Pity poor politicians. Still eight long days of parroting platitudes
But there's a silver lining. Once it's over, they can go back to fleecing us for all they're worth - no matter who wins
A week is a long time in politics, but the next eight days will feel like an eternity to SA’s politicians as they drag themselves towards the morning of May 9, that distant oasis where they can finally toss their manifestos in the bin and get back to the serious business of amassing multigenerational wealth from the labour of other people.
You can tell how tired they all are by how little they’re saying. Right now Thabo Mbeki is the most vocal campaigner the ANC has, and he’s the guy history will remember for saying absolutely nothing about anything, ever. It feels like weeks since the EFF threatened to unleash “superior logic” on some counterrevolutionary plastic chairs.
The relative silence of the Democratic Alliance is another matter. As comfortable behind a megaphone as a hermit maths teacher trying to announce the start of the inter-house under-13 javelin competition, the official opposition has always preferred the tone and volume of a university common room. Perhaps this is inevitable when your most triumphant moments are legal judgments you’ve helped secure: five pages of dense legalese don’t make for stadium-rocking theatrics.
Then there are the party’s policies. Where the ANC and EFF invite voters into their revival tents to be entranced by old-timey fire and brimstone, the DA offers a sort of political Anglicanism: a broad church in which the alarming binaries of fundamentalism have become smoothed by friction with a more secular view; where original sin is played down in favour of redemptive themes; where God is more of a metaphor, and where Satan is probably just misunderstood and might be a lot less hostile if he felt that his property rights were secure.
Given its determination to hold the middle ground, and its deep-rooted English terror of upsetting the aristocracy, the DA has, not surprisingly, avoided memorable oratory. Mmusi Maimane’s speeches stay firmly rooted in the sort of dully encouraging stuff you hear in school assemblies when some ex-pupil has made a fortune from selling the cardboard tube that goes inside loo rolls and is invited back to talk about Five Things I’d Tell My Younger Self.
Perhaps this is why the reaction to Maimane’s Freedom Day speech has been muted: it was, at least according to most reports, a fairly typical exhumation of a dead horse which was then given a customary thrashing.
To be fair, I’ve banged away at that same carcass myself so I don’t begrudge Maimane the topic. He even threw in some zingers: you could hear his script writers high-fiving each other as he declared that the ANC “has gone from movement to monument”.
I’m sure his claim that 25 years of ANC rule had been “devastating for our country and its people” also played very well with certain demographics, for example, the very young, the very ignorant, the very racist, or, indeed, anyone who doesn’t remember how the ANC set up a fragile but functioning democracy on the ruins of a racist tyranny.
Indeed, he himself seemed vague on the details, declaring that in 1994 the ANC had had a “crop of credible leaders”; so credible, in fact, that he and his party have worked tirelessly to co-opt the legacy of Mideeber, also known as Nelson Mandela. But perhaps a quarter of a century of devastation sounds more dramatic than: “It’s complicated, but basically the first five or six years of ANC rule were undoubtedly productive and progressive, the middle 10 were a very mixed bag, and the last nine have been a sack full of rattlesnakes.”
Maimane’s underlying shtick, however, was crystal clear: the ANC was good but now it’s bad. Virtue has become vice.
I don’t object to what Maimane said, even if his history is sloppy. But I think it’s important to point out what he didn’t say: the reason why the ANC has rotted.
I suppose he couldn’t. No politician could, especially not now as they compete for our votes. But the fact remains: there is a reason for the ANC’s fall, and that reason, put very simply, is that power corrupts.
Each party contesting next week’s election is claiming the high moral ground. Those that are too young or small to have been properly tempted might genuinely believe that they are immune to corruption. But it is a fact that every single one of them would become a criminal organisation if they governed unchallenged for a quarter of a century.
Which is why, when we condemn the ANC, let us also remember the inevitable, universal side-effect of power.
When we vote for new leaders, let us remember that by voting for them we are planting the rot in their souls.
And if we leave them there for decades, angrily demanding virtue from rotten husks, then that’s on us.