Has intolerance overtaken our politics?

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Copy of SI Julius Malema is escorted by police REUTERS Fconomic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema is led away by police after ANC members forced him to abandon a campaign near President Jacob Zumas Nkandla homestead\. While the ANC holds the view that democracy is about both the right to differ as well as the acceptance of such difference by all, the EFF argues that the ruling party has enacted laws that institutionalise the politics of intolerance. Photo: Reuters

Malusi Gigaba and Floyd Shivambu debate political intolerance ahead of the national elections.

 

Democracy is the right to differ and the acceptance of such difference, says Malusi Gigaba.

 

The biggest political intolerance in South Africa was apartheid-colonialism. The very imposition of one minority race group over the majority – its interests, will, dominance and outlook – could only be accomplished through the force of arms and severe political intolerance.

In time, this political intolerance, much as the national liberation forces fought furiously against it, became ingrained in our social fabric in many negative ways, requiring that we do not take it for granted that democracy on its own, by its mere establishment, would at a single stroke eradicate it and other related vestiges of apartheid-colonial repression.

For those of us who grew up in the 1980s and early 1990s, particularly those who grew up in the homelands, in KwaZulu and Natal, as well as the East and West rands of the former PWV, know only too well what political intolerance means and how it manifested itself, as well as the deep scars it left in our society.

The challenge to eradicate the vestiges of intolerance and its scars from our society remains with us to this very day. This is so particularly because politics, in general, and South African politics in particular, tends to be very robust and ours is a very politicised society.

Of course, much has happened since the dark days of apartheid and since the advent of our democracy.

Even as we stand to condemn political intolerance, we must never be so extravagant as to claim that ordinary South Africans have replaced the apartheid regime in the extent and scale of political intolerance. South Africa is today a much, much more tolerant society than was the case in 1994.

But, the scars and roots of intolerance ran deep and permeated even ordinary people’s social lives, such that ours has, during the past 20 years, been a very violent society even beyond politics.

I hold a view that democracy means tolerance but it does not end there. Democracy also means responsibility – to respect our turbulent past.

Naturally the biggest advocates of the utopian democracy appear to be the ones with the least scars, arguing that democracy is tolerance alone. They seek narrowly to define political intolerance as physical provocation or confrontation, pretending that intolerance is a new phenomenon characteristic of the democratic dispensation.

The ANC argues that democracy is about both tolerance itself as well as the means to build a diverse and developing nation.

Ultimately, the ANC knew that tolerance was not merely about political parties not disrupting each other’s rallies and meetings, but the most fundamental tolerance required that reconciliation must be accompanied by reconstruction and growth must go hand-in-glove with development. Otherwise, the tolerance would be a sham because it would leave the political and social relations unchanged and those with economic power would continue to dictate the political direction of the country.

For us to achieve even a semblance of a perfect democracy, we must work hard for it, diligently advancing beyond our shortcomings and rectifying our expectations of imperfect people.

Our democracy reminds us that we are responsible both for remembering that ours is a complicated and grossly imperfect past as well as striving towards our more ideal future. Our democracy was not a natural reality, but it came from a costly organised effort which required enormous sacrifices in terms of effort and more than anything else, life.

As the ANC ascended to a ruling government in the mid-1990s it had to accept the complex role of building a diverse but united nation – a nation united in its diversity.

The principle of unity in diversity does not confine itself to racial, gender, religious or other diversity, but must extend to the acceptance of the political plurality of our society.

The ANC has always resisted the campaign by those more influenced by Western political democracies to seek to reduce our nation to a two-party state, one section red and the other blue. South Africa would be the weaker if this occurred. Neither a two-party democracy nor a one-party state would do in our case.

Democracy, after it was earned, became a responsibility, asking of its citizenship to build more and relish less. Democracy, especially in the South Africa context, was not indebted to us; we were and still are indebted to it.

Of course, the painful cost of freedom was not experienced by all. A section of our population who enjoyed the privilege of apartheid understood democracy to be a concept devoid of social justice and the obligation, on their part, to contribute actively and willingly, not as a matter of legal compliance, towards fundamental social change, the upliftment of those hitherto economically marginalised and the economic empowerment of the majority.

On all matters of importance to the new democracy, those representing vested interests tend towards narrow definition. Yet, those who were the midwives of our democracy and who appreciate the sacrifices it took to bring it about are protective of it from two fronts – that is, protecting it from intolerance and irresponsibility. But, they further seek to defend it against narrow definition by those who seek to defend the status quo at all cost.

The ANC has held dear and sacrosanct the idea that people have a right to civil liberties wherein differences in viewpoints are accepted and respected in society at large. One of the processes of consolidating democracy is the development of a democratic culture of which political tolerance is a crucial ingredient.

Democracy and freedom, for many us old enough to remember, is not the image of winding voting lines alone.

Those beautiful images of our first vote are not removed from the image of Chris Hani’s lifeless body, or the Boipatong victims; they are not removed from images of violence in KZN and the blood of the Bhisho Massacre victims.

The point is that our freedom was not free; it is not a gift to be selfishly exploited for narrow and selfish ends, but to be collectively and jealously guarded.

Ours is an infant and imperfect democracy, we should at all times strive for tolerance without ever taking for granted what has been expensively and collectively achieved in the past 20 years.

We should never take for granted that our freedoms come with a critical obligation for us to conduct ourselves in the spirit of progression.

The ANC holds the firm view that democracy is about both the right to differ as well as the acceptance of such difference by all. As an ideal, democracy upholds that members of the society should treat each other, and be treated, as equals. Underlying in democracy is the acceptance and respect of the others and their diverse political views, race and other groups.

