• Constitutional Values, Diversity and Democracy

    The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) launched its first dialogue series on constitutional values on 22 August in Johannesburg. Held under the theme “Unity in Diversity: Promoting and Advancing Constitutional Values in South Africa”, representatives from government, human rights organisations and civil society came together to discuss constitutional values in a democratic society.

    The SAHRC hopes these discussions will enable South Africans to critically assess the inherent challenges of applying constitutional values as interpreted by different interest groups in a highly contested political, cultural, religious and economic terrain.

    SAHRC chairperson Jody Kollapen, said the meeting took place at a time when millions of South Africans “live outside the Constitution”. Kollapen argues that South Africans should begin to deal with the fundamental values of the Constitution as the country approaches general elections next year.

    Former education minister and retired parliamentarian Kader Asmal called for debate around how often the Constitution should be amended. These debates should also focus on the value of the Chapter Nine Institutions to ensure their independence. “A vigorous, healthy democracy entails, no doubt, vigorous, robust debate,” he said.

    In the same vein, president of the South African Council of Churches (SACC), Tinyiko Maluleke, warned that discussing constitutional values and diversity is a meaningless exercise as long as the country fails to identify “who is human.”

    Maluleke said South Africans are still not equal even after 1994 there is a sense that some lives are more important than the others. He argued that this is evident in the different ways in which the government delivers services to townships compared to so-called historically white suburbs.

    He recalled living in Tembisa township in the East Rand, where the municipality had a tendency of taking few days before fixing a sewage pipe unlike in Centurion where it takes only few hours.

    National Alliance For Non-Government Organisations’ Eric Ntshiqela, blamed the government for the recent xenophobic attacks on foreign nationals in the country. Ntshiqela posits that government is failing to engage ordinary citizens on issues that affect them. He argued that all the important meetings take place in places that are “not accessible” to communities. Meetings take place in “suburbs and in the books,” he stressed.

    Speaking to the issue of mutual vulnerability within the current socio-political context in South Africa, National Research Foundation chairperson, Catherine Odora Hoppers, called for South Africans to learn from other cultures. She pointed out that if humanity diversity refers to the presence in one population of a wide variety of cultures, opinions, ethnic groups, socio-economic backgrounds, then diversity should be manifested in the existence of many people contributing their unique experiences to humanity’s culture.

    While echoing Odora Hoppers’ sentiments, Nontombenhle Nkosi, CEO of the Pan South African Language Board (PANSALB) also criticised the Constitution for allowing the legalisation of abortion for girls as young as 14. She argued that this fails to recognise African cultures.

    Independent conflict analyst/facilitator, Jan Van Eck, cautioned against viewing dialogue processes as competition, instead of understanding it as an opportunity to bring communities, government leaders and civil society organisations together to debate issues of national interest.

    Van Eck, whose spoke about dialogue as a tool to advance unity in a conflict-ridden situation, experiences from the Great Lakes region, explained that informal dialogue empowers locals to deal with issues that affect them.

    He cited how informal discussions benefited war-torn countries such as Burundi and Rwanda, where people were killed on the grounds of their origins and ethnicity.

    However, Maluleke believes that South Africans need to discover themselves at a personal level before debating on diversity and intolerance. Given the recent Joint Working Group (JWG) protest against John Qwelane’s column in the Sunday Sun newspaper, which is marked by hate speech against lesbian and gay people, his comments are particularly relevant.

    JWG coordinator, Emily Craven, points out in a press statement, “The article exceeds the bounds of free speech in terms of the Constitution as it advocates hatred on the grounds of a person’s preference for having relationships with members of the same sex.”

    Asmal cautioned against the use of “violent and extremist” language, which he argued violates the core elements of the Constitution. Expressions such as; “prepare for war”, and “ready to fight to take over the streets”, are not only offensive, but also constitute a danger to the country’s democratic order, he said. Asmal argued that language like this is intimidatory and precludes any debate about ends and means.

