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This is not Zimbabwe, yet

by Andy Davis / 17.02.2010

It’s like we went to sleep and woke up in Zimbabwe. Granted it seems to have taken 16 years to get here. Scratch that, I’ll discount five for Mandela. The rot only really set in when the big little man with the pipe took over. Up until then it was all rainbow nation building and just one dodgy arms deal. But while we’ve been sleeping, comatose for 11 years, drunk on our new found freedom to consume, the Zanu-fication of the ANC was underway and gathering steam. What I’m referring to is the unfettered arrogance and licentious entitlement of the current crop of ruling party politicians.

And it’s only getting worse, as this week has demonstrated. It all started with a harmless little jog, this dude, Chumani Maxwele a 25 year old student at UCT, and card carrying ANC member, is jogging on De Waal Drive when a whole series of speeding, black 4x4s, with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing, zooms passed him, probably giving him a huge skrik. Like any sane, proud young lion he makes a fist save for his middle finger which extends into the air in meaningful defiance. He flips the cavalcade the bird and probably mutters “fuck you” to himself and carries on jogging. An entirely normal, oft repeated urban response to obnoxious roadhogs. A car in the cavalcade stops, VIP security goons with machine guns jump out, arrest and interrogate him and hold him for 24 hours. You can read the full report in the Sowetan here and the follow up here.

The VIP police seem particularly oblivious to the fact, that as a citizen of South Africa, he has the inalienable constitutional right to express himself freely. His crime, according to the article, “insulting the president”. Despite the fact that he had no idea which fat cat politico was travelling in the blue light convoy. JZ seems awfully touchy these days. But that’s not all, so affronted were the powers at this symbol of disrespect to our supreme leader, the police apparently went on to raid his house and sent “intelligence officers” to interrogate him the next day. A little overkill for just giving someone the finger, ne?

When the rest of all the sane people in the country woke up expecting the government to distance themselves from the actions of a few overzealous and obviously misguided cops, the spokesperson for the ministry of police Zweli Mnisi released this statement.
“No person is permitted to use foul language and swear at another individual, especially as such conduct may lead to promoting hate conduct in the Republic.”

To this, we at Mahala say woza Freedom of Expression Institute and the Constitutional Court! Viva our constitutional rights viva! Because, this my friends is worth fighting for. If there’s one thing we need to protect and defend, it’s the right of young people to say “fuck you”. To protest. To borrow a cliche from Obama, “to speak truth to power”. This cuts to the very core of what pushes our species, and our societies forward. The rebellious voice of the disgruntled youth, the average person in the street who stands up for what they believe in and like the Dude in The Big Lebowski says, “this aggression will just not stand man”. And if we lose this battle, I’m gonna put it all on the line right now, South Africa will not be a country worth living in.

Rage of the Blue Lights

Scarier yet, this is not an isolated incident. In this very same week all the Opposition parties staged a walk-out of Parliament over Mluleki George’s (and their collective) right to say that the president or cabinet couldn’t lead the country in moral behaviour. On their way out another leading opposition politician said, “fuck you”. And since then the debate has reached levels of hysteria. Is it not common for political rivals to sling insults at one another? Since when did the ANC become so delicate and proper. This is not my robust revolutionary movement. Apparently you can’t say the F-word in Parliament, it brings down the decorum of the place, according to the law. But surely you can say it with a gesture on the street, while you’re out jogging and a BMW X5, sirens wailing, rides up your arse and gives you the fright of your life, as it zooms around a corner at 160 kms per hour.

And then in another exercise of radical paranoid political oversensitivity, as if all this pomposity, entitlement and hubris wasn’t enough, over in Durban three publicly commissioned statues of elephants, I kid you not, elephants, have become embroiled in controversy and their production has been suspended (despite being officially commissioned and paid for by the city). The offence, it would seem, is that elephants are associated, in the minds of certain insecure and power-drunk officials in the Ethikwini city council, with the symbol of the Inkatha Freedom Party. Read all about it here.

Yoh! And this is the part where I remind you that just North of the Limpopo, several normal Zimbabweans have been arrested of late for insulting his excellency Robert Gabriel Mugabe. Most famously, Douglas Mwonzora, an MDC parliamentarian and co-chairman of the key parliamentary constitutional commission, who allegedly told MDC supporters that the 85-year-old Mugabe was a goblin. No surprises there. Zimbabwe is a globally reviled military dictatorship masquerading as a government of national unity. South Africa, on the other hand, is a democratic republic ruled by the world’s most hallowed and progressive constitution, about to stage the world’s most prestigious sporting event.

So what happened to the glorious, principled revolution spearheaded by giants like Tambo, Sisulu, Biko, Hani and Mandela? Can you imagine any of those guys behaving like this? Since when did Africa’s, “tried and tested revolutionary movement” become so sensitive to a bit of criticism… and such a flippen bully.

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