The Financial Mail last week ran no less than three simultaneous attack pieces against the DA. The articles by Justice Malala, Chris Roper, and Paul Ash were apparently supposed to critique the party’s role during the lockdown crisis. While reasoned criticism is always necessary, the three gentlemen unfortunately could not let the opportunity slide to indulge in some good old-fashioned DA-bashing – the national sport of armchair critics everywhere who remain, for now, cosily insulated from the lockdown’s true effects.
Any honest assessment of the DA’s role during this crisis would obviously start with the most basic fact – which has gone almost entirely unacknowledged by the armchair commentariat – that the DA is the only political party that foresaw, and pushed back against, the collapse that would follow in the wake of an extended hard lockdown.
On 9 April, only two weeks after the lockdown started, the DA warned that extending the hard lockdown beyond the initial three-week deadline would “create an economic disaster.” The party was roundly lambasted in the media for sounding this timely warning when Malala was still tweeting “Amandla!” about the government’s conduct during the lockdown, and Roper was merrily mocking any criticism of the government’s ban on the sale of cooked food.
Of course, we now know that the DA was entirely correct to warn that the authoritarian instincts revealed by the hot food ban was merely the precursor to things like the subsequent ban on eCommerce, feeding the hungry, exercising during the day, or buying t-shirts and open-toed shoes, as well as the wave of murderous brutality meted out by security forces to innocent civilians like Collins Khosa.
Amandla? Not quite.
What has also become patently clear during the nearly six weeks that have passed since the hard lockdown was initially supposed to end, is that it has indeed precipitated a needless ANC-created “economic disaster.”
When the DA initially fought for a Smart Lockdown because the party feared that the government had no plan in place to quickly end the hard lockdown by rapidly ramping up testing and healthcare capacity, the warning was shouted down by commentators too busy doodling superhero cartoons of Cyril Ramaphosa.
When the DA warned that brutalising citizens will hasten rather than slow the spread of the virus, and that our incapable state has no ability to support the millions of livelihoods that would be devastated because of the brutal lockdown, commentators who happily continued to receive their salaries dismissed the thought, instead pondering the fate of Carole Baskin.
And more recently, when the DA launched a raft of court cases against the ANC lockdown crisis out of deep concern for the potentially irreparable damage being done both to civil liberties and to the very economic viability of our country, the likes of Roper dismissed it as part of supposed “petty politicking.”
While these three commentators may refuse to speak for them, the facts fortunately do speak for themselves. Just about two months into hard lockdown, we can now see on the horizon the first glimpses of the true cost that will come from childishly dismissing the DA’s warnings.
Between 3 and 7 million people will lose their jobs as a result of the extended hard lockdown, likely pushing South Africa’s unemployment rate above 50%. ANC apparatchiks are openly discussing their desire for the “National Command Council” to permanently run the country, while also permanently banning the sale of certain products – presumably to prolong the flow of billons into the illicit tobacco trade. And anyone who still thinks that the likes of Bheki Cele, Lindiwe Zulu and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma will easily surrender the total power they have now grown accustomed to, is downright delusional.
Meanwhile, it becomes clearer by the day that, unlike in almost all other countries that implemented some version of a lockdown, South Africa’s coronavirus caseload is rapidly increasing even after almost two months of hard lockdown. This pattern is consistent with the warning that the irrational, brutal and unworkable hard lockdown will only serve to undermine public trust and compliance, fuelling the spread of the virus.
This is the reality of what lies ahead as a result of the refusal to honestly engage with the substance of the DA’s warnings: a devastating socio-economic collapse, a continuous assault on civil liberties, and a spike in the number of coronavirus cases.
Just imagine how different things could have been if more people had joined the fight against the devastation of the lockdown crisis with the same vigour that the likes of Malala, Roper and Ash demonstrate during their obsessive and childish tirades against the DA.
But hey, at least they can all proudly tell their children one day that they hurled kindergarten insults at John Steenhuisen and Helen Zille while South Africa crumbled around them.
