South Africa

South Africa

TRAINSPOTTER: The DA’s Groundhog day, Saxonwold edition

TRAINSPOTTER: The DA’s Groundhog day, Saxonwold edition

This was a bad idea the first time. By RICHARD POPLAK.

Leopards? – Oom Schalk Lourens said – Oh, yes, there are two varieties on this side of the Limpopo. The chief difference between them is that the one kind of leopard has got a few more spots on it than the other kind. But when you meet a leopard in the veld, unexpectedly, you seldom trouble to count his spots to find out what kind he belongs to. That is unnecessary. Because, whatever kind of leopard it is that you come across in this way, you only do one kind of running. And that is the fastest kind.

Herman Charles Bosman

On Wednesday afternoon, in Groot Marico, North West, ANC luminaries unveiled the President Zuma Site of Arrest sculpture, which serves as the centrepiece of a new Liberation Heritage Route cultural initiative. The Site of Arrest is not aspirational, but rather historical – it marks the spot where Zuma and 53 fellow freedom fighters were arrested in 1963 by the apartheid security forces as they attempted to flee into exile.

North West in general, and Groot Marico in particular, is hardly flush with cash. Nonetheless, the province splashed R1.8-million on the heritage site, in the hope that it would stimulate tourism in the area. This is utter lunacy, of course, but the propensity for the ANC to self-mythologise should not be underestimated. This is how once-great movements die, among the expensive ruins of their shitty public art.

If you’ll permit me to loosely paraphrase an essential maxim, writing about bad sculpture is like farting about performance art. That said, the piece commemorating Zuma’s arrest is constructed from a bunch of scrap metal shaped into a cancerous testicle, one sheet of which bears a lasered portrait of the president in relief. The metal teste sits atop eight vivaciously twisted stainless steel bars, and resembles the sort of North Korean monument that Kim Jong-un would use as a murder weapon. The effect brings to mind the words of the American author Christian Nestell Bovee: “Bad taste is a species of bad morals.”

The tragedy, of course, is that had Jacob Zuma lived up to his obligations – if he’d just occasionally done his job instead of running a parallel state that has robbed the actual state into near penury – this sculpture may have drawn schoolchildren and church groups and Slovenian nuns. Now, it will rust in an unrelenting sun.

We reject this statue as a monument of corruption and it must be added to all the statues that must fall,” said Economic Freedom Fighters spokesperson Mbuyiseni Ndlozi.

Nah, leave it. It’s less a celebration than it is the perfect indictment.

* * *

How to beat this man? That’s an important question, especially since Zuma destroys everything he encounters, including the forces lined up against him. Perhaps this explains the Democratic Alliance, who on Thursday – and this part is not a joke – planned a march to the Guptas’ Saxonwold residence in order to say bad things about state capture.

Cape Town is running out of water; there are mass murders in informal settlements on the outskirts of the city, and the municipality is locked in a governance crisis. But the DA wants to walk through Saxonwold?

As far as protest actions go, this was the equivalent of the Zuma Arrest Site – a lame, unnecessary waste of resources. The last time a crowd picketed outside the first family’s Saxonwold residence, Black First Land First (BLF) showed up to swear at white liberals, and tear gas was used to disperse the last of the stragglers. It was a depressing afternoon that achieved nothing, unless one counts the fact that it afforded Gupta proxies the incentive to ramp up their doxing and their harassment of journalists.

So who would want to do that again? Answer: the DA in 2017, who become more tone deaf with each coalition they cobble together. Power does no one any favours.

And so here we were, in an unrelenting downpour, a 250-strong crowd listening to DA notables yell sweet nothings off the back of a truck. The DA always come prepared, and there were portable toilets for 10 times as many people, and enough cops to arrest half the Guptas’ lunch guests. Even the umbrellas were branded.

The rain, however, seemed ordained, as if it were sent by Zuma’s team of militant sangomas – the same posse who are refusing Cape Town its precipitation. “The rain is a blessing!” yelled someone from the truck. But it felt like a curse.

Part of democracy’s magic is believing in the possibilities of an effective opposition. When that belief stops, so does the magic. The irony about South Africa is that there are no physical or financial constraints imposed upon political parties: they can largely do what they want, and raise as much money as they’re able, without the state murdering their members’ children. And yet, a generously funded, rigorously hierarchical party like the DA poses much less of a threat than they should. Why might that be?

Most obviously, the DA loses no opportunity to create the perception that it is run by a bunch of white supremacist Klan members who want to upscale Orania into a national project.

