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DA appropriation of Marikana and Life Esidimeni names is crude party-political electioneering


Marianne Merten has written on Parliament since 2016 for Daily Maverick. The intersection of governance, policy and politics unfolds at many levels, from tiny nuggets of information hidden in the voluminous stacks of papers tabled at the national legislature to the odd temper tantrum by a politician. Sometimes frustrating, sometimes baffling, even after 26 years as a hack, there are few dull days in the parliamentary corridors.

The DA appropriating the names of those who died in the 2016 Life Esidimeni tragedy and in the August 2012 Marikana Massacre for their 2019 campaigning project smacks of the crudest form of election profiteering.

Did the DA obtain consent from the families who lost loved ones at Marikana, in the Life Esidimeni transfers or in school pit latrines? Those would really be the only decent circumstances in which to (mis)use personal information for party-political gain.

The DA will argue that the names are in the public domain – and therefore up for grabs. Yes, the names are in the public domain, but as for being up for grabs for party-political campaigning? No, they are not. Not if there is respect for dignity, decency and the right to privacy of those affected by the loss of loved ones.

That the list of names on the billboard under the heading “The ANC is killing us” was torn into barely a day after its orchestrated, choreographed launch – according to News24, responsibility was claimed by some of the Life Esidimeni victims’ relatives – really should be a wake-up call to the DA.

But instead the DA responded with arrogance, and its usual tone deafness, saying defacing the billboard was a criminal act as DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi insisted this “vandalisation [sic]… tarnished the memory of those who have died under an ANC government”.

Yes, arrogance. Because why else would anyone think it’s okay to appropriate without permission the names of those for whom families are grieving the lives lost in the direst circumstances of governance failure for party-political electioneering gain?

But the DA has a history of appropriating personal details. It has previously acknowledged harvesting private information to send SMSes and make unsolicited phone calls ahead of polling day.

As a journalist, the DA has my work email. I rely on their media statements, like those of the ANC (though these day are sent from various WhatsApp groups rather than a consolidated media email list), other political parties, government departments, organisations, institutions etc.

But the DA tout for money didn’t come to my work email – it came to my private email, which the DA could only have gained from a database held by, for example, the City of Cape Town, where I am registered to pay municipal rates and bills, my bank or the companies I pay for insurance policies. I have informed my bank and insurance companies that they may not share my details with third parties, and for the past donkeys’ years that has been the case. Go figure.

That DA money-seeking email – headlined “The ANC is coming to loot your pension” – was signed off by DA CEO Paul Boughey. Addressed to “Fellow South Africans”, it presents some of the fearmongering fake news the opposition party has decided to peddle as part of its One South Africa for All rhetoric. To sum up: the ANC in order to continue funding the corrupt SAA and Eskom would now loot private pensions.

Our only option is to invest in a democratic government led by DA Leader Mmusi Maimane, that upholds and protects your rights!”

Click on “Please help by making a donation” and up pops a secure DA fundraising page headed “The ANC is employing apartheid strategies”.

Can you imagine the hectoring noise that would have erupted from the DA if ANC Secretary-General Ace Magashule, or ANC Treasurer-General Paul Mashatile, had sent a touting, donation-seeking email like this! But that’s just the DA: what’s good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander.

The DA may well believe its own spin that where it governs it governs best – yes, councils in the Western Cape tick the boxes of the paper trail to come out tops – but what I know is that life under the DA is not smooth, pretty or even efficient.

My municipal bills have increased some 400% in the past year since the introduction of a R150 monthly home user electricity charge even for prepaid meter users before even a single electricity unit is used. And I now must pay R115 for a water pipe connection that’s been in the house, for which I pay my bond, since it was build in the 1930s or thereabouts.

Drought-proofing the city and countering the dipping electricity sales have been cited as official reasons for these charges. Although Cape Town water restrictions have been eased, people have been heading back to the city’s natural springs to fill up canisters of water as the municipal bills are punishing. I see the queues every morning on my way to work. And research is that showing more and more poor and vulnerable households are returning to candles and paraffin.

I am lucky; middle class, white privileged lucky. I am employed (in a job I love); I can make a plan to cut here and there, even as the cloth that must be cut to size is getting smaller, and I can meet my financial obligations.

But I know the DA spin that where it governs it governs best is a mirage. As is the DA 2019 electioneering rhetoric of One South Africa for All, crafted no doubt on the back of some clever focus groups that liked attacks on the ANC at any and all cost.

The DA in its arrogance and tone deafness has vowed that “the deaths of the ANC’s victims cannot be in vain and the DA will continue to fight to ensure that their names are remembered”.

The irony, of course, is that what the Marikana miners fought for – a living wage of R12,500 a month – is contrary to the DA that wanted workers to be able to opt out even from the R20 per hour national minimum wage.

And while DA Gauteng MPL Jack Bloom may well have raised the flag on Life Esidimeni at an early stage, it was civil society organisations like Section 27 that fought for the families of the dead, and helped organise and sustain what became a formidable public holding to account of government.

Other civil society groups like Equal Education have taken up the fight for decent school sanitation, including going to court to obtain damages as a form of holding governing to account for its failings.

Using the names of those who have died without their families’ permission not only violates their dignity and right to privacy, it is an indecent election campaigning, cheaper-than-cheap shot. And it just leaves me naar. DM


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