Who is the real opposition?
The ANC has been forced into permanent reactive mode on most issues affecting the nation as it flounders in the wake of the DA and the EFF, writes
Last Friday, as the world’s most powerful people debated the fourth industrial revolution in Davos, a contingent of ANC supporters were handing out bananas to members of the opposition on the streets of Cape Town. In case anyone thought this was a bizarre act of generosity, don’t be fooled. The crowd that descended on the DA’s headquarters were not there to perform works of charity. They were there to tell the DA it is a racist party. The bananas were a weak prop aimed at aligning the DA with Penny Sparrow, the poster girl for racism who compared blacks to monkeys early this year.
The march by the governing party on an opposition party’s offices was the clearest demonstration of just how much the ANC has lost initiative in setting the agenda of South African politics.
After spending much of 2014 and 2015 following the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) around, the ANC has spent the first month of this year expending its energies on the DA.
When the year began, the ANC was gifted with the revelation that Sparrow was an active DA member, and it sucked maximum political mileage out of this. Coming after parliamentarian Diane Kohler Barnard’s controversial socialmedia post last year, Sparrow was a godsend.
From there, the governing party’s leaders, spin doctors and social-media brigade pummelled the DA in a concerted effort to drill into the public mind that the DA is a breeding ground for racists and an incubation hub for white supremacy. Each week has seen the ANC throw mud at the DA, responding with venom to each utterance by a leader of the opposition party.
However, on the actual issue of racism, the governing party has dismally failed to provide leadership, preferring to use it as an election tool. Outflanked by DA leader Mmusi Maimane’s thoughtful intervention on race, the ANC’s lame response was that it was “a big live TV sham” that paid lip service to nonracialism.
When the DA put up a giant poster blaming President Jacob Zuma for mass unemployment, the ANC went on the attack and accused the opposition party of racism. When the DA held a pro-jobs march on the streets of Johannesburg, the ANC was quick to put out a statement accusing its rivals of giving protesters R100 to pitch up.
“The DA, in pursuit of its racist agenda, chose to take advantage of the poverty confronting our people by using them as pawns to further the interests of a white minority who were not even visible in their march,” said the ANC.
It continued: “While we respect the freedom of association and protest, we view the DA’s stunt as an insult to democracy when they use unemployed black faces to mask their racist agenda. This conduct continues to confirm that the DA, with its rented black so-called leaders, continues to be a home of racism that thrives on abusing black people in protecting white capital.” Absolutely nothing original there. In the next few weeks, the EFF is likely to reclaim its place as the determinant of the governing party’s agenda, a perch it has occupied with pride since its formation two and half years ago. Throughout that period, Julius Malema and his lieutenants composed and conducted the ANC’s music, leaving the bigger party to dance to the tune of the upstart. Whether it was political scandals, policy matters or events on the political scene, the ANC was a follower.
On policy matters, the youthful party has often forced the ANC to mouth rhetoric that is not in line with its own orientation. Take the land issue as an example – something that was for a long time a side issue for the ANC. With the arrival of the EFF and its focus, the ANC started to sound militant on the subject.
Earlier this month, Zuma sounded like a lite version of Malema during the party’s anniversary celebrations when he spoke on the issue of land.
“My problem is, the source of poverty, inequality, unemployment is land – which was taken, not bought, [but] stolen. But the government of the people has to buy it back as if it was sold. It was never sold; it was taken – stolen. You need instruments to solve that problem of poverty. We are just scratching the surface with that issue,” said Zuma at the time.
It was a marked departure from ANC thinking and government policy, which, while acknowledging the wrongs of the past, have moved way beyond blame apportioning. The policies, which have been refined and re-refined over the past two decades, are practical and well thought through.
But here was the leader of the party steering away from his organisation’s script. Malema must have smiled with pride upon realising he was being mimicked by his erstwhile hero. When the formal political calendar begins this week, the EFF will once more take centre stage, forcing the majority party to scamper around like a headless chicken.
It is not only the political opposition that finds itself dictating the ANC’s pace. Last year, the ANC found itself running behind youngsters. During the #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall campaigns, the ANC was at sixes and sevens trying to keep up with the street activists. Realising it had failed to provide leadership on two very important issues – one of national cohesion and the other of practical implementation – the party belatedly tried to bully itself on to the playground.
Indications are that this isn’t a passing phase. Rudderless and consumed by internal strife, the ANC is unable to think and lead. It has been forced into permanent reactive mode on most issues affecting the nation. It has been crippled and rendered unable to think clearly.
That is why it is just so much simpler to hand out bananas.
ANC Youth League members during an anti-racism march to the DA’s offices in Cape Town last week