Melanie Verwoerd

Populist rhetoric will come back to haunt you

2017-03-01 08:43
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan ahead of his 2017 Budget. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan ahead of his 2017 Budget. (Photo: Matthew le Cordeur)

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There is an old saying: If you want to influence the process you have to be in the room and at the meeting. 

In politics, if you want to know what is going on, you often have to stay in the room after the meeting. Observe who greets whom on the way out or who gets unto a huddle together and you can learn a lot about what is going on behind the scenes. 

Last Wednesday after the Budget Speech, I hung back in the gallery and watched. As Pravin Gordhan made his way out the door only a few people came over to greet him. They were mostly his SACP comrades. The rest hastily grabbed their Ipads, put their heads down and made a run for it.  

The president stayed a little while to have a quick word with Minister of Home Affairs Malusi Gigaba, while ANC MP Mnyami Booi waited patiently to walk him out. 

There were one or two other ANC MPs who were chatting on their way out the door, but one group was in no hurry. A huddle had formed around Minister of Social Development Bathabile Dlamini, who still had not managed to stand up after being one of a handful of ANC MPs who failed to give Gordhan a standing ovation a few minutes earlier. 

The women around her were in deep conversation while passing some nuts around. From a distance you could see that nothing good was going to come out of that conversation. It was animated and angry. 

A day later the Women’s League issued a statement, which I can only presume had it’s conception in that post-budget huddle. If it wasn’t so dangerous, the statement would have been truly laughable. 

The Women’s League expressed their disappointment on various issues, such as that Minister Gordhan did not delve deeper into the corruption of the banking cartels, and they called on the government not to work with the banks any more. As Trevor Noah would say: “Ja and then?” 

They also suggested that the banks be fined 100% of the commission they earned from the alleged corrupt acts during trading collusion. Eish! 

This is the problem with populist and uninformed statements. As many economists have subsequently pointed out, many of the banks implicated would be delighted, since this would be far lower than the possible fines they face if proven guilty. 

They went further and congratulated SARS head Tom Monyane for his efficient administration and collection of our taxes – despite the fact that SARS is around R30 billion short of its target. 

But apart from these very uninformed statements – there was some thing far more sinister in the Women’s League’s reaction. 

According to the statement there was a “regrettable incoherence between the SONA by the president and the budget speech by the minister”, and the Women’s League expressed the hope that “this incoherence will not trickle down to various departments who are responsible for implementation of government programmes”. 

In other words: Pravin Gordhan is not loyal to the president (and should therefore not be in Cabinet), he is also not in line with the ANC policy of radical economic transformation and by definition he is therefore anti-poor and on the side of white monopoly capital. 

And of course they were not the only ones. Over the weekend Collin the-rand-must-fall Maine called Gordhan an impimpi, who protects white capital. 

Now let’s just for a moment put aside the ANC’s long standing policy of not allowing its members to speak outside the party, a policy both Dlamini and Maine often invoke when they want to criticise Gordhan. 

What is totally unforgiveable is Maine calling Gordhan an impimpi. Given the historical context, the word “impimpi” is just about the worst and most dangerous thing you can call anyone. 

In apartheid days, it meant you collaborated with the state and that you gave information to the security or intelligence forces that would most probably lead to the torture and/or death of comrades or friends. Once you were branded an impimpi, your life was over, usually literally. Any one accused of being an impimpi (whether proven or not) was killed – often by public execution through necklacing. 

Having heard and read these utterances over the last week, I really wondered if Dlamini and Maine have ever spoken a word to Gordhan. I do not expect them to agree with everything he does or even to be 100% in agreement ideologically. But seriously, to call him anti-poor, to call him disloyal to the ANC and country, to think that he is captured by white monopoly capital is totally ridiculous and devoid of all truth. 

Anyone who has ever had a substantive conversation with Gordhan, or worked with him will tell you that this is total and utter nonsense. Even his biggest detractors will vouch for his commitment to the upliftment of the poor, his deep loyalty to the ANC, and his aversion to the destructive greed of big capital. 

But he is also a highly intelligent man, who understands and is comfortable in dealing with complexities. He understands that you cannot just kill off, for example, the banks (not least because it would be disastrous for the poor). He knows that we operate in a global context that we cannot just bail out of and understands the real danger populist racial narratives hold for this country. 

It is easy to brand someone a traitor or impimpi – so easy that it is an insult to the intelligence of those who do it. Anyone who is truly concerned about the future of our country and the upliftment of the majority of people who live in it should engage in a rational debate and put suggestions on the table. 

It is really difficult to find any positive contribution that the Women’s and Youth Leagues have made in this regard lately. Instead they seemed to have resorted to factually incorrect statements, insults and dangerous accusations. 

Sure No 1 and potential No 1 might like it for now, but if there is one thing I know for sure it is this: People are not stupid. They always eventually see through cheap populist rhetoric. It might take a while, but when they do, they will turn their backs on those who used the suffering of the masses in order to keep themselves in positions of power and privilege.  

History has taught us that over and over again and it never ended well for those who tried to hold on to power for their own selfish purposes through populism. 

- Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland. 

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.

Read more on:    bathabile dlamini  |  anc  |  budget 2017
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