#TshwaneUnrest. That’s the hashtag that South African twitter chose to bookmark the biggest, most sustained public violence in the 22 years since the advent of democracy.

Unrest? It seems that there’s nothing like a well-worn euphemism to make one feel snug and safe in suburbia, while in Pretoria’s townships rioters loot and burn.

Two dozen buses have been torched, to date three people have been shot dead, and barricades, rocks and burning tyres spewing toxic smoke have closed roads and freeways. Government departments, businesses and schools have shut to protect public servants, employees and children.

Yet we talk of unrest, a term that incidentally was also much used by the apartheid government to sugar coat what was a de facto uprising and civil war.

As for the nation’s supposed leader, the elusive President Jacob Zuma, well, Pretoria’s burning but he’s nowhere to be seen. Nor heard. Not a peep. Perhaps he is waiting upon the Gupta brothers for instructions on what to say.

Meanwhile his lugubrious deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, and ANC secretary-general Gwede Mantashe, share the task of keeping the nation reassured and being the lightning rods for anything that goes wrong. Thus far, they have not been doing a particularly good job at communicating.

Mantashe kicked off by flatly denying that the violence had anything to do with the sidelining of local mayoral candidates in Tshwane, to accommodate the deployment of Thoko Didiza. It was “thuggery”, said Mantashe and had “nothing to do with ANC members”.

This kind of arrogant proclamation of what the truth is, accompanied by an insistence that we, the people, should accept it even if patently contradicted by the evidence before our eyes, is increasingly the way the ANC operates. It is exactly the same arrogance that caused Luthuli House to think they could parachute in Didiza and that the displaced networks of patronage and corruption would meekly stand back.

Barely had Mantashe uttered his risible exculpation of ANC members, than State Security Minister David Mahlobo acknowledged‚ in an interview with Radio 702‚ that the protests were sparked by ANC members “who were not satisfied with the processes” of the party’s selection of Didiza.

Mantashe had to back-pedal fast. Without skipping a beat he then went public to say the ANC had the names and pictures of members of the party who had organised the violence. At the same time the Hawks said that they were investigating whether senior ANC members were implicated and asserted that arrests “will be made soon”.

But nothing has happened. So far there have been no arrests of any “senior ANC members”.

If their investigation is stuck, maybe the Hawks should just read the newspapers. The Pretoria News this week carried a detailed report on how within hours of Didiza’s deployment being announced, a senior ANC official set up in a local hotel a meeting of “ANC branch leaders, ward councillors and candidates”, to plot how “to render the city ungovernable” and “turn it into a battlefield”, if their preferred mayoral candidate was not approved by Luthuli House.

So why the reluctance to act against the plotters of public violence? A cynic might point out that there has always been a reluctance to act against the ANC leadership when it comes to accusations of wrongdoing.

Having ANC membership is like having a real-life version of the Cloak of Shadows from Warcraft, which instantly removes all harmful spells and cloaks the wearer in immunity. Ask Jacob Zuma. Ask Marius Fransman. Ask … well, it’s a long list.

Or is it that the ANC in Tshwane is so corrupt and fragmented that to act against popular leaders would spark even bigger riots? The police, poorly led and poorly trained, have struggled, as it is, to cope.

In any case, one doubts that the Hawks would have been so slow to act, had the plotters of this week’s chaos been members of the Economic Freedom Fighters. Or a bunch of whities from Freedom Front Plus.

As for Didiza, she must be wondering how she offended the ancestors to be handed this poisoned chalice, with the expectation that she will save the ANC from a drubbing in the August local government elections.

Poor woman. Helen of Troy had the face that reputedly launched a thousand ships. Didiza of Tshwane has the face that launched a riot.

Follow WSM on Twitter @TheJaundicedEye


  • This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day. Follow @TheJaundicedEye.


William Saunderson-Meyer

This Jaundiced Eye column appears in Weekend Argus, The Citizen, and Independent on Saturday. WSM is also a book reviewer for the Sunday Times and Business Day....

Leave a comment