It’s a boerish state of mind

2013-11-17 12:00

It was quite ironic that ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa chose to warn about the return of “boer” rule in the same week his party comrades in Pretoria were behaving like the boers of old.

When Ramaphosa warned a Limpopo resident: “If you don’t vote, the boers will come back to control us,” he was just playing scaremongering politics.

He had no idea just how prophetic he was being.

This might sound like a slight exaggeration, but the spectacle we have been witnessing this week as ministers tried to strong-arm Public Protector Thuli Madonsela would have made PW Botha very proud.

It would be worth taking a little road trip back to the Botha years to appreciate how a security state creeps up on an unsuspecting citizenry.

Botha rose to power in the wake of the 1976 student uprising, when the National Party was feeling jittery about its grip on power.

Even though the uprising had largely been crushed, with organisations banned and many leaders thrown in jail or driven into exile, it was very clear to the Nats that there was no turning back for the mass revolt.

When he took office in 1979, Botha, a former defence minister, ushered in the age of the securocrats. He surrounded himself with security-oriented ministers.

Together they created a security edifice called the State Security Council, which virtually ran South Africa throughout the turbulent 1980s.

The hands of the security police, the military and the intelligence services were strengthened. The secrecy apparatus was tightened.

A climate of paranoia prevailed as Botha and his lieutenants saw enemies everywhere.

“Die vyand (the enemy)” slipped out of the mouths of NP leaders as easily as criminal Ananias Mathe did from his jail cell.

Back then, the term “for security reasons” was used with abandon to deny the public access to basic information.

Now take a look at contemporary South Africa. The transition from an economic-minded Thabo Mbeki to a security-minded Jacob Zuma has been accompanied by a discernible shift of power in Cabinet.

In the place of Botha’s securocrats, we have a harmlessly named “security cluster”. On the face of it, it is no different to the other ministerial clusters that make up South Africa’s executive.

But what differentiates this cluster from the others is that this is where the power lies. It is where the enforcers and protectors of

the Zuma state are located. This cluster is the nerve centre of an increasingly paranoid and secretive state in which the interests of the governing party, its leader and those of the country are confused.

Presently, as in the days of old, the term “for security reasons” is used with abandon.

In Botha’s state, the securocrats sought to protect the diabolical system of apartheid and entrench the Nats’ hegemony.

The current incarnation of the securocrats is much narrower. It has nothing to do with ideology, little to do with the party’s hegemony and everything to do with the political longevity of the leader.

What we are seeing now with the battle over the Nkandla report – as we have seen with the Guptagate controversy and the spy tapes saga – is the mobilisation of state resources for the protection of one individual from scrutiny.

In executing their mission, the new securocrats have also mobilised the energies of the ANC and other arms of government.

ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe has been at the forefront of the onslaught on Madonsela and is taking the lead to turn public opinion against her.

The ANC’s leadership in Parliament has made sure that the party’s MPs toe the line and view any questioning of the Nkandla compound upgrades as an attack on the organisation and, more importantly, its corruptible leader.

This week, the party’s representatives on the joint intelligence committee rammed through a whitewash of an earlier whitewash by a ministerial task team that looked into the spending at Nkandla.

They also rubber-stamped the “secret” classification of that task team’s report.

In his apology for the “boer” comment, Ramaphosa explained that in a conversation with a Seshego resident during last week’s voter registration drive, he had “warned of the danger of the country going backwards and used a term that has commonly been used by black South Africans to refer to the erstwhile apartheid regime. It is a term that continues to be understood in that way”.

Ramaphosa was quite correct in stating that the term referred to the terrible regime that ran our country in the past.

He was also correct in sounding a warning about the country sliding backwards. It is just that his definition of “sliding backwards” was narrow.

ANC leaders become rightfully apoplectic when any comparison is made between their actions and those who ran this country before 1994. One has to be sympathetic to these protestations.

Our constitutional democracy is a very different place from the Hades we inhabited before 1994.

But, to paraphrase Ramaphosa, if we are not alert and vigilant, the boers will come back to control us. Only this time they won’t be pale-faced and sporting funny moustaches and khaki outfits.

» Makhanya is City Press editor at large

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