South Africa – Act Five, Scene One: New script, same storyline
President Jacob Zuma is quoting Shakespeare to punch back at his critics and says there is “nothing wrong with Nkandla”; Lindiwe Mazibuko is dusting herself off and taking time out; Mmusi Maimane is being repackaged for his new role in Parliament and Julius Malema wants to keep wearing his red overalls and engage in talks with Boko Haram. If you were expecting to be basking in a post-election glow, think again. Welcome to South Africa rebooted – more bombast, increased rivalry and a lot more noise. Definitely not for the faint-hearted. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
“Now that the election is over, we must enter a new era of hope and progress. We must enter a period where we bury mistrust, uncertainty, pain and tension, and begin a new chapter of harmony and collaboration. We cannot afford to dwell on the negatives.
“We have gone through a difficult period over a few years; it is now time to put it all behind us. We must enter a period in which South Africa reclaims its position and image as a thriving nation, which can overcome all its difficulties, and which is able to put the country first above sectional and party political interests.”
Sounds good, doesn’t it? Just what we needed to hear.
If you are wondering why you haven’t read it anywhere else, it is because these words were not uttered this week. This was part of a statement Jacob Zuma delivered at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) five years ago at the announcement of the 2009 election results. The ANC had just achieved a 65.9% victory at the polls and Zuma was the president-in-waiting. He clearly wanted to start his presidency off on a positive note and wanted to build a united nation.
Not so much this time.
At the IEC event to announce the election results on Saturday, Zuma’s speech contained no such nation-building sentiment. It was the good story narrative and that the ANC has the approval of the vast majority of South Africans after winning 62.15% of the vote.
“This election victory has re-confirmed just how deeply rooted the ANC is in the hearts and minds of the overwhelming majority of South Africans… It is an affirmation of our assertion that South Africa has a good story to tell, and that we have made this country a much better place to live in than it was before 1994,” Zuma said.
At the ANC’s victory celebrations later on Saturday night, Zuma divulged his own thoughts about the campaign and what the election victory meant. It seemed Zuma had been holding back his annoyance and frustration over the media and opposition’s preoccupation with Nkandla and criticism of the ANC. A party under the stars in the Johannesburg city centre was where Zuma choose to let loose.
He railed against the media and analysts, whom he said “waged a campaign” against the ANC. The ANC focused on its work while “this barrage of anti-ANC propaganda was going on”.
“They were talking to themselves, not to the people. The people were not reading the stories,” Zuma said. “They forgot that before 1994, there was no freedom of association, speech or the media. This time they can write anything they like.”
Zuma also lashed out at opposition parties. “Those parties who spoke so violently in Parliament have been reduced to little dwarfs… They spent more than a year discussing my homestead Nkandla. Instead of telling us what they’ll do for the country.
“They remind me of Shakespeare,” Zuma said, before going on to quote Macbeth’s soliloquy, which ends with:
It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
The crowd of ANC revellers loved and it and cheered the president on. So from the castles of Scotland back to the estate at Nkandla.
“There’s nothing wrong with Nkandla. There’s something wrong with them,” Zuma said. “They began to believe that the people were angry about Nkandla. I don’t know why they should be angry about Nkandla. Really.” He said when they went campaigning door-to-door, no one asked about Nkandla.
When asked at a media briefing on Sunday whether it was the ANC’s position that “there was nothing wrong with Nkandla”, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe said the matter should be left to state institutions to deal with and conclude. Mantashe avoided venturing into Zuma’s commentary.
The media pounding continued at the briefing. “You campaigned hard against the ANC and we beat you. We defeated you,” the head of the ANC’s elections campaign Malusi Gigaba told journalists. “We know you never loved us. And we don’t have a problem with that. Our only concern was whether the people loved and trusted us.”
It is clear that the ANC took strain during the election campaign and as they watched the results come in. While they were always heading for victory, they were panicked about the results in the metros and in Gauteng. Issues like Nkandla and the e-tolls had impacted on voter sentiment and the ANC hoped that their big push to interact with people directly would have regained some ground for them. The mixture of fatigue and relief is now clearly evident.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema, buoyed by the support of 1.169 million voters, is, on the other hand, at the top of his game. In his previous political incarnation in the ANC Youth League, Malema had his own tirades against the media and bouts of belligerence. Now he is presenting himself as a sober, statesman-like figure, ready for his new role as leader of the third-biggest party in Parliament.
