Occasionally our correct and coded political dialogue is enlivened by a less experienced politician whose staff were out to lunch when their boss put pen to paper – or word in mouth, as the case may be.

One such instructive episode has been a piece by Minister of Safety and Security (Police) Nathi Mthethwa in which he attacks Helen Zille for, essentially, challenging the notion that Jacob Zuma is in any way the inheritor of the mantel of Nelson Mandela.

This article (astonishingly I think you will agree) is prominently and proudly carried  in the official ANC journal, ANC Today. You can catch the full text here.

Minister Mthethwa breathlessly and breathtakingly lacerates that “disgusting madam”, … “Helen Zille and her ilk sinking in the foul waters of self-aggrandisement”.

She is the “pitiless lone voice from the gutter” with her “disgusting, shallow and shameful short memory”  she is “obsessed and blinded by her hatred of the ANC” .

She has “unveiled yet again her infamous stripes” by “urinating on the progress being made” and  “(s)he continues to suffocate in her own choking fires of hatred and unrestrained banal rank opportunism” with her “barren infantile political posturing”.

Goodness!

You might well ask what the scary and threatening leader of the Democratic Alliance said that caused the Minister of Police to wax so lyrical.

Helen Zille in her weekly missive (SA Today) took up the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s birthday to make a few sharp points about the blurring  between party and state in celebrations around the old man’s 92nd birthday.

She ends her stern, school headmistress admonition with:

The great irony is that the more the ANC diverges from Nelson Mandela’s vision, the more the ANC seeks to own it … The ANC does not own Mandela. The ANC gave up its claim to Mandela’s legacy when it diverged from the values he cherished. Instead, Mandela’s legacy belongs to all those people in South Africa, from all backgrounds, who still value selflessness, integrity, non-racialism and freedom for all under the law.

This really must have hurt to have sent Minister Mthethwa into such babbling apoplexy.

The minister and his colleagues who allowed the article to be published with such proud prominence have failed to learn the most important thing about politics. Politics is always about winning the middle ground and isolating your most dangerous enemy from his/her potential friends.

The immense value of the symbol of  Nelson Mandela to the ANC is precisely that he is a lifetime leader of the ANC and is venerated across the political spectrum. The political task of the ANC must be to give leadership to “the nation” and to the middle-ground, to be accepted as the legitimate leader of the South African state. Part of achieving this goal surely must be – for the ANC – to welcome its political opponents to venerate Mandela?

It seems obvious to me that through this defensive bullying and bombast Mthethwa achieves the very opposite – and frankly must be making DA strategists wring their hands with glee.

But I am coming to think I expect too much from a political party that advertises the death of its strategic sense by placing this kind of ignorant diatribe by one of its leading members in its leading publication.

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