Pandering to our deepest emotions

Saturday, 22 November 1997

Even boiling water puts out a fire -- old Indian proverb

WINNIE Madikizela-Mandela. It's not possible to mention the woman's name without evoking some sort of reaction. Almost everyone has an opinion about her. Not all of them negative.

I've never met the president's ex-wife. Neither have I met the president. Or the would-be president. So at very least, I can lay claim to the impartiality of lack of experience.

I did meet the late Dr Abu-Baker Asvat. He was someone I was glad to think of as a friend. Madikizela-Mandela has been implicated in the death of Dr Asvat.

One of the most damnably difficult things about being a commentator is trying to submerge my emotional reaction and be objective.

I desperately want to see someone pay for Abu's death. As fervently opposed to the death penalty as I am, I think I would find it difficult to restrain myself were someone to stand his murderers before me and place a loaded gun in my hand.

The death penalty has that powerful emotional response in most of us. We want to see someone pay for the crimes that have been committed in years gone by and that are being committed today.

Continue Reading Below

Madikizela-Mandela is aware of this. She panders to those deepest emotions that abide within all our hearts, and plays them with consummate ease.

She has done this for years. Her call not so long ago to liberate the country with boxes of matches and burning tyres played upon all those emotions. Hate, anger, revenge . . .

The party she claims allegiance to, the African National Congress, plays a different tune. The ANC has deliberately walked the path of strict adherence to a long-term political plan.

There is no place for populism here. The ANC swims against the current of mass hysteria on many counts.

The knee-jerk reaction of robbing the treasury for short-term political gain that has characterised so much of the rest of the world is absent. Instead, nearly all of the ANC's political efforts to date have centred on long-term deliverability.

This has been especially visible in the cases of health, education and law-enforcement.

And particularly on the subject of the death penalty, the ANC has stuck to its guns even though surveys show time and again that the majority are in favour of reinstatement.

All of this doesn't come easily.

For example, there are inherent contradictions between the ANC's commitment to the General Agreement on Trade and Tariffs of the World Trade Organisation on the one hand, and the Basic Conditions of Employment legislation on the other.

While the one opens our markets up to world competition, the other reduces our competitiveness. (Yes it does, Mr Mboweni.)

The ANC's solution to dealing with any such areas of dissent is to keep the discussion under wraps. Like the discussion on where parliament should be located; until the party is able to speak with one voice, all lips are sealed by decree.

But no party speaks with one voice. (Not even yours, Mr Leon.) In the case of the ANC, those who dissented have either been brought into line or expelled.

Except for Madikizela-Mandela, because she has managed to do that which goes against the grain of the ANC's essential philosophy ­ build a personal power base not subject to presidential decree.

It is a lesson that the ANC needs to learn. Democracy cannot extinguish the cult of personality. Nelson Mandela may claim to be at the service of his party, but he leads by force of personality -- an emotional response.

Thabo Mbeki may be smart, competent, astute, charming even; but can he inspire a football club?