Whose slogan is it anyway? Let's not turn freedom into fee-dom

DA's Mmusi Maimane. (Antonio Muchave, Sowetan, Gallo Images, file)
DA's Mmusi Maimane. (Antonio Muchave, Sowetan, Gallo Images, file)

The real problem with the DA's whining about the ANC "stealing" its slogan is what it says about the party's views on ownership, particularly intellectual ownership, writes Glenn Bownes.

The DA's latest histrionics about the ANC "stealing" one of its slogans is a stark illustration, not only of the party's blinkered approach to this country's history, but also of its "everything can be privatised" approach to socio-economic policy.

Last week, the DA said it was planning to take legal action to stop the ANC using the slogan "One South Africa for all" ahead of the national elections in May.

DA national spokesperson Solly Malatsi said the party had chosen the slogan because it was "the only party that is still committed to achieving non-racial ideals in South Africa".

I suggest Malatsi and the rest of the DA leadership read the Freedom Charter. It contains some great ideas and principles (as well as possible slogans). "South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white", a more eloquent version of "One South Africa for all", is just one of the many wonderful sentiments (and freely available slogans) that this important document offers us all.

Whatever one thinks of the ANC – both as a former liberation movement, and ruling party of 25 years – it would be difficult to deny its central role in bringing an end to a vicious, racist regime and the introduction of democracy to our country in the late 20th century.

Now, there is plenty to criticise the ANC about, and the DA and all other parties are well within their rights to do so. In fact, I would argue that it is the duty of opposition parties to "speak truth to power" and to name and shame politicians and ruling parties that betray the ideals of a democratic, non-racist, non-sexist democracy. But my real problem with the DA's whining about the ANC "stealing" a slogan is what it says about the party's views on ownership, particularly intellectual ownership.

How can you copyright political slogans or demands? Who owns the right to "one person, one vote" or "liberty, equality, fraternity"?

DA leader Mmusi Maimane often uses the anti-apartheid rallying cry "Amandla Ngwethu!" He, and other DA leaders often talk about Nelson Mandela as if was a member of the DA, rather than a lifelong loyal ANC member and founder of Umkhonto we Sizwe.

Some ANC leaders and supporters have been critical of this "appropriation" of their leader, but it was Mandela himself (and, in fact, the ANC leadership as a whole) who essentially donated Madiba to the entire country as a unifying gesture.

While I am critical of the often sanitised version of the older "rainbow" Mandela, I would be the first to defend the right of all South Africans to regard him as "their leader". I think this is exactly what Mandela and ANC leaders intended.

So, the DA leader should be free to end his speeches with "Amandla!" and I am sure we all welcomed their eventual acceptance of "one person, one vote". When you can get a rival to agree with your political programme and ideals, that is surely a victory.

The DA has every right to adapt a principle of the Freedom Charter and turn it into a slogan to mobilise support. They even have the right (whether you agree with them or not) to claim to be "the only party that is still committed to achieving non-racial ideals in South Africa".

But what you can't do is copyright political slogans. In fact, if ever there was an anti-democratic action that contradicted the sentiments of "One South Africa for all", it is the blinkered arrogance that assumes some sort of ownership over ideas of freedom, equality and democracy.

However, if the DA insists on having its own, copyrighted slogans, I have some suggestions for them. What about "fee-dom in our lifetime", "long hawk to fee-dom", or "one person, one note".

- Bownes is the chief sub-editor at News24.

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