Tag Archives: free speech

Cowardly big business is failing our democracy

Democracy is an ecosystem. Its survival is dependent on many things: a sound legislative framework, an independent judiciary, a vibrant parliament and a responsive government. Beyond this, it also needs a vigilant, proactive civil society, engaged voters and a free media: three elements that ensure government is held accountable for its actions, transparent about what it does and goaded into serving the best of interests of the people – not of those in power.

The Protection of Information bill is one of the gravest threats to this ecosystem. It will critically undermine the ability for parliament, the media and civil society to ensure accountability and transparency in government. The ANC claims this law is to protect state security but, as many before me have pointed out, its wide-ranging mandate means it can easily be used to cover up wrongdoing, severely punishing those who dare to expose it.

Earlier this week, Pick n Pay’s chairman, Gareth Ackerman, spoke out against the bill. He provided a calm and clear explanation of its potential to damage the economy and deter foreign investment. Financial information could be concealed, as could corruption – thereby severely stymieing the economic freedom needed to foster entrepreneurship and attract investors – both essential ingredients required to combat poverty and narrow the vast gulf between rich and poor.

While the dangers of the Info Bill seem self evident, it is startling that so far Ackerman is the only significant businessman who has criticised it. The silence from the rest of business is as deafening as it is inexcusable.

When the prosperity of our economy, our democracy and our country’s future is being put at risk, you would have thought there would have been a cacophony of outrage from businesses – it is in their interest that the bill does not become law, after all. But no. Two of our biggest and most important business groupings, Business Leadership South Africa and Business Unity South Africa have not said a word. Neither have our largest companies.

What can explain this gutless behaviour: is business hoping this is a battle that will be fought by others? Or that the ANC will suddenly override its totalitarian instincts and dump the legislation at the last minute?

Perhaps a more plausible explanation is that many businesses are simply too afraid to stand up to government because they are reliant upon political goodwill to operate freely. Many businesses unquestioningly and sycophantically signed up to Black Economic Empowerment. This was despite them knowing that BEE had little to with empowering blacks and everything to do with consolidating the ANC’s economic clout: a system designed to massively enrich a tiny yet powerful elite.

Big business thought it would get an easy ride if it cosied up to the ANC. And indeed, with loyal ANC cadres dotting the boards of some of South Africa’s largest companies, business has largely been left alone to get on with making money.

Now they’re really caught in a fix. Even if they are conscious of the long-term dangers of a law like the Info Bill, they are too entrenched in the ANC’s patronage network to speak out about it lest they incur the wrath of the party’s titans and lose business deals and political support as a result.

Our nation’s corporations should have been more careful when they made this Faustian pact with the ANC in the Nineties. In the afterglow of the first democratic elections it must have seemed pragmatic and sensible to cuddle up to the new snouts at the trough. But with the ANC’s non-racial values long squandered by the craven despots that call the shots in the movement now, the folly of such an approach has been exposed.

If the Info Bill is thwarted, it will certainly not be thanks to big business. It will be in spite of it: in spite of a group of companies that have cosily conspired with the ANC to maintain a status quo of wealth in the hands of a few, at the expense of the countless millions who remain economically oppressed.

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South Africans must speak out

On Freedom Day, to celebrate fifteen years of democracy, I launched The Soapbox – a nonpartisan online platform where young South Africans can speak out about things they feel strongly about.

Why? Because South Africa is at a crossroads. Now more than ever is it important to use our freedom to ensure that democracy prevails in South Africa – that it is strengthened and sustainable. Periodic elections are not enough. A democracy can only live and flourish if citizens actively engage with important issues. Freedom of speech – and utilising that vital right – stimulates democracy by ensuring that power structures – from government and corporations to trade unions and NGOs – are held accountable for their actions and policies.

If we are silent and apathetic we are complicit in power abuse, in reinforcing mediocrity as a standard and in ensuring that an unsatisfactory status quo is maintained.

Many people feel that expressing their opinions about the burning issues of the day is pointless, because their voice will be ignored by mainstream media. Others feel alienated with regards to current, more rigid mediums of expression (such as the letters page of a newspaper) or intimidated by the rigours of maintaining a something like a blog on an ongoing basis.

The Soapbox takes all of these dynamics into account. By creating a platform for opinion online, The Soapbox is situated within a medium that young people are comfortable with. It also means that the project is easier to integrate with current modes of communication and social connection (such as Facebook) that young people use.

Sited in a political landscape characterised by the inanities and incitements of the likes Julius Malema, The Soapbox aims to fight political and cultural apathy and to foster tolerance and a culture of intelligent debate among young South Africans.

For more info, check out The Soapbox.

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The Soapbox – now live!

