The DA’s prompt change of tune

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

IN APRIL this year, a new phrase en­tered the public lex­i­con, thanks to wags on so­cial me­dia. To “man­tashe” quickly came to mean to change one’s tune abruptly, af­ter the epony­mous sec­re­tary- gen­eral of the rul­ing ANC did a sur­pris­ing volte-face over Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma’s dra­matic cab­i­net reshuf­fle.

This week­end, though, South Africa dis­cov­ered that it is not just the ANC that can and does “man­tashe”; the op­po­si­tion DA can do as fine a job.

On Satur­day, the DA an­nounced with some fan­fare that dis­graced na­tional leader Helen Zille was to be sus­pended from the party – but not as premier of the Western Cape – over her con­tro­ver­sial tweets on colo­nial­ism be­cause she had not apol­o­gised for them, pend­ing her dis­ci­plinary in­quiry for bring­ing the party into dis­re­pute.

Many praised the party, in par­tic­u­lar par­lia­men­tary leader Mmusi Maimane, for tak­ing ac­tion – al­beit de­layed – against the once iconic Zille, who has quickly be­come a highly di­vi­sive fig­ure, a mill­stone drag­ging the party down.

No sooner had the hub­bub died down than an amended note was sent out – the fed­eral ex­ec­u­tive of the party had re­solved to give Zille 72 hours’ no­tice of their in­ten­tion to sus­pend her and to give her an op­por­tu­nity to ex­plain why she shouldn’t be sus­pended.

Only then will the party’s fed­eral ex­ec­u­tive de­cide whether to sus­pend her or not.

There’s a wealth of dif­fer­ence be­tween the two an­nounce­ments, and none of it is se­man­tic.

In­stead it is in­dica­tive of the var­i­ous power bases at play, win­ning cru­cial lit­tle bat­tles in a long-term war. Zille is both a mas­ter politi­cian and a de­ter­mined in­di­vid­ual, very much like Zuma in that re­spect.

Nei­ther will be go­ing any­where any­time soon, as Maimane will have dis­cov­ered to his cha­grin and the ANC’s anti-Zuma fac­tions are re­learn­ing ev­ery day.

The art of pol­i­tics is what Ger­man states­man Otto von Bis­marck termed the “art of the pos­si­ble”, the tri­umph of prag­ma­tism over pol­icy. The art, in­deed, of “man­tash­ing”. The court of public opin­ion has no rel­e­vance what­so­ever in the smoky back­room cor­ri­dors.

This week­end was a les­son for all of us in re­alpoli­tik.

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