Sunday, November 23, 2008

Demonising the opposition

As the battle for the support of South African voters heats up, the recriminations, accusations and name-calling increases. It is interesting to note that the ANC president Jacob Zuma and his cronies repeatedly state publicly that the Congress of the People should be ignored as it is an insignificant political party. Ironically his pronouncements are achieving the opposite.

Regrettably, Cope has provided the ANC just the opportunity it needed to avoid dealing with policy issues, in particular the creeping poverty in our country with the associated increased deprivation of social and economic rights. Every public event attended by Zuma and other ANC leaders has been aimed at denigrating Cope and its interim leadership. There has been very little about what a government under the leadership of Zuma will do to alleviate poverty and change the lives of the millions who have been waiting for the past 14 years.

While robust challenges from opposing political parties are legitimate and necessary to win the support of voters, the tactics of the ANC have very worrying undertones. It could be a recipe for violence. We have already seen reports of skirmishes between ANC members and supporters of Cope, most recently in Verulam, KwaZulu-Natal. While the National Working Committee of the ANC rightly condemned such actions by its members, its president continues to demonise the leadership of Cope. Referring to them as animals – snakes, cockroaches, rats and more recently the “donkey of Jesus” – dehumanises them. It sends a message to ANC members that the leaders and supporters of Cope are not human and therefore could be eliminated. Such associations with animals and insects infers that Cope leaders are venomous, dangerous, cannot be trusted, pests, destructive and stupid. It could amount to incitement to violence. It could be interpreted by ANC members as a call by its leadership to persecute Cope and its supporters. It is therefore not surprising that ANC members have tried to disrupt Cope meetings including with the use of violence.

We also know that Zuma’s supporters have previously engaged in violent and disruptive behaviour to prevent their leader being prosecuted, and with his full acquiescence. The failure of Zuma and other ANC leaders to condemn the behaviour of his supporters during his rape trial, and more recently during the prosecution for alleged corruption, has to be foremost in our consideration when looking at his public denigration of leaders of opposition parties. It is also most likely in the minds of ANC supporters disrupting Cope meetings. They perhaps believe, and with good reason, that they can engage in violent opposition of Cope supporters with impunity.

During the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 the Tutsi were referred to as “cockroaches” by the Hutu genocidaires, those intent on exterminating them. Without doubt the Rwanda genocide was the most extreme form of demonisation and dehumanisation. In the public pronouncements of those fomenting genocide there were covert and overt references to hatred against the Tutsi. These statements called on the Hutu to work “in defence of the 1959 revolution” (when the Tutsi lost power); called on “Hutus to be vigilant and to take all necessary measures to deter the enemy”; referred to the Tutsi as “bloodthirsty” and to the “permanent dream of the Tutsi” to restore Tutsi minority rule. One of the articles published in furtherance of the genocidal intent was titled The Appeal to the Conscience of the Hutu. Viewed in a different context and at a different time, many of these public pronouncements would have been considered as harmless or merely political posturing or robust political debate. In fact Judge Navi Pillay (now UN High Commissioner for Human Rights) presiding in the case of Nahimana, Barayagwiza and Ngeze in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda found that these pronouncements and publications promoted contempt and hatred for the Tutsi ethnic group, which exhorted many to commit heinous crimes.

There is absolutely no suggestion that the ANC or its leadership has any intention of eliminating Cope and its leaders or doing them any harm. However, the messages being delivered publicly by the ANC leadership could be interpreted by its membership as a call to attack Cope and its supporters. It is hypocritical that the NWC of the ANC calls on its members to desist from attacking Cope supporters, while Zuma continues to publicly denigrate them by comparing them to animals. On the other hand, one often hears Zuma saying that he does not speak on behalf of the ANC. In criticising the Restitution of Land Rights Act in a recent public meeting as “very strange”, Zuma was quick to add that he was expressing a personal view and not that of the ANC. One wonders whether he is really the leader of the ANC if he is unable to present its policies publicly and whether he is in agreement with its policies.

The silence of the civil society and human rights institutions in South Africa regarding the dehumanising remarks being made by Zuma and other ANC leaders is deafening. The SA Human Rights Commission has previously challenged ANC leaders on their calls to “kill for Zuma”, but the SAHRC came off second best in that challenge and is not likely to make enemies of its future bosses. In the run up to elections next year civil society has to be more vigilant and hold political leaders from all parties accountable for their pronouncements and behaviour. More importantly, the public has to hold political leaders accountable now, and not wait until election day to cast their vote.

3 Opinion(s):

He of difficult days said...

"There is absolutely no suggestion that the ANC or its leadership has any intention of eliminating Cope and its leaders or doing them any harm."

why do you allow such utter lies and bullshit to be published here without a counter?

Anonymous said...

"There is absolutely no suggestion that the ANC or its leadership has any intention of eliminating Cope and its leaders or doing them any harm."

If not, it's only because they're busy eliminating all the supporters of the VF!

Anonymous said...

HODD, we put forth different viewpoints. We pick, you choose - to read and believe whatever you want. Now that this person's viewpoint has been posted, please post a counter then.