When si­lence is not golden

CityPress - - Voices - Alain Tschudin voices@city­press.co.za Tschudin is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Good Gov­er­nance Africa

Si­lence is golden, so they say. Ex­cept that si­lence, in a moral dilemma, rep­re­sents com­plic­ity, as it does in a gen­eral le­gal – or in a crim­i­nal – mat­ter. We are thus, pre­sum­ing that we are moral be­ings, faced with a bi­nary choice: re­main silent or speak out. Each choice has con­se­quences, and the path fol­lowed, its own im­pli­ca­tions. Amoral be­ings, as I have pre­vi­ously in­di­cated, sim­ply do not care, un­like those who take an ei­ther moral or im­moral po­si­tion.

Si­lence, as com­plic­ity, has been seen through­out his­tory, such as the more re­cent hor­rors of the Holo­caust and its tragic eth­nic cleans­ing and geno­ci­dal de­scen­dants, no­tably in the Balkans, cen­tral Africa and the Mid­dle East, among oth­ers. Yet it can also oc­cur in daily life. Every psy­chol­o­gist and teacher knows that fail­ure to re­port a case of abuse against a child con­sti­tutes crim­i­nal li­a­bil­ity as an ac­com­plice to the act. This is the in­for­ma­tion age, and the de­fence “We did not know” is in­valid and can­not hold.

Speak­ing out does not nec­es­sar­ily im­ply a vir­tu­ous choice. Im­moral ac­tors will speak out in de­fence of the most un­speak­able crimes and wrongs based on false claims, as wit­nessed with re­spect to apartheid, fe­male gen­i­tal mu­ti­la­tion, slav­ery, xeno­pho­bia and wars jus­ti­fied on the ba­sis of fan­tas­ti­cal weapons of mass de­struc­tion.

Moral ac­tors, by con­trast, speak out time and again against the var­i­ous evils of their times. Which raises the ques­tion: where are the Gand­his, Luther King Jrs, Luthulis and Mother There­sas of our times?

The cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in South Africa is a per­fect ex­am­ple of the choice be­tween si­lence and speech. There is a chasm be­tween au­then­tic­ity and in­au­then­tic­ity that re­veals it­self in such sit­u­a­tions, and it is only by walk­ing the bridge of moral choice that this void can be crossed. To per­suade you of this, con­sider Jean Bau­drillard’s use of the con­cept of the sim­u­lacrum, a Latin term for a rep­re­sen­ta­tion or copy of some­thing or some­one. By the 19th cen­tury, it had come to re­fer to a copy of the real that lacked the essence or at­tributes of the orig­i­nal that it pur­ported to rep­re­sent. Ap­ply­ing the term in the con­text of so­cial the­ory, Bau­drillard su­per­seded pre­vi­ous read­ings of the term by sug­gest­ing that a sim­u­lacrum is not only a false, and empty copy of the real, but, that it be­comes “hy­per-real”. One can­not tease apart the sim­u­la­tion from what is, in fact, re­al­ity.

Here we need only con­sider the trend­ing no­tions of “al­ter­na­tive facts” and “fake news” pop­u­larised across the At­lantic, but im­ple­mented lo­cally care of a morally bank­rupt Lon­don agency fin­gered for in­ten­tion­ally stir­ring racial di­vi­sions be­tween South Africans as part of a PR cam­paign funded by friends of the pres­i­dent.

In the face of the amoral­ism es­poused by Ja­cob Zuma and the syco­phan­tic be­hav­iour of his in­ner cir­cle, we have to ask our­selves whether our cur­rent re­al­ity has be­come dom­i­nated by what ap­pears to be a group of zom­bie-like fig­ures who re­main silent or who, when they do speak, do so only to echo the empty ide­ol­ogy of their leader.

There are many such ex­am­ples avail­able. One is Fik­ile Mbalula, whose use of Twit­ter has made him a “tweleb”. Re­spond­ing to Speaker Baleke Mbete’s an­nounce­ment of a no con­fi­dence vote in the pres­i­dent on August 8, Mbalula in­di­cated that in­di­vid­ual MPs rep­re­sent­ing the ANC would not be al­lowed to vote ac­cord­ing to their con­sciences. Men­ac­ingly, on July 2 he sug­gested that “mem­bers of the ANC have no right to rep­re­sent their jack­ets in Par­lia­ment. They rep­re­sent the or­gan­i­sa­tion. They are sui­cide bombers. A sui­cide bomber dies for an ide­ol­ogy whether it is wrong or right. He dies for it or she dies for it.”

This is a ter­ri­bly un­for­tu­nate choice of metaphor by the min­is­ter of po­lice. The global com­mu­nity gen­er­ally ab­hors the cow­ardly acts of those who de­stroy many oth­ers in the wake of their dev­as­ta­tion. There is some­thing pro­foundly warped about some­one who is pre­pared to die for an ide­ol­ogy not grounded in truth.

Aside from that, there is a clear note of to­tal­i­tar­ian in­doc­tri­na­tion in the min­is­ter’s fac­tional ap­proach. Here we have a for­mer min­is­ter of sport who, while clearly not a pro­po­nent of his min­istry, nev­er­the­less en­joyed a chin­wag or photo-op with a sport­ing celeb. Now rein­car­nated as min­is­ter of po­lice, his ex­per­tise in polic­ing ap­pears to be equally ques­tion­able. He is one in an in­creas­ingly long line of un­qual­i­fied po­lice min­is­ters. And now he is a sort of sui­cide bomber. This is the sim­u­lacrum personified.

In a pre­vi­ous col­umn, I in­di­cated that in a con­text of fear and in­tim­i­da­tion, a se­cret bal­lot is a ne­ces­sity to pro­tect democ­racy. Given that the ma­jor­ity party will in­struct its MPs to vote like au­toma­tons, it be­comes im­per­a­tive, per­haps now more than ever, to stress that mem­bers of Par­lia­ment are there to serve the peo­ple, not their party, as the Con­sti­tu­tional Court has in­di­cated.

South Africa is fast be­com­ing a state where omi­nous sim­u­lacra pre­dom­i­nate. Re­cently, when asked for com­ment on her fir­ing of SA So­cial Se­cu­rity Agency CEO Thokozani Mag­waza, So­cial De­vel­op­ment Min­is­ter Batha­bile Dlamini, sur­rounded by sim­u­lacra min­ions, said: “Stop ha­rass­ing me.” Well, Madam, you have it the wrong way around: you ap­pear to be ha­rass­ing the long-suf­fer­ing peo­ple of this coun­try by your si­lence. An in­de­pen­dent com­mis­sion will ex­plore your com­plic­ity, and cul­pa­bil­ity, in serv­ing your mas­ter’s sim­u­lacrum.

“The peo­ple shall gov­ern.” Re­mem­ber?

If our leg­is­la­tors do not ex­er­cise their dis­cre­tion and for­mi­da­ble pow­ers to rea­son and vote ac­cord­ing to their own high­est con­sciences, then we shall be on our way to self-de­struc­tion.

TALK

TO US Should the si­lence of ANC lead­ers be viewed as party loy­alty or the be­trayal of South Africans?

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