A hip-hop star, allegedly high on cocaine ploughs into a group of schoolchildren in Soweto, killing 4 of them. The National Director of Public Prosecutions (NDPP), Menzi Simelane, admits to intervening in order to ensure that the singer gets bail. This is so despite the fact that the senior prosecutor assigned to the case, opposes bail. A senior political figure visits the singer in prison and provides him with a take-out meal.
This story of hip-hop singer, Jub-Jub neatly reflects so much of what is wrong in our society; life is cheap and if you are poor it is even cheaper and there are no guarantees that the law will provide the requisite protection from excess. Those who are politically connected, it seems, stand a greater chance of escaping the consequences of their actions. No presidential address made the news when these children were killed. One of the most dangerous appointments made by President Zuma must surely be that of Menzi Simelane? During the Ginwala commission of enquiry into the fitness of Vusi Pikoli (then NDPP) to hold office, Simelane, then Director-General of Justice, was found to have interfered when he deemed it proper to pen a letter to Vusi Pikoli in order to stop the investigation into Jackie Selebi. Ginwala found this conduct to be ‘reckless' and Simelane's evidence ‘contradictory'. That Simelane is now in probably one of the most powerful positions in the country and making decisions on prosecutions should concern all who are committed to the rule of law. His ‘redeployment' of senior members of the prosecuting service seems less linked to bolstering the lower courts than to weakening the resolve of senior prosecutors. His admission to intervening in the Jub Jub case and opposition to a provisional preservation order against Fana Hlongwane, who was alleged to have received bribes associated with the arms deal both indicate that Simelane is continuing his ‘reckless' actions to suit the political winds. Thus far Simelane has done little to deserve our trust. In fact, in the Jub Jub case he has acted against the interests of children and the community through his intervention.
This weekend when Eugene Terreblanche is murdered on his farm in Ventersdorp, the President, in an address on national television appeals for calm and says that ‘the institutions of state' must be allowed to do their work. They should, but then equally, those in power should not use political influence to undermine the institutions of state, as we have seen repeatedly in recent times. For, during times of crisis and when political rhetoric becomes inflamed, all we can do is rely on the rules of the game. What this means, simply, is that when a court hands down a decision regarding hate speech, the state should be firm in its resolve to ensure that inflammatory language does not lace our political discourse. It also means that the President, as head of state must unequivocally show leadership on such matters and on questions of nation-building. It means that the President must, on behalf of all of us, say unequivocally, that the nightmarish visions of an unelected upstart like Julius Malema, dressed in ZANU-PF garb does not represent who and what we are.
Whatever the motive behind the murder, the Terreblanche incident shows that life is cheap; both white life and black life. It is a sad indictment of our society and the depravity which is reflected in these acts. Black people in Ventersdorp now live in fear of reprisals from right-wingers. White farmers continuously live in fear of being murdered and attacked on their farm homes. Whatever the politics of Terreblanche, his murder was a brutal act and must be condemned. It should also provide pause for thought at the hundreds of farmers murdered annually and the many killed in townships and suburbs across our country in random criminal acts. If anything, the state has failed dismally to keep us all safe. We don't need statistics to prove the lawlessness. It is in the suburbs behind electric fences, in the townships amongst mothers afraid to allow children to play outside for fear of being raped or attacked.
We live in uncertain times. Our political leadership has never been as unconvincing since the dawn of democracy. Never before has cross-racial solidarity to advance the gains of 1994 been so crucial. Never before have we needed to build social movements, a powerful media and community organizations to advance the rights of the Constitution, more than now. It is time. It is time for ordinary citizens, business, the academy and communities to take a stand for a decent society with principled leadership. It is time for us to move away from the ‘Malema monologue' and into a dialogue between the millions of peace-loving South Africans who want to see the beloved country prosper.
Written by: Judith February, head of Idasa's Political Information and Monitoring Service
This article first appeared in the Cape Times, Wednesday, 7th April 2010.