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Strictly Personal

Beware George Orwell’s ‘Thought Police’ and ‘Ministry of Love’ By Daniela Ellerbeck

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The Constitution (in Section 15) expressly entrenches the “right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion”. By explicitly protecting thought and, even, opinion the Constitution protects more than just formal religion.

Voicing our thoughts and opinions in the public realm are protected twice over by our Constitution – by the Section 15 right to religious freedom and the Section 16 right to freedom of expression (the latter expressly includes the “freedom to receive or impart information or ideas”). Evidently, enshrined rights make no sense if we were only entitled to them in the inner sanctum of our home and not in the public realm. It is, therefore, submitted that the crux of enshrining rights is ensuring they are protected in the public realm.

South Africa’s public life was never meant to be sanitised or secular, but a place where everyone can voice their beliefs, thoughts and opinions. This will obviously result in a multitude of diverse opinions in the public realm – should we silence some we don’t agree with? At this juncture, it is important to point out that the right to equality includes (and arguably its very crux is) the full enjoyment of all rights and freedoms equally by everyone – even those we disagree with.

Tolerance of views over silence

This will naturally result in a public realm that is full of diverse and pluralistic thoughts, opinions and beliefs. This will require us, as South Africans, to be tolerant of those we disagree with and allow them to express themselves in the same public realm we express ourselves in. We cannot relegate people to the margins of society because they do not or cannot conform to certain social norms.

Equality, after all, does not presuppose eliminating or suppressing difference, but equal concern and respect across differences. It requires us to act positively to accommodate those different to us.

So no, we should not silence those we disagree with. Rather, we should tolerate them. Tolerance is giving reasonable space to what we disagree with. In fact, the type of tolerance that is envisaged by the Bill of Rights does not mean we accept what is familiar and easily accommodated by us, but it is the type of tolerance that requires us to give reasonable space to what is unusual, bizarre or even threatening to us.

In other words, it is not tolerance when we find space in the public realm for people and practices with whom we feel comfortable, but when we accommodate those expressions that are (perhaps even extremely) uncomfortable to us to allow those people to also participate in the public realm. Requiring people and institutions to reasonably accommodate different worldviews to theirs in the public realm is part of celebrating diversity. This is the essence of being inclusive.

To ask for the public space to be sanitised so that you are never confronted by anything that you find offensive or even “unusual, bizarre or even threatening” is not tolerance, it is bigotry.

As so beautifully written by former Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs: “[i]ntolerance may come in many forms. At its most spectacular and destructive it involves the use of power to crush beliefs and practices considered alien and threatening” – what he termed as “aggressive targeting”.

No one is safe

This brings us to the Prevention and Combatting of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which is currently in its final stages before Parliament – and also one of the most controversial pieces of legislation since the advent of South Africa’s democratic dispensation where we left our apartheid past – with its censorship, thought control and its imprisonment for speech it thought undermined the South Africa it wanted.

The bill proposes criminalising speech it sees as hate speech. The bill defines hate speech very broadly, including speech that undermines the social cohesion in South Africa (harkening back to apartheid) and that someone might think is hateful. Of all its numerous failures, the hate speech bill’s failure to define hate is perhaps the most ironic. It will also capture private expressions in its reach – i.e. you might face up to eight years in jail for a conversation that took place around your kitchen table.

The bill attempts to give some protection to the press and artists, but because of the bill’s wide definitions of harm or undefined hatred, these protections nullify themselves. No one is safe.

The problem with trying to silence viewpoints that we neither like nor want is that we simultaneously stifle the flow of information and ideas. Effectively, we hamstring our own freedom of thought, cutting ourselves off from the opportunity to learn, engage and challenge. This bill is therefore the antithesis of the foundational and fundamental principles upon which any democracy worthy of the name is built and sustained.

Like an atomic bomb, it will spare no floor of the building of public life from obliteration. Enter George Orwell’s “Ministry of Love”, exit our hard-won freedom.

– Daniela Ellerbeck is an attorney of the High Court of South Africa and heads up FOR SA’s legal department.

