Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
As the most highly contested election campaign – and volatile since 1994 gathers pace – one cannot overemphasise the importance of political tolerance. A pluralist democracy, by definition, requires tolerance. Voltaire’s timeless dictum when, writing in defence of free speech, "I disagree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it", elegantly states the prerequisite of tolerance in a functioning society.
Political tolerance, as I understand it, is the willingness to extend basic rights and civil liberties to persons and organisations whose viewpoints differ from one’s own. It is a central tenet of a liberal democracy. The individual rights and freedoms that we cherish in the new South Africa encourage a wide array of ideas and beliefs, some of which not all of us can identify with.
The expression of those beliefs is protected by another core democratic principle – that of majority rule with respect for the rights of individuals or groups in the minority. Without safeguards for the free expression of divergent opinions, we risk a tyranny of the majority. In a free and open society, by contrast, unhindered public debate exposes non-conformist ideas instead of suppressing them.
The main challenge, in my view, of making political tolerance a viable reality in a democratic society is an ability on the part of politicians to establish and nurture explicit connections between abstract civil liberties and concrete situations.
Taking a tolerant stance is one of the more difficult tasks citizens face in a society. We are probably not born tolerant, but must learn to be tolerant. As public representatives, politicians are expected – and quite rightly so – to lead by example.
Last Friday, ANC President Jacob Zuma and I met in a Durban hotel to discuss matters common to our two parties within the context of the national interest: that is a peaceful and tolerant political climate befitting an aspiring consolidated democracy. We then issued a joint statement.
We recalled the hard work of the two parties in promoting peace – and peace means more than the absence of violence – especially KwaZulu-Natal and the former PWV region, known as Gauteng.
In my part of the statement, I said "the recent events at Nongoma where the IFP and the ANC held election rallies concurrently and where their supporters briefly clashed are an example of behaviour that we do not wish to see repeated.
And "Mr Zuma and I have also reaffirmed our respect for the right of our respective political parties to campaign everywhere without hindrance." I ended with the optimistic observation "that fifteen years of democracy have gone some way towards curbing political intolerance which rocked the province and the country in the 1980s and early 1990s".
The situation at the moment is, however, compounded by the Court action brought by the MEC for the Department of Community Safety and Liaison, Mr BH Cele against the IFP pertaining to claims made by one of our public representatives about Mr Cele during the Nongoma conflagration.
The matter is sub judice, but, it can only, of course, raise tensions between the two organisations. Again, I would caution for cooler tempers on both sides and, I am sure, that this matter would be better resolved outside of court.
Another concern is the allegations of the ferrying of people from outside of the province to register for the forthcoming election. This is tantamount to electoral gerrymandering.
Political intolerance comes in many forms, including "financial intolerance".
Business should not have to take clue or intimidation from some quarters and should be able to support whichever party they wanted. They should be equally able to decline financial support to political organisations at will.
Various incidents that we have witnessed in KwaZulu Natal in recent weeks have created an imbalance between imperatives of a democratic society and obligations of political parties to live up to these imperatives. Some political players have somehow assumed they are above the law. It is no wonder that under such circumstances confrontation and conflict have ensued.
The upcoming election is an opportunity for our democratic system to regain equilibrium. This can only happen, however, if the election is free and fair.
I, once again, commit the Party I lead, the Inkatha Freedom Party, to ensuring that we adhere to the highest standards of fair play. I appeal to all other party leaders to do the same.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP
Jon Cayzer, 084 555 7144
(Secretary to Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP)