AS THE home of the executive branch of government, Tshwane combines with Cape Town and Bloemfontein to represent the totality of the South African state; three independent branches of government whose duty is to all of SA’s people regardless of party-political affiliation.
Yet in Pretoria West, the devastating scenes of flames, violence and unrest telegraphed around the country and the globe demonstrates how Tshwane has also come to represent the true state of politics in SA today, as two critical elections — the August 3 local election and the 2019 general election — hover inevitably into view.
When South Africans are drawn against their will into the violent internecine war between two factions of a governing party such as the ANC, and state resources are deployed either to trot out the party line, or prevent information about the true nature of the protests from being published, it becomes clear that the governing party is on the road to achieving a near-perfect fusion of party and state.
The ANC and SA are increasingly seen as one and the same. Party-political strife is national strife. National resources and public goods are either sacrificed to, or deployed in defence of the party interest.
It will not take a commission of inquiry to determine the cause of the three long days of unrest we have witnessed in Pretoria West. They began with the horrific murder of an ANC member during the party’s Tshwane regional elective conference on Sunday, and culminated in Tuesday’s spree of burning and looting by disgruntled members of the party whose faction was sidelined in the contest for internal power and political patronage.
Police officers intervened illegally and on behalf of the ANC on Sunday to prevent journalists from covering the tragic events at the party conference. The SABC then swiftly picked up the “blackout” baton by enforcing the latest sham policy of chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng: a blanket refusal to air footage of the flames and devastation wrought by the protests in Mamelodi, Soshanguve, Mabopane, Atteridgeville and Hammanskraal.
It wasn’t long before State Security Minister David Mahlobo joined the fray to peddle his unique brand of on-the-ground analysis: a clutch of overused conspiracy theories. Mahlobo tried to blame the unrest on “gangsters in the townships”, “criminal elements” and unnamed “youngsters” (whose age is apparently evidence enough of their culpability), before stating categorically and preposterously that none of the protests originated with members of the ANC.
But what do these three state institutions have in common? The public broadcaster, the South African Police Service and the minister of state security have their roles circumscribed not by any party-political rulebook, but by the Constitution and the law. Their role is not to protect the governing party from public scrutiny ahead of an election, or to fabricate half-baked theories to distract public attention from the internal war that is tearing the ANC to shreds. Theirs is to protect the interests of all the people, regardless of political affiliation. The minister’s own title should serve as an obvious clue to this, should he again mistake himself for the ANC’s national spokesman.
Sadly, where the party and the state have become fused, it becomes ever more difficult to differentiate between the two. In this respect, Tshwane is analogous to the rest of SA. As the ANC’s internal battle for access to patronage and power turns bloody and spills out on to the streets of SA, it becomes not only difficult to distinguish between the party and the broader body politic, but the latter is also forced to bear the brunt of a conflict not of its own making.
From the residents of Pretoria West who have missed out on three days’ wages because of the burning tyres and buses in Mamelodi, to the schoolchildren denied access to their classrooms by political warfare that has nothing to do with them, wherever the ANC burns, it seems determined to take SA down with it.
In the Eastern Cape, the ANC’s candidate-selection processes in the Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality have also been accompanied by petrol bombings, gunfights and public blockades with flaming tyres. And as retribution by the newly dominant faction of the party in KwaZulu-Natal continues to claim political scalps in the provincial government, one shudders to think of the broader possible repercussions for a region whose history is already painfully steeped in party-political bloodshed.
• Mazibuko, a former parliamentary leader of the DA, is a resident fellow of the Harvard Institute of Politics