Strictly Personal

Nigeria’s Currency Crisis: Time to deploy Amotekun, By Chinedu Chidi

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I have thought long and hard about just the right solution to the downward spiral of the Naira, and confidently believe I have come up with the perfect response. It is my humble proposal that the time is right to deploy the dreaded Amotekun to arrest this situation. I’ll explain why.

 

Since it is now clear that the Naira’s salvation is not in the hallways of the CBN or the gold-plated policy rooms of Bretton Woods, but in the battle grounds of the nook and cranny of Nigeria, all patriotic Nigerians must now rightly ignore suit-wearing technocrats and search for militant solutions with real promise. As a patriotic citizen, I have risen to this challenge. I would humbly like to thank the patriotic Nigerian leadership, from the CBN to the Executive, for leading us into this new era of mortal combat.

 

Only a few days ago, we were greeted with the live action scene of security operatives combating BDC operators in the nation’s capital, discharging live ammunition in broad daylight in an open civilian space like fearless patriots at the battle front. The EFCC and accompanying security operatives charged forward and backwards as the enemies of state dared challenge them. It was almost like a combat scene from Gibson’s Braveheart. I was touched. I’m not too sure, but I may have heard the humming of the national anthem from these fearless patriots as they battled the savage saboteurs. What a touching moment! Someone who was at the scene mentioned that these patriots recited the pledge before the onslaught. I can’t confirm this for sure, but if it did occur, it would be consistent with the new nationalistic fervour of the Tinubu administration as reported in the news recently that citizens would be required to recite the pledge at events. I also hear the operation is going on in different parts of the country. All these, coming only days after Sahad Stores, a retail supermarket in Abuja, was forcibly shut down for “economic sabotage”, fill me with great joy. Some unpatriotic citizens had shockingly opposed the move, claiming Sahad Stores was one of the good ones, and that deploying force would not resolve the inflation crisis. Cowards and co-conspirators! They’re too distracted by textbook ideas to see that we’re in war. Shame.

 

Normally, I would have recommended the army for this most important national assignment, but they’re overstretched. They’re battling terrorists, bandits, armed robbers, secessionists, their welfare; just about every violent aggressor around. The police would have been my second option but they too are preoccupied and, as some mischievous people claim, have a special DNA for compromise. For these and some other reasons which I will explain, Amotekun has my blessings.

 

I know Amotekun is also seriously engaged with battling bandits in the South West, but they must be pleaded with to spare some personnel for this all-too-important national emergency. Their stealth, daredevil disposition, and my favourite—charms from the gods— will come in handy.

 

I have heard rumours that some of the BDCs hide their stockpile of dollars in forests. This is the domain of the Amotekun warriors. Through their local intelligence gathering and tactical navigation of the forests, they can uncover these dollar chests and win for the country a huge deliverance. Their spiritual protection against wild animals and attacks from dark forces will be very useful here.

 

I am also confident that what has for so long appeared to be the near-impossible goal of finding the dollars some loud-mouthed people claim are hidden by politicians, bank executives and— I struggle to even contemplate it— CBN officials will be spiritually detected by Amotekun. We desperately need this.

 

It was with great joy that I also received the news that our gallant security personnel are now stopping truckloads of food from leaving the country. What took them so long! How can any patriotic businessman think of trade and profit at a time of economic crisis? This beats my imagination. I am even more infuriated by the argument of their unpatriotic defenders that we don’t have food scarcity, just food unaffordability, and that we can’t seriously let them abandon their goods in warehouses while the vast majority of Nigerians can’t purchase them. This is so inconsiderate and sad. Their argument that the exports bring in needed forex at this time of forex crisis is also another textbook nonsense. Shame on them.

 

I am particularly touched by Cardoso’s sincerity and humility. Realizing that the air-conditioned policies have hit the brick wall and that the fight has morphed into street combat, he did not try to deceive the populace about it. This is uncommon (apologies to Akpabio) pragmatism.

 

I want to enjoin the President to rally leaders in the South West towards mass mobilization of Amotekun for this national assignment. We can’t afford to fail!

 

Chinedu Chidi is a public affairs commentator. He can be reached via: chiobe24.cc@gmail.com

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Strictly Personal

The problem of DRC’s beautiful wife, maize it planted by roadside, By Charles Onyango-Obbo

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Watching the upheaval in the Democratic Republic of Congo in recent days, one is tempted to invoke the African proverb that “the man who marries a beautiful woman and the farmer who grows maize by the roadside have the same problem.”

