Academic and political analyst Professor Somadoda Fikeni has urged the United Democratic Movement (UDM) to “outgrow regionalism” if it wants to grow as a political party.
He said regional politics translated to tribal politics.
In reference to founder and president Bantu Holomisa, Fikeni also warned the party not to depend on just one leader “no matter how good he is”, if it was to improve support towards the 2019 general elections.
Fikeni said the UDM needed to invest in “a layer and depth of leaders” if it was to make an impact across the country in future.
He was addressing the UDM’s two-day provincial bosberaad in East London on Saturday when the party sat for a “postmortem” meeting following its dismal performance in the local government elections.
“The UDM will have to outgrow the perception that it is . . . a regional party with its roots in the Transkei if it plans to expand beyond its localisation,” Fikeni said.
“The regionalism disease is widespread in this country and, as a result, the issue of regional politics translates to tribal politics. That is how others see it.”
He told party members – including provincial parliamentarians, provincial representatives, councillors and party veterans – that if they were to make inroads in gaining support for the party, they needed to familiarise themselves with other languages and cultures.
That was because “the universe was not only the Eastern Cape”.
“Even in conferences nationally, you don’t want to speak other languages because of the lack of multicultural consciousness of understanding that leaders need to speak other languages . . . If you are to improve, take interest in the history of other tribes in South Africa so that you become a cosmopolitan, well-rounded, complex leader.”
Fikeni was part of a group of academics and political analysts invited by the UDM to provide a critical analysis of the party’s performance in past elections and how the party could change to improve support and relevance in future.
Fikeni also warned the bosberaad delegates about following personality cults.
“To properly profile your party, you need layer and depth of leadership and not to depend on just one leader, no matter how good he is.
“We should consciously say we need to have depth in leadership so that even if something happens to the leader you have, the party can still operate.”
Fikeni touched on the issue of coalition governments across some of the country’s municipalities.
He warned the party to be vigilant of such alliances because coalition politics was very complex and smaller parties had to fight to retain their identities or they would be easily swallowed up by their allies.
“Identity and being distinct about what you do is key,” he said.
The UDM, which obtained just less than 2% in the recent elections in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and less than 1% in Buffalo City, became kingmakers and entered into a coalition with the DA in the Bay, an arrangement that toppled the ANC from power.
As a result, UDM councillor Mongameli Bobani was awarded the deputy mayor position in the province’s biggest metro.
Fikeni said the party needed to take advantage of “the ANC’s demise” and focus more on recruiting in the “urban constituency”.