IFP: Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s online letter (31/05/2012)

Dear friends and fellow South Africans, I have remained silent over the issue of “The Spear”, but I have followed it with interest for it reveals a great deal about the psychological state of our country. Two Presidents ago, I sounded a warning about the dignity of the office of the President. I warned that because our President is both Head of State and Head of Government, he carries final responsibility for all actions of Government. When Government is attacked or criticized, he is responsible. When people strike, they protest against the President himself. This undermines the dignity of the President and weakens our constitutional system.

In 2007, I therefore proposed the Constitution 18th Amendment Bill, to transform South Africa into a classic parliamentary democracy, where the President is the Head of State, while a Prime Minister is the Head of Government. Throughout the democratic world, parliamentary systems are more established, numerous and successful than executive democracies. In fact, an executive presidency is foreign to South Africa’s constitutional history and traditions, being introduced for the first time in 1994. President Mandela maintained a balance to some extent, for he often said that he was the de jure President, while the Deputy President was the de facto President.

But, eighteen years on, there is no distinction between our President as Head of State and our President as Head of Government. We must ask; is this good for the country? An executive presidency certainly has disadvantages. As Head of State, a President is expected to be above politics. The President should be a symbol of national unity, and a guarantor of the Constitution and the proper functioning of State institutions. But this is compromised when the President becomes embroiled in the politics of the day. An executive President cannot provide non-partisan leadership. Moreover, the succession of an executive President is likely to become politically charged and divisive, rather than being a moment which unifies the country.

Through my Bill, I sought to raise the President above politics. It had nothing to do with the present or future incumbents in the Presidency, but was about the dignity of the office of the President. A President should be an umpire, not a player, in the domestic arena. But in the international arena, he must represent the entire country. I regret that the ruling Party did not see the wisdom in my proposal and ignored it, unwilling to take any powers away from the President of the country, which would necessarily take powers away from the President of the ANC. Their response was short-sighted, and has created a problem for South Africa. How does this relate to “The Spear”? When the artist, Brett Murray, explained his motives to the court, he described “The Spear” as protest art. It is not protest against Mr Zuma as an individual, but against the “power, greed and patriarchy” (in Mr Murray’s words) which characterise our Government. The artist was expressing his “sense of betrayal” after 1994 as “ideals that many had died or made sacrifices for were abandoned on the altar of expedience.” Thus a citizen’s protest against Government was expressed through an attack on the dignity of the President, because the President is seen not as the unifying symbol of South Africa, but as the bearer of final responsibility for every failure of Government. In the public mind, the President is the Government.

It was therefore, once again, short-sighted for the ANC to cry racism over “The Spear”, for the ruling Party has been complicit in the creation of a society in which the President is bound to be attacked as a form of protest. I recall a protest staged by Mr Zuma’s supporters in October 2005, where T-shirts bearing the image of a sitting President were burned in public. I said then that the dignity of the President must be upheld. Somehow it is becoming increasingly difficult to do this. Nevertheless, the cry of racism was hardly surprising. There is no hiding the fact that the race issue is South Africa’s national question. But to my mind the ruling Party is failing dismally to build peace between our people. When I saw the headline this week, “WE HAVE NOT STAMPED OUT RACISM, SAYS ZUMA” I thought how well that captures the problem. Racism is not something a Government can “stamp out”.

It requires an entirely different approach. Racism speaks of conflict, and conflict management seldom proposes force or domination as a route to sustainable peace-building. Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies advises that peace-building depends on social and economic transformation that creates an environment of willingness to cooperate, as well as reconciliation, the creation of mechanisms that enhance dialogue and cooperation, inclusive decision-making, an effort to understand the cultural dimension of all affected groups, and the promotion of the rule of law and ethics.

Taken individually, there is strong case in each instance that Government is failing. This explains the decline of support for the ANC among coloured, Indian and white voters, which the ruling Party is so keen to turn around. But their efforts to attract these votes are likely to be sabotaged by the ANC’s fundamental misunderstanding of how to approach reconciliation, and why reconciliation is essential. They seem oblivious to the social impact of imminent legislation dealing with Black Economic Empowerment and Employment Equity. This legislation, which has been approved by Cabinet and will soon be before Parliament, is bound to drive skilled whites out of the country. It is tantamount to mandatory legal discrimination against white people who, under certain conditions, will not be allowed to do business with their own Government, which controls about one third of our economy, and will not be able to be hired by the most significant public and private employers unless such employers have already filled a large quota of non-whites. This is a very difficult issue with great economic impact. For the past forty years, I have committed myself and my Party to avoiding this type of reverse discrimination.

As far back as 1972, I issued the Mahlabathini Declaration in which we committed ourselves to a negotiated settlement with white South Africans which would eliminate any type of discrimination. I carried the same message and philosophy in the Buthelezi Commission of 1980 and into the KwaZulu Natal Indaba of 1986, which produced the first interracial government of South Africa. Of course, the IFP has first hand experience of the ANC’s nonchalant attitude towards reconciliation. For two decades we have been trying to complete this unfinished agenda. But, under its present leadership, the ANC shows no desire to continue.

President Zuma has gone so far as to take a swipe at my leadership as Minister of Home Affairs, a position I held under both President Mandela and President Mbeki. More importantly, though, I am still waiting for the President to act on the commitment he made on the 16th of July 2010 to confer with the Deputy President on attempts by some ANC leaders to destroy the IFP, so that together they might reproach Minister Tokyo Sexwale. Of course what is happening in the ANC right now between President Jacob Zuma and Minister Tokyo Sexwale is likely to take priority over what happened between Minister Tokyo Sexwale and the IFP.

Once again, a President as Head of State should not be embroiled in the politics of succession races, which detracts his focus from the proper functioning of State institutions, the strengthening of the Constitution, the pursuit of national reconciliation, the promotion of the rule of law and ethics, and the enhancement of an inclusive dialogue - the vital components of peace-building.

The ANC should well be asking; how do we restore the dignity of the President? Yours in the service of our nation, Prince Mangosuthu Buthelezi MP