    His comments came in the wake of the recent meetings between the SAHRC and secretary-general of the Congress of the South African Trade Unions, Zwelenzima Vavi, and another with the newly-elected president of the African National Congress Youth League, Julius Malema, over “shoot-to-kill for Zuma” comments.

    The dialogue series forms part of the SAHRC’s objective to facilitate a national discussion on constitutional values. In addition to specific dialogues, the series will also include provincial dialogues where community-based or grassroots organisations and the general public can discuss and debate issues of concern to them; web-based electronic discussion forums to maximise the participation of as many stakeholders as possible; engagements with the 2010 Soccer World Cup to promote and protect human rights during and after the 2010 World Cup and following-up on South Africa’s international obligations such as the development of the National Action Plan to Combat Racism which was agreed to at World Conference on Racism.

    Butjwana Seokoma
  • Zimbabwe: Civil Society and Democracy

    All states, democratic or authoritarian, exist and govern by exercising political domination and force over citizens. In functioning democracies, however, the state’s political domination and force is ably regulated by strong and inclusive institutional structures and processes, respect for the rule of law, fundamental freedoms and human rights and a vibrant and independent civil society. Constitutionally, Zimbabwe is a democracy.

    However, the existing flawed Constitution, which is amenable to manipulation and abuse by the ruling elites, renders Zimbabwe’s democratic status grossly dysfunctional. Thus, political domination has, since 1980, lent itself more towards authoritarian, than democratic rule. It is realised and exercised through personalistic ties or relations that exist between patrons and clients. In their book, Democratic Experiments in Africa, Bratton and van de Walle (1997) describe this political system as:

    “The distinctive institutional hallmark of African regimes […where…] relationships of loyalty and dependence pervade a formal political and administrative system and leaders occupy bureaucratic offices less to perform public service than to acquire personal wealth and status. The distinction between private and public interests is blurred. The essence of neopatrimonialism is the award by public officials of personal favours, both within the state (notably public sector jobs) and in society (for instance, licenses, contracts and projects). In return for material rewards, clients mobilise political support and refer all decisions upward as a mark of deference to patrons.”

    With regard to the structure of an authoritarian political system this means that power is centralised around the executive president (patron) and his/her coterie of ruling party supporters (clients). All forms of associational life are controlled from the top. To oppose the state, even in a constructive democratic manner is regarded as threat to ‘national security’. Civil society groups that opt for autonomy from state cooptation are labelled ‘enemies of the state’. The state determines and bases the supply and access of national resources on political grounds. State resources are then used to regulate actions of party cadres and citizens for purposes of defending regime security at the expense of human security, fundamental freedoms and human rights. 

    In Zimbabwe, patronage and clientele politics has entrenched authoritarianism. The culture of intolerance and bad governance in the wake of the 2008 Harmonised Elections threatens to block the smooth democratic transition. Since 2000, there exists a fractious relationship between the discourses of democracy and sovereignty, espoused by the self-acclaimed democrats (opposition political parties and Civil Society Organisations [CSOs]) and the so-called nationalists (ZANU-PF and war veterans). Thus on one hand, ‘nationalists’ espouse the ‘enemy discourse’ in their political pretentiousness as the sole and legitimate guardian of Zimbabwe’s sovereignty. On the other, ‘democrats’ counter the enemy discourse with their ‘saviour discourse’ in the wake of state repression. The pervasive patronage politics and these competing discourses explain recent raids on civil society in the context of the unfinished 2008 electoral process in Zimbabwe.  

    Blocking transition

    In 1997, the late Professor Masipula Sithole remarked that “authoritarianism in Zimbabwe is eroding.” However, the new political order that Sithole envisaged and celebrated, perhaps prematurely, has been on hold since 2000. Since then, there has been a systematic militarisation and patronisation of all major and strategic state institutions for purposes of defending the ZANU-PF regime. In turn, this has grossly compromised the jurisdictional provisions of a rational-legal bureaucracy that guarantee efficiency and accountability of the government and is currently the greatest threat to democratic transition in Zimbabwe.

