The protests in Tshwane last week tell us many things about the ANC, about its processes, and the desperation in the air at the moment, mainly because the economy is slowing. But it also tells us many things about our government, its inability to manage some of these situations, and the problems that arise when certain offices are used for political ends. We must now start to accept that the offices of our security agencies have become de-legitimised. This is going to be a major problem. And we have only our politicians, those currently in power, to blame. By STEPHEN GROOTES.
On Sunday the City Press splashed with a claim that “Spooks warn violence is a threat to elections”. It’s based on an intelligence report suggesting that deep unhappiness (or, if you prefer, simple righteous fury and furious anger) with the ANC’s candidate nomination process is putting August’s elections at risk. It points to a growing intolerance, a mounting anger and general frustration. It then suggests that there is a need, not to secure citizens and make the country safe, but to protect government ministers and VIPs.
The tragedy of our democracy is that we have become so used to our resources being used to benefit only those in power, this last claim will probably almost be ignored in the coming days.
But this report also points to the fact that there will be “grounds to challenge electoral results”. This report is not the first to make that claim. Others have also suggested that the political atmosphere at the moment is such that no matter what happens in the elections, someone is bound to be very unhappy. Combine that with the fact that Julius Malema has a very real benefit from challenging the results, and you have a recipe a little too spicy for the taste of those who prefer peace and stability.
This then suggests that the elections are going to be a real and serious test for all of the authorities involved. We have never had someone formally challenging the results of an election before; this has meant that once the counting has been finished, the shouting has finished too. If someone does go ahead and challenge this time, then the shouting, and with it the tension and possibly violence, will continue.
That could be contained, if the cool heads were to prevail; if those in charge were seen as neutral, there would be enough goodwill on all sides to wait for the final result. However, it could turn out to be a massive mistake to have appointed someone seen as so close to Number One as the Chair of the Electoral Commission. Glenton Mashinini has done nothing since coming into office to suggest that he will be partisan; and those who work with him do not appear to be concerned. But in volatile situations, perception is more real than fact, and his former job as Special Advisor to President Jacob Zuma will be mentioned again and again in the most attention grabbing form by the EFF’s Leader In Red.
However, that is only part of the problem. The real problem lies with the behaviour, and the image, of the people who run the police and the spies.
City Press explains that State Security Minister David Mahlobo phoned its editor Ferial Haffajee to complain about her intention to publish this report. It then reports that they did not receive a summons before going to press. This is just bad politics. He bluffed, it was called, and he lost. This is embarrassing for someone who should be about to negotiate the complexities of that fine line line between legality and spying.
Clearly, Mahlobo doesn’t know what he is doing.
But it gets worse. During any kind of protest action, the words and actions of leaders matter. They get a chance to set a tone. For this to work, they need to be accepted as leaders; legitimacy is crucial. Without it, there is no point in speaking. And that legitimacy needs to be felt, not necessarily across an entire society (that is probably impossible, especially in a society as polarised as ours), but across broad strands of it. If there is a violent protest for political ends, and you can show the people protesting that you are more trusted than they are, you have a powerful weapon.
On Wednesday, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqukula was wheeled out as chair of the Security Cluster to condemn the protests. She told everyone to obey the law, and claimed that those who broke it would “feel the full wrath of the law”.
Mapisa-Nqukula telling someone to obey the law is like Jacob Zuma telling people not to be corrupt. It’s as obscene as Boris Johnson telling us he loves Europe, or Donald Trump claiming Mexicans love him. The only consequence is laughter.
Mapisa-Nqukula has refused to deny smuggling a young woman who had broken the law in one country and then bringing her into this country. It is now common cause that this person did not have her travel documents on her, and that they were contained on a flash drive. If someone else has managed to have documents on a flash drive accepted by Home Affairs at a point of entry in the history of this Republic, this writer will happily buy the nation’s favourite Cognac salesman a bucketload of his own product (so long as he promises to drink it with him).
When confronted with the truth of what she had done, there was no contrition, instead she said she would do it again.
How now dare she tell anyone else to obey the law?
It would be relatively easy to write this off as one incident, but her reputation for incompetence had already been established. Mapisa-Nqukula once ordered every single soldier in the country back to base simply because Malema had tried to address a group of people in uniform outside their base. Not exactly proof of her ability.
Mahlobo is no better. This is a person whom only Number One trusts; it is just too blatantly obvious that he is there so serve only Number One’s needs. He has no constituency of his own, no group of people who support him, which makes him completely dependent on Zuma. To make matters worse, his office was already thoroughly de-legitimised before he even got there. His predecessor, Siyabonga Cwele, however affable he may be, simply could not regain any credibility after his three directors general left because of the clash with Guptas and his wife was convicted of drugs dealing, and he was allowed to stay in office despite that conviction.
One of Mahlobo’s first acts was to oversee the jamming of cellphones in Parliament during the State of the Nation Address that saw Malema being thrown out for the second time. His credibility went out the window the moment National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete ordered that the jamming stop.
Mahlobo also appears to simply not understand how politics works. When violence flares up, whether it be in Tshwane or Vuwani, all he does is threaten a security reaction, while all these situations need political solutions. You can bang heads together all you like, you’re not going to bring a lasting peace until people either get what they want, or understand why they cannot get what they want. Instead he goes blundering in, wagging fingers and threatening more violence.
His colleague at the Police Ministry, Nkosinathi Nhleko, is even worse. His conduct over Nkandla has shown that he is simply a busted flush. When he was thrown under the bus by Zuma’s acceptance that he had benefited from the government money spent on his home, all he did was to say that he “stood by his Nkandla report”, which had completely exonerated Zuma.
Legitimacy is important. With it you can achieve much. Without it you may have legal power, you may have the firepower, but you do not have the power to change minds. And should a situation develop in which it is important to provide assurance that the right things are being done, it will be impossible for people like Mapisa-Nqukula, Mahlobo and Nhleko to provide it.
This has happened in the past. In 2011, government so spectacularly mishandled the illness of Nelson Mandela that no one knew what to believe. And everyone knew that honesty was needed. For various reasons, it could not come from Zuma. But Kgalema Motlanthe was Deputy President, and available. Eventually he was wheeled out to tell the truth about what happened. Because of who he was, he was believed. The crisis passed, his version was accepted, no one bothered to refer to it again. That was a relatively consequence-free situation, only the life of one person was at stake.
What would happen say there actually were to be an external threat to the country. Would you believe Mahlobo? Mapisa-Nqukula? Nhleko?
An external threat is unlikely. But a political threat, an internal threat, caused by problems emanating from an election, could be more likely. And look at who we have to handle it. And be afraid. DM
Photo: State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqukula and Police Minister, Nkosinathi Nhleko (all photos GCIS)
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