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

CityPress - - Voices and Careers -

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.

PHOTO: DEN­VOR DE WEE

HY­PER­SEN­SI­TIVE

ANC Youth League mem­bers dur­ing an anti-racism march to the DA’s of­fices in Cape Town last week

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