Opinionista Lebo Keswa 23 September 2014

Gwedeism rises again

It’s a crying shame when you have to defend your party’s position against the mind-blowingly bizarre and embarrassing utterances of one of its leaders – a leader who does not speak for you or the actual policies.

I have been following closely the utterances of Gwede Manatashe, and I’m sure I dare say the following: Fortunately, as an ANC member, I have the privilege of knowing that indeed sometimes his words have nothing to do with ANC policy. Unfortunately, however, they increasingly look like policy; these PR gaffes the ANC can ill afford.

When will Mantashe learn this valuable lesson? Policy cannot be determined on the go when people wake up and feel like showing off how much they want to defend the president.

I have watched President Jacob Zuma over the years, and he is at his best when he is answering questions in Parliament, unscripted, speaking off the cuff and being honest with South Africans. Unfortunately, those advising him have not yet caught on that he should not be made to read all the time.

But I digress. Recent utterances by Mantashe create the impression that Zuma is so helpless that he should preferably not be allowed to go into Parliament at all.

Let us first take a small step backward. The only issue that he really had a hard time dealing with was Nkandla. In my opinion, he has constantly received bad advice to duck and dive, using valuable PR space trying all kinds of unflattering manoeuvres to avoid the Public Protector’s simple recommendation: Pay back the money that had nothing to do with security upgrades. If he had simply done this, there would be no further debate on the matter – his very wish when it came up in Parliament.

However, because the issue of Nkandla is now unresolved, the public perception is that he wants to avoid paying – and we have the resultant chaos; the matter being left to simmer like a terrible, septic wound.

This is not even to mention the unfortunate sideshow of debates around the powers of the Public Protector – another bout of bad advice from Zuma’s legal team. After all the legal gaffes – from the appointment of the Chief Justice to the abortive and irrational appointment of Menzi Simelane – the poor advice continues unabated into the second administration. The Minister who was at the helm of all these flip-flops has been promoted instead.

And so all Mantashe’s latest utterances – let’s call them Gwedeisms – have little to do with ANC policy, and more to do with a simple kneejerk reaction; jumping needlessly and automatically to the defence of Msholozi.

Let’s look at six such examples.

1. The police in the Western Cape reacted slowly, therefore Parliament must move to Pretoria.

This is silly in the extreme. The police are a national force, and so their location should have nothing to do with their pace of reaction. To threaten the entire institution because the ANC is feeling annoyed is so backward as to not be funny at all. What resolution of the ANC has even intimated that Parliament should be moved to Pretoria? Which resolution of the ANC instructs us to give up on recapturing the Western Cape electorate? Are we that desperate? Mantashe will be hard-pressed to convince me which meeting of the ANC agreed on such an obviously wrong course of action.

2. Parliament has failed/ descended into anarchy

No one has made this determination anywhere. It is the responsibility of the ANC to ensure that there is order in Parliament. It is not just about voting and using the majority to bully the other parties. A few altercations in Parliament do not warrant a finite finding that Parliament is useless. With all the problems in Parliament I am not aware that any structure of the ANC would have decided that we should give up on such an important institution of the country. The NEC cannot possibly have agreed to such a misguided approach. If they did, some of us on the ground will have to oppose it, as it is not in keeping with any congress resolution or guiding documents of the ANC.

3. Madonsela is a populist

This is a cheap shot by Mantashe’s deputy and reflects badly on the ANC. To simply say ‘we distance ourselves’ without taking action against these structures that constantly embarrass the ANC is an indictment. The constant attacks on the Public Protector are not the position of the ANC, but the approach of a clique without a mandate. It is for this reason that from time to time the ANC has to be made to eat humble pie and apologise to the Protector. This kind of conduct only plays into the hands of those who portray the ANC as haters of Constitutional structures or at least people in these structures who show a modicum of independence.

4. The president and the deputy president are not answerable to Parliament

This is a most horrible injunction that can threaten a serious institution of our democracy. Our people are humiliated every day, having to live without water and sanitation. Is it not a small price to pay to go and answer to their representatives? Is this what it has all come to, that the leadership of the ANC can advocate against the very institutions they have created? I am sure this is not an ANC position, and it has to be actively campaigned against. There is no one who is so above the law that they can be excused from Parliament. In a twisted way, these sentiments play in the hands of the opposition, who have pointed fingers at the ANC chairperson that Parliament under her watch has deteriorated as an august institution.

5. The Guptas have disrespected South Africa

You bet. This is one thing Mantashe got right. But was there follow-up or was there a promotion of the culprits, in fact? Shouting from the rooftops, pretending to step in to restore order, has to be followed by real action. It seems action that will upset the Guptas is not even on the horizon. So who was Mantashe fooling by pointing a finger at Number 1? You have to love the Guptas, though: they created the platform that gave the Public Protector the South African of the Year Award. Look up “irony” in the dictionary, and you’ll find that!

6. EFF is a Nazi organisation

This is a most pedestrian analysis and certainly not the position of the ANC by a long shot. The EFF is an offshoot of the ANC, so when did they start being Nazis: before or after they were the secret weapon of Zuma’s rise to power? This statement smacks of unadulterated political intolerance that does not belong in a democracy.

It is sad that those of us who support the ANC have to distinguish for ourselves which of our leaders’ statements we have to defend because a cult of personality is emerging, necessitating us to be vigilant and not defend the ANC blindly. Some of these ill-considered statements place many supporters of the ANC in an invidious position because they cannot defend the indefensible position that seems to be designed to demonstrate the protection of the president, even when it is totally unnecessary.

Mantashe, like Blade Nzimande, rushes to suggest that there must be a law barring people from insulting the president. The latest gaffe about our leaders being shielded from Parliament smacks of the same ignorance as the call for an anti-insult law. No president can escape the rough-and-tumble of facing a robust opposition – no matter how much they disgust him or make him uncomfortable. So just to be clear, Mr President, let’s remember that ‘With great power comes great responsibility’, and, I have since learnt, also a lot of criticism.

Enough already with the Gwedeisms. Let’s empower ourselves to defend the real position of the ANC. Can we? DM

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