What is happening to our democracy?
I doodled about the matter surrounding the government’s current assault on South Africa’s democracy on my white board last night, and found what I’d come up with rather thought provoking, so I thought I would build it into a Powerpoint slide and share it with you.
You see, currently we are facing the brunt of a broad-based attack on the freedom of the press as well as the civil rights of the ordinary citizen – in the form of the Protection of Information Bill, the “Pornography Bill” being pushed by the Dept of Home Affairs – and the newly newsworthy “Employment Services Bill” – all of which would turn democracy on its head and steer our country on a course which could only lead us to disaster.
Feel free to look it over, I think it says more than a 1000 page article could at this point. After all, it basically says what I’ve been shouting and waving my arms about the past 3 years. Feel free to pass it on and publish it if you will. Just get is out and warn people to get off their apathetic rear ends and take an interest in their own well being.
Both the “Protection of Information” Bill and “Porn Bill” (although I’ve been led to believe this is still only a three page conceptual document at this stage) could lead to far more invasive laws and practices than those thinking they will be “protecting children” and “sensitive information” may expect. Who knows what some elements would deem necessary to “protect children” or the “security of information”? Wire tapping? How private will your phone calls be under such a law? How about reading people’s emails? ISP’s would have to install censoring software as used in China to block IP adresses, or to block content – will they be able to read or censor your outgoing emails as well? It’s very clear to me that there would be some degree of overlap between these two Bills, justifying the two-way arrow I placed between them, covering a wide scope of things that the increasingly paranoid, power hungry government-slash-ruling party would find interesting.
Of course, there is the matter of what would start happening once these laws are in place. Would we start seeing unreported arrests, brutality and security force involvement as we had under Apartheid? Would we see more of what transpired a few weeks ago when that journalist was abducted by the “Hawks” from a public venue, bundled into a car, taken to another city and held illegally for being in possession of an alleged fraudulent fax which was sent to him?
How about the internet? The internet puts the power in the hands of the people – which is why governments – particularly non-democratically run governments – are waxing hysterical and setting up internet censorship and control laws. A prime example is China, dubbed the Great Firewall, and the recent flurry of activity in Saudi to ban Blackberry phones on supposed claims of “security risks”. Even Australia – and now South Africa as well, are trying to introduce laws to restrict freedom of access to information and the internet.
There are loads of activists using the internet as a powerful information tool, including myself, using tools like Facebook, Twitter and others to highlight all sorts of issues – issues that could make governments blush – or develop nervous ticks. There is no doubt in my mind that this crackdown on freedom of information and freedom of speech will soon include us – if it doesn’t already.
For example, I am fairly certain that if it wasn’t for activists on the internet, using social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter – then Uganda will have already passed their notorious “kill the gays” Bill, and would now be happily killing innocent people “in the name of the Lord”.
The reason they are so hysterical is because they are losing the fight for control – you see, the free nature of the web allows whistle-blowers and human rights activists to communicate with the rest of the world, expose any wrong-doing, human rights violations or corruption and make them look bad – and now they are realizing it. “Stonewall2.0” is far more than just a Pink Community concept – it works for any cause, any group. That’s why there are so many moves by particularly right wing folks to restrict internet access and media freedoms.
To simplify – what the “Protection of Information Bill” and coupled with it, the “Pornography Bill” will mean if they are in place is this: The government will be able to say to the world at large that “everything is just fine in SA” – and anyone (including journalists, whistle-blowers or private citizens) who tries to dispute them with facts will be committing a crime punishable with 25 years jail. In short, there will be severe restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of expression, as bad – if not worse – than under the Apartheid regime.
Then there is the “Employment Services Bill” – which would replace private employment agencies (or bring them under direct control of a government department) – and also take over complete control of employment-related activities and the job-market. Private companies that have vacancies will no longer be allowed to appoint anyone on their own (not even on a temporary or contract basis), or while using private employment agencies – they would be obliged to deal with a government labor department to appoint anyone. And it would be the government that would decide who to place in that vacancy – and who not – and of course, it will most likely be the government to decide the criteria for filling that post – not the employer.
This is unbelievable. As if the “Protection of Information” and “Pornography” bills aren’t bad enough… And all at the same time too. What did I say just before the World Cup? – “Just wait until after the World Cup when all the media attention is off South Africa – and then the paw-paw will hit the fan” – and here it is now.
As if trying to introduce media censorship and control of private communications isn’t bad enough – now the SA govt wants to take over the job market and appoint people into private company vacancies as well!
This is the way things work in an oppressive, totalitarian or communist state, where the state has all the power – and will do anything to cling to it – not in a democracy.
What is happening to our democracy? Do we care? Do we care enough to register as voters so we can vote our displeasure with the way things are? Do we care enough to do something to change the way things are? Do we care enough as registered voters to drag ourselves to voting stations come election day to make sure we exercise our democratic right – or do we stay at home and not bother, saying by our inaction and disinterest that we don’t need to vote, we don’t need to have a say in who governs South Africa, or how they do it – that we don’t care – and that we don’t want that responsibility anymore?
To those people who think that their votes would make no difference, let me say: Every single vote counts. Every single one. Even if your vote just cancels out an opposing vote, it matters. And if you don’t vote, then it counts as two votes against making a difference in this country – the loss of your individual vote, and a vote which could have cancelled out an opposing vote – that one vote that could have made the difference.
Christina Engela is a South African transgender woman and a volunteer human‑rights activist. She is a member of the Board of the South African Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation(SA GLAAD), and Director of the Eastern Cape Gay & Lesbian Association (ECGLA). She is also active in local politics.