Willie Spies

Eighteen years. The age when a youth is emancipated. At this age, a person becomes eligible to vote, eligible to enter into contracts and to get married without the consent of his or her parents.

But how mature is an individual at the age of 18?

Everyone would agree that at that age every young person still has a lot to learn.

SA’s young democracy also has a lot to learn.

Today we celebrate 18 years of freedom – but are we really free?

During this week, some highlights in the news included the following:

l The president marries his fourth wife; his sixth marriage in total.

l The Safety and Security minister denies allegations of nepotism.

l The former police commissioner serves a 15-year sentence for corruption and fraud.

l The current police commissioner is under suspension amid allegations of tender fraud and corruption.

l The acting police chief needs to explain the dropping of murder charges against the police’s intelligence chief.

l The youth leader of the ruling party is being investigated by Sars for millions in tax fraud (and others).

l A mentally disabled girl is gang-raped in Soweto, and video footage of the atrocity ends up in cyberspace.

In response the president acknowledges: “We are a nation of thugs,” but blames the culture of violence on the legacies of apartheid.

Renowned author CS Lewis once wrote that “of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

“It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies.

“The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

The question remains: are we governed by robber barons or are we governed by omnipotent moral busybodies?

We have both.

Julius Malema manages to be both an advocate for the poor and a suspect of tender corruption, tax evasion and self-enrichment.

President Jacob Zuma managed to be both the strongman against former president Thabo Mbeki’s ambitions to become a three-term president, and the counterparty in what was typed by the Durban High Court in Schabir Shaik’s fraud conviction.

Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe manages to be both the generally accepted alternative to Zuma who can bring back respect and dignity to the office of the Presidency, and a key figure in the Oilgate and oil-for-food debacle of seven years ago.

The Tshwane metropolitan municipality manages to be both in court to defend its urgent drive to replace names of 25 city streets, which have Afrikaner and “colonial” names in the name of “the dignity of the people”, and to be found in contempt of the very same court in a different matter for its failure to correct a R250 000 error on a municipal bill.

It is as part of this very drive for “our own good” that policies of affirmative action, social engineering of the Western Cape workplace demographics (à la Jimmy Manyi) and the eradication of property rights in respect of land and minerals, are carefully designed, planned and executed.

In his reflections on the French Revolution, Edmund Bourke wrote in the 18th century: “Among a people generally corrupt, liberty cannot long exist.”

Thus, while we celebrate 18 years of democracy, the question really is whether we are able to celebrate liberty.

Benjamin Franklin wrote that: “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch.

“Liberty is a well-armed lamb contesting the vote.”

In my private legal practice, I am privileged to act for AfriForum – the civil rights initiative of the Solidarity Movement. In the past 40 days we were involved in four significant legal challenges:

In the Eastern Cape we had to interdict Eskom from cutting the power supply of Steynsburg residents where the municipality failed to remit the electricity rates it collected from residents to Eskom.

In Wallmansthal, north of Pretoria, we represent the rightful beneficiaries of land reform in their legal battle with a now-imprisoned corrupt police officer and his followers who are invading land designated to others.

In Pretoria we are battling to maintain or restore Umalusi’s accreditation of an independent Christian Examination Council which is under pressure for ideological reasons.

Also in Pretoria we are trying to stop the Tshwane metropolitan council from unilaterally changing the names of 25 streets, among others Church Street, SA’s longest street, which is, contrary to the council’s own policies, chopped up into four different streets with different names.

Indeed we are contesting the vote – but it is time for the lambs to organise and equip themselves.

l Spies is AfriForum’s attorney and spokesman