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
30 June 2008

On freedom of expression and criticising leaders

The ANC youngsters are at it again I see (on the Internet from London), chanting that they would shoot to kill for Zuma. And once again Mr Jacob Zuma did not reprimand the youngsters for chanting this kind of rubbish, instead focusing on the bad behavioiur of the Youth league that was not done in support of his unjust cause.

Some would say that this kind of slogan should be banned because it comes close to incitement to violence – which is explicitly excluded from constitutional protection in section 16(2)(b) of the Constitution. Today the Youth League might be chanting slogans that they are prepared to shoot to kill for Zuma, but what happens next year when Zuma is convicted and sentenced to 15 years in prison. By then the mobs would have been instigated to go out and to kill those they feel are responsible. Judges? Academics? Mbeki supporters? Vusi Pikoli?

This is chilling stuff. And I am not saying that because I am somehow a racist who fear black people and hear the Mau-Mau coming. It is chilling because the people that will be killed will mostly be black – just like with the xenophobic violence. It is chilling because it demeans us all in South Africa if we allow the few to talk like this (if we believe in ubuntu, of course).

That is why I, for one, am deeply troubled by such slogans and by Zuma’s criminal silence about them. If he was a real leader – someone with principles who also told his supporters what they did not want to hear – he would have reprimanded them at the conference and would have ordered them never to shout such slogans again.

But sadly I find myself more and more seeing Mr Zuma as an intellectually weak but ruthless and selfish man who would do anything that he perceives to be in his own interest, anything to get his hands on the levers of power. Let’s face it, anyone who could have managed to outwit and out stare Thabo Mbeki must be a bit of a troubling egotist and megalomaniac.

And by allowing such slogans to be bandied about he creates the atmosphere of “them” against “us”, an atmosphere in which anyone who criticises Herr Furer… er, I mean The Leader… becomes “the enemy”.

This is the antithesis of what is healthy for a budding democracy. In a real democracy there should be opponents but not enemies. In a real democracy we should be able to listen to each other and debate  each other rationally – not demonise one another. In a real democracy a man who took more than R1 million from a convicted fraudster and then did favours for him would have to answer to the public and would have had to explain how it is that he was either so stupid or so corrupt that he allowed this to happen.

I suspect the youngsters of the Youth League know this somewhere in their hearts and they know that Zuma has very, very awkward questions to answer about his friendship with Shaik. That is why they are making so much noise, like scared children walking through the cemetry at night they have to chant and scream and behave like hooligans so that they would not have to face their real demons and their fears of the ghost of corruption.

The ANc leadership knows this too and many of them will be quietly appalled by the utterances of the young ANC Youth League hooligans and Zuma’s silence. The question is why they do not speak out? Because perhaps in a real democracy merely banning this kind of dangerous speech – although legitimate – would not suffice. What is needed is counter speech.

But it has little effect if a mere academic like myself or – even worse – a person like Helen Zille criticises the Youth League. What is required is for voices WITHIN the ANC to go up and for people within the ANC to stand up against the Youth League thugs.

Tyranny sneaks up on us when good people remain silent because they do not want to criticise their own side. In Germany many Germans failed to stand up to Hitler and remained quiet and look what happened there. I am not equating Nazism with the few slogans uttered by the Youth League. The former is not comparable with the latter in any way. I am merely pointing out that if we cherish democracy we need to sometimes do the difficult thing by speaking out against those who do not cherish democracy in the same way or to the same degree – even when they are our brothers and sisters.

That is why I think one of the most patriotic things any South African can do is to criticise their leaders – including the ethically challenged Mr Zuma. That is why those who beleive in the struggle has a duty to speak up for the values of the struggle and should speak out against those – like the Youth League and Zuma – who defile the values which is the basis of the founding myth of our democracy: human dignity, equality, freedom.

But Mr Zuma and his supporters act as if they and they alone have a right to dignity and freedom while the rest of us must shut up or ship out. If we let them get away with it, I am not so sure our democracy will survive in a form that I would be able to be proud of. South Africa would also become an even more dangerous place to live and work.

SHARE:     
BACK TO TOP
2015 Constitutionally Speaking | website created by Idea in a Forest