Shadow of Mbokodo darkens democracy

Paul Trewhela

Zapiro ANC ParliamentDaily Dispatch, East London,
Saturday 30 August 2014

At a crucial moment in the 1848 revolutions in Europe, Karl Marx wrote in his article “Counter-revolution in Berlin”:  “Brandenburg in the Assembly, and the Assembly in Brandenburg! …

“The guardroom in the Assembly, the Assembly in the guardroom – that means: Brandenburg in the Assembly, the Assembly in Brandenburg!”

Describing the Prussian king’s transfer of the Prussian legislative assembly into his own dynastic fortress in Brandenburg, away from radical Berlin, as a “coup d’etat”, Marx added: “The regiments of the guards marched into Berlin by order of the central authority.”

In marching his so-called “security cluster” into the National Assembly, President Jacob Zuma has now copied the Prussian King.

If he had been alive today, Marx might have responded: “Nkandla in the National Assembly, the Assembly in Nkandla!”

Irrespective of the propriety or otherwise of the behaviour in parliament last week of the democratically elected MPs of the Economic Freedom Fighters in their red shirts, headed by the enfant terrible of South African politics, Julius Malema, they did not bring armed force or even the threat of armed force (the real meaning of “security cluster”) into the Assembly. Zuma did.

In England in 1642, that same action by King Charles the First started a civil war. It lasted nine years, leading to the cutting off of the king’s head in Whitehall in 1649.

The invasion of parliament by armed force, at the order of the head of state, contravenes the nature of parliament in Cape Town in 2014, just as it did in London in 1642.

Referring to the constitutional demand of the Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, that Zuma must return to the National Treasury a fraction of the money it expended on building for him his own private home at Nkandla, the EFF repeatedly shouted in the Assembly: “Give back the money! Give back the money!”

That demand was fully constitutional, too.

In making this demand, the EFF MPs were acting democratically and constitutionally on behalf of the one million voters who elected them.

That is what they were elected to do.

(That is not to say that they acted according to parliamentary rules. But it is not for armed force to now monitor those rules of behaviour).

The civil war of 1642-1651 in the three kingdoms of England and Wales, Scotland and Ireland was also about money. The issue was: Who has the right and the power to tax the people, the king or the elected representatives of the people?

Nearly 200 000 people, (or roughly 2.5% of the civilian population, lost their lives directly or indirectly as a result of the wars of the three kingdoms during this decade, making the civil wars arguably the bloodiest conflict in the history of the British Isles, according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica. This included deaths of civilians by disease and starvation.

The supremacy of parliament over the executive (or head of state) was won at a very heavy cost, and it is this tradition – not that of the king of Prussia in 1848 – which is embodied in the constitution of South Africa.

In exile, illegal in South Africa and under conditions of military warfare, the ANC had no such parliamentary constitution. Conditions were more similar to those of military discipline, especially in the frontline states in Africa.

Nowhere was this more so than in Angola, in the last active theatre of the Cold War prior to the downfall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In these conditions the method of rule of the ANC over its own members in exile resulted in “very detailed observations and findings about the abuse of human rights”.

This was the finding of the secret Stuart Commission in exile in 1984 – supported in 1992 by the Skweyiya Commission (appointed by the ANC national executive committee), followed by the Motsuenyane Commission in 1993, and finally, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, appointed by the government of President Nelson Mandela (TRC Final Report, vol 2, chap 4, preface, p.326).

These human rights abuses included “violations committed by members of the ANC’s security structures and guards of internment camps such as Camp 32 (Quatro).”

The TRC concluded that “the security department of the ANC routinely used torture to extract information and confessions from those being held in camps, particularly in the period 1979-89.”

This period covers the time when Zuma, then a member of the central committee of the South African Communist Party as well as of the ANC NEC, was one of two heads of the ANC security department (nicknamed Mbokodo, “the grindstone”, by the troops of Umkhonto we Sizwe).

As former head of counter-intelligence in Mbokodo from 1987, Zuma’s period of responsibility as commanding officer is covered by the judgment of the TRC final report, set out above.

He has never provided any account of his stewardship of the ANC over that period, however, and did not apply for amnesty in relation to any abuses which took place under his command as head of Mbokodo.

This raises the legitimate question: How adequately has Zuma, as elected MP and as president of the nation, thrown off the habits of command of the most feared instrument of coercion on the side of the liberation forces in the struggle against apartheid?

It raises the further question: How adequately does the party list system for electing MPs set in place by the Electoral Law in the Constitution of 1996 permit individual accountability of elected MPs to voters, as seen against the top-down method of administration by the ANC in exile under which human rights abuses by Mbokodo “routinely” took place?

This is a constitutional crisis.

It is South Africa’s most grave crisis of democracy since 1994, one in which the ferocious eyes of Mbokodo glare out from behind a flimsy mask of constitutional government.