Historian/political analyst confronts AfriForum/Gerrie Nel critics

Some pretty influential and well-regarded media commentators have criticised as a myopic and dangerous precedent, NPA ‘bulldog’’ prosecutor, Gerrie Nel’s move to AfriForum, (the pro-Afrikaner activist grouping), to set up a private prosecutions unitHere we have South African historian and political analyst, Leopold Scholtz, taking them on in what makes for a fascinating debate. Without digging down into the philosophical and civil libertarian arguments involved, (never mind the usual ‘us and them’, in this case the deeply imbedded English-Afrikaner enmity), I reckon the arguably right-wing leaning AfriForum will do us all proud if they succeed in privately prosecuting and bringing to book a few of these Zupta thugs. I don’t see any other outfit with as promising a prospect – short of Constitutional Court challenges by applicants with strong consciences and deep pockets. AfriForum’s track record in correcting glaring injustices is worth noting. When we have SAPS members in fatal clashes with Hawks operatives over drugs confiscated from an airline passenger mule, then things are pretty bad…Helping take down AfriForum, which could just stop the rot at the top, will only preserve the status quo. – Chris Bateman

By Ed Herbst*

An average of about 250 public servants are found guilty of corruption each year, following internal disciplinary processes. However, the Minister of Police has stated in another parliamentary reply that he only deals with approximately 90 cases of corruption a year. – Anti-Corruption Forum has not met once in 4 years – Annette Lovemore 5/7/2016

It isn’t even necessarily wrong or unethical for a journalist to express his political views or to have his views come across in his writing. The problem however creeps in when a journalist allows his own confirmation bias to influence his reporting, when a political agenda is disguised as objective reporting, or when the political views of a news editor determines what makes the news and what doesn’t. – Ernst Roets News24’s blind spot on racism 9/2/2017

Veteran journalist Ed Herbst

Paul Hoffman’s book Confronting the Corrupt is a frightening read. It is common cause that the Scorpions unit was disbanded because it was making things uncomfortably warm for the ANC’s Big Vegetables. The success of that Luthuli House initiative can be seen in the Auditor General’s report on the amounts being lost to corruption annually and in the concomitant drop in the number of successful prosecutions by the Hawks and criminal assets seized. Given this climate and this encouragement it is not surprising that South Africans have become inured to pervasive corruption. Nothing is safe. If you have an ANC connection, then the shamelessly cynical snouting seems almost guaranteed and it just goes on, and on, and on. One can, however, understand the temptation.

It’s easy to shout the odds from the Peanut Gallery without offering solutions to combating corruption and, above all, if you are not willing to fund the solution from your own pocket.

Solidarity and AfriForum are doing something about it but when graft buster Paul O’Sullivan joined the AfriForum anti-corruption unit in October last year, the response from the Opionistas and the Twitterati was negligible. O’Sullivan, you see, might be white but his home language is English.

Al hell broke loose, however, when Gerrie Nel joined AfriForum with Adriaan Basson, News24’s Editor-in-chief, leading the hack pack and the chorus of condemnation.

AfriForum and Solidarity are entitled to represent the constituencies which fund them and to articulate the concerns of those constituencies in the fora of their choice. In 2014 and 2016 they took those concerns to the United Nations – against the angry opposition of the ANC – and received a favourable and supportive response.

They also took their concerns about ethnicity being the basis upon which the Department of Correctional services denied coloured employees promotion on merit – too dark before, not dark enough now – to the courts and won.

Image courtesy of Twitter @afriforum

As an English-speaking South African I ask the question: Is the white Afrikaner not entitled to a voice?

When the Opionistas and Twitterati condemned Nel for joining AfriForum they effectively suggested that he was ethically malleable – something that he is at pains to deny.

It was Adriaan Basson who raised concerns about selective prosecution but when an Afrikaans organisation acts to combat such practices he is enraged – without offering an alternative or offering to fund it.

Leopold Scholtz is a South African historian and political analyst who lives in Europe and is thus exposed to a broad range of inputs on matters of topical interest. His articles, which appear locally in Afrikaans, are always well-reasoned and objective.

The article below, which appeared on the editorial page of Die Burger last week, provided a cogent perspective on the Gerrie Nel/AfriForum debate and that decided me to translate it and bring it to the attention of a wider audience.

A watchdog to be welcomed

By Leopold Scholtz

Adriaan Basson

The announcement by Adv Gerrie Nel that he would be starting an office for private prosecution under the aegis of AfriForum caused something of a flutter in the dovecote. Fellow journalists and columnists Adriaan Basson, Pieter du Toit, Gert van der Westhuizen and my good friend Max du Preez all agreed with constitutional law expert Prof Pierre de Vos: This is a mistake, this is a bad choice, this is wrong.

The common note in their chorus is that AfriForum is suspiciously right-wing. And right-wing, as we all know, is anathema. Max, however, did concede that an organisation that supports Afrikaner interests may be legitimate – but then it may not be a civil rights organisation, as AfriForum calls itself.

Let’s start at the beginning. In any strong, mature society a civil rights watchdog is a manifestation of a healthy civic society.

The deepest essence of democracy lies not in the will of the majority, although it does play a crucial role. Had this been the case, the dictatorship of the majority would have been equal to democracy.

No, the essence of democracy is situated in the distribution of power, as can be seen in the current debates about the Trump presidency in America. It is not just about what happens during election time but rather about what happens between elections – whether the constitutional state remains functional.

In fact, one of the crucial checks on government authority is the organised civil society of which institutions like the Solidarity family and the free media form part.

The role of civic society becomes even more important when dealing with a weakened state, such as South Africa. The weaker the state performs with regard to keeping things orderly and protecting people’s rights, the greater the vacuum which the organised civic society is sucked into.

The second question is: Can an organisation that has up to now primarily profiled itself as a movement for Afrikaners, play such a role?

Well, the Afrikaners have the same rights in our country as any other group. To lay claim to those rights is not defiant, rightist or objectionable in itself – they are entitled to such a right because the Constitution provides them with that right.

Many of the AfriForum opposition’s arguments come down to this: In heaven’s name, do not lay claim to your rights – you might infuriate the ANC! Try as I might, I cannot understand that logic.

As is its right, AfriForum focuses on but does not limit itself to Afrikaners. Proof of this is the affirmative action court cases it has fought on behalf of coloured employees at the Department of Correctional Services.

Furthermore, if AfriForum, or any other NGO is successful in enforcing rights, it creates a precedent which opens a door for other civil rights groups in the country as well.

The lack of a debating culture within the Afrikaans community has long troubled me. When I was a child, people like Beyers Naude were dismissed with the liberalist epithet which enabled you to close your ears to their reasoning.

Even now, when one follows the opinions on the internet, one sees abuse being hurled at the libtards.  And the colleagues whose names I have mentioned above dismiss AfriForum as being rightist and conservative. Whether they realise it or not, this places them in exactly the same category as the right-wing extremists who are so abusive on the internet every day.                            

Can we not address each other with mutual respect and rational arguments?

  • Ed Herbst is a retired veteran journalist who writes in his own capacity.
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