More critically, South African opposition politics has been whittled down to two alternating strategies: spectacle (the politics of the stadium), and lawfare (the politics of the courtroom). Without coherent, disciplined leadership and policies that resonate with constituents on the ground, these approaches cannot and will not reap benefits at the ballot box. The opposition has indeed done good, important work: DA spokesperson Phumzile van Damme’s diligence on the SABC parliamentary ad hoc committee has been formidable, while the EFF’s insistence on making Parliament a less welcoming space for serial shysters has changed the face of our politics, to name but two examples.

Both parties have hammered Zuma and the ANC in court, while the United Democratic Movement’s attempts to conduct a vote of no confidence against the president by secret ballot was successful beyond the wildest imagination of its architects. But too often, the opposition acts like useful adjuncts to civil society, rather than actual political parties pushing workable, alternative policies.

Because at the end of the day, its only the numbers that count. And if you study them enough, you’ll notice that the opposition doesn’t win, because the ANC loses. Sure, the governing party has shed support in the previous general and municipal elections, but their shrinkage was largely due to voters taking their leave of the democratic experiment. Recent by-election results from across the country suggest that the bleeding has, at least for the moment, stemmed. The ANC brand remains strong.

On the other hand, since taking three of South Africa’s biggest metros, the DA has become increasingly diffuse and muddled. What, and who, does the party represent? Cape Town, once considered the paragon of efficient local urban governance, is locked in a potentially terminal water crisis, while Mayor Patricia de Lille has been placed on special party-leave due to allegations of improper security upgrades of her official residence. (Sound familiar?) Johannesburg’s mayor, Herman Mashaba, evinces a Ronald Reagan-style business-first, criminals-and-immigrants-last populism. (Commenters incorrectly compare him to Trump; instead, the Mashabinator is very much a child of the ‘80s.) Tshwane’s Solly Msimanga, the type of solid, evenly keeled pragmatist that South Africa needs about 10,000 more of, is basically at war with an ANC Mafia, who have no intention of allowing him to govern.

Which brings us to Nelson Mandela Bay, the staggeringly corrupt ANC stronghold wrested away in the municipal elections last year, only to be mired in a dysfunctional coalition governed by mayor Athol Trollip. Trollip has acrimoniously split with his UDM deputy mayor, Mongameli Bobani, following accusations of corruption. But the debacle in Nelson Mandela Bay mirrors a larger DA blind spot: the inability to realise that it has blind spots. The party has often been accused of unearned arrogance, and considering the fact that they haven’t won a single metro outside of Cape Town with anything approaching a majority, one would imagine that humility would be an essential characteristic of their governance strategy.

But nope. Following the no confidence motion against Jacob Zuma, in which at least 40 ANC MPs managed to rouse themselves to vote against the president, or abstain, the DA unilaterally called for the dissolution of Parliament, which would have led to a snap election. The move shattered any possible (and necessary) continuity of a united opposition, and was so daft that it further eroded any confidence that the DA could one day seriously contend for the throne. The UDM’s Bantu Holomisa is currently motivating for an opposition coalition in the lead-up to the 2019 general elections. His shadow lengthens, as does the extent of the DA’s petulance. It does seem like it’s time to grow up.

* * *

First, though, the spectacle.

Shortly before noon, DA leader Mmusi Maimane stood in the rain without an umbrella. He wore a leather bomber and slacks, as if he were dressed for another universe. The skies pissed down upon him, but he seemed to be having fun, which I suppose is worth something.

Preternaturally sensitive to the obvious criticisms, he told us that he was undeterred by those criticising the Gupta march.

Yesterday, [in Groot Marico], they unveiled a capture site,” said Maimane, referring to the North West’s metal nutsack. “The capture site is in Saxonwold.”

The ostensible aim of the march was to remind South Africans that the DA is demanding a second truth commission, this one committed to investigating state capture.

I have written the Speaker, and if she hasn’t agreed to establish an ad hoc committee by 31 October, we are taking you to court.”

Of course they are. Will this gambit work? It will not, because the outcome of any investigation into state capture is dependent on the next leader of the ANC, and the deal they make with Zuma.

And so we walked up through Saxonwold, our progress monitored by somber artisanal dogs. It was fucking freezing. The cops lined up in front of the Gupta manse, and the little procession stopped not far from the gates. BLF, perhaps deterred by inclemency, decided to stay at the shebeen. The residence was quiet and shabby, in the way that rich people’s homes often are. The guards stared out at us, as if to say: Just another day at the circus.

We are gathered her today, not to intimidate anyone, but to ask for the freedom of our country,” said Maimane. “The perpetrators of state capture must go to jail. And we must start with this family.”

Then he placed a cardboard placard in the ground. “Zuma Capture Site,” it read, and it immediately began rotting in the rain. DM

Photo of the DA protest in front of Gupta residence by Ihsaan Haffejee.


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