By Shafiq Morton
In an interview just before returning from his stint as ambassador in Washington, former Western Cape premier, Ebrahim Rasool, told me that he could not stand back whilst Zuma, a man whom he described as an ‘exceptionally flawed character’, unleashed corruption and incompetence upon the nation.
There had to be a return to the traditional ANC values of inclusivity, accountability and caring for the poor, he said. He added that he was disturbed that the ANC could no longer be trusted, and that the colour card was being played so often, especially in the Western Cape.
I can remember thinking during our on-air conversation that there was a distinct air of ‘unfinished business’ about it all. However, I do not know Rasool – a Zuma discard – as a vengeful politician. His conduct after his dramatic ‘recall’ as premier in 2008 is ample evidence of this – but his ugly ousting did cost the ANC its tenuous foothold in the Western Cape.
Nonetheless, Rasool’s appointment as head of the ANC Western Cape elections campaign did take me by surprise. I had thought his behind-the-scenes campaigning for President Cyril Ramaphosa at the ANC elective congress would be his political swansong.
Interestingly, Ramaphosa brought him and his arch-nemesis, Mcebisi Skwatsha, together. To his credit, Skwatsha – a low profile politician – has reportedly expressed remorse for the destructive internecine politics of ten years ago.
In fact, on this count, it is ironic that young journalists – too young or too naïve to understand the events of the time – have unearthed in their Google files, the brown envelope saga. This was when a former media practitioner claimed he took bribes from a provincial official to write favourable stories for Rasool as premier.
So as 2019 approaches, I expect the DA shills to play brown envelope rock at full concert volume, specifically to deflect the ghosts of de Lille, the ugliness of Masonic- powered gentrification, pending developments blocking tourist-catching sea views, Day Zero shenanigans, land protests, alleged missing fire chests, rates rage and Helen Zille’s tweets.
Being the Western Cape, and therefore, arse-about-face politically, 2019 will probably be fought on local municipal issues – and not necessarily national ones. Ironically, it was DA leader, Mmusi Maimane, who inadvertently transformed municipal issues into national DA ones at the Cape.
This was when he personally intervened in the Day Zero water crisis, carrying a bucket in a posh white suburb, and as a Gautenger, patronisingly telling Capetonians to save water. All it did was to annoy Capetonians, who never like being told what to do by the north, and it gave the distinct impression the DA didn’t trust its Cape leadership.
This, of course, was not helped by the DA-led council’s clumsy efforts to drum Mayor de Lille out of power and its Gestapo-like attempts to unconstitutionally foist water restriction meters (not SABS or ICASA approved) upon its unwilling ratepayers. This has angered and alienated not only DA voters, but other party supporters as well.
Just in case readers think I’m being anti-DA, it has to be remembered that through all this, the ANC as an opposition party has struggled; its performance has been limp-wristed, its contribution vacuous, its level of debate puerile and its profile non-existent.
Nonetheless, Rasool’s injection into the fray must be giving the DA, used to having it easy in the Western Cape, some headaches. Rasool is a big-hitter, a politician who can think on his feet without having to call Luthuli House. And with its leadership weaknesses, and with its internal divisions exposed, the DA is on the back foot.
To be effective in the Western Cape, Rasool has several hurdles. Firstly, he will have to traverse the land mines of populism laid by the EFF. Secondly; he has to rebuild party infrastructure, and unity. Thirdly, he has to ensure that candidacy is not based upon patronage, but the capacity to deliver.
And fourthly, if he doesn’t come up with workable, understandable – and visibly achievable – solutions to the questions of the day, the bullshit barometer will catch him out. In fact, Rasool’s biggest test, I feel, will be just persuading people to go to the polls on polling day.
Unity and renewal look good on paper, but when you have to defecate in a bucket, live in a leaky Wendy house, or when the DA council is suing you as a pensioner for rates you can’t ever pay, political rhetoric means absolutely nothing.
In spite of the above, there is opportunity – especially as the crude, tribalist politics of Zuma recede – and as Ramaphosa attempts to re-align the national agenda from looting, larceny and chaos to economic growth and jobs. Then there is the DA, reeling from its first post-Zuma challenges, and fast realising just like the ANC that for ruling politics to have any meaning on Election Day, it will now have to have substance.