Mpumelelo Mkhabela

No thanks for the lessons in democracy

2017-05-05 08:03
Hlaudi Motsoeneng at his press conference in Johannesburg. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

Hlaudi Motsoeneng at his press conference in Johannesburg. (Felix Dlangamandla, Netwerk24)

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Thomas Paine, the great 18th century philosopher and journalist, wrote an excellent essay challenging the English parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s attack on the French Revolution.

Burke had published a book and made speeches in support of the rule of monarchs. Paine, on the other hand, was a great supporter of democracy and universal human rights.

In his essay, The Rights of Man, which he shared with US President George Washington, Paine said of Burke’s book: “It is darkness attempting to illuminate light.”

One couldn’t help but recall this essay when three people who fancy themselves experts on things they have proved themselves utterly incapable of understanding, attempted to fool the public.

The three habitually mouth all things darkness in an attempt to illuminate light. But their recent conduct and remarks have reached another level of darkness.

First, Jacob Zuma who said if he was a journalist or columnist he would write a column to educate citizens about the workings of democracy. His statement was a poor attempt at PR after he was booed at the Cosatu May Day rally in Mangaung. He said it was part of democracy.

It is true booing is part of free expression in a democratic system. But the workers who booed him and the journalists covering the event for the benefit of the public didn’t need his lecture on democracy.

And while it is also true that journalists play an important role educating the public, it was rich of Zuma to imply that he understood the democratic system better.

In their reporting and commentary, journalists have consistently attempted to lecture him about how to govern in a democratic system. They have tried in vain to illustrate to him the importance of following the rules of state – from Nkandla to nuclear.

But after eight years in power, he still runs the government like a stranger who has just dropped from Mars.

Concerned citizens and state institutions such as the courts, the public protector and lately Parliament have also tried to knock sense into his head. All to no avail. And yet, like darkness attempting to illuminate light, he sees himself as an expert on democracy and governance.

In his Constitutional Court papers where he is arguing against the secret ballot in a mooted parliamentary vote of no confidence in him, he dismisses the opinions of people like former President Thabo Mbeki and others on the basis that they are “not experts in governance”.

Zuma insinuates that he understands governance better than anyone else including Mbeki - who participated in the drafting of the Constitution - while Zuma’s job, according to late Minister Kader Asmal, was to note the hands of those who wanted to speak. Asmal also wrote in his memoir that Zuma, unlike Mbeki, never read Cabinet memos prepared for him.

Zuma’s court submission, which contains lies about ANC leaders having apologised for criticising his recent Cabinet reshuffle, is another proof of darkness attempting to illuminate light. If he knew better about how government works, he would have known that it’s criminal to mislead a court of law.

Second, there was Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe who is as frail as his country’s economy. He told the World Economic Forum in Durban that Zimbabwe is not poor. He suggested Zimbabwe is the second most developed country after South Africa.

Mugabe’s remarks are an insult to Zimbabweans who are scattered all over the world trying to eke out a living. Some of them risk life and limb while crossing the Limpopo river to fight for the crumbs of menial jobs in a dog-eat-dog South African labour market.

Mugabe elevated his political interests above those of the citizens to the point where he led his country to ruin. Had he been a selfless leader, he would have long retired and handed over power smoothly. But, sadly, in the context of darkness attempting to illuminate light, his remarks make perfect sense. 

Third, the ever-present and overbearing Hlaudi Motsoeneng had planned to continue on his publicity stunt road show that is a metaphor of what has gone wrong in our Republic. “Academic lecture”, “born intellectual”, aspirant president, expert on the undesirableness of the number of political parties in Parliament, the man with “that thing” and the self-proclaimed lifetime boss of the SABC - however else he describes himself.

Motsoeneng was at it again recently attempting to (allegedly) motivate pupils at Eqinisweni Secondary School in Ivory Park, Gauteng, to focus on their studies. How can someone who lied about having a matric certificate, almost destroyed our public broadcaster and is facing a string of charges, be of any assistance to our children? It would have been a classic case of darkness attempting to illuminate light.

Fortunately, Gauteng education officials stopped him before spewing his poison. Many thanks to those officials who made the right call. They understand that only light illuminates.

- Mpumelelo Mkhabela is a fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation (GovInn) at the University of Pretoria.


Disclaimer: News24 encourages freedom of speech and the expression of diverse views. The views of columnists published on News24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of News24. 

Read more on:    robert mugabe  |  jacob zuma  |  hlaudi motsoeneng  |  democracy
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