Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Next Thursday, September 20, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of the Arts (RSA) in London, South African born Sir Anthony Sher and director Jon Blair will be presenting the first screening of "Murder Most Foul". The documentary follows Sher to South Africa, to Cape Town in fact, and to a world where, despite the end of apartheid marking progress towards personal and political freedom, communities are still pervaded by social conflict and brutality. It will be shown on Channel 4 in the UK the following week.
The documentary focuses on the brutal murders of actor Brett Goldin and fashion designer Richard Bloom in April 2006. The harrowing story of youthful innocence lost, violence and tik has already been premiered in Cape Town in July. One sickening scene shows Sir Anthony narrating on a bus with a black and white picture on each seat of a person murdered on the same night as Brett and Richard.
The documentary is not the first of its kind. The film "Tsotsi", set in Soweto and infused with adrenaline-pumping high energy Kwaito music, similarly conveys the extremities of life in South Africa: pervasive hope shining through the multiple dangers of a transitional society; of the importance of the choices we make in life and how personal and collective triumph can emerge when we choose love over rage. At the moment it feels like that it is rage that is all around us. In one week we commemorate the 30th anniversary of Steve Biko’s passing and the 6th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on America.
Sir Anthony’s documentary is being shown against the bleak backdrop of protests in Cape Town this week when police fired rubber bullets into a crowd of 2000 protesters who were trying to break down and set fire to houses in the N2 Gateway housing project. This came the day after Mayor Helen Zille’s arrest for her anti-drug protest when protesters gathered outside the Mitchell’s Plain police station after the leader of the People’s Anti-drug and Liquor Action Committee (Padlac) was arrested after (peacefully) delivering a petition at the gates of suspected drug dealers.
The police say, rather feebly, that the Mayor contravened the Illegal Gatherings Act. The bizarre spectre of the leader of the opposition being arrested for knocking on the door of a suspected drug dealer is truly frightening. What law has been broken? As she delightfully observed, presumably drug dealers knock on doors too.
Instead of ‘Back to the Future’, all of this has felt more like ‘Back to the Past’. Remove the news reporters’ voiceover, this week’s television images were eerily evocative of the grainy images of the litany of horrors that blighted SA from when the 90 days of detention laws were passed in 1962 through to the Soweto riots of 1976 and to the 1980s state of emergencies.
Mrs Zille, in particular, having been so closely involved with the Biko story as a journalist in her professional youth, must have asked some hard questions about the substance of freedom as she sat, thirty years later, in police custody at Mitchell’s Plain last Sunday. What does this extraordinary sequence of events tell us about our country and government? There can be little doubt that there is a moral malaise at the heart of our society. Darkness seems to have seeped into the souls of men.
In South Africa today we are reaping in part, I believe, the bitter harvest of rendering the country’s townships ungovernable during apartheid. We have already seen how this culture of ungovernability has found expression in the form of ugly dissent in our public discourse and beyond, only consider the pervasive culture of non-payment for the municipal services. The early spring flowers of democracy are wilting in the icy winds of our winter of discontent. But, I suppose, it is of little help if I just speak merely of the origins of this discord.
The poet Yeat’s famous line "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold. Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world," could have been written today for our country. Ah yes, the centre again. As I have repeatedly banged on in my newsletters this year, we have stood by and witnessed the inexorable centralisation of power.
Power has gravitated from society to state, from local and provincial spheres to national, and from judiciary and legislative arms to executive (although one must generously concede that one bright spot in this scenario has been the independence of the judiciary). It is this uncontrolled and unaccountable concentration of power at the centre, in the hands of the select few affiliated to the ruling party, which is responsible for the insufficient delivery capacity of the South African state and which is, in turn, fueling civil discord.
Community policing is a big part of the answer to the incipient anarchy. We desperately need South African counterparts of a New York Police Department or an English constabulary: policing with strong local roots. In fact, Mrs Zille’s arrest was a timely reminder that we must have a police force that is non-aligned, that takes policing decisions on policing grounds, and that protects people’s rights under the Constitution. We simply need a police that would do its job. Such a police service must also be better resourced.
Likewise, the filling in the middle of the cake, that layer we call civil society, has become more thinly spread post-1994. The evils of apartheid gave rise to a diverse smorgasbord of good civic organisations and NGOs. At this point, I am reminded of the famous "Ripple of Hope" paragraph in Senator Robert Kennedy’s speech at the University of Cape Town on June 6, 1966: "It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."
The community organisations: residents’ associations, faith-based organisations, youth clubs, women groups, neighbourhood watch schemes, and yes, Padlac, transmit "tiny ripples of hope" which pull society together. Their proliferation and health must be nurtured, not suppressed, as it were last Sunday at Mitchell’s Plain. By turning our back on the ripples of hope around us, we give criminals, the murderers of Brett Goldin and Richard Bloom and the drug lords from Mitchell’s Plain even less reason than they have to respect human life.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP