Drowning out the masses

2013-12-23 10:00

We sang beautiful songs about Nelson Mandela in the past fortnight.

There was no one else like him, we said. We implored him to show us the way to freedom in our land.

As the nation’s collective memory returned to the days when the liberator was still behind bars, militant songs calling on the apartheid government to release him were dusted off and sung with gusto.

The media reproduced his most profound and memorable quotes in which he spoke of how each individual can be more than he or she is.

In these we were reminded of the selflessness and humanity that made Mandela more than just a political leader.

As we read and listened to these wisdoms, we were reminded of the fact that he did not just say these things?–?he lived them.

As we mourned his passing and celebrated his life, our leaders pleaded with us to honour his legacy by trying to be more like Mandela.

President Jacob Zuma, in one of his finest written speeches (not that he was great in its delivery) promised Mandela that South Africans would carry forward his vision and work hard to fulfil his dream of improving the lives of the people of this fine country.

Among the things he promised Mandela, while speaking directly to him and calling him Tata, was an “efficient and accountable public service”.

Mandela had hardly been in that Qunu grave for a week before the president’s underlings showed us that most of what was said in that week were just words.

First, Cosatu boss Sdumo Dlamini rejected the demand by the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) for the president to account for the R206?million spent on Zuma’s Nkandla residence because it was a “prematurely made” call.

This despite the government’s watered-down version confirming that R206?million had been spent on one man’s residence.

The least one would expect from a trade unionist was a raised militant eyebrow.

The secretary-general of Nelson Mandela’s party sought, as he has in the past, to shift the blame to tokoloshes, midgets and everyone else other than the beneficiary of the R206?million expenditure.

He urged us all to believe that the man who spends almost every other weekend in Nkandla “did not not request the upgrades nor did he participate in the decision making on any aspects of the upgrades”.

Presumably, Zuma always just arrived home, negotiated his way past the large holes on his property, greeted the driver of the bulldozer and rushed straight to the main house to receive a welcome home kiss from MaKhumalo.

The less said about the comedy trio of Thulas Nxesi, Vejay Ramlakan and Riah Phiyega the better. Their performance this week at least allowed the nation to laugh out loud that so senior a trio could have thought that the nation would believe their fantastical explanations about Nkandla.

But the less laughable bit, which working-class leader Dlamini and the SA Communist Party should pay attention to, was Phiyega’s angry reaction to a question on whether it would not have been easier for Zuma to move rather than uproot his neighbours [at great cost] because they were “identified as a security risk”.

“When you choose what is your home and you knew that home is forever and a day [that is an] insensitive question?...?Every person has a right to choose where they should live,” said Phiyega.

Every person except poor villagers that is.

Now Phiyega may not be an ANC bigwig but unfortunately, that is exactly the attitude that prevails in the upper echelons of our governing class.

Highly dismissive of those lower down the ladder of society, this attitude is born of the belief that the people will always love the party that liberated them. That you can mess them around and take them for granted and they will always back you when it comes to elections.

This is what lies behind what many see as the self-destructive behaviour by the ANC on the eve of election year. Party bosses believe that because they have gone into previous elections divided and in crisis and still won handsomely, this can be repeated.

What they do not recognise is that there has been a fundamental shift on the ground.

This week’s seismic announcements by Numsa about withdrawing support from the ANC, withholding funding from Cosatu and its open demand for Zuma to step down have the potential of being bigger than the Polokwane revolution.

That changed the character of the ANC and the nation’s politics, but this could mark the predicted demise of the tripartite alliance and a radical change in the political landscape.

The ANC leadership gambled badly by thinking that gagging Zwelinzima Vavi would result in a tamer Cosatu. But now it is about to witness the splintering of a strategically important ally?–?and the emergence of a powerful force on the Left. Numsa is the most organisationally sophisticated union in South Africa and, even though some of its stances may sound like they are from Pluto, it has a strong policy development capacity.

Numsa and its general secretary, Irvin Jim, have their gripes about the ANC ignoring its Polokwane resolutions and treating the unions like dirt. But the fundamental breaking point is the frustration at the lack of accountability. And Nkandla remains at the centre of this frustration.

The ANC just does not get this. The loudest voices demanding accountability are no longer just opposition parties and NGOs?– they are inside its own ranks and from its allies. The demand for accountability is not an elite project as the ANC believes. It comes from the gut of working- class communities whose loyalty can no longer be taken for granted.

This growing cry for accountability has previously surfaced in the form of marches and service delivery protests.

Last week it came in the form of a loud boo at the FNB Stadium. This week it came in the form of a rebuke from the country’s most powerful trade union.

ANC leaders will no doubt continue to ignore it because of the fallacious belief that the masses are stupid. But if they are to be true to their graveside promises to Mandela, and worried about their political futures, they should open their ears just a little.

»?Makhanya is editor at large

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.