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Nkandla needs sober minds

9 April 2013

One of my colleagues in the ANC once pointed out how boring politics in KwaZulu-Natal Legislature had become.

The violence has ceased and the acrimony between the ANC and IFP has melted. The rowdy and emotional exchange amongst parliamentarians who waved fists and heckled abuse across the legislature floor was now a thing of the past. Some may recall the days when members of the KZN legislature brandished guns during a heated fist exchange of supporters and got police officers scurrying across the perimeter fence. I even remember the same parliamentarians coming to explain to both President Zuma and the Premier Dr Frank Mdlalose then, in 1994, as leaders of the ANC and IFP respectively, how the police and the media had misunderstood their "friendly exchange".

Now calmness had been restored. The adrenalin rush has been replaced by rational debates with common purpose. It is an era of reconciliation and leaders taking responsibility for the conduct of their members. This has resulted in the elimination of war talk and provocative action by leaders that left grass roots supporters tearing each other after irresponsible words and action of their leaders. Some of the gruesome events are so vague in our memories that the newly emerged leaders may even be so adventurous as to inadvertently plunge us again into the violence we have left behind.

In the past marches by supporters to homes of opponents occurred, usually associated with stoning and hurling of verbal abuse at the opponents` premises. In fright, occupants would run for safety and be pleased if it were nothing more than stones because Molotov cocktails or live ammunition were not unusual. Protestors knew they were taking chances because it was not unknown that occupants responded to the `visit` with live fire to make the `guests` realize they were unwelcome. Quite often the local community including party supporters would rally in defence of the besieged member to protect him from the invasion.

There are many instances wherein the family members have suffered attacks by mobs that invade their privacy on the pretext that they have some disagreement with a member of the family. The rights to safety and privacy of family members of political leaders and activists must be protected from attack from intolerant opposition.

Under the influence of former leader Julius Malema, the ANC Youth League in KwaZulu-Natal attempted such a march to the home of Dr Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the leader of the IFP against the advice of the ANC provincial leadership who had to issue a statement dissociating the ANC from the action.

We discovered recently that we may be subjected again to the aggression we left behind during the 1990s when we opted for peace, in the form of actions of the Democratic Alliance. I don`t blame the DA leader Helen Zille. I actually sympathise with her. She has recently adopted mass action as a strategy. On energy you cannot fault Ms Zille. But street wise she is not. She lacks the experience of the rough and tumble politics of the dark days of our violent politics. That is why she occasionally opts for adventures such as that "visit`` to the home of President Jacob Zuma in Nkandla or the equally disastrous march to the offices of COSATU.

She nearly caused a violent backlash on both occasions simply because she cannot relate to the experience of those who learnt the boundaries of legitimate protest and provocation that has in the past resulted in bloodshed. When it all happened, she was living in the protection of the leafy suburbs when the DA was constituted of pinstriped suites and blue ties that looked down upon the uncivilized mobs stomping their feet on the tarmac. In a bid to capture the vote of the youth from the African townships she had to swap her costume with blue T-shirts and tackies and learn to toyi-toyi, shout slogans and sing adapted songs such as "awulethe uZille wam".

The fun of being the opposition is that you run no government machinery and you make far fewer mistakes than the ruling party. On the contrary the ruling party must take responsibility for the sins of errant civil servants including their indolence, ill-discipline, fraud and errors of judgement in a wide machinery wherein often the left hand never tells the right hand what it is doing. The Opposition merely needs to ask the question and create a doubt about the truthfulness of the response offered by the ruling party. It is an easy job!

We must accept that the DA as opposition has a right to ask questions. After all government has confirmed that money was spent in Nkandla. However, that the DA is making allegations of corruption is not itself proof that President Zuma is corrupt. Nor is it proof that the expenditure is not justifiable. A correct decision can be abused by corrupt elements in civil service by short circuiting normal procurement procedures thus inflating prices or taking bribes. The Ministerial investigation did inform us that the President did nothing wrong. No amount of shouting by the DA led-coalition of opposition parties brings up any new facts.

We have worked too hard to create a climate of political tolerance and no one must feel entitled to put that climate at risk. Constitutional mechanisms must be used to force government to be accountable. Provoking negative community responses or party reactions may lead to unintended consequences.

Dr Zweli Mkhize is the Premier of KwaZulu-Natal and the Treasurer-General of the ANC.

Article was published in the Sowetan, 9 April 2013.