Hawks, Scorpions and Spooks

Apr 12, 11 Hawks, Scorpions and Spooks

Posted by in Politics

What do the former Directorate of Special Operations (‘the Scorpions’) and the National Intelligence Agency (‘NIA’) have in common? This sounds like the precursor to a witty one-liner, but the answer is actually far from amusing: both appear to have been infiltrated by different factions of the pre-Polokwane ANC. Certain ANC cadres appeared most distressed by the Scorpions apparent pandering to the Mbeki re-election agenda, while Zuma’s legal team found themselves conveniently in possession of NIA tapes of phone conversations that seem to substantiate the view that Zuma was being persecuted by the Scorpions. The result was compressed Marxism: an important episode of South African history played out as farcical tragedy / tragic farce. Zuma was not prosecuted, nor was anyone else; the Scorpions were disbanded and replaced by the Hawks; and politics took the turns with which we are all now familiar. Well, almost. Hugh Glenister and five Constitutional Court justices have ensured that this sordid chapter has not (yet) been swiftly signed and sealed. But even if this last-minute-save restores some credibility to institutions that play an important role in South Africa, the damage that has already been done gives pause for thought. Democracy requires a lot if it is to be successful. Free and fair elections obviously play an important role. Equally necessary are the institutions which constitute and enable everyday practices and realisations of democracy: parliament, the IEC, a functioning judiciary, etc. These institutions increase government’s accountability through providing citizens with information and with access to the different levels of government. Institutions generally fulfill these roles better than people do because institutions better approximate perpetual and consistent succession, and they can have broader reach. True, institutions are ultimately established and maintained by people in order to achieve a particular end. So there is no guarantee that institutions will operate successfully (or at all), or achieve what they were initially established for. However, this is a reason to carefully monitor those who are entrusted with running a particular institution, rather than...

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Toyi-Toying on your ballot

Mar 09, 11 Toyi-Toying on your ballot

Posted by in Politics

“Courts deal with bad law; voters must deal with bad politics” (Justice Skweyiya at para 308 of Merafong Demarcation Forum v President of the Republic of South Africa 2008 (5) SA 171) There is a spectre that is sweeping through regimes that do not deliver – the spectre of being chucked out by protestors fed up with this failure to deliver. Tunisia and Egypt – and possibly (hopefully?) Libya – have shown that denying people a formal mechanism for expressing their grievances (such as through voting) is no way of guaranteeing one’s position of power. Voting is by no means a panacea for South Africa’s ills. It does allow us, though, to change our political circumstances. There people who were denied the vote protested ‘their’ governments out of office. South Africa is rather curious in this regard. Here people vote the government back into office, and then decide to protest about the lack of service delivery. This is a decidedly back-to-front way of engaging in politics. More importantly, it’s harmful to the democratic system. Voting is a privilege and a right which, historically and currently, was struggled for rather than unproblematically conferred. At its core, it says that all the members of a political community should have a say in how their lives are to be governed. South Africa prides itself on attempting to create an open space in which this expression can occur: be it at the ballot box, by making submissions to parliament, or through challenging legislation or government conduct in court. Citizens are therefore encouraged to hold their government accountable on an ongoing basis. However, the ballot box – which has its quirks – remains the cornerstone of our democracy. This is because voting is a relatively straightforward and cheap way of expressing your views. You queue for a bit, put an X in a box & voila!: you have (to some degree) stated how you feel the country and your municipality should be run. True, this is not a perfect...

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