Sibusiso Ngalwa7 May 2024 | 8:59

SIBUSISO NGALWA: South Africans should beware of vote-hungry politicians

As the late journalist and poet Don Materra told us, memory is a weapon. We should not be bamboozled by politicians. Be vigilant, dear voter, writes Sibusiso Ngalwa.

SIBUSISO NGALWA: South Africans should beware of vote-hungry politicians

FILE: People walk past a voting station during the last voter registration weekend ahead of the 2024 South African general election in Cape Town on February 3, 2024. Picture: RODGER BOSCH / AFP

Police Minister Bheki Cele can talk. A lot. Sometimes he sings, but rarely so.

I’ve heard him sing. The year was 2007 and it was at an auditorium at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in September of that year. 

The African National Congress (ANC) in KwaZulu-Natal had gathered at the venue for the provincial nominations conference, where delegates to the national conference would nominate their preferred leader to lead the party at its national conference. 

Jacob Zuma was overwhelmingly nominated as the preferred leader for KwaZulu-Natal at that provincial gathering. It was the single most emphatic rejection of Thabo Mbeki, where over 95% of the branches in that province backed Zuma. At the announcement of the nominations outcome, Cele broke out in song,

“Kulukhuni kuyenyukela… sohlala siyinyova!” he bellowed with such expression and emotion that the entire auditorium soon followed. 

The song reverberated throughout the room. It is a popular working-class song about the daily struggles of working in the mines, peppered with the determination to overcome those shop floor challenges through struggle. 

Cele led in song - pleased by the outcome of that nominations process. It is now history that Zuma went on to defeat Mbeki at the ANC national conference in Polokwane in December of that year.

You may wonder, dear reader, why I am telling you about Cele’s singing. Well, I was reminded of that 2007 moment when I honoured an invite from the minister’s office to attend the police ministry’s event to mark the one year since the launch of Operation Shanela on Monday. 

Shanela is a multi-disciplinary nationwide crime-fighting campaign which involves roadblocks, stop and searches, police patrols, and tracing of wanted suspects.

Over 600,000 suspects, we were told, have been arrested for a variety of crimes in the nine provinces since the launch of Shanela in May 2023.

Also, the police top brass bragged about “the takedowns” of wanted criminals involved in organised crime. The arrests of alleged extortion ring kingpins Bonke Makalala, Nafiz Modack, and Jerome “Donkie” Booysen were mentioned as part of the successes - along with the recent targeting of criminal gangs and so-called “izinkabi” (assassins) in KwaZulu-Natal. 

During the question-and-answer session, Cele took the podium to respond, including the question as to why there was a general perception that the police were not winning the fight against crime.

“There was a lot of destruction of the (SAPS). It was completely disabled. Many things that had been put in place, were disabled… 

“Also, the Tactical Response Team who were cleaning the streets… and cash heists. They were dismantled,” said Cele - who went on to mention the tearing down of the Hawks and Crime Intelligence.

Cele was rightfully referring to the destructive Zuma years, where the country’s law enforcement agencies were hollowed out by Zuma in his attempt to enable state capture, which saw the mass looting of billions of Rands through an elaborate scheme run by his friends, the notorious Gupta family. 

What Cele was saying is true. But one could not help but hark back to that 2007 moment.

Listening to politicians in the ANC, one would swear that Zuma miraculously catapulted himself to the Union Buildings. Zuma’s selfish and self-serving behaviour did not begin when he was sworn in as the president of the country in May 2009. He was a wrecking ball way before he occupied the highest office in the land. The signs were glaringly visible for everyone to see, but his comrades deliberately turned a blind eye.

As we approach the 29 May national and provincial elections - and with Zuma and his MK Party posing a serious challenge to the ANC, particularly in KZN - the former president has become the political leper. No one in the ANC wants to be associated with him.

Call it political expediency. But it cuts across the political spectrum. On the same day that Cele held his event, a debate was raging on social platforms about the Democratic Alliance’s (DA) latest political advert which features the burning of the South African flag.

The ill-advised 32-second advert is from the same playbook as the National Party’s “Stop the ANC” 1994 campaign posters. The advert warns of a looming armageddon should an ANC/Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) coalition take over the country after this month’s elections. 

It is the politics of fear and scare-mongering.

“For the first time in 30 years, the ANC will lose its majority. But they will do anything to stay in power. Imagine a coalition between the ANC, the violent EFF, and the Zuma faction. Under this coalition of corruption, life will only get worse. This election is about survival, unite to rescue South Africa, vote DA,” says the voice over the image of the burning flag, only for it to be restored when the call is made for a vote for the DA.

DA leader John Steenhuisen must either think that voters are either foolish, or that they have short memories. 

What he is not saying is that it is his party that has been the biggest beneficiary of EFF support, both overt and tacit, in municipalities where it governed. 
Without the EFF, the DA’s Herman Mashaba - who later resigned to form ActionSA - would not have donned the mayoral chain in the City of Joburg in 2016. Equally, his successor Mpho Phalatse would not have led the Joburg without the EFF. 

The same can be said about Tania Campbell in Ekurhuleni. 

Even the late Marlene van Staden became the only DA mayor in Limpopo through the support of the EFF who voted against the ANC’s candidate at the Modimolle/Mookgophong Local Municipality in 2016.

But no flag was destroyed then - as long as it is the DA that benefits.

Then again, it was the DA’s forerunner, Tony Leon’s Democratic Party (DP), who made the late Mama Winnie Madikizela-Mandela the target of their “Fight Back” campaign in the 1999 elections. In their typical “swart gevaar” tactics, the DP issued newspaper adverts which boldly stated that: “Jy kan hierdie vrou stop” (You can stop this woman), alongside a picture of Madikizela-Mandela.

That time, Madikizela-Mandela was neither the president of the country nor that of the ANC. As to why she was the target of the DP’s misguided campaign, perhaps Leon and the DA can elaborate.

The DA lost votes to the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) in 2019 - about 400,000 of them. That sounded the death knell for Mmusi Maimane’s tenure as the leader of the main opposition. Soon afterwards, the machinations to remove him got underway. He eventually resigned.

But as it approaches the coming elections, the DA has strangely also targeted the smaller parties in its campaign. It chose to club together RISE Mzansi with the GOOD Party and the Patriotic Alliance (PA) - labelling them as parties not deserving of voter support as that would signal the “looting” of State coffers. 

What has RISE Mzanzi’s Songezo Zibi ever looted, one might ask? Why would his party be banded together with the xenophobic PA?

What is bizarre is that the DA is not targeting the FF+ in its campaign - the party that benefited from the former’s electoral decline in 2019. One wonders why. Perhaps that is because the FF+ does not quite fit into the “swart gevaar” narrative that the DA is pushing. 

As the late journalist and poet Don Materra told us, memory is a weapon. We should not be bamboozled by politicians. Be vigilant, dear voter. 

Sibusiso Ngalwa is the Editor at Large at Primedia Broadcasting.