South Africa

South Africa

Analysis: When political opportunism becomes hypocrisy, it often backfires

Analysis: When political opportunism becomes hypocrisy, it often backfires

As the ANC's hold on power in South Africa continues, it is using a series of tactics to deal with the assaults upon it. In some cases, such as in Gauteng, it simply tries to govern better. In other provinces, it seeks to crack down on opposition. In Parliament it tries to change the rules, or interpret them, in the way that suits it best. And cracks down on opposition. But one particular tactic, which has been successful for several years, is now beginning to rebound on the party. It is the tactic of trying to get behind whichever dynamic is driving society, to give the appearance of having led it all along. That tactic, the hijacking of the other organisations' political protests, may eventually hurt it, and badly. By STEPHEN GROOTES.

Last week the ANC suffered the ire of the Twitterati once again, after it released a statement in which it congratulated the ‘cast’ of the documentary Miners Shot Down, a day after it had won the International Emmy Award. Considering the documentary is about the miners who were killed by police at Marikana, and the ANC’s seeming hostility to the Marikana cause, it seemed almost deliberately tone-deaf of the ruling party to do this. The ANC’s deployees in government gave the orders to the police that led to the massacre in the first place. It has singularly failed to address the root causes of the shooting, and considers the Association of Mining and Construction Union (AMCU) to be a direct political opponent.

At first, it seemed that the statement that was released under the name of the ANC’s head of communications, Zizi Kodwa, could be a simple mistake. It was hastily rectified, and the word ‘cast’ was replaced with ‘crew’. But one would have to first ask why on earth the ANC released a statement about this documentary in the first place. South Africa is a busy place, plenty of South Africans, and their projects or products, are recognised internationally. Not all of them receive the warm embrace of the ANC in this way. Thus, it could be that once again the ANC tried, and in this case failed, to make it appear as if was wholeheartedly behind the cause of the miners. That may seem ridiculous, but consider the context.

Just last month the #FeesMustFall protests saw students from all backgrounds, and political stripes, joining together on one single issue. The first culmination of this was the demand by students that ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe “sit down” to listen to their demands, at their protest outside Luthuli House. Just two days later, the students won their audience with President Jacob Zuma. For their protest at the Union Buildings, the ANC Youth League and the Young Communist League joined the students. Someone distributed ANC t-shirts to anyone who wanted one.

A few months before that, the National Union of Metalworkers of SA, and other organisations, led a protest on the same much-marched-upon buildings. That was a demonstration against corruption. Primarily, corruption conducted by ANC members deployed by the party in government.

The ANC itself made noises about joining the protest. Eventually, it was represented by Jeff Radeba and Kodwa himself. It should be remembered here that Kodwa is not just a spokesperson, he is also a member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee, and thus it cannot be claimed the ANC was not properly represented. This was a march led by a group publicly opposed to the ANC, the protest itself was deliberately and directly against the actions of the ANC, and the ANC still took part in it.

Things were even stranger back in May. Then, the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee held a protest against the installation of pre-paid electricity meters in Soweto. The Joburg ANC joined the protest. As we pointed out at the time, the leader of the Joburg ANC is, of course, Parks Tau. His day job is being the mayor the council that was implementing the policy. It was a political stunt, but also a farce.

However, it is also part of a strategy that goes back to the start of the Tsunami that eventually unseated Thabo Mbeki at Polokwane. Back then, it seemed that ignoring both AIDS and crime was part of and parcel of ANC policy. Ten days before Polokwane started, Zuma said that: “We must declare a statement of emergency on AIDS and crime”. It was Zuma taking full aim at the policy of the dominant part of his party. And it worked. In a way, part of the ANC’s 2009 election campaign did the same thing, it claimed to be a “jump to the left”. That was surely meant to be an indication that the party was changing tack, it was campaigning against part of its own track-record. At the time, it was thought Zuma was under the influence more of the Left than the Right. And yet, his period in office has shown the opposite was in fact true, and so things were really going to change.

One of the issues that all of this brings up, is why don’t the organisations that really feel aggrieved, that are leading these marches, actually stop the ANC from joining in. Why did the Soweto Electricity Crisis Committee, NUMSA, the students, all allow them to come? Well, it can be very difficult to stop a group joining your march if you want to. If you start in a public place and end in a public place, all sorts of people are going to join it. And there’s really nothing you can do about it. Also, it can be quite worrisome to reject any ANC participation: they’ll say that they want to join in, and they agree with you. And if your reaction is negative, their response could be that you are being less than democratic by trying to stop them, and that would win them the spin-battle.

From the ANC’s point of view, it’s an incredibly effective tactic. It had the effect of diluting the original marches, and of drawing some of the sting they packed. It’s hard to keep people angry at a political party that is part of your protest. And it makes it look like the ANC is in fact still with society, it’s still fighting for people on the ground, when in fact it is the establishment, it controls the people making the decisions that lead to the protests being the only solution in the first place.

However, the example of the ANC’s statement about the documentary shows that there are risks to this tactic. It can just get it so horribly and openly wrong, that it can easily be accused of hypocrisy in a way that few ruling parties would enjoy. There is also a possibility that one day there will actually be violence in one of these protests, that people will be so angry at the ANC anyone associated with it at that march will be attacked. This might play into the ANC’s hands, but it could also be held responsible for any violence that ensued, there would certainly be a spin-battle afterwards.

And then there is the fact that people are just wising up. It is a tactic that is finally being seen through, and voters may decide act accordingly. No one likes bullies and hypocrites, in politics especially so. That is a dangerous road for anyone, even the ANC. DM


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