Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mr MEC, you are not important

Politicians have a special talent for saying astoundingly stupid and inappropriate things. South African politicians of all stripes are, of course, no exception. But in South Africa, politicians who are caught breaking the law are particularly good at making fools of themselves, so it was no surprise when KwaZulu-Natal MEC, Bheki Cele, tried to defend himself when it became known that his convoy broke the law by travelling at very high speed on the highway, blue lights flashing, for no other reason that he was late for a meeting.

However, when he started attacking the motorist who reported him to the newspaper by calling the motorist "a self-made, arrogant, non-accountable individual who purports to be a good citizen and I will dare to argue that he is also a racist", I thought he was channelling Pieter Dirk Uys.

But no, there he was this morning on the radio self-righteously claiming a right to break the law and demonising the person who reported him as a “law breaker”. The chutzpah is breathtaking, but it is not really funny.

The real issue here is not the question of whether Mr. Cele is a tin-eared fool or whether those who reported him are racists. No, the problem is that a servant of the people – an MEC who has sworn to uphold the Constitution and the law – has the audacity to claim he has a right to break the law because he was late for a meeting. In other words, he is claiming that because he is a politician, he is so bloody important that he need not obey the laws our mere mortals are required to obey.

Some would say that given our history and the culture of respect for authority, behaviour like that of Mr Cele should not be criticised – especially by a white person – and that those who criticise him are at best culturally insensitive and at worst racist.

I do think such arguments can sometimes be valid. But in this case I would say that some cultural impulses are so obviously wrong and dangerous that they need to be rejected with contempt. I grew up as an Afrikaans boy in a small town where my culture told me to endorse the most horrible kinds of racism and discrimination. When I left my small town and got some sense into my head, I rejected that part of my culture.

I say this “culture of self-importance” is a despicable thing and should be rooted out as soon as possible. Any person who lives in South Africa and believes in democracy – no matter what their race – should therefore condemn the kind of haughty self-importance displayed by Mr. Cele and his ilk and should not hide behind race or culture to justify the indefensible.

It might seem like a small thing, but I think the attitude of smug, arrogant self-importance displayed by Mr Cele, is the kind of attitude that breeds disrespect for democracy and later disrespect for life.

Dictatorships are born when ordinary people allow their leaders to put on airs and to act as if they are above the law. Once they get into the habit of not obeying one law, there is no telling which other laws they will ignore in future. Today it is flashing blue lights, tomorrow it is stealing the funds for the development project and next year people who criticise are taken away and “disappeared”.

Then again, it is no wonder Mr. Cele has a need for a flashing blue light convoy – the way the Constitution is implemented at the moment means that his job as an MEC entails little more than being a glorified clerk for the national Minister. He should start acting like a clerk (and a servant of the people) and stop pretending that he is important. He is not.


Arthur said...

Hear, hear! Our politicians need to realise that they are subject to the laws of the land - just like the rest of us. I wonder what would response our "honourable member" would receive if he challenged a member of the Constitutional Court bench on this - I hope a tongue-lashing!

Byzantine said...

In the Apartheid days we had a sovereign state as far as I know. I thought having a constitution and being a "democractic" country all people are equal before the law the President and his whole cabinet included. But everytime something like this happens it seems we are going more backward into a sovereign state again.

A quote from Mr Norman Ngqaqu: The way I understand it democracy means government for the people by the people. Where is the Batho Pele principle, or is it for people with POWER only ??

The Subversive One said...

This is just another instance of how out of touch with reality our leaders have become. I bet Thabo Mbeki would have a hard time recalling his "convoy" actually stopping at a traffic light! In Cape Town we have a convoy of a police van and a Prison van which blares it's way - blue lights flashing - through rush hour traffic EVERY DAY (From Pollsmoor to the Cape Town Magistrates Court). When the inevitable accident happens because some motorist was listening to their iPod, those officers will have to explain what the EMERGENCY was in terms of the Road Traffic Act. Oh dear....

In fact when JZ'z convoy recently muscled their way past a motorist a firearm was pointed at the offending motorist! If that were to ever happen to me I have promised myself that I will run that car off the road. Just defending myself you know....

Anonymous said...

Speaking as a 3rd year law student I wholly agree with de Vos. I, along with him, am not a racist. I don't care what colour, sex, form you take - you are not above the law. None of us are. True what Johan says - we elect these people and they should set an example but they break the law (don't even get started on money from the coffers/corruption) and then have the discontempt to say that they are above the law??!!
However, I disagree with Marius. I sit in that same piece of traffic he does - I would rather let them through - they are carrying prisoners on their way to the courts. The courts are ridiculously clogged up. Maybe we can make this concession so they get to trial on time and justice is served?

Masgruva said...

Wow. I actually agree with this.

Anonymous said...

Just a Thought...

If you've ever seen a police officer driving without a seat belt, on a cellphone while driving or running a stop sign, please say 'I'
Looks like they are also above the law ;-/