DEBATE ON A MATTER OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE

 

By BT Buthelezi MPL
 

KwaZulu-Natal Legislature Pietermaritzburg: 9 April 2010

 

The IFP has been increasingly concerned about the rapid deterioration in race relations in recent weeks in South Africa as evidenced by the re-emergence – seemingly out of nowhere – of a liberation struggle song that today, sixteen years into democracy – can only be interpreted as an incitement to racial hatred and violence, and the killing – and brutal one at that – of an infamous white supremacist.

 

All these incidents are underpinned by something that has now become quite obvious – a palpable lack of direction and leadership in the highest political places.

 

But let us go back for a moment and consider the facts. At first, the ruling party rallies around one of its junior leaders who continues to popularise the controversial song to the extent that it defies a court order. Later, the ruling party meekly complies and changes its tune, as some newspapers termed it, by calling for restraint from its structures amid tensions sparked by AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche's murder.

 

In the past two days, we have seen the full extent of popular frustration with the state of race relations in this country sixteen years into a regime that is meant to be all-inclusive and harmonious by definition. At first a white politician storms out of a live television debate about race relations and later the leader of the ANC Youth League throws racial epithets at a white journalist whom he first kicked out of a news conference.

 

I would like to return to one aspect of yesterday’s debate in this House, namely whether Mr Terre'Blanche's death was symbolic in some ways or whether it was merely just another violent death in a country where people get killed indiscriminately. My own answer to this dilemma is both yes and no.

 

In some ways, the killing of an elderly white man on a farm, as horrible as it was, is hardly newsworthy in a country which has seen more than 3300 such deaths since 1994. According to this logic, Mr Terre'Blanche was just another victim of crime in a country where, it would appear, criminals have had a free ride for a long time.

 

On another level, however, the death of the AWB leader is symbolic because it brings all these past murders, some of which have gone unnoticed, into sharp focus. It does so purely because of who Mr Terre'Blanche was. We can argue that the ideologies of Mr Terre'Blanche were not intended to serve the nation, but to preserve the standing of a minority which felt sidelined by the advent of democracy.

 

Did that make him a target for assassination? Speaking from Zimbabwe, where he recently became enamoured with President Mugabe's economic policies, ANC Youth League President Mr Julius Malema suggested that - had racism made him a target - Mr Terre'Blanche would have been murdered long ago. Yet not every racist harbours murderous intent.

 

Malema may have brushed this tragedy aside, offhandedly welcoming Afrikaners to take him on. But our President Jacob Zuma, being an older and more accomplished leader when it comes to diffusing tensions, knew well the kind of disaster that could mount in the wake of this murder.

 

We cannot help but ask myself why our President took so long to make this call. Leaders from all opposition parties warned of the potential consequences of Mr Malema's hate speech. Does the ANC still believe itself right to have rejected the High Court ruling upon first deliberation on its meaning?

 

We warned that the ANC's defiance of the High Court ruling was tantamount to putting the party before the law, running the risk of destabilising our society on two fronts; how we see one another and how we see the rule of law. This is a dangerous combination. The moment the law is seen to flounder, to be unenforced or flouted, it loses authority and can be easily transgressed.

 

For years the IFP has called for a referendum on the death penalty to allow South Africans to decide whether ours shoulands an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth. This debate is not about vengeance, but about deterrence.

 

The jury is still out on whether the death penalty substantially deters murder. One thing is certain, however. Lenient laws and a justice system that is bent to the will of politicians is a poor foundation for any wall that intends to keep murder out of our society.

 

South Africa's justice system needs to be profoundly strengthened if we are to lower the crime rate. But equally, the message that laws apply to everyone must prevail. It is damning that the IFP had to drag the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to court to force her to consider the long outstanding cases of hundreds of political prisoners. A government official should not have to be forced to do their job, particularly when the law dictates that a job must be done.

 

There are so many instances where the law appears to have been flouted when it comes to high profile people. South Africa cannot afford for contempt for the judiciary to enter, as it did in Zimbabwe where the ruling party repeatedly disregards decisions of the court. It is deeply concerning that Mr Malema has expressed a desire to import into South Africa the worst of Zimbabwe's policies.

 

It is also repugnant that he could advocate "land grabs" within hours of Mr Terre'Blanche's murder. Land reform is a contentious issue, and is certainly higher on the national agenda than the murder of farmers. We know that since 1994 more than 3300 South African farmers have been murdered on their properties. Obviously farm murders cannot be put down to wage disputes and labour issues.

 

There is something more sinister at work here. These things could not happen in the absence of a culture of lawlessness that hints at the prospect of impunity. Regardless of whether recently revived liberation songs are to blame or not, it is ill-advised to bring the past into the present, except as a means of expressing how far we have come as a nation.

 

As individuals, we are not all at the same point on the continuum that leads away from a past of division and towards a shared future. It should be clear that the hairline fracture of racial division can still be shattered if hit hard enough or often enough. As a nation we have put so much energy into pursuing reconciliation, it would be a tragedy if we allow individuals who lag a little further behind to arrest the progress made by so many.

 

Perhaps more than many others, I am wary of the danger inherent in divisive behaviour. The internecine low intensity civil war that raged between members of the ANC and members of Inkatha in the late 1980s and early 1990s etched into our shared consciousness the destructive power of foolish words and bad timing.

 

In some ways it was revenge that cost us 20,000 black lives, because once the ball of hatred began rolling it demanded more and more destruction as recompense for whatever came before. I therefore thank God that the supporters of the AWB have retracted their threat of retaliation. It showed wisdom and discretion on their part, traits that I have come to value in the Afrikaner community.

 

Now it is up to our country's leaders to show the same wisdom and discretion in putting an end to foolish words like "kill the Boer". That song may have been sung during our liberation struggle, but singing it now is more than just bad timing. It is a call to greater destruction, greater division and greater pain.

 

Together with my political party, I extend my condolences to the families of Mr Terre'Blanche and many other recent victims of violent crime. We share your sorrow and we pray for healing.

 

As a responsible political party, we cannot help but conclude that the combination of a deep-seated economic recession and rapidly deteriorating race relations is a toxic and dangerous one. In a country where income inequalities between races persist despite every attempt on the part of government to eradicate them, such a confluence of factors can easily lead to a disaster. It is for this reason that we need  decisive leadership to nip these developments in the bud.

 

I thank you. 

 

Contact: Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi, 082 516 0156