Wednesday, 30 January 2008


— 01/29/2008
Paul Trewhela

Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but our selves can free our minds.
- Bob Marley, ‘Redemption Song,’ from the album, Uprising (1980)

The heritage of Biko and the problem of mental slavery
Bantu Stephen Biko was by far the most original political philosopher in South Africa of the past century, and Marley's words - first released three years after Biko's murder, and a year before Marley's own early death from cancer - encapsulate for me the essence of his philosophy. It was no wonder Biko was derided as a 'CIA agent' by the political commissars in the African National Congress camp at Nova Catengue (Nova Katenga) in southern Angola shortly before his arrest and murder in South Africa by the security police of the apartheid regime, which caused the ANC commissariat in Angola swiftly to change tack and acknowledge Biko as a martyr. Biko’s words, and Marley’s lyrics, sum up the problem of the slave, the problem of mental slavery. As Biko argued, the precondition for any real emancipation lay in slaves emancipating themselves first from the tanks of their oppressor in their own minds, the essential precondition before they could deliver themselves from the tanks in Tienanmen Square, or Soweto, or wherever. This thought comes to mind when thinking of the slaves of Luthuli House, who will shortly stand to attention when Parliament resumes in Cape Town.

The 'deployment' of members of Parliament and civil servants
The crucial phrase is 'deploy'. The masters of the slaves of Luthuli House boast that ANC members of Parliament are ‘deployed’ into Parliament and can be 'deployed' out again at their own whim or say-so. They can be 'deployed' wherever they are told to go. They have no individual moral agency, they are not answerable to their own conscience so long as they remain ANC MPs, and they are not answerable either to any local community of electors, who can hold them to account for their conduct in and out of Parliament, and deprive them of their seat, if necessary. 'Deploy' is a military term. It means that the person who is deployed is subject to military discipline by his superior officers, which he cannot disobey except (in the military sense) at risk of court martial. For this term to apply to members of Parliament is to negate the nature of Parliament, and to confuse military order with civic responsibility. It imposes a form of order of a dictatorial kind in what should be a forum of civic debate.

Sold to the merchant ship
No doubt the Conservative Party in Britain is regarded with derision by the ANC, but Winston Churchill would not have had the moral and political freedom he did have as a Conservative MP when he opposed his own party's appeasement of Hitler, had he sat not in Westminster but as an ANC MP in accordance with the slaves' charter in Cape Town. He was not 'deployed' by any Luthuli House, and could not be removed by any Simon Legree unless the members of his own constituency party decided to dispense with him.

Old pirates, yes, they rob i;
Sold i to the merchant ship,
Minutes after they took i
From the bottomless pit.

According to the 'party list' in South Africa’s system of unfettered proportional representation, the ANC MP is as much sold to the merchant ship by his own pirates in Luthuli House as he would have been in the 'bottomless pit.' It is a degradation of the moral independence of the MP as great as any under Bantu Education, debasing Parliament to the level of a Bantustan assembly.

Failure of ANC government made plain to all
There has been no failure of government in South Africa so immediately felt on the backs of every South African – and made so plain to every foreign viewer of the television news – than the failure of South Africa's electricity power supply, ten years after ANC government failed to heed the warning of the White Paper on the need for upgraded provision. Even the failures on AIDS, on crime, on corruption, on Zimbabwe, terrible and culpable as these are, do not compare with the comprehensive, immediate and destructive effect of this single failure of ANC government. A national and regional crisis of such magnitude, coming immediately before the opening of the new session of Parliament, should mean that every sitting MP in the governing party should have stood to attention before the electors in some part of the country to explain his own negligence, and the negligence of his and their party. He or she should have been left in no doubt as to what these electors expect of their MP in this calamity in which the country has been so unnecessarily and so shamefully placed. The ANC has disgraced the record of black government, and every one of its MPs should have been held to account.

The Soviet model of Parliament
One must expect, however, that in Parliament next month the troops of Luthuli House will stand to order in the same way that paid cattle stood to order in the Congresses of the People, or by whatever other lie these were called, in the Romania of Ceaucescu, the North Korea of Kim Il-Sung, the East Germany of Erich Honecker, the Bulgaria of Todor Zhivkov, or the Albania of Enver Hozha. The ANC crafted a despotic, Soviet-type provision into the electoral law of the supposedly new and miraculous and progressive Constitution of 1994, as only RW Johnson had the courage to spell out unambiguously in his South Africa: The First Man, the Last Nation (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2004). Three years after Johnson, the former ANC MP, Andrew Feinstein, provided a detailed exposition of the workings of this venal system, six years after his own resignation as an MP. I summarised this exposition in a review of Feinstein’s book, After the Party: A Personal and Political Journey inside the ANC (Jonathan Ball, Johannesburg, 2007), as follows:

Feinstein on the workings of the party list system
"Feinstein shows how the electoral law of 1994 establishes a slavish partiinost (Russian for 'party spirit') almost as thorough-going as under the great Vozhd (or Leader) himself. He gives the best available exposition of how this system of parliamentary unaccountability works, moving upwards from the democratic to the despotic. Selection of ANC candidates is as follows: local party branches nominate members to the regional party structure, regional conferences then finalise a regional list of candidates to go to the Provincial Legislature and national Parliament, these names are then submitted to a Provincial List Conference made up of representatives of all the branches in the province and the ANC's constituent organisations (i.e.Youth League, Women's League), with the provincial lists finally being submitted to a National List Conference. As Feinstein says, up to this point the selection process - though 'unwieldy and cumbersome' - is ‘profoundly democratic’. Everything now gets murky. After the National List Conference, 'the national leadership then deliberate[s] on the final lists for submission to the Electoral Commission. At this point the process los[es] its democratic character and [falls] hostage to the whims and internecine battles of the leadership of the ANC'. (p.81). In other words, candidates for election to Parliament or Provincial Legislature on the ANC slate are hostage and creature of the party bosses, who in terms of the electoral law can also remove and replace them by whim."
[See 'Book Review. Andrew Feinstein: The Case against Mbeki' (8 January 2008)].

The shameful spectacle of the coming session in Parliament
This is why there will be the shameful spectacle of hundreds of ANC MPs behaving like frightened children at the Diktat of the ANC Chief Whip, or - even more disgusting - of the Speaker of the House. Despite being adults, one must expect they will wheel like an army of morons 180 degrees away from the programme of former ANC president Mbeki to the programme of new ANC president Jacob Zuma, despite the fact that Mbeki remains (nominally) President of the country. One understands the crucial significance for Mbeki, as for Zuma, of the need to capture ANC party leadership at Polokwane last month, since by comparison Parliament is just a rubber stamp. (But a rubber stamp that provides a meal ticket to hundreds, while disgracing democracy under the name of democracy). The bad electoral law of 1994 is the worst instrument of mental slavery in South Africa, converting what was falsely celebrated as a citadel of freedom into a foul continuation of the old South African slaveship. The first condition of real civic freedom is an alliance for a defence of the Constitution in which reform of the electoral law, sanctioned by parliamentary and legitimate means, is an essential constituent element. The energy supply crisis provides the situation in which these issues should urgently be put before the people. As Marley wrote,

Won't you sing with me
These songs of freedom?

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