THE disintegration of the ruling ANC’s alliance with Cosatu and, to a lesser extent, the SACP, continues to gather momentum. Is it good or bad for the country?
The argument can be made that the end of the alliance would lead to a breakdown in social cohesion as the lid is opened on a
viscous vicious contest between left and right.
The past two weeks might well have given South Africans a bitter foretaste of a future of protracted labour action which becomes dangerously politicised. It is not hard to picture the full might of organised labour unleashed on the state without the restraint of the alliance.
But would it have to end badly?
There is the possibility that the release of these tensions, which have been kept behind closed doors with diminishing effectiveness, into the public domain might be just the tonic for our moribund political institutions.
An open contest at the polls between a left-leaning labour movement and a realigned center would offer South Africans the political choice that they are presently denied by the continuation of the Alliance.
The political competition that would result would force parties to sharpen their policies and throw out unelectable leaders. They would have to measure every word against its consequences at the ballot box.
This would have a sobering effect on the national political debate which has deteriorated into an amusing but ultimately pointless exercise in chauvinist name-calling.
The nation got a glimpse of how political competition would sober up politics during the last election when Cope launched an assault on the ANC’s core constituency for the first time. Politicians were measured and the name-calling was kept to a minimum lest it offend potential voters. What was missing was any serious difference in policy between the ANC and Cope, which mimicked the ruling party’s “broad church” approach.
It would be different if a labour party were to stand against the ANC. In such a scenario there would be a clear distinction between the social-democratic left and the centrist nationalists. Voters would be making a choice that could result in a real difference to the way in which the country would be governed.
The ANC would have to think twice about allowing leaders to use public platforms to advocate nationalisation and land seizure without compensation as Youth League President Julius Malema did this week.
Helen Zille’s DA, which is going from strength to strength in the Western Cape, has showed how voters will choose one party over another based on their governance records if there is the real prospect of a change in government.
The DA would in all likelihood become a third “liberal” party in the national contest for power were the alliance to give way to open competition for power.
All of this remains academic as the ANC, Cosatu and the SACP continue to proclaim their loyalty to the alliance while privately plotting to diminish each other’s grasp on state power.
What is changing is the public perception of the alliance. There are few who continue to believe the love story when all they see is infidelity.
Several weeks have passed since our reporter was arrested, held without access to his lawyer for eight hours, awoken for interrogation at 2.30 AM and finally released on the orders of the High Court. Not one single person in the government has expressed regret at how this incident was handled. There has been not one whisper of sympathy from those who are in a position to take a stand on this matter. I find that sad.
It suggests to me that there is consensus in the ruling party and amongst those in leadership elsewhere in society that this sort of treatment of a journalist is acceptable.
But what makes me feel a terrible emptiness is the continuation of the legislative and administrative onslaught on the press by way of the Protection of Information Bill and the proposed Media Appeals Tribunal because this is being done despite an incredible public outcry.
Opposition to these measures has come from every single newspaper editor in the country, from the World Editors Forum and the World Association of Newspapers – bodies which speaks on behalf of editors from the South China Morning Post to the New York Times – from the country’s leading authors, from diplomats including the US Ambassador to South Africa, from vice chancellors of universities, from the General Council of the Bar, which questions their constitutionality, from opposition political parties, from the business organisation representing our top 50 corporations and from countless others in civil society.
Yet there is a steadfast determination to proceed with these measures.
This suggests that there is a dangerous hubris taking hold within the ruling party. It believes that it alone is the arbiter of what is right or wrong in public policy. That the intellectuals and the editors are opposed to the measure merely feeds this feeling of standing alone for a righteous cause.
We are told that “the people” want this change and the intellectuals are resisting it. Apparently out there people are angry at the fact that corrections are published on page four instead of page three of the newspapers. Apparently the people are angry that documents are being leaked. We are supposed to believe that day and night they are begging the ruling party to take action and that this is now a national political priority.
In fact, nothing of the sort is taking place. There is no grassroots anger at the media, unless you include that which occurs when populist leaders call for it at meetings.
All of this is sophistry of the worst kind.
What is being manufactured in the mind of the public is a popular uprising against intellectuals. What is being concealed is an attack by a wealth-accumulating elite on those who questions their bona fides as champions of the poor.
It is deeply worrying. It is sad and it leaves me feeling empty.
THERE is no other way to characterise this week’s arrest of Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika as anything other than a blatant attempt to intimidate him and this newspaper.
There are several aspects to this arrest which remain disturbing.
