Wasted energy

2009-06-03 00:00

SANITY prevailed this week after a war of words between Helen Zille, the energetic leader of the Democratic Alliance and premier of the Western Cape, and the African National Congress’s Youth League and Military Veterans’ Association. But Zille came out of the Jacob Zuma-led extended cabinet lekgotla in Tshwane full of praise for the warm reception that she received. She enjoyed the attention given to her by the man she loathes so much that she switched her election slogan from a clever “vote to win” to the nasty “stop Zuma”.

We expected the lekgotla to be a war zone and Zille looked ready to fight. She could not even trust secure cellphone locks at the presidential guest house. The media salivated at the prospect. The furore over her below-the-belt remarks about Zuma’s sexual life and the revolting letter from the ANC Youth League looked like a mere overture. After all, we were told, Zuma would have to use his newly acquired power to put her in her place and we knew that Zille would not take it lying down, so to say.

The DA made it clear just after winning the Western Cape that it will not be taking orders from Tshwane. Of course, the DA has a mandate from the people of that province to run a clean and efficient government and to build an equal-opportunities society. The DA strategists decided to send strong signals to the ANC about their intention to resist any attempt to subordinate or undermine their government.

One way of doing this was to choose only “competent” men for its provincial cabinet. These men are expected to speed up service delivery and simultaneously resist the ANC ghosts seeking to undermine the DA government. The constitutional amendment 18 on the powers of national government to usurp the administration of sub-national governments immediately triggered nightmares about the DA’s next few years as the government in Cape Town. Although obscured under the cover of darkness, the ghosts that Zille saw were dressed in black and gold. They must be the ANC. The party then started the fight for survival against these unseen forces.

Even the statement by Lynne Brown indicating that the ANC intends to be a robust, but respectful opposition, means the ANC will instigate public disturbances.

Although the ANC was defeated in the Western Cape, according to Ryan Coetzee the DA believes that the ANC has the masses on its side which it can use to continue with its sabotage agenda. He did not believe Brown meant what she said because the ghosts they know don’t speak with political maturity. But what is troubling is a promise that, until these ANC ghosts are dead, the DA will retain its combative posture.

Then a day before the lekgotla, a storm brewed over the news that Zille planned to give her State of the Province address a few days before Zuma gave his State of the Nation address. Of course, it is not a written law that the national address must set the tone for provincial addresses, but it has become sort of a tradition in this country and is a sign of respect for the Office of the President. The logic is also to ensure that there is unity of purpose and action between the provinces and national government because South Africa is not yet a federal state.

By fixating on the ghost of the ANC, the DA squandered an opportunity to develop a mutually respectful working relationship with the elected ANC.

Zuma’s inauguration and the reconciliatory tone of this addresses subsequently engendered a positive mood in the country. These overtures helped shift us from the hard battles and intense political wrangling of the pre-election period to a time of building unity in purpose, a renewal of our commitment to make the lives of all people better. The last thing we needed was a post-match bust-up.

But all is not lost if Zille’s mood after the lekgotla is anything to go by. The DA will have to be careful not to descend into paranoia and waste its energy fending off ghosts. This may undermine its long-term strategy to govern the Western Cape so well as to justify election to rule several others in 2014. But it won’t be what the party says to the electorate in 2014 that will determine its fate, but how it behaves from now on. It has so far behaved like an opposition, even when it is in government. It has also behaved like a white minority party when it aspires to grow black support. The ANC is deliberately behaving like an adult in a long-term contest for the hearts and minds of the electorate.

• Dr Siphamandla Zondi is director: Southern Africa at the Institute for Global Dialogue.

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