Tag Archives: democracy

Ideas must trump race for democracy to survive

DA leader Helen Zille neatly sums up the underlying challenge to the sustainability of South Africa’s democracy in “SA Today”, her weekly newsletter:

Breaking the racial logjam is essential for democracy in South Africa to survive. If elections are always a racial census, one party will always be in power. This has been the root cause of the ‘failed state’ phenomenon on our continent. Knowing they won’t ever be voted out of office is what leads politicians to abuse power and to steal people’s money in an ever-worsening spiral of corruption. They have the freedom to loot with freedom from accountability.

The greatest political challenge we have in South Africa is to ensure that voters’ choices are not based on race, but on alternative policy choices for the future. A shift closer to this ideal is in everyone’s interest, because unless we achieve it, the chances are great that we will also end up as a failed state.

Read the rest of Zille’s piece here.


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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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Mugabe’s friends: China, Russia (and SA)

“Smart” sanctions targeting Mugabe and 13 of his fascist associates have been vetoed by China and Russia in the Security Council. True to its pro-Zanu inclinations, the South African government also voted against the measure (as did Vietnam and Libya — no surprises there).

Click here to read the Telegraph’s report and here for the BBC’s.


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I am a counter-revolutionary too, Mr Mantashe

Dear Gwede

You seem to have a habit of attacking anything that poses a threat to your lord-and-master’s accession to power. First it was the Scorpions; now the judiciary. Of course I can’t really blame you — a lot is riding on the gravy train that departed from Polokwane last December, and I dare say you’re dead-scared that if it derailed, then so would your chances to stuff your pockets at the buffet in the dining car.

Forgive the train metaphors. I’m a man of the people, you see — I use Metrorail. Perhaps when you’re next in Cape Town you can forgo the limo for once and come with me to see how the other 99% get to work. Not that they all use trains, of course (which is just as well — it’s quite a squeeze as it is). Oh, and be warned: there’s no buffet — or dining carriage, for that matter.

But I’m getting off the track. Sincere apologies. Grovelling open letters from frightened whiteys trying to fawn favour with the post-Polokwane bigwigs are meant to be short, punchy and polite.

So. We were talking about those scurrilous, counter-revolutionary forces, weren’t we? I am fearful that you underestimate the size and determination of this gutter dirt. Rumour has it that counter-revolutionaries come in all shapes and sizes: they cross ideological boundaries, are male and female, black and white (and sometimes even Chinese … sorry, I mean “coloured”). They are rich and poor — and somewhere in between. They are old, young, employed, unemployed, literate, illiterate (some are MPs, you see).

To help you identify them, I’ve compiled a description of the archetypal counter-revolutionary. Perhaps once you’ve rounded them all up you can get Malema to sort them out — figuratively and “in context”, of course. And failing that, I know dear old Vavi’s always game for a bit of umshini practice.

But, without further delay, here is what a counter-revolutionary is:

  • We believe in democracy.
  • We believe that our Constitution is of greater importance than any political movement — even if that movement happens to have liberation cred (after all, so does Zanu-PF and look at how fascist they are).
  • We believe that no politician is infallible, and that democratic accountability’s checks and balances need to apply to all those in power.
  • We believe in the independence of the judiciary and that judicial processes should occur without political interference.
  • We believe in genuine, sustainable socioeconomic transformation that will uplift the previously oppressed. The self-enrichment of a money-grubbing few (whether they be aligned to Mbeki or Zuma is irrelevant) does not pass muster.
  • We believe in the importance of a robust political opposition — from both right and left.

Oops. Did I just say “we”? I’ve rather let the cat out of the bag, haven’t I? You see, my dear Gwede, I — like millions of other South Africans — am a counter-revolutionary.

Bring it on.

Your humble servant,

Alex Matthews

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The Zanu-PF Fan Club (also known as the ANC)

Robert Mugabe is one lucky dictator, being in the enviable position of having outsourced his foreign diplomacy efforts to the South African government. By preventing a discussion in the United Nations Security Council on Zimbabwe’s political situation, South Africa is doing its utmost to ensure that the international community does nothing about the tyrannous regime’s evermore-brutal attempts to cling to power.

In post-election Zimbabwe, Mugabe has launched Operation Mavoterapapi [Where Did You Vote] which involves the systematic persecution of MDC supporters. Torture camps are being used, and roving gangs of Zanu PF youth militia round up suspects, beating them, and in some cases murdering them.

This is well documented, and clearly should be dealt with by the Security Council as a matter of urgency. The reason South Africa has blocked discussion about Zimbabwe is ostensibly because it believes that Zimbabwe’s implosion does not pose a threat to international peace and security — the requirement for something to be discussed in the Security Council. But this does not make sense. Firstly what is of greater importance: the lives and rights of millions, or UN protocol? Secondly, one could easily argue that Zimbabwe is indeed posing a threat to international peace and security: The flood of refugees (an estimated three million) into South Africa and the violent xenophobic backlash that has subsequently occurred is proof of this.

Thus the only plausible explanation behind blocking discussion of the crisis is that the South African government continues to be an unquestioning and unwavering supporter of Mugabe’s regime. Running contrary to the values enshrined in our constitution, its shameful behaviour at the UN means that it effectively condones the fascist subjugation of the Zimbabwean people and the assault on their fundamental human rights and democratic will.

In a betrayal of its guiding principles, the ANC has placed not only its commitment to democracy but also its credibility as a liberation movement in jeopardy. Since our ruling party is prepared to turn a blind eye to the flagrant oppression across the border, does this mean that when its political hegemony is effectively challenged, that it will resort to the same vicious measures to stay in power?


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Is there a Winkie in the House?

