Cape Argus: ANC plays the fiddle as our country burns

ANC plays the fiddle as our country burns

July 23, 2009 Edition 1

Max Du Preez

Remember the grainy television images of the 1980s of rocks and burning tyres in the streets, angry people throwing stones and petrol bombs and policemen firing into crowds?

Those scenes depicted United Democratic Front structures making the country ungovernable.

But we saw those same scenes again this past week.

In a dozen or so South African townships and squatter camps in several provinces, people took to the streets to protest, so we’re told, “against slow service delivery”.

“Service delivery” is becoming one of those meaningless euphemisms like “unrest” was two decades ago.

The Minister of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Sicelo Shiceka, blamed the SA National Civic Organisation for stoking the fires of protest.

Watch out, soon one of the government spokesmen is going to blame “agitators”, like the apartheid governments did from 1976 onwards.

We have to conclude that the overwhelming majority of those angry people we see on television stoning cars and damaging property are supporters of the ruling party.

Many of them are probably card-carrying members of the local ANC branch; almost all of them voted for the ANC in April.

How do we know that? Well, look at the protest areas one by one: Orange Farm, Du Noon, Khayelitsha, Zeerust, Diepkloof, Thokoza, Piet Retief and others and check the voting patterns of these areas in April.

It would be safe to say that in most of these areas most black people voted ANC just three months ago. If they felt uncomfortable voting for the DA, they could have voted for the black-led Cope or even the UDM. They didn’t. They voted for Jacob Zuma, for the post-Polokwane ANC that was going to be the friend of the people, the champion of the poor.

The elitist Thabo Mbeki faction had been defeated, now it was the time for the masses.

Ja, right. It now appears that the new regime is no closer to the people than the Mbeki lot. The gulf between ruling elite and ordinary township dweller is as great as ever – another feature of the protest that can compare with the township revolt of the 1980s, even though we have a democracy now.

During the weeks that the township protests were raging, it became known that former Umkhonto we Sizwe top brass and now Minister of Communications, Siphiwe Nyanda, had spent R2 million of taxpayers’ money on two cars for himself – not just reliable, safe cars, which he really should have at his disposal, but ultra luxurious rides with added bling that would make any multimillionaire proud.

During the same time we hear that senior ANC figures refuse to stay in the housing provided for them, and instead rent homes worth more than R30 000 a month – again, using taxpayers’ money. Sensitive, né?

And there are many other current examples of the post-Polokwane ANC’s new culture of crass materialism and entitlement.

A senior member of the Mbeki administration, now retired, remarked to me the other day that the only real differences between the Mbeki-ANC and the Zuma-ANC was that the level of debate was much lower now and the centre of power had moved from the presidency to Luthuli House.

The old apartheid government always appointed a commission of inquiry or a committee to investigate when something big went wrong.

Luthuli House’s reaction (nobody is even bothering any more to find out what the president is thinking about it) was to order an audit of the record of service delivery in the country’s municipalities.

Do the widespread and violent protests represent a major crisis? Yes, they do. Then one really would expect more than the appointment of a committee that will do an audit over the next few months.

How about sending senior ministers and directors-general and top ANC officials out to the troubled areas today?

The old cliche of playing the fiddle while Rome burns inevitably comes to mind.

The ANC’s mental energies are right now concentrated on a debate whether all South Africa’s mines should be nationalised and on how the judiciary could be manipulated so that they will end up with a Constitutional Court that would be friendly to the ruling party.

I don’t think the ANC has the political will to really solve the problem of service delivery on a local level, because the problem lies with the mayors, town managers and other municipal officials – and most of them are prominent ANC functionaries.

Political patronage is still more important than the plight of the citizens.