SONA has become South Africa’s annual Halloween spectacle. Fancy dress, demon screams from hollowed out vegetables with empty smiles. Over the last three years the show has become a little bit bigger – but very little has actually changed.
So much was repeated. The EFF used the best platform they get every year to grab a headline, but sadly just demonstrated that they seem to be running out of ideas.
Once again, the ANC caucus and their provincial heads decided that the most important political year is the perfect occasion for high-school obscenity and childish name-calling. The mothers and fathers of this once great liberation party must be so proud.
The DA did score a nice human point, by requesting a minute’s silence in honour of the appalling deaths of the Esidimeni 94. (Which if Baleka Mbete had allowed would have gone a fair way to settle the chaos and rehumanise the occasion). But they too were reduced to the same irritated walkout.
And finally, Jacob, after enduring the usual hour or so of abuse and political posturing, lifted his well-used middle finger to settle his “buy-fokals”, chuckled and launched into a bum-numbing bedtime story full of fairy-tale facts, dreams and delusions.
So what else wasn’t new? The military presence was bigger, not new! The pepper spray that doused President Thabo Mbeki in the visitor gallery wasn’t new, but last year they only used it outside. Although the crowds demonstrating on the streets were considerably smaller, obviously last year’s water cannon had curbed their enthusiasm.
Sadly, even Baleka Mbete’s hairstyle was the same. Things must be really bad when the Speaker misses an opportunity to show off some stylishly innovative cranial confection. She may have no credibility and no control of the House but usually she makes a revolutionary fashion statement – this year, not even that.
But the actual State of the Nation has changed a great deal since last year, mostly for the ANC caucus who have been hardest hit, which is why they were shouting louder than everyone else. Because they are really hurting. If change is frightening, then the ANC is terrified.
So what has changed?
This time last year, according to the ANC caucus, JZ had done nothing wrong regarding Nkandla, and there was no way that he was going “to pay back the money”. But the courts said sorry, “You’re wrong, Mr President. Pay up! Personally.” And he did. Last year the Constitutional Court stopped the runaway ANC caucus in its tracks for the first time: “Parliament. You broke the law.”
This time last year, we were still feeling the aftershocks of the Nene-Van Rooyen-Gordhan revolving door scandal. A year later, despite court cases, political attacks and being frozen out of the “inner circle”, Pravin Gordhan is still here, manfully trying to balance the Budget between the bungling and bullying.
Hlaudi Motsoeneng, our Megalomaniac Medusa of the Media and Resident SABC Spin Surgeon, after years of wasted court battles has finally left the building.
Riah Phiyega, the misplaced Police Commissioner, has been suspended, appealed, lost the appeal and is gone. (In the great tradition of Jailed Jackie Selebi, and Baracuda Bheki Cele.)
Brian Molefe, former head of Eskom, after years of over-paid incompetence, is gone. There are rumours that he might be brought into the Cabinet, but with 70 Cabinet and deputy ministers I am sure there is room for one more in the closet. Still, the annual reward of a multimillion rand bonus is now denied to the Prince of Darkness.
Jacob’s personal investment bank, Gupman Sax, had its accounts closed, and faces investigation while it relocates head office to Dubai. Oh, they are still making noise, but they are the fading SOS cries of drowning men.
And those once forgotten 783 or so counts of corruption, racketeering and fraud have been resurrected and reloaded into the shower head hanging over JZ’s head waiting to rain down on him as soon as his last court appeal is lost, like all the others before.
And it is not just JZ’s and cosy cabal that has been changed, but the entire structure of support within the ANC has been shaken. The Save South Africa campaign, though largely symbolic, is the voice of moral authority in the ANC, and it has sounded a clarion call. Their message is clear. If the ANC does not submit to major surgery it will die from the gangrene of corruption that is spreading from the head down through every organ and limb in its indulgent and bloated body.
But all that would be nothing compared to the big, scary change. The real terror running down the spine of every ANC Councilor, Mayor, MP, Minister and Deployed Cadre. Because Halloween came early last year for the ANC. In August, following their usual trick-or-treating election campaign, they woke up sweating from a political nightmare. The ANC came within four percentage points of losing a national majority at the ballot box. Since 2004 their share of the national vote has shrunk from 69% down to 54%. That means that internally they have lost nearly a quarter of their power base.
They lost control of the richest city in the country, they lost the city of government, and they lost the city that was their historical heart. In six provinces there are now local governments where the ANC has lost control of the purse strings, including Nkandla (surely the most delicious irony of all). And the ANC knows they have never managed to successfully reclaim lost ground.
From Midvaal Municipality in 2001 to the Cape Town Metro in 2006, to the Western Cape Province in 2009 – in 16 years they have not been able to regroup and regenerate enough strength to regain control. That kind of self-analysis and the ability to vigorously reinvent is not in their DNA. Historically, once they are out in the wilderness, they stay there, starving on the sidelines. Maybe that self-destructive gene seeded itself when they accepted their apartheid enemy, the Nationalist Party, to their ranks.
We make the most noise when we are most afraid, which is why this year the ANC caucus became a foulmouthed, yelling and often hysterical mob at SONA. As our third ANC President, Kgalema Mothlanthe, said, it is “dangerous when fear reigns”, you could “end up with a dead organisation”.
And the ANC is afraid. Very Afraid. Because the winds of change are blowing everywhere – both inside and outside the party. And this is not a gentle breeze, this is a very stiff wind, threatening to become a storm – and that is the true State of Our Nation. DM
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"Look for lessons about haunting when there are thousands of ghosts; when entire societies become haunted by terrible deeds that are systematically occurring and are simultaneously denied by every public organ of governance and communication." ~ Avery Gordon