As a political instrument, what my toddler commonly refers to as poo has a certain quality to it. It's easy to manipulate, readily available, slightly pongy, and really, really hard to throw back. There are certain drawbacks though. You have to handle it yourself, or get someone else to do it for you. While it washes off quickly, it's obvious if you've been using it, and there's a distinct lowering of the tone whenever you touch it. But such are our politicians that there's very little prospect of this week's scatological Olympics in the Western Cape being the last such event in our electoral calender. And, as much as it pains us to report, it's not the first time lavatorial content has been used in such a way either. But it is clear now that if we thought the last elections were bad, the next ones are going to actually be much worse. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
The week got off to a bad start, when what’s been described as ANC Youth League members dropped off a spread of number two on the steps of the Western Cape Legislature. They’re upset about unenclosed toilets in the Khayalitsha area, as part of a saga that goes back to well before the 2011 Local Government Elections. Things took a nastier turn on Tuesday, when people being described as protestors, or activists, threw buckets of the same stuff (although presumably not a strict DNA match) on cars carrying Helen Zille.
Immediately, the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape condemned that, saying they where “disgusted” by the attack. And then, for good measure, claimed they had nothing to do with Monday’s Legislature attack.
Yeah, right. Of course not. Because they’re saintly beings, who know never to use the words “ungovernable” when fighting an election. And look, who belongs to the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape in the first place? You’re in a province where the ANC literally likes to stab itself in the back, you are in an organisation that has lost the right to run itself, and it’s not like your last leader was someone who preached love and respect for Madam Zille in the first place.
The rights and wrongs of the Western Cape’s toilet policy are likely to be thrown at us all for years to come. The actual facts got flushed away years ago. But it does seem clear at this stage that there are far fewer people having to use the bucket system in that province than in other provinces where the ANC rules. Now, Helen, don’t get too excited – obviously you can’t compare the economy of the Western Cape to, say, Limpopo. But it does seem odd that the ANC Youth League is not throwing crap at their own leaders in, say, Seshego. Or how about the area around Viljoenskroon, where hundreds of toilets were built, but never enclosed, by an ANC municipality? And there the local mayor, bless her tenderpreneurial socks, owned part of the company that was supposed be doing the enclosing.
While we’re here, here’s a fact to consider the next time you have a private six minutes. In India, according to the latest census 49.8% of the population go outside when they need to relieve themselves. That’s like half. It’s well over 500mn people. And it would be unthinkable for this kind of attack to happen there.
What this is all really about is next year’s elections, isn’t it?
We can’t just look at one province; we have to look at other developments as well. For years, Zille has been trying to change the playing field of our politics, to move from race and the liberation to service delivery. There’s a reason why during elections you hear all about the DA’s track record, and not as much criticism of the ANC anymore. Now this is starting to pay off.
If you are the ANC, and you desperately want to stop the DA electoral march, you then have two points of attack:
First, you have to sabotage the service delivery. You have to find every single example you can where the DA has not succeeded, and show it up as much as possible. And you have to do in a way that gets you on the front pages. And yes, throwing poo will do it.
But the problem is, there are such things as pesky media. And not everyone in South Africa is as unreasonable as you, so you can get caught. And this where the remote control of it all comes in. If you remember, back in the ANC’s good old days, a young chap who was once important used to say all sorts of things, like “Whites are criminals” and that black female DA officials were tea-ladies. And the people who really mattered in the ANC would pretend to tut-tut while he told Soweto “The DA is for whites, the ANC is for you” and actually did nothing. Because he was on remote control, and thus the message could get out there, without you actually having to smell it yourself.
But that well-known Pedi lexicographer is no longer with us. And so now the politics has to be outsourced. In some cases it’ll be people who were once ANC Youth League members, or even a councillor; in others, it’ll be people who seem to wear the latest ANC T-shirt. And later, someone with a po-face will simply utter the typical South African refrain of “oh you can’t prove it was an ANC member”. They’ll sound like any union leader as the streets of Joburg look like a particularly messy nuclear-waste site. But we’ll all know that someone else is actually pulling the strings.
The other reason we know there is some panic at Luthuli House, is that the other possible card is already being played. It was, quite surprisingly, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane who played it, telling her legislature that if the DA won Gauteng next year, they’d “put a pale male in charge here”. This is her speaking as premier, you understand, not with her ANC hat on.
Because if you’re losing, and the service delivery attack ain’t gonna do it, well then you’re gonna have to the play the pale man. It’s really as simple as that.
However, these tactics are dangerous. Firstly, you can simply get busted. The smell of it all will still accrue to you. And that middle class vote that is so at play in these elections is not going to like these tactics at all. Secondly, it’s really kind of beneath the ANC in so many ways. Once you get that kind of politics in your organisation, it’s only a matter of time before someone uses those tactics in an internal dispute.
And this is what makes what must on some level be a conscious decision so interesting. Why would you use these tactics if they carry such a high risk? Again, we have to ask, what is the ANC getting from its polling data, why the early campaigning, the volunteers being set up, the entire shindig? What is it that is making so many people so worried? Is it just polling data, or just the fact the liberation dividend is running out?
Or perhaps something much more interesting? Like perhaps the guy on the election poster is actually becoming a liability. DM
Grootes is an Eyewitness News Reporter, and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk
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"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon