Guest Column

Criticism of Maimane mischievous at best, party hackery at worst

2018-11-26 11:43
DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (AP)

DA leader Mmusi Maimane. (AP)

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The comments by former ANC MP Melanie Verwoerd in her latest column ("Fearmongering shows DA's growing desperation") are not only disconcerting but also provocative in the extreme, writes Yazeed Fakier.

Usually an insightful commentator on political matters, and especially when providing a window into the more confidential workings of the ANC's inner sanctum, this time the tempered reasoning has given way to an unseemly outburst that makes no constructive contribution to the national debate.

Verwoerd lambastes DA leader Mmusi Maimane for reportedly having suggested "that there was little or no difference between the ANC and EFF", that "he insinuated that voting for the ANC amounts to voting for the EFF".

The DA knew it was in trouble, says Verwoerd; "… usually when politicians try to scare people into voting for them they do so by telling half-truths or using crude exaggerations" and the party "seems to be increasingly using this exact tactic", which she describes as "coming shockingly close to the apartheid government's old "swartgevaar" tactics.

Furthermore, many of the "traditional white voter base" were "considering voting for Cyril Ramaphosa on a national level" because they understood that the president's political survival was "crucial for racial harmony and economic growth in South Africa"; they liked and trusted him "more than any other potential president".

A few reflections: the embattled DA leader of the beleaguered opposition is perfectly capable of addressing these charges on his own behalf (should he see fit to do so), and Verwoerd is justified in pummeling the party for its self-inflicted woes. With only months to go before the elections in May next year, it has a small mountain to climb to re-establish trust and popularity with its support-base.

Verwoerd is correct, too, in pointing out the damage that the DA's former Cape Town mayor, Patricia de Lille, has caused it in seizing the moment, hotly announcing the imminent launch of her own political party. Appropriating for herself the "I believe in good" slogan, the savvy veteran politician has, for the time-being at least, pre-empted the DA in its election preparations, albeit only in terms of reputation and voter sentiment for now.

Yet, notwithstanding all of the above, it's hardly a blanket licence for a widely-read commentator like Verwoerd to present to the public a rose-tinted view of the ruling party – one that has been collectively responsible for the untold misery and heartache suffered, and will continue to be suffered, by the poorest of the poor among its own supporters.

The serial Zupta looting and state capture that was allowed to fester under its watch – for eight long, uninterrupted years until the amaBhungane-curated #GuptaLeaks surfaced – requires an entirely new lexicon to describe the full extent of its chicanery. Political analysts reckon it will take generations to rectify the devastating impact caused by the shameless betrayal of national trust.

More immediately, News24 reported that the government's Thuma Mina campaign resulted in three stabbings in Mpumalanga when local party members turned on each other. Naturally, having learned from past experience, this raises concerns about the prospects for safe and orderly electioneering, and the eventual casting of votes, so early in the run-up to ballot day.

Verwoerd, however, holds that a victory for the ruling party is the only viable option that will have us all magically joining hands in a revival of a new and improved Rainbow Nation, skipping happily into the sunset while merrily singing Kumbaya.

Needless to say, this kind of myopia is naïve. South Africa is a violent place, wrought of more than three and a half centuries of violent oppression and barbarism, perfected by the architect of grand apartheid. It requires a healthy dose of optimism to not succumb to despair when confronted, for example, by news reports that our murder rate positions us among the top ten places in the world where you are likely to die by violence; you'd be safer in countries like drug-cartel-infested Colombia and Mexico.

So, fudging and over-simplifying the issues in the process, as Verwoerd does, does not help. Neither does being disingenuous. One hopes, therefore, that it is rather by coincidence than intent that the very divisive "swartgevaar" term has been reintroduced into the public domain via Verwoerd's column.

In the highly-charged political atmosphere in which election campaigns are hotting up, it's alarming to see such a racially-loaded reference, with its crass ethnic connotations, surfacing in the public space, where it's just a click away from going viral on social media.

Verwoerd is fully within her rights to challenge the leadership ability of Maimane or any other public figure, but to wilfully conflate the demands of civic responsibility (as is the duty of any elected official) with flagrant race-baiting is utterly mischievous.

Verwoerd neglects, too, to make mention in her prominently published column that the president has been caught in a resounding parliamentary clanger unbecoming of a statesman, over the Bosasa/African Global Group affair. On this score, Verwoerd tends the same campfire as other cultural self-flagellators and Ramaphosa imbongis, in whose eyes the president can do no wrong; indeed, he is held aloft as the last-remaining, only possible saviour of the nation, the Second Coming in the flesh. 

By omission, Verwoerd imparts the belief that neither her former party – nor its president – can possibly be accused of any wrongdoing, and challenges Maimane "to show me a single ANC policy document that encourages racial division or that says the state should own everything". Of course, what were we thinking? The ANC has been a paragon of virtue these last years: it has sportingly stuck to the letter of the law; dutifully abided by the rulings of the judiciary; and played the long game fairly by obeying the stipulations of the Constitution, thereby ensuring that the citizenry is snugly wrapped in its fuzzy policies, as guided by the Freedom Charter. If only that were so.

Jokes aside, there is much work to be done in the way of reconciling the land, to be sure, and it will take an almighty and humongous effort for some heavy lifting from all concerned – and not captured. No doubt there will in the beginning be more than one false New Dawn to contend with in the post-Zupta period. Coalitions may yet be the answer. But publicly delivering dubious conclusions on the political stance of leading politicians is not a good start.

In the end, Verwoerd is, of course, entitled to express her opinion. It's a fundamental right among the requisite basic human rights fought for by the combined liberation movement.

Still, after providing readers with weekly elevated argument in service to what we assumed was a loftier, nobler cause, it's a pity that the credibility of valued independent opinion has now, at this crucial juncture, apparently been surrendered to party hackery.

- Yazeed Fakier is a former deputy news editor of the Cape Times (but not in its more recent incarnation) and also served as communications manager of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town.

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:    da  |  mmusi mai­mane  |  melanie verwoerd
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