Loot grabbing and our Trump-esque Local Elections


Johannesburg, 4 August 2016 - As election results come in, the ANC seems to be losing its grip on the urban areas. Some experts say the party simply hasnt done enough to convince voters.

As the euphoria of election campaigning dies down, and power changes hands in our municipalities, we would be remiss to gloss over the re-emergence of violence and murder as part of our electoral process.

While the poll was billed as a municipality affair, it had all the hallmarks and flavour of a national election.

And, from what some of the leaders said, you’d have sworn they were graduates of the Donald Trump school of electioneering – where the end is considered to justify the means.

Never mind the myriad challenges facing citizens in their daily lives at local level.

We were told, for instance, by the EFF leader of an ANC minister who wets himself from alcoholic over-indulgence, and by the DA leader of how President Jacob Zuma should be imprisoned next to Oscar Pistorius. Not to be outdone, the ANC president threatened “bad luck” and the wrath of the ancestors on those who left the ANC.

But for this ephemeral noise, we might have noticed and been alarmed by the large number of political murders and the mass destruction of property, which ended up as a mere footnote to the election narrative.

Most of those killed ahead of the poll were ANC members murdered in connection with the selection of councillor candidates. As well, the violence in Tshwane just before the elections, which disrupted residents’ lives and caused enormous damage to property, was linked to this selection process.

A big factor in the use of violence in the above-mentioned instances is the now-entrenched, winner-takes-all approach to politics.

Driven by the existence of factional slates, it dictates that the group that wins political influence in the party has exclusive access to the material “benefits” that follow, such as appointments to posts and the awarding of tenders. By definition, the losing side forgoes the aforesaid “privileges” of power.

See how in KZN the faction that won the recent ANC provincial elections could not wait a moment longer to turf out the incumbent Premier Senzo Mchunu and those aligned to him, even though his term of office had not ended.

In Tshwane, ANC national party leaders had to reject a mayoral shortlist by the dominant faction, which pointedly excluded sitting mayor Kgosientso Ramokgopa.

Is it any wonder then that factions and individuals facing defeat choose, in the words of ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe, “to go to war” to secure the positions they hold or to further their political interests?

What does the predilection to grab everything, to expressly exclude and humiliate the losers tell us?

It suggests that our politicians, leaders and their followers have not learned history’s eternal lesson – that a winner-take-all strategy has seldom produced permanent solutions to conflict. While it may fill the pockets and bellies of patronage network beneficiaries in the short term, it contains the seeds of endless conflict and division.

It can also lead the losers to invoke tribalism, regionalism and racism. Ultimately they might even resort to violence.

We should, therefore, not have been surprised when purported Limpopo supporters of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa in the ANC succession debate suddenly pledged support to him on the mistaken basis that he was from that province. Given that the man was born and has lived all his life in Gauteng, the promised support was clearly based on the fact that he happened to be of Venda extraction – not on his political beliefs.

Elsewhere on the continent the consequences of this loot grabbing, together with the marginalisation of losers, is there for all to see.

Ask the Nigerians about the Biafran civil war, the Burundians about the 1993 genocide or latterly the Sudanese about their internecine strife, whose embers still smoulder to this day.

Closer to home, the Zimbabweans might want to tell the story of the less-talked-about Gukurahundi massacre in Matabeleland.

Yet, if our conduct of politics is anything to go by, we appear to be blind to the stark lessons around us. Could this be due to the infamous hubris of black South Africans, who often think they are different, cleverer and more sophisticated than other Africans – and therefore immune to tribal chauvinism?

To many in the ANC and black politics in general, the topic of tribalism is taboo. Yes, apartheid may have used tribalism to divide and oppress Africans in SA, but that is no reason now to turn a blind eye to it.

It must be said here that the manipulation of Zulu tribal and cultural allegiances in the run up to the 1994 elections, at enormous human cost, suggests that Africans in SA are as susceptible to tribalism as other Africans – and the rest of humanity for that matter.

These are the truths we might want to keep in mind to check political violence, especially as we prepare to choose a new president and government in about 36 months’ time.