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JOHANNESBURG,CAPE TOWN -It is sad that the party who ultimately brought us democracy has so quickly forgotten its own lessons. How quickly the ANC learned some of the old apartheid tricks, writes Melanie Verwoerd.

It was unprecedented, but definitely not unexpected.

I can’t help wondering which of President Zuma’s handlers honestly thought it was a good idea to insist that he speak at the Cosatu rally in Mangaung/Bloemfontein on Monday? It must be the same geniuses who insist on giving him huge numbers to read in important speeches even though he clearly finds it impossible.

The Hawks should perhaps forget about alleged coup plotter Elvis Ramosebudi and have a closer look at those closest to the president who seem intend on sabotaging or putting him in embarrassing situations.

Not that I really care about any presidential embarrassment at the moment. When Cosatu cancelled their national rally after a section of the crowd with their “Zuma-must-go” chanting and bring-on-a-substitute hand signals, made it impossible for anyone to speak, I did a little solitary toyi-toyi in front of the TV. I just wonder about the wisdom of these guys who control the most powerful man in our country.

Not that Zuma looked very powerful on Monday. The scene of his 14 car cavalcade departing without him having said anything was one of the most extraordinary images I have seen since 1994.

Before the decision was taken the president sat stone faced under a marquee flanked by Sdumo Dlamini and Ace Magashule. He forced a smile every now and then, but it was clear that he was furious. Organisers tried desperately with one “Amandla!” after another to regain control of the crowds. It turned out that no amount of slogan shouting or singing could placate their anger or drown out the “Zuma-must-go” chants.

The extraordinary thing is that this all happened despite a clearly orchestrated attempt to bring in a large crowd of Zuma supporters. The Free State Youth League, having declared that “the rally will prove that the workers love Zuma” (Eh ja, right!) were there in their usual yellow T-shirts.

But it seems it was the presence of a fairly large group of people dressed in red T-shirts with “100% Zuma” printed on the back that really got on the nerves of the majority of Cosatu members present. According to reports when the march leading the people to the rally arrived they found a crowd of these guys already in the stadium, sitting right in the front sections – no doubt for the benefit of the TV cameras and of course the sensitivities of the speakers.

Eish! How quickly the ANC learned some of the old apartheid tricks. In the late 1980’s a few left wing students and I attended a National Party event in Stellenbosch Town Hall intending to disrupt the speeches. Apparently the National Party had for years warned PW Botha that he shouldn’t speak at events in the town since he would always embarrass himself and the party by losing his cool when students heckled him.

But the Groot Krokodil insisted (sound familiar?). On the night we waited rather impatiently for the grand old doors to open, but when we were finally allowed inside we found that the hall was already nearly full. The tannies and omies with their huge NP rosettes had been snuck in earlier through a back door and the only space left was on the balcony.

Not that it bothered us – we interjected repeatedly. When a finger wagging PW announced that apartheid was dead, someone shouted: “So, let’s all swim together!” PW immediately lost his cool and asked who the heckler was. About 20 hands shot up. But the security, in a style that would impress the Free State Youth League (who said they would expose those who heckled Zuma), grabbed the actual shouter and frogged-marched him to the front. After a tongue lashing from PW he was removed from the meeting.

Even though the marshals at the Cosatu rally on Monday tried to shut the hecklers up, nobody was thrown out – well, no-one that is, except Zuma!

Of course the ANC was always going to try and spin what happened. Predictably, as was done a few weeks ago with the public marches, the comment straight afterwards was that it involved a very small group of people. Free State Youth League Chairperson, Makalo Mohale, insisted that there were no more than 20 “anarchists” (eh, look at the TV coverage, comrade). Ace Magashule insisted they were not even from the Free State (but it was a national rally, comrade). Again straight out of the apartheid handbook: “A small number of people influenced by those outside of these borders who are intend on creating anarchy” was the uncanny like response to the huge protest marches of the 1980’s.

Ace then also told journalists that “we have our own video footage (of those who protested) and will study that in detail.” Where did we experience that before?

I was also reminded of an event a few years ago where Helen Zille was booed by ANC supporters during the launch of the IDZ in Saldanha. I know most people are now “over Helen”, but bear with me.

Despite it being an official state function the ANC packed the event with party members and then Deputy Minister Marius Fransman (who also happened to be the ANC Western Cape chairperson in the pre-Louisa Wyngaard days) chaired the event. The president and a few other ministers were also present.

When Zille started to speak the ANC supporters booed so loudly that she eventually gave up and left. Zuma just looked on as it happened. Afterwards Gwede Mantashe said something to the effect that if Helen Zille was a true person of the people she would have continued or come back the next day.

Not so pleasant when the boot is on the other foot, right comrades?

I wonder how many “please-don’t-attend” events or public marches it will take before President Zuma and his cronies accept that huge parts of South Africa no longer want them. After Monday’s events no amount of spinning will persuade people that the unhappiness originates or is orchestrated by whites, big business or the opposition. It was Workers’ Day and it was at a Cosatu rally. It is really time for the controlling faction in the ANC to admit that the unhappiness is also, and perhaps even mainly within its own ranks and its extended alliance family.

The night we left the PW Botha meeting in Stellenbosch, some of us felt a bit despondent about what had happened. One of the students who had had many engagements with the ANC said: “Don’t worry! PW and the National Party will fall one day. One thing the ANC taught me is that one can never mess with democracy.”

How sad that the party who ultimately brought us democracy has so quickly forgotten its own lessons.

  • Melanie Verwoerd is a former ANC MP and South African Ambassador to Ireland.

Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24.





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