Prominent Zimbabwean opposition politician Tendai Biti warned South Africans to use their votes wisely on May 29 to prevent South Africa from going the same way as other regional countries ruled by liberation movements.

South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Tanzania, Angola, Botswana, and Mozambique, are governed by former liberation movements.

Speaking at the Daily Maverick’s Gathering Twenty 2024 in Cape Town on Thursday, Biti, a former MP for Harare East, asserted that all six former liberation movements in Southern Africa share a common ethos: an unwavering focus on power rather than the development of their nations and citizens.

He warned that unless the governing party in South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) transformed itself, it was in danger of dying the way the United National Independence Party (UNIP), the independence movement of Zambia and KANU, the independence movement of Kenya, had died. Biti said:

The liberation movement that fails to transform, the liberation movement that fails to democratise itself… atrophies, it disappears.

And I think you are seeing slowly here in South Africa the withering of the liberation movement.

Biti noted the decline in ANC electoral support from the high levels under Mandela to May 2024, when “if they get 40% or 44%, they would have done very well.” He added:

So the acceleration of South Africa towards a state of state failure is beholding and bewildering to many Africans who live north of the Limpopo because of the huge vast resources that your country has.

But the story of South Africa is a story that has been narrated and lived in much of Africa, where it’s been characteristic of state failure, of pseudo-elections, the ritual of elections that are held every five years.

Biti said liberation movements were concerned with power for power’s sake instead of power to develop the economy.

He said due to their failure to enact meaningful transformation and create employment opportunities, these former liberation movements have fallen into a regressive pattern of entitlement.

They now adhere to a culture that asserts, “We deserve tenders and substantial contracts because we were the liberators.”

Biti claimed that in Zimbabwe, one could not get a job or a contract in the public service unless one had participated in the liberation struggle.

In all these countries, there was a rule of law for others and a rule by law — or impunity — for the leaders. He said:

Firstly is the weaponization of poverty, the weaponization of harm.

Sixty-nine per cent of the poorest people in South Africa vote for the ANC.

In Zimbabwe, where I come from, the ruling party finds dominance in the rural areas where poverty is the order of the day.

So poverty is weaponized. Ignorance is weaponized.

Biti said in Zimbabwe the constitution was no more than a worthless piece of paper.

In contrast, he commended South Africa’s judiciary for upholding its constitution, saying the courts in South Africa have played a crucial role in safeguarding constitutional principles and rights.

The CCC official noted that in regional countries where liberation movements were in control, citizens bear some responsibility for state failure.

However, in South Africa, he emphasized that citizens still have hope, but they must actively participate to reclaim control of their future.