Disc Dem

Disc Dem

Friday, 11 August 2017

Seeing is Believing – or is it?

In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey points out that, in general, “We don’t believe the world we see. We see the world we believe”.   This sentiment is as valid today as when first published in 1989, particularly when viewed in the South African context of a recent vote of no confidence in Jacob Zuma. The outcome of the vote and its aftermath makes it clear that we are living in a cocoon of self-delusion, or in other words we are living in the world we believe rather than the world we see

The no confidence motion was defeated, yet opposition parties are still claiming victory which, perversely, could be true because their prospects for 2019 are so much better if Zuma stays on as President.  Meanwhile, in the background, pundits have been trying to guess the number of ANC MP’s who broke ranks and voted for Zuma to go. The fundamental problem in trying to guess the number lies with finding a sound basis for making any sort of prediction. Most pundits have assumed that, apart from  8 or 9 MP’s from a couple of pro-Zuma minority parties, all other opposition MP’s voted for his removal, resulting in a “guesstimate” of somewhere between 25 and 35 “rogue” ANC MP’s also voting “Yes” to the motion. The ANC also confirmed there were “more than 25 MP’s who voted with the opposition”

Maggs Naidu has a different take on proceedings tweeting: “20 to 30 opposition MPs voted no. At least 53 ANC MPs voted yes. That's erring on the side of caution”. Putting this together with Julius Malema’s pre-vote bragging that “60 ANC MP’s will vote against “Duduzane’s father” if the vote is secret, begs the question  -  was “tactical” not to mention also secret “No” voting by some opposition MP’s the real reason Zuma is still in place?  South African politicians, across the political spectrum, have demonstrated time and again that political ambition will always take precedence over the wellbeing of the people, so can we trust them to tell us what really happened under the veil of secrecy surrounding the ballot? Herein lies the double-edged sword, do we believe what we see, or see what we believe

If Maggs Naidu is to be believed, then tactical voting by elements of the opposition is responsible for keeping Zuma in place.  53 ANC MP’s voting with a united opposition would have been enough to carry the motion. Now let’s see what I believe. 

  • First belief - Jacob Zuma is more useful to the opposition in-power rather than out – this merely confirms what opposition parties say themselves, and is therefore the primary foundation for a strong inclination towards believing in an opposition tactical “No” vote scenario.
  • Second belief - there is no such thing as an altruistic politician – their agendas are geared to personal and party ambitions with no genuine concern for the plight of our people. This further boosts my inclination towards believing in the opposition tactical “No” vote scenario. 
Recognising that I have an embedded antipathy towards South African politicians of all parties and ideological persuasions, let me try to substantiate why the opposition tactical “NO” vote is the most credible scenario – even if it is only to prove to myself that I can believe what I see, and not just see what I believe. 

To do this it is necessary to metaphorically follow the money. Apart from captured ministers and dim-witted ANC backbench MP’s who could never find another job that pays as much - in the ranks of the opposition, who has the most to gain from Zuma staying on as President? One obvious answer is Mmusi Maimane leader of the Democratic Alliance, and another is Julius Malema leader of the EFF. In 2019 they will both benefit from the inevitable meltdown that will hit the ANC hardest during their electoral conference in December 2017, but of the two I believe that Julius Malema stands to gain the most. With Zuma gone, Malema loses his greatest diversionary asset. While it makes for entertaining listening, his obsession with Zuma distracts us from a bottom line that the EFF has no credible policies or practical vision for the future of our country. How the EFF fare between December 2017 and the National Elections to be held sometime in 2019 will depend upon who takes over the leadership of the ANC. If it is Nkosasana Dlamini Zuma, then the EFF will no doubt slaughter a few more cows in celebration of having another couple of years to target JZ. If an ANC leader of a different faction is elected and Zuma is recalled, then Malema will have to work a lot harder to persuade the electorate that he has more substance than just empty populist rhetoric.

Another indicator that Malema may have influenced a tactical “No” vote is the difference between 60 ANC MP’s he confidently predicted would vote “Yes”, and the post-vote guesstimate of only 35 doing so.  This difference equates to the 25 EFF MP’s holding seats in Parliament.  Coincidence? For the mathematically challenged: 60 ANC “Yes” votes confidently predicted by Malema, minus 25 EFF tactical “No” votes, equals the net 35 post-ballot ANC “Yes” votes guesstimated by a number of pundits. Is Malema capable of such duplicity? His history as an allegedly dubious tenderpreneur with a strong tendency towards tax evasion, would suggest that he doesn’t have altruistic motives, so the answer perhaps lies in whether you believe what you see, or see what you believe.

