Ebrahim Moosa – Opinion | 21 February 2017
Just mention Jacob Zuma, and for many South Africans a reel of largely negative images begin to crystalize in the mind’s eye. 783 counts of corruption, the Nkandla cattle kraal and firepool, the insensitive giggle…It would be no exaggeration to suggest that Zuma’s litany of leadership woes has become part of South African folklore, something perhaps best encapsulated by cartoonist Zapiro’s artistic device of the showerhead.
Jonathan Shapiro first drew Zuma with the showerhead after the latter had testified in court during his 2006 rape trial that he had unprotected relations with a young woman whom he knew had HIV. To protect himself from contracting HIV himself, Zuma said, he had taken a shower quickly afterward.
The showerhead device has since evolved to become a widely understood metaphor, meant to highlight the many personal failings of Zuma and the idiosyncrasies of his rule. And despite a passage of many years since the incident which first gave rise to its usage, Zuma’s lack of accountability has meant that the bathroom fixture still remains firmly fixed to his cranium.
Given this scale of Zuma’s misdemeanours, the shenanigans of others on the South African political scene may seem to pale into insignificance. Nonetheless, the rules governing our scrutiny of all elected representatives are clear and sacrosanct and should apply consistently across the political spectrum. If Zuma is called out for his alleged nepotism, corruption and lies, other players should be hauled over the coals for similar misdemeanours, all the more so if these are the voices at the forefront of the charge against Zuma and purport to offer a sound alternative to his brand of governance.
Speaking on the eve of the recent State of the Nation address, Democratic Alliance(DA) leader Mmusi Maimane offered his own alternative vision for South Africa dubbed the ‘Rescue Plan’ aimed at South Africa’s “lost generation” of people with little education, and no employment prospects. Consistent with the idolised image that has been engineered for him, Maimane presented himself and party as the saviours of South Africa – the knights in shining armour.
In the wake of the chaos that then enveloped parliament at SONA, the opposition leader went on to allege that the current government was worse than that of PW Botha.
There lies a great irony in a man who recently had himself smugly photographed with the pariah leader of an apartheid state invoking another apartheid leader to characterise a democratic South Africa. The apartheid leader who Maimane cites was a staunch friend of Israel and the architect of the Pretoria-Tel Aviv alliance during the dark days of apartheid. Highlighting the shadowy history of this ‘special relationship’ takes on a special relevance especially at this moment when sponsored trips for South Africans to Israel appear to be in the vogue.
Israel was one of the most important allies in South Africa’s weapons procurement during the brutal years of PW Botha’s regime. Israel even offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, with top secret minutes of meetings from 1975 showing that Botha made the request for the munitions which was responded to by Israeli defence minister Shimon Peres who offered them in “three sizes”.
Harking back to the annals of apartheid to draw parallels, but exonerating and co-operating with the very entities that bolstered this inhumane system is wilful amnesia.
Just as Jacob Zuma bears the burden of the heavy metal protrusion from his head wherever he goes, I suggest Mmusi Maimane bear the weight of his bloodied Netanyahu handshake in all his public appearances.
The Netanyahu selfie is Maimane’s showerhead moment not simply because of the controversial character of Netanyahu and the repugnant reputation of the Israeli state. In communicating with the South African public about the visit, Maimane and his peers have also exhibited certain worrying traits that have all the hallmarks of a Zuma and his ANC cronies seeking to escape accountability for previous questionable misdemeanours.
Maimane has not been comprehensively engaged at length on his Israel junket since his return in January. However, the few public remarks he has made on the subject are telling.
In an interview with Thabiso Tema on the Power Drive, Maimane reiterated the DA contention that he had left South Africa with a firm resolve to meet with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. (The DA has published records of its attempts to arrange a meeting with acting PA leader Mahmud Abbas in an attempt to challenge claims that Maimane wilfully chose not to meet the Palestinian leader).
That meeting never materialised, allegedly because Abbas’ office cancelled the appointment at the eleventh hour. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that Maimane could not even name the Palestinian leader properly during his Power FM interview– the DA leader referred to him as Mohammed Abbas!
Maimane’s defence of the visit then also showcased naïve ignorance or outright lies – depending on how you read it. In his weekly online column Bokamoso, Maimane went on the record claiming that his delegation had visited Gaza.
“We visited the Palestinian Territories – both Gaza and the West Bank – to meet with other members of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and to gather first hand accounts and see for ourselves,” Maimane wrote.
However, during the Power FM interview, Maimane unmistakeably stated that his delegation did not visit Gaza.
“So, which is it? Did they go, or didn’t they go?” asked MRN researcher Suraya Dadoo, who first highlighted the glaring discrepancy.
Maimane’s subsequent justification for not going to Gaza only succeeded in opening up another can of worms.
“We can’t go to Gaza, because it will be impossible to engage Hamas in this discussion,” the leader of the official opposition told Tema.
“[They] don’t grant any visas to South Africans to get into Gaza, which is where Hamas is fundamentally based, and second, they hold a particularly different view about democracy”.
