Policy or personalities?

Julius Malema. File picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency/ANA

Why is it that politicians have such terribly short memories?

Is it because they forget what they have said in the – often quite recent – past or is it because they believe that their voting fodder have short memories?

A prime example is EFF commander-in-chief Julius Malema’s weekend public statement that “most Indians are racist”.

He did stress that not all Indians are racist, just most of them. I imagine we must therefore assume, that EFF treasurer, Magdalene Moonsamy, is one of those non-racist Indians, otherwise why on earth would she be a card-carrying office bearer of the party?

Here’s a slightly longer-term example. Way back in 1980s apartheid South Africa, the progressive liberation forces spearheaded by the United Democratic Front (UDF), embarked upon a concerted and well-organised campaign to make the country ungovernable, with its rolling mass action strategy.

And that strategy succeeded.

This campaign was in part, the final straw that broke the camel’s back, and forced the apartheid regime to cave in.

In short order, all (well, almost all) political prisoners were released, the ANC, PAC and SACP were unbanned, and a bloodbath was averted.

If we look around our neighbourhoods today, what do we see? Over the weekend, the N2 in Somerset West was closed for most of Saturday, due to protest action.

Nationally, Eskom is on the ropes, and the banished spectre of load-shedding has returned to haunt acting chief executive Phakamani Hadebe, just two short weeks after he assured the nation it would not happen.

The reason for the load shedding? Eskom staff are on the warpath after learning that they will receive a zero increase this year.

According to the 2013/14 SAPS crime statistics, police attended to 1 907 unrest-related protest incidents in that reporting period, which amounts to 5.2 incidents per day, country-wide.

When reporting this figure during his 2015 State of the Nation Address, then President Jacob Zuma said: “We are a democratic state and recognise the community’s right to protest. We however, appeal that these protests should be within the ambit of the law and must be peaceful, as stated in the constitution.”

Perhaps Mr Zuma and the ANC have forgotten that they exhorted the oppressed to rise up and force the government of the day to the negotiating table.

How on earth, when one has encouraged the population to take to the streets in pursuit of change, can one expect that same population to become quiescent once the enemy is vanquished and replaced by the victor, particularly when that victor has failed to deliver the promised better life for all?

In similar vein, as we rapidly approach the 2019 election, politicians are beginning to realise that voters will be trying to figure out where to put that all-important cross on the big day.

Social media being what it is – both blessing and curse – we are constantly bombarded by exhortations to support this or that party.

We are also told to focus on the policies of the respective parties in making this important decision, and not the personalities involved.

This is particularly prevalent among opposition parties, which want to draw attention away from the impact and halo effect of Ramaphoria, insisting that the ANC under President Cyril Ramaphosa is “the same car with a different driver”, and that very little is likely to change.

But these very same opposition politicians seem to forget that until just a few short months ago – December to be precise – their entire political strategy was focused on personalities.

Well, mostly one personality, really: Jacob Zuma.

Until the ANC grew the testicular fortitude to rid itself of the albatross that threatened to sink the party once and for all, the likes of the DA, EFF, IFP, Cope, UDM and FF+ had one single focus: get rid of Jacob Zuma.

Somewhat closer to home for the DA, the De Lille Matter, as it is so quaintly called, has been all about personalities: Patricia de Lille, JP Smith, Bonginkosi Madikizela, James Selfe, Mmusi Maimane, Natasha Mazzone.

Recognise those names? How come? Perhaps because it is those names with which we have been relentlessly bombarded as the DA eviscerates itself in its bumbling attempt to rid itself of its own albatross: Patricia de Lille?

And it’s not as if we are at all that clear on all of the policies of the various parties as things stand.

Sure, we know pretty much all the players’ policies on the land question, but what about the rest?

What about the DA’s policy on education, or the EFF’s policy on health care, or the UDM’s foreign policy position, or the IFP’s policy on housing?

And that is at the heart of the problem. Nobody really knows.

The various political parties are so obsessed with personalities – their own and those in other parties – that it takes the reality of a looming election to give them a swift kick in the pants, a reminder that it is time to dust off their policies and tout them afresh to the electorate.

Perhaps it is this apparent political amnesia which causes politicians to castigate political analysts and commentators, and to exhort voters, to focus on policies rather than personalities.

A bit late for that, isn’t it?