Is a dose of principle too much to ask for?

The New National Party trumpeted its triumph over the Democratic Alliance as a victory for those committed to the improvement of poor people’s quality of life. The African National Congress hailed the week’s developments as a boon for the cause of non-racialism and the efficient delivery of social services.

All the defection-hit DA could do was forlornly accuse the ANC and the NNP of practising “cheque-book politics” and charge those deserting its own ranks of putting “privilege before principle”.

The Inkatha Freedom Party — facing the prospect of losing control of KwaZulu-Natal should the floor-crossing arrangement be extended beyond the local government level — also decried the erosion of principle.

The word “principle” was bandied about loosely as parties tried to get the better of each other in the wake of the Constitutional Court’s judgement that legislation allowing politicians to change parties mid-stream was not incompatible with the Constitution.

As much as many voters may feel that the idea of floor crossing cheapens their vote, it is pointless arguing against it. The reality is that South Africa’s democratically elected Parliament overwhelmingly approved it and the country’s highest court ruled that it was not in violation of the country’s Constitution. As in many countries around the world, the practice is now set to become part of our political set-up.

A greater challenge is how we restore the notion of principle to our politics. During South Africa’s liberation struggle and the negotiations that saw the death of apartheid, principle was a tangible ideal.

But in the past few years we have seen principle fall victim to South Africa’s political realignment. And while the DA may today decry the demise of principle, it should know that it was one of the first formations to compromise it. Through its “fight back” election campaign of 1999 the then Democratic Party turned its back on the principles that had guided both itself and its previous incarnations.It was to further trample on these principles when — in its quest to artificially inflate its power base and boost its coffers — it got into bed with the NNP and fraternised with highly questionable characters.

With the DP/NPP marriage falling apart last year, the ANC saw fit to entice the party of apartheid to its camp. And so in the strange reconfiguration of South Africa’s political landscape, we now see the adherents of Zulu nationalism align themselves with the erstwhile custodians of white English liberalism, while the party that championed non-racialism waltzes with the people who brought us the horror of apartheid.

If this realignment was to produce a more dynamic party system and enhance the accountability of our politicians and political institutions we would applaud without hesitation.

But it will not. The realignment is based on crass expediency that is unlikely to deepen our democracy in any way. Most of those who are making use of, or have expressed an interest in making useof, the floor-crossing window period include some of South Africa’s mostpromiscuous political bed-hoppers.They are not driven by some greater moral call but by the lure of job security and self-aggrandisement. And the behaviour of the political parties has shown that they are prepared to throw all sense of morality out the window for short-term gain.

It would be naive to expect our politicians to make principle their primary driving force.They are, after all, in the line of work that is as ancient as the world’s oldest profession. But because of our history and the task we have set ourselves of creating a nation that values morality,South Africans do expect their politicians and their political parties to behave differently. They owe it to those who gave their lives for this democracy and to the generations who will inherit this country.

Is a little dose of principle too much to ask for?

A welcome move

The government’s decision to provide anti-retrovirals to the more than six million or so South Africans living with HIV/Aids should be welcomed by all.

The decision will have far-reaching spin-offs, both psychologically and socially for the poor and unemployed who are not covered by medical aid schemes.

The marathon court action and ugly public war that preceded the decision should have been avoided. Instead of confronting South Africa’s greatest enemy, the government found itself at war with the very people with whom it should been sharing trenches.

The government should now move swiftly in implementing this decision, pull out all the stops to prevent the kind of delays that dogged the implementation of programmes to provide nevirapine for HIV-positive pregnant women at public health institutions. The government should now actively engage the private sector, civil society and the general public in expediting the implementation of this week’s decision. A number of corporate companies have already offered a hand in this regard and the government should not spurn it.

We hope this decision will put an end to the pointless polemics on the HIV/Aids debate. Now is the time to act, and save lives.

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