The Soapbox, an online platform where South Africans can speak out, launched yesterday on Freedom Day. Below is the post I wrote in “The Editor’s Notebook” on the site:

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It’s fifteen years since South Africa became a democracy, and we’re launching today in celebration of this. But furthermore, we chose Freedom Day because of the importance that free speech has in ensuring that our democracy continues, and flourishes in the years to come. Stimulating, supporting and fighting for free speech is what The Soapbox is all about.

South Africa has had a tempestuous, momentous, exhilarating and sometimes tragic decade-and-a-half of freedom. Now more than ever before it is essential that young people speak out about the things they feel strongly about. We simply cannot afford to be apathetic and silent. Our democracy, and the rights – such as free speech – which underscore it are too important for us to ignore the very real issues we face as a nation.

As you will see on the about page, The Soapbox “aims to fight political and cultural apathy and to foster tolerance and a culture of intelligent debate among young South Africans.” We can only achieve this with your support. So, quite simply, become a contributor – change the world. Tell your friends about The Soapbox. And write! We can really make a difference if we all, collectively, speak out.

I hope you enjoy the launch opinion pieces. We plan on updating The Soapbox as frequently as the flow of written contributions will allow. Soon we will also host our first speaker event. Very excitingly, we will also be launching the SoapBox fashion label.

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Bloggers constitute bulk of jailed journos

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, an advocacy group aimed at defending the rights of journalists, most journalists in jail are those using the web as their medium of choice — like bloggers, online reporters and web editors (thanks, Gino). A statement released on the CPJ’s website says the following:

  • There are 125 journalists in jail worldwide.
  • 45% (56) of these are internet journalists.
  • China has the greatest number of journalists jailed (a record it’s held for the past decade).
  • There are 29 despotic regimes that have imprisoned journalists including Egypt, Cuba, Eritrea, Burma and Uzbekistan.

Find out more here.

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Zuma “rapes” justice system

As usual, Zapiro hits the nail on the head with, as it happens, a mighty sledgehammer in his latest Sunday Times cartoon. His hard-hitting, courageous, uncomfortable yet brilliant cartoon depicts Umshini about to rape “the justice system” which lies helplessly pinioned to the ground by Zuma’s head cheerleaders (Julius Malema, Gwede Mantashe, Blade Nzimande and Zwelinzima Vavi).

Predictably, it has sparked indignant outrage in the Zuma camp — probably because they know that its message is spot on. Zuma’s supporters have been brazenly doing everything possible to undermine the judiciary to ensure that he is never held accountable for his alleged criminal activities. Perhaps they were expecting they could get away with it – without being challenged about it in the press. As Zapiro has so potently demonstrated, they were wrong about that.

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Jon Qwelane: what are you hiding, sista?

A lot of people — the decadent amoral bourgeoisie, mostly — have got awfully upset over Jon Qwelane’s latest tirade. Why the fuss? The Sunday Sun is gutter press and Qwelane’s equally contemptible opinions are part and parcel of a paper that believes that stoking xenophobia and perpetuating intolerance is a prerequisite in speaking to the “blue-collar man”.

As the furore rages, let’s not forget that Qwelane is the lovelorn admirer of Mugabe, once describing that despot as a “true revolutionary” who had been made the “villain of the piece” by the “racist” West. In that same Sunday Smut article, Qwelane said that he dreaded Morgan Tsvangirai ever becoming the president of Zimbabwe (despite the nation choosing him in the March election) because:

Zimbabwe will be recolonised all over again, and Tsvangirai will be a latter-day Abel Muzorewa — a bantustan puppet “leader”, with the real puppet masters in Britain and South Africa (read DA, chiefly).

Qwelane is no stranger to controversy — but that’s hardly surprising when his vitriolic rantings, littered with factual inaccuracies and with a paucity of substantive evidence to back his wild arguments, reveal an endless bigotry and prejudiced posturing more in keeping with the previous regime.

The question is whether he’s gone too far on this one. I suppose that all depends on whether Media24 believes its advertising revenues to be threatened through potential boycotts of its various outlets (after all, that was what gave Deon Maas the shove).

Instead of firing him, perhaps the media giant should find the repressed little columnist a therapist — as one can’t help wondering whether his views reflect a certain desire to vent about deeply personal issues that he can’t quite put to bed (literally, it would seem, in the case of his latest column).

But help is surely at hand. Qwelane’s pal, Zuma, has let slip his stance on gays before (fondly reminiscing how, as a youth, he would “strike the unqili”); so perhaps dear old umshini will be the politician that can muster, as Qwelane urges, “the balls to rewrite the Constitution of this country, to excise those sections which give licence to men ‘marrying’ other men, and ditto women”.

Qwelane will never know if Zuma will become his point-man on anti-moffie morality unless he gets together with him. They should have a macho man-to-man shower session and put their heads together to discuss things.

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