DA sins the same way as the ANC

How the op­po­si­tion is rid­ding it­self of De Lille smacks of how the rul­ing party han­dled Malema

Mail & Guardian - - News - Vukani Mde

In Feb­ru­ary 2012, af­ter months of ca­jol­ing, threat­en­ing and dis­ci­plin­ing, the ANC cut its ties with the volatile pres­i­dent of its youth league. Julius Malema ap­pealed but by April he had ex­hausted his op­tions, and the party’s dis­ci­plinary ap­peal panel in­creased the sanc­tion orig­i­nally im­posed to the max­i­mum sen­tence — ex­pul­sion from the party for five years.

The young man who had been in­stru­men­tal in the elec­tion of Ja­cob Zuma to the ANC pres­i­dency in 2007, and who had done more than most to clear Zuma’s path to the Union Build­ings in 2009, was out in the cold.

In hind­sight, it is now clear how baf­fling and sud­den Malema’s fall­ing-out with the party bosses was. He had faced not one but two dis­ci­plinary pro­cesses in the two years lead­ing to the April 2012 ex­pul­sion. A laun­dry list of charges had been brought against him, rang­ing from his pub­lic sup­port for then pres­i­dent of Zim­babwe Robert Mu­gabe to his crit­i­cism of the Botswana gov­ern­ment and, cu­ri­ously, com­par­ing Zuma (un­favourably) with his pre­de­ces­sor Thabo Mbeki.

To the out­side ob­server, it would have seemed as though the party bosses were in search of any charge they could bring against him, as long as they could find him guilty of some­thing and ex­pel him.

Af­ter his ex­pul­sion, crim­i­nal charges re­lated to cor­rup­tion and tax eva­sion fol­lowed, and Malema found him­self in the same po­si­tion as the one he had worked so tire­lessly to ex­tri­cate Zuma from some years ear­lier: job­less, out­side the ANC, iso­lated and fac­ing years in court and a pos­si­ble jail sen­tence.

Of course, Zuma, not least be­cause of the efforts of Malema (who had once vowed to “kill for Zuma” if nec­es­sary) and oth­ers, had bounced back. Only four years af­ter be­ing fired from Mbeki’s gov­ern­ment, Zuma was pres­i­dent of the repub­lic.

Malema set about plot­ting his own come­back story. Hav­ing been ex­com­mu­ni­cated from the party, he would have to do it out­side of the ANC.

Un­like Zuma, Malema did not have the ad­van­tage of be­ing in the ANC, but he had other cards to play and, in the sub­se­quent years, he has played them well.

He was young and en­er­getic, he had a po­lit­i­cal base in the youth league and he had built up an iden­tity as the coun­try’s most rad­i­cal po­lit­i­cal voice. His youth league had taken up the mantra of eco­nomic free­dom and ac­cel­er­ated land re­form.

When he fi­nally gave up on re­main­ing in the rul­ing party, he would use these plat­forms to con­struct an al­ter­na­tive po­lit­i­cal plat­form, which grew to be thorn in the side of the ANC.

To­day his Eco­nomic Free­dom Fighters party punches well above its weight in pol­i­tics and pol­icy de­bates, fre­quently ap­pear­ing to lead the ANC rather than react to it (even if the ex­tent of this is of­ten over­stated, not least by the EFF it­self).

A re­mark­ably sim­i­lar po­lit­i­cal fall­ing-out is play­ing out in the coun­try’s big­gest op­po­si­tion party. The Demo­cratic Al­liance lead­er­ship is pulling out all the stops to oust se­nior mem­ber and Cape Town mayor Pa­tri­cia de Lille. Var­i­ous al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion, mal­ad­min­is­tra­tion and in­com­pe­tence have been lev­elled against her.

The party has tried a vote of no con­fi­dence in the city coun­cil and an in­ter­nal party dis­ci­plinary process, nei­ther of which has so far yielded the out­come de­sired by DA bosses.

Cu­ri­ously, they have now taken to re­ly­ing on a ra­dio in­ter­view that De Lille gave on the Euse­bius McK­aiser show on 702 as the most vi­able rea­son for strip­ping De Lille of her party mem­ber­ship and her po­si­tion.

That move, should it fi­nally suc­ceed (it is now held in abeyance by a court judg­ment that tem­po­rar­ily re­stored De Lille to her post), would short-cir­cuit both the dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee process and the need for a con­fi­dence vote in coun­cil.

Which raises the ques­tion: Did the party ever be­lieve it had a case against the mayor with the rather se­ri­ous gover­nance al­le­ga­tions it made against her, or were they al­ways just the most con­ve­nient way to get rid of her, and which have now been over­taken by her al­leged trans­gres­sion of a party con­sti­tu­tional clause?

Aban­don­ing the op­por­tu­nity to hold ac­count­able a se­nior party fig­ure and gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial for al­leged abuse of of­fice be­cause you have had the luck to find a quick­fire way of oust­ing her sug­gests that “get­ting rid” was al­ways a goal more im­por­tant than “hold­ing ac­count­able”, which strongly sug­gests the dis­ci­plinary com­mit­tee and po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses were just means to a pre­de­ter­mined end. So, it is Malema all over again.

It may be in­ter­est­ing to spec­u­late what De Lille’s next move will be when she and the party in­evitably part ways and whether she has a Malema-like bounce-back in her fu­ture. But it is not the most im­por­tant part of the story to con­sider.

The more it grows as a party of power rather than just an op­po­si­tion party, the more likely the DA is to face the same prob­lems that the ANC has. It is tempt­ing in the po­lit­i­cal dis­course (and this is es­pe­cially the case in the DA and among its sup­port­ers) to see the prob­lems of cor­rup­tion and in­com­pe­tence in the state as pe­cu­liar to the ANC and an in­her­ent part of the rul­ing party’s DNA.

Among con­ser­va­tive white sup­port­ers of the DA in par­tic­u­lar, the pop­u­lar ep­i­thet used to re­fer to the coun­try’s largest and old­est party is “cAN­Cer”.

Of all the pos­si­bil­i­ties for de­ri­sive nomen­cla­ture one could use for the ANC, this is the most in­ter­est­ing. It re­veals more than just the poor imag­i­na­tion of those who use it. It shows an in­cli­na­tion to see and char­ac­terise the short­com­ings of ANC rule as a kind of pathol­ogy.

They are not. They are the in­evitable out­comes of the ex­er­cise of state power in dys­func­tional so­ci­eties, par­tic­u­larly one char­ac­terised by gross in­equal­ity and en­trenched in­jus­tice.

What the rul­ing party it­self calls “the sins of in­cum­bency” will re­sult from DA rule as much as the ANC’s. That means the DA would face the same prob­lems were it ever to take over the na­tional gov­ern­ment or one of the prov­inces and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties that don’t have the Western Cape’s in­her­ited ad­van­tages.

One need not be­lieve De Lille guilty of the things the party ac­cuses her of to see that there will be many De Lilles in the DA’s fu­ture, if that fu­ture in­volves win­ning and hold­ing power. Ac­cess to state power, state re­sources and the abil­ity to shape events in busi­ness and other ar­eas of in­flu­ence — all these are great temp­ta­tions for in­di­vid­u­als and par­ties in of­fice.

We could learn a lot about how a DA in power could han­dle this re­al­ity by watch­ing them on De Lille. So far, the picture isn’t good.

Power’s chal­lenge: Pa­tri­cia de Lille has her day in court. The Demo­cratic Al­liance has lev­elled a range of ac­cu­sa­tions against the DA mem­ber and Cape Town’s mayor. Photo: David Har­ri­son

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