    The 2008 elections, coming on the backdrop of 11 years of political and socio-economic crisis, were supposed to herald a new political dispensation, vis-à-vis, restoration and respect for human life and dignity, political and civic rights and associated freedoms and economic recovery. However, the aftermath of the polling process has been marked by an electoral, political and humanitarian crisis following the unprecedented delays in announcing the results; the politically motivated violence in urban and rural areas pitting political party supporters against each other; the arrest of MDC supporters on charges of being ‘suspicious people’; and the raid on CSOs and activists.

    The recent crackdown on humanitarian and governance CSOs by the state, on mythical allegations of being ‘pro-neocolonialism’ and Western stooges trying to unconstitutionally overthrow the government amounts to squeezing civil society out of the democratic space. On 25 April 2008, police officers from the Law and Order unit raided offices of the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), and seized election documents that they claimed were subversive and meant to overthrow the ZANU-PF government. The raid on ZESN offices came a few days before the announcement of the presidential results and perhaps aimed at harassing, intimidating and therefore preventing ZESN from announcing election results that would contradict ZEC’s official results. Other CSOs that have had their staff or supporters harassed and arrested and/or offices raided include Action Aid Zimbabwe, Women and Men of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA/MOZA), Crisis Coalition Zimbabwe, Plan International, the Centre for Research and Development, and Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).

    The raids on civil society are paralleled by arrests of MDC supporters who are escaping violence in rural areas but are also alleged to be perpetrating the same violence on ZANU-PF supporters. According to the UN Country Team Statement of 13 May 2008, the violence in rural areas is disrupting food aid distribution by UN agencies and other humanitarian NGOs. A joint report from the Ecumenical Zimbabwe Network and the Cooperation for International Development Solidarity, for instance, states that “the intimidating presence of security personnel and the physical violence taking place across the country is severely limiting our partners’ ability to fulfill their humanitarian mission. This security situation severely limits access to certain areas of the country.” 

    Future policy engagement?

    The crackdown on civil society and the opposition reflects the state’s continued aversion to participatory governance and multi-party politics in Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s patronage politics compromises the independence of various state institutions to institute and promote a culture of tolerance and participatory politics. The unflinching loyalty to ZANU-PF by some senior civil servants negates the power constitutionally ascribed to state institutions to partially carry out their national duties. And as has been argued by many commentators, where Zimbabwe’s state institutions exercise their constitutionally mandated duties, political interference overrides the implementation of policies and/or critical decision are delayed or avoided. In addition, ZANU-PF’s client network - war veterans, youth brigades and some senior civil servants - returns numerous forms of patronage payments by zealously harassing civil society and the opposition, in blind and shallow defence of the sovereign and nationalist discourses against mythical state enemies.

    CSOs and the opposition have been proactive in their endeavours to pick up the slack of Zimbabwe’s partisan administrative system, by lobbying for inclusive and democratic politics. In the process, however, the zeal to proffer an alternative ‘saviour discourse’ and for self-defense against state sponsored violence has had the negative effect of recycling and perpetuating the same violence and/or intolerance against ruling party supporters and/or within the civic or opposition sector. In this regard, the National Association of Non-governmental Organizations in Zimbabwe (NANGO) representing over 1000 NGOs has teamed with other non-member NGOs and other civic coalitions to campaign for non-violent social action and protection of people’s authentic voice as expressed through the 2008 Harmonised Elections. NANGO, therefore, views the on-going harassment and intimidation of perceived anti-ZANU-PF civil society (and opposition) as negating their democratic rights and responsibilities to lobby and pressure government to be responsive and accountable to the electorate.

    The diminishing democratic space of civil society that these raids entail unnecessarily compounds the already frosty state-civil society relations in crucial policy engagement processes.. The harassment of CSOs is politically calculated to deter civic education in anticipation of what is likely to be a fiercely and violently contested presidential run-off. There is therefore need to slow down the discourse extremisms held by both ZANU-PF (and its supporters) and the opposition forces (political parties and some civil society groups) and to find common ground to facilitate a stable democratic transition through the 2008 Harmonised Elections.

