|VIEWPOINT: *Kenetswe Mosenogi
I differ with you, but will defend your right to say it to the death!
"What it says to the African, is that if he sees a farmer being killed, he must look away. It says to the Indian man, when he sees an African woman being abused, he better look away. It also says if a Democratic Alliance member is killed for merely being a DA member, the ANC member must look away and the vice versa must also apply as true. From the point of view of intra party politics, it says that injustice can be meted out to a political opponent as the prize of political office supersedes the life of the said political opponent.."
The recently the issue of the freedom of speech has come up sharply, with debates on who is allowed to address the Marikana mine workers. Many of us must indeed be disturbed by the apparent opportunistic convergence by different sections of South African societies on the meaning of our constitutional rights merely on the basis of political expediency.
The point here is not to contest any political or otherwise hostility that anyone may have against anyone exercising their right to speak. Any person has the right to criticise any other person in South Africa as those are the hallmarks of a democracy, the exercise of the freedom of expression.
It is this same freedom that has invoked concern over how an individual exercising their right to speak can then be bungled out of Marikana, as that then gives the impression that one's right of association as entailed in the Constitution was being compromised by the Police, that being the institution that must help uphold the law and defend the Constitution as most supreme law of the land.
It was the great French philosopher Voltaire who coined those famous words "I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." The ancient Greeks had previously invented democracy as a system of governance which they hailed as "government of the people by the people for the people". The profundity of these ancient words became indelibly engraved in the hearts and minds of all those fighting against autocratic and dictatorships over the years.
Voltaire no doubt further deepened the meaning of democracy from the point of view of the masses to the point of view of the individual. In other words, Voltaire recognised that for the masses to have their collective rights expressed, that must be the sum total of the expressed freedoms of the individuals constituting those massed of people.
Therefore while the collective has right to assert themselves, equally the individual has the right to assert themselves, even if the collective disagree with the individual.
Therefore on the Marikana scenario, anyone had as much right as the organised workers to gather and voice their views. The singling out of any person is not only opportunistic but also undermines the constitutional principles of freedom of association and freedom of expression on the basis of political expediency. We could variously take a dislike of what anyone says, but it is our duty to defend each and every South African's right as enshrined in our constitution.
It remains our considered view that in defending the rights of those with whom we differ, we are actually extending our own freedom of expression into the horizons or terrains where our own views may not be otherwise acceptable. It is a guarantee that we too will not be silenced when we have to express our own views no matter how unpopular those views may be.
It is very wrong to adjudge the acceptability of a viewpoint on the basis of whether or not the economic interests of a specific group or corporations are enhanced or not by such actions. Democracy attaches high premium on the expressed freedoms of human beings and not juristic beings such as corporations or any form of a collective. The Bill of Rights is first and foremost about people not juristic personas such as corporations, not that the latter do not have rights of their own.
Therefore to undermine freedom of expression and association on the basis of profits runs against the grain of our democracy, which is supposed to be people centred.
We should all shudder that in a period post 1994, the rights to profit may supersede the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution.
One tendency that we must all oppose as South Africans, is the habit of looking away at the act of injustice simply because those who are victims are politically opposed to us.
This is the same mentality that occasioned the genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis in the Great Lakes region in around 1994 when over 800 000 people were murdered. Those who did this were inspired by the notion that those being killed were different, characterised as "cockroaches". To suggest that someone is dangerous when the danger is in fact against the balance of support swinging away from you is in fact the actual danger to our democracy.
At best such a habit is unprincipled and it is recipe for the mushrooming of a culture of the commission of crime with impunity. Granted, we are a diverse society, hence our Constitution premise that as context within which we must forge our national unity. But such diversity can never be premise for unity when in fact it becomes the default line for the parameters of justice as perceived by the various groups consistent with our diversity.
What it says to the African, is that if he sees a farmer being killed, he must look away. It says to the Indian man, when he sees an African woman being abused, he better look away. It also says if a Democratic Alliance member is killed for merely being a DA member, the ANC member must look away and the vice versa must also apply as true. From the point of view of intra party politics, it says that injustice can be meted out to a political opponent as the prize of political office supersedes the life of the said political opponent.
We have witnessed the murder of one comrade by another in KwaZuluNatal within the ANC fold, apparently for the prize of a Councilor position probably because the murdered victim was "dangerous" to the political interests of the murderer. Similar crimes have allegedly been committed within the National Freedom Party and in other parties. With such trends, surely investigations can most probably further reveal more ghastly acts that undermines every grain of our constitutional values.
