Monday, 30 March 2009

SA's selective democracy

30/03/2009 09:02  - (SA)  

Almost exactly 15 years ago, Nelson Mandela took the oath of office as President of the Republic of South Africa and our country immediately became the world's most shining example of a constitutional democracy at its best.

We smiled, walked tall and generally looked down our noses at far less perfect democracies like the USA, UK, and Europe.

Today, we are not the world's best example of a constitutional democracy. If anything, the only sort of democracy we can lay claim to is a Selective Democracy, which is probably the worst kind of democracy there is.

Selective Democracy is so bad that it's actually almost better to come right out and admit to being a one party dictatorship of a country in which the favourite national pass time is social one-upmanship.

You know you live in a Selective Democracy when:

  • Politicians vociferously commit themselves to upholding the independence of the judiciary until a judgement goes against them and then they publicly say that all judges are racist idiots.
  • When politicians who fought for decades against the iniquities of apartheid and struggled for human rights, ban someone like the Dalai Lama just because his presence in this country might annoy China.
  • When politicians are seen to uphold the rule of law by watching as their friends go to jail for fraud, then use their clout to set them free on all sorts of flimsy grounds before they have spent more than a couple of minutes in a cells.
  • When politicians are found guilty of a crime and their political party carries them shoulder-high to the gates of the prison while behaving as though the guilty party had just scored the winning goal in a World Cup final.
  • When political party youth leagues rant and rave about their democratic right to go and address crowd in opposition strongholds and then talk about killing anyone who doesn't agree with their leader.
  • When politicians create a special task team to combat crime and then disband it when they find it targeting them.
  • When it takes prosecutors five minutes to stick a shoplifter in jail and almost ten years to get to first base in a legal action against a high profile politician in spite of claiming for years and years that they have cast-iron evidence of his guilt.
  • When a bunch of politicians appoint a board of directors to the national broadcaster and within a few months those same politicians want to fire them due to a sudden apparent lack of confidence, but actually because those politicians now have a new boss who doesn't like the old boss and therefore doesn't like the board of the national broadcaster not because they have suddenly become bad people. Then, when they can't fire them they just make up a new law to let them do it.

    When the most visible result of a decade and a half of affirmative action and black economic empowerment is 500 exceedingly rich fatcats and just as many unemployed as there were before. Now, because of these fine examples set by politicians, the whole country is getting in on the Selective Democracy act.


    To ordinary people, Selective Democracy means:

  • If you are poor you are entitled to steal electricity even if this kills your neighbours.
  • If you are poor you can steal just about anything because your are entitled to. Even steal from other poor people.
  • If you are homeless, you can just move into houses in spite of some equally poor people being on the list ahead of you.
  • Driving unroadworthy taxis like manic madmen, causing accidents and killing passengers right left and centre just because you feel entitled to.
  • Disrupt traffic, destroy property and assault innocent passers-by just because government wants to introduce a better bus service. Selective Democracy to the taxi industry means competition only works when they are competing against poor bus and rail services and absolutely not the other way round.
  • Driving your new BMW at 200kph on a freeway while at the same time changing lanes without indicating and chatting away on your cell phone because you have spent R500 000 on your Beemer and feel entitled to get your money's worth out of it.
  • Selective Democracy means being able to drive any car at any speed and any old how no matter how dangerously because if the taxi drivers can get away with it then why shouldn't you.
  • Selective Democracy means you can beat another motorist to death with a hockey stick for cutting you off, but at the same time feeling entitled to give the finger to and/or shoot anyone who has the nerve to hoot at you when you cut them off.
  • It also means that if you run a business where a lot of cash is involved, paying tax is optional. And if you opt not to, you can still bitch like hell when your rubbish isn't collected or a pothole in the road isn't fixed within minutes of appearing.
  • If you run a big business and a senior executive rips you off, you can give him a golden handshake, ask him to resign and then promise not to say anything if he doesn't, and then sweep it all under the carpet. You don't have to lay a charge of theft even though the law insists you must, because you don't want to damage the image of the company with controversy. Then, you complain at dinner parties about politicians flouting the rule of law.

    The list of examples of Selective Democracy goes on and on and, let's face it, not only politcians and businessmen, but a huge number of ordinary folk who are guilty, even in some small way, of manipulating democracy to suit themselves.

