Politicians behaving badly: Reprimand, if not fire

In the old days they got away with assault; today cameras and Internet capture everything

In Summary

• Some old-school political shenanigans seem to have resisted the virtual realm

President Uhuru Kenyatta during a meeting with Senate and National Assembly leadership at State House
President Uhuru Kenyatta during a meeting with Senate and National Assembly leadership at State House
Image: PSCU

Intrigues involving assassination plots, whistleblowers, political high flyers and the race for a powerful party political post here in Cape Town, got me thinking of when top Kenyan politicians used to sort out their issues with rungus and fists.

As I may have explained in this column previously, the Western Cape is the only province in the country where the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) holds power. It also means that the ANC, which is the country’s ruling party, is merely the province’s main opposition party.

The DA has been choosing new leaders for its internal political structures from the top down, and Covid-19 pandemic regulations about crowds gathering and social distancing have meant that campaigns, lobbying and the election itself were all transferred online.

However, a few old-school political shenanigans seem to have resisted the virtual realm. 

Just over a month ago, the speaker of the legislature, who was running for the post of DA Provincial Leader, was approached by a man who told him his rival for the party post, a member of the Executive Council (MEC), had put a hit on him. The Executive Council is the provincial Cabinet and is headed by the Premier.

Now while political assassinations are a thing in KwaZulu-Natal province, here in the Western Cape, they are not.

In an affidavit to the DA’s investigator, he said that on September 18, he observed a meeting taking place in a Cape Town restaurant and overheard snippets of conversation, which led him to conclude that the MEC may have been planning to harm the speaker.

The speaker then reported the matter to the VIP Protection Unit, who initiated a further investigation. The MEC learnt about this allegation against him when Crime Intelligence reported their investigation to the Premier. 

However, the party’s internal investigation conducted their own investigation and concluded that the “plot” meeting referred to by the whistleblower could not have taken place as the restaurant at which he alleged the meeting took place, has been closed since the start of lockdown and remains closed.  

Furthermore, the MEC was participating in a virtual Cabinet meetings throughout this time in question on that day, and nowhere near the restaurant in question.

Both men got their knuckles rapped by the party, but the contest went ahead and the speaker lost his bid.

The two men, who were apparently once friends before their political rivalry got out of hand, have both promised to sue each other for defamation and have spoken about each other with venomous attitudes, but so far they have not resorted to actual fisticuffs.

This is unlike 1980s Kenya, where despite there being only one political party allowed, at one point two government assistant ministers, James Njiru and Nahashon Njuno, came to blows after another disagreement in a political feud that had been ongoing since both were Kanu youth wingers back in the 1960s.

At the end of the fight, Njiru, using his mastery of drama and the fact he was then an assistant minister for health, called a press conference, where he appeared bandaged like an Egyptian mummy and made out that Njuno had almost killed him.

Shortly afterwards, Njiru was spotted out and about without even a plaster in sight. He had healed miraculously.

A few years earlier, the-then long-serving Kanu secretary general Robert Matano and the party’s treasurer Justus ole Tipis had disagreed over party nominations during a press conference. An incensed Tipis grabbed his rungu, which was like the one President Moi used to carry around, and brought it down on Matano’s head. 

Today, Tipis might have been charged with assault. In those days, I doubt he was even reprimanded by the President, let alone apologetic or even ashamed by his actions. 

I can’t help thinking that if phones had cameras in those days as they do now, this incident would have lived forever on the Internet.

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