South Africa

HANNIBAL ELECTOR: Politics 101, v. 1.0

By Richard Poplak 11 February 2014

Over the course of the past week, with so much pre-election maneuvering from the two big parties, many lessons were accrued. So, with apologies to Helen Zille—who was parsing out wisdom via the politician’s bête noire, Twitter—a quick refresher course in Politics 101. By RICHARD POPLAK.

Lesson 1: While the Country Burns, the Best Place to be is by the Fire Pool

South Africa’s townships have descended into a semi-permanent state of chaos, and acting Gauteng acting police commissioner Lieutenant General Lesetja Mothiba recently informed us that over the past three months, there have been 569 service delivery protests, one in five of which turned violent.

Which is the perfect time, if you’re the president of the country, to pull up a pool chair and chillax. The presidential palace, purchased for Jacob Zuma by the very residents now setting their police stations of fire, is famously equipped with numerous state-of-the-art security features, including a fire pool. Should Sebokeng’s fate ever be visited upon the Zuma homestead, the water from the luxury water receptacle will be used to douse the conflagration, thereby saving dozens of late model Mercedes Benz AMGs from certain destruction.

Perhaps Zuma is lying low until the entire country can be equipped with fire pools, and it is once again safe for him to return to speak with his constituents. Until then, the lesson is to lie low and keep the Mai Tais coming. After all, they can’t boo whom they do not see.

That said…

Lesson 2: The Thirstier the Resident, the Better the Selfie

The heavens have provided bounty over these past months. The rivers burble; the dams are full. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of South Africans don’t have access to water. But they do have access to politicians. This may sound like a raw deal, but there’s no photo-op like a photo-op in a maligned community, especially one that hasn’t had a sip to drink in the past three months.

Service delivery across the country has been a touch spotty over these past few years, but that hasn’t stopped the campaign buses pulling in and disgorging promises aplenty. With no engineering background, I can’t say how difficult it may or may not be to hook up a community to a water tower and provide them with basic services. I can say with authority that the thirstier the residents, the better the selfies—watertight, if you’ll excuse the pun, political arithmetic.

Lesson 3: When Performing Stunts, Wear a Helmet

In keeping with the above, it’s fun and fruitful to use local residents in political capers. Sometimes, however, the results don’t always work out. Julius Malema learned this when he built a house for Sthandiwe Hlongwane and her two children within spitting distance of Jacob Zuma’s sprawling pimped up super-crib.

Malema is long gone, of course, leaving the new homeowner to her fate and her neighbours. And the fact that it turned out she was well off and not really in need of a new house didn’t matter much—local folk over the next few months are mere extras in a larger movie, one that has little chance of ending happily, at least as far as they’re concerned.

Take the pictures, move on. Those are the basics. You learn ‘em the first day on the job.

Lesson 4: Keep Your Billionaire Besties Close…

When it comes to friends, the richer the better. And few friends are richer than Nathan Kirsh, the octogenarian South African/Swazi businessman who is actually a one of those mega-rich citizens of Nowherestan—the billionaire’s paradise in which all assets are registered in tax havens like the British Virgin Islands and Liberia, and life takes place behind the walls of vast compounds and in the pressure controlled cabins of private jets.

Like most wealthy, concerned white liberals who are actually closet fascists (Kirsh is the largest shareholder in the Israeli company Magal Security Systems, which supplies electronic fences for the West Bank wall), Natie Kirsh took a shine to Mamphela Ramphele, the unpronounceable head of Agang. She’s blown through his dough at a rapid rate, and she’ll blow through more—if there is one thing at which Ramphele is an adept, it is spending money. Legend has it that Kirsh nudged the DA and Agang into each other’s arms, proving that Big Money, Politics and Stupidity remain linked in an unbroken troika.

Kirsh has called both Ramphele and Helen Zille “feisty little ladies”, which would be a perfectly acceptable description were this an episode of Mad Men. But RamZille are not “feisty little ladies”—like most politicians, they’re opportunists. Kirsh, it turns out, has been fleeced. The security of Israel probably depends upon his cutting off the taps as soon as possible.

Lesson 5: Hide in Plain Sight

Opacity is the new transparency! Both the ANC and the official opposition have recently released their electoral lists. Except they didn’t, really. The ANC invited the press to Luthuli House to toast the completion of their list, and while Secretary General Gwede Mantashe waved his around like he was Moses down from the mount, we couldn’t read it, touch it, or know who was on it.

Regarding the DA’s meticulously constructed list, which was supposedly vetted and checked and democratically constructed, with every “i” dotted and “t” crossed, the name at the top of the list was hastily changed over the course of a week. In other words, the DA’s list is a mutable thing, while the ANC’s list—“cast in steel”, as Mantashe assured us—could have been reams and reams of pages of “all work and no play makes the ANC a dull boy” for all we know.

The EFF presented no list. I suppose they’re still busy redacting Kenny Kunene’s name from the relevant documentation.

Lesson 6: March Not, Lest Ye Be Marched Upon

In keeping with the fine example of Belfast during the Troubles, the DA have taken up an obsession with marching. Just as Catholics once marched through Protestant neighbourhoods and vice versa, while the world got progressively more bored until no one—not even the Irish themselves—cared when violence broke out, the official opposition has decided to take a stroll to Luthuli House to protest joblessness.

In any banana republic, marching is itself a major source of employment, and it appears that we’re no different. Marches here, marches there, anti-march rallies—the March Economy is upon us. We could certainly use the uptick in GDP, but we can’t really afford the uptick in stupidity. When this ends badly—and it will—politics in the waning days of democratic South Africa will be just that little bit more feisty. What this election cycle has been missing is blood. Nothing sells “democracy” quite like a few pints of spilled human juice. DM

Photo by Reuters.

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"I do not understand how holding a placard to protest against gender-based violence would be interpreted as insulting the modesty of a woman." ~ Beatrice Mateyo

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