In fact, aside from ignoring even the most basic facts about the DA’s fight to save lives and livelihoods from the lockdown crisis, the second striking aspect of the FM’s tripartite attack on the DA is precisely that they all seemed so endlessly obsessed with the personalities of the DA’s leaders.
Rather than judging the DA’s contribution on the basis of the actions taken by the party under their leadership, including the early fight for a Smart Lockdown, the efforts to keep the public informed during the innovative Coronacast broadcasts, the various court actions, and the victory against the ban on feeding the hungry, all three authors revealed a rather peculiar personal obsession with Steenhuisen and Zille.
Ash’s piece, for example, is nothing but an insult-laced diatribe against Steenhuisen’s interview with the SABC’s Flo Letoaba, who outrageously suggested that the leader of the opposition in a constitutional democracy does not have a legitimate right to criticise the ANC lockdown crisis. Nothing demonstrates the arrogance of this particular armchair critic more than his dismissal of Steenhuisen’s criticism of the military curfew, the ban on eCommerce, and the irrational restriction of the exercise window to three hours per day with the word: “Sob.”
One wonders if Ash would be quite so arrogantly dismissive if it was his child who was assaulted by the military for breaking the curfew, if his business went under because of the eCommerce ban, or if his family got a criminal record for walking on the beach. He would do well to take a look at some of the horror stories shared under the Twitter hashtag #JohnSpeaksForMe, where over 30 000 people voiced their support for the DA’s fight to protect lives and livelihoods from the ANC lockdown crisis.
Not to be outdone however, Malala added to the FM’s facile-fest with an outright hit piece on Zille, topped off with a few oh-so-satisfying little jabs at Steenhuisen. The gist of Malala’s rant is that Zille came out of retirement “to oust” the former leader and run the party.
Here too, facts are sacrificed in the name of a juicy bit of DA-bashing. Even a cursory glance at her history would reveal that Zille worked tirelessly to help grow a coterie of young leaders within the party and, when the time came, duly stepped aside as party leader.
But alarmed by the damning findings of a review report commissioned by the former leader into the 2019 election, Zille exercised her democratic right to run for the position of federal council chair. It is an election that she won not because of some grand conspiracy, but because the members of the DA wanted the person who had run a united party, who had managed a seven-party coalition in Cape Town, and who had turned the Western Cape into the best-run administration in South Africa, to bring administrative stability to the party. If he were interested in the truth, Malala would also have realised that it is within this capacity that Zille now oversees the various legal actions against the lockdown crisis.
Finally, Roper indulged in the best of both worlds by throwing an outright tantrum about both Steenhuisen and Zille. Like a toddler who just discovered that he can reach all the way inside his own diaper, Roper flung every last bit of excrement he could get hold of at his blue bogeyman.
First, he breathlessly complains that Steenhuisen dared to conduct a frank interview on the Coronacast broadcast with medical practitioners who hold dissenting views on the hard lockdown. Then he falls flat on his face trying to poke fun at the fact that the DA’s website was overwhelmed by the sheer number of donations from members of the public who want to help fund legal action against the lockdown crisis. And when this doesn’t quite stick, Roper flings a handful of race-bait, saying that “the DA made sure that all five participants [on Coronacast] were white.”
From here, his meltdown becomes nearly impossible to follow, as Roper first concedes that the DA’s “court action is something we can probably all agree would be a good thing,” but then asks “why reduce it to roast chicken and t-shirts” – only a few short sentences after he himself reduced the court action to roast chicken and t-shirts. It all culminates with Roper becoming the latest in a long list of commentators to gleefully predict, on the basis of his own conjecture, that “the DA’s slide into irrelevance will continue.” Sob.
Among the many underlying truths revealed by the lockdown crisis is that many commentators steadfastly refuse to engage with the DA in a forthright way. This remains the case even when the basic facts bear out that the DA is the only party that has consistently fought to protect civil liberties and uphold the Constitution, and to protect lives and livelihoods from both the coronavirus and the lockdown crisis.
While Malala, Roper and Ash continue to hurl their childish wisecracks at the DA, we will continue to do our utmost best to ensure that, when this is all over, there will be a constitutional democracy and an economic future left for their children.