President Jacob Zuma suggested in Parliament on Thursday that there was a sinister force behind the burning of schools in Vuwani, Limpopo. “It looks suspicious,” Zuma said. Fear and paranoia are major campaign tools of political parties ahead of the local government elections. The ANC is ringing alarm bells about sinister forces attempting to destabilise the country and the DA is drumming up fears about the EFF’s extremism. The EFF says voters who do not support them would only have themselves to blame for the country’s downfall through ANC rule. It’s political warfare defined by the sum of all our fears. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
President Jacob Zuma is seemingly immune to irony. On Thursday he gave an astounding lecture to Members of Parliament (MPs) on decorum in the National Assembly, apparently impervious to the fact that most upheavals in the House were about him. Rounding up his brief reply to the Presidency budget debate, Zuma said he had only responded to MPs who had conducted themselves respectfully and not to insults from members of the opposition.
“The drama, theatre and antics that we see daily in this House will not move South Africa forward,” the president said.
He went on to explain how he had been receiving complaints about people’s behaviour in Parliament and called on Speaker Baleka Mbete to “get your House in order”.
“I go around Africa and people ask me very embarrassing questions about this Parliament. I thought you should know this. Some are complaining, particularly in this region, that the manner in which we behave in Parliament, we are changing the perceptions they have had about us that we are a leading example of the constitutional democracy. They are now saying you are influencing some of their people in a wrong way,” Zuma said.
The president was addressing mostly ANC MPs as eight opposition parties had boycotted the session saying Zuma was “utterly discredited” and an “illegitimate president”. Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) MPs were forcibly removed from the House on Wednesday when they protested against Zuma addressing the National Assembly. The opposition boycott was as a result of the ruling by the Constitutional Court on his violation of the Constitution and last week’s North Gauteng High Court judgment that set aside the decision to drop criminal charges against Zuma.
The president made no mention of these – in one moment of spectacular irony he even lectured MPs about respecting the Constitution – or anything else he had done that had caused chaos in Parliament. Zuma seems to believe that opposition MPs were embarrassing the country by protesting against him. However, a president found to have benefitted improperly from a R246-million upgrade to his private home, who acted inconsistently with the Constitution, who caused an economic plunge with a reckless change to the finance ministry and who could be facing criminal charges while in office is apparently not an embarrassment to South Africa.
Condemning the torching of schools in Vuwani, Limpopo over a demarcation dispute, Zuma said he hoped the country was taking note of what was going on as it “looks suspicious”. He said there had been rumours of other “motives” behind the burning of schools, which had risen to 23 by Thursday night.
Zuma did not elaborate on what other motives or sinister forces could be involved. But this is consistent with the churning of paranoia, including by the Minister of State Security David Mahlobo. Speaking in Parliament recently, Mahlobo suggested that NGOs were working with “foreign forces” to destabilise the country. Previously, ANC Secretary-General Gwede Mantashe intimated that foreigners had been involved in the strike at Marikana before the 2012 massacre, and Deputy Defence Minister Kebby Maphatsoe had accused the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of being a CIA spy.
The message Zuma and the ANC are projecting is that their indiscretions are negligible and water under the bridge but that the country would face bigger dangers if the ANC lost power. Speaking at a May Day rally, Zuma raised a variety of dangers people should be afraid of. “If we leave power, the country will be in the hands of chaotic people, anarchists, and we will be in trouble,” Zuma was quoted as saying by the Mail & Guardian. He warned workers that they would be suppressed and their rights overturned if the ANC was not in power.
“We also noted in the political environment the existence of some desperate elements who seem hell-bent on promoting anarchy and chaos in our beautiful country,” Zuma said. “We must not allow opportunists to take us back to the period of anarchy and destruction. We must also isolate and shun parties that promote disunity and divisions within our country. Let us isolate and shun parties that promote thuggery and chaos.”
While the warning about labour rights being reversed was a tactic to dissuade people from voting for the Democratic Alliance (DA), the “anarchy” comments were directed at the EFF. EFF leader Julius Malema’s recent statements during an Al Jazeera interview that his party was ready to “remove this government through the barrel of a gun” if it continued to respond violently to peaceful protests fuelled scaremongering that they were agitating for a violent revolution.
Both the ANC and the DA condemned Malema’s comments, with the ANC laying charges of treason against him and the DA calling on the EFF leader to apologise for his radical statements. The DA, which is often tactically outgunned by the EFF, leapt at the opportunity to shame their main competitor in the opposition.
“The EFF is a radical party that wants white people and black people to hate each other. It is a party that will scare away investment, and prevent job creation. It is a party that will– given the opportunity– steal money from the people again. And it is a party that if given the chance would allow for violence and chaos to ensue in our towns and cities all over again,” DA national spokesperson Phumzile van Damme said in a statement. “The reality is that the EFF is too extreme and radical to govern. Like the ANC, they will take South Africa in the wrong direction,” she said.
The EFF do not seem to mind too much being called radicals and extremists. They see it as their mandate to shake up South African politics and cause discomfort particularly for the DA’s white liberal constituency. Increasingly, the EFF’s language is becoming more militant. From threatening to “physically remove” the president from the parliamentary podium to fighting the government and removing it “through the barrel of a gun”, Malema has become more combative.
Speaking at the EFF’s manifesto launch on Saturday, Malema warned Zuma that if he did not leave office, the army would turn on him. “I am whispering to you, Zuma, wherever you are, those soldiers are going to turn their guns against you… leave office before the soldiers turn against you. The army is EFF.”
With the ANC standing in stubborn defence of Zuma, no matter how much of a liability he has become to the party, Malema is putting them on notice that a violent insurrection may not be far off.
Malema also infused a mix of black consciousness and socialism in his parlance. “This is not for me, this of for the black nation. We must show that we’ve got a party of our own. Poor people living in shacks, this is your party. This is a party for Africa. It is a party for the oppressed nation,” he said. “This is a socialist movement which is unstoppable. Not even the IEC (Independent Electoral Commission) can stop us.”
Malema also had a warning for South Africans concerned about the country’s downward spiral under ANC rule. “If you reject the EFF you have yourself to blame,” he said.
This is no ordinary elections campaign. The dialogue is less about election promises and more to do with fear mongering and exploiting people’s anxieties about the country’s future. The main political parties are drumming up what voters stand to lose should they support their opponents rather than what they themselves have to offer.
It is a dire reflection on the state of politics and the state of the nation. We are governed more by our fears than our aspirations. Our voting choices could be defined by what we fear least rather than which party best represents our needs and aspirations. The major sinister force in our country is the betrayal of the public’s trust. If there is anything that is destabilising South Africa, it is the amount of treachery that has infested our politics.
So where is this Fear Factor 2016 competition ultimately taking us? It is difficult to predict when the atmosphere is so highly charged with so much potential for the country to plunge further into peril. Many political leaders believe that it is possible for them to play with fire until the ballot day, then magically switch the heat off and overnight normality would return. But this could backfire badly. By dabbling with our fears, they are dabbling with our future. Normality of any kind seems to be a distant fantasy. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma delivers an address at the May Day 2016 celebration rally at Moretele Park in Mamelodi, Pretoria. (Photo: GCIS)
"Man is by nature a political animal" ~ Aristotle