    For more information on Zimbabwean civil society:
    Cornelias Ncube
  • SADC - Press Zimbabwe to End Abuses

    The 19-page report, "'They Beat Me like a Dog': Political Persecution of Opposition Activists and Supporters in Zimbabwe," describes ongoing abuses, including killings, beatings and arbitrary arrests, by ZANU-PF and its allies against MDC members of parliament, activists and supporters before and after the June 27 presidential runoff election. Hundreds of MDC activists who fled the violence in the weeks before the vote remain in hiding, while armed ZANU-PF supporters and government-backed "war veterans" and "youth militia" continue to terrorize villagers in the rural areas, the report found. The government has made little effort to dismantle the torture camps and bases established by ZANU-PF and its allies since the first round of elections on March 29.

    "ZANU-PF and its allies are still committing violent abuses, undermining the party's credibility as a political partner," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of focusing on quick political fixes, President Thabo Mbeki and other SADC leaders should look for a durable solution, and that means, first of all, an immediate end to human rights violations."

    The presence of torture camps and of armed ZANU-PF supporters, militias and war veterans highlights the precarious nature of the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, Human Rights Watch said. The ongoing tragedy has been exacerbated by an increasingly dire humanitarian situation. Severe government restrictions on the distribution of humanitarian assistance, including food aid by local and international agencies, have had a devastating impact on people in the rural areas of Zimbabwe. According to the World Food Programme, an estimated 5 million people are in need of food aid.

    In the past four months, ZANU-PF and its allies have been implicated in the killing of at least 163 people and the beating and torture of more than 5,000 others. Thirty-two of these people were killed after the June 27 runoff and two since ZANU-PF and the MDC signed a memorandum of understanding that paved the way for negotiations.

    A 70-year-old woman witnessed the brutal killing of her son, Gibbs Chironga, an MDC councilor in Chiweshe, Mashonaland Central, by suspected ZANU-PF supporters on June 20, and was herself viciously assaulted. She told Human Rights Watch:

    "I am an old woman and they beat me like a dog, no, a wild animal. They insulted me; they beat me on the back and in the ribs. My only crime was that my son was an MDC councilor. I am in great pain. Now my son is in the mortuary, I am unable to bury him. I will not be there when he is buried, if he is buried. I regret being alive. My life is ruined, my home is destroyed and my son's life was taken in cold blood."

    Since March 29, police have engaged in a witch-hunt of elected MDC members of parliament, with 12 opposition MPs facing what Human Rights Watch believes to be politically motivated criminal charges. Police have taken little or no action to investigate abuses of the kind documented in this report, with few investigations or prosecutions of serious crimes committed by ZANU-PF and its allies since the March elections and little legal redress or compensation for the victims.

    "There can be no trade-off between the political process and the need for justice and an end to human rights abuses," said Gagnon. "The Zimbabwean government's refusal to account for serious crimes will only damage the prospects for political stability in Zimbabwe. SADC leaders can make a difference by insisting that abusers be held to account under any political deal."

    Human Rights Watch urged SADC leaders to insist on agreement between the political parties to a comprehensive program of human rights reform prior to any final political agreement, and on obtaining measurable progress on human rights, including:
    • An end to the government's violent campaign against MDC activists and perceived MDC supporters by state security forces, ZANU-PF supporters and officials, youth militia and war veterans;
    • Government dismantling of all torture camps and bases throughout the country and prosecution of those responsible for torture and other mistreatment;
    • An end to politically motivated arrests of MDC officials and activists, and the release of those arbitrarily detained;
    • Government lifting of the suspension against local and international humanitarian agencies;
    • Government demobilising and disarming all ZANU-PF supporters and officials, youth militia and war veterans; and
    • The establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate reports of extrajudicial executions, torture and ill-treatment.
    Human Rights Watch
  • NGO Leadership Challenges: Creating a Space for Reflection

    NGO leaders face extraordinary challenges which are very distinct from those faced by leaders in government and the private sector. They often function in isolated and unsupported circumstances, and are faced with a set of complex and interrelated challenges relating to NGOs’ social change mission, increased pressure for accountability and transparency, the need for unquestioned integrity and to maximise limited resources, and the ability to network and position their organisations in an uncertain external and political environment.