Strategic EFF “No” voting may also explain the sudden, almost panic-stricken call by Maimane and the Desperate Alliance (as Sunday Times columnist Hogarth so presciently calls them) for Parliament to be dissolved, and early elections to be held. While this might be seen to be because of the ANC’s perceived weakness and disarray, it is also possible the DA realised the secret ballot process was nefariously manipulated. Not forgetting that Malema learned the art of manipulation at the knee of his erstwhile mentor, Jacob Zuma, he has now also deliberately misled many of his followers into believing that if the DA resigns en-masse from Parliament, it will force the early elections they are calling for. This, Malema tells them, is because the number of MP’s would then fall below the Constitutional “no less than 350” members clause, even though he knows this assertion is fallacious. It has also been soundly debunked by Constitutional expert Pierre de Vos but, unfortunately, there are still many who will see what they believe rather than admit to being duped by Malema.

Returning to the DA’s call for the dissolution of Parliament – it does have a feel of desperation to it. Maimane cannot possibly believe he can win a snap election outright, no matter how divided the ANC, so what is their objective? Is it too cynical to believe that the DA want elections while Zuma is still in power because if the outcome is coalition politics, the EFF would be obliged to ally with the DA against a Zuma-led ANC, as was the case with local government metros? Are the DA perhaps running scared that Malema and his EFF might rain on their 2019 parade by throwing their hat into a coalition ring with an “Under New Management” ANC? Do the people feature anywhere in these political shenanigans?

If you believe what you see, then you must by now accept that South African politics is only about politicians, and has absolutely nothing to do with the wellbeing of our people. Political parties are so wrapped up in their internal and external conflicts that we, the people, don’t feature unless it’s an election year.  I have written many times before that our flawed electoral system promotes politics over people, but lately I have become increasingly convinced that even with a change to the system, existing political parties lack the vision to reunite South Africans under a common cause. They are responsible for the divisive politicking that has inflicted so much pain on our national psyche, and are incapable of realising the ambition entrenched in our Constitution. As far as 2019 is concerned, we are in danger of falling into the trap of believing that “anyone but the ANC” will be better for the country. This is also the trap that will allow Julius Malema to sit arrogantly on his laurels just waiting for whichever coalition partner offers him the best deal.

With at least 42% of registered voters being so disillusioned they did not bother to vote in the 2016 Local Government elections, “None of the Above” is the fastest growing segment of our electorate. This is a huge pool of potential supporters for a new movement that can tap into an obvious public dissatisfaction with the present political landscape. Add the significant numbers who vote for opposition parties, not because they necessarily believe in those parties but because they want to vote against the ANC, and there is more than enough encouragement to believe a seismic shift in our political fortunes can be made to happen.

But if you still insist on seeing what you believe, good luck with a Maimane/Malema double-act.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

The Evil of Three Lesser Options

Take a short time-out from the Zuptagate emails, the imminent vote of no confidence in JZ, and other cause célèbre that are presently occupying our minds, and start thinking about the 2019 National Elections that many believe will deliver the cure for all our ills.  The first question I asked myself was - where can I find really meaningful socio-political engagement in South Africa? The ANC has lost its way and many of the good things they achieved are forever lost in the mire of State Capture, but in my opinion the main opposition parties are also not offering anything that even loosely resembles a meaningful alternative. In general, they appear to be relying upon votes against the ANC rather than votes for themselves in their quest for power.

While not absolving the ANC or making excuses for the dire straits we find ourselves in, politically it is much easier in South Africa to be in opposition than in governance. For example, ConCourt case outcomes aside, for which we can thank Chief Justice Mogoeng and his team of Justices, the EFF has effectively done nothing but loudly criticise the governing party while promising impossibilities in their own manifesto, and simply disappearing from Parliament every time Jacob Zuma showed up. Their seemingly confused grasp of economics has fathered (or should I say parented?) a legion of populist rhetoric resulting in what can only be described as EFFonomics. Their policy call for land expropriation without compensation for example, which is by far their loudest and most emotive call, is one that is completely divorced from reality. They shout “Give back the land” without providing any details of how mortgage bonds will be settled, how improvements on the land will be compensated, or whether it is all rural, urban and suburban land that will be expropriated, what criteria will be used for determining how land will be redistributed, or where the investment will come from to develop redistributed land if there is no ownership potential etc. 

