IEC: Cut the war talk

2008-11-25 00:00

“The last two years have shown some worrying signs of a resurgence in political intolerance and violence, which, if not attended to, may grow into levels that may be difficult to contain,” chairwoman of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Dr Brigalia Bam, said yesterday.

Bam was speaking at a one-day national summit in Durban, attended by all the major political parties currently represented in Parliament, on issues of political tolerance.

Bam said recent incidents are undoing the work of the last 15 years of democracy in South Africa. “The rhetoric of violence and coercion is on the rise and incidences of political intolerance are bubbling to the surface,” she said.

She cited the following examples:

• The violent nature of many service delivery protests aimed at local municipalities.

• The violent security guards strike of 2007.

• The violent and often coercive rhetoric that marked the build-up to the ANC leadership contest in Polokwane.

• Violent rhetoric surrounding the trial of ANC leader Jacob Zuma.

• The assassinations of local and municipal leaders, particularly in KZN.

• The recent disruptions of meetings of ANC breakaway group Cope.

• The violent incidents on university campuses as students contest SRC elections.

• The resurgence of racist attacks and killings.

• The violent nature of some ANC provincial congresses and its Youth League congress.

According to Bam, another challenge will be how the ANC as the ruling party manages its leadership succession and the anticipated fierce contestation of next year’s elections by existing and breakaway parties. This will be the ultimate test of our democracy so far, she said.

Bam said the above are clear signs that political tolerance, peace and stability can no longer be taken for granted and the IEC is not taking chances. Hence the summit was held to start talking about political tolerance.

Bam added that the electoral commission asked President Kgalema Motlanthe to resuscitate a task team that will help create an environment conducive to free and fair elections. This team is made up of the departments of Safety and Security, National Intelligence, Defence and Home Affairs.

Bam said she could almost hear people say that South Africa would never degenerate into civil strife.

“This is an ill-informed notion of African exceptionalism … I can imagine that some in a stable Kenya said the same thing before the wave of election-related violence scarred that nation.”

eThekwini Mayor Obed Mlaba warned political parties to guard against the language they use, saying they should be alert to anything that eats away at peace and stability.

“Politicians say things they don’t mean just to get votes, but when you speak, look beyond the election and consider the consequences of your words,” he said. Mlaba welcomed delegates, who hailed from all parts of South Africa, to the summit at the Elangeni Hotel.

SAPS national spokesman Senior Superintendent Anand Siva said a special investigating team will soon be formed to specifically deal with election-related cases. The team will deal with people involved in intimidation and disrupting political meetings.

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