Making an Assa of themselves

2008-08-30 00:00

That earnest but ineffectual former National Party politician, Roelf Meyer, spearheaded this week’s launch of the Action for a Safe South Africa (Assa) campaign.

Don’t expect much. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s crime prevention fundi, Barbara Holtman, was one of the main speakers. One of her slogans is that we should build a safe South Africa “not out of fear, but love”. Yeah, sure.

Her proposal — enthusiastically applauded according to the media — was that government abandons its proposed revamp of the criminal justice system, since the additional strain could cause its implosion. Instead, maybe, the 24 hours around payday should be alcohol free and shops should discount basic foods and school shoes to diminish the influence of booze on crime.

This is so naïve as to make one weep. Security is the primary responsibility of the state. Public do-goodery is futile unless it is against a backdrop of effective governance.

The government must address the poverty that fuels violence and it must rectify the defects that were allowed to develop in the criminal justice system. Importantly, as a party, the African National Congress (ANC) must recognise that the turpitude engulfing South Africa is significantly of its own making.

When the ANC gained power it commanded the moral high ground. Now it flops in the ethical doldrums like a balloon with a slow leak.

In 1994 it was led by Nelson Mandela, who was in the eyes of the world a secular saint. Initially the ANC was generally admired for its compassionate, dedicated public representatives. (A hasty veil was drawn over some inconveniences in its recent history, like the murder of opponents and the torture of errant cadres.)

In that first election, South Africa was promised a government that would base its actions on ethics, not expedience and would serve the people, not pander to party elites. Remarkably, many — maybe most — of those who did not vote for the ANC nevertheless respected it.

How badly it went wrong. The ANC ploughed through a veritable alphabet soup of dishonour, starting with HIV-Aids and ending with Zimbabwe.

It has not only abandoned the high ground, but actually delights in its new vulgarity and thuggery. ANC cadres bare their bums at congresses, stab and assault one another at branch meetings and bombard judges and “counter-revolutionaries” with blood-chilling death threats.

As former Education Minister Professor Kadar Asmal ruefully notes, South Africa is in crisis because of the ANC alliance leadership’s “reckless and abusive resort to violence in political discourse”, which has become “a cancerous growth” threatening the very institutions — the Constitutional Court, the Bill of Rights and the separation of powers — that the ANC once fought for.

Government projects lure shoals of ANC-aligned piranha, which tuck in with such fraudulent gusto that in many cases the developmental showpieces are stripped to the bone. Corruption has reached such staggering levels that the literally tens of thousands of civil servants in the welfare and housing

ministries discovered to be embezzling the benefits of the poor are not fired. Instead, they get a slap on the wrist and merely pledge to repay what they thieved.

Also speaking at the Assa conference, David Bruce of the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation made the point that while poverty was a major cause of crime, another important factor was that South Africans were unhappily ambivalent towards criminal activity and the law.

This destructive inclination can be ascribed only partly to the lawlessness and institutionalised violence of the apartheid era.

The rest of the blame must be laid squarely at the door of a morally bankrupt ANC government.

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