WELCOME to Tweet of the Week. Every Friday I will use this column to hand out an award to one person who has tweeted something of significance. There are no strict rules, only that the tweet in question must offer an important insight, define a debate (notorious or otherwise) or mark an occasion.
This week of the Tweet of the Week goes to @athi_plaatjie for:
“Opposition Leader for the ANC, Danny Jordaan is not at the council meeting #NMBcouncil”
Profile: Athi Plaatjie describes herself as a journalist in Nelson Mandela Bay. She has 165 followers on Twitter.
Citation: Danny Jordaan, the ANC’s failed mayoral candidate for the Nelson Mandela Bay metro, has yet to make an appearance in the city council, following the ANC’s loss on August 3. Put that down to whatever you want, embarrassment perhaps, but the guy does draw a public salary as a councillor and, his wounded pride aside, the least he could do is show his face.
But then why would he? He didn’t even bother to pitch when he was officially elected leader of the opposition. The ANC shows face when it wins, and wastes no time rubbing everyone else’s in it. But lose, and it sticks its head in the sand. Cowardly stuff.
Across the board, senior ANC officials have gone fishing. The ANC benches in Parliament, in the days following the election, resemble something of an echo chamber. It’s about as hard to find an ANC minister or member as it was for Hlaudi Motsoeneng to find anyone to attend his SABC “thank you” concert at Orlando Stadium.
(Side note: one irony missed in that whole SABC concert debacle was that Motsoeneng actually has a stadium named after him, in Bluegumbosch, QwaQwa, in the Free State. So perhaps Orlando was a bad choice of venue. I mean, surely he could have filled his own stadium?)
Blade Nzimande, the beleaguered minister of higher education, didn’t bother to pitch up at the #FeesMustFall debate recently, a remarkable act of disdain. Of course, it’s nothing new for Nzimande not to attend things. Responding to similar accusations in February he said, “I’m not absent at all. I just don’t conduct all my work through the media.” Yeah, whatever. Also not through Parliament, it seems.
There was a farcical moment not a week or two ago when the ANC MP who had actually proposed a motion in the house, arrived so late for his own debate he might as well not have attended at all. It wouldn’t have gone down well with the ANC chief whip. He was busy squirming about how embarrassing it was not to know where the person who proposed the motion was, when he eventually wandering into the National Assembly.
As with Nzimande, none of this is entirely new. ANC ministers are routinely absent in significant numbers and, on numerous occasions, discipline inside the ANC national caucus has been so bad the National Assembly has failed to get a quorum to pass legislation of the ANC’s own design. Debates suffer, too. Gaping holes in the ANC caucus marked the recent debate into state capture. You wonder what all these people are actually doing?
Parliament recently introduced a R1,000 fine for any member who misses three committee meetings in a row (although, given the current ANC culture, that would seem to be more of an incentive to attend only every third meeting). In turn, the DA proposed fines for MPs who miss house sittings, but Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa quickly shot that down. He probably realised any such intervention would bankrupt his comrades long before it motivated them.
Ramaphosa is an interesting anomaly; he is certainly around and about physically. You see pictures of him all the time. But morally, in terms of leadership, vision, compelling intervention in a time of crisis, well, he might as well be a ghost. He is deputy president in name only. In truth he is a political apparition that roams the night without direction or purpose. If he is a president-in-waiting, bravery and decisiveness are two traits he certainly will not embody, should he ever actually become the commander-in-chief.
The fact is, post election, the ANC has effectively gone into hiding. Before the election it was just divided or useless; now it is suffering from the effects of full-blown embarrassment. The combination is a raft of absenteeism as all and sundry either attend to their wounds in some or other unseen political hospital or have lost what little inclination they had to care about public business for which they are paid in the first place.
It’s not just that SA has no one steering the ship (or, at least, that they are steering it straight into an iceberg), there is no one running the galley either. Governance by osmosis. If not governance, then opposition.
Psychologically, perhaps this is understandable. The party is a battered mess of an institution, and has been for some considerable time. All the election did was put a number to it. That’s not the kind of environment conducive to passion and enthusiasm.
There are one or two souls who try to put on a brave face. Lindiwe Sisulu recently produced this excruciating piece of bile (The struggle against racism is not over) which arrived at the conclusion that, “The many Africans who have joined the ranks of the Democratic Alliance suffer from such a mental inferiority complex.” Real clutching-at-straws stuff. But her newfound love for psychological analysis would be far better directed against her own party. It is seriously depressed. It’s the one that really needs a hug.
Perhaps it’s just the first phase, denial, and, as the ANC moves through them all — anger, bargaining, grieving, and so on — it will eventually arrive at acceptance. Or perhaps the ANC is already there. Only party discipline doesn’t allow anyone to actually call a spade a spade publicly, so everyone just mopes around pathetically, scratching their heads and bemoaning their lot. It really is a sorry sight.
Enthusiasm is a vastly underrated political commodity. All those party rallies you see, all the cheering and singing, it’s for the party itself as much as it is for supporters. Any successful party must have momentum behind it, or at least a sense of it. Everyone really does need to believe and you constantly need to be pouring enthusiasm into that particular emotional fuel tank.
The ANC’s leader, Jacob Zuma, is currently about as charismatic as concrete. There was a time his demagoguery worked like a charm. It had people pledging their lives for him. Happy days. But it’s all gone horribly wrong. Without the fanaticism he is just a drone. He sucks energy out of the party rather than engendering it. And that’s before you get onto what he has actually come to represent. So it’s not going to come from him.
If Jordaan is any indication of the ANC’s approach to being in opposition, the party isn’t going to find any there either. An absent leader is no leader at all. Just imagine being an ANC member of that particular caucus and your own leader couldn’t be bothered to show up. Well, why should you care then?
The likes of Sisulu can try to generate some sort of artificial explanation for it all and, once again, appeal to the glue — racial division — that has held the ANC together in the past. But, if anything, this election showed that the chemical is fast losing its bite. It isn’t true, so it just doesn’t ring true to the party faithful.
With time, the ANC might discover some second life. But it is hard to imagine what, other than the election of a new leader, would spark any life into it. More likely, until 2019, we are going to see political apathy on a grand scale. Demotivated, embarrassed, leaderless and with no reason to be enthusiastic about anything, take a picture of an ANC MP in Parliament if you see one. Quite frankly, they couldn’t give a toss any more, and it will one day make for a rare collectible.