Of VBS and the EFF, old white guys and the ANC

Sunday Times - - Opinion - PETER BRUCE

This time, in this scan­dal, let’s do some­thing dif­fer­ent. All of us. To­gether. Let’s not rush into judg­ment. Yes, a dev­as­tat­ing re­port into the rob­bery of VBS Mu­tual Bank in Lim­popo shows that it trans­ferred R16.1m to Brian Shivambu, brother of Floyd, deputy leader of the EFF. My ini­tial re­sponse in a col­umn was to as­sume this would be party fi­nanc­ing, as par­ties of the Left al­ways strug­gle for funds.

But I take it back. What if I was wrong? What if there’s a per­fectly in­no­cent ex­pla­na­tion for a guy who left univer­sity just last year se­cur­ing R16.1m from a bank? It is a stretch, I know. It sounds dodgy as hell but the VBS bank rob­bery has been so graph­i­cally spelt out by its au­thor, ad­vo­cate Terry Mo­tau, that even the SAPS should be able to spot the crimes and write up the charges. There’ll be a queue of peo­ple to help them if they need ex­pla­na­tions.

Still, the Shivambu thing nags at me. Thurs­day was the worst day for the EFF in years. The nor­mally im­pec­ca­ble Dali Mpofu fluffed his lines so badly at one stage that he tweeted, in re­sponse to a friendly in­quiry about whether Floyd could be charged for his brother's crimes: “Ja! In the Ig­no­rant Repub­lic of the Mob [the ‘mob’ be­ing EFF crit­ics] you can be charged for the deeds of your rel­a­tives …”

To which some­one, bril­liantly, replied to the nor­mally sil­ver-tongued ad­vo­cate: “But you sup­port the State pe­nal­is­ing peo­ple whose rel­a­tives stole the land …”

When I stopped laugh­ing I re­minded my­self of my new re­solve not to judge. It’s not that easy, but there’s a line in a John le Carré novel that I’ve never for­got­ten be­cause it is so of­ten true: “When you are ac­cused of mon­strous things, noth­ing sounds so fee­ble as the truth.”

I will wait and watch for more truth. I hope we all will. The VBS re­port will form the ba­sis of a Hawks in­ves­ti­ga­tion. It will shape what they do. It is a new and easy case and the new Hawks man­age­ment, ea­ger for a vic­tory, will leap upon it with vigour.

Julius Malema was miss­ing in ac­tion when the EFF were tak­ing a ham­mer­ing on Thurs­day but he’s called a press con­fer­ence for Tues­day, so ex­pect some­thing dra­matic from him. He has to re­store rat­tled con­fi­dence in the party and he has to do it quickly.

He knows the EFF is close to mak­ing a real break­through in next year’s elec­tions but that our pol­i­tics are frag­ile. He wants to dou­ble the EFF’s last gen­eral election out­ing of just over 6%. To get just over 12% he needs more than one mil­lion new votes. It’s a big stretch and VBS is an un­ex­pected clear and present dan­ger to that.

How he han­dles the next few weeks will also, strangely, af­fect the way I’m be­gin­ning to de­tect a lot of vot­ers in my de­mo­graphic (white, male 55plus) are think­ing. There are quite a lot of us. We hang out in bars, are be­wil­dered by al­most any­one un­der 40, can’t fin­ish ar­ti­cles about re­plac­ing gross do­mes­tic prod­uct as a mea­sure of growth and we aren’t leav­ing the coun­try. We like Rassie Eras­mus and are blown away by Aphiwe Dyan­tyi, even though we have to google his name to spell it. It’s nice here and our kids are big enough to look af­ter them­selves.

But we do worry about the EFF. That’s not un­rea­son­able given the blood-cur­dling racial rhetoric. I’ve had quite a few guys my age say to me in just the past few weeks that they’re go­ing to break the habit of a life­time next election and vote ANC. The way they see it, the DA is not mak­ing head­way but the EFF is.

What they don’t want is the EFF drag­ging the ANC vote be­low 50% and then be­ing able to dic­tate from the side­lines, as is their method now in some met­ros where the DA strug­gles in mi­nor­ity govern­ment with the EFF’s con­stantly con­di­tional and prickly sup­port.

It leads to the quite re­mark­able sit­u­a­tion in which, as Cyril Ramaphosa pushes for the ex­pro­pri­a­tion of land without com­pen­sa­tion, a grow­ing num­ber of whites see vot­ing for him as the only way of avoid­ing some­thing worse, which would be the EFF na­tion­al­is­ing the land. The DA would get their pro­vin­cial votes.

That’s why the VBS scan­dal is so im­por­tant. If Julius can­not get the EFF out of the corner it is in and goes into the 2019 election vis­i­bly dam­aged, those wa­ver­ing white vot­ers might re­lax and stick with the DA. But my gut feel­ing is that, this time, they’ll play safe and go with Cyril any­way. Who’re we play­ing in Novem­ber, boys?

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