South Africa

Another winter of discontent: Alongside temperatures, SA politics takes a plunge too

By Ranjeni Munusamy 6 June 2014

There have been nasty winters in the past – the xenophobic violence in 2008 being the deadliest and most shameful. Now that the excitement of the election and formation of a new government has passed, normal business has resumed. But there is a negative undertone evident in political engagement, which perhaps has something to with resentment over the election results. Therefore a cartoon depicting voters and ANC politicians as clowns and a tweet from a Democratic Alliance MP portraying voters as dogs have both touched a raw nerve. There seems to be a lot more unpleasantness coming. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.

Remember that warm, fuzzy feeling when we celebrated our nation during the 2010 Soccer World Cup? Well, although World Cup fever is about to enrapture the globe again, be prepared for a serious bout of withdrawal symptoms in South Africa. Winter 2010 was a major highlight of post-Apartheid South Africa, with everything good about the country being celebrated as we basked in being hosts of the World Cup. The putrid performance of our national football team, however, has ensured that we watch this year’s tournament from the sidelines and envy other nations who get to watch their teams play in Brazil.

But the national mood is low not just because South Africa is not participating in the World Cup. We are now in a post-election slump. The great expectations during the campaign period has given way to the hard reality of delivering on election promises.

The election results were a shock to many people. Most parties polled lower than they expected to, probably because they believed their own hype. Although most welcomed the results, they clearly hoped to have done better. The ANC was disappointed by its performance in Gauteng and the Western Cape in particular, and is probably worried that such intense ground level campaigning did not yield better results.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) is undoubtedly frustrated that its high-budget advertisements and anti-Zuma messaging did not produce more protests votes against the ANC, particularly in Gauteng. The slant of their campaign also created an expectation amongst their supporters that the corruption scandals in government would hurt the ANC significantly and that the DA would benefit as a result. Clearly that did not happen, at least not on the scale they expected.

The tweet by DA Member of Parliament Mike Waters, showing a picture of a row of dogs lining up to urinate on a poster of President Jacob Zuma, is perhaps a manifestation of the disappointment with voter behaviour as well as resentment towards the president. Offline, DA leaders express their exasperation that Zuma was not punished by voters, particularly for the overspending at his Nkandla residence.

Waters, the DA’s deputy chief whip in Parliament, was probably under the impression that Twitter users generally share this belief and would see humour in his tweet. He has since deleted and apologised for the tweet, which proved to be highly embarrassing for the DA. Most damaging for the party is the disclosure of how some of its high-ranking leaders view both the electorate and the president.

The cartoonists Dr Jack and Curtis probably suffered from a similar affliction when they produced their “Congress of the Clowns” cartoon for the Eyewitness News website. Politics is emotive enough to make people believe that their views are superior to others. The fact that most black South Africans stayed loyal to the ANC at the polls, despite negative perceptions of the party over the last term, has led some people to conclude that ANC voters are stupid. The cartoonists used a more derogatory Afrikaans term “poephol” to make this point. EWN apologised and removed the cartoon from its website.

The ANC is not letting these incidents slide, despite apologies from all concerned. They held a protest at the EWN offices to express their dissatisfaction, and they have now submitted a complaint to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) that the cartoon is racist. The complaint from the ANC chief whip Stone Sizani said the cartoon represented “the persisting racism, violation of inherent human rights and dignity within our society”, and should therefore be subjected to a formal investigation. “This, we hope, would dissuade would-be offenders on similar issues and thereby foster social cohesion and nation building. This will also afford the Commission an opportunity to provide the public with an authoritative guidance on such matters for future reference.”

EWN’s internal ombudsman Advocate George Bizos also looked into racism complaint and concluded that while the cartoon was in bad taste, it was not racist or defamatory against the ministers depicted as clowns. He however advised the cartoonists to be “less facetious” in future.