We say this is what happens when the values of democracy as premised on the sacrosanct value of human life and the values of people are undermined with impunity because somehow some have deemed profits as more important than the exercise of democratic rights.
As the ANC, we must exercise principled approach on such matters. Not long ago, the ANC Youth League in the Western Cape marched and declared that the Provincial Government and the City of Cape Town would be rendered ungovernable. The ANC did not act against that because for all intention and purposes that was within the democratic space of the ANCYL to say that. The ANC did not call for the Police to be sent to stop the ANCYL march. Now, what we do to our own, that being the ANCYL in the Western Cape, must be afforded those with whom we differ.
Such inconsistency does not only reveal propensity to act unjustly, but also sow the seeds for anarchy as the instruments with which we inconsistently act will not be respected in the least and at worst may be put to danger.
This therefore does not seek to argue any case in favour of anyone, but to argue a case in favour of the principles of our Constitutional democracy. No one must be prejudiced on the basis of their social and political appeal. To characterise anyone as dangerous is antithetical to the course of our democratic dispensation. Even more, it give rise to the view that one is socially persona non grata in any political space which is against the principles of our democracy.
The argument advanced by some in that populism is the enemy and that populists are "using" the poor is problematic. The ANC must speak the language of the ANC and stop accusing those who are able to appeal to the masses in ways that undermines the sacred value of freedom of expression.
We must be careful of that line of argument because some have actually used it against the ANC and as we know it is political ploy to explain why some are unable to talk to ordinary folks while some are able to do so with ease. Chris Hani appealed to the masses and so did many public orators. What we must do as the ANC, is that we must cultivate the skills to talk to the masses of our people, particularly beyond those who are card carrying ANC members.
If we dare fail to communicate with the masses, the vacuum space will be taken by others, whom we may characterise as populist or otherwise while in fact we envy their ability to occupy the space that we should be occupying.
One of the foremost principles of every revolutionary is to engage in honest analysis of the facts before us hence the clarion call, tell no lie and claim no easy victories! Part of such honest analysis would reveal the simple fact that the rise of AMCU is revealing on the vacuum created by our own Allies in NUM. By the time Marikana debacle unfolded NUM was declared persona non grata. Others exercised their democratic right to fill in a space that none of the ANC Alliance partners could fill at the time.
The constitution enjoins us to defend those rights, and in doing so we are not selective as inconsistency would ultimately undermine the hegemony of those constitutional values in society. Where these constitutional rights are concerned, we must exercise non-partisan solidarity otherwise there will be no guarantee that when same injustice is meted out in the future against us or anyone else society will find ground to be in unison condemn such violations.
We must derive inspiration from Voltaire's injunction and defend the rights of those with whom we vehemently differ, and make such defence as though our it were our own rights that were being violated, because indeed as time would tell those are indeed our own rights only that the victims could be in the meanwhile our political opponents.
It does not help that the current victim is what we have opportunistically declared a common enemy, as by definition the characterization of common enemy often results into false unity and an unprincipled victimisation.
True unity must be premised on shared values and not on sharing an enemy as the reasons to the various enmity may be motivated by different reasons many of them unprincipled. It is for this reason that we say the public castigation of any person and the denial of their exercise of their democratic rights is shear opportunism. The forceful stoppage of any person from speaking with impunity does nothing to further the values of our democracy, instead does the opposite and we should be ashamed of ourselves as a nation. It is no different from the violation of a young women's rights and dignity simply because some backward men at the Johannesburg taxi rank disagreed with her attire.
If we differ with anyone, we must make our case even stronger through dialogue and not through the use of force or State resources because that is the hallmark of a democratic order.
It is for the same reason that we lamented the pilling of charges against then ANC Deputy President Zuma because we had reasons to believe that such coincidences smelt of a rat.
We must condemn corruption by anyone, but we must also not allow a situation where corruption is used to deal with political opponents and our stance must be the same today as it were when we declared so during the many charges that the current ANC President once faced.
We must collectively build a strong ANC, one that which when it speaks we can all be confident it is in the interest of the National Democratic Revolution and not factional interests.
Similarly we must build a State which must act impartially without favour but to uphold the ends of the law in a consistent and just manner.
We must not act in a manner that give reason for some to believe that State power is being abused for narrow ends.
We must never be afraid of dialogue or debate or the power and appeal of those with whom we differ. If anything, it means we are weaklings if we fail to stand up to our political opponents across parties and within respective political parties, hence the killings we have witnessed in KwaZuluNatal in both the NFP and the ANC.
*Kenetswe Mosenogi is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANCYL a member of its National Executive Committee