Umshinis could kill our democracy

In February, a University of Limpopo student was beaten up and killed by three senior Sasco members for refusing to sing a “struggle” song.

In need of a lift back to their campus, the Sasco members boarded a Student Christian Organisation-only minibus after a protest march in Pretoria. They aggressively ordered the students to stop singing Christian songs and sing “struggle” songs instead. When Nkosinathi Mhlongo refused to sing the protest songs, he was beaten up by the Sasco members before being thrown out of the back window of the vehicle.

In the light of this brutal murder — which went virtually unreported both locally and abroad — it is outrageous that Sasco is calling on students to “take up arms” to fight racism.

While the scourge of racism must indeed be dealt with, Sasco secretary general Magasela Mzobe’s militant choice of words is dangerous and inflammatory — and could be seen by hot-headed students as encouragement to resort to violence to resolve issues on campus.

After our toothless Human Rights Commission’s shameful backtracking over Julius Malema’s “kill” comments, it is unlikely that Mzobe will be getting a slap on the wrist for his provocative exhortations. What a tragedy that this chapter 9 institution, successfully neutered by Thabo Mbeki, is failing utterly in its mandate to protect the rights of South Africans and to hold to account those who seek to assault our democracy and constitutional processes with their vitriolic rhetoric.

With the post-Polokwane body politic being spectacularly bereft of maturity, the HRC is needed more than ever. The recent explosion of xenophobic violence is a reminder to us that using words such as “arms”, “kill” and “eliminate” could have potentially grievous consequences if taken seriously. If leaders who use these provocative calls to action mean them literally, then they are betraying their desire for the annihilation of our democracy and Constitution. If they only mean them figuratively — as some have claimed — they are being grossly irresponsible.

Jacob Zuma and Gwede Mantashe’s refusal to reign in the likes of Malema indicates that they consider populist grandstanding to be far more important than preventing the incitement of violence. But then I suppose that’s hardly surprising when the former’s anthem is Bring Me My Machine Gun.

South Africa does not belong to Sasco or Cosatu or the ANC (and its approximately 600 000 members). It belongs to all its citizens — all 48-million-odd of them. As the shadow of Zuma-endorsed intolerance darkens our political landscape, it is important for all those who employ militant rhetoric to further their designs on power to remember this.

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