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
4 February 2007

Paranoid, imperious, undemocratic?

The response of Themba Maseko, spokesperson for President Thabo Mbeki, published in the Sunday Times to the near-launch of an anti-crime campaign by FNB neatly suggests a hubris and paranoia that is fast becoming associated with his Royal Aloofness and the sycophants around him.

The planned FNB campaign was addressed directly at President Mbeki, asking him to make crime the number one priority of his government.

I happen to think the proposed campaign was a stupid idea to start with. For one thing, there are other issues like poverty reduction and HIV/AIDS that should be just as high up on the government’s priority list as crime is.

But Mr Maseko’s response does not take issue merely with the wisdom of FNB’s campaign, rather it seems to suggest that the bank did not have the right to launch such a campaign because the President was really above that kind of criticism. He labelled the campaign as “incitement” against Mbeki.

“Positioning themselves as an opposition party is not appropriate … Trying to incite people to behave in a certain way towards the head of state cannot be condoned,” Maseko said.

What utter crap.

One can only hope that higher ups in the Presidency will whisper in his ear to avoid the repeat of such embarrasing and dangerous drivel. It is not only our democratic right but our duty as citizens and as members of civil society to try and stop the President from acting like a fool. Politics is far too important to leave to political parties only.

For Mr Maseko to suggest that by criticising the President and launching a campaign to try and influence his policies constitutes “incitement”, is to imply that FNB is disloyal, even treasonous.

This suggests that business have no right to criticise the President, that our Dear Leader is somehow above criticism and that pointing out his foibles is treasonous. Mr Maseko might have forgotten that in a democracy the President is our servant and not the other way around.

If he does not want to listen to us we can get rid of him and his party at the next election. In that sense, we all have a duty to incite against his Royal Aloofness if we think he is not doing his job properly. We would be bad and unpatriotic South Africans if we kept quiet in those circumstances.

Mr Maseko (and the Presidency at large), has a right to criticise those who campaign against the President on the substance of the issue of crime, but he is acting against the spirit of our democratic constitution by suggesting we have no right to criticise our leaders.

Surely this is not official policy?

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