Cape parties scrap on at the bottom of the barrel
We do not need divisive leaders at a time the world faces a deadly enemy
“I know the bar is low,” a friend remarked on Tuesday, “but I think the government has handled the coronavirus pandemic better than any other issue.”
She even expressed hope that the Covid-19 effort, and the way President Cyril Ramaphosa’s leadership appears to have unified South Africans, augured well for SA’s long-term future.
The friend may have been caught up in the euphoria around Prof Salim Abdool Karim’s televised coronavirus master class on Monday, and the immediate aftermath of Tuesday’s surprise interest-rate cut. And she had clearly forgotten the recent antics of police minister Bheki Cele, transport minister Fikile Mbalula, the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and communications minister Stella Ndabeni-Abrahams.
But she lives in Johannesburg, which means she was largely spared the sorry weekend spectacle of Western Cape politicians going through the usual motions of indiscriminately flinging mud at each other and hoping some of it sticks.
This time, the bone of contention wasn’t a lamb chop from a freshly slaughtered sheep on Clifton beach, but the way some of society’s neediest people are being treated during the lockdown. Ultimately, as with many issues at this point in history, it was a matter of life and death.
For the DA and the ANC, though, it was more important than that. It was an opportunity for them to be right and the other to be wrong — and no blow was too low in the quest for the hollowest of victories.
Most bizarrely, the ANC speculated that a provincial decision to allow dozens of taxis to head to funerals in the Eastern Cape was “a deliberate act to transfer the virus from a province that normally oversells its competency and regulatory framework, but is clearly battling now, to one that is managing the virus spread well, but is daily mocked for incapacity and incompetence”.
Perhaps wiser heads prevailed, because no more was said about this. But there seemed to be no end to ANC attacks on the City of Cape Town’s decision to set up a lockdown camp for the homeless in marquees in Strandfontein, rather than in community halls across the metro.
Let’s be clear: the DA cannot claim any moral high ground when it comes to the treatment of homeless people in Cape Town. It is the party that last year saw fit to fine them and confiscate their belongings for violating a bylaw by sleeping on the streets.
But at the weekend, it was the ANC that plumbed the depths as it attempted to manufacture outrage about the DA’s decision to take the homeless to Strandfontein.
“We have not been able to verify reports that a man has been murdered on the site managed by the City of Cape Town,” said an ANC media release on Saturday. The ANC leader in the provincial legislature, Cameron Dugmore, also said an 18-year-old had been gang-raped at the Strandfontein site.
The allegations were not only recklessly inflammatory, they were untrue. A 36-year-old man was arrested on Sunday for a single alleged rape. And as the ANC probably knew all along, there was no murder.
Cape Town mayor Dan Plato said “the ongoing political point-scoring in a time of one of the greatest health crises to face our country, and the globe, is shameful”.
He was right, but he’s also the man who had to physically step in at the camp on Friday when mayoral committee member JP Smith was determined to prolong a public slanging match with Dugmore.
Lest we forget, the DA commission of inquiry that eventually led to Patricia de Lille’s departure as mayor of Cape Town was sparked by a lengthy dossier compiled by Smith.
John Steenhuisen, head of the commission and the party’s interim leader, recommended Smith’s removal from the safety and security portfolio he had already held for several years.
But Smith was the leader of the anti-De Lille faction, and Plato not only retained him, but dramatically beefed up the budget of the man dubbed the “sheriff of Cape Town”. In doing so, he empowered Smith to keep pushing the ANC’s buttons as only he can.
Divisive politicians are exactly what none of us needs right now. Ramaphosa has sent the right message by engaging with opposition leaders in a way not seen since the post-1994 government of national unity, and for the unprecedented sanctioning of Ndabeni-Abrahams, who contravened the lockdown.
Is it too much to ask the politicians of the Western Cape to stop spitting their dummies and start working together to defeat an indiscriminate enemy that has already killed more than 120,000 people worldwide?
The answer is probably “yes”, but let’s be thankful for at least one small mercy: since disavowing Twitter two months ago, Helen Zille has tweeted only twice.