South Africa in the news – the good, the bad and the ugly
So, the Springboks restored our national pride on the weekend, and men’s egos are pumping patriotism! Bafana Bafana has not exactly helped to boost the frail male self-esteem of South Africa’s collective manhood. The lack of self respect that leads to violence against those weaker than ourselves is an illness not confined to our country, but certainly sadly present if we look at our rape and abuse statistics. Although sport has many redemptive aspects, and naturally we are proud of our teams and individuals that excel, it becomes a minefield (instead of a soccer or rugby field) when identities are defined purely by our loyalties.
Misguided loyalty means murder
Former president Thabo Mbeki and the ruling party appointed ministers and officials on the basis of past ANC connections, some sort of protest-family nepotism. Some would say that loyalty is a good thing – but when it blinds us to the truth it is a monster, as the Jackie Selebi debacle (to name but one) bitterly proved.
Nobody held a gun to the heads of the ruling party when they signed the Rome Statute. It was a freely chosen commitment to being part of a democratic world view. Upholding human rights is the cornerstone of our constitution. The International Criminal Court implements ideals that South Africa agreed to, without any constraint upon the will of the signatories. ANC MPs on Parliament’s justice committee welcomed the accession to the Rome Statute. Crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes (recognized internationally) can be dealt with by the ICC if the instruments to deal with it in the countries where these crimes were committed, are lacking. (Rwanda and Bosnia are examples, as is the Pinochet regime.)
And yet …
President Jacob Zuma, in the full knowledge of his Cabinet, colluded to allow the Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to escape from Waterkloof Air Force base. By no stretch of the imagination can this be read as an accidental arrangement. This occurred in defiance of agreed to international obligations as well as a domestic court order, after adopting a stance that expressly dealt with justice as regards genocide suspects. By law (not to mention moral code), Bashir was supposed to be arrested in South Africa. This is what a responsible government would have done.
An independent judiciary
The high court has found that the government is in breach of South Africa’s international obligations and a direct court order. Government is appealing the ruling, claiming that visiting heads of state are granted amnesty and that the property where the African Union summit to which Bashir was invited, is the territory of the AU. Ruling party officials argue that our accession to the ICC should be reconsidered, spreading the plebeian argument that the ICC is anti-African. (Most of the convictions made by the court are against Serbian war criminals.) One of the intentions of the international legislation is that criminals cannot find a haven in other countries when they have perpetrated heinous crimes against innocent populations. It is spelled out in the legislation that a “heads of state” defence cannot be used, and neither can officers who executed a manifestly illegal order be exonerated.
13 years later…
The notion of African solidarity has reached the blinker stage under Zuma. It was disturbing enough when Robert Mugabe was front row celebrity at state functions in South Africa, but now we protect an internationally acknowledged criminal, in fact a mass murderer. If this is the price of loyalty, we have utterly lost Nelson Mandela’s ideals of not only a domestic but also a foreign policy based on human rights.