2021 Local Elections

ANALYSIS

Phoenix posters: DA exploits fear and deepens divisions during election drive

Democratic Alliance election posters erected on Phoenix Highway, eThekwini, have sparked outrage. (Photo: Mandla Langa)

There are many cases where the divisions in a democracy are deepened during an election campaign. The DA appears to be one of those parties that seeks to deepen these divisions simply for its own ends – consequences be damned.

During elections, politicians seeking to differentiate themselves through issues around identities can divide entire democratic societies. Now it appears that some parties are deliberately seeking to provoke even further divisions. It is not clear that they will benefit from this stance. 

It is also not clear, however, that they will be punished, as the governing party must also take some responsibility for the conditions under which these divisions are being exploited.

On Tuesday afternoon, it emerged that the DA had set up posters in Phoenix, eThekwini, declaring that “The ANC called you racists” and “The DA calls you heroes”. The posters were erected in Phoenix first, but the party has confirmed it intends to post them throughout eThekwini.

There can be no doubt of what the DA is doing here. It said this is a reference to the July violence in Phoenix, when groups of black and Indian people were fighting one another. There can also be no doubt of the divisions that this will inflame. 

This is a deliberate, provocative act. 

The party is now defending its action. Its KZN leader, Dean Macpherson, told SAfm on Wednesday morning that there was nothing factually incorrect with the statement, that people who had defended their communities during the violence (presumably referring to Indian people) were “heroes”. He also claimed that the ANC had branded Indian people who had done this as “racist”.

It is not entirely certain that the facts of what actually happened bear that analysis out.

First, there is strong evidence that black people were attacked in Phoenix by groups of people without evidence that they had carried out any crimes. In other words, the suspicion is that they were attacked by Indian people simply for being black, and in that area at that time.

In one case the victim was Mondli Majola. Dylan Govender, Ned Govender and Jeetendra Jaikissoon are accused of his murder. The court has seen video evidence of Majola being hit by an object on the head and thighs, while surrounded by a group of people. He fell to the ground after being hit and lay motionless.

It would be hard to suggest that a group of people are “heroes” for hitting a person in this way, while he is surrounded.

Police Minister Bheki Cele has said that more than 150 illegal guns were confiscated by the police from just four security companies operating in Phoenix.

What were they doing with more than 150 illegal guns?

Again, this is not the action of “heroes”.

It is clear that the DA’s actions here are aimed at winning the votes of Indian people; they want to show that they are “standing up” for them when no one else will. 

Worse, it appears the DA is suggesting that it is the governing party, the ANC, that is threatening the Indian community.

This may well bring to mind events that lie in the past, which still haunt this community today.

This is not the first time the DA has used a deliberately provocative campaign. 

In 2016 it ran a campaign claiming that to honour Mandela’s vision was to vote for the DA. It was incredibly contentious and infuriated the ANC and others.

It may be that one of the aims of the DA’s strategy is to try to set the terms of the election, to be the party that determines the dominant question of the election. If its strategists believe that an election is going to be about race, then they may as well grab the initiative first. 

The ANC has condemned the DA over the poster strategy, claiming it is evidence of a “swart gevaar” campaign, a reference to how certain parties pandered to the white electorate during apartheid, with a claim that only a particular party would defend white people from black people.

The ANC is not completely blameless, though.

Some of its senior members appear to have made racist comments about Indian people.

The party has confirmed that it is instituting disciplinary action against a member of the ANC Youth League Task Team, Sizophila Mkhize, for comments she made about Indian people in the aftermath of the violence in Phoenix.

At the same time, it may be important to note that the entire context of the situation in Phoenix was formed by the violence which occurred there earlier this year and engulfed KZN and Gauteng.

There is no doubt that the violence was triggered by the imprisonment of former president Jacob Zuma, who is also a former leader of the ANC. 

During the violence, the ANC itself accepted that it was partly to blame for what happened, that this was really the result of its internal divisions. To put it more crisply, this violence would not have happened if the ANC had not been divided. It is clear that it was supporters of Zuma who helped to incite the greatest disturbance in democratic South Africa.

It is also true that the party has not taken action against any of its members who incited this violence. 

Zuma’s daughter Duduzile Zuma-Sambudla used Twitter to encourage people to commit violence. No action has been taken against her by the party. 

Zuma’s son Duduzane Zuma, who claims that he will be the next leader of the ANC, told people to “loot responsibly” during the violence. He appears to still be running this campaign after the violence.

No action has been taken against him by the party.

This may well have encouraged the DA to take this risky step. At the very least, it has helped to create a context in which these posters might be seen as helpful in galvanising the support of Indian people in Phoenix, who may feel under threat.

Then there is the fact that our law enforcement agencies, which are led by ANC deployees, have failed in a much more significant way.

Immediately after the violence began it became clear that one of the most important ways to ensure that this never happened again was to make everyone know exactly who was responsible. Critical to this was to know who committed the violence, who opened shopping centres to allow looters inside, who had committed which crimes and who had arranged them.

And then for those people to be held legally accountable.

But, apart from a few cases where people are being charged with inciting violence, none of this has happened. 

There is still no publicly available finding of what exactly happened and who was responsible.

If no one is held accountable, there is no reason why it cannot happen again.

And this is what underscores the fear in Phoenix, the fear that the DA is now trying to capitalise on.

There are many cases where the divisions in a democracy are deepened during an election campaign. The last presidential elections in the US that saw former president Donald Trump against the current president, Joe Biden, are a good example of the damage that can be done. There is evidence now that plenty of people profit from divisions in our society.

The DA appears to be among those parties that seek to deepen these divisions simply for its own ends – and hang the consequences.

