Quote of the week

Universal adult suffrage on a common voters roll is one of the foundational values of our entire constitutional order. The achievement of the franchise has historically been important both for the acquisition of the rights of full and effective citizenship by all South Africans regardless of race, and for the accomplishment of an all-embracing nationhood. The universality of the franchise is important not only for nationhood and democracy. The vote of each and every citizen is a badge of dignity and of personhood. Quite literally, it says that everybody counts. In a country of great disparities of wealth and power it declares that whoever we are, whether rich or poor, exalted or disgraced, we all belong to the same democratic South African nation; that our destinies are intertwined in a single interactive polity.

Justice Albie Sachs
August and Another v Electoral Commission and Others (CCT8/99) [1999] ZACC 3
14 August 2007

Finally he fires someone….

I have missed the drama of the firing of the Deputy Health Minister, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, because of a trip to Senegal, where (I imagine) the services provided at Frere Hospital (even before they shipped in more equipment to please the Minister) would have been regarded as quite good or even excellent.

It is therefore tempting to agree with Business Day editor, David Bruce, that the firing is not that a big a deal. If the Deputy Minister lived in Senegal she would have been hysterical all the time shouting “national emergency” every time she left her air-conditioned office or tried to eat the local food. Besides, article 93 of the Constitution allows the President to appoint and fire Deputy Ministers and if he thinks she was not a team player or that she made the Minister look too stupid and heartless, he would be well within his rights to fire her.

However, the firing must be seen in the light of the President’s infamous “bikini” ANC Today letter in which he claimed that the newspaper had lied about the conditions at Frere Hospital in order to hurt the ANC. As I wrote on this Blog, the letter revealed that our President lives in a bubble and is in deep denial about the problems faced by his government.

The firing therefore acts as a stark but scary reminder of why the President is so oblivious to the South African reality as lived and suffered by real people with flesh and blood who cry and bleed and die. In his letter firing Madlala-Routledge, the President said that the Constitution requires Ministers or Deputy Ministers to be team-players, but he seems to think this means that they must always toe the official line and must never be critical of the collective wisdom of the cabinet.

No wonder the President acts in ways that can appear cold and heartless and out of touch with real people and their problems. Obviously those around him are too scared and intimidated by him to tell him the unvarnished truth. I can well imagine that he would use the kind of obfuscating bullying tactics on full display in some of the weekly letters to shut up any advisers or ministers who do not reflect the “objective truth” as ordained by our President.

And now we know that those who are not intimidated, are the only one’s who run the risk of being fired. So if you are stupid or lazy (or both), you can keep your job as long as you never question the wisdom of the Chief – even when that wisdom has nothing to do what is actually happening and how people are really experiencing the world.

President Mbeki has many admirable attributes. He is intellectually gifted, often thoughtful, respectful of the Rule of Law and the Constitution, and a stickler for rules. But he seems to me to have a fatal flaw in that he has a messiah complex and thinks he alone knows what is happening and how to deal with things in the best way. Because he sees all facts as ideological, all facts can be re-interpreted from his ideological point of view. This means that those “facts” that do not fit his understanding of “objective reality” can easily be rejected as the inventions of those who are out to destroy the ANC.

This leads our President up blind alleys and into dead-ends.

Thus, President Mbeki decided that a “virus cannot cause a syndrome” and blasted anyone who disagreed with him (ask Tony Leon or Zackie Achmat), thus setting in motion a dynamic which have probably led to the avoidable HIV infection of hundreds of thousands of South Africans and the premature death of just as many who never got access to anti-retroviral drugs.

He fires the Deputy Minister for showing compassion and understanding of the health crisis faced by many ordinary South Africans, yet continues to support a Minister who by all accounts is a nasty, selfish and vindictive individual with a drinking problem. Is it just me who thinks that he will be judged quite harshly by history because of this – despite his many fantastic qualities which otherwise would have made him a hero for many of us.

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