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A night we'll never forget

2015-02-12 21:27

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Andrew Trench, Editor-in-Chief, News24

The 12th of February 2015, to echo the words of Franklin D Roosevelt, is a date that will live in infamy in the history of South Africa.

To those who watched the scenes which unfolded in Parliament, that most hallowed House of our democracy, there can be nothing other than a sense of disbelief at what we witnessed as President Jacob Zuma attempted to deliver a State of the Nation address.

If you doubt we are faced with an unprecedented crisis, let us spell it out.

Citizens battled police officers in pursuit of peaceful protest, a cornerstone of our democracy. Elected representatives from the official opposition and other parties were arrested or detained.

Freedom of speech and of the press was spat upon with an apparently sinister attempt to jam journalists’ communications from Parliament.

Parliamentarians were frog-marched from the House, apparently by police officers dressed in civilian garb.

The official opposition abandoned Parliament after being unable to secure an explanation from the Speaker about this despicable intrusion. The constitutional separation of powers appears to have been thrown out the door, along with elected representatives.

And then we watched the pitiful scene of the President delivering a State of the Nation speech to a gathering of his own party, boasting of its achievements. The image was a poignant symbol of what we may have become.

It is a struggle to find, in this context, the “good story” that the President wished to tell in his speech. Instead our story was told in the events at Parliament on this infamous day and the story is a sad one.

This other story suggests that generations of struggle and more than 20 years of democracy have delivered little more than a chimera of freedom.

That is the only conclusion at which we can arrive when we see our Constitution trampled upon with such abandon.

We can only hope Friday morning dawns with an urgent and deep introspection by the leaders of our country over the road down which we now walk, because this journey cannot end well.

It will end in more infamy and a betrayal of all that we once thought we were.

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