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ANALYSIS

Attention Desperation — when politics and politicians spoil the nation’s holiest moments

Attention Desperation — when politics and politicians spoil the nation’s holiest moments
President Cyril Ramaphosa celebrates after South Africa's Rugby World Cup victory at Stade de France on 28 October 2023 in Paris, France. (Photo: David Rogers / Getty Images)

The argument between the ANC Women’s League and the KwaZulu-Natal ANC over the handling of the Rugby World Cup trophy is yet another example of how our politicians have mishandled the victory celebrations. While the missteps of politicians over the Springboks’ victory appear petty and the squabbles childish, they reveal a complete lack of political competence and direction.

In the days since the Springboks won the Rugby World Cup for an unprecedented fourth time, there has been a series of missteps by our politicians.

First, President Cyril Ramaphosa gave a completely unnecessary address to the nation. While he was right to attend the World Cup final (as did Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki before him, although Zuma missed out and Ramaphosa has now held the trophy twice), there was no need for a national address.

When he did speak, he focused on what he claimed were his government’s “achievements”. To many, he was using and abusing the Springboks’ hard-won victory for narrow political gains and cheap electioneering.

Certainly, it appeared that the only reason many people watched the address was to confirm that he would fulfil his half-promise to grant a public holiday.

While a President has the legal power to declare a public holiday for virtually any reason, it has never happened in SA before that such a day has been declared because of a sporting victory.

Ramaphosa’s speech was a transparent attempt to benefit politically from a sporting event in which he had no hand until he was given the chance, ex officio, to lift the Webb Ellis Cup. 

And he was not the only one to try to gain political mileage from the Springboks’ victory. 

Another EFF flip-flop

Within an hour of the final whistle, the EFF put out a graphic in the party’s colours on X (formerly Twitter) with a picture of the Springbok team and a message that the victory was “Historic, Monumental and Inspiring”.

This was in stark contrast to the EFF’s response to the Springbok victory in 2019, when the party’s then spokesperson, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, tweeted: “Congratulations to #SiyaKolisi…the rest go get your congratulations from Prince Harry.”

As we pointed out at the time, at a moment of national unity, the EFF sought to divide.

However, the EFF decided to join the national celebrations this time — until this last weekend, that is, when its leader, Julius Malema, backtracked on the party’s message. 

As News24 reported, he said the EFF’s original celebration had been a “slip in political consciousness” and denounced the Springboks’ emblem, name and colours as symbols of white supremacy which needed to be replaced.

It is not clear why the EFF first supported the Springboks and, then a week later, did an about-turn — other than an attempt to have its cake and eat it. Still, it follows a consistent pattern where the EFF and its leader find it difficult to stick to one course. 

This is just the latest in a long line of flip-flops by Malema and will probably soon be forgotten. 

A display of disunity in Durban

However, the disunity displayed by the ANC over the Springbok victory celebrations in Durban is likely to linger for much longer.

There, in an event with members of the provincial government, Springbok lock Eben Etzebeth (AKA Elizabedi) was due to hold up the trophy with the KwaZulu-Natal Premier, Nomusa Dube-Ncube.

But the ANC KZN leader, Siboniso Duma, who was standing on the other side of Etzebeth, beat Dube-Ncube to the draw and it was he who held up the trophy with the Springbok.

Dube-Ncube tried to touch the trophy and then graciously clapped along with the rest of the crowd.

In response, the EFF said this showed that Duma “despises a woman who comes from the very same organisation that he leads”.

While criticism from an opposition party is to be expected, what was surprising was the reaction of the ANC Women’s League.

Their statement was hugely condemnatory, accusing Duma of sexism and claiming it had been a deliberate act. Intriguingly, the statement was released in the name of the league’s deputy secretary-general, Dina Pule, who declined interview requests.

Amazingly, the KZN ANC’s spokesperson, Mafika Mndebele, did not give party members a chance to resolve the dispute behind closed doors or make visible attempts to damp things down.

Instead, he launched a personal attack on Pule, referencing her conduct in 2013, when she was found guilty of arranging contracts for her then partner while she was the minister of communications.

He said that Duma had done nothing wrong and that Dube-Ncube had not made a complaint.

This was particularly personal. While it has become increasingly common in recent times for factions of the ANC to attack other factions (and this is pretty much the history of the ANC Youth League), it is rare to see the ANC’s dirty laundry being recycled in public in this way.

It suggests that the Women’s League felt emboldened to attack Duma because Luthuli House is worried about how the provincial body is conducting itself

Already, the Presidency has tried to take the eThekwini Metro into partial administration, while the decision by the provincial education department to change the suppliers of school meals led to national outrage. 

Political incompetence

While it is tempting to dismiss all of this as petty politics, there are important insights to be gleaned.

The first is that there has been an incredible display of political incompetence from so many quarters.

