A whiff of secession in the air

Andrew Donaldson writes on the ANC's over-the-top reaction to the WCape govt's Provincial Powers Bill


ACCORDING to several reports, the start of the Western Cape government’s public hearings on its Provincial Powers Bill was marred by chaos. As the session kicked off in Worcester, ANC members disrupted proceedings, chanting and heckling. They have vowed to do the same wherever public meetings of the bill are held this week. 

This is hardly surprising. As we’ve come to expect, such “hearings” are gatherings where participants have little or no choice but to “hear” the comrades shout and scream as they drown out the opinions of others. It is democracy in action; the loudest arses win the debate.

The truth of the matter, though, is that the ruling party has much to fear from the bill, which seeks to devolve certain national government powers to provincial and local governments. These include the delegation or assignment of additional powers in such areas as policing, public transport, the generation and transmission of electricity, local and international trade and control over national harbours. More intriguingly, the Bill would also enable the Western Cape legislature to introduce national legislation in the National Council of Provinces.

In a nutshell, the government rejects all this because it smacks too much of, well, governance and all-round common sense; how dare these upstarts wish to empower provincial and local governments to the extent that they may address issues where the national government has failed to deliver services to residents? The very cheek of it.

And so, together with their partners in the unholy trinity, the ANC have been making all sorts of threatening noises, accusing the Western Cape government of undermining the Constitution, of wanting to reintroduce apartheid, of being political, an election stunt, and so on.

What really gets under their skin, though, is the faint whiff of secession or federalism it has detected in the bill. Its critics cry out over the planned offensive on the “unitary state” and warn that this devolutionary chatter is merely a smokescreen or a ploy to distract from some darker, more nefarious purpose. Like a place that actually works.

Speaking of which, the SA Communist Party’s provincial secretary, Benson “Hedges” Ngqentsu, has vowed to make the Western Cape “ungovernable” if the bill is not stopped. The threat is not exactly new, and there have over the years been concerted attempts to render the province ungovernable, simply because it is not run down by the ANC.

And yet, despite everything thrown at it, the province succeeds. When, in June last year, the office of the Auditor General published its review of local municipalities for the 2021/22 financial year, it revealed that of the 33 South African municipalities to have managed consecutive clean audits, most — 19 in total — were in the Western Cape. This surely is a strong argument in favour of the bill: the province can and does look after its affairs in a responsible manner.

I know it seems unfair, but we should, in the interests of comparisons, focus some attention on electioneering in the country’s wealthiest province, Gauteng. 

Its premier, Panyaza Lesufi, has announced a plan to train all former Umkhonto we Sizwe veterans “to fight crime” in the province. This scheme, ostensibly to tackle unemployment, presumably adopts the position that no former MK veterans are involved in any way or form in the crime wave bedevilling Gauteng. A long stretch of the imagination, then.

In another brain spasm, Lesufi has proposed that government exempt teachers in the public sector from paying tax in order to prevent “the best educators” from drifting off to jobs at private schools. 

One can clearly understand why, under such leadership (alarmingly, the premier is permitted the use of scissors), a “devolved” Gauteng may struggle to function were it granted the sort of legislative wherewithal envisaged in the Provincial Powers Bill. If Lesufi thinks MK vets make for good law enforcement officers, God alone knows who he’ll get to drive the trains. 

Perhaps the last word here should go to Daily Maverick’s altogether more rational Tim Cohen, who this week wrote in his newsletter that the provincial system is clearly in need of reform and that, if national government government was failing in its duty to provide citizens with certain services, why shouldn’t the provincial governments take up the job?

"Think of it the other way around,” Cohen writes. "What you don’t want is the national government deliberately not performing a function to make it seem as though the provincial government is not doing its job. In policing, for example, I often think the national government is tolerating high crime levels in the Western Cape because it wants to make the province less attractive to semi-grants. But if that’s the case, it's not working. But more generally, as power at national level becomes more contested, we are going to see more pressure for powers to be delegated to provinces, and honestly, I don’t think that would necessarily be a terrible thing — even for provinces run by the ANC.”

That may well be. But this optimistic outlook, alas, fails to take into account recent developments in KwaZulu-Natal, where supporters of the Mickey we Sizwe Party and the disgraced Jacob Zuma, lately of the ANC, look set to drag the province back into the early 19th century. Should that happen, nothing will save the place. Out of the basket case, then, and into the fire. 

Moral authoritarianism

South Africans of all shapes and sizes have declared a renewed sense pride in their leadership following Friday’s ruling by the International Court of Justice. Such was the unfettered admiration for government that it seems churlish to entertain the possibility that Pretoria’s case against Israel was motivated by anything other than principled concern for the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza.

It is true that some, however, like News24’s Phillip de Wet and the Brenthurst Foundation’s Greg Mills and Ray Hartley, have dared to suggest that perhaps not everything went as hoped for at The Hague. The ICJ did not, for example, order Israel to suspend forthwith its military operations in Gaza — a chief South African demand. Such grubbing, however, ignores the revolutionary ANC grading system whereby a 30 per cent pass rate in any undertaking is now regarded as an unqualified success.

But rather than ease back and wallow in its new-found status as human rights champions, government should now take bold steps to further burnish its international reputation and put some space between itself and the claims that its ICJ case was little more than an act of cynical opportunism.

Happily, an opportunity for such action has come knocking. Ethnic cleansing of Christian Armenians is underway in the Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim country. Most of the enclave’s 120 000 ethnic Armenians fled to Armenia itself following a blockade and offensive by Azerbaijani troops last year, but it’s now claimed the remaining Armenians are facing starvation.

Perhaps South Africa could approach the ICJ on their behalf. This will do much to dispel confusion that may have arisen in the past regarding Pretoria’s commitment to international justice or lack thereof. That reluctance, for example, to arrest Sudan’s despotic Omar al-Bashir when he was in the country in 2015. Ditto its fart-arsed response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and its ongoing silence over China’s ongoing persecution of the Uyghur. 

A convenient advantage in standing up for the Armenians is the likelihood of maintaining and even increasing the lead in the moral one-upmanship stakes. The West appears to be untroubled by what the world’s most famous Armenian, Kim Kardashian, has described as a potential genocide. US president Joe Biden was seemingly unmoved by the celebrity’s considerable diplomatic attributes when she recently called on him “to take a stand immediately” against the Azeri government. That the famed gluteal orbs had little or no effect on the president may or may not add to mounting speculation regarding infirmity. But that is neither here nor there.

Going in with Kim would do wonders for the government’s social media profile. Clips of the international relations minister, Naledi Pandor, posing with Kardashian would be all over Instagram. The TikTok of the Town, if I may. Billions would gawp in awe at the blancmange of smug rectitude basking in the warm glow of the Kim chi. And should he ever come in contact with its force, it’s quite possible justice minister Ronald Lamola’s voice may finally break. 

What’s more, Kardashian reportedly has quite a bit of bob and may even donate a sizable chunk of it to those who suck up to do her bidding. So, what’s not to like?