Being uninformed is so last season
15 December 2017 06:17 (South Africa)
Opinionista Stephen Grootes

August, 2016: A time of profound change

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

As a Joburg resident, someone who has lived in this city since the age of nine (leaving at times for university and a period in London) some things have always seemed unchangeable. Taxi drivers will always be taxi drivers, the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital will never win an award for inspirational architecture, the left-hand lane on Louis Botha is always a mistake. One of those areas of permanence has been, since 2000, that the ANC will govern the city. That has changed. And with it, so have our lives.

When I first started reporting in Johannesburg, the first time I came across an ANC mayor was Amos Masondo. He seemed impervious to criticism. When potholes appeared and traffic lights disappeared, as the Metro Police grew more and more corrupt, and the billing system just failed and failed and failed, he didn’t care. Once, when I’d managed to remain unnoticed in a meeting in which the then chairman of the Joburg Roads Agency explained in detail why his municipal entity was failing, Masondo’s response to my reporting was to lament his failure to have asked me to leave the gathering. The media did not matter. Reporting had no impact on elections.

Parks Tau was different – in approach, in attitude, in getting things done. He started out almost slightly media-shy, and grew into an accomplished and poised performer. He got the money right, there was very little corruption, and it seemed the city was about to enter an ANC-led golden age. And, on Monday, he showed he has more honour that Danny Jordaan and Thoko Didiza, who refused to allow themselves to be put up for nomination for an election they knew they would lose.

I also really felt for Trevor Fowler on Monday. As City Manager it was his duty to chair the first meeting of the new council. It takes real class to chair a meeting at which you know you, your party and your friends, are going to lose. It takes even more class to keep your poise in such a situation, as the Economic Freedom Fighters show their complete lack of it, by instigating delays and problems at every turn.

And while we’re here, watching the EFF causing chaos in your city is different to watching it cause chaos in your Parliament. Somehow the National Assembly is distant from daily life, no matter how many times I go there. But a council chamber, where the people make decisions that literally affect my daily life is much closer.

The EFF’s motive in behaving like this is a mystery. What was achieved apart from the prolonging of the agony? Nothing. Except the prolonging of the agony. And the ANC will always believe that the EFF now has the blood of one its councillors on its hands.

This approach is unlikely to work in the long run for Julius Malema. In fact, it’s quite likely that at some point it will cause him some serious pain in the posterior. In the National Assembly he has only one small group of people to control. If he introduces chaos into each chamber in which he has representation, it’s only a matter for time before that chaos is in turn introduced into the running of his own party. If you teach your members to refuse to accept any authority, surely at some point one day they will refuse to accept yours. There must be a lesson for Malema in what happened to Zuma. It was he who allowed his supporters to start booing his opponents nearly 10 years ago. There is a straight line between those incidents, and what happened to Zuma during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

But it also doesn’t make electoral sense. Three weeks ago voters in many areas showed they wanted change. Only 8.19% of them hinted that they wanted EFF-branded chaos. Malema is likely to find it harder and harder to grow that percentage of the vote through the simple act of protest. And, more interestingly, if the EFF grows, it is going to find it harder and harder to maintain any kind of discipline. Already there was a protest of people claiming to be EFF members outside the Joburg Council meeting. They said they were angry at the decision to back the DA. If Malema simply follows the politics of disruption, those members will start to do the same to his meetings. And he will have no way to counter it.

But the real political story on Monday, away from the drama and the shocking news that someone had actually died in the chamber, is that power shifted hands quite dramatically.

One of the ways in which you can determine how power is moving is to simply use filthy lucre. Money, everywhere, is power. And suddenly, money, in terms of government resources, is beginning to flow the DA’s way.

Consider the numbers. Joburg’s budget for this year is R54.8-billion, Tshwane’s R32.8-billion, while the budget in Nelson Mandela Bay is a small but not insignificant R10.9-billion. Then, of course, as a result of Marius Fransman’s best efforts, there is Cape Town, still safely in the DA’s hands. Its budget is R34.5-billion.

If you put it all together, R133-billion, you get almost enough money to build a small coal-operated power station. Or several solar power plants. Or roughly one-tenth of a nuclear build programme. But this is money you control every year. These are the amounts spent annually by just these metros.

Think of the power of that money. Think of what can be done with it, the way in which it can be directed and used. Think of it being used effectively because the DA’s control of these cities depends on it, and because things are so tight in the councils that it will be much harder to engage in corruption.

And then, think of this – this is money that the ANC used to control, but no longer does. Think of the patronage that this money created. Remember Kgalema Motlanthe’s comment, when ANC secretary-general in the months before Polokwane in 2007, that in some councils, “almost every project is conceived because it offers opportunities for certain people to make money. A great deal of the ANC’s problems are occasioned by this”.

And then there is the function that this patronage performed. It was part of the adhesive that kept the ANC together. If power is the glue that keeps its different factions functioning under one banner, then money, patronage that comes from power, plays an important role in making sure none of them came unstuck. This glue has now been significantly weakened, perhaps fundamentally so.

One of the dynamics that occurs when a party looks less than divinely inspired to remain in power is that the fights for the resources it does control grow more intense, just as its members should be focusing on trying to remain in power. At the same time, the unity that was there in the past disappears. This has meant that in some countries political parties that seemed unassailable in one election have lost the next one, and then disappeared by the third poll. This is not a prediction that this will happen here. It’s a warning to the ANC of how important it is to fix itself, now.

For the DA, there is another task. If the ANC does decline from this point, it would be wise for the Blue Brigade to study this decline incredibly closely. The ANC is a multiclass alliance, which is the source of much of its strength, and much of its weakness. The DA is actually very similar. Its policies are almost the same as the ANC’s. There is nothing to prevent it going the same way at some point in the future.

The ANC has been the dominant feature of our political lives for so long – it seemed, just three weeks ago, impossible to believe this would ever change. This was the case in Joburg too. Until last night. DM

  • Stephen Grootes
    Grootes for DM.jpg
    Stephen Grootes

    Grootes is the host of the Midday Report on 702 and Cape Talk, and the Senior Political Correspondent for Eyewitness News. He's been part of the political hack pack since before the Polokwane Tsunami, and covers politics in a slightly obsessive manner. Those who love him have recommended help for his politics addiction. He quotes Amy Winehouse.

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