Ramaphosa, Malema and the KZN ANC have all been able to mess up what should be the easiest of things, the celebration of a glorious sporting victory. 

(They are not alone in messing things up — witness Spain’s former football association president Luis Rubiales, whose unconsented kiss of the national star female player almost overshadowed the country’s famous World Cup victory. The player, Jennifer Hermoso, received death threats after Rubiales was eventually forced to resign.) 

The lesson should be simple: keep politics out of things to which you have not contributed in any way.  

But this is a symptom of a deeper problem in our politics.

Many political leaders are not sure in which direction to move, how to win votes, or what actions to take, with the most consequential elections in a generation on the horizon. 

This glaring incompetence is why two structures of the ANC, its KZN leadership and its Women’s League, have different views on one small incident.

It is why, when under pressure, politicians so often look to the past for direction.

It is why exchanges in Parliament dissolve into arguments about South Africa’s apartheid and colonial past and the ANC’s “allegedly” corrupt track record.

This is safe ground for members of the ANC and often the DA, and frees politicians from having to actually lead in any particular direction. They don’t have to take any new positions on the problems that face us now. 

Also, politicians will sometimes seek to use seemingly small incidents to make bigger points. In the past, even something as seemingly trivial as eating birthday cake was politicised.

In 2012, the ANC, led then by Jacob Zuma, said publicly that leaders would no longer eat cake or drink Champagne at ANC events after Kgalema Motlanthe had said leaders would drink Champagne on behalf of their members.

This was really a way for Zuma’s supporters to show their opposition to Motlanthe. (Motlanthe was a serial victim of this; in the same year he agreed to speak at a fundraising event in Durban for the SACP. None of the SACP leaders attended, claiming they were too tired from their conference.)

It is also a reflection of the fracturing process under way in our politics, where there are more small parties than ever before, and even individuals appear to hold independent political power.

This means that politicians become less certain of what to do and more desperate to do something, and to be seen to be doing something — no matter how ill-advised that may be.

Unfortunately, this also means that even something as simple and unifying as a generational sporting victory will be sacrificed on the altar of attention desperation. DM

Gallery

Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Perhaps our resident eff troll can shed some light on his organisations flip-flopping

  • Denise Smit says:

    It seems all these party are now grabbing on sporting highlights to out do one another on the election trail. In my opinion EFF scored very badly, followed by Kwazulu Natal ANC then the President only because he was in Paris for the final match although he did not look very comfortable until he held the trophy. Thank heavens the Proteas did not make it. Denise Smit

  • Francois Smith says:

    Ramaphosa should make the Springbok the emblem of “Excellence in Diversity”.
    Ramaphosa and any person who has a job as the result of an election should be doing the following in future:
    Use only state hospitals and clinics
    Use SAPS only and only for investigations after burglaries at their homes
    Drive their own cars to work and back so that they can also be stuck in traffic
    Use only Eskom power
    Use only water from the tap from their water board
    Have their children and grandchildren in the closest public school
    Use only SAPO for sending mail (no emails)

    Then once all of these institutions give them the service as required by the Constitution, the president gives them a “Springbok Trophy”.

  • Gareth Dawson says:

    You forgot to mention Fikile Mbalula’s claim that it was all because of him that South Africa won the world cup.

  • Mario de Abreu says:

    It makes my blood boil when I see the main instigator of our countries problems holding a trophy that was won by hard work and sweat by all involved. It was this mampara that Siya was talking about when he mentioned the country’s woes and general pitiful state. These cretins in the ANC are quick to divide us, sowing hatred and stealing our hard earned money – how dare these pigs share in the glory of honest hard working South Africans!

  • Dr Know says:

    . . . and pay for fuel and electricity out of their own salary . . .

  • jcdville stormers says:

    Citizens create unity through WC victory,politicians divide,enough said.

  • Cornay Bester says:

    Waiting on the “pronoun person” who will claim the cup a victory for hamas.

  • Grumpy Old Man says:

    Good piece Stephen; I was thinking after the KZN soap opera drama – how easy it would have been (instead of political leaders arguing about who gets to stand in the spotlight) to have called to the stage some young kid to have lifted the Trophy & to maybe have sat astride Eben’s shoulders! After all, Siya & the team did it for us, did it to bring people together & to inspire hope! What our Politicians did – how they responded was ‘true to form’. They took something beautiful & made it toxic!
    The problem is Stephen (you know it, but perhaps can’t directly say it) is the quality & ‘the cut’ of the individuals that supposedly lead us.
    As an example, if you took the last ANC Conference (& the events leading up to it) & you look at the KZN delegation. Persons who refer to their particular slate as the Taliban is indicative. Aside from the cultural misappropriation it’s downright childish. These are the same persons who go to the Plenary’s and vote on whether the Reserve Bank should be nationalized or not (for heavens sake they don’t even understand what the mandate of the Reserve Bank is)
    Nothing good can come out of having kak (apologies) people in leadership positions & when it comes to kak leaders our cup over-floweth. That is from Cabinet – through to Provincial – down to Municipal level
    I will say it again – South Africa is awash with good & talented people (across all races & cultural groups) but there are few of these to be found in political leadership positions

  • Brett Wener says:

    Well said

  • Zylma Olivier says:

    The important lesson here is clearly stated: Politicians should STAY OUT of things they did not contribute too!! We South Africans are tired of the pathetic interventions/games/incompetence (and I can add many additional words) of the politicians in our beautiful country. Just do your jobs. The jobs you are highly paid to do and fail miserably at.