It is more than likely that many of their most ardent supporters don’t realise that under an EFF government they will still never get to own any land - ever. This, along with an unrealistic recruiting rhetoric of promising free everything to 18-24 year-olds makes a recipe for an economic disaster that will only serve to push more people below the poverty line. Their ever-increasing racist rhetoric against minority White and Indian communities is cowardly. They have no vision for unifying the country so, like bullies on a school playground they simply resort to attacking those they think are too small and vulnerable to retaliate.

But then again, when was the last time any South African politician tried to realistically address our everyday problems? Julius Malema has confirmed via Twitter that politics is just a game and he believes he is good at playing this game. But then anyone can be good at a game if they are spoon-fed information on what their opponents are up to. There can be no doubt that Malema has a mole, or moles deeply entrenched within ANC leadership structures feeding him information. So he is not the great oracle he tries to project, but rather has been gifted the political equivalent of playing a lottery after the numbers have already been drawn. Add to this his vitriolic personal attacks on Jacob Zuma, which sound more like the vented emotions of a jilted lover than a seasoned political leader, and the EFF can be recognised for what it is - just a populist empty drum intent on making the most noise. How EFF supporters will react not if, but when Malema goes back to the ANC, either as a coalition partner, or fully-fledged member, will make an interesting debate for another day.

On the other side of the same coin, the main opposition Democratic Alliance has become, to borrow from Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma”. I am not sure if they are suffering an identity crisis, or have simply embraced the double-standards endemic to South African politics.  Their reaction to losing a secret ballot vote in Mogale City was outrageous in the context of the imminent Parliamentary vote of no confidence in JZ. Witch-hunting of councillors in Mogale through “voluntary” lie detector tests, while encouraging ANC Parliamentarians to break ranks from the party line and “vote their conscience” is the DA’s most egregious application of double standards. Then again, in a recent article on the subject of State Capture, Mmusi Maimane wrote: “It is one thing to deploy cadres in politically elected positions. Quite another to deploy them to other organs of state....”  This statement implies that it is OK to deploy crooks and incompetents to Parliament, Provincial Government and Local Councils, just don’t let them anywhere near a proper business! 

It is this type of statement that confirms Mmusi Maimane and the DA are also comfortable with maintaining the political status quo, where a deployees’ accountability is to the party (leader) first, and the electorate very distantly second. With the decline of ANC morality, the DA was in pole position to inherit the mantle of multiracial unification, but they have so far lacked the vision and tenacity to grasp that particular nettle. The politically expedient but generally unimaginative compromise over Helen Zille’s colonial tweet saga is a clear example of how not to handle perceived racism.  The internal politics of power became more important to the antagonists than the external perception of racism within their ranks, which served only to damage the DA’s image with their main target audience. They also seem to lack imagination and a cohesive vision, not about what the country needs which is obvious to anyone with ears, eyes and half a brain, but how to satisfy those needs. The limit of their imagination is to ask the electorate to “lend us your vote, and if you don’t see a difference after five years then take it elsewhere in the next election” – no policy substance, just a desperate appeal that stretches credibility a little too far.

So if the ANC is not an option, we can now choose between an unimaginative plea, and a long-ago bankrupted dogma. Hardly inspiring stuff is it? Even less inspiring is the lack of transparency in political party funding where none of them wants to tell us where their money comes from. Their solution to achieving more transparency is to increase public funding to cover the money they can no longer take from dodgy donors they don’t want to tell us about. This particular “solution”, touted on the basis that we South Africans must invest more in our democracy, proves that politicians inhabit a completely different planet than you and I.

We live in the real world of increasing joblessness and poverty, not in the elite world of SA politicians. Their world is so far removed from reality that they should be embarrassed by their ignorance of the plight of our people. Is this the best we can do South Africa - allowing ourselves to be channelled into believing that our only choice is between the relative evils of these three lesser candidates, or perhaps a self-serving combination of any two of them that brings them the power they crave?

We are being challenged to stand up and be counted in the fight against Zuma and State Capture but, as vitally important as this is, it is still only the tip of the South African political iceberg. Until the root cause of the problem, which lies in the almost limitless power invested in party leaders by the Proportional Representation closed list electoral system, is removed, the threat of State Capture will remain an ever present risk no matter who is in power.