Opinionista Imraan Buccus 14 July 2019

Cast a critical eye over DA’s anti-poor policies

In the city of Cape Town and the province of the Western Cape, millions of people are currently ruled by the DA and will continue to be ruled by the DA for the foreseeable future. It is essential that we cast a critical eye over the party’s alarming turn towards anti-poor policies.

Most of the critical attention in the national political conversation is directed at the ANC. This makes good sense. The ANC is, after all, the ruling party. What it does affects the lives of millions, all of us in fact, in a way that the actions of opposition parties do not.

And with the looters in the ANC aggressively trying to push back against Cyril Ramaphosa’s reform agenda, the ructions in the party are an urgent matter that require dedicated attention. Pravin Gordhan, Ramaphosa’s chief lieutenant in the fight back against corruption, has become a lightning rod attracting the anger of the corrupt as they face an end to their place at the feeding trough. These are developments that must be watched closely.

And, of course, the EFF gets a vastly greater share of the national media attention that its paltry share of the vote. One reason for this is that the EFF, like populists everywhere, uses social media astutely. If we chose our leaders on Twitter, Julius Malema would be president. Most newsrooms are juniorised and understaffed — it’s always easier for a young reporter to be guided by what’s happening on their phone than by what’s happening on the ground.

Another reason for the EFF’s ability to win a share of media attention so much higher than its share of the vote is that the media, hungry for clicks, are attracted to sensationalism. The EFF, again like populists everywhere, provide sensationalism in bucket-loads. The party is not worried about reason, evidence or facts. This makes for dangerous politics, but it also makes for the kind of copy that gets clicks and sells advertising.

The DA is, of course, the official opposition but, aside from regular outrage at Helen Zille’s increasingly right-wing tweets, the party gets far less media attention than its share of the vote suggests it should.

This is unfortunate. The DA may be a rather ineffectual opposition in most of the country, but it does rule in the Western Cape. Cape Town is South Africa’s second city, and the Western Cape has a rapidly growing population. Millions of people live under the rule of the DA.

The DA certainly runs a much less corrupt administration than any of the cities or provinces governed by the ANC. This comes through in all the audits and reports. But politics is about much more than corruption — and the DA runs an increasingly dangerous right-wing administration in both Cape Town and the province.

The neglect of the Cape Flats has been utterly shameful. The DA is not responsible for the profound corruption in the police in the Western Cape, but it is responsible for the criminal neglect of the areas in which the black working class lives. These areas seldom receive serious media attention and the DA has been able to get away with this neglect for years, as the media tend to focus on the elite parts of the city.

But now the DA’s increasingly hard-right positions are also becoming evident in central Cape Town. The decision to fine homeless people in the CBD is an extraordinary act of hostility towards the most vulnerable people. It is a deliberate attempt to criminalise poverty. It is estimated that there are about 5,000 people living on the streets of the city. None are there because they just happen to like living on the streets. They are there because they don’t have jobs and homes and because they are not getting help and support for various health issues.

In fact, arresting people often worsens their conditions. They may lose Sassa cards, clinic cards and medication, including HIV medication which must be taken every day.

The mayoral committee member for safety and security in Cape Town, JP Smith, has tried to shift some of the blame for homelessness in the city to migrants, which he refers to in troubling terms as “an influx of foreign nationals”. This recourse to xenophobia, which sounds more than a little Trumpian, is highly disturbing.

Chris Nissen, a commissioner at the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has made a far more humane, and rational, contribution to the discussion pointing out that “The problem is not resolved by giving fines. The problem is not resolved by breaking down structures and chasing people away, because it’s temporary and people come back again, so we need to find a sustainable solution to deal with the homeless.”

Cape Town used to be home to be one of the most vibrant and creative social movements in the country, the Western Cape Anti-Eviction Campaign. The campaign mobilised thousands of people against evictions across different parts of the city. Unfortunately, it collapsed some years ago and since, the discussions about evictions, how the city treats its poor and so on have mostly been dominated by NGOs far less willing to take direct action against the oppression of the city’s poorest people.

The DA is in decline as a national force. Helen Zille’s turn towards the global alt-right has done serious and possibly irrevocable damage to the party’s credibility. Moreover, the party has not been able to offer any compelling vision for positive change.

Electoral politics is made in the media — and in the media, it is the EFF, and its demagogic support for corruption, that appears as the official opposition to the ANC. It is unlikely that, at the national level, the DA will play much of a role in shaping our future.

But in the city of Cape Town, and the province of the Western Cape, millions of people are ruled by the DA and will continue to be ruled by the DA for the foreseeable future. It is essential that we cast a critical eye over the party’s alarming turn towards anti-poor policies. DM

Imraan Buccus is senior research associate at ASRI, research fellow in the School of Social Sciences at UKZN and academic director of a university study abroad programme on political transformation.

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