Thursday, August 11, 2022
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Motsoaledi cooking conspiracy theories over ZEP

By Mondli Makhanya

There is this really weird addiction of powerful people to conspiracy theories.

When they have their backs to the wall or when they simply want to grab more power, they construct and peddle conspiracy theories that make them seem like they are under siege from “forces” – defined and undefined.

Former US president Donald Trump and Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán are masters at this. Closer to home, the late Robert Mugabe revelled in conspiracies.

Throughout his term, Trump disseminated lies by the bucketful without any sense of shame. His biggest conspiracy theory, about the theft of the 2020 presidential election, eventually led to last year’s January 6 attack on the Capitol by his supporters, something that has now been dubbed an attempted coup.

Orbán has maintained his grip on power by peddling a whole host of conspiracies about civil society, Jews, migrants, Muslims and, of course, George Soros. In Mugabe’s world, Zimbabwe was always under siege from imperialists, neocolonialists and their fellow travellers.

In South Africa, we are not immune from this disease of powerful people seeking refuge in victimhood. The disease is prevalent across the spectrum, but the governing party has to take the cake for being a very productive factory for conspiracy theories. This is especially when the party or individuals within are under pressure.

The latest powerful person to seek this refuge is Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, who launched a vitriolic attack on NGOs that have been challenging his department’s decision to end the Zimbabwe exemption permits (ZEPs).

Besides coming under pressure from civil society for the decision, Motsoaledi has been taken to court by the Helen Suzman Foundation, which wants the decision set aside.

The organisation argues that taking away the lawful status that the ZEPs accord their holders will turn them into undocumented migrants or force them to return to a Zimbabwe that is unchanged from the country they fled in the early 2000s. It also points out that the “thousands of children” who were born to ZEP holders have little relationship to Zimbabwe other than the fact their parents are from there.

An enraged Motsoaledi hit back in an intemperate, conspiracy-fuelled statement this week, in which he claimed that there was a “disturbing and growing trend by some NGOs to sabotage the polycentric and policy-laden decisions taken by government by using the courts”.

This trend, he said, should “be nipped in the bud as soon as possible”.

Generously, he said, while organisations such as the Helen Suzman Foundation have a constitutionally guaranteed right to access the courts, this should not be “a licence to abuse the Bill of Rights by some armchair critics, who have no idea of the sacrifices and deaths of many freedom fighters, while they sat in the comfort of their homes because of the colour of their skin”.

Motsoaledi’s sentiments, which are quite commonplace in the governing party, echo those of ANC chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who told delegates at the 2012 conference in Mangaung that they were under attack from forces that included “sections of the liberal media; sections of the judiciary; some NGOs, some of which are led by disgruntled members of [the] movement; some sections of the intelligentsia; some analysts and commentators; and prominent individuals”.

He has said as much more recently in relation to court challenges against his department. Enemies everywhere, basically.

Let’s leave the merits of the cancellation of the ZEP for another day, save to say the Helen Suzman Foundation is correct in saying that it is a draconian way of driving lawful immigrants underground. We all know that most of them won’t return home anyway, and those who do go will soon find their way back to South Africa.

South Africa will also lose business owners, employers and valuable skilled professionals who make a contribution to the economy. This lowly newspaperman is also concerned that, from January, he will now be served by waiters with boring names such as Tshepang, Tinyiko, Bongani, Cheslyn and Craig instead of Doubt, Learnmore, Clever, Godknows and Tragedy.

Now, Motsoaledi is known to be quite a hard-headed individual who stoically defies reason even when reason weighs more than him. But for him to play into the populist anti-Constitution sentiment gaining traction in his party is beneath him. You expect that kind of behaviour from the brake-less Mantashe, the entitled Lindiwe Sisulu and the radical economic transformation riffraff. He can argue his point without resorting to crazy, anti-democratic rhetoric and race-baiting. That is just a sign of desperation.

NGOs and other civil society formations are the lifeblood of good democratic society. Imagine what would have happened had civil society not confronted the all-powerful Thabo Mbeki to account for his homicidal HIV-Aids stance, if they had not taken Bathabile Dlamini on over her arguably criminal mishandling of social grants and if they had not backed the families of apartheid’s victims who had been failed by the government. If civil society was the obedient lapdog that Motsoaledi wants it to be, Jacob Zuma and the Guptas would still be ruling the country and we would be on our way to becoming a Zimbabwe.

What needs to be “nipped in the bud as soon as possible” is the anti-democratic push and near incitement to violence that emanates from the mouths of powerful individuals.

Mondli Makhanya is Editor of City Press

–City Press

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