The face that launched a riot

William Saunderson-Meyer.

William Saunderson-Meyer.

Is it that the ANC in Tshwane is so corrupt and fragmented that to act against popular leaders would spark even greater public violence?

#TshwaneUnrest. That’s the hashtag that South African Twitter chose to bookmark the biggest, most sustained public violence in the 22 years since the advent of democracy. Unrest? It seems that there’s nothing like a good euphemism to make one feel snug and safe in suburbia while in the Pretoria townships, feral rioters loot and burn.

Two dozen buses have been torched, five people have been killed and barricades and burning tyres spewing toxic smoke have closed roads and freeways. Government departments, businesses and schools have shut. And as for the nation’s leader, the elusive President Jacob Zuma, well, Pretoria’s burning but he’s nowhere to be seen. Nor heard. Not a peep. He is perhaps waiting upon the Gupta brothers for instructions on what to say.

Meanwhile, his lugubrious deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, share the task of keeping the nation reassured and being the lightning rods for anything that goes wrong. Thus far, they have not been doing a particularly good job of it. Mantashe kicked off by flatly denying that the violence had anything to do with the sidelining of local mayoral candidates in Tshwane to accommodate the deployment of Thoko Didiza.

It was “thuggery”, said Mantashe and had “nothing to do with ANC members”. Barely had Mantashe uttered his absurd exculpation of ANC members than State Security Minister David Mahlobo acknowledged‚ in an interview with Radio 702‚ that the protests were sparked by ANC members “who were not satisfied with the processes” of the party’s selection of Didiza.

Mantashe had to back-peddle fast. Without skipping a beat, he said the ANC had the names and pictures of members of the party who had organised the violence. At the same time, the Hawks said they were investigating whether senior ANC members were implicated and that arrests “will be made soon”. But nothing has happened. So far, no arrests have been made of any “senior ANC members”. Maybe the Hawks should just read the newspapers.

The Pretoria News this week carried a detailed report on how, within hours of Didiza’s deployment being announced, a senior ANC official coordinated a meeting of “ANC branch leaders, ward councillors and candidates” in a local hotel, to plot how “to render the city ungovernable” and “turn it into a battlefield” if their preferred mayoral candidate was not given the nod by Luthuli House. So why the reluctance to act against the plotters of public violence?

A cynic might point out that there has always been a reluctance to act against the ANC leadership when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing. Or is it that the ANC in Tshwane is so corrupt and fragmented that to act against popular leaders would spark even greater public violence?

In any case, one doubts that the Hawks would have been so slow to act, had the plotters of this week’s chaos been members of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Or a bunch of whities from Freedom Front Plus.

Didiza must be wondering how she offended the gods to be handed this poisoned chalice with the expectation that she will save the ANC from defeat in the August local government elections. Poor woman. Helen of Troy had the face that reputedly launched a thousand ships. Didiza of Tshwane has the face that launched a riot.


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