    But, who is to blame? Who the heck started it all?

    Well, there is only one answer to that. It starts by the people who lead us. Politicians and businessmen.

    The examples they set by being so patently selective in the way they either vociferously uphold democracy or simply ignore it when it suits them can't help but have an impact on society.

    It is the start of a process that has more and more ordinary law abiding people thinking: "Well, if they can do it, why can't I."


    Friday, 27 March 2009

    Support for Hogan grows

    26/03/2009 12:32  - (SA) 

    Cape Town - Civil society groups and a Constitutional Court judge have added their voices to growing support for Health Minister Barbara Hogan's stand on the Dalai Lama.

    Hogan provoked the ire of the government on Tuesday by saying its denial of a visa to the Tibetan leader under Chinese pressure showed it was "dismissive of human rights", and urging it to apologise.

    The Helen Suzman Foundation said in a statement it supported the "principled stance" taken by Hogan.

    "The notion of a minister having a different view from Cabinet on a matter is not unprecedented nor is it unacceptable for that opinion to be voiced publicly," the foundation said.

    "Any censure or other steps that may be taken against Hogan will be deeply unfortunate."

    It said Hogan, who "personally" knew the deep suffering of political intolerance, should be commended for reminding South Africans of some basic tenets of their own history and how the country had a special duty to human rights campaigners globally.

    Constitutional Court judge Kate O'Regan on Thursday publicly backed Hogan, SABC radio news reported.

    "It is a matter of dismay that human rights does not seem to enter into the picture of some foreign affairs decisions that are made," O'Regan was quoted as saying.

    She said that like Hogan, she remembered the years of the 1980s "when South Africa was so fortunate to have friends all over the world assisting our human rights struggle".

    Narrow interests

    Managing director of the Afrikanerbond Jan Bosman said the refusal of a visa to the Dalai Lama was an example of a government that puts its own narrow interests first with no regard to internationally acceptable norms.

    "It must therefore be welcomed that individuals such as Ms Barbara Hogan, Minister of Health, spoke out against this decision," he said.

    "The deafening silence by the rest of Cabinet must be seen as condoning this abuse of the most basic of human rights."

    The Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum on Thursday released a letter it sent to President Kgalema Motlanthe earlier in the week expressing its "serious concern" about the denial of the visa.

    "We raise our voice alongside the many others of our civil society expressing anger and disappointment," said the letter, which was signed by forum chairman, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town Thabo Makgoba.

    "We were... shocked by the decision to block a visit by one of the world's most highly respected and visible spokespersons for religious faith, tolerance and human rights.

    "By acting in a way that reflects Beijing's political demands you have weakened our national sovereignty."

    The letter asked Motlanthe to "reflect" on the decision.

    "As leaders of diverse faiths and communities, we believe South Africa has erred in its judgement."

    Peace conference

    The Tibetan spiritual leader, along with other Nobel Peace Prize winners, was to have addressed a peace conference aimed at thrashing out ways of using football to fight racism and xenophobia ahead of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

    On Wednesday, government spokesperson Themba Maseko said Hogan's comments were "rather unfortunate".

    "The comments of the minister of health were rather unfortunate in the sense that this position on the Dalai Lama is an official position of this government."

    Maseko repeated government's stance that the Dalai Lama was refused entry because his presence would draw the world's attention away from World Cup preparations.

    But he conceded that relations with China also played a role.

    - SAPA


    'China funding ANC campaign?'

    26/03/2009 21:00

    Cape Town - The government's refusal to grant the Dalai Lama a visa highlights the need for the regulation of political party funding, political analyst Judith February said on Thursday.

    "We just had the situation with the Dalai Lama, so I think it is reasonable to ask whether the ANC received funding from the Chinese recently to fund its election campaign," February, an analyst for the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa), told the Cape Town Press Club.

    The Dalai Lama was refused a visa to attend a 2010 World Cup peace conference to have been held in Johannesburg starting on Friday.

    The event was cancelled after Nobel peace laureates FW De Klerk and Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu withdrew in solidarity with the Dalai Lama.

    Shrouded in secrecy

    "The whole process of party funding is shrouded in secrecy," February said.

    "There are no regulations of private funding to political parties. This is a big gap in our anti-corruption apparatus. It needs to be fixed sooner rather than later."

