Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Online Letter
Dear friends and fellow South Africans,
First came the singing of uMshini Wam, then the "shoot to kill" advice, then Dubula ibhunu. A culture of violence is making its way into politics again.
I am deeply concerned by the emergence of violence within South African political parties. There seems to be a resurgence of the kind of aggression and brutality we experienced in the past.
Recent media reports told how members of the ANC Youth League drew guns at a Durban meeting, and incidents of chaos occurred at the League's Eastern Cape meetings. COPE's Conference also ended in shambles and chaos reigned.
Within my own party, fissures have emerged that have led to people being assaulted and threatened with guns. Last Sunday, at an IFP meeting in KwaMashu, one prominent leader boasted about the power of the gun. As the meeting ended, Mr Michael Makhathini was fatally shot. Mr Gwala was shot in the thigh and remains in a stable condition in hospital.
There is not one party amongst the predominantly black parties that is unaffected by this new phase of violence. I believe this stems from the corrosion of the culture of respect, particularly in our black communities.
On several occasions in Parliament when rudeness was directed at former President Mbeki, I warned that we were losing our culture of respect.
Initially there was simply a failure to disagree without being disagreeable. Then, instead of expressing differences of opinion in a dignified manner, people began exchanging expletives. Then there were swearing matches and name-calling, and violence inevitably followed.
Now we have begun to lose lives.
As the IFP approaches its Annual General Conference, the leadership of the Party is apprehensive over the threat of violence. We feel that every effort should be made to address the underlying tensions before our Conference, to ensure that we can engage serene debate and arrive at the genuine will of our members without intimidation, bloodshed and threats.
The IFP leadership is therefore considering calling a representative meeting to give all our structures the opportunity to interrogate whether we still have one IFP, or two organizations within one. This issue must be decided by a more representative leadership before we hold a general conference.
The question that all political parties must ask themselves at this juncture is where free speech ends and hate speech begins. There seems to be a misunderstanding of the right of free speech which our Constitution grants.
For some, robust criticism spills over into hurling insults under the pretext that freedom of speech supports such vulgarity.
There are limits to what the right to free speech entails. If we were free to say anything at all to one another, there would be no talk of hate speech. In the African community, we should be more aware of this than anyone else. In our society, we believe in being as frank as possible. But we have always observed age groups as a sign of the culture of respect to which we adhere.
In Isizulu, while my brother is "Umfowethu", there is a special term for my older brother, "Umnewethu". That reminded one that one must not go beyond a certain limit in dealing with or speaking to one's older brother.
Even at the height of the conflict between the ANC and the IFP in the eighties, there was a limit to what I could say to President Mandela because of this observance of age group.
But such signs of respect are disappearing today and our public discourse has become characterized by rudeness and vulgarity. By itself, this is enough to cause us concern. But when it leads to violence and loss of life, as it is now doing within political parties, we should be very worried indeed.
The corrosion of a culture of respect can only end in bloodshed. We need to arrest this development.
Yours in the service of the nation,
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Contact: Ms Liezl van der Merwe
Press Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi 082 729 2510.