Winds of democratic change in Zambia and Malawi will sweep across southern Africa


The winds of change are there to observe for anyone who takes the time to look closely. Liberation parties, along with corrupt dominant parties, are falling, and this pattern is moving down the map all the way to South Africa.

The winds of democratic change are indeed blowing across southern Africa. There is a clear and unstoppable trend that should excite us. The pattern of events is of historical significance and closely tracks trends that we have seen before in the history of southern Africa.

The attainment of independence of southern African states followed a clear trend. Malawi obtained its independence from Britain on 6 July 1964, Zambia followed suit on 24 October 1964, Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980 and South Africa finally followed suit on 27 April 1994.

The pattern is now repeating itself right before our very eyes with respect to the transfer of power from liberation movements to newer political formations. The winds of change are there to observe for anyone who takes the time to look closely. Liberation parties along with corrupt dominant parties are falling, and this pattern is moving down the map all the way to South Africa.

Malawi was first and 2020 saw the emergence of new leadership, with the Constitutional Court choosing the people over powerful political parties and ordering a new election. 2021 continued that trend line to Zambia, where the people have voted to end the 10-year rule of the Patriotic Front. In spite of efforts by some to frustrate the process, the people of Zambia resoundingly chose Hakainde Hichilema. Next in line is Zimbabwe in the 2023 elections and, finally, the winds of change will blow in South Africa in 2024.

It has become ever more evident that it is important to have all the institutions and infrastructure in place for free and fair elections and for a smooth handover of power. While I was worried that there would be violence and obstructionism in Zambia, my fears have not materialised. It seemed like Edgar Lungu would make things difficult for a moment there – however, he has shown graciousness and accepted defeat. This will allow the president-elect to begin his preparatory work without having to worry about sabotage and distraction.

Having pondered on the events of the past week, I am more convinced than ever that we need to move ahead with electoral reform in South Africa. Our current system is not efficient for accountability. The entire year we have been talking about the ANC Integrity Commission and the ANC National Executive Committee and its decisions with regard to Ace Magashule, Zweli Mkhize and others. We have been doing this because the ANC is holding all the cards and the party determines how government officials are ultimately held to account.

This is not how democracy is supposed to be: the people are meant to be central to the accountability mechanism, not the party. In our system the president does not have to account to the public, or even to Parliament. He accounts to the ANC and as long as he is safe in the party, he can build fire pools, he can ignore the medical advice on ARVs, he can reshuffle incompetent ministers from one position to another despite their evident failure to perform.

We have won a critical victory allowing independent candidates to run for the National Assembly, and while there are some who are attempting to delay the implementation of the New Nation judgment, it will come to pass. I will be one of those fighting to make sure that the order of the Constitutional Court is implemented – this is critical for our democracy. However, even that is not enough to bring full accountability to the people. 

We need to go further; we need direct accountability for the president. In Zambia the president is elected directly; this is also the case in many other countries. Hakainde Hichilema is ultimately accountable to the voters and not just to his political party, the UNDP. He must work out his relationship with the people with fear and trembling because he cannot hide behind the party. He cannot hide behind collective accountability like ANC presidents have done so often. With direct election of the president, there is individual accountability and as a result, better prospects for delivery.

Democracy requires regular change. The equally important dynamic in Zambia is also in the concession made by outgoing president Edgar Lungu. Often people tell me that if the ANC was to lose power, it would lead to an unstable situation in SA. This fearmongering does not help bolster the democratic cause. 

The ANC will eventually lose a national election and they must be held true to the stalwarts who fought for our freedom in that they never fought for a one-party state but rather democracy. In HH we have a new ally for democracy in the region, along with Malawi’s Lazarus Chakwera and other democrats in the region.

About the author: Mmusi Maimane is the chief activist of the One South Africa Movement

Daily Maverick