Testing tolerance

2014-02-04 00:00

ARE political parties in South Africa not testing political tolerance to the limit 20 years into our democracy, through some of their new-found actions in the name of free political activity?

Is it worth electioneering in areas that are known strongholds of leaders of their political opponents?

What is to be gained by their actions, which bear the hallmark of provocation, and possibly risk starting a fire that may get out of hand?

These questions arise from a trend that seems to be growing in the country in the build-up to the 2014 general elections, before parties sign the electoral code of conduct.

KZN has, in recent weeks, had a fair share of these events, where it has become fashionable for some parties to campaign in areas where they are not predominant, or where a leader of a rival party lives. The protest march, which the DA plans to hold outside the ANC offices in Luthuli house today is expected to be postponed, almost two years after it embarked on a similar exercise at the Cosatu headquarters, where the police had their hands full and supporters were pelted with stones.

Two days ago, the National Freedom Party took its election campaign to the backyard of the party it broke away from, the Inkatha Freedom Party.

The NFP had wanted to host its rally a stone’s throw from the homestead of IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi, but moved it about four kilometres away when the traditional council did not give the party permission, following a poor consultation process.

While the NFP made cautious statements on the matter, this did not stop the party leaders from making inferences about the IFP, without mentioning its name. Thankfully, no incidents were reported.

The NFP’s action came almost a week after the IFP took similar action when it went to President Jacob Zuma’s village of Nxamalala in Nkandla, to welcome new members and launch branches.

ANC supporters were nowhere to be seen. One had to travel a few kilometres from the event to find them conducting their door-to-door campaign.

The campaigns by the IFP and NFP did not come out of the blue, and they all bore the hallmark of the “if he did it, why can’t I do it?” mentality.

The tone was set by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) when party members visited Nkandla to hand over a house to a family that lives next to Zuma’s compound, with ANC members attempting to disrupt the handover.

The timing of the house handover was well-planned by Julius Malema’s EFF, and it helped to divert attention from the ANC’s manifesto launch and projected the ANC as an intolerant party.

There is no doubt that the three parties sought to make some political statements on political tolerance in KZN, which in the past has had a bloody reputation for political violence.

They may have wished to send a message that there are no longer any strongholds or no-go areas in the province.

This, unfortunately or fortunately, was done with the sole purpose of denting the image of their opponents in the eyes of undecided or already converted voters. In doing so they tested our democracy in ways that it has not been before. These events — apart from the EFF house handover — show that our democracy is maturing. The language used at the events was not inflammatory enough to provoke action from those who were at the receiving end. With political violence not the order of the day anymore, there appears to be a realisation that if the opposition is being a little annoying, it is worth ignoring them. Perhaps this is the way to go in the light of the prevailing political climate in the province.

In KwaMashu two years ago, a journalist’s car was burnt and a convoy of vehicles of NFP members was stoned during a by-election campaign in the hostels.

Also, scores of IFP supporters were shot at when they marched to the then ANC headquarters, Luthuli House, at the height of the worst political turmoil in the nineties.

Whereas there may have been no violence at the EFF, IFP and NFP events, there is no predicting what could happen in the future.

The question to be asked from those professing free political activity and dispelling myths about strongholds is: will they reciprocate kindly when the tables are turned and their opponents campaign in their backyards?

Party big wigs who plan these audacious marches that are clearly aimed at antagonising their opposition, should bear in mind that while they are whisked away by muscular bodyguards wearing bullet-proof vests, it is the ordinary follower who will be left on the battlefield.

• Mayibongwe Maqhina is a senior political correspondent at The Witness.

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