An issue that had nothing to do with the local government elections campaign has crashed down on the ANC, causing further divisions at a time when the party is in the biggest political crisis since taking power in 1994. The silent protest to highlight rape culture that activists staged at the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) election results announcement on Saturday is now in the mix of issues causing disputes as the ANC scrambles for coalition partners to retain control of municipalities where they did not get the required majority. Respective factions are blaming each other for the ANC’s bad performance at the polls and are in conflict over whether they should engage in talks with the EFF. By RANJENI MUNUSAMY.
President Jacob Zuma probably did not know what the four young women standing in front of him were doing as he delivered his speech at the election results announcement on Saturday night. They took their positions after he went on stage and he could not see what was written on their signs, which drew attention to sexual violence in South Africa and his rape case from 10 years ago. Zuma might even have thought the women were a guard of honour and at no point did he give them any attention.
It did not even appear that he understood what activist Simamkele Dlakavu said when she rasped “Remember Khwezi” as he walked by her. As he took his seat, his security contingent pushed the activists out of the hall and only when they began crying out loud did he turn to look in the direction of the throng of police personnel and journalists rushing towards the VIP exit.
But Zuma did not need to know or react as some of his key defenders were raising hell, lashing out at IEC officials and trying to get the presidential security detail to remove the activists. Ministers Lindiwe Zulu, Nomvula Mokonyane and Bathabile Dlamini fluttered around the hall in a rage but neither the IEC nor the presidential protection unit thought it advisable to interrupt Zuma’s speech.
The Sunday Times reported that the three ministers were seen arguing with their colleague, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, over the “security breach”. Other ANC leaders, including Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe, his deputy Jessie Duarte and national chairwoman Baleka Mbete looked embarrassed as they sat just a few metres from where the four protesters were standing. Mantashe told the media afterwards that the right to peaceful protest was allowed in a democracy.
But this is not a view Zuma’s supporters share. They believe the IEC and the security agencies should be held responsible and that there should have been more outrage from the ANC. State Security Minister David Mahlobo told a media briefing on Sunday that his department was investigating the “security breach”.
Dlamini, the ANC Women’s League president, blamed the IEC and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) in different interviews for being behind the protest, which she said “trivialised” the issue of gender-based violence. Other ANC leaders took to social media to accuse the EFF of using the women to embarrass the president.
The accusation that the EFF would use the rape issue for political purposes has caused further resentment between the two parties at a time when the ANC is courting Julius Malema’s party to discuss possible coalitions in the three Gauteng metros. The ANC failed to gain 50% of the vote in Tshwane, Johannesburg and Ekurhuleni and now needs to form partnerships with other parties if it is to retain control of the councils.
The ANC provincial executive committee in Gauteng met for a special urgent meeting on Sunday to discuss a strategy for talks with the EFF. ANC provincial chairman Paul Mashatile confirmed on Saturday that they had opened talks with the EFF. But it appears that the EFF wants the ANC’s national leadership to lead the talks as they believe the provincial leaders do not have sufficient clout to enter into negotiations. Officially, the EFF spokesman Mbuyiseni Ndlozi says no formal talks have begun and there have only been “warm-ups”.
There appear to be divisions in the ANC’s national leadership about whether there should be engagement at all with the EFF. Some of Zuma’s allies are apparently adamant that the EFF leaders are “thugs” because of their protests against the president in Parliament and the ANC should not allow itself to be held hostage by them. They are of the view that by entering into talks with the EFF, the ANC is excusing their “disrespect” of the president and gives Malema’s party the licence to continue to taunt the president and the ANC. They also believe any deal with the EFF would not be sustainable.
Other ANC leaders who are worried about the consequences of losing control of major municipal budgets believe they should sacrifice their pride and engage with the EFF. They were encouraged by what Malema said at the EFF media briefing on Friday that the coalitions should be in the interest of the “African child”. They believe they can convince the EFF that their policies were more aligned and pro-poor than the Democratic Alliance (DA), which is also seeking a coalition agreement with the EFF in several municipalities.
Some ANC leaders were expecting Mantashe to call an urgent extended ANC national working committee meeting on Monday to discuss the negotiations but no notice had gone out on Sunday. The ANC national executive committee (NEC) will be meeting this weekend and some members said they were concerned it will degenerate into a big blaming session when the party discussed the election performance.
While many people attribute the ANC’s drop in support to Zuma’s multiple scandals, his allies are already pointing fingers at Mantashe and his management of the ANC. They also want the Gauteng leadership to carry the can for the ANC’s poor performance in the province’s metros. Others believe Mokonyane should bear the responsibility as the ANC’s head of elections.
The NEC is likely to pronounce the way forward for post-election deals and conduct an assessment of the ANC’s election performance across the country. While some ANC leaders are now acknowledging privately that Zuma is a liability to the organisation, it remains to be seen whether they will voice their views at the NEC meeting.
But as the ANC is fumbling on how to proceed with the coalition talks, the DA is already in discussions with opposition parties for variations of partnerships in different municipalities. The next few days will see intense wheeling and dealing to settle on workable agreements to establish the councils within the two-week cut-off time.
The 2016 local government elections chastened many political parties across the political spectrum with a much-needed reality check from the people of South Africa. The past week has shown that reality and consequences sometimes come through a ballot paper or a protest sign. And if you are disconnected or safeguarded, you might miss it altogether. DM
Photo: #RememberKhwezi protest was silent and while Zuma’s security looked confused as to what to do, they did not remove the four women. They remained in front of Zuma throughout the speech. (Greg Nicolson)
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer