Routinely, about a year before an election, the ANC's dirty tricks brigade gets to work.
With less than nine months to go before the 2011 local government election, the ANC's machine is in full swing.
By way of comparison, think back to 2008, in the run-up to the crucial 2009 election (when the DA won an overall majority in the Western Cape and grew its vote countrywide).
The ANC was determined to prevent this outcome.
So it manufactured a smear campaign, and set up a Commission of Inquiry, chaired by a judge, to give its investigation a veneer of independence. The Erasmus Commission was, in fact, a political hit squad set up by the ANC to run a series of smear campaigns (with huge media coverage) in the months before the election. The plan was to damage the DA.
We stopped this plan in its tracks by exposing the ANC's motives in court. The Court found that the Commission was unconstitutional and had been set up with a political motive.
We thought this judgment would bring these kinds of dirty tricks to an end.
We were wrong.
The ANC came up with another idea. It has turned the Human Rights Commission (HRC) into the equivalent of an "Erasmus Commission" under the veneer of constitutional independence. The Human Rights Commission is one of the Constitution's Chapter 9 institutions (like the Public Protector) that are supposed to be independent, and prevent power abuse. But, through cadre deployment, the ANC has ensured that these institutions are headed by cadres who owe their first loyalty to the ANC. Many of the Chapter 9 institutions have therefore become extensions of the ANC's power abuse (rather than limitations on it).
The clearest example of such abuse was the ANC's deployment of Lawrence Mushwana, a former ANC MP, to the position of Public Protector. It did not take long before he was dubbed the "ANC Protector". His findings were widely ridiculed. He could not even bring himself to make an adverse finding against the ANC in the "Oilgate" scandal when R11-million of taxpayers' money ended up in the ANC's bank account before the 2006 election. Cadre deployment enabled the ANC to undermine the Constitution without changing a single word of it.
At the end of his second term as Public Protector, Mushwana received a R7-million payout, and a cushy new "redeployment" as chair of the Human Rights Commission.
It is now clear why.
The HRC is quickly becoming as discredited as the Public Protector was when Mushwana held that office.
One just has to read the extraordinarily biased and factually inaccurate report of the HRC on the Makhaza toilet saga to understand the agenda. The report's analysis and conclusions are impossible to explain rationally. The inevitable inference is that the report's purpose is to embarrass the DA and benefit the ANC. There is no other credible explanation in the light of the facts.
A few weeks ago, the DA submitted a complaint to the HRC on "toilets without walls" in an ANC-run province. The HRC is certainly not falling over its feet to deal with this matter, as it did when it had the opportunity to embarrass the DA through the "Makhaza" toilet investigation.
Instead (and unsurprisingly), the HRC is, at its own initiative, undertaking another investigation that we believe is also politically motivated. The HRC announced that it will investigate the recent events at Hangberg, where the Metro Police, backed by the South African Police Service, removed unoccupied, illegal shelters built in the firebreak and nature reserve.
The removal of the unoccupied shacks came after years of working with the community to upgrade the informal settlement. This included a commitment from the community to stop the further building of illegal structures. They understood that if densities became too high, it would be impossible to install the infrastructure required for services. Despite this, more and more structures were built, not only in the settlement, but also in the abutting firebreak and nature reserve.
After repeated (but unheeded) requests to remove the structures in the firebreak and nature reserve, the Metro Police acted. When they were ambushed by a group of residents hurling rocks, flares and petrol bombs, the Metro Police and SAPS sent for reinforcements. Tragically, three people lost an eye in the incident while others were less seriously injured. 16 Metro police officers sustained injuries.
Such action (and its consequences) is always deeply regrettable, and should not have been necessary. The point also needs to be made that when people attack the police with petrol bombs, flares and rocks, they should not be surprised at the retaliation.
The inevitable question now arises: did the HRC initiate investigations into incidents where ANC authorities sent in demolition squads?
In Johannesburg, the Red Ants - the nickname given to the security firm the ANC employs to demolish illegally erected shacks - have gained notoriety for the brutal way they go about their business. Such is their reputation for ruthlessness that the DA decided not to employ their services in Cape Town.
In 2002 the Red Ants moved 6,000 people from the Mandelaville informal settlement in Diepkloof, and flattened their shacks. In 2008 it was reported that the Red Ants guarding RDP houses in Ekurhuleni, assaulted a woman and killed her husband. As recently as June this year, 55 shacks in Sandown were demolished by the Johannesburg Metro Police.
Examples of "Red Ant" demolitions have not gone unnoticed by the international media. For example, in April this year, The Times of London carried the following report of the removal of shack dwellers near Ellis Park, in the run-up to the world cup:
"Waving iron bars and pick-axes, the Red Ants, a rented mob of thugs in bright red overalls and crimson helmets, used the half light of dawn for cover as they marched into the slum. Stamping out the first cooking fires of the day with heavy boots, they spread out in a long line. Then they attacked. Bleary immigrant women dropped plastic water containers and ran in panic towards their corrugated iron homes. ‘Grab the children!' they screamed. By sunrise, their shacks on the outskirts of Johannesburg had been razed. They were forced to watch as their few possessions were burnt."
This is an account of the destruction of occupied shacks, in contrast to the demolition of unoccupied shacks in the Hangberg fire-break. If the HRC was genuinely interested in protecting human rights (rather than becoming a political hit squad for the ANC) they might show an interest in investigating the Red Ants' raid on the Ellis Park shack dwellers, among others.
So too, might COSATU. COSATU's provincial arch-opportunist, Tony Ehrenreich, has been squeezing every last drop of political advantage out of the Hangberg matter - but has never raised a peep about demolitions undertaken by ANC governments. Furthermore, during the past week, no fewer than three ANC Cabinet ministers have blazed a political trail through Hangberg.
Ironically, while they were protesting against the demolition of structures in Hangberg, Julius Malema was in Atlantis protesting against the erection of shelters for the destitute. The contradiction exposes the hypocrisy. The ANC fools no-one except themselves.
We can expect much more from this travelling circus of hypocrisy in the months ahead. We will keep on exposing it and people will increasingly see through it. In time, the media will too.
As Pieter Dirk Uys put it: hypocrisy is the Vaseline of political intercourse. The ANC and the HRC make fine bedfellows.
This article by Helen Zille first appeared in SA Today, the weekly online newsletter of the leader of the Democratic Alliance.
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