Zwelinzima Vavi

Johannesburg - South Africa cannot end up in a situation like Zimbabwe where a president is considered more equal than others and can’t be subjected to criticism, Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said on Thursday.

But all citizens of the country, and not only the president, should not be subjected to insults, Vavi told The Star.

This applied whether you were a striking worker, an unemployed person or even an “unborn baby”, Vavi said.

He was responding to the call by the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal - and backed by its general secretary, Blade Nzimande - for a law to protect the office of the president following a “barrage of insults directed at President Zuma”.

Nzimande told The Star on Wednesday a law preventing people from insulting a sitting president was necessary because some white South Africans had shown little respect for black people and their cultures. He was the first senior tripartite alliance leader to publicly back the call for the so-called insult law, which was first raised by the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal.

Nzimande warned that some in the black community were approaching boiling point over insults directed at Zuma and the post-1994 agreement could unravel as a result.

SACP provincial secretary Themba Mthembu said the discussion had been prompted by attacks on Zuma, including the way in which he was portrayed in the controversial painting, The Spear.

Vavi said Cosatu had also expressed its disgust over The Spear, “not because he (Zuma) was the president, but a human”.

“My starting point is that insults directed towards anyone are not right. Whether you are the president, or a church minister. Also, we must protect the dignity of every South African, whether you are unemployed, a striking worker or an unborn child.”

But Cosatu did not back the SACP proposal.

“We don’t want to support something that will personalise the issue. The constitution treats us all equally. I get scared when people say ‘just the president’.

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

Nzimande, in a radio interview on Thursday, said it was important for all South Africans to realise everyone had to “take responsibility for our very carefully negotiated transition, including the need to promote social cohesion”.

“That’s the debate we need to be having, which is embedded in what the SACP in KZN is saying,” Nzimande, who is also Higher Education minister, told Talk Radio 702’s Stephen Grootes.

Constitutional law expert Pierre de Vos has said such a law would be in conflict with South Africa’s constitution and the rule of law; the principle that no one is above it, or more equal before it than others.

Such a law “could not possibly be squared with the constitution”, De Vos said.

The Star