  • Johan Buys says:

    The joke of the week must belong to Malema’s claim that indigenous South Africans invented rugby long before the colonists arrived in SA.

    • Alan Paterson says:

      As well as gravity and that the earth revolves around the sun. Long before Newton and Galileo. But unfortunately not the printing press and dictionaries.

    • Michael Thomlinson says:

      The only sport indigenous SA’s had before the Brits arrived was war and raiding. Thats not to say that the Brits did not go to war (they sure started a lot of them all over the world) but at least, inbetween wars, there was cricket, football and rugby and you could even play them them while you were fighting a war. According to an opposition media channel Malema has been nominated for “Idiot quote for 2023”.

  • The ruling will use any ocassion necessary , to blow their own horn ; the Springboks winning the world cup , was one such ocassion

  • Confucious Says says:

    (un)fortunately for both political circuses, their attempts to hijack the Boss magnificence and their ability to unify the country were so thinly veiled that its obvious, even to the lowest voter, that both parties have no value to add to anyone.

  • virginia crawford says:

    It’s quite charitable to imagine that politicians are uncertain: they are graspers and grabbers, desperate for power. Mostly it was just very undignified to watch them grabbing and grinning with the trophy – buffoons.

  • Bob Dubery says:

    They’re all it. Geordin Hill Lewis was on the bus that the team toured Cape Town in. OK, he’s at least the mayor and can claim to be doing his hostly duties. What then was John Steenhuizen doing inserting himself into proceedings.

    Comment on the victory and on the name the team use is fair enough (even if one doesn’t agree), but all this getting selfies and getting onto busses should stop. Right now, for that trophy, the spotlight should shine only on the team.

  • Thembinkosi Khumalo says:

    Good morning Mr Grootes, I am glad you have taken the new leaf in your reporting. The President has no business being there in the first and lifting the cup that should be left to the couch and players. He is serial failure as a president and he is no leader either. Politicians like him they are worried about next election and leaders are worried about the next generation.

    Unfortunately you just had to spoil this piece with including former President Zuma which has nothing do with the springbok. What does eaten cake in 2012 has to do with changing of mind of CIC. Duma & ANC women squabble about lifting the trophy. ANC is useless so as DA and other political parties. They emphasis is getting mileage and milk the said situation for political scoring.

    It has nothing to do with the delivering of services to our people.

    • Grumpy Old Man says:

      Hello Thembinkosi; you are good for a chuckle
      Not sure you noticed your spelling slip?
      ‘The President has no business being there in the first and lifting the cup that should be left to the couch and players’
      Would that be the President’s couch?

    • Louise Wilkins says:

      If you think the DA is useless you clearly don’t live in CT, where life under the DA is so much better that I can’t believe it took me so long to move. DA needs to run the country. They are decent and won’t steal our money.

  • Con Tester says:

    That our useless, spineless, gutless, sackless, feckless, grinning marshmallow of a state president, Ramaposeur, was not only allowed by World Rugby to join the Boks’ victory festivities, but also to lay his grubby paws on the trophy as if he had anything to do with that victory, will forever remain a moment of unfathomable ignominy in SA’s history.

    By their nature, polypticians are unprincipled attention-seekers. That SAns still tolerate their self-aggrandising antics is shameful.

  • David C says:

    Civil society needs a focused and concerted “lawfare” effort to drive Constitutional judgements that enforce and “codify” (in legislation) the aspects of the Constitution that talk to good government/governance in legislation. The end-goal: to raise the caliber of politicians and to hold them personally far more accountable to the citizens outside of the purely political arena. As we see, our country is governed by the lowest quality people in our society – when a disgraced, lying, incompetent Public Protector can be fired from her job and immediately become a person dictating our laws we have a big problem. Time to remove the responsibility of the direction, pace and success of our society away from frankly pathetic, narcissistic, lying, unethical and conniving individuals.

  • Frank Fettig says:

    That cringe worthy moment almost spoiled it for me.
    The most embarrassing, incompetent “president” in the world pushes himself to the fore. That was more ridiculous than Salt Bae at the end of the World Cup.

  • Middle aged Mike says:

    There is so much that is cringeworthy about our country and this article shines a light on a number of them. How anyone can be taken in by the buffoons that are elected into power here is beyond me.

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