Honour declined

2008-01-30 00:00

Veteran New Zealand anti-apartheid campaigner John Minto has rejected a nomination for the Companion of O. R. Tambo Award, the highest honour granted to non-South Africans in recognition of friendship, co-operation and support. In an open letter to President Thabo Mbeki, Minter condemned the African National Congress government, which, he said, has left black South Africans “worse off than they were under [white] minority rule. When we protested and marched into police batons and barbed wire, we were not fighting for a small black elite to become millionaires.”

It is sobering that a man who was once prepared to risk his safety out of total commitment to democracy in South Africa should now have so jaundiced a view of the situation here. After all, political change did bring with it many good things, of which one of the most important is that the Constitution enshrines personal dignity as a human right, and at least nominally makes all South Africans equal.

But, of course, there are disappointments, from significant lapses in leadership to poverty, joblessness and the apparently unstoppable escalation of crime, including gross corruption in high places. And the latter seems to have led to bizarre decisions, such as that to close down the Scorpions, for which no logical reasons have been given, and which the Constitutional Court ruled against when it was first mooted six years ago. The most obvious explanation is that it’s a cover-up initiated by some senior officials who, through greed, stupidity and a desire for influence, have compromised themselves and have a real fear that the Scorpions will uncover damning evidence against them.

Minter’s scathing opinion of the “new” South Africa reminds us forcibly of the ambivalent image we now present to the outside world. It should spur us to find ways of stopping the rot — the kind of rot that makes a mockery of our pretensions to democratic rule — and of getting back to the basic, and desperately urgent, need to help every South African lead a life worth living.

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