South Africa's opposition party Democratic Alliance (DA) leader Helen Zille, center, with her parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko, left, and national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane, right, lead their supporters during their protest march against the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) for opposing the youth wage subsidy in Johannesburg, South Africa on Tuesday May 15, 2012. An opposition party march in Johannesburg turned violent Tuesday after union supporters hurled rocks at the leader of South Africa's main opposition party. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

The DA’s planned march on the ANC headquarters is a misguided political ploy, that may cause hostility and spark violence in a tense atmosphere ahead of the elections, writes Zweli Mkhize.


Johannesburg - When we first heard from the secretary-general of the ANC that the DA intends to march on Luthuli House and present a memorandum of grievances, we laughed and thought it was the funniest joke around.

Comrade Gwede Mantashe had reported about his discussion with Mike Moriarty of the DA Office in Gauteng that this was in response to the ANC manifesto reflecting that the ANC intends to create 6 million job opportunities, targeting the youth among whom unemployment has become intolerably high.

While addressing the 40 000-strong rally in KwaZulu-Natal during the provincial launch of the manifesto of the ANC, Comrade Mantashe mentioned the intention of the DA.

There was booing and signs of disapproval from the crowd. Their anger was unmistakable. However, he proceeded and indicated that he had responded by suggesting that the ANC should rather march to the DA office to collect the memorandum and save the DA the trouble by giving all responses on the spot.

The crowd cheered, whistled, ululated and waved their fists and screamed in huge excitement. We have been in this spot before. While the statement was largely made in jest, there was a clear and unmistakable reminder.

Those emotions alerted us to the risks and challenges of containing the anger of such marchers to an office of the opposition party whose daily occupation is to issue unflattering statements to the ruling party and expect them to be disciplined in the excitement of a tense moment.

The National Working Committee of the ANC received the report about the DA march and reflected on its implications. In their wisdom, the NWC decided that the ANC cannot embark on a march against the DA, jocular as the suggestion was. The NWC further directed that the secretary-general communicate with the DA that it may be unwise to proceed with a march that may generate huge hostility, degenerate into violence and create a tense atmosphere ahead of the elections.

The ANC also believes that it is incorrect for the political parties to march against one another as a principle. The ANC would, however, be ready to engage in a bilateral meeting with the DA to discuss their concerns and find a way to address their grievances.

The ANC has in the past held meetings to resolve many serious matters that affected the country despite the fact that it had many points of disagreement with those parties.

To end apartheid and usher the democracy we enjoy today, the ANC took an incredible risk of meeting the notorious Nationalist Party and led the negotiation process through extreme aggression that saw many massacres conducted by enemy forces including the assassination of many leaders of the ANC and tripartite alliance.

The ANC had held discussions and negotiations with Inkatha Freedom Party that resulted in the end of the violence that claimed thousands of lives among the oppressed people over decades. Clearly the DA would understand that a negotiated approach is preferable to a street fight even though it may not have this depth of experience that the ANC had in negotiating under more serious circumstances and had emerged with outcomes that were positive for South Africa.

The ANC was relieved to learn that reasoning had prevailed on the management committee of the DA which agreed with the ANC that it was not correct for the political parties to march on each other.

Imagine our shock when Steve Morelli called back to inform the ANC that the leader of the DA had overruled them and insisted that the march against the ANC should proceed.

The DA will descend on Luthuli House with 6 000 DA supporters shouting abuse at the ANC.

What sin did the ANC commit?

The ANC has presented a manifesto that outlines clearly the plans of the ruling party, responding to a huge crisis of unemployment (overwhelmingly affecting the youth), poverty and inequality. The ANC manifesto has outlined the significant achievements of our country in the past 20 years even though the global economic crisis has negatively affected our economy.

The ANC has prioritised various sectors of the economy for massive investments through public and private partnerships such as the aggressive programme of energy generation, massive infrastructure building worth trillions of rand, investment in technology roll-out, among others. The ANC prioritises education and massive skills development to eliminate the skills shortage, and many skills development centres, FET colleges and tertiary institutions have massively increased the youth intake.

Despite the earlier disagreements within the ANC alliance, the youth employment incentive scheme will be implemented while the concerns of the labour are addressed. The current involvement of government in mining negotiations shows that the ANC is serious about stabilising the mining sector. Service delivery and social infrastructure development have been outlined with concrete plans that will be monitored in a manner not seen before.

The government will embark on procurement reforms to eliminate corruption and promote local procurement that supports the creation and protection of more jobs.

But the DA leader is not happy. She must lead an army of marchers chanting abuse against the ANC.

What on Earth has the ANC done to incur the wrath of a leader who is supposed to be a democrat concerned about unemployment and has to ensure that the ruling party does things right?

This smacks of opportunism and a desperate search for publicity. Perhaps an ego trip that may satisfy individuals and put lives at risks.

Is the madam perhaps upset that with such a comprehensive election manifesto combined with the visible determination of the ruling party to fix the challenges that South Africa faces, the ANC cannot be matched? The anger to take to the streets in response to a well researched, well documented and well presented plan that was received overwhelmingly by South Africans suggests political bankruptcy.

The public rightfully expects an intellectually sound and logically compelling alternative view from the leader of the opposition party of South Africa, not an aggressive stamping of the feet down the streets of Johannesburg.

Come on Madam Zille you can do better than that!