The ANC also asked the (SAHRC) to investigate Waters’ offending tweet. “The picture is highly demeaning, racist and violates the dignity of many South Africans for merely choosing to associate themselves with the ANC,” Sizani said in his complaint. He went on to say that Waters’ conduct had the potential “to stoke racial intolerance, hatred and prejudice – thereby undermining the great progress made by South Africans in the last 20 years”.

The ANC has also aimed its guns on Public Protector Thuli Madonsela, asking the SAHRC to investigate comments she made which Sizani claims likened ANC voters to abused spouses. Madonsela has denied that she insulted the ANC. Her office has made available a transcript of her statements and video link of the event which shows that she said: “Often the people they will vote in are people who made mistakes previously. I don’t think it is necessarily an endorsement of wrongdoing. It is probably in the hope that this time you are going to do things differently and you are going to do things better. It’s like an abused spouse, really.”

On Thursday, a small group of ANC Youth League and Congress of South African Students supporters marched to the Mail & Guardian to protest against what they perceived to be hostile reporting against Zuma and the ANC. They took umbrage particularly against an editorial the paper ran ahead of the election, asking its readers to vote for parties other than the ANC.

The ANC, of course, has every right to speak out and challenge criticism against it through whatever constitutional means available. If it is of the view that the media is prejudiced against the party, they can also take this up through a variety of means. But in recent years, the ANC and its allies have shown how they can go overboard – the controversy over The Spear painting brought the country to a virtual standstill – and intimidate the media and threaten freedom of expression.

The ANC and its sympathisers argue that the ruling party is bludgeoned in the media almost on a daily basis and therefore journalists and editors should therefore be able to take as much as they give. It is a fair argument. But when the resultant action of the ruling party threatens the existence of a free media and freedom of expression, principles upheld in the Constitution, then there will be an obvious fight back.

A month after the election, is this where the nation’s attention ought to be though? Sizani makes a reasonable point that he escalated his complaints to the SAHRC so that the commission can provide guidance on such matters for future reference.

However, parallel to this commotion, South Africa’s economic woes seem to be escalating. On top of predictions of a recession, Stats SA’s report on national and provincial labour market trends shows that youth unemployment increased from 32.7% to 36.1% over the past six years. The strike in the platinum mining sector continues despite new intervention by government to break the deadlock. A new strike by 220,000 workers in the metal and engineering sector from 1 July was announced by metalworkers’ union Numsa on Thursday.

This week, the country watched in horror as fellow South Africans were subjected to the most inhumane treatment, having to watch their shacks being torn down at Lwandle in Cape Town, leaving them homeless during the bitterly cold weather.

Clearly all is not well in our country. We have major problems which require a national effort to tackle. At his inauguration ceremony last month, Zuma said the following: “We have a lot of work to do. We will need the backing of a united and cohesive nation behind us as we move South Africa forward. In this regard, government will promote nation-building programmes to rebuild the soul of our nation.

“Many South Africans still bear the emotional scars arising from decades of Apartheid divisions and hatred. Therefore, the national healing and reconciliation process has to continue.”

It certainly does not feel as if the politics of the time are contributing to this cohesive nation the president speaks of. On all sides of the political divide, people are acting out in a divisive manner with no appreciation of how their conduct impacts on the national mood and perceptions of our country.

It cannot be that the only time this country can pull together and present our best side is when the world arrives to play football here. We are not clowns or dogs, but neither are we a self-loathing people who should watch each other suffer and our country decline. Hopefully this winter will not bring out the worst in us again. DM

Photo: A man walks past a burning fire used to keep evicted families warm overnight after police and private security evicted families from a commercial property in Johannesburg, South Africa, 05 June 2014. Of the 600 people evicted at least 60 are children and they had to sleep in local bars and shacks overnight. It is claimed that there is a political reason for the evictions. With a cold front arriving and mid winter many will spend the night cold and outdoors. EPA/KIM LUDBROOK

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