By Makhudu Sefara
IT is tempting, although wrong, to think that the ANC in Gauteng is starting to panic about next year’s general election.
The announcement by Gauteng ANC secretary David Makhura that the province will rope in former president Thabo Mbeki to sweet-talk erudite urbanites into voting for the ANC, while President Jacob Zuma will be assigned to the poor, had the hallmarks of panic.
Firstly, it appeared rushed and insulting. Rushed because the announcement was made before Mbeki or the ANC leadership had given it the all-clear. Given Mbeki’s love-hate relationship with Zuma, there was no logical basis to rush the announcement.
In the end, Makhura’s rebuke did not even come from Mbeki, but from secretary-general Gwede Mantashe.
Secondly, the mooted approach in terms of which Mbeki is to talk to urbanites in bespoke suits while Zuma is to be assigned “our communities in townships and informal settlements” is, frankly, intellectually base and insulting to both leaders.
It is insulting to Mbeki because he is cast as an archetypal urban nerd who can’t connect with poor people because he doesn’t understand their material conditions and historical reality.
The Struggle, it would follow, was, for Mbeki, about the middle class and not the oppressed majority.
How could this be true of Mbeki any more than for Zuma or any other leader of the ANC? Is this because Mbeki is eloquent in English and Zuma is not? Wasn’t Mbeki the bane of rich people’s existence because he, more than Nelson Mandela, pursued policies that sought to transform the two nations and two economies about which he spoke ad nauseam?
Perhaps, to understand Makhura’s logic, Mbeki did this without understanding what it meant for the wretched villagers of, say, Senwabarwana, or the poverty-racked of the Zandspruit informal settlement. Absurd.
And must we suppose that when he travels the vast expanse of our continent, spending time in Sudan and elsewhere, he does this mainly to connect with and help the middle class that so understands him?
But the false analysis here, perpetuated by Makhura and others, is that Mbeki, given his beguiling prose on occasion, is more at home in urban surrounds and does not and can’t be useful in rural settings he worked his entire life to jolt out of poverty.
The corollary is that Zuma, for his wont of singing and traditional dance and, perhaps, also his inability to read his speeches with enlightened zeal, necessarily ought to be a man for poor villagers and those in informal settlements.
The subtext is that Zuma is a foolish “ruralitarian” who just happened to find himself at the Union Buildings and is, consequently, confused by such things as governance and the rule of law and, well, how to relate to those not given to wearing leopard skin.
This is flawed on many levels.
The assumption is that Gauteng’s nouveau riche have an aversion to people who embrace their culture and language. What is not acknowledged is that many of the new blacks who populate Morningside,
Bryanston and Sandown trek to villages over weekends for traditional ceremonies and a life they can’t get in these environs.
Another assumption is that the rich are not sufficiently sophisticated to know better than to look down on those who can’t use what is essentially a colonial master’s language to communicate.
Put differently, the thinking — if any has happened at all — is that urbanites hate themselves to a point that they can only be impressed by someone well versed in the queen’s language.
In truth, though, the erudite urbanites will know of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s teachings on language through his book Decolonising The Mind. In particular, Makhura and all those who think Mbeki must connect with urban people and Zuma with villagers must be directed to the following:
“In schools and universities, our Kenyan languages — that is the languages of the many nationalities which make up Kenya – were associated with negative qualities of backwardness, underdevelopment, humiliation and punishment.
“We who went through that school system were meant to graduate with a hatred of the people and the culture and (instead with) the values of the language of our daily humiliation and punishment.
“I do not want to see Kenyan children growing up in that imperialist-imposed tradition of contempt for the tools of communication developed by their communities and their history.
“I want them to transcend colonial alienation.”
If Mbeki was to be used to speak to the enlightened urbanites, they would be people who understand the asymmetry apparent in Makhura’s logic of deployment.
But the question remains whether the genesis of this asymmetry was the ANC Gauteng’s panic ahead of the 2014 elections. Opposition parties have got ahead of themselves, to use Mantashe’s parlance, in claiming that discontent generated by Zuma’s decision to sign e-tolls into law will translate into more votes for them.
The DA’s Mmusi Maimane ought to know that this is too simplistic. It will have to be a concatenation of factors that will sway a large chunk of voters in the main opposition’s direction.
And indeed the ANC doesn’t fail to self-sabotage. Spending R200 million on Nkandla refurbishments and then classifying the public works minister’s report into such a splurge will count against the ANC. Others won’t bring themselves to vote for Zuma on account of the person he is.
The e-tolls will play a significant role in demobilising the ANC faithful.
Auditor-General reports about wastage and how the ANC does not punish its own implicated in malfeasance will help many believe we are in a state of, to borrow from Mbeki, “directionlessness”. Many will ask where the five million jobs promised in last year’s election campaign went. And many more.
But still, are these sufficient reasons for Gauteng’s large middle class to be excited about replacing the ANC with a DA government in Gauteng?
The short answer is no.
The long answer though is that it is a bit complicated. Makhura’s stereotyping of his leaders is a manifestation of this confusion and misplaced panic in the ANC.
There are poor people who will feel insulted to be thought of as people who, in the middle of their poverty and existential challenges, would merely require a president to sing in order to secure their votes. A lullaby for votes?
They might take the free T-shirts. Who wouldn’t, more so when their wardrobes aren’t adorned with articles from Khanyi Dhlomo’s Luminance?
But leaders like Makhura, and many political analysts, must desist from thinking that because people are poor, they are undeserving of intelligible discourse on their conditions or that all that is good for them is dance, T-shirts and social development food hampers.
This too is very insulting.
The truth is that where Makhura says the ANC should deploy Mbeki, the ANC might find a lot of people who accept and welcome Zuma as a legitimate, yet not ideal, leader of the party they will gladly give a hearing to.
Aren’t the erudite urbanites likely to howl in derision at Mbeki for his mishandling of HIV/Aids?
Similarly, aren’t the underclass likely to bark at Zuma for spending R200m on his home while they do not have water, houses and basic amenities in their areas?
To pigeon-hole leaders is not very clever.
The urbanites could well be people who have the tools of analysis to help them understand that the ANC, however contested a church, must survive Zuma’s presidency and remain in charge after the 2019 elections.
To do this, they know, the ANC faithful must vote for the ANC next year, in spite of their views on Zuma, to keep the party machinery oiled.
For Zuma’s successor to lead well into the future, these erudite urbanites must be able to envision a post-Zuma ANC and take steps not to weaken it now. For these, e-tolls might be an inconvenience, but not reason enough to vote for Maimane and the DA.
- Makhudu Sefara is editor of The Star