The police fired tear gas on Monday to disperse protesters who burned tyres and US and Belgian flags near Western embassies and UN offices in the capital Kinshasa, angry about insecurity in eastern Congo.

The protesters claim the West supports Rwanda, which they and their government accuse of backing the M23 rebellion, whose advance could see them seize the strategic border city of Goma in the east.

This is a new phase of what has become an entrenched tradition of the Congolese oscillating between blaming everyone else but themselves for their problems, and demanding that other people solve these problems, including fighting for them.

In recent years — rightly — the Congolese have railed, then attacked, the long-running and ineffectual United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Monusco) for not ending the rebellion in the east.

In late 2022, DRC’s kin in the EAC dispatched the East African Community Regional Force (EACRF) to separate the warring sides. Before long, Kinshasa and the people had risen against them, hounding them to go out to the jungle and fight the rebels for them. At the end of last year, EACRF left DRC with its tail between its legs.

Because the Congolese are our brothers and sisters, and we have a responsibility to love them, we also have a duty to tell them uncomfortable truths that will help them overcome.

So, we will return to our proverb. African proverbs are complicated. First, one needs to know that they passed into society through the mouths of men who were not feminists, so too many of them tend to portray women in bad light.

This one paints a heroic hard-working farmer (although it is mostly women, not men, who work the land in Africa) whose maize is stolen by passers-by, in contrast with the beautiful wife who betrays her husband and falls to the charms of other men.

However, African proverbs are also layered, so there is what they say, and the many things they mean. In this case, that people will covet a good thing — a good crop, a beautiful woman and, if we may add, a handsome, enterprising man. The “problem” here is how to keep your maize, beautiful wife, and enterprising husband. If you are better than all the men who hit on her, your beautiful wife will stay faithfully by your side.

Having your wife, husband, girlfriend or boyfriend run off with someone else can be very hurtful, but if you have a cantankerous truth-telling African aunt or uncle, they will also whisper to you that a partner whom no other man or woman has ever or will ever want is probably not worth having.

In real-world Congo politics, then, the reality is rebels will have friends and allies at home and abroad. Even Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), as despicable as a rebel group can ever be, had friends outside who backed it.

The thing that should terrify everyone is a rebel group that no one wants to touch with a 10-metre pole, both in the day and night. The opposite is also true of rebels fighting to overthrow a government. If it is a government that doesn’t have a single friend even in the cynical world of geopolitics, then it’s probably worse than a cabal of cannibals.

For Congo, what is left is how to solve this “problem”. To stay with the farmer and the beautiful wife, what the Congolese are doing is like the strapping young man in old Africa who spent all his time attacking his parents, relatives, neighbours, and their friends because they failed to give him cattle to pay a bride price for a wife and build a hut for him to live in with her.

The scale of surrender of agency by many Congolese, including the political class and the government, is unsettling.

It’s partly understandable, too. The unusually brutal Belgian rule; the exploitation of all sorts of vultures for its vast minerals lasting over 100 years now; and an unbroken long spell of corrupt and cruel rule, have broken its self-confidence. The way to come to terms with the scale of failure and remain sane is to externalise all the problems to evil forces.

It has led to national paralysis, a belief that they can’t do much on their own to overcome.

DRC’s neighbours to the east, Uganda and Rwanda, offer good lessons. When President Yoweri Museveni took to the bush with his small band of rebels in 1981, the odds were stacked up against them. The British had a big programme with a special police force; the Tanzanian army that helped overthrow military dictator Idi Amin was on the side of the government, and hardy North Koreans soon got into the fight against them. They still won.

The prospects were even worse for the Rwanda Patriotic Army/Front when it crossed from Uganda and took to treacherous hills in 1990. Apart from Uganda, it was alone against the world, including one of the world’s superpowers at the time, France, which was in bed with the government in Kigali. They suffered setbacks, picked themselves up, and won.

Congo can win, but first, it will have to plant its own maize and fight its war for its own beautiful wife.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the «Wall of Great Africans». Twitter@cobbo3

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