On Sunday, our shell-shocked country yet survived two pressers. The first was by the Parliamentary Speaker. Its late start bit into the official opposition’s airtime. The second was by the DA on the disciplinary actions against Helen Zille, and the march to the vicinity of Luthuli House.
The strange thing about these pressers was they had the same purpose — to press the anger right out of us. Afterwards, I asked myself, “What will it take to shake us out of our complacency?”
Yesterday, we were shaken by two earthquakes and a rating agency’s credit rating downgrade to Junk Status.
Why would the Democratic Alliance want to anger-manage us into complacency?
At its core, it isn’t a political party: it’s a well-run corporate whose mandate is to protect the interests of established business in post-apartheid South Africa. To do so, it needs to infiltrate the political world just enough to keep that boat from tipping too far left.
Insofar as it passes for a political party, it needs to grow, but never win. Winning would place it into administrative crosshairs to buffer the conflict between post-apartheid restitutions and the private sector that would subsidise said restitutions. There would be no more ANC to point fingers at for failures to manage the difficulties inherent in this task. It would all be on the DA.
At the same time, the DA must grow so as to not have its share of the vote absorbed by other parties. It scavenges the ANC’s victims. If said ANC got rid of Jacob Zuma tomorrow morning, the DA would lose all the voters who joined the DA to get away from Zuma’s ANC. This is why, in my cynical view, the party would want to anger-manage us and make the ANC retain Zuma.
When the DA announced it plans to march to the vicinity of Luthuli House (for the umpteenth time) on the 7th, they gave Zuma’s scenario-planning 5 additional days to develop. Incidentally, “Zuma” can be interpreted to mean, “To catch off-guard [in the night, his favourite time] and ambush, often sexually.” One of the things Jacob means is to supplant, replace, undermine or override. Gedleyihlekisa is the one who laughs while hurting you.
The DA also sent out their nth petition. In South Africa, marches and petitions achieve much that is important, but they hardly ever get officials fired. They make us believe that spectacle, by itself, can retrieve souls and consciences from the hellacious clutches of corruption.
It is civil disobedience, not marches, that breaks rotten systems. It’s always been people who sat, ate or drank where the rules said they weren’t allowed to, or presented themselves where they shouldn’t have without passes they should have had so they could be jailed en masse and logjam the criminal justice systems that enforced those unjust laws. They rendered processes unworkable, or cut off opponents’ access to roads and other resources. We may be the first “oppressed” people in all history to think merely shaming the shameless will get them to see the light.
The DA’s proposed responses will help it take ownership of and deactivate anger that could have been channelled into civil disobedience. Granted, the DA can’t advocate civil disobedience, but it could step aside, let history run its course and help those who occupied or barricaded strategic points after the fact.
The other topic the DA had to address was Helen Zille and her tweets on colonialism, which will be investigated while Zille retains Premiership. I suspect the party is unsure what to do. This is a whole Helen Zille. What’s being investigated isn’t her tweets, which need little investigation as they aren’t encrypted secrets and the DA already said it doesn’t stand for colonialism. What they’re actually “investigating” are the political pros and cons of expelling her. Sure, the DA will pick up more of the ANC’s leftovers but it will alienate staunch Zille (and colonialism) supporters. The DA may be better off dethroning Zille as Premier than Zuma as President.
To retain the ideal number of National Assembly seats, the DA would need to speak as though it were possible to run this country without running into the tricky moral trilemmas the ANC fell to after 1994. This would help it attract the kind of voter it banks on: over racial politics (and therefore, fully immersed in racial politics) and lacking the stomach for hard conversations. That’s why the crowd it speaks to is so amenable to having its outrage defused. The problem isn’t that middle-class and white South Africans feel too intensely; it’s that they feel too little. It is emotional anaemia. Where is the response to ongoing systemic racism? What is Black Monday? Its critics are saying the initiative is utterly void of initiative.
The other presser was just as measured.
Baleka Mbete was late, as mentioned. What most twitter users thought of her responses to journalists’ questions was they were full of nothingness. She condescended without being overtly condescending. She painstakingly said, without quite saying, that there’s neither legal nor procedural basis for the outrage that’s followed the reshuffles. She was questioned about her feelings at seeing her minister colleagues being dismissed. Her responses, even then, can best be described by Eusebius Mckaiser’s tweet as “evasive, non-committal, uncertain of how to position herself, tactically incoherent. Put differently: She is being consistent.”
Her presser mirrored what she wanted to frame as the total insubstantiality of the current political outrage — our hypochondria. If President Zuma’s reshuffle devastated us, Mbete’s contempt numbed us down to a point where we can feel nothing and that nothing is our impotence to determine the conditions of a conflict we are avoiding. It smothered our outrage to a helpless smoulder. Her message was the Political Establishment is the Political Establishment and there isn’t a thing anyone can do about it because nobody has done anything about it.
Why, then, did she invite the media? She did it because she’s the sweet family doctor who comes to tell you the country isn’t sick. We can’t be sick because there’s no legally known basis for declaring us sick, and our symptoms must be imaginary or else we’d have taken to the streets long before she called her briefing. There wouldn’t have been a briefing. She and the rest of the NEC would be calling to the mountains and hills to fall on them to hide them as Jesus returns in the form of public wrath.
By merely watching the presser when we should have been driving the fear of the living God into our public servants, we legitimised everything she was saying in her hypnotic drone. By merely summoning us instead of being summoned by us, the public servant reversed roles. And we let her because we always let them.
And this is why Junk Status is, hopefully, the Gift We Never Wanted — a wake-up call.
There’s a controversial technique for saving cardiac arrest victims. The precordial thump looks like a karate-chop to the sternum, a whack near the heart. Delivered correctly, it can bring the victim of cardiac arrest back from the brink.
It’s scary. It’s dangerous. Like earthquakes. Like credit ratings downgrades. But in the long run, it may inoculate us from being taken off-guard by the one whose name spells out his modus operandi.
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That book is working on me, and I’m nearly done. With any luck, it, too, is nearly done.