However, the decision is more serious and has very negative implications for the politics of South Africa. In the 1980s and 1990s, direct confrontation between opposing political parties led to extreme violence.

Confrontation was always the result of political intolerance that arose when there were no legitimate platforms for expression of different views. It took us many years to make our people learn to respect each other, tolerate opposing views and respect each individual and each party’s private space. There were inter-party forums that would call leaders and admonish them to refrain from inflammatory language that sparked conflict among members on the ground.

It was not uncommon for the abrasive or just opposing statements uttered in a public meeting or within legislative precincts to result in a fight among members of the different parties far away from where the venue in which disagreements occurred. Now Madam Zille is taking us back there.

We have to make a distinction between freedom of association and freedom of expression on the one hand and the outer limits of intolerance expressed overtly or covertly to score political points on the other. The DA cannot be allowed to take the country back to the days of political confrontation while claiming to be exercising its freedom of expression.

The ANC understands the constitution and, unlike the DA, the ANC was one of the main architects of the constitution long before the DA existed. Like all individuals and all parties, it is not difficult to discern when one is being despised or is treated with disdain; nor is it difficult to appreciate when one is being treated with respect and courtesy.

The ANC has been at pains to teach its members to treat others with respect and respect their constitutional rights. Many may argue that the DA marching on Luthuli House is an indication of extreme intolerance and an act of aggression to provoke the ANC and its supporters, though the DA may believe it is a show of strength of a fearless DA that will put the ANC in its place. Whether it is curiosity, excitement, anger or provocation, the emotions are not right in this march.

All of these will see many more people being attracted to this event which will unnecessarily stress the police.

Judging from the recent protests, there have been unacceptably high levels of violence from both the protesters and the police. We do not need any more. How can a leader defy all advice and insist on taking the country to such levels of tension? It is now evident that the new- found aggression and militancy of the DA lacks the institutional memory of lessons from past intolerance mainly because the DA did not exist then and many current leaders were either not born or were too young to lead.

The ANC has had long experience to advise the DA that such a move is not appropriate as it may attract many unknown elements, who may misbehave in unexpected ways and undermine the best effort to conduct a peaceful march. The DA can never guarantee that after marching in the sun, sweating and chanting anti-ANC vulgarity, none of its members may become provocative when they ultimately see the black, green and gold flag flying on top of Luthuli House.

The ANC believes that multi-party democracy means that parties will differ on many issues and debate is healthy for democracy. As such, no amount of differences will motivate the ANC to march and confront any party. The ANC has learnt many lessons. There are legitimate and appropriate platforms open for the DA to debate and disagree, such as in Parliament, public and party meetings, printed and electronic media, especially Twitter and all manner of new technology.

As much as it is not in our interest for anyone to march against our government, that is more understandable than marching against a political party that has no obligation to listen to,let alone agree with the views of another party. It is our people, the voters that must listen and make a choice under free and fair conditions.

Why the DA prefers not to march to the Union Buildings, different government buildings, Parliament or any space that represents the authority of the land, is completely unreasonable and beyond any logic.

I don’t like the sense of déjà vu. On the eve before Madam Zille marched to Nkandla, I gave her a call and gave friendly advice. I indicated to her that out of a sense of social decency it is disrespectful to march to a private home of a party leader; it is distasteful and is perceived as an infringement of dignity and privacy.

The local DA leaders in KwaZulu-Natal, who have a better sense of local sensitivities, understood and were later harassed for not joining in the adventure. The outcome of Zille’s march was nasty. There was confrontation and police had to intervene. That the ANC condemned both Zille and those community members, which included ANC supporters, involved in the saga is besides the point. The march had succeeded in igniting tension, which was unwarranted. The march against Cosatu was the same, a predictable disaster that no experienced leader should lead her supporters on.

Writing to the media at the time, I called it “an ill-advised gamble”. We did not need blood on our streets. We all still carry with us the scars of the Shell House debacle that everyone wishes had never happened.

I have seen insinuations from the DA leader in the media that the ANC is threatening violence. That is disingenuous. That the stakes are high in this election and that the DA is desperate to present itself as the match to the ANC, is not an excuse to do stupid things. Nor will it help to try and depict the ANC members as aggressive by nature. While that would be completely untrue, so will be the claim that all DA are completely peaceful and incapable of provoking opponents.

Such piety has not been experienced in abundance in the recent memory of our democracy. The DA may be imagining glowing breaking headline news on CNN and BBC with blue shirts marching to break the back of the mighty ANC.

The reality of street politics may prove otherwise. Publicity stunts have a tendency to backfire.

Madiba once warned: “In any conflict, there comes a time where neither party is completely right or completely wrong.” I would hate to think that DA may never have learnt much from such wise words.

I would have thought Marikana has taught us how fragile our emotions still are and how sensitively we should handle each other as South Africans.

The ANC is prepared to hold bilateral meetings to discuss the concerns of the DA and debate their concerns in our election manifesto. We are prepared to debate in all platforms. We plead that even if the DA may despise the ANC and its leaders, they should respect the private space of the ANC and stick to platforms created by the constitution. The ANC has done its part, there will be no ANC march on this matter. We are, however, afraid that the ANC may not be able to prevail to its 1.2 million members and millions of its supporters not to march against the DA in all provinces, since the DA would have created the precedent.

This is our plea: Dear Madam, please don’t do it!


* Mkhize is treasurer-general of the ANC

** The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Independent Newspapers

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