The first is that it involved eight or more policemen, their police sirens blazing at our premises in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Fewer policemen have been called on to arrest of violent thugs.
The second is that police refused, until many hours had passed, to allow him access to his legal representative or to inform his lawyer of where he was being held.
The third is the fact that even when three prosectors in Mpumalanga declined to take the case forward because of the flimsiness of the docket, the police refused to release him.
The fourth is that the state argued before a High Court in Pretoria that he should remain in jail because it was only “a few hours” until he was due to appear in court. That representatives of a democratic government could conjure up such a defence was very disappointing.
The fifth was that, despite their many efforts to keep our reporter in jail, the state did not oppose bail the following morning.
The above five concerns are serious enough but they are compounded by acts of omission.
The silence on this flagrant abuse of power from Pretoria was deafening, suggesting that this sort of thuggish behaviour enjoys the support of those at the highest level of government.
This was compounded by the silence of civil society with the notable exception of media institutions who rallied strongly behind the need for proper legal processes to be followed.
It is the fashion amongst the political classes to look at social networks such as twitter and facebook as little more than titillation.
But the good citizens who use these networks showed far more spine and ethical clarity than those you would expect to rise to the defence of freedom.
A notable exception to this was the leader of the Democratic Alliance, Helen Zille, who produced a cogent and principled critique of the state’s plans to erode media freedom.
Who could have imagined that even as Zille rose to defend freedom the likes of Jeremy Cronin would pen apologies for its reduction?
Who would have imagined that lawyers would be at the Pretoria High Court at night seeking an urgent interdict to have a journalist released while lawyers acting for the democratic state sought to keep him in jail?
The time has come for all who value this freedom to speak out against those who value power.
POLICE GUILTY OF DETENTION WITHOUT TRIAL
The prosecuting authorities in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, have confirmed that they will not prosecute our journalist, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, due to lack of evidence for his so-called crime of “fraud”. Yet the police are refusing to release him from custody in flagrant violation of the spirit of the law. This is nothing less than the detention without trial of a journalist.
This confirms our suspicion that the heavy-handed operation against Mzilikazi was, from the outset, designed to intimidate him and the Sunday Times and had no serious legal purpose.
Mzilikazi’s legal representatives will tonight seek an urgent interdict in the High Court in Nelspruit to have him released from jail.
We are extremely concerned about the well-being of a second “suspect” in this case who was arrested more than 48 hours ago, but has not been brought to trial.
We call on President Jacob Zuma to instruct the Commissioner of Police, Bheki Cele, to call a halt to this campaign of intimidation and to release Mzilikazi as this abuse of justice is causing deep embarrassment to this country.
He must reassure the nation that never again will the law enforcement agencies of this democratic nation be used to intimidate journalists.
Editor: Sunday Times
The heavy handed action of the police in arresting Mzilikazi wa Afrika has delivered a real snot klap to those who are planning legislation to circumscribe reporting and a “Media Appeals Tribunal” to humiliate journalists.
There they were peddling the myth that all these laws were about protecting – even enhancing, I kid you not – media freedom when the jackboot cops arrived at Avusa house and carted off a journalist to an undisclosed (until late last night) destination on mysterious charges (the details of which are yet to be supplied).
Just to make sure that the public got the message that this was an operation befitting a police state, they appointed a former security policeman to head up the investigation and then they began interrogating Mzilikazi at 2.30am this morning. There are surely some in the ANC who must recoil at this dreadful reminder of apartheid era repression?
In one day the police managed to establish with absolute certainty in the minds of South Africans that a full-scale onslaught on the media is underway. Only the hardened ideologues of the ruling party and the “victims” of press revelations can now surely believe anything else.
Yes, some good has come out of this horrible episode.
A member of the Sunday Times staff, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, was arrested this morning. We have assigned lawyers to represent him and we are trying to establish what the charges against him are and where he is being held, so far without any success.
Our lawyers have been unable to get a clear answer from the police on either of these two questions.
I am deeply concerned at the fact that a journalist can be arrested and held at an undisclosed location in a country where the rule of law ought to apply.
He was arrested by a large number of policemen in an operation which was clearly designed to intimidate and I can only conclude that this was the true motive for what took place today.
Mzilikazi was one of the authors of the story which we published on Sunday about the rental of new police headquarters at the cost of R500m without following the usual tender proceedings. I hope, for the sake of our country, that he was not arrested on spurious charges in order to punish him for what he wrote.
We are doing everything in our power to have him released and we are doing all that we can to assure his well being.