While South Africa’s Constitution attracts justified praise for its commitment to preserving various freedoms, we should remain vigilant in our defence of the rights it affords us, and consistent in our engagement with the responsibilities that correlate with those rights. When proposed legislation threatens to chill free speech, it’s appropriate for us to use that freedom to challenge measures such as the POI bill. In the absence of such vigilance, the Constitution could end up with little more than symbolic value.
Democracy and liberty are not equivalent, despite the fact that they are so often conflated in popular discourse. There is no logical obstacle to a dictator being democratically elected and then leaving us with little freedom. Likewise, a dictator could in theory be benevolent, and allow for more freedoms than we currently enjoy in South Africa.
This is why being silent in the face of oppression, tyranny, or abuse of power by the state should not be considered an option by those of us committed to both democracy as well as freedoms of various sorts. Fortunately, democracy and liberty are often positively correlated, so that an increase in the one tends to coincide with an increase in the other.
But because this connection is not a logically necessary one, we are sometimes required to fight these battles on independent fronts. Among the dilemmas and difficulties presented by these battles, we can identify the tone of our arguments as a significant complication, because sometimes struggles for liberty involve butting heads with majority sentiment – in other words with impulses arising from democratic discourses and ideals.
A little housekeeping & paying of temple taxes follows. First, the 15th edition of the Carnival of the Africans is out, consisting of Blaize’s picks of the best scientific and skeptical blogging for the last few months. Second, the 2010 South African blog awards nomination process has begun. While it’s unlikely that anyone other than the usual suspects will win, if you’d like to participate in an attempt to buck that trend, go and nominate a blog (or a particular post) by August 27. Lastly, Michael Meadon kindly maintains a list of African scientific & skeptical blogs over at Ionian Enchantment, and I’ve pasted the current list below. If there’s a blog missing that you believe should be included, let him know (his email address is on his website).
A couple of nights ago, the Doctor and I watched a feature-length episode of Oprah directed by Clint Eastwood, titled Invictus. It was somewhat like going to a church service (at least as far as I can recall) where everyone is hopped-up on Ecstasy while trying to channel the spirit of the Dalai Lama – such was the overwhelming schmaltziness of this account of how Mandela saved South Africa with an oval ball. Parts of it were good – here in South Africa, much chattering occurs around the authenticity of accents when movies feature local characters, and both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon did a good job in this regard. Also, some of the action scenes (rugby scrums and so forth) were appropriately animalistic (in general, though, the rugby scenes were rather devoid of tension or spectacle). But in what appears to be a concerted effort to win a couple of Oscars, Eastwood lays on the cheese to such an extent that at one point the Doctor remarked “this is more than cheesy – it’s an entire fondue!”.
A month or so ago, Thelma’s father died. Thelma cleans our house every week, and has done so for 7 years. So when she asked to borrow some extra cash to travel to and arrange the funeral, we had no hesitation in helping out, and also resolved to tell her on her return that she should consider the money a gift. Today was her first day back, and at some point in the late morning, she handed S. a piece of paper – a certified copy of her father’s death certificate.
Having experienced a similar bereavement myself (semi) recently, I know the need for such bits of paper well, in terms of winding up estates and transferring bits and pieces of a life into another name. But in this context, it seemed little more than an index of mistrust – the mistrust that many of the people Thelma encounters still today feel towards people in her socio-economic class and – to not beat around the bush – people of her race. Some of her employers may have demanded such a piece of paper – and I couldn’t help wondering if, over the years I’ve known her, I’ve ever given her reason to think I might demand one too.