Our MPs must lead by ex­am­ple

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WHEN you open your news­pa­per each day and read about the cli­mate of po­lit­i­cal in­tol­er­ance and vi­o­lence per­vad­ing the coun­try, don’t ever pre­tend it’s none of your busi­ness.

Don’t look the other way and kid your­self that the blood­shed and po­lar­is­ing rhetoric that nur­tures it is tak­ing place far away from your com­fort zone and is there­fore only some­thing the rul­ing ANC needs to worry about.

It should be a mat­ter of great con­cern to all cit­i­zens of the coun­try be­cause it is fun­da­men­tal to our un­der­stand­ing of what a plu­ral­is­tic democ­racy is all about.

Re­cent weeks have wit­nessed a trou­bling up­surge in po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence, es­pe­cially in KwaZulu-Na­tal, the lat­est vic­tim be­ing Sindiso Ma­gaqa, a for­mer ANC Youth League sec­re­tary-gen­eral, who died in hospi­tal last Mon­day. He is the 11th per­son to die through po­lit­i­cal­lyin­spired vi­o­lence in the prov­ince since the be­gin­ning of the year.

The up­surge in vi­o­lence is not en­tirely un­ex­pected, com­ing as it does at a time of grow­ing fac­tion­al­ism within the rul­ing party just months be­fore its all-im­por­tant elec­tive con­fer­ence in De­cem­ber. But it needs to be taken se­ri­ously. The time has come for all South Africans to take stock and re­alise that democ­racy can only work if we are pre­pared to pro­mote po­lit­i­cal tol­er­ance in our so­ci­ety.

No sin­gle in­di­vid­ual or com­mu­nity or po­lit­i­cal party has the copy­right to the truth. We come from a di­ver­sity of life ex­pe­ri­ences, so­cial back­grounds and po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tions. So it is only to be ex­pected that we may hold dif­fer­ing views and put forth dif­fer­ent sug­ges­tions on how to re­solve our prob­lems.

But just as we are en­ti­tled to our views, we have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ex­tend that same right to oth­ers whose view­point may dif­fer from ours.

In fact, it is that very di­ver­sity that al­lows for a rich va­ri­ety of view­points to flour­ish and en­hance our demo­cratic tra­di­tion.

Nowhere else could this have been bet­ter ex­em­pli­fied than in the House of Assem­bly in Cape Town – that au­gust cham­ber where our pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives meet reg­u­larly to de­bate and de­lib­er­ate over laws and poli­cies to gov­ern the peo­ple.

How­ever, de­bates in that House have be­come a na­tional em­bar­rass­ment, char­ac­terised by con­stant dis­plays of threats, name-call­ing and po­lar­is­ing be­hav­iour that are poor ad­ver­tise­ments for po­lit­i­cal tol­er­ance.

Our pub­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tives are ex­pected to lead by ex­am­ple.

South Africans need to adopt an at­ti­tude best epit­o­mised by Voltaire’s fa­mous dic­tum: “I dis­agree with what you say, but I will de­fend to the death your right to say it.”

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