Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
10 November 2008

Hating Zuma? No, I just think he is our own Sarah Palin

Sarah Palin, the Republican Vice Presidential candidate in the recent US election, is reported not to have known that Africa is not a country but a continent when she was being prepped by her advisors after her selection as a candidate for the second highest job in that country. The governor from Alaska is wildly popular with some right wing Americans, but the more the American people saw of her, the more they realised that she was really just an idiot who should be kept very far away from the White House.

I feel the same way about Jacob Zuma.

So I was not surprised this morning when the Cape Times reported that “ANC president Jacob Zuma has repeated that children who drop out of school should be educated by force, young girls who fell pregnant should be separated from their babies until they were educated, and that the law be changed so that criminals were denied bail”. The report quotes Zuma as saying:

We must go back to teaching. Go (tell everyone) it is going to be compulsory. We are going to make sure that no child is going to loiter around during school time. They are the citizens of tomorrow.

You don’t build a nation by talking, you build a nation by educating. If a child does not go to school, he must be taught by force until he gets a degree. We return him to his parents as a person who has been developed.

Where to begin? Clearly someone should tell Mr Zuma that education is already compulsory. While they are at it, his handlers might want to arrange some lessons for Mr Zuma on the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Criminal Procedure Act and remind him that he should at least pretend to be consisistent when he talks about the rights of accused persons.

It is very worrying that Mr Zuma thinks that young woman who fall pregnant should be separated from their babies until they are educated. Whatever happened to their right to dignity, their right not to be discriminated against on the basis of sex, gender or marital status, their right to bodily integrity which includes their right to make choices about reproduction?

The fact that Mr Zuma says nothing about the young men who fathered these children is also deeply worrying. Surely, if one is going to address teenage pregnancy one must also address the fact that many young men do not seem to want to take responsibility for their actions and fail to support thei children that they have fathered? Do I detect more than a whiff of a sexists, patriarchal, attitude there? Will the strong women in the ANC stand up and repudiate these idiotic utterances of their leader? If not, why should we take them seriously ever again when they talk about the rights of women?

Just as troubling is the absurdly populist claptrap spouted by Mr Zuma about criminals having too many rights. The fact is, criminals in South Africa have very few rights (apart from the right to vote and the right to the basic minimum of protection while incarcerated). It is true that section 35 of the Constitution sets out in detail the rights of an accused person (which Mr Zuma himself has been in the past and might well be again in the future), but accused persons are not criminals.

As Mr Zuma and his supporters never tire of telling us, every accused has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. That is why most accused persons qualify for bail after their arrests and why they are given the right to legal representation. If we assumed that anyone arrested or charged with a crime was a criminal, then Mr Zuma himself would have already spent many months – even years – behind bars, despite never having been found guilty of any crime. Does this mean Mr Zuma thinks there should be one set of rules for people like him and another for accused persons who are mostly poor and black?

The so called “rights for criminals” are very important because they protect every single one of us – including Mr Zuma – from potential abuse by the criminal justice system. To say that criminals should not get bail is therefore an extremely dangerous and uninformed thing to say. In any case, bail legislation was tightened up several years ago to make it easier for courts to deny bail to some accused who are charged with serious crimes and might pose a danger to the community or be a flight risk.

Of course, it is a complete red-herring to talk about the rights of criminals when addressing the crime problem because, as we all know, the real problem with crime is not related to the rights afforded to accused persons but can be attributed to many other problems with our criminal justice system and our society.

Criminals commit crimes because they think (well, they know, really) that most of them will never be apprehended and will never be charged or convicted. This is because the police is understaffed and lacks basic skills and levels of professionalism. We also know that even an excellent police force will not bring an end to crime because crime is also the result of societal problems such as the huge gap between rich and poor, the breakdown in family life and in communities brought on by apartheid and a lack of respect for the law.

Mr Zuma’s utterances in this regard are therefore both dangerously disrespectful of the rights of all citizens and, well, idiotic. Like our own Sarah Palin, Mr Zuma seems to have a rather limited knowledge and understanding of the world and our society and keeps on embarrasing himself by pandering to the most incendiary, right wing attitudes of the public.

Stating this obvious fact does not mean that I hate Mr Zuma – as some of his supporters will be quick to argue – merely that I think his views and his behaviour should disqualify him from becoming our President. I do not even know Mr Zuma and, who knows, like Steve Hofmeyer and Leon Shuster I might find that Mr Zuma is a rather entertaining braaivleis guest.

But I do not want my country to be run by an entertaining braaivleis guest (that’s why I would also really, really not want Steve Hofmeyer or Leon Shuster or, god forbid, Sarah Palin, to run this country). It seems to me I am not alone in this, so as long as Jacob Zuma is the ANC Presidential candidate, opposition parties from COP to the DA will be smiling.

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