A certain Bishop is intriguing