In politics, to communicate effectively you need to be able to understand the people of South Africa, which many politicians, young and old, have lost touch with, writes Mabine Seabe.
It was during the last decade that South Africa hosted a euphoric
FIFA World Cup; Siya Kolisi raised the Webb Ellis Cup; the much
lauded but now forgotten National Development Plan was adopted; Nelson
Mandela took his last breath; major
metropolitan jurisdictions experienced a change in party-political leadership; and in 2012, the country watched on live television as the government gunned down
It was in this busy decade that the EFF was founded. It was in this
decade that the DA elected its first black leader.
For most of the last decade I had a front-row seat to dramatic
shifts in our body politic.
In 2013, I began my professional career with the
Democratic Alliance. I worked in the communication engine room of the DA –
starting off as a publicist on a fixed term contract to eventually leading the
directorate. These were some of the most rewarding but also the most taxing
years of my short life.
I had the privilege of working with some of the brightest minds in
politics and the art of communication; some of whom are now life-long friends.
I learned from and advised politicians, from different eras and political
persuasions, who truly care about the state of South Africa, and see politics
as a calling to serve, especially the marginalised.
I saw people’s dignity being restored “overnight” because newly
elected governments understood their role and the officials did their work with
There were great political achievements – growing significantly in
Gauteng in 2014; the sustained legal cases, which helped safeguard our Constitutional
order; changing governments in the country’s major metros; the DA filling a
stadium for a rally for the first time; filling the streets of Johannesburg for
marches on issues from everything from job creation to e-tolls and state
capture; and the election of the “Obama of Soweto”, Mmusi Maimane, as leader of
the DA in 2015 in Nelson Mandela Bay.
Equally, I saw the damage that can be done to the grass when the
elephants fight, to rephrase the old adage. I’ve seen egos get in the way of
It would be wrong to reflect on the good days, without looking
back at the bad days too.
There was the ill-conceived decision to work with
AGANG; the loss of voter support in 2019; the manner in which matters of race
are debated (this is a societal problem, but the expectation would be for
leaders to be more responsible and empathetic when dealing with race); and the
management of leadership squabbles.
There are many instances on both the good and bad sides of the
spectrum when reflecting over my time at the DA.
Every experience, whether I
was directly or indirectly involved in the decision-making, shaped my
understanding and application of communication.
There is no better battle for a communications professional than a
political party – you tell the good news and you tell the bad news; sometimes
you’ve got to make bad news look good; you are constantly innovating and
working on beating your opponents; the timing of the message is as important as
the message itself, and so on.
Your work is to make the impossible
In politics, to communicate effectively you need to be able to
understand the people of South Africa, which many politicians, young and old,
have lost touch with.
I nonetheless, find solace in the fact that there are
politicians who are quietly doing the work that they were elected to do. Their
voices aren’t the loudest but their work will change and has changed the lives
For the sake of building a more prosperous nation the “politics of
politics” between and within political parties needs to stop. Of course it is
not this simple, but if our politicians and the private sector puts muscle
behind the issues they agree on, much more can be achieved.
The reality is that the goodwill and patience of South Africans
is wearing thinner and thinner, not only because past promises have not been
delivered on but there is little indication from leaders that the next year
will bring with it easier times.
Those with the power and will need to get to work.
– Mabine Seabe is co-founder of Stratagem Consultants and former DA communication director