Columns 4.9.2018 07:58 am

Sometimes, DA, just shut up

Miguel Louw, slain by a suspected kidnapper last month. Picture: Twitter/Dasen Thathiah

Miguel Louw, slain by a suspected kidnapper last month. Picture: Twitter/Dasen Thathiah

In the hours after a little boy’s body was found decomposing in a ditch, the DA should have resisted their almost automatic urge by now to just blame the ANC.

Another day, another 20 DA press releases.

There was a time in my job when I wasn’t on the DA’s media mailing list. I’d tried to subscribe to it through their website, but it never worked. Every so often, I would try one more time, wondering if their system had registered me, and then I’d forget about it.

Then one day, I sent them a mail directly and asked to be added to their mailing list. I had a bit of FOMO since my colleagues were apparently getting all these DA press releases and, as a result, seemed inimitably more informed about the state of South African politics than I was.

Then the first neatly styled DA press release landed in my inbox. That opened up the sluice gates. My reaction to the hundreds of releases that followed has been a combination of great respect, intrigue, mild irritation every so often and – as in the case of one particular email last night – minor disgust.

My general sense of respect for the DA and its work, as illustrated by these press releases, comes particularly from when they showcase all the hard work they are doing, often behind the scenes and involving people and places most of us have never heard of.

When they do oversight inspections in hard-to-reach towns such as QwaQwa or a random village in Limpopo where government was meant to have built a school (and never did), or was meant to upgrade a clinic (and never did) or failed to spend its budget on a road or bridge, the DA often goes to the scene, takes photos, interviews people, compiles it all neatly and sends it out to the media.

In the process, they’re doing accountability work that’s often hard for journalists to do. In any case, it’s what we’d expect a good opposition party to do.

The feedback on the answers the DA receives to tough questions in parliament, provincial legislatures and local councils is also invaluable.

The DA often does well in playing the watchdog/bulldog role of attempting to hold government to account, as impossible as that seems sometimes. They will even put pressure on the public protector to investigate and find out what’s really going on, even though they don’t like the public protector and probably don’t believe she’ll investigate properly.

Their press releases most often, of course, cover whatever may be going on in the news that somehow reflects badly on the ANC government.

By now I already know what the last line in almost any press release from the DA will be: that the ANC is failing the country and the only solution to South Africa’s problems is a DA government. I think their media office is programmed to slap that particular sentiment on to the end of every release, and they perhaps don’t even think about it anymore.

That’s why I also often delete their final lines, just about automatically too.

But last night, when they sent out a release on the death of a nine-year-old boy from Sydenham in Durban, their parting comments rang particularly hollow.

Police had, just hours earlier, found Miguel Louw’s decomposed body not far from the home of the man suspected of having kidnapped him in July.

I remember seeing Miguel’s distraught mother on TV last month and finding it hard to watch. She knew her son’s alleged kidnapper and screamed at him in court, while he ignored her: “Tell me where my baby is!”

While the country was still digesting the horrifying news that her son had been lying in a ditch for weeks, the DA decided to blame the ANC.

“Under the failing ANC government, children and women continue to be unsafe.”

Maybe this is true. Lord knows, we’ve been exposed to enough horror stories about the ANC over the years to want to throw them under the bus for everything. But this was not the time for politicking and ranting on about KZN’s horrific crime stats.

In the Western Cape, particularly Cape Town where the DA is in charge, murders and kidnappings continue to happen, often on an even larger scale. Crime stats there are terrible. And the DA can’t just blame the ANC for failing to deploy the army. [Since this article was written, the DA has pointed out that they aren’t in charge of the SAPS, even in the Western Cape, which is of course true, though that isn’t really the point here].

Last night, Miguel Louw’s mother didn’t need to be told, in effect, that “if only everyone around here had voted DA, your son might still be alive”.

I realise that’s not what the party was trying to do, but that’s how it came across. They weren’t really extending their sympathies to the family, because if they had been, they would have just said: “We feel for your loss,” and been done with it. No, they were playing to the gallery, which by the way wasn’t all that interested in hearing it either.

Sometimes DA, keep in mind that you don’t have to use everything as an excuse to bash the ANC. Sometimes, you can just use the opportunity to showcase some of your actual humanity.

Or – and here’s a thought you probably haven’t contemplated since the days of Big Daddy Tony – you could just shut up.

Citizen digital editor Charles Cilliers

 

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