Yes, it is another blog post on the words spoken during the Maimane-James debate. Yes, I will come up with a new variation on the same theme until Maimane retracts his statements.
The Death Penalty
With our separation of powers under threat, the return of the death penalty would mean the Zuma Administration would have the legal power of life and death. Jacob Zuma will not preside over South Africa forever so you can swap the name “Zuma” for anyone good or bad that could become our president.
When questioned as to his support of a referendum on the death penalty, Mmusi Maimane rejected it because the criminal justice system makes mistakes. He did not reject a referendum on this Bill Of Rights’ issue on principle. Until the State can ascertain with pin-point accuracy who its favourite criminals are, it should not have the power to kill, he is saying.
When the State can decide on whether a person can live or die, a halo of daunting authority develops around it. It can do no wrong. Pastor Maimane’s Jesus was executed by the Empire in his day as a common criminal, and outlaw Nelson Mandela came close to being executed by the State not too long ago. So the State can be wrong even if it has the right criminal. Some want the death penalty because they think certain criminals deserve to die. I am not advocating vigilantism but there are many ways to see to someone’s death other than the hand of the State. Just saying.
Democracy is the majority’s right and power to select a government it believes able to protect and enhance the full citizenship of each individual within that democracy.
Democracy cannot give anyone (or everyone) the right to unjustifiably revoke or diminish the full citizenship and rights of any citizen within that democracy. That is why the Bill Of Rights says that citizenship cannot be denied to any South African citizen.
If the Bill Of Rights were changed or replaced, nobody would have the power to pick a political party; not even the majority would have any power because no individuals within the majority would have human rights. And to give human rights is to give the whole package. If mine are compromised, for whatever reason, so are yours.
If human rights are determined by the majority then who gave the first right to any individual in that majority? How can the majority determine any individual’s rights if there is no majority prior to it to give the majority’s individual members that power? The power to vote becomes a mirage; an echo without an original sound, a series of reflections in a hall of mirrors without anything real to reflect.
For the majority to have any power to vote for a party or hold referendums on the national currency and etolls, the first individual within that majority has to already possess a set of human rights that can’t be revoked or diminished on the basis of race, gender, or sexual orientation. If he does not have those rights or if those rights can be interfered with, then the majority he is part of does not have any voting power either.
The first human being examined in any majority could possess any human attributes; therefore, it must be assumed upfront that he or she is entitled to all applicable human rights. And if that first individual has those human rights on the basis of human being and not anyone’s feelings, then so do all human beings.
But let’s test the opposite idea. Let us assume that the majority has the right to speak over individual human rights; that a black majority could speak over the rights of a white minority, or a straight majority over a gay minority, or any sub-group over any other scientifically recognized human sub-group. If we assume that the first person within the deciding majority (of one) is a straight white male, then we must say that heterosexuality, whiteness and maleness form the pattern by which the legitimacy of other human rights is measured. This would mean that everyone who is not straight, not white or not male is at the mercy of those who are straight, white and male. The straight white male would have become a self-referencing lexicon of true humanity, and everyone else a second-class citizen to be spared and tolerated as long as good feelings flow, and scapegoated when good feelings don’t flow and the niceness runs out. (The DA that once persuaded the South African government to speak for the gay rights of those in Uganda has chosen a new leader who doesn’t grasp this fundamental idea).
The straight white male being the template of “true” humanity is not hypothetical, by the way; I didn’t choose it because I have a gripe with straight white males. I chose it because that was the lexicon from which the rest of our understanding of humanity was defined and derived until 1994. It was apartheid in a nutshell.
A referendum on basic human rights is therefore the return of apartheid against someone, somewhere, and that someone has done nothing to deserve it other than existing. Because when you’re gay, that’s all you have to do for South Africans to “feel strongly” that you should not be recognized as a full human being, and no one needs a referendum to find that out. Being “referendumed over” by others makes the gay person a second-class citizen. I am gay, and if I vote for a party whose leader says as much, then I agree with him that I am a second-class citizen. Why else would he agree to a referendum on gay rights but would not suggest a corresponding referendum on straight rights in the same breath? He believes straight is the unquestionable normal.
No amount of laughing, taking selfies of same-sex families and reassuring diversity-positive tweets from members at DA Congress changes the fact that as per its leader’s looseness with the Bill Of Rights, the DA would bring back apartheid if that’s what would be most popular with whomever it wanted to be in favour with at that moment. It is not enough for the DA to describe itself (as the ANC does) as a non-sexist, non-racist non-homophobic party; Maimane needs to positively retract his Bill Of Rights statements for me to stop harping on about it like a broken record.
