This is our freedom too

2010-08-19 00:00

I AM glad I read President Jacob Zuma’s latest “Letter From The President” on the ANC website last Friday to the end. I was tempted to stop reading because of the shocking logic employed. I also felt uneasy, thinking that it might come across as unpatriotic and plain disrespectful if I labelled what I was reading as I honestly saw it.

Imagine my relief therefore as I stumbled across the magic words “Let the real debate begin. Let there be no holy cows!” Zuma will not exactly be remembered for his great speeches or writings. But for all his many faults, he has invited all of us to a “real debate” where “there will be no holy cows”.

As a respectful citizen, I will take our country’s number one’s offer and contribute my two cents’ worth, conscious of the fact that there will be no holy cows, which I assume includes the president himself.

Frankly, there is little to debate with regards to what the ANC envisages the Media Appeals Tribunal will look like. Except that it will jail errant journalists, it does not appear that the party knows and the president has said very little to make us any the wiser.

To quote the language the president uses, it is “an unbearable insult” though to assume that journalists are unpatriotic because they will not be government sweethearts. It is similarly intolerable that many of the current generation of editors and senior journalists should be lectured by upstarts such as Julius Malema about what it means to fight for freedom.

I have had enough of the posturing of the kids who make up the ANC Youth League, some of whom, like Malema, were a mere nine years old when Nelson Mandela was released from jail.

I can only imagine what goes through current ombudsman Joe Thloloe’s mind when he hears these Johnny-come-latelies to the cause of freedom mouthing platitudes. Thloloe was there on the spot with Robert Sobukwe at the Orlando Police Station in 1960 when they burnt their dompasses, and had to endure many other nights in prison because he was committed not only to freedom of expression but freedom as a whole.

The ANC president and his supporters must get off their high horses and reconsider their belief that their membership of the ruling party makes them care about our democracy and freedom more than anyone else does. They must disabuse themselves of the fallacious notion that simply because journalists work for the “capitalist classes” they have surrendered their common sense and commitment to social justice.

In fact, it appears from the ANC’s own documents ahead of the National General Council and from its head of elections, Fikile Mbalula, that corruption and greed are rife within the party.

One has to wonder why it is that those members who think that the Black Management Forum is a pseudonym for ANC Managers League are not affected by the same affliction that attacks journalists once they work for companies owned by whites.

Few things are as nauseating as some of these former Michael Jackson impersonators thinking they know it all just because they joined the ANC after 1990, and not because they shared its historical mission but rather because it was a fashionable thing to do and the route to a tender.

The ANC would do well to disabuse itself of the notion that its soldiers triumphantly marched into Pretoria with canons roaring behind them to usher in a new republic. It did not. We had a negotiated settlement.

Yes, the party led the line, but it was ordinary men and women who will never be known or their contributions quantified who were at the front line. The party’s unquestionable leadership of the struggle does not give it and the president reason to distort facts (such as that newspapers do not account to anybody for their errors) or to claim a bigger piece of history than they are due. History has taught that romanticising the liberation movement leader is a certain way to return ourselves to shackles. Zimbabwe is a perfect example of how heroes can turn into villains once they have tasted the good life at boutique hotels.

The president should know that this is our freedom too and many of us contributed to it, however small the stone we hurled. He must also know that we do not need to take membership of a political party to know that we too are South Africans and this is our freedom too.

Unless he has evidence, he should explain how my working for those I work for makes me any less “the grandchild of the warrior men and women that Hintsa and Sekhukhune led, the patriots that Cetshwayo and Mphephu took to battle, the soldiers Moshoeshoe and Ngungunyane taught never to dishonour the cause of freedom”, as his predecessor Thabo Mbeki poetically captured in his “I am an African” speech.

The ANC is fully entitled to ask the questions it has about the media and about the quality of journalism. But there can never be a cheaper shot than to question my commitment to the values that millions of South Africans directly or indirectly took part in struggling for so that we may be free because I don’t like what I see and say so. It was my struggle and it is now my freedom.

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