ANC's democratic dissonance

On Monday this week Kalsang Wangchuk, a 17-year-old Tibetan monk, set himself on fire in Ngaba Town in the western Chinese province of Sichuan. According to the London-based advocacy group, Free Tibet, and the International Campaign for Tibet in Washington, DC, he was protesting against a lack of basic freedoms, including religious rights, before immolating.

The organisations cited exiled sources as saying police extinguished the fire, beat Wangchuk and then took him away. The town was apparently then placed under martial law, with no one allowed to enter or leave.

Wangchuk is the fourth monk this year to resort to self-immolation to protest against China’s 60-year occupation of Tibet.
His well-being and where­abouts—and those of two other monks who set themselves on fire days before Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe’s official visit to China last week—remain unknown.

It is a fiery, tragic indictment of the total absence of freedom of speech in Tibet and China. A freedom guaranteed in South Africa’s Constitution and one that a visibly emotional Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu exercised in an incendiary attack on the ANC-led government on Tuesday.

Tutu was hopping mad because the government’s continued (China influenced) prevarication on the issuing of a travel visa to his friend and fellow Nobel laureate, the Dalai Lama, had led the latter to cancel a visit to the country this week, where he would have delivered the inaugural Desmond Tutu Peace Lecture and participated in the clergyman’s 80th birthday celebrations.

The responses critical of Tutu’s tirade—on the streets, in the Twitterverse and on Facebook—raise terrifying questions about our body politic. ANC members denigrated Tutu. On Facebook one called him a “loony, senile, dress wearing old man with a funny Jewish nose”. Twentysomethings on Twitter not old enough to remember the repressive state of emergency and blood spilled in the 1980s—or Tutu’s role in standing up to Pretoria, urged him to “shut up and sit down”. An urbanite prayed to God to “release Archbishop Desmond Tutu from this planet. He is getting out of hand.”

The vitriol is suggestive of a dissonance with South Africa’s honourable struggle history. Rational argument—the bedrock of a democratic exchange of ideas vital to this republic—is disappearing, along with the rainbow over our nation. In its place we find increasing demagoguery and intolerance.

There was also the absurd notion that South Africa’s own challenges—of unemployment, poverty, criminal violence, a dysfunctional education system—somehow precluded its citizens from expressing solidarity with oppressed people around the world. This is disingenuous—as is the oft trotted out line that only the ANC, as elected by the majority, is in touch with and can represent the will of South Africans. It is a claim used to attack Tutu, the Constitutional Court and any other dissenting voice that threatens the ANC’s hegemony. It turns South Africans into democratic appendages whose only role is to mark an X on a piece of paper every five years.

All this would appear to be what the antidemocratic forces within the ruling ANC want to achieve in South Africa, in which case we can truly understand why it has such close ties with China.

Read the second half of the editorial “A sporting chance

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