Sledgehammer politics
By fstimes On 9 Aug, 2013 At 11:31 AM | Categorized As Columns, Leader | With 0 Comments

dr mwanikiMY readers will recall that in 2012 I spent substantial time on a research sabbatical in the United States.

From the opinion pieces that I penned during that time, my readers will also recall that my sojourn coincided with the high and silly season of American presidential and congressional elections.

And like all things American, it is a spectacle beyond compare in its oddities as well as insights into the paradox of constitutional democracy.

However, like all matters and things human, the American election season also serves to remind all and sundry that in a game in which human beings are the major, if not the only, protagonists, and the stakes happen to be unnecessarily high, occasionally human genius and magnanimity of spirit are replaced with a mean streak of human naiveté and destruction of political opponents — real, not so real and even imagined — at whatever cost and often by whatever means and machinations.

It is a spectacle often reminiscent of the so-called “games” of ancient civilisations of Greece and Rome where the victor to a contest was only determined by waiting out to see the protagonist who came out of the pit or cage alive.

When one however comes to realise, through arduous and painstaking research, that many a contemporary political and business contests are modelled around a healthy dose of myth and fact of the exploits of the gladiators of yore in the courts of ancient Greece and Rome, one also comes to realise that a sizeable percentage of contemporary political and business leaders and protagonists miss a key aspect of this savage chapter of the so-called developed people and world.

Historical material facts indicate that the protagonists in these brutal assaults to human conscience and civic sense were slaves or serfs of one form or another, who — often through choices not their own — took part in these slaughters either as a way of earning a modicum of honour and maybe eventual freedom, or as a way of finally being put out of a degraded human existence, at least in an “honourable” way.

But what are we supposed to make of a re-enactment of this savage brand of political and business chicanery when the main protagonists are men and women of assumed honour and supposed decorum vying to lead nations, regions and other politico-administrative formations as well as conglomerates and multinational corporations — some with year-on-year turnovers larger than some modest countries’ GDPs?

Of course in an era and space in which a win is a win — reminds me of the phrase “one day is one day” — the above could easily be dismissed as musings of an idle intellectual at best or gripes of a disgruntled journeyman condemned to spend a lifetime at the high altar of knowledge and the pews of scientific inquiry.

Either of these and be that as it may, observing our politics in recent times as well as the apparent lowly manifest greed in our private sector — remember the stench of the collusion among World Cup stadia contractors and the bread and milling corporations manipulation of the market a few moons back? — I am left with few options other than succumbing to the temptation to summon a term I came to learn while observing and following American presidential and congressional elections: sledgehammer politics.

And good folks, South Africa seems to have descended — shame and pity that many never saw this coming pre- and post-Polokwane — into full-blown sledgehammer politics.

Join me as I explore this most strange of terms in political parlance as well as relating how it manifests itself in our politics.

How it manifests itself in our private sector is a topic for another day.

Sledgehammer politics is a politics — granting that it qualifies as “a politics” in the most generous of definitions — that destroys everything at its wake, a politics that does not take prisoners as it were, a politics that does not consider greater societal good but often serves to pursue and protect narrow interests of a few players in the political game and a cabal of confidants deeply embedded in the state.

If you get the drift, this is the kind of politics that led to the recall of former president Thabo Mbeki at the tail-end of his second term on the grounds that have not only been discredited in a credible court of law, but which at the time of his recall were apparently tenuous.

It is the kind of politics that has rendered the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) virtually spineless and toothless in pursuing its legislative and constitutional mandate because its leadership is under perpetual manipulation and thrall of the executive wing of parliament.

It is the kind of politics that has seen very convenient “investigations” and “cases” being opened and pursued against perceived political opponents whereas political actors at the heart of the state are content to play the judicial system with what has clearly become apparent over time as an intention to delay their day in court and in effect defeat the ends of justice.

It is the kind of politics that has emboldened some political actors at the heart of the state to engage in an unprecedented plunder of public resources with impunity safe in the knowledge that there is no political actor courageous enough to challenge such a plunder because they very well know the fate that awaits them.

After all, with political corpses strewn all over, the consequences that await any a conscientious soul that seeks to challenge the covetous status quo established through sledgehammer politics are dire and apparent.

You can take my word to the bank however.

This state of affairs is not sustainable.

One cannot bank on ruling a country like South Africa on the basis of fear, manipulation of state institutions and skulduggery of political opponents.

Soon, something will have to give.


●Dr Munene Mwaniki is a senior lecturer/researcher at the University of the Free State. You can follow him on Twitter @munenemwaniki.


comment closed