Now, if the Middle East trip was all about listening and learning, as Maimane had purported in a tweet, the above justifications smack of a very worthless educational exposure during the visit, and/or a gullible leader who fails to do his political homework and readily digests any sweet-seeming partisan manure fed to him.
Hamas is not the pre-eminent authority overseeing access to Gaza. Israel, as the occupying power holds this portfolio, fully controlling land access through various border crossings from its territories; reigning over the airspace of Gaza; and policing its sea. The only other gateway from Gaza to the world is via Egypt, which itself is run by an Israel-pliant autocracy that has been a willing conspirator in the suffocation of Gaza.
If Mmusi Maimane had engaged his constituency sufficiently, he would have found many South Africans who had visited Gaza in better times – in the not too distant past, and whom Hamas was more than eager to admit as civilian tourists into the coastal sliver.
That he then constructs an ‘apartheid wall’ around the notion of engaging with Hamas, because “they hold a particularly different view about democracy” reveals the extent of Maimane’s indoctrination – preaching as he did in Bokamoso that “to hear both sides of a story is not only a legal and moral principle” but a “practical necessity” – but then standing obstinately obtrusive in shunning Hamas, which, for all the propaganda against it, still stands as undisputed winner of the democratic Palestinian legislative elections of 2006, which the Carter Center, European Union and George W Bush administration, amongst others, all acknowledged to be free and fair.
(It was in fact Israel and her allies who actively connived to subvert this democratic outcome from day one, unleashing everything in their insurrectionary arsenals, from detention of lawmakers to sanctions and even covert military action to destabilise the new dispensation).
In contrast to Maimane’s counterfeit diplomacy, the true South African spirit of engagement is far better captured by the likes of the late veteran journalist Allister Sparks who consciously opted to meet in person with influential Hamas leaders during visits to the region.
“There can never be a settlement between Israelis and Palestinians until there is a direct negotiation with Hamas,” Sparks wrote in 2014.
“Yes, Hamas is a militant organisation but there are militants on the Israeli side, too, such as Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The fact is Hamas is a major factor in the region and it is not going to go away.
“The ANC was a militant organisation that took up arms against the National Party government, which, like Israel, labelled it a terrorist organisation and took the position that, “We don’t talk to terrorists”. Eventually they did and that was the only way we reached a peaceful settlement to our own long and bitter conflict.”
Likewise, former US President Jimmy Carter has insisted that no peace agreement can be achieved in the Middle East without involving Hamas.
“I don’t care if Hamas represents ten percent of the Palestinian people or 42 percent or 44 percent. It doesn’t matter to me. But to have them completely excluded even from conversations or consultations, I think, is counterproductive,” Carter said in 2008.
More shady tendencies
Another refrain from the Zionist hymn book parroted by Maimane in wake of his Middle East visit related to last year’s UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem.
“The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization(UNESCO) passed a resolution recently that Christians had no historical claim on one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites,” the Sowetan quoted Maimane as saying.
In reality, however, a reading of that resolution’s text reveals that the motion in fact made no official pronouncement on Jewish ties – or the lack thereof, to Masjid al Aqsa.
To the contrary, after recalling a series of international conventions and protocols relevant to Masjid al Aqsa, the resolution, at its outset, actually affirms the “importance of the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls for [all] the three monotheistic religions”.
Radio Islam previously reported on the doggedness of fellow members of Maimane’s visit delegation in refusing to divulge the funders and facilitators of the DA trip to Israel. Local Jewish media also reported on an outspoken Zionist advocate accompanying the delegation on the trip.
“It[the trip] was privately funded – that’s all I’m prepared to say,” Steenhuisen told Moulana Suleiman Rawat curtly during an interview on Radio Islam.
Such impudence on potential influence peddling from the DA leadership comes at a time when the party continues to lead the charge against the ANC for meddling in state institutions by the Gupta family and allegations of state capture.
The Democratic Alliance is indeed a pivotal player on the South African political scene, and its role as the official opposition is immensely healthy for democracy. However, with the evolution of our politics, and the party taking on greater roles in governance, scrutiny of the party and its public adventures is both inevitable and imperative.
It is untenable for the DA to tout itself as an alternative to the failings of the ANC whilst peddling lies, cosying up to pariahs, selectively invoking morality and being captured by lobby groups.
Mmusi Maimane’s trip to Israel, with all its variant justifications, is a glaring catalogue of all these offenses.
And since, weeks after the dust has settled, the opposition leader and his cohorts remain smugly unapologetic about the visit and its implications, I, as a practitioner from the fourth estate, deem it imperative to invoke the journalistic prerogative.
As Jeremy Scahill notes, we have a job to hold those in power accountable, to give voice to the voiceless.
Mmusi Maimane should and must go on making his contribution to our vibrant democracy. But as long as he remains unabashed about the inaptness of his Israel visit, the Netanyahu handshake will accompany him wherever he goes.
It will be his showerhead.