    Idasa took five political parties to the Cape High Court in 2005 to get them to reveal their funding.

    The organisation was unsuccessful in its application, with the judge ruling that political parties were private bodies which did not have to make their books public.

    Issues with funding

    She said all political parties had had issues with funding, including the ANC, DA and Independent Democrats.

    "I think most political parties agree on a situation of 'show yours and I'll show you mine'," she said.

    February said it was worrying that Parliament had shown no movement on the issue, despite the ANC taking a resolution at its conference in Polokwane in 2007 calling for transparency on contributions to parties.

    February also spoke on the upcoming April 22 elections.

    ANC could be hurt in polls

    She said there was a good chance that the ANC might be hurt in the polls after the way in which it handled corruption charges against party president Jacob Zuma.

    "I think that the ANC is in danger of losing the two-thirds majority in Parliament," she said.

    "Some of the pressure to drop the charges against Zuma might hurt them at the polls," she said.

    "The ANC needs to be very careful in the way it deals with this issue."

    February said she expected the DA to "do very well" in the Western Cape and the ANC had itself to blame for losing support in the province.

    "The party did not do a good job in running the city," she said.

    "I think that in Helen Zille people see a leader of integrity. The city of Cape Town has had no corruption scandals. That sticks with people."

    - SAPA


    Thursday, 26 March 2009

    'It's a sad day for South Africa'

    24/03/2009 14:44  - (SA)  

    Johannesburg - A peace conference involving Nobel laureates was postponed on Tuesday over Pretoria's refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama, angering the grandson of Nelson Mandela.

    Mandla Mandela, who helped plan the event, said the rejection of the Dalai Lama was "unfortunate" and tainted his illustrious grandfather's efforts to bring democracy to South Africa.

    "It's a sad day for South Africa. It's a sad day for Africa," he told reporters.

    Nelson Mandela, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former president FW de Klerk, were to host the peace conference on Friday in Johannesburg, bringing together Nobel laureates from around the world.

    The conference was to discuss how soccer can fight racism and xenophobia, as South Africa prepares to host the 2010 World Cup.

    Officially South Africa says it does not want a visit by the Dalai Lama to draw attention away from preparations for the World Cup, insisting that his visit has merely been "postponed."

    Government stands by decision

    Thabo Masebe, spokesperson for President Kgalema Motlanthe, said he could not say when the Dalai Lama would be allowed to visit.

    "We made the decision. We stand by the decision. Nothing is going to change," he told reporters.

    Now that the peace conference has been scuppered, the event's chairperson Irvin Khoza said he did not know when it would be rescheduled.

    Tutu and De Klerk had earlier indicated they would withdraw from the event over the controversy, while the Nobel peace committee said it would have to withdraw its support unless the Dalai Lama was allowed to attend.

    "For me personally, and the role my grandfather has played in founding our democracy, together with his colleagues, this rejection by the government to not issue a visa to the Dalai Lama is really tainting our efforts of democracy," Mandla Mandela told a news conference.

    "I don't think that as sovereign independent country, we need to succumb to international pressures," Mandela said.

    Pressure from China

    The government has denied that the Dalai Lama's visa was rejected due to pressure from China, a key trading partner.

    But Chinese diplomats told local media that Beijing had urged South Africa to deny the visit or risk damaging bilateral relations.

    A spokesperson for the Dalai Lama has also blamed Chinese pressure for the refusal.

    After South Africa announced its decision, China expressed appreciation for countries that shun the Dalai Lama.

    "All countries should respect China's sovereignty and territorial integrity... and oppose Tibetan independence. We appreciate relevant countries' measures," foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang told reporters in Beijing.

    China vehemently opposes any overseas activities by the Dalai Lama, whom it considers a separatist seeking independence for his Himalayan homeland. He denies such charges.

    He angered China earlier this month by marking the 50th anniversary of a failed uprising with a speech saying Chinese control had turned Tibet into a "hell on earth."

    After the end of apartheid, South African foreign policy had made a strong focus on human rights around the world.

    That reputation that has been dimmed after South Africa refused to condemn Myanmar's military junta or Zimbabwe's repressive President Robert Mugabe while it held a rotating seat on the UN Security Council.

    - AFP