Parliament’s unparallelled ability to generate hot air does lend itself to becoming a geothermal power plant and could solve South Africa’s electricity shortage instantly. But, failing that, it also has the potential to play a relevant, stimulating part of South Africa’s democracy.

Ndumiso Ngcobo’s recent call for some “politainment” is a timely one. It’s about time South Africans got more involved in our “democracy”. And that’s only going to happen if we are exposed to the machinations, the cogs and cock-ups, of our legislative process.

Let’s boost the ratings of Parliament Live — let’s lure the masses away from 7de Laan and The Biggest Loser. Firstly a name change for the parliamentary programme is called for. Politics Survivor? Lost in Translation? Big Brother National Assembly? You decide.

Thankfully, Parliament has attracted just the right people to achieve this lofty aim. Holding court from the Speaker’s chair, Baleka Mbete does sterling work in ensuring that Parliament remains a ruling-party rubberstamp “until Jesus comes” (as Zuma says). Indeed, when she’s not giving Yengeni a piggyback into Pollsmoor or letting gravy-plane fraudsters off the hook, the chiffon-swaddled Caramello Bear is creating an atmosphere where the House’s torpid proceedings are becoming a tad more enlivened.

One such example is Winkie Direko’s throat-slitting gesture at DA MPs a few months ago. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to get on to page six of the Argus/Star/Citizen’s late edition. Winkie’s pinky — the finger that spilt 10 000 teacups.

Personally, I think the honourable member’s attention-seeking stunt was a little bit first-base. For heaven’s sake! Why doesn’t she liven things up a bit by driving denizens of the Constantia-gevaar into the chilly depths of Cape Town harbour? Throw a panga and some struggle songs into the mix and you’ll have the nation glued to their screens.

But then, of course, I dare say that certain of Direko’s compatriots that could do with a good dunking in 10-degree Atlantic water — as that’s almost guaranteed to wake them from their semi-literate stupor. That will soon put an end to the snoring and/or self-absorbed nose-picking (even if the latter happens to be the sum total of mining experience for most of the members of the mineral affairs portfolio committee).

And for those who don’t bubble back up to the surface, well, the Zuma camp has its Mbeki-loyalist parliamentary purge solved in one foul swoop — and the electoral list for the upcoming 2009 landslide can be realigned effortlessly.

It is only a matter of time before the president’s question time is ditched (a long overdue measure — it’s not like he was ever in the country to answer them) and replaced with Msholozi’s shower hour. That will be the day when Parliament is worth watching. Even if it’s only to see the size of his umshini.

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A party by any other name …

A tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the DA was in desperate need of a branding overhaul was met with a broad spectrum of responses — from “DA who?” to indignant rebuttals from DA activists.

The reality of the situation is that that the official opposition is severely stigmatised. Negative emotions towards the party — from mistrust to hatred — is entrenched. There is the widespread perception that it is a minority party with minority interests. Many genuinely believe that it is a bunch of racist white reactionaries hankering after a privileged past.

There are two reasons (in my view) why these unfair misconceptions persist.

1. The ANC’s vilification
The ANC, that paranoid party which tried to topple Cape Town’s DA-led government almost a dozen times (and couldn’t), has led a sustained demonisation of liberalism. There are those in the ANC who believe in the movement’s perpetual right to rule.

If one reads the back issues ANC Today, it is only too clear that the party believes that to be held accountable by an opposition party is a threat that needs the harshest censure. To be blunt: the ANC will do what it takes to remain in power until — as Zuma says – “Jesus comes”.

2. A hostile media
Yes, it is a rather sweeping statement, but most of the media is openly hostile to the DA. The press goes to great lengths to portray the Democratic Alliance as unequivocally antigovernment and anti-ANC just for the sake of being the official opposition. The constructive role the party often plays in the legislative process (such as in ensuring the promulgation of the Civil Union Bill met its deadline) is invariably underreported.

Independent Newspapers leads the pack. But then with ANC acolytes jetted to Tony O’ Reilly’s (Independent’s Irish Lord and master) castle for fireside chats that’s hardly surprising. Slagging Zille and her party has a clear motive — to earn kudos from the ANC and ensure the survival of their rash of news outlets. One can’t do without those “Happy Hanukkah!” adverts from the premier’s office on page three, after all.

That the SABC is an ANC mouthpiece doesn’t help matters either. There have been documented accounts of bias, especially in the propaganda machine’s Cape newsroom where reporters have been actively pressured to report on DA and the coalition running the City of Cape Town in a negative light.

The poisonous fruits of Bantu education and a post-apartheid education system which is little better (and in some cases tragically worse) have meant that we have a populace largely ill-equipped to make empowered decisions about their political future. The enslavement of ignorance that apartheid did its best to achieve has not been dismantled by the current government.

Awareness of our constitution and of our democratic processes remains painfully low. And our democracy is paying the price for that. There is rising anger — and enormous dissatisfaction — with government’s performance. For many of the poor, trust and optimism placed in empty election manifesto promises has unravelled to disillusion and bitterness. Yet the ANC still wins enormous majorities at each election. Why? Partly because of the movement’s romantic associations with the struggle, but mainly because masses of people believe there is no alternative. They believe there is no other political party that can represent them and fulfil their dreams of true liberation.

Anger is therefore vented not at the ballot box but on the street — in violent protests and the murder of ANC councillors. This needs to be changed.

To stave off extinction and irrelevancy, the DA needs to reach out to the impoverished, capturing hearts and minds and positioning themselves as a viable alternative to the ANC. It needs to destigmatise its brand and become a visible, vibrant political entity in the townships and rural heartlands.

It is not going to be easy for the DA to counteract the negative perceptions held about it. Strategies far more complex than the ones I half-jokingly suggested last week should be developed as a matter of urgency — especially with the 2009 election looming.

Of course, the first step in the right direction is to accept that such perceptions exist.

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