In the process, it also makes it easier for others to do so. Such as the EFF. DM

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All Comments 23

  • What I don’t get is how the DA expects this will help them win elections.

    KZN is over 85% black. Every single municipality in KZN is black majority. Putting aside how it is morally reprehensible to stoke racial tensions during elections, this is a mathematically stupid strategy. When Dean Macpherson says the DA can afford to lose 50% of its black supporters, what on earth does this mean? You can’t win an election in KZN with just white and Indian supporters even if you get 100% of their votes. Can the DA really be this clueless?

  • The violence arose because of ANC factionalism. It was racial in character and directed at the property of non-Black non-ANC South Africans. It spread because of an under-resourced SAP lead by ANC cadre deployees. It provoked fear (and indeed an appalling over-reaction amongst a very small number of people under threat). The DA rightly calls out the hypocrisy of ANC spokespeople who highlight only the tiny racist component of those under threat who over-reacted. By largely ignoring the racist animus of the rioting mobs and the heroic response of neighbourhood watches, and indeed by playing the race card at every opportunity, it has opened political space for the DA, not to be racist, but to call out the ANC’s racist based approach to politics and to offer a anti-racist merit based future to all South Africans.

    • Agree 100%, the blame here is 100% on the ANC led government, ANC factionalism and an abysmal failure of ANC deployed cadres in charge of security forces.

      • So the ANC government’s ineptitude hypnotised the DA into making an idiotic and unsavoury statement? Interesting. That’s a serious indictment on their intelligence, political, emotional and otherwise.

  • Sorry Stephen, but on this poster I think it falls squarely in the camp of candid truth. Plus, we need less boring politics.

    Else we will have a landscape of We Promise posters.

  • “The ANC is not completely blameless, though.

    Some of its senior members appear to have made racist comments about Indian people.”

    You could have shortened this article to:

    “DA’s political opponents twist DA’s words to attack the DA.”

    Anyone with half a jot of common sense knows the DA are not referring to the violence, but to the people who stood up and said “I will protect my home and my community”. But of course, the news will take the angle that generates the most clicks, and in this country, racism, true or perceived, boy does it sell.

  • I would not be surprised if the ANC factions came to an agreement behind closed doors to sweep the July Riots under the carpet, and release JZ on medical parole.

    There boards are poor taste though.

  • The DA does not stumble on this one, it falls flat on its face in the poo! any knowledgeable brand manager will tell one not to focus on negative but positive. there is nothing positive about these posters and the message has no context as they stand. with all the explaining DA leaders have to do to justify this, proves the point. so sad!

  • It is race-baiting and in that sense no better than the EFF. And on top of that, it is a monumentally stupid distraction from the DA campaign message, which is about their claim to a good track record of municipal governance.

  • The actions of the few people that committed crimes does not detract from the fact that many brave souls did stand up against a disgusting mob of savage looters in the absence of the SAPS and SANDF whose very job it is, is to protect life and limb. The disgusting behavior is a direct product of ANC factionalism. DO NOT FORGET THAT !

  • I am not a supporter of the DA, and one of the reasons for that is precisely this kind of ignorance of what ordinary South Africans are all about and what matters to us. To me the DA still has a very strong smell of the Progs of old who were heavily invested in banking, mining, and other business, whose children exclusively attended private schools, who were clueless about the reality of the daily lives of ordinary salary-earning folk (if you’re one of the lucky ones), and who now and again soothed their consciences by making a tax-deductible contribution to some or other charity.

    This debacle is just another example of the kind of deafness and blindness that Helen Zille seemingly suffers from. I mean, you don’t need to live in a township or squatter camp to understand that for the vast majority of South Africans the word “colonialism” means oppression, subjugation, and pain, no matter how many benefits can also possibly be associated with the word. There are things you can think but not say, no matter how true they are, and fortunately the vast majority of average South Africans understand that, and that is why we get on remarkably well with one another on a daily basis, despite our very deep differences on so many issues. By and large, we are kind to one another, and we are considerate of one another’s sensitivities.

    I sometimes wonder if the DA leaders are part of South African society at all.

      • I doubt it!! The DA unfortunately “shoots itself in the foot.” regularly and seems to have a communication problem, but they mean well and where they govern they are
        successful. By now, with proper leadership, they should be a real threat to the ANC and
        be much stronger. Real racism, in my opinion, by the black majority, holds them back from making effective inroads with the “black vote”.

  • The poster is not a a good move by the DA- it’s the usual story of tone deafness. Of course it is also true that the whole sorry disgusting saga of the July violence was birthed entirely by ANC factionalism- however it was a dangerous play by the DA to gain the votes of Indian people- the results of the municipal elections will see whether it backfired

  • Mr Grootes seemingly has either a very short memory or is guilty of extreme naivety. We all saw the orgy of insurrectionist violence, looting of a mob acting with total impunity, fired up against all authority by the RET factions, largely led by the Zuma faction – correctly identified by President Ramaphosa, for once acting presidentially – yet he now seeks to trivialise the actual orgy of destruction, clearly aimed at overturning the State, by accusing the DA of “trying to capitalise on it”.

    These concerted and connected violent events took us within a stones throw – literally and metaphorically – of chaos and anarchy, whilst our police, Securocrats sat around, clearly tacitly supporting, leaving ordinary citizenry to defend our Constitution, neighbourhoods as best they could.

    We came within a whisker of becoming a failed state, and Mr Grootes – clearly still madly in love with the ANC – has the temerity and lack of judgement to see nothing more than the fear the DA is seeking to gain from?

    I suppose it was one of his forebears, a journalist, who seemingly asked Mrs Lincoln, “Apart from that, Mrs Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play?”