Wake up and smell the teargas

2009-10-17 11:25

What has gone so terribly wrong in our

country? The scenes in ­Diepsloot and Sakhile townships over the past week were

­virtual carbon copies of scenes we saw on television in the late 1980s:

over-aggressive police, burning barricades, destruction of state property and


Just like it was 20 years ago, “ungovernability” is the slogan; but

there is one crucial difference: the people of Sakhile and ­Diepsloot ­actually

voted overwhelmingly for the government they are protesting against now – and

that election was just seven months ago.

In fact, one of the protest leaders in Standerton, Fanuel Manana,

­declared on radio on Friday: “We are loyal members of the ANC.”

ANC NEC member Malusi Gigaba, who was dispatched by Luthuli House

to investigate, searched for the best euphemisms ­afterwards.

“Weak leadership” and “social distance” between rulers and ruled

were to blame, is what he came up with. I thought that was the problem under the

rule of Thabo Mbeki. Didn’t that all change almost two years ago at


Gigaba is right about weak leadership and social distance, but his

diagnosis applies to more than just these troubled townships. “Man of the

People” Jacob Zuma is just one swallow; he can’t make a summer.

If one looks at the plight of township and squatter-camp residents,

and at the way the ruling elite are ­behaving, it is certainly not too harsh to

declare that the ANC is demonstrating utter contempt for the poor. And the poor

are beginning to take notice.

As the tensions in many townships started simmering again, the news

broke that just a few cabinet ministers had already spent R42 million on swanky

new cars; that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga had spent R267 000 on a

party to celebrate her budget speech (!) in Parliament; that the minister of

police had cost the ­taxpayer R237 000 for a short stay in an expensive hotel in

Cape Town. (Motshekga also spent R1.7 million on two new cars.) If that is not

­contempt, then what is?

But the township unrest has ­another root cause that we should take

notice of and fix if we are ­serious about peace and prosperity for our people.

Several Sakhile ­residents quoted by radio, television and newspapers made the

point this week that they are sick of being governed by “ANC ­deployees” who

were put in their positions for reasons other than competence and


We have been entertained by many stories over the past few years of

useless, corrupt fat-cats with good contacts in Luthuli House who were deployed

as mayors and town managers, earning more than a cabinet minister in some


This “deployment” disease is ­also rife in provincial and central

government as well as in the parastatal companies. It is the single most

important explanation for the weak, ineffectual and corrupt ­governance of the

past few years.

If we ask what has gone so ­terribly wrong in our country, then one

of the first answers must be: The culture of deployment of ANC cadres.

Not even socialist economic policies and nationalisation, as

proposed now by Cosatu and the SACP, can possibly alleviate poverty and lack of

service delivery. The biggest problem is not policy, but people.

This is what Sakhile resident Siphiwe Khumalo told a newspaper

reporter this week: “At that time (1994) I was taking out the apartheid regime

because it had destroyed the whole black person. Then in 1999 I voted for a

better life. In 2004 I voted for service delivery. But none of what we have been

promised has happened, except removing the white people.”

In Western Cape, people ran away from the ANC and voted for the

opposition in droves out of ­protest against corruption and weak government.

How long before people in other parts of the country also come to

­understand that this is exactly what democracy is supposed to be about: If a

political party is not ­looking ­after your interests, you vote against them.

If this concept does become popular in the next 18 months, the ANC

could actually lose control in most councils at the 2011 local government

elections. But don’t hold your breath hoping that Zuma or Luthuli House will

wake up and smell the teargas. They are far too occupied with keeping the ANC

proper and the SACP/Cosatu from each other’s throats. Screw the people; the

movement is more important.

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