Mangosuthu Buthelezi's Weekly Newsletter to the Nation
My dear friends and fellow South Africans,
Phillips maxim “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, the more things change the more they seem the same, came to mind when five Inkatha Freedom Party leaders were arrested last week by Port Shepstone police in KwaZulu-Natal.
Councillor Mbuthuma and Councillor Mbonwa both from the Mzwabantu Council; Freeman Maphumulo from Ugu and Mr Elton Mkhize and Mr Gobo Zulu from Ezingolweni are currently being held by the South African Police Service. Details are sketchy and not even their families know where they are being held.
It is alleged that a floor-crosser from the IFP who joined the ANC during September's floor-crossing window went to the police and made claims that these five men tried to kill him. We believe, in the absence of evidence to the contrary, that these allegations are absolutely untrue. This is nothing more than political interference and political manipulation. The ANC, we contend, is using their powers to intimidate and harass IFP leaders.
More ominously, it seems like the SAPS is acting like the old apartheid regime by not even divulging the details of where these IFP men are being kept. The IFP believes these men did nothing wrong and we want them released immediately. It is truly shocking, but, I fear, is more confirmation of a trajectory in our national life.
Such practices are eerily evocative of the early years of Stalinist rule in Russia when the dividing line between the state, party and police became blurred - deliberately. We are at risk of polit-bureau style government when the constitutional guarantees of the people’s right to freedom of expression and assembly, as well as their explicit legal rights codified in the Bill of Rights, are being steadily eroded.
In recent weeks members of the People’s Anti-drug and Liquor Action Committee (Padlac) were arrested after (peacefully) delivering a petition at the gates of suspected drug dealers. Just as sinister, were the television images of police firing rubber bullets at protestors at the Gateway Housing project in Cape Town. I will return to this in a moment.
At this juncture, I have to acknowledge that the pendulum has swung away from the enshrinement of citizens’ rights towards beefed up state powers in democracies like Britain and America. To a certain extent, the incursion of civil liberties in South Africa mirrors these trends, albeit for different reasons.
Last week, I mentioned the practice of ‘extraordinary rendition’ in America in the ‘fight against terrorism’.
In January 2002, the Bush government opened the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay and stocked it with over 700 men and boys whom former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld described “as the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the earth”. Four years later, not one has been tried for any crime by a military tribunal.
Furthermore, the right to self-representation, which has been a codified tenet of American law for 217 years, has been suspended at Guantánamo.
Across the Atlantic, Britain's intelligence services, also in ‘the fight against terrorism’, under sweeping new powers, can seize all records of telephone calls, emails and internet connections made by every person.
I deliberately highlight these examples so as not to fall into the easy trap of caricaturing the familiar left-wing bogeys, like Libya and Cuba, that the centre-right like to parade. Britain and America, as many readers will know, are places of great affection for me. So I cite the incursion of civil liberties in SA to emphasis that freedom and the “freedom to choose” must be guarded, and yes, fought for, in every democratic society. “The price of freedom”, as Thomas Jefferson told us, is “eternal vigilance”.
As I alluded to earlier, the incursion of civil rights here has been more about the protests about the lack of service delivery and the temerity of some who have chosen a different political home from the ANC. In short, those people whose, to quote Stalin, “souls have not been reengineered”.
Instead of resorting to absurd Stalinist Pravda style propaganda about protestors’ concerns, the ruling party should recognise that the causes and solutions are multifarious and act accordingly. Take, for example, the housing crisis in Hanover Park and Lavender Hill on the Cape Flats which I referred to earlier. A complex socio-economic time bomb was set during apartheid. Three or more generations have waited to be properly housed. But they are not the only ones needing houses.
I remember reading widely as Minister of Home Affairs of the “push” and “pull” factors involved in migration. The Western Cape has become an attractive destination for South African migrants from poorer regions like the Eastern Cape, as well as for migrants from as far as central Africa. Cape Town is pulling people towards it, just as their own unsatisfactory environments are pushing them out. The ubiquitous Congolese security guards, Somali shopkeepers and Malawian housekeepers are fast becoming part of the mosaic we call Cape Town. They too have full civil rights and are protected by our Constitution. Many of them have been subject to xenophobia, prejudice and other forms of discriminatory treatment by the police.
It is true that while many of them make a valuable contribution to our city and our economy, incoming migrants are also placing demands on our social services. Like those who have been waiting for generations to be properly housed, newcomers also need housing. Often we ask the question “Who should take precedence?” when we should rather be asking “How do we build more houses, faster?” We need to get the housing system working, while at the same time rapidly upgrading it. There is no place in this for petty politics and point scoring. The needs of the people must come first. We can only disprove the maxim the more things change the more they seem the same if we do so.
Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP