where the EFF’s power comes from. The DA could easily improve on that skill.
We have given awards, accolades, street names and taxes to the people who fought for our freedom. But the one thing we cannot give these liberation veterans is our freedom. I was not set free from the old government so that I may be ruled by the new one; I was set free from the old government so that I could rule with the new one. If my taxes are being abused or mismanaged, then I cannot use my vote to
thank anyone for liberation because the line to my taxes being abused blurs radically. The ballot must be protected from sentimentality; romance must find another place to express itself.
When freed from an old ruler, human nature cannot help turning the rescuer into a new ruler it can thank for its freedom. When people say “Thank you” with their votes for 20 years straight, it proves that it is easier to exorcise a legion of demons than it is to extract someone from that space where sentiment mingles with fear. Words are one way to remind people that the new government is not doing us a favour when it delivers; it is doing its job. Votes are not Thank You notes; votes are hiring and firing notices. Anything short of 100% of the Constitutional mandate is problematic. “You must remember that the ANC is the reason you have the right to vote”, people keep reminding me. “Nelson Mandela was in the ANC until the end.” Intellectually, that’s a terrible reason to vote for the ANC. The ANC was just the body; the principles of freedom and truth were the soul of the ANC and the spirit of what Nelson Mandela embodied while he was alive and in the ANC. If the body has no soul anymore, it doesn’t matter what the body did in the past when it had a soul; nobody has any business being around that corpse except vultures pecking around for tenders and kickbacks.
We must not forget that though it was the ANC at the fore of the liberation movement, the liberation movement would have succeeded without the ANC. Freedom was inevitable because the ANC does not have a corner on the principles that made democracy happen. The ANC was the body; that spirit could
have incarnated anywhere else – and to some extent it did, all around the country as people from all walks of life toppled the old government. If we don’t learn to see the separation between the soul of the old ANC and the dying body of the latter ANC, it shows a level of immaturity on our part. Ayisafani iANC because we romanticized the ballot and refused to see the difference. Unable to imagine a decaying ANC separate from the principles of the old one, we literally spoilt the party rotten by inundated it with absolute power.
Terminology is an important part of any revolution. Governments do not change until language does.
This ANC owns renaming streets and towns. They’re good at that.
Perhaps it’s time for the DA to own the territory when it comes to renaming ideas and concepts.