Through the wormhole: DA's EE bill debate
- Stephen Grootes
- South Africa
- 13 Nov 2013 12:25 (South Africa)
The DA has got itself into a bit of a fix over the Employment Equity Amendment Bill. First it supported it, now it will vote against it. There are all sorts of noble and complicated arguments around identity here. About how a party must grow, and keep its core support, and outgrow that support very carefully, while not changing its identity too quickly. And we would explore all of that. But instead, through a series of events simply too boring to explain here, we have actually found ourselves a wormhole. Really. Into the DA room that really matters. By our resident and so far unpublished science-fiction writer, STEPHEN GROOTES.
It’s a dark room somewhere in Cape Town. So secret not even Nathi Mthethwa or Richard Mdluli know about it. (Robert McBride got close once.) It's not far from an outlet selling post civet-excrement coffee and a bike shop selling organic fibre shirts and shorts. An old Men's Health lies in the corner. Blue is the dominant colour. On one wall is an old "Fight Back" poster, the letter "L" drawn in rude koki. Apple products are littered around the room, some open, some not. A picture of Nick Clegg looms large, an ironic memory of the Ryan who first created this space. This is the holy of holies, the centre of the "Struggle back". It's the DA strategy centre, known only to the people who really matter. On the door is the legend "Pipe Room Distribution Centre". To get in you have to know the password. "Andile Lili" is the phrase this week. Next week it will be "Jacob is a genius".
It is here that the DA's top brains meet. Where they discuss, in hiding from the rest of humanity, how to grow the party. Which strategy will work, and which will fail. It was here that Tony was told to learn Afrikaans. Where Helen was told "It will be you". Mmusi was in here once, just briefly. Just to check. Lindiwe has never been told the password.
It's tough being a political strategist. You can never say what you really think. Your feelings are bottled up, to be laid bare only in the presence of a few of the more elevated mortals. But these are the conversations that really matter to a political party. The ones that really decide how well it will do.
Today, the conversation is the Employment Equity Bill. "Stuffed that up," says Gareth.
"Yes", says Jonathan.
"What are we going to do?" asks Helen.
Ryan's Skype connection is stuttering through the gloom of an English winter, asking the question they all really want to discuss.
"Is it time?" he asks.
"Time for what?" says Gareth. He's relatively new to this.
"Time to answer the only question that matters to us," says Jonathan. "Can we throw the whites overboard, and will they still vote for us?"
"Oh, you mean go for the black vote and somehow keep the whites with us?"
"Gee," says Helen, wondering if the move to that office in Joburg is really that good for Gareth.
"Oh, so you think we could maybe back this employment what-what, and not lose any votes?" says Gareth, the light dawning at last. Ryan's tut-tut is drowned out by Telkom.
"Okay, so where are we?" asks Helen.
"It's the usual trade-off," pipes up Jonathan. "We think we could lose something to the Freedom Front Plus. But you know, it's that bloody Pieter Mulder; I could kill Zuma for giving him that platform."
"Ja," says Gareth, "trying to stop Malema registering his comedy was a stunt, but it worked big-time."
"Guys, guys", rasps the speaker. "I'm not worried about that. We can take Mulder on any day of the week, we've got that picture of him and that bust of Verwoerd, he's not going anywhere, unless we let him. And if we click our fingers, he'll do the merger, and we'll be done."
"So what do we need to know?" says Gareth.
"It's about Zuma,” says Ryan. “It's always about bloody Zuma. Don't you get that? How much does the average whitie hate him? And will that stupid moron put on his bloody slip slops on Election Day and go and vote? Against Zuma? That's all that matters. Getting the whites to go and vote."
Jonathan looks thoughtful. "I think the time is coming," he says. "Nkandla, it was just too much. And that Waterkloof thing was a gift from God."
"I had nothing to do with it," says Helen modestly. "It just happened."
There's silence for a moment. Then a few grins. They all remember the joy, the celebration, and the hangover after that little incident.
"Okay," says Helen, calling things back to order. "This bloody bill. What do you think? Will anyone care come Election Day?"
"Tony will," says Gareth.
"I don't care what bloody Tony bloody thinks!" shouts Helen. "God, the deal was Zuma would keep him there for six years. He can't even get that right. And Peter Bruce, giving him that blasted column. God, it makes me bloody mad. Swinehond!”
There's a silence. Broken, finally, by Ryan on the speaker.
"No," he says. "No one will care about this come Election Day. We just have to get them to vote. That's all."
"Good," says Helen. "So we'll do what we did in 2009. Keep the ‘Stop Zuma’ posters until the end?"
"Yes," says Ryan.
“And if it's Cyril in 2019?” asks Jonathan, slightly unhelpfully.
"I don't know yet," answers Ryan. “But maybe we need another prize bull to cross his path.”
“Or a Boer….” chirps Gareth.
Silent contemplation ensues. The coffee machine makes a plopping sound from time to time. "Bloody race..." mutters Gareth. "What can't they just all be like me...?"
"Does it really matter?" asks Helen. "Seriously, if we vote for or against it, it's going to be law anyway, so who cares?"
"Oi!" says Ryan, "That's the unspoken rule of this room. Do not ever suggest we don't matter. That's why we created this in the first place - because we do matter."
"And hey," splutters Gareth, "it's obvious, opposing it will irritate Zuma, therefore..."
"You're right," says Helen, "we must oppose it. Oppose Zuma. Anything he does. Everything he does.”
Ryan's speaker squawks into life once again. "Hey," he says, "don't knock it. As a strategy, it's worked until now.”
Suddenly the wormhole swirls, and the connection is lost. The conversation continues, but we don’t know what happens next. We do know that our wormhole could re-open. Perhaps back to the Pipe Room Distribution Centre. Perhaps somewhere else. Perhaps even… Luthuli House itself. DM
Note to readers: Wormholes exist. So do political strategists. But don’t believe everything you read.
Stephen Grootes is the Senior Political Reporter at Eyewitness News and the host of the Midday Report on Talk Radio 702 and 567 Cape Talk.