Blade Nzimande

SA COMMUNIST Party leader Blade Nzimande’s call for a law preventing people from insulting a sitting president should be condemned.

The idea apparently originated in the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal and was backed by Nzimande last week. The SACP leader said white people had pushed their black compatriots to the limit with their disrespect for President Jacob Zuma, that anger in the black community was approaching boiling point and that the post-1994 compact could unravel as a result.

Nzimande’s call for such a law – which exists in countries where freedom of expression is severely suppressed, and which existed in apartheid South Africa – is outrageous from a cabinet minister serving in a democratic government.

He must know that such a law would be unconstitutional but he seems to be suggesting that the constitution should be amended to protect one individual.

That is hardly the way to preserve our post-1994 democracy.

Nzimande, who by the way was much less vocal when the previous president, Thabo Mbeki, was subjected to plenty of insults from within the ANC, would do well to heed the response from Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi.

Pointing out that no one – not the president, not striking workers, not the unemployed – should be subjected to insults, Vavi insisted last Thursday that the president did not need special protection.

“In Zimbabwe they used that law to block any form of criticism against the president, and we don’t want that in South Africa,” he said.

This new attempt to close down public space for debate should be resisted. We do not need a law which could be used to prevent South Africans from subjecting the president, or anyone else, to criticism.

On the contrary: everything possible must be done to ensure that a safe space is created for critical debate and that critics are encouraged, protected from intimidation and taken seriously.

Isn’t that what democracy is all about?