Roly-poly politicians

Andrew Donaldson says falling over could prove calamitous for many of our MPs and youth leaders

WE don’t often hear much from Patricia Cheu, the Gauteng ANC Women’s League chair. Not that we keep tab of such things, but the last time was perhaps in June 2012, when she was a member of the party’s gender commission and had a few things to say about polygamy.

Yes, she told reporters at a policy conference, the practice certainly did oppress women. 

“If you are a woman activist,” she added, “you will not agree with polygamy.”

But so what? It was all part of the “evolution of society”, she said. 

“The ANC, it is a broad organisation, it accepts all ideas, we can’t expel [polygamists] out of the ANC because they support certain issues. We need to accommodate people with diverse ideas.”

And with that treasured pearl she disappeared from the Mahogany Ridge radar for four years. 

How exciting then that Cheu has now once again captured our imagination, this time by explaining the hardships of life to a bunch of prostitutes.

Detailing the tribulations they faced, which included murder, rape and having their children taken away, the women had this week complained to MPs they were literally dying on the job and that the decriminalisation of sex work was way overdue. 

Some of them had wept as they told their stories. But the tears didn’t wash with Cheu. Think they had it bad? Women MPs had it rough too, she said.

“Our working conditions are not good,” News24 quoted her as saying. “You come to work, you feel very ill, every time you [have a] blocked [nose] because of the air conditioner here. This was a male structure, this Parliament.”

Brain-freeze? It doesn’t only happen with ice-cream. So extreme was the air conditioner’s alleged misogyny that Cheu had reportedly wrapped herself in a blanket to keep warm. 

But the oppression didn’t end there. Women had to contend with the parliamentary precinct’s cobblestones as well.

“You walk on the pavement,” Cheu continued, “your shoe goes off every day in that pavement, and we have been complaining about it since 1994 when we came here. So it’s not just you. We are still talking about [our hardship], even today.”

A broken shoe, it must be said, is no laughing matter, and a sudden snapped heel could easily result in an unfortunate tumble. 

Such falls are potentially calamitous. Many of our heavier politicians are like tortoises; should they land on their backs they’d be unable to right themselves and get back on their feet. They’d lie there helpless, vulnerable bits exposed, and wave about their stubby arms and legs in a pathetic manner until the emergency services arrived.

It should, in all fairness, be stressed that men are just as susceptible as women when it comes to falling over. And we’re thinking here specifically of Collen Maine, the middle-aged president of the ANC Youth League. 

Ridge regulars will tell you that Maine — “Comrade Oros” to his many friends — is so wary of collapse that he seldom stands up these days, let alone walks anywhere. Just look at the photographs, they say; he’s always seated.

That may well be, but it is nevertheless a position from which Maine believes he is still able to throw about his considerable weight. 

Hence his call for an early conference where the national executive committee must account for the party’s poor showing at the polls. What’s more, the party should, if necessary, nominate and elect some fresh blood to lead the way forward.

As he put it, “The early conference must not be contested and there is a need to introduce young leaders to the officials and the overall leadership contingent of the ANC.”

Which makes no sense. How would this leadership emerge without contest?

Naturally, Jacob Zuma would be spared the trials of such an ordeal. The youth league believes it “opportunistic” and lacking “honesty” to blame him for anything. As it is, that was pretty much the NEC’s position when it met last weekend to assess the election results: don’t mention that Zelephant — ever. 

Little wonder then that the President appears to be be the only senior ANC member completely unfazed by what transpired on August 3. Call him Cleopatra, the old gag goes, the Queen of Denial.

The rest of the party, though, are not taking it all that well. Despite the chipper talk about now getting used to being the opposition in the bigger metros, there are lots of long sullen faces about the place. 

You can see them, in the background, behind the big beaming grins of those new mayors.

And all those reported sightings of Jesus? That joke’s getting a little tired now. But . . .  it’s still funny how these things return to bite one in the backside.

A version of this article first appeared in the Weekend Argus.