Welcome to the South African political game show, where rhetoric is made up, and the facts don’t matter. That’s right; for the ANC the truth is often like a suggestion box at Tiananmen Square: It doesn’t matter.
In December, the current Executive Mayor of Tshwane, Solly Msimanga, visited Taiwan – much to the criticism of the ANC and various national government officials. The ANC called the trip “reckless” and “out of line with national foreign policy”. Members of the ANC have called for Msimanga to lose his passport following this year-end visit.
Msimanga, in turn, said that the trip aimed to help encourage investment in the capital city by engaging constructively with Taiwanese officials. Msimanga stated that he hoped the potential investment will give a much-needed boost to job creation.
The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) issued the following statement with regards to the mayoral excursion:
“Representatives of any sphere of government must ensure that their engagements with international entities are aligned to existing mechanisms and programs and that such relations are coordinated in a manner that advances South Africa’s foreign policy and national interests.”
In addition, the ANC alleged that the trip not only undermined the authority of the national government but also contravened the Constitution.
This stance is a clear indication of a severe lack of constitutional savvy within the ANC’s structures. Chapter 3 of the Constitution, for instance, provides for the principle of cooperative government. All spheres of government are obliged to secure the well-being of the people of South Africa, to promote social and economic development, and to act within their conferred mandate. Seeking investment from a foreign city (e.g. Taipei) is clearly in line with the principles of section 41 of the Constitution. Furthermore, it bears mentioning that the two countries have formal and open ties through a liaison office in both capital cities.
This statement also sounds frighteningly similar the Apartheid government’s sentiments with regards to South Africans who visited countries that they did not fancy.
In addition, the ANC’s call for the revocation of Msimanga’s passport illustrates the ANC’s lack of comprehension of the mandate of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. It also shows the deep hypocrisy of the ANC government. In July 2014, the Minister of Trade and Industry (an ANC member), Rob Davies, visited Taiwan as part of an Outward Selling and Investment Mission. Davies, as part of the executive of the South African government, said that the visit aimed to foster ties between the countries and would, hopefully, lead to more investment in South Africa.
The logical gymnastics government needs to justify Davies’ trip while simultaneously condemning Msimanga’s promises to be quite the show. DIRCO, as an executive branch of the South African government, is bound by its own One China policy. An elected local government official, such as a ward councillor, is not. The Constitution unambiguously gives local government the right to govern on its own initiative. Our supreme law, furthermore, prevents that national and provincial government from impeding or compromising local government’s ability to perform its functions.
The ANC’s criticism has, once again, been revealed to be nothing more than empty rhetoric, sprinkled with a disregard for the factual content of our Constitution. The ANC habitually dithers when it comes to the Constitution – and this case is no different.
This pattern of inconsistent rhetoric has emerged in other places, as well. The same disregard for intellectual consistency was plain to see in the Nkandla saga, Nenegate, the ongoing troubles at the SABC, and with the ANC National Executive Council’s decision to retain a visibly morally and politically corrupt president. Until recently, the logical inconsistencies evident within the ANC have had little consequence. 2016’s local government election has, however, shaken things up within the party.
South Africa is slowly starting to enter a new political era – an era wherein it seems that what the ANC does, the statements they make, and the inconsistencies they display is starting to have a real effect on the votes they receive. For the ANC to stop treating significant issues as a political game show with a disregard for its effects, they may have to feel it the hard way. If their reaction to one ward councillor’s visit to a foreign city is this harsh, one worries how they will react once the viewers of their game show decide to switch channels.