When Jacob Zuma took office there was much talk of a coming “shift to the left”.
The evidence on economics is mixed, but on crucial social and legal issues the more plausible prospect is a move to the right, with religious conservatives and traditional leaders finding a ready audience at the Union Buildings and in the ANC’s parliamentary caucus.
Although Zuma has dropped his controversial rhetoric about gay people, teenage pregnancies and the death penalty, it is clear that some of those close to him continue to push for a less liberal interpretation of the Constitution.
At the forefront is the newly formed National Interfaith Leadership Council (NILC), spearheaded by Rhema church supremo Ray McCauley.
The NILC is no mere pressure group formed to lobby the president and the ruling party from the outside. It appears to be rapidly displacing the South African Council of Churches in discussions with the ANC, and senior party figures are members of the NILC leadership. The council was granted an audience with Zuma within weeks of its formation.
What is more, as we report this week, the council has used the resources of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus to promote its message.
In some ways this is unsurprising. There are many in the party — not least in Parliament — who think the time has come to reverse legislation passed under President Thabo Mbeki that secured abortion rights and legalised gay marriage.
There was intense reluctance in the caucus to pass these laws, which were pushed through by the presidency and Luthuli House.
It is one of the paradoxes of the post-1994 Parliament that the African Christian Democratic Party, which publicly espouses religious conservative views, is a minnow, despite the fact that so many ANC MPs and voters share its views on abortion, pornography, gay marriage and capital punishment. But there is other heavyweight backing.
In a recent op-ed article Judge Bernard Ngoepe called for what amounts to a dramatically more conservative interpretation of common law and the Constitution. There are strains of such conservatism, too, in Judge John Hlophe’s call for the “Africanisation” of the law, and in the “shoot to kill” rhetoric emanating from the police ministry.
Meanwhile, the swing of formerly Inkatha-supporting traditional leaders behind Zuma’s ANC is another indication of the growing importance of right-wing views to a hitherto liberal ruling party.
Why, then, should the views of this “silent majority” not prevail? If the Constitution and the legislature are out of step with public opinion, surely they should bend? The answer, of course, is that although laws admit interpretation, this democracy is founded on a set of basic principles that set out the limits to such interpretation.
Those principles, as the Constitutional Court has repeatedly made clear, compel us to uphold the right to life, true equality before the law, human dignity and freedom of speech, among other rights.
That, in turn, means the death penalty is an impossibility, gay marriage is an inevitability and uncomfortable forms of speech a necessity. The Constitution is the law of the law.
Not so long ago the ANC leadership saw it as a duty to enact that law, however unpopular it might have been, but that seems to have changed.
Senior politicians, judges, churchmen and traditional leaders, all with extraordinary access to Zuma, are pushing the ANC in a disturbing new direction.
He needs to tell us all just how far he plans to go along with them.
The dream slips away
With less than 10 months to go to the World Cup, Bafana Bafana are as hopeless as ever. Joel Santana’s charges suffered their sixth successive defeat this week when they lost 1-0 to a makeshift Ireland outfit.
If it wasn’t already clear when Bafana failed to qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations, it is obvious now that drastic intervention is required to stave off embarrassment next year. Fifa president Sepp Blatter has made it clear he is worried. And yet Safa has done nothing.
Santana should probably have been shown the door when he failed to crack the regional competition. Instead, Safa chief executive Raymond Hack spooned up nonsense about the collapse being a blessing in disguise.
The reality is that our team is rubbish and time for corrective measures has almost run out.
But the big men of the game don’t seem to care. The two most powerful figures in local football, Irvin Khoza and Danny Jordaan, are much too busy fighting for the Safa presidency to care about the actual performance of the team. It is quite clear that each thinks the individual benefits he might accrue are substantial. How either Jordaan or Khoza’s presidency would benefit the game or the country is less obvious. What we really need is a team that can get past the first round of the World Cup.
Safa’s trusted Santana needs help from a more experienced football brain who can assume the role of technical adviser. He is clearly out of his depth in his first assignment as coach of a national team. Now is the time to bring back Carlos Parreira to take charge of the technical team, as had previously been planned.
We also need to face up to the fact that the team is thin on quality and start looking at the option of Benni McCarthy’s experience and goal-scoring ability before the last of the sand runs through the hourglass.