Opinion: Rule by fist is ruining our democratic dream

28 10 2009

October 27, 2009 Edition 1
Paul Trewhela – Cape Argus

When the tensions and conflicts in civil society grow too great, and law and parliament and other agencies of civil society are not able to find a resolution for them, then the state grows into a bludgeon, or club, with which to batter down civil society.It is as if all the energies in the society, which can no longer find a means of coexistence, become concentrated instead into a fist, which tries to force some kind of unity or coherence upon the whole ungovernable mass of warring interests. This appears to be taking place in South Africa today.

Force was the traditional means by which South Africa was governed until the end of the apartheid period. In this sense, it is by far the most deeply grounded, historical and “native” form of government of society: in a sense, its true face. Parliament was confined to a small minority of society, and this determined the legal system’s nature.

In this sense, despotism has a long, historic logic in South Africa, and the constitutional form – trying to represent the interests of a much wider remit of society – is historically much less securely grounded, even perhaps an aberration.

Despotism is the dominant historical practice in South Africa. There is a utopian side to the constitution of 1994 and its institutions: an element of wishful thinking, or prayer, or belief – on the one side, the historic brutal reality; on the other, hope.

This hope was embodied between 1990 and 1994 and for some years afterwards, in the promise of the ANC, with its call to “we, the people of South Africa, black and white, together equals, countrymen and brothers”.

That promise, which suggests the promise of constitutional government, now appears to be in question, and from within the ANC itself. It is given sharp reflection in the altercation – one cannot call it a debate – between two important representatives of that promise.

Appropriately, this falling apart of the ANC as it represented itself in 1994 is now personified, at one end, by a draughtsman and founding father of the constitution, a man of law; and at the other, by a minister of police.

Professor Kader Asmal is 75, while Fikile Mbalula, the deputy minister of police, is 38, so it is appropriate to acknowledge that Asmal has been a member of the Congress Movement of the ANC for longer than Mbalula has been alive.

It was an extraordinary and telling moment for the ANC when Asmal, a former professor of law and drafter of the constitution, told the Cape Town Press Club last week: “The new administration (of President Jacob Zuma) is referring to the militarisation of the police.”

Referring to the deputy minister of police and former ANC Youth League leader, Asmal noted that Mbalula had “said we must militarise the police. We spent days and days in 1991 to get away from the idea of a militarised police force. Extraordinary.”

Mbalula’s project would mean, Asmal said, that the national commissioner of police is “going to be ‘Generalissimo’, or ‘Il Duce’, or Field Marshal”, should the police ranking system become remilitarised, as it was in the apartheid period.

Il Duce was, of course, the founder and leader of the first fascist state, Benito Mussolini. Generalissimo was an accolade of the not significantly less fascist Francisco Franco, who ruled Spain as a one-party state for 35 years after his victory in the Civil War, which had culminated in mass executions.

Asmal’s concern here is clearly that he believes government in South Africa is drifting towards a more despotic form of rule. He could not have been more plain.

According to one newspaper report, Asmal said it was remarkable how the administration’s “political memory” had failed, hinting it was showing signs of re-establishing apartheid-era security organisations.

“We have a minister of intelligence now called the minister of state security. Sjoe! Bureau for State Security. BOSS it was known as,” he said, referring to the apartheid security police. “It is remarkable how political memory totally recedes into the background.”

In a subsequent interview with Sello M Alcock, of the Mail & Guardian, Asmal acknowledged that the government’s proposed militarisation of the police, as articulated by Mbalula, was because of its “inability to answer this legitimate public demand to deal with robbery and acts of violence”, but said this response was “very dangerous”.

Mbalula’s response to this critique from a fellow party member and former ANC minister was no less extraordinary, and no less telling. Asmal’s comments, he retorted, were the “rumblings of a raving lunatic” coming from the “rubbish bin of history”: the “doomsday theory” of a “disgruntled individual”, a “latter-day Don Quixote whose ravings do nothing for our movement and our country, but rather make us wonder if he is really not doing others’ bidding”.

There, in that last phrase, were the undertones of what in the ANC camps in exile used to be known as the “internal enemy danger psychosis”, with its menacing assaults on the bearers of a different opinion as if they were “enemy agents”. Doing others’ bidding? Which others? Who, in this extravagant language, is the deputy minister talking about?

Does it not suggest that the professor’s concern about a climate in government in which Il Duce might have felt a bit at home, might have some justification?

However, neither the former minister of education and drafter of the constitution nor the serving deputy minister of police referred to a recent little fact, that the leaders of the major Christian churches in South Africa have expressed their horror at an attack on a peaceful settlement of the poorest of the poor that left four people dead and numerous homes wrecked; carried out by local ANC political authorities in KwaZulu-Natal, while the police not only stood idly by, but arrested, charged and detained the victims while they let the murderers hide.

Here, in the assault on the shackdwellers’ movement Abahlali baseMjondolo, was a political action worthy of Il Duce.

And not a word from the politicians of the governing party, whether from the worthy professor or from his wordy antagonist, the deputy minister of police.

# Paul Trewhela, a former member of the SACP – he was imprisoned for two years in the 1960s for his membership of the banned party – is a journalist.




%d bloggers like this: