Saturday, June 05, 2010

Pulling the Wool Over Tourist's Eyes

Nice one from Thought Leader. A jaundiced eye is welcome at this stage when euphoria is riding high, and people are starting to think that things are great in Mandela's ZA. They're not...Neither was Berlin in 1936....

It is rather endearing that President Jacob Zuma thinks one of the most diverse and fractious societies on earth will heed his plaintive plea to “just for four weeks, be good. Just for four weeks.”

One thing is certain, though. The intention towards those who ignore his fatherly words is that any bad behaviour that does occur will, at all costs, be hidden from Soccer World Cup visitors.

While all tourist destinations try to present their best profile during major events, there are limits imposed by law and human decency. South Africa, however, has a sanitisation programme that rivals the image management of the Beijing Olympics, when the Chinese went to great lengths to ensure that no crime, no squalor and no political dissent would mar the idyllic picture that it wanted to present to the outside world.

This week the Independent Democrat’s Haniff Hoosen slammed as illegal the countrywide round-ups of street children, seen as an “eyesore” for visitors. He identified Durban as the biggest culprit during previous international events, including a “shocking operation” earlier this year, when they ‘forcefully bundled children into police vehicles and used pepper spray to prevent them from escaping”.

There are 56 special courts to deal with offences against visitors. More than a quarter of the entire SA Police Service, about 44 000 officers, has been mobilised solely to ensure the safety of spectators. That’s approximately one cop dedicated to every eight foreign visitors, although the geographic dispersal of World Cup venues makes the SAPS task harder than that of the 100 000 police and troops deployed in Beijing in 2008.

But beyond the admirable containment of crime, at least so far as it affects overseas visitors, there is the problem of the unconstitutional curtailment of civil liberties. The evidence is that SAPS has instructed municipalities not to allow demonstrations for the duration of the tournament.

SAPS won’t admit that there is a total ban, but in one of those wonderful bits of Alice-in-Wonderland logic at which bureaucrats are expert, told the Mail & Guardian about one application: “The march is not banned, it’s just not approved.”

Any application for a politically related “gathering” over the tournament period will be refused by municipalities, at the request of SAPS, because of manpower needs and ‘the potential for protest and unrest’.
 Not only on match days. Not only around stadiums.

The propensity of local toyi-toyiing protest marchers to scatter rubbish, bang bin lids with their knobkerries, and brandish poorly lettered and miss-spelled signs does not make for a pretty picture. Nevertheless, there is no danger to life and limb from the overwhelming majority of demonstrations, providing the state with no public order justification for withdrawing the right to assembly.

According to Rhodes University’s Professor Jane Duncan on the SA Civil Society site, unionists wanting to mobilise protest during the World Cup were told informally by the police that given the recent beating that SA’s image has taken overseas, the ban was justified to prevent further negative messages. In other words, as she put it, “the SAPS could well be motivated by the need to remake SA’s brand in the international media as a land of peace, reconciliation and stability”.

The reality is that SA is no different from many other developing countries: it is a disputatious, sometimes bloody-minded cauldron of competing interests. Unions have every right to use the conduit to international opinion shapers, offered by the World Cup, to advance their causes and, in any case, it is futile to think that two months of orchestrated charades would delude the world. The rainbow nation illusion has long been dispelled, not by bolshy demonstrators but by the likes of Julius Malema’s ‘kill the boer” rhetoric.

Robust democracies don’t exist because there is no conflict. They exist because they have mechanisms for channelling conflict in ways that relieve pressure, while simultaneously protecting public order and the freedoms of their citizens.

SA has such a mechanism. It’s called the Constitution and the police minister should acquaint himself with it.

Professor Jane Duncan: The return of state repression:

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