Panyaza Lesufi’s utterances last weekend were not just politically foolish, but profoundly dangerous. (Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
Panyaza Lesufi’s utterances last weekend were not just politically foolish, but profoundly dangerous.
The Gauteng premier told a South African National Civic Organisation meeting on Sunday that “the minister” — who most presumed to be Police Minister Bheki Cele — should enable the province’s crime prevention wardens “the power to get guns so they can protect our townships and chase away criminals …”
He also said that the minister’s “days are numbered” given that he would not recognise Lesufi’s wardens.
In a country where political killings are a scourge, Lesufi’s comments are a perilous, ill-considered populist attempt. It should chill us that he feels emboldened to make a statement-cum-demand that his wardens be armed.
The premier would have us believe that his radical methods are the only way to eradicate crime in the violent province: giving guns to a unit that is widely seen as his de facto private military.
Multiple media reports have indicated that the 6 000 crime prevention wardens, known to the public as “amaPanyaza”, were set up outside of the confines of proper due process.
It is all too easy to speculate that amaPanyaza was always intended to be a weapon in Lesufi’s election agenda — a potential boost to his popularity, his place in the governing party, and his support base.
Relentless politicking is largely responsible for South Africa’s excessive crime levels in the first place; ideologically based policies buttressed by political deployments. Last weekend’s utterances — and their fallout — are in keeping with the gamification of the governance of a country.
For all his bravado, Lesufi was too timid to name his target in his rant. Even his apology would go to the indeterminate “government minister”. Justice Minister Ronald Lamola and Cele’s departments, meanwhile, pointed a subtle finger at each other, passing on the respective responsibility for procuring the guns in question.
And fatigued observers will note a perverse irony in Lesufi selecting Cele as the presumed vessel of his frustration. The police minister has perpetually centred his own rhetoric around an old-school strongman attitude — epitomised by the “shoot-to-kill” moniker that has hung over him for more than a decade.
Now, just as it was then, draconian talk is as clear indication as there is of a lack of good, implementable ideas.
For all that South Africa has been through in recent years, the set of rights that our Constitution espouses remain a model to the rest of the world. We cannot entertain public figures that call for them to be disregarded in favour of state-sanctioned force. Let us never forget that violence begets violence.