LISTEN TO THE LUNATIC FRINGE
It is usually wise to ignore the ramblings and rantings of the lunatic fringe – or rather what some perceive to be the lunatic fringe. But there are times when this fringe is very mainstream. In which case, ignore it at your peril. So it was with this attitude that we greeted a very expressive press release from the ANC Youth League’s KwaZulu-Natal chapter last week. The press release, announcing mass action to be taken against opposition parties and the judiciary, went on to threaten fire and brimstone. The youth league was peeved about the regular disruptions of President Jacob Zuma’s speeches in Parliament and what it sees as opposition parties’ abuse of the courts to get one over on the ANC.
The league’s provincial secretary, Thanduxolo Sabelo, had particularly harsh words for Julius Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), saying it had uncovered an EFF plot to destabilise South Africa and “instigate a civil war”.
The EFF, Sabelo told us, had realised it stood no chance against the ANC electorally and had “therefore opted to tactically incite a civil war and take up arms ... in order to stage a military coup against the ANC government”.
He warned Malema that he would “feel the might of the young people in KwaZulu-Natal should he set his stinky feet in the province”.
Then Sabelo got a bit more aggro: “We wish to warn the EFF that the young people of this country are combat ready to take on this party of loud-hailers and disrupters.” Combat ready? Are we going to war now? He continued: “We call on all young people of South Africa to ensure that they squeeze the breathing space of the EFF and ensure the unavoidable extinction of these menaces in our society.”
Extinction? Like, wipe them out?
He was not done: “We also call upon the minister of defence and military veterans to step up efforts in giving military training to progressive and patriotic young people in the country in order for them to defend this country from hooligans such as Julius Malema.” What? As in learning to shoot and kill people? He continued his dire threats, warning that his troops would accompany Zuma and protect him when he next appeared in Parliament: “Any fool who tries and disrupt President Zuma will have to come out to us and account on the Parliament precinct,” Sabelo said. Presumably to be beaten up by the young lions. The most obvious thing to do with such rantings is to appreciate them for their entertainment value. But the environment we are in suggests we do not dismiss the statements as coming from the overexcited mind of a militant youth.
It is the language of anger that is so prevalent in the land right now. You hear it in the benches of Parliament, on both sides of the aisle. This anger is always there in service-delivery protests, which inevitably turn violent. You will find it at universities, where some of our brightest youngsters communicate by trashing campuses.
The workplace also contains a lot of anger, as evidenced by the now mandatory use of violence to enforce strikes and win concessions from employers.
The other reason that Sabelo’s rantings should not just be dismissed is that they accompany some very intemperate outbursts from the senior ranks of the governing party.
This week the party made official what individual leaders have been mouthing for some time: that a frontal assault needs to be launched against the judiciary. In recent weeks, senior leaders of the ANC have been out-shouting each other in their condemnation of the judiciary, drumming the message into the heads of South Africans that this institution is an enemy of the revolution. A climate is being created for the delegitimisation of the judiciary, a scenario that will ultimately lead to the discrediting of judgments and undermining of the rule of law.
Coming out of a summit in Gauteng this week, leaders of the ANC-led alliance made bareknuckled gestures at the country’s judges, warning them against “judicial overreach”.
They said this overreach was “bringing into question the very fundamental principle of separation of powers on which our democracy rests. Judgments of certain regions and judges are consistently against the state,” they complained.
The message to the judges was straightforward: we are coming for you.
As the ANC prepares for its national general council in the coming months, watch out for increased belligerence from the party. Look out for wacky statements that betray a sense of siege and the need to fight multiple enemies on multiple fronts. Look out for documents that will be shrouded in revolutionary-speak, but at the core will contain proposals that may weaken the democratic infrastructure.
When you hear and see these developments, do not dismiss them as the musings of a loony fringe. They come from the nation’s political centre.
And be worried.