Malema began his press conference at the IEC results centre on Saturday by congratulating the ANC and Democratic Alliance (DA) and all other parties who participated in the elections. But he made it clear that he was not going Parliament to play nicely. “We are a qualitative opposition. We are going to put substantive issues on the table. They will no longer be sleeping in Parliament,” Malema said.
He indicated that the EFF was going to Parliament to work and therefore would defy the dress code and wear overalls. “People are hiding their stupidity behind ties… We want a Parliament that reflects our South African society,” Malema said.
While EFF members in different parts of the country were complaining about vote rigging and wanted to challenge the results, Malema calmed the storm, saying while his party lodged certain complaints they accepted the election outcome. He also tried to quell the post-election violence in Alexandra township. “People of Alex, accept defeat, put it behind us. Accept it in dignified way,” Malema said.
“We don’t want this country to be in civil war. We love this country of Nelson Mandela. Never do anything to compromise unity and peace.”
Malema, however, seems to believe his powers of diplomacy and negotiations have global reach. “We dedicate victory to our beautiful girls in Nigeria. We’re coming to fetch you; Africa won’t rest till they are released.” He said the EFF was seeking “contacts” with Boko Haram to “engage” them over the release of the kidnapped schoolgirls.
Malema shrugged off an incident at the IEC centre earlier last week when EFF leaders were snubbed by Zuma when the president went around greeting various political parties. He said he did not know why Zuma had not greeted the EFF representatives, and it was perhaps because he was too busy. “There is no excitement about greeting Zuma,” Malema said, “We don’t feel anything.”
But the stage is set for vigorous parliamentary sessions, with Malema baying for the first battle over Public Protector’s report on Nkandla through a reconstituted ad hoc committee. While Zuma might believe “nothing wrong” happened, Malema will be out to introduce Parliament to EFF-style combat.
The lead player on Nkandla in Parliament, Lindiwe Mazibuko, has nonetheless bowed out in a shock move that seemingly took the DA by surprise. With the official line being that Mazibuko is taking sabbatical to study at Harvard University for a year, the DA’s internal battles over succession and race dynamics in the leadership appear to have contributed to Mazibuko’s decision to take time out.
While the DA has been celebrating its rise in support from 16.6% in 2009 to 22.2% now, they performed below their own expectations, particularly in the ambitious campaign to take control of Gauteng. The DA is still battling to attract black voters, although they believe 760,000 black South Africans voting for them is a major achievement. “We grew our support amongst black South Africans from a miserable 0.8% in 2009 to approximately 6% in 2014,” DA leader Helen Zille told the media.
Mazibuko’s departure at the start of a crucial term exposes the DA’s drive to project itself as a party with an array of black rising stars. Mazibuko also distinguished herself as the DA’s parliamentary leader, keeping the ANC and the executive on their toes. She effectively used the institution of Parliament to try to ensure accountability and kept pressure on the Presidency throughout her term.
The already over-packaged national spokesman and failed candidate for the Gauteng premiership Mmusi Maimane will now try to fill the void. Maimane, however, has no experience in parliamentary politics, while the people he will be up against are now old masters at the game. But the DA caucus is now bigger, and the presence of the 25 “fighters” to their left will also require that they step up their game or be outshone by the rookie EFF MPs.
It has been an exhausting election campaign and there is no doubt that political parties worked hard for the votes that got them seats in Parliament. Political leaders felt the pulse of the nation and have all pledged not to betray their mandates. But we have been here before and the last term began with the president pledging to “put the country first above sectional and party political interests”.
That certainly did not last long.
The next five years for the ANC is about holding on to power and making sure they do not lose ground in places where it matters. Zuma will be coasting towards his retirement and seeking to repair his legacy. But too much has happened for South Africa to hit the reset button and clear the sins of the past five years. It is bound to continue to haunt them.
Judging by the Zuma's bluster on Saturday night, the EFF's proclamations of combat-readiness already evident, the DA's steep ambitions and the prospect of a workers' party looming beyond the horizon, it is going to be a turbulent five years ahead. DM
Photo: ANC's celebrated the 2014 election victory on Saturday, 10 May 2014. (Greg Nicolson)