In another twist involving the public protector’s office‚ the Minister of Co-operative Governance an.
reedom and democracy are inherent human rights, but they are also fragile and capable of being abused by political parties, governments, and even by an electorate that abdicates its responsibility of acting in a manner that enhances those values.
In South Africa, we are increasingly seeing these tendencies; powerful institutions such as the media, including the public broadcaster, are becoming a playground for manipulation from those who wield political power. Even the voting population does not escape the manipulation, and is often used as voting cows to prop up political interests of politicians who are greedy for what political power holds in store.
Sadly, even the independence of the judiciary is increasingly coming under threat from powerful politicians who question its impartiality, albeit for narrow political ends. There are unconfirmed reports that there may be some judges who are prepared to compromise the independence and impartiality of the judiciary if only to be "in the good books" of certain powerful politicians
Whether these allegations are true or just a fabrication is not the point; the point is that such claims get repeated in many quarters. The effect of such allegations on the psyche of the people is debilitating.
In the recent past some judges have been described as "counter-revolutionary". We have also read about remarks that seek to cast aspersion on the supremacy of the Constitutional Court.
What are the implications of such statements? They may suggest that politicians entrusted with the task of being the custodians of the Constitution may be acting in an unconstitutional manner to undermine the very Constitution they are duty-bound to protect and preserve. That is unsettling!
We have seen the consequence of a dictatorship in Zimbabwe; judges, magistrates and law enforcement agencies have become subservient to President Robert Mugabe, and not the law; those judges he did not like, he made a laughing stock. Those he loved because they were prepared to do his will and toe the line, he rewarded significantly with material things, including farms.
Even the church did not escape Mugabe's attention. Those who are less critical of his policies, are treated with affection and respect, as he did to the former Anglican Bishop of Harare, whom he offered a farm for being "a good boy". He acted viciously against his critics such as the former Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube.
Mugabe treated the media with disdain; newspapers that were critical, he harassed and closed down. Zimbabwe became a police state. Security state agents targeted journalists, activists and social movements, for arrest and intimidation.
What can South Africans do to avert these scenarios? We have to help our country to avoid political conservatism and dogmatism which may easily lead to a political dictatorship.
We have to be concerned that the judiciary is unjustly attacked, and that a chasm among judges is deliberately created, dividing them into camps - the counter-revolutionaries and the revolutionaries. That, to me, is dangerous, and weakens the integrity of the judiciary as a whole, and pushes the country closer to political dictatorship.
In a constitutional democracy, the three branches of government, the legislature, the executive and the judiciary, will always operate with some measure of tension, yet there is no need for politicians to countenance the idea of interference.
To come back to the question, what can we do to avoid a dictatorship?
In less than a week, South Africans will go to the polls. In his recent pastoral letter to his archdiocese, and by extrapolation, to all South Africans, the Catholic Archbishop of Johannesburg, the Most Reverend Buti Tlhagale, urged the faithful to use their vote wisely, and not feel bound to vote as their parents or grandparents did in the past. In other words, he was saying that South Africans should apply their minds when casting their vote.
Indeed, South Africans need to look at all issues, including issues or morality and ethics. After all, our constitutional values demand of us to ensure that we hold our government accountable on whether it lives up to the values of human dignity.
Politicians are not kings or queens; they are servants of the people, and we must hold them to account for their actions.
lFather Mdhlela is an ethicist and an Anglican priest