G-SPOT

Politics of opportunism makes up for real issues

Planned reopening of the economy in South Africa is being milked by the opposition

In Summary

• The opposition in SA has been busy pretending it is forcing the President's hand

• In the words of the immortal Sir Humphrey Appleby, 'Politicians like to panic. They need activity. It's their substitute for achievement'

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 20, 2018
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 20, 2018
Image: REUTERS

After many years of observing politicians across the globe, I have a pretty good antennae for the politics of desperation.

For instance, here in SA in the run-up to the presidential announcement of the downgrading of the lockdown to Level 2, members of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) began issuing ultimatums.

Those who hadn’t been paying attention were meant to be fooled into thinking the opposition was being proactive with these demands, and many seemed to be taken in.

 
 

South Africans were treated to the spectacle of a well-choreographed DA campaign of growing panic, involving shouting at the president to open the economy.

Everyone in the party was on board, from the party’s leader, parliamentarians, members of provincial legislatures, even councillors. Of course the DA’s only provincial premier, here in the Western Cape, was left to deliver the final punch.

What none of the DA people bothered to say is that they were all fully aware that this was exactly what the President was going to do. For those paying close attention, all the signs were there. 

The pandemic seemed to have peaked in the worst-hit provinces and appeared to be plateauing and even possibly diminishing as a threat in some of them, meaning there was no real reason not to open up a bit more. 

Also, the economy has taken a battering and major trading partners such as the EU were beginning to grumble. Some would say this was the real motivation, and they might not be far wrong.

The DA bigwigs are also part of the cooperative governance machine that helps the President decide on such weighty matters, and so they have an inside track on the goings-on.

When the President announced the lifting of most restrictions on Saturday night, it was meant to appear to fans of the DA as though his hand had been forced by their favourite party.

 
 

I was amused at how many fell for this dog and pony show, at least on social media, but it just went to show how in the words of the immortal Sir Humphrey Appleby, “Politicians like to panic. They need activity. It's their substitute for achievement.”

Of course, once the President made his announcement, the leader of the DA put out a statement, saying it was all too little, too late. You can’t win, but that’s politics.

Meanwhile, many South Africans who smoke cigarettes were overjoyed to learn that they can now buy their regular brands again after having to either make do without their tobacco fix at all, or being forced to smoke bootleg brands since March.

It was interesting watching people from all walks of life on the streets of Cape Town smoking cigarettes throughout the ban and trying to figure out where they bought them from, seeing as it was illegal to buy them anywhere.

Even more interesting was to see how brand loyalties get dropped like hot bricks. People who would normally smoke high-cost and fashionable cigarette brands were reduced to smoking cheap and nasty brands they had never heard of for quadruple the price of their regular cancer sticks.

What I want to know now is whether bootleg cigarettes that appeared overnight will now come out of the shadows and compete with the old familiar brands? Will those who switched loyalties, out of necessity, go back to their former brands, or did they find love with their lockdown brands?

If someone would pay me to do it, I would love to carry out a proper study of this. But since nobody will, I guess I'll have to wait for the studies funded by the tobacco industry and those from the other side, to let me know the score.