SONA chaos: The DA needs to be very careful

Mike Berger says the official opposition's response to the disruption has undermined its moral and political standing

Funny! After the carefully staged theatrics of SONA night we watched the film adaptation of the Milan Kundera's iconic novel on the Czechoslovakian Spring "The Unbearable Lightness of Being". It's not a great film by any means, with Daniel Day-Lewis playing the chief protagonist, Tomas, who escapes the pain of the world through the joys of promiscuous sex with an enviable cast of willing and gorgeous girls.

Perhaps the best part of the film, however, is the depiction of the brutal, inept and corrupt Russian Communist rule under which a talented and creative people were reduced to grinding poverty and paranoia. But let us be quite clear about this: Kundera makes his view plain that, to some extent, the Russians were simply the other face of the irresponsible Czechs who were too caught up in their own narcissistic, self-indulgent games to ward off the threatening menace from across their border.

Watching the dangerous EFF in the staged buffoonery in Parliament heckling the equally buffoonish ANC Top Brass in the staged theatrics which preceded the embarrassingly irrelevant and predictable address by Zuma, it seemed that we were watching the South African version of Kundera's novel with politics, unfortunately, taking the place of sex as the opium of the masses.

South Africa is a country addicted to slogans, primitive identity politics and grandstanding. Thus the majority (at least till now) accept the political mafia running our country into the ground while it white-ants the institutions which shore up our new and precarious democracy. In exchange they indulge in anti-social behaviour on the personal and collective levels, enjoy the dubious pleasures of racism and bask in the politics of grievance with our history providing a bottomless sink of stories and myths to light the path to self-destruction.

By now the verdict of history is in. The countries which have succeeded in providing their citizens with stability, personal freedom and prosperity are procedurally and, to a significant extent, substantively democratic, have a largely free-market, entrepreneurial economy, have an educated and technologically minded population, provide sufficient "social welfare" to avoid debilitating poverty and pockets of alienated criminality, maintain crime and civil disobedience at relatively low levels and possess some sense of national identity (lasting longer than the latest world sporting tournament) based on genuinely shared values and a shared destiny. These reflect a broad liberal, entrepreneurial ethos coupled to ideas deriving from a social democratic ideology.

We are clearly a long way from there and the question is, "how do we get there"? An accumulating body of evidence suggests that economic success at least, rests upon a set of common cultural values, including, a broad level of social trust, a generalised morality extending beyond one's own ethnic group, a commitment to personal responsibility and autonomy and, finally, belief in thrift and the value of hard work.

Such cultural attitudes are created by historical processes. Along with many of the ideological underpinnings referred to in the previous paragraph, the basic prerequisites for a stable, democratic and prosperous South African society are conspicuously lacking in the wider population and are under threat in those segments in which it still exists.

The ANC alliance is wholly incapable of generating the cultural and ideological values required as a foundation for a successful South Africa. It is prey to a host of conflicting factions, insecure special interests and ethnic divisions and is also a victim of various leftist ideologies ranging expediently from Stalinist socialism to New Age progressivism.

These various fads and personal agendas are dressed up in the language of "rights", ethnic grievance and various ad hoc special causes - like the BDS Campaign for instance. Behind this smokescreen of self-serving blather, personal careers and agendas are advanced regardless of the public good. The epitome of this process is the Zuma camp which, is busy emasculating the institutions which underpin the democracy envisioned by our Constitution in order to protect the President and his cloud of cronies.

Broadly speaking there have been two potentially productive, socio-political responses to these hard realities. The one may be termed the self-help response in which individuals, Ngo's and corporations undertake a variety of social upliftment programs. Many of these are admirable and have made a real difference to the lives of the beneficiaries. But like all such initiatives their capacity for changing the South African trajectory is limited.

More promising has been the political response represented by the DA mainly. The DA is the only party which can be said to embody many of the cultural attitudes and ideologies which underpin success, as reflected in the performance of the Western Cape in most economic and social indices. This has been a remarkable achievement given the negative and destructive campaigning of its political adversaries and the persisting differences and inequalities within the Western Cape itself. Nationally, it has positioned itself as the most effective opposition to the ruling coalition, especially in the urban areas.

There are two main concerns regarding the on-going success of the DA. One is the media and cultural environment in which it operates. These elements have been pointed out already and range from ethnic identity politics to a broad array of historical, cultural and ideological attitudes which also serve as cover for personal agendas. This is a large topic but clearly creates an extremely difficult political terrain in which to operate.

The other factor comes from within the DA itself. There has been a recklessness and excess in its speech and behaviour of late which can bring a stop to its success. Maimane, and recently Zille herself, have been unduly political in their public utterances. To take the Parliamentary circus around SONA as one instance.

The clear intention of EFF was to promote chaos which they did successfully. The inevitable response of the ANC was to try to restore order to allow the President to make his dismal speech. If the Parliamentary orderlies were not up to the task of restoring order in a peaceable manner against a group of burly, belligerent EFF members then what other option did they have short of surrendering the occasion to the EFF tactics of disruption?

They could have declared the entire proceedings adjourned until further notice but that would have had the disadvantage of handing a success to the forces of anarchy and still would not of itself have addressed the need to clear the Parliamentary precinct of the disruptive elements. Thus, it appears to me that the ANC was compelled to use force in excess of that provided by the normal Parliamentary security branch.

By vehemently elevating that to the level of a Constitutional crisis (as distinct from the entirely legitimate objections to the signal jamming) without acknowledging the special circumstances in which the ANC found itself, has undermined the DA's moral and probably legal and political standing.

If the DA believes that the "criminality" of the present ANC government is of such a degree that it justifies anarchic and potentially violent Parliamentary tactics (which it claims it does not support), then it better have a clear idea of the end-game. The display of such impulses within the central political structures of South Africa can have unforeseen disastrous consequences.

The DA is (or should be) in for the long haul. Impatience will undermine its mission is to catalyse a change in the South African zeitgeist. Its preoccupation with the acquisition of power can stand in the way of its "missionary" role. This is a balance to which it needs to give very serious attention because if the voices of modernity, freedom and moderation are disqualified by their own misjudgements, the damage to South Africa will be incalculable.

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