What incites violence is a lack of free speech

2014-04-27 15:00

Political campaigning is a dirty game. It’s about power. It’s about getting the voting public to back your horse and show up the failings of your opposition.

It is often steeped in hyperbole and is designed to stimulate emotion.

As young a democracy as we are, we should know this. Our leaders should know this and should encourage political tolerance and the freedom to express opinions.

Sadly, our leaders have failed dismally. As South Africa heads closer to a watershed election on May 7, campaigning has been particularly fierce and political intolerance has gained momentum.

The DA’s SMS campaign claiming the upgrades to Nkandla in effect meant President Jacob Zuma stole money riled the ANC’s leadership so much that, according to them, the SMS would “incite violence”.

The ANC launched a court challenge to force the DA to retract this claim. The court ruled in favour of the DA.

Then the DA’s advert with Mmusi Maimane was pulled by the SABC because, the broadcaster said, it would “incite violence”.

The SA Police Service also laid a complaint (albeit after the 48-hour complaint window had closed) that an image of a police officer pointing a shotgun at a protester would “incite violence”.

Similarly, the Economic Freedom Fighters’ campaign ad in which the party vowed to “physically tear down e-tolls” was banned by the SABC as it would, they said, “incite violence”.

There is an inherent danger in being both a sandpit bully and of crying wolf – firstly, the bully will lose the respect of the others who also play in the sandpit; and secondly, the “inciting violence” refrain will teeter dangerously close to becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Neither of these scenarios will benefit the citizens of the country at a time when we should be celebrating 20 years of freedom. The murkiness of politics can only benefit by playing the ball, not the player.

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