Who moved the soul of the ANC?

2011-11-26 10:06

My heart broke a little on Tuesday. What I know about politics, democracy and media freedom, I learnt from the ANC.

As a rookie reporter in the period leading up to the freedom years, life was a slog. Covering protests was inevitably scary as the riot cops did not really know about the conventions to protect journalists in times of war, so we were caught in the crossfire.

And the tedium of trying to access information out of the homeland bureaucracies (corrupt, excessive, fat fiefdoms) makes me bow down every day to how easy it is to get information out of government now.

There’s so much, that my lament is we don’t know how to process it properly and so end up using the opposition’s researchers as our eyes on democratic progress. Not good, but that’s a topic for another day.

Information freedom is constitutionally enshrined, my right as a citizen, but I’ve always understood it to be a bequeathment from a wise liberation movement that has always been ahead of its time.

Think about when sexual orientation rights were written into our laws as well as free choice. And so, as I hung onto Parliament’s balconies on Tuesday, watching the people who personify the era of openness and freedom for me press the “yes” button to vote to pass the first stage of the secrecy bill, I was deeply sad.

Some of them are people I’ve grown up with politically, who have always been deep thinkers. “What’s the fuss,” friends and politicians have asked, thinking that too much is being made of this. After all, the process was democratic and the draft law has been substantially improved.

The fuss is that we began to become something different this week – we traded openness for negotiated information flows. It was a week where weak thinking triumphed and where the DNA of South Africa’s spirit was lost. An overstatement?

Not really when you consider that we have always been a country able to negotiate out of tight spots. But this week we became less consensus-seeking and more power hungry.

The other thing I learnt from the ANC is a deep sense of ubuntu – of always elevating a common humanity above any other earthly divides. And to listen to the full range of views before taking decisions – ask any of us who covered the many, many consultative conferences which preceded democracy.

People talked, talked and talked some more before making decisions so that everyone felt heard. So who, I wondered, were those odd folk in the house on Tuesday?

They had no humanity or empathy for the people assembled across the country – ordinary people who understand that without a free flow of information (but for a limited and confined security classification), it all congeals.

The MPs voted like automatons, their stance on the protests was defensive and arrogant, and their heckling dumb.

Take Loretta Jacobus, an MP I once called a “shero”, whose only intervention was to call a point of order because she heard an MP say “regular erections” instead of “regular elections”. Profound stuff.

This while two people who collaborated with apartheid and later turned coat fronted the ANC argument for the passage of the law – Lluwellyn Landers and Cecil Burgess.

I came away wondering: who moved the ANC and when did it happen?

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