Looking at Wednesday’s National Day of Action march to the Union Buildings led by most of the country’s major opposition parties was something of a revelation.
It showed us what politicians can achieve when they decide to work together for what they believe is the greater good.
Many of these parties, at a policy and governance level, could not be more different.
The EFF wants to take away most private ownership of land and “lease” it to people it alone will decide deserve to have access to it.
The DA wants to run the country with a strong reliance on the free market and liberalism, which places the rights of individuals first.
Then there are all the other parties that fall on a sort of continuum between these two, as well as Christian parties that would like to govern South Africa according to their interpretations of the Bible.
All of these differences have now been put aside in the pursuit of one goal: the removal from power of President Jacob Zuma, whose departure, it is hoped, will lift the not-so-invisible-hand of the avaricious Gupta family from the steering wheel directing South Africa to a very uncertain and impoverished future.
Of course, seeing such political unity is well overdue, but one can only imagine how quickly it will again vanish once the common enemy has been vanquished, and we will again have to face a ride on very bumpy and contested political terrain.
However, if the future of South Africa lies in coalition politics, with no party receiving a clear majority, then Wednesday was a sign that it is possible for our politicians to spend more time looking for the things that bind us, which make us one nation, than to nit-pick over our differences.
We saw Mosiuoa Lekota defending Afrikaans as a language spoken by more black people than white people.
We saw Julius Malema saying that opposing Zuma was not racist, and he would be proud to be called a racist if that were the case.
We saw a white EFF supporter asking Malema to “adopt him”.
We saw a general understanding and concern that the economy doesn’t really care about your ideologies, and if inflation starts to get the better of us, then a loaf of bread costing “R80”, in the words of Malema, will be a crisis that no amount of political posturing will be able to fix overnight.
If it’s possible to see not only the end of Zuma, but also the removal from power of all those who have apparently carried on year after year – oblivious to the damage his reign has wrought – then we may find ourselves at a new beginning as a nation and as a country.
One feels that our nationhood and identity would then have to be renegotiated again, almost from scratch.
Most importantly, we’ll have to find a new approach to keeping power in check – and one helpful step would be to curb the country’s presidential powers and prerogatives.
Because you’re not always going to get a Nelson Mandela. You should assume you’re going to end up with a Zuma, or someone far worse than him.
We need even more institutional protections against one man or woman being free to wreak as much havoc as they please.