The DA realized some time ago that a shared commitment to shared values wasn’t what black people wanted. It seemed black people “felt strongly” the need to identify with a black leader. Notice – strong feelings shaping what politicians do.
The DA brings in Mmusi. Mmusi is asked whether he would support a Bill Of Rights referendum. His response is that if people felt “felt strongly” about it he would.
It’s the same line of reasoning that made the DA choose him and it strengthens a populist precedent.
Say the populism gains momentum. Say a sizable number of black people “felt strongly” that the only way past some lingering issues would be through the reduction of white people’s rights. Call it BEE, on which the DA has flip-flopped (though BEE could be used quite effectively given a perfect administration but that is beside the point). Or call it State-sanctioned genocide. The action is irrelevant; the principle is what’s important.
Because every time you give in to what people “feel strongly” about in order to win their votes, you set a deadly precedent – and it could turn around and bite the very white people who wanted the DA to get the black vote through Mmusi Maimane.
He has proven popular for the wrong reasons, and the more votes he can add to the DA’s spoils, the more an ideologically unstable a DA it is. He alone would be the point of stability. His word would be law but it would be shaped by anything anyone “felt strongly” about.
His popularity would make him as indispensible to the DA as Jacob Zuma is to the ANC. Neither of these parties agrees fully with the thoughts of its leaders, but there its leaders are. There’s a silly idea going around that Maimane is a temporary measure to get votes. Fiddlesticks. If the DA didn’t have the ability to attract black votes without playing to “strong feelings,” it won’t be able to control Maimane without playing to those “strong feelings.” It will struggle to consolidate its message. And it wouldn’t be able to get rid of him while staying true to its founding principles before it, too, is absorbed in the conservatism it is flirting with. And that leads to the next issue.
The DA has also adopted a Values’ Charter. It repeatedly talks about families and says things like, “however constructed” or “in all its manifestations” which, we’re told, means openness to mixed-race, single-parent and gay families.
But on this we just have some people’s words, tweets and comments; none of these reassurances are in writing and if it were to be, the explanations and qualifications could go on forever. Which makes me wonder why the DA is flirting with the words “families” and “values” in the same document in the first place.
This morning, I read a Rebecca Davis piece on the Charter. She observed that the “charter’s emphasis on family values was a cause of concern to several prominent DA MPs.” Now, “what could possibly be controversial about saying that stable families are key to a successful nation? What are families? The DA’s new values charter doesn’t offer a definition. It deliberately seems to leave room for a plurality of interpretations. That’s sensible in a country where the traditional concept of a nuclear family, for instance, barely exists. Most South African children grow up living with only a mother. Western Cape DA leader Patricia de Lille clarified: ‘It includes every structure you could ever think of: extended families, families whether it’s a gay couple or just a single mother.’ Perhaps some within the DA would have felt more comfortable about the references to ‘family’ if the charter explicitly spelled out the range of manifestations listed by De Lille. It doesn’t, though it allows for them to be ‘uniquely structured’.”
The problem with political parties flirting with everything-and-nothing-at-the-same-time definitions of families is that it smacks of “a moralistic framework which, by definition, seeks to instruct people how to live,” which is a problem for “more radical lefties” who “would argue that the family has always been a tool of social control.”
“Then there’s institutional sexism to think of, too. Pregnant young girls suffer various official and unofficial forms of stigma and shaming, The males who impregnate them – the ‘fathers’ of some hypothetical family unit – are often entirely absent from the discussion. Officials may sing the praises of the family, but the way workplace systems are set up still generally imagines a very particular version of family. It would be nice to see more evidence in either the public or private sector that systems are evolving to allow for the possibility that mothers and fathers can share childcare more equally than has traditionally been the case.
“The phrasing of the DA’s charter suggests that that families play an irreplaceable role in the wellbeing of individuals. Valorising the structure of the family as the solution to social ills, however, ignores the fact that South African families are sometimes the site of violence and danger – as witnessed by the ongoing epidemic of intimate-partner killings. Will a woman being abused by her husband feel less able to leave him if she is being told that the preservation of the family unit is the key to success for her children?”
The words “family” and “values” (or “family values”) are very sensitive in political contexts. Why would a liberal party want to play with them now? Will people who are perceived as not being in “real” families not become second-class citizens?
An Alternate ANC In The Rapid Making
When people vote DA because it’s an alternative to the ANC, they create an alternate ANC in the DA. The only way the DA could prevent that is it it picks a set of principles and sticks to it.
For me, voting for this DA would be voting ANC in a different skin.
And I could not do that.
Thank you for reading. Please feel free to comment and share.
Siya Khumalo writes about religion, politics and sex.