Daily Maverick Politics

Mantashe wants to help you “Know your DA”

Originally published in the Daily Maverick

130418daThe headline “DA’s campaign a desperate propaganda” left me quite sure that the text was going to be one of those overwrought reader-contributed op-eds, or at worst a product of Jackson Mthembu’s excitable pen. The content did little to challenge that assumption, leaving me quite surprised to see the name of ANC Secretary General, Gwede Mantashe, adorning the foot of the column in question.

The campaign he refers to is of course “Know your DA”, the first of the Democratic Alliance’s campaigns for the 2014 elections. The campaign attracted criticism right from the start, when Helen Zille’s launch speech neglected to mention Tony Leon, who led the party throughout most of its growth from 1.7% to 12.3% of the national vote.

I’d be annoyed by this if I were Leon (though not as annoyed as Rhoda Kadalie apparently was, in comparing Zille’s “airbrushing of history” to that of Stalin (she’s since deleted the tweet), but I think I’d nevertheless understand the reasoning behind leaving him out of the launch speech. The man who was the face of the 1999 “Fight back” election campaign – at the time, derided as the “fight black” campaign – would be quite a hard sell in a 2014 campaign that centres on the DA’s role in fighting apartheid.

Not because Leon played no role, of course, but rather because election campaigns are often about attention spans and caricatures rather than facts. In the case of Leon, we have “Fight back”, the merger with the New National Party, and support for the death penalty. In the case of Helen Suzman, we have the sole consistent voice against apartheid in Parliament for the 13 years from 1961 to 1974.

Suzman was a national treasure, and it strikes me rather bizarre that FW de Klerk has a Nobel Peace Prize while she (twice nominated) does not. But it was her principled contribution to ending apartheid that led Nelson Mandela to speak of the courage and integrity that marks her out as “one of the outstanding figures in the history of public life in South Africa”.

It’s that association the DA is aiming for by showing the image of Mandela hugging Suzman, rather than the image being an attempt to appropriate Mandela as a DA supporter. For better or worse, most South Africans regard Mandela as a moral authority. His endorsement of someone’s character therefore carries significant weight, as the ANC – never shy of invoking the Mandela brand – seems to realise.

Mantashe claims that this is propaganda. On one level, of course it is, just as all electioneering is propaganda of a sort. Expecting the “Know your DA” campaign to talk about “all its history and not just the struggle parts”, as an anonymous “PR and marketing expert who has done political campaigns before” did in this weekend’s City Press, is absurd – we always try to present ourselves in the best possible light.

Not only because nobody has the time to hear or present a comprehensive history lesson in each speech, but also because the alternative is unreasonable. While electioneering, we don’t expect Jacob Zuma to remind us that he was charged with rape, or took a shower to avoid HIV infection. It’s not propagandistic to highlight the things one is proudest of, and if it is true that the DA of today still represents those values Mandela recognised in Suzman, it’s legitimate to point this out.

My view is that they represent fewer of those values than I’d prefer, yet enough of them to make a poster and campaign like this one risky, but nevertheless legitimate. It’s somewhat opportunistic to highlight Mandela’s recognition of Suzman, but it’s not dishonest.

If we understand propaganda to mean a selective presentation of facts to inappropriately or dishonestly influence someone’s beliefs, then I’d suggest that Mantashe himself has a few questions to answer following Sunday’s column. In it, he asserts that what has remained throughout the “evolution of whatever trend among the white minority … has been either brazen advocacy for white domination and privilege or some elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.

That’s Mantashe’s interpretation of DA policy, and some of you might share the interpretation. And while he and you are of course free to do so, there is of course another side to the story, and Mantashe knows it. That story involves not only those mentioned in Zille’s launch speech, such as Seremane, Balindlela and de Lille – but also a large group of emerging leaders from the youth structures, many of whom are not white liberals.

Mantashe speaks of the “disdain with which the DA treats transformation” as if it becomes true in uttering it, or perhaps through repeated refrain – and what would that be, if not propaganda? Again, the DA might be wrong in how it approaches transformation, but that’s an entirely separate question to whether they are sincerely wrong, or whether they are lying about their intentions to buttress white privilege.

As Mantashe points out, the “combination of desperation and dishonesty is a lethal one”, and if the DA’s “Know your history” will be perceived as an exploitation of struggle history, we’ll know about it once the ballots are counted. But 20 years after our first democratic election, it’s certainly possible to question whether the ANC are the sole – or more importantly, the best – custodians of our freedom and our future.

And yes, it is also an interesting and legitimate question whether Suzman would support the DA of today. Just as interesting and legitimate, in fact, as the question of whether or not Mandela would support the ANC of today.

Morality Politics

And Rasool (allegedly) bribing journalists is okay

In January, I was quite pleased to read reports of ANC sources claiming that Ebrahim Rasool might be recalled from his ambassadorship in the US. Not simply because of a lack of fondness for him, but rather because it’s not outlandish to suggest he should never have been appointed as ambassador to the US until the investigation regarding the Brown Envelope scandal was completed.

For those who aren’t familiar with the case, the issue is this: Rasool was alleged to have indirectly used public funds to help incentivise two Cape Argus journalists to write stories that favoured him, and that presented his Western Cape ANC opponents in a negative light. These bribes were (if these stories are true) paid in cash, placed in brown envelopes.

The internal ANC investigation into these allegations was terminated in 2006, but the matter was nevertheless considered serious enough for ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe to confirm that Rasool was fired as Western Cape Premier in 2008 partly as a result of the allegations: “Rasool was removed as premier of the Western Cape all because of this case, among other things”.

Now, it’s true that Ashley Smith never appeared to be the most credible of witnesses. Perhaps Rasool was indeed falsely accused. But some within his party seemed to think the allegations true. They are also serious enough that it’s welcome news that Gasant Abader’s (current editor of the Cape Argus) access-to-information application to compel the ANC to release their report on their investigations has been successful.

The relevant parties are still studying the report, and we’ll no doubt hear more on this as time passes. But in the meanwhile, Rasool continues in a high-profile ambassadorial post, despite not only the Brown Envelope scandal, but also further allegations of corruption made in 2010 to the police commercial crimes unit. You’d like to think that allegations of significant corruption matter – not only in party deployments, but also with regard to our international representatives abroad.

Some ANC leaders agree that these matters are serious. In 2011, one of them said:

One issue that constantly cropped up in the elections research, even among our staunchest supporters, is that the ANC is soft on corruption and looks after their own. This requires a system for processing such allegations that will send a message of an ANC that is intolerant of corruption.

Today, an ANC leader is quoted in the Cape Times as saying that he didn’t think the Brown Envelope investigation needed to be completed, because “Ebrahim (Rasool) is no longer premier, he has gone on with his life”.

The first quote is from ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe. The second? Also Gwede Mantashe. I suppose that’s another allegation “processed”, then.

Daily Maverick Morality Politics

Kunene can eat his sushi as he likes

As submitted to The Daily Maverick

It is easy to ridicule Kenny Kunene, given how well he fits a certain nouveau-riche stereotype. However, public reaction to his extravagant spending has verged on the hysterical, aided by the condemnation of his “sushi parties” by Vavi and Mantashe, as well as certain columnists in our press. But I’m not at all convinced that he has done anything wrong – or that he is not simply being used as a scapegoat to distract voters from the everyday extravagances of some of our elected officials.