Playing with berets and fire

William Saunderson-Meyer.

The sparring between poseurs in the EFF and the ANC as to who has na-ming rights to a silly red beret is more than just a Tweedledum and Tweedledee spat.

It’s a warning that the coming general election might be uncharacteristically volatile.

A small portent was the Nkandla fracas last weekend, when ANC supporters attacked EFF members. In a brilliant bit of electioneering, the EFF planned to hand over a house they had built for an elderly lady living in a shack just beyond the gates of President Jacob Zuma’s R200m pleasure palace.

ANC youths closed the road to EFF leader Julius Malema’s convoy and in the melee that ensued when he set off on foot, stones were thrown, rubber bullets fired and water cannons deployed. The poor gogo has her new house, but now fears for her life. And as retaliation, the ANC apparently wants to refurbish the house of a family living next door to Julius Malema’s grandmother in Polokwane.

Such political theatre – full of drama, but devoid of substance – is increasingly the norm.

But, however surreally humorous such incidents, there’s a dangerous undertone. One wonders, for example, how many in the EFF foray to Nkandla were armed, entirely legally, and what would have happened if Malema had been injured by an ANC supporter?

There is a spluttering fuse of intolerance in our politics that threatens dire consequences, unless the government acts swiftly. Instead, until now, it has made matters worse.

Zuma reiterates constantly that the ANC has a divine right to govern “until Jesus returns” and warns against opposition reactionaries who “want to re-introduce apartheid”.

Playing with fire is not confined to the ANC. EFF supporters have brandished banners displaying Ché Guevara’s dictum that “A revolutionary must become a cold killing machine motivated by pure hate”.

This is blatantly intimidatory, but there has been not a flicker of response from the police or the Independent Electoral Commission, nor outrage from the media. Imagine, for a moment, the reaction if similar sentiments were expressed by the Freedom Front.

Instead news editors continue to fall over themselves to give Malema publicity, responding with Pavlovian alacrity to his every statement – no matter how incoherent, inane or incendiary. Obviously the media must cover the EFF, but the lavish and unthinking news exposure given to Malema lacks awareness that the oxygen of publicity is not only worth millions to the EFF, but also has the potential to fan a conflagration. Many journalists seem to think the EFF is all a bit of a fun; just some whimsical political comedy. It’s not. They are feeding a monster, a dangerous fascism and it will, eventually, come back to bite.

To make matters worse, the police on which we rely to maintain order are poorly trained and trigger-happy. The security services are also increasingly partisan – last week some Mpumulanga traffic police were cheekily wearing red berets instead of their regulatory caps at the ANC’s manifesto launch.

Paramilitary posturing, on the part of both the EFF and the ANC, is dangerous in the volatile climate of a general election. And history shows that it’s a short step from violent rhetoric to actual bloodletting.



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