The party that got hijacked
Months ago, when Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini’s spokesperson went on a profanity-laden defence of her boss, a jokester posted this comment on social media: “If Bathabile does not drink, then what is she on?” It was an unfair comment because if someone or their confidante denies a vice, you have to take them at their word, unless you can prove otherwise. What made the unfortunate comment even more unfair was that it was entirely based on Dlamini’s favourite facial expressions, which have led people to believe that she is no enemy of enhanced liquids.
These looks range from bewildered to perplexed to angry to intense to confused, sometimes all at once. Just take a second to google her and you’ll see.
Dlamini was wearing that look when she ambled towards the podium during the official ANC Women’s Day celebration in Kimberley on Wednesday. She positioned herself in front of the microphone and grinded her molars in typical Dlamini style. Then she bellowed “Amandla!”, “malibongwe!”, “viva!” and other related slogans. She then paused and grinded her molars again.
From there it was downhill. Dressed in the women’s league’s high fashion, Dlamini proceeded to heap adulation on the “tortured and persecuted” President Jacob Zuma. She said she was proud of him because he was a “people’s president” who was “humble” and never wanted to pay revenge against “the enemy.” He would always survive enemy attacks because he was not made by the newspapers and the elites, but by the people of Nkandla.
Throughout her speech at this official state event, Dlamini was not a minister of state giving a government speech. She was the president of the ANC Women’s League addressing her comrades at a political rally.
She was not the only one. Earlier, Northern Cape Premier Sylvia Lucas – who gained infamy for blowing R53 000 of taxpayers’ money on hamburgers and fried chicken in just over two months – had done pretty much the same thing. Lucas arrived wearing an ANC jacket and her Women’s Day speech was an extended air kiss to Zuma. Boasting that “we showed them”, this former National Party typist was more of an ANC leader than the premier of a province that was hosting a national event.
The crowd was not just a crowd of ordinary citizens who were there to commemorate a national day. It was an ANC crowd who had turned up for a party rally. At the front were members of the women’s league’s national executive who, according to Dlamini, had turned up to show Zuma love. On Women’s Day.
The rest of the crowd was clad in ANC regalia, from the women’s league uniform to ordinary party wear. The only signs of this being an official state function were banners and miniature South African flags.
But this was not just an ANC event. It was a factional ANC event. This was a pro-Zuma and proNkosazana Dlamini-Zuma rally. The presidential wannabe sat among her women’s league comrades, soaking in their adulation and that of her ex-bae. When the crowd broke into song in praise of her, she flashed what looked like a smile. (You see, smiling is not something she’s particularly enthusiastic about.) What was quite surprising was her ex-bae joining in the song. This was the leader of the party openly endorsing one candidate over others.
While this was going down in Kimberley, in KwaZulu-Natal, members of the Inkatha Freedom Party Women’s Brigade stormed out of the provincial function because it had been similarly hijacked. Clad in ANC and women’s league clothing, a large crowd had been bused to the venue outside Vryheid.
“What was supposed to be a government function turned into a clear ANC rally as ANC members sang ANC songs and chanted ANC slogans, without any objection from government leaders and other members of the KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature,” the women’s brigade said in a statement. This was despite assurances that anyone wearing party gear would be ejected.
The hijacking of government events for partypolitical purposes has become so standard in some provinces and municipalities that nobody bats an eyelid. These are often used to prop up the party in office. An additional benefit is to channel business to favoured tenderpreneurs who provide logistical and catering services for such events. The proceeds are in turn shared between the businessperson and the public office holders. Everyone is happy.
While the situation described above could be defined as corruption, the takeover of national events debases our collective heritage. Occasions such as Women’s Day, Human Rights Day and Heritage Day belong to the nation. They are days of thanksgiving for national heroes and heroines, both famous and unrecognised. They are days of unity on which we either celebrate or commemorate together beyond political and racial lines. Those days are meant to be used as stepping stones on our nationbuilding journey. It is therefore wrong to convert them into party-political platforms, regardless of who is in power.
If South Africans fold their arms and accept this, it will end up being the norm. And even when power changes hands, the new crowd will simply imitate the habits of their predecessors and appropriate the occasions for themselves.