In Kathu in the Northern Cape on Tuesday last week, residents suffering from poverty, despondency  and the debilitating scourge of helpless dependency, lined up to tell a visiting parliamentary portfolio committee what the ‘upper classes’, the state, the capitalists, the municipality, or the mines should do to alleviate their plight.

Not many residents, it seemed, had read the Gas Amendment Bill, which was the real reason for this whole live-streamed exercise in gathering input and comment from the grassroots. Nor did those who knew something about it have much to say about it other than that ‘we support it’ or to note (rather perceptively) that it gives the minister much wider powers.

One or two residents at the microphone had suggestions as to what should be done to improve local lives.

The mine, it was said, should do something about the drugs and alcohol problems of Kathu’s children. (What exactly this something should be was not specified).

Vendors also needed to be protected from the scorching sun, and livestock prevented from wandering onto the road. (Presumably any municipal officials present took notes regarding this request).

The gas industry, if it was coming to Kathu, should belong to the people and be state-owned. (Sigh).

There should be jobs for ‘the people’.

Several speakers said despairingly: ‘We can’t go on like this’.  

After lunch the caravan of translators, digital assistants, drivers, secretaries, MPs and the Chairman moved on to its next hearing.

Unfortunately, as the ANC spirals into utter uselessness and until it is replaced with an entirely new government that will introduce the necessary reforms and change the trajectory of our economy, the people of Kathu, and most of the rest of the country, are just going to have to suck it up a bit longer.

In principle the portfolio committee’s mission was a noble one; asking for input from local people who may be affected by proposed laws, in the most far-flung, unprepossessing parts of the country.

It’s also a demonstration that although parliament may have failed miserably to prevent its own House of Assembly from burning down, it does still have some working parts in 2022, even if they’re not all that productive.

Those who had a chance to vent at the microphone probably feel they’ve ‘been recognized’, or ‘heard’, as the pop psychology puts it. It’s a big thing these days to be what a resident described as ‘from the lower classes’ and to feel you’ve been heard by those in power, by the elite.

Demonstration of ‘caring’

The African National Congress itself (no one seemed to make much distinction between party, government, and state) probably also shored up a couple of votes with this demonstration of ‘caring’ carried out on the parliamentary purse.

I’d like to think that some of the ANC MPs ranged before the residents, fiddling with their iPads as the morning dragged on, did reflect a little on the state of the country and what they’ve done to the people they were meant to deliver from poverty over the past quarter century.

But I fear their minds may have been elsewhere.

Back in the rarefied world of the powerful and rich political elite, our Tourism Minister –also known as the Petulant Princess, Our Lady of the Perpetual Pink Gloves or (most cruelly and acerbically, courtesy of a twitter persona I know only as @Rayner) the ‘China Mall Diana Ross’ – was facing off, in juicy Real Housewives-style, with the President, Cyril Ramaphosa, cattle farmer, millionaire, vacillator.

Every aspect of this conflict, which began with an article criticising the judiciary and the Constitution published under Lindiwe Sisulu’s name, has been analysed, examined and commented on ad nauseum by the chattering class – which naturally includes me, as I guiltily add yet more verbiage to the topic.

Why, I ask myself, are we wasting time on this sideshow and others like it?

I can’t help thinking that the media, the commentariat, the opinionated, all of us, need to dial back on this obsession with the internal leadership battles of a party which is showing all the signs of being well past its sell-by date.    

Surely there are more important things we should be focusing on right now, given the state of the country, the desperation in places like Kathu?  

Political parties have their problems everywhere. Sooner or later someone in the inner circle, with a high regard for their own abilities, is going to go off message, or criticize the top dog or make a run for the top position. Ask the Democratic Alliance, ActionSA, the Patriotic Alliance, look at parties in the UK, the USA.

Who is gunning for the top ANC position (which is up for grabs at the end of the year) may be interesting and worth covering to some degree but, honestly, the party’s biggest problem right now is that it is falling apart.

Ours is that it is also mismanaging the country into chaos and destruction.    

If you weren’t sure about that when the Houses of Parliament burned, you must have realized it when you saw the pictures of the Komani town hall in the Eastern Cape burning, or heard the story of a collision between our two brand new commuter trains before they were even in service. How about the City Press revelation that a Soweto school is still not completed twenty years after building first began?  

A pleasing image

Douglas Gibson, in a recent column on the Sisulu affair, suggested we start thinking of Ms Sisulu and her colleagues on the opposition benches sometime in the future. A pleasing image and a long-overdue exercise.

But our thinking and discussion should go well beyond envisaging the simple reversal-of-roles scenario, however appealing it may be. Or – my blood runs cold with this one – a nightmare scenario in which the extortion syndicate known as the Economic Freedom Fighters props up its parental party.

We need urgently to think out of the box we’ve been in for over thirty years.

The prospect of the ANC going out of power ‘not with a bang but a whimper’ are slim.  Video images of raucous, and violent local government council meetings give us a preview. Anthea Jeffrey has detailed just how the ANC and EFF go about destabilizing councils currently, making their governing opponents in council unable to deliver to residents.  

For the past several years it’s that fear of a ‘bang’ exit or the inability of many to imagine a ‘new’ South Africa without the ANC in charge and handing out grants, which has helped keep them in place.

Post-Covid we don’t need a return to normalcy – certainly not the normal of the past fifteen years.  

Let’s expend energy on reimagining who and what will govern us after the ANC has gone from the Union Buildings and how best we can survive and mitigate the effects of the ANC death spiral. What will be the best way of dealing with the ruthless destabilizing tactics of this new beast, an ANC out of government? How are we going to filter out the growing number of opportunistic small fry who sell themselves to the highest bidder and make shifting sands of our current coalitions. (I’ve got some suggestions but they’re not particularly humane).

The creative reimagining, smart strategising and constructive debate necessary to give the people of Kathu, and all of us, better prospects in the future, are only possible if we’re all able, in our minds, to escape the smothering, stultifying ANC paradigm.

I propose we begin our ‘deprogramming’ by refusing in future to be lured so easily into interminable dissections of internal ANC battles.


The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend


Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.