Our shared citizenship, respect and commonality remains the best means to build a progressive nation. Democracy necessitates deep respect for the plurality of views and virtues of dialogue as a means of resolving issues. Furthermore, we should appreciate that political tolerance is not the end goal of democracy and social justice, but also a means towards these goals.

We need to be tolerant as much as we are responsible; and be critical, as much as we are constructive.

 

*Gigaba is an ANC NEC member and the party’s head of elections.

 

What is democracy when the ruling party uses dirty tricks against rivals, asks Floyd Shivambu.

 

The 2014 general elections will happen in two months’ time and the backdrop to these is the ruling party’s intolerance to genuine political challenge and opposition.

Since our formation as a radical, left economic emancipation movement which contests elections, we have noticed many instances of intolerance from members of Jacob Zuma’s ANC and its government in all spheres of society.

The ANC is a fearful organisation and easily resorts to undemocratic and intolerant practices when confronted with formidable political opponents like the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

There are generally three broad categories that define ANC intolerance to political opposition:

* Hooligan behaviour which sees political parties barred from freely canvassing for votes and conducting their programmes in communities.

* Institutionalised intolerance which makes it difficult for formidable political parties to challenge its political dominance.

* Brutal suppression of protest actions and political programmes that expose the failure of the ANC as government.

On the first account, since the formation of the EFF, the ANC has sent its hooligans on many occasions to disrupt our meetings.

It has also instructed its incompetent local government officials to disallow EFF the right to use public places such as community halls and stadiums, and in the case of the North West, illegally occupied venues we had booked.

Towards our official launch in Marikana in October, the ANC mayor in the Madibeng Municipality tried to stop the event through inventing laws and concerns that were not existent.

When we unveiled the house we built for the Hlongwane family in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, ANC hooligans, led by Zuma’s son, blocked the road, intimidated the police, threw stones and bottles, and damaged our members’ cars.

Almost everywhere we go, ANC hooligans are sent to disrupt our activities, except in Gauteng and Limpopo because the majority of ANC members in those provinces will vote for us.

While ANC leaders present themselves as honest people who uphold the values of the constitution and the rule of law, the majority of their members are intolerant hooligans who are instructed by the very same political leaders to disrupt other parties’ programmes.

In the North West, ANC provincial chairman Supra Mahumapelo was one of the hooligans who occupied the hall booked by the EFF prior to the 2013 by-elections, legitimising our observation that the disruption of our activities is a carefully planned phenomenon that includes its senior leadership.

We do not agree with the DA’s attention-seeking gimmick of competing with the ANC on who should best implement neo-liberal policies, but it is within their right to march to the ANC headquarters or to any place in South Africa.

Predictably, the ANC transported its hooligans to an illegal gathering in the Johannesburg CBD to throw petrol bombs and bricks at DA members and the police.

How on earth do you call yourself “the government of the people”, yet throw petrol bombs and bricks at political opponents?

 

On the second account, the ANC has institutionalised political intolerance into laws and regulations that govern elections and broadcast laws of the public broadcaster.

As part of the 2014 general elections, the ANC will receive more than R67 million from the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) – and that is in addition to the millions of rand the organisation receives from Parliament.

New political parties like the EFF will be expected to pay R600 000 to the IEC in order to participate in the elections.

These ANC-made laws are an institutionalisation of political intolerance, because how do you expect free and fair elections when one party is helped to campaign by the IEC and others receive nothing?

The system is a reflection of intolerance and something the EFF will fight against.

Furthermore, the ANC is given more broadcast space on both television and radio broadcasts. The SABC, which is run by a semi-literate ANC appointee, suspended all its broadcasts in January this year in order to broadcast the elections manifesto launch of the ANC. However, it refused to grant the same opportunity to other political parties.

Viewers and listeners of SABC channels are fed ANC propaganda, while other political parties spend their money and efforts to reach out to as many voters as possible. This is an unfair practice, and a sign of political intolerance because the people of South Africa are denied alternative visions and programmes.

These institutionalised forms of political intolerance constitute elements that will change when we become the government. Before that, we will do everything in our power, including approaching courts, to urgently stop this institutionalised political intolerance. The playing field is not level for all political parties to canvass for votes equally.

We have written to both the IEC and Icasa to challenge these laws and will fight on if these institutions ignore our pleas. We are ready to successfully contest free and fair elections, but we will fight for an equal playing field.

The third and last component of political intolerance is the killing and premeditated massacre of innocent protesters.

It is the ANC government’s police who massacred miners in Marikana.

Immediately after this, on August 18, 2012, our leader, Julius Malema, said it would not be the last time people would be killed.

He was right, because more people were killed while protesting for basic services in Mothutlung, Sebokeng, Relela, as well as Amcu-organised miners protesting for better wages in Limpopo.

Police brutality and killings are the epitome of political intolerance and the ANC government should take full responsibility. In as much as they claim reduced crime levels and uncritically sing in Parliament that South Africa is a better place to live in, they should accept that the government they are leading has massacred our people.

The electorate should be guaranteed the freedom to interact with and understand the manifestos of political parties on an equal and level playing field. But the ANC has seen to it that formidable political voices like the EFF are suppressed and not given space to peacefully exist in communities.

The ANC will claim they are the ones who fought for the freedom of all political parties to exist, but the reality is their actions are reversing the gains of political freedom.

The questions we should be asking are: why is the ANC, which claims to be the liberator of the people, so desperately resorting to violence to suppress alternative political voices?

Why is the ANC denying opposing political parties the right and freedom to canvass for votes? Why is the ANC institutionalising intolerance and passing laws that protect their continued dominance?

Despite all these realities, the EFF will fight on and will spread the word in all corners of South Africa and will speak to each and every voter, and our word is simple: now is the time for economic freedom.

 

*Shivambu is the EFF’s commissar for policy, research and political education.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

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