ANC, DA were looking for a fight
And they found it, in Cape Town, on the occasion of the ruling party’s 103rd birthday, writes Janet Smith
Johannesburg - James April remembers when the political war in Cape Town was about Marx versus Hegel, with a bit of Trotsky thrown in for good measure – and an extra beard.
The ANC veteran, a hero for his involvement in the 1967 Wankie Campaign, when Chris Hani took Umkhonto we Sizwe soldiers into what was then Rhodesia, can’t help laughing a little at that memory.
But he reminds us there were also virtuous ideological battles going on between the ANC and the PAC and grand argument inside the Cape Debating Society. Words and pens flourished, mostly underground, and everyone, bar most whites, was on the same side – against apartheid.
April is speaking from Athlone on the Cape Flats, where dozens of activists like him were nurtured during the country’s most violent years. He’s proud that the Mother City can righteously claim to be the birthplace of some of the most courageous opinions and bravest individuals in our history.
“From the late 1950s into the early 1960s, there was a strong unity movement, especially among coloured people,” April says. “And the liberal white community here were getting closer to opening up more on a social level.
“I remember attending a party held by the Liberal Party at a big place in Constantia. People like Albie Sachs were there and lots of us were invited to attend.
“You had this type of set-up where organisations were being formed from across the racial spectrum.
“Capetonians were the prime movers towards non-racial mixing. We all felt, the closer we can be together on some issues, even if we differ, means we can still have respect for each other and, where we could co-operate, we would.
“You couldn’t really put Cape Town into a political pigeonhole.”
Fifty years later, the city is at the centre of a race debate that has been accelerating ever since the DA won the Western Cape in the 2009 national elections with 51.46 percent. A multi-party coalition has run the city since the 2006 municipal elections.
As the ANC’s leadership gathered for its traditional January 8 Statement, to be given by Jacob Zuma at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday, allegations that the Western Cape is an “apartheid” province under the DA amped up. This set the tone for the new year, revitalising a national divide that’ll surely only grow ahead of next year’s municipal elections.
Although agreements between the city, the ANC and the SAPS on how to manage the event have apparently been in place since last month, concerns were raised by the ANC about the council’s demands for upfront payment and a ticket system for those attending. For many, this wasn’t an argument over admin. It was about the war between the parties, with Cape Town a key political lever.
The most vocal opponent of Cape Town in this matter has been SACP leader Blade Nzimande, who accused the DA of trying to sabotage the ANC’s 103rd birthday celebrations. Its statement, which maps out the activities of the party through its National Executive Committee, has been given on its anniversary over many years. This year, it was Cape Town’s chance to host it following last year’s event in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga.
Mayor Patricia de Lille not being available, Cape Town’s director of strategy and operations, Craig Kesson – who stated he is not a party official – says it’s simple.
“The use of the stadium is subject to standard protocols around access control and payment for municipal services so, from the city’s perspective, it’s slightly strange. We would simply urge that agreements be honoured.”
He does, however, confirm that a payment dispute between the city and the ANC Western Cape over a previous hiring of the Convention Centre had not yet been resolved.
Equally, there could be a view that the DA’s hostile reception from the ANC to its march on Cosatu House in Braamfontein or its march in Nkandla, could have provoked a tit-for-tat.
Western Cape Premier and DA leader Helen Zille is more forthright.
“Surely we require everybody to abide by the rules? But the ANC is exempt everywhere else. The only argument they’ve got left is the race issue. It’s just so obvious what they’re doing. Does anyone take it seriously?”
Before 2009, there hadn’t been an absolute majority in the province, although the ruling ANC had ultimately gone into an alliance with the now-defunct New National Party – the ANC having 45 percent and the NNP having 11 percent.
That gave the coalition the provincial government until 2005, when the old floor-crossing arrangements were still in place. All the NNP members of the provincial parliament then joined the ANC and gave it the absolute majority.
The DA was its main rival with 27 percent of the vote, until it, too, went into a coalition with De Lille’s Independent Democrats and won in the same election that secured Zuma the job of president.
Cosatu’s Western Cape leader, Tony Ehrenreich, who previously ran against De Lille for mayor, is disappointed by what has played out this week – on both sides. But he insists we should focus on what lies below the surface.
“Look, let’s not forget that there is already a problem over the use of these public facilities here, where poor communities often can’t use them.
“We understand there needs to be some way of identifying seating so you don’t have overcrowding. But can we try in the future to better manage the safety element so that we can ensure the city and its facilities become more accessible?
“What it feels like you have, is some kind of financial exclusion from many of these facilities that have been put in place by the administration under the guise of a whole range of excuses.
“At the same time, this squabbling has a sour tone to it. It creates the political impression in the minds of many Capetonians that the ANC musn’t come and try throw their weight around, the subtext being that they are the ‘other’, meaning they are ‘African’. That’s part of the public discourse that’s being promoted.”
Ehrenreich worries that a “sense of separateness” is indeed being fostered in Cape Town, and that the issues over the stadium might, in fact, have trivialised what is real.
“It’s really bad for nation-building. We need more decisive measures so that everyone feels they are part of South Africa, not that ‘Africans’ will take away everything, while many ‘Africans’ do honestly feel unwelcome.
“Let’s promote social justice and not social injury.
“And let’s not be distracted by something like what happened this week, which is a small sub-issue. The fight over it surely wasn’t a risk worth taking.”
Political analyst Professor Steven Friedman agrees. He also believes ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe’s predictable act of “playing politics” would have “sounded more plausible to some people than it might otherwise if, to be quite blunt, Cape Town itself didn’t have the reputation around the country of being a place in which the prejudices that existed in this country before 1994, are very much alive.
“We’ve all heard stories about Cape Town from black people who want a flat and when the letting agent sees their face, the flat is not available any more.
“Cape Town does have this unfortunate reputation for being an enclave of those sorts of prejudices.
“Of course, at one stage, it used to be that they have this incredibly low crime rate, but we now know that is actually significantly high, so that view’s got nothing to do with crime, and everything to do with race.
“This week was just an excuse for a fight, but there are legitimate concerns, besides the fact that the ANC tends to expect a particular status.”
* Janet Smith is executive editor of The Star.