    The NGO environment in South Africa continues to experience various strategic changes and challenges that impact on the state and well-being of the NGO sector. The closure and collapse of key NGOs as a result of increased competition for funding and changing donor priorities, the absence of a functional national coordinating structure, and high turnover of senior staff are some of the key issues facing the sector.

    Increasingly, this situation is raising important questions about leadership in the sector, the institutional memory of the sector, and the individual and collective capacity of NGO leaders to respond and overcome these challenges.

    NGO leaders face extraordinary challenges which are very distinct from those faced by leaders in government and the private sector. They often function in isolated and unsupported circumstances, and are faced with a set of complex and interrelated challenges relating to NGOs’ social change mission, increased pressure for accountability and transparency, the need for unquestioned integrity and to maximise limited resources, and the ability to network and position their organisations in an uncertain external and political environment.

    Furthermore, NGO leaders are also confronted with a new set of challenges, including the role and impact of technology on their organisations, the need for more collaborative approaches to project funding and implementation, and the positioning of the sector in response to the political leadership changes that South Africa will experience over the next year.

    With traditional civil society strengthening and capacity-building NGOs disappearing from the NGO landscape, and staff development priorities often competing with operational objectives, not enough attention is given to the process of renewing leadership in the sector and building sustainable organisational capacity.

    This situation is ultimately affecting the role, position and development impact of the NGO sector in South Africa.

    In response to this situation, SANGONeT and Project Literacy initiated the NGO CEO Circle in early 2006 to create a platform within the leadership of the NGO sector in Gauteng to discuss common institutional and strategic development issues on a regular basis thereby creating the opportunity to highlight problems and share solutions.

    Held quarterly and hosted by a different NGO on a rotational basis, CEO Circles are attended by 10-15 NGO CEOs per event. A guest speaker is usually invited to introduce a specific issue of strategic interest to participants. Some of the issues covered during the past two years include strategic HR management challenges, legislation impacting on the NGO sector, BEE codes, and strategic ICT trends.

    Over and above the specific issues covered during each event, NGO CEO Circles also provide participants with an important opportunity for networking and to reflect on various issues and challenges facing the NGO sector in general. These include the nature and focus of media coverage about the sector, the relationship between the State and the sector, and financial sustainability.

    Building on the success of the NGO CEO Circles, and to coincide with SANGONeT's 20th anniversary celebrations and the launch of Prodder - NGOs and Development in South Africa 2008 SANGONeT hosted the inaugural NGO CEO Summit on 29 November 2007 at the Balalaika Hotel in Sandton. The event was a first for leaders of the NGO sector in Gauteng.

    The theme of the inaugural NGO CEO Summit was "Leadership Fitness: From Challenge, To Engagement, To Performance". Participation was limited to 40 NGO CEOs in order to ensure quality discussions and interaction through peer-to-peer, face-to-face exchange of experiences.

    Discussions were thought-provoking and informative, with most CEOs sharing similar experiences and challenges in leading their NGOs. The event also presented CEOs with an important networking opportunity, one of the key benefits and outcomes acknowledged by most participants.

    SANGONeT aims to convene the NGO CEO Summit annually in Gauteng, with the next event scheduled for November 2008. Based on interest generated and feedback received, SANGONeT will also consider hosting similar events in other parts of South Africa. The frequency of CEO Circles will in future also change to bi-monthly events.

    David Barnard
  • Taking the Lead

    Taking the Lead: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Stories is a booklet tells the stories of seven people who participated in the Institute for Democracy in South Africa’s (IDASA) Citizen Leadership for Democratic Governance training programme in 2003. The booklet contains articles that are remarkable for the strong sense of hope and democratic energy they convey. While the different interests and personalities of the seven individuals are clearly visible, they share a common excitement in the discovery of what it means to become powerful citizens and a commitment to being agents of change in their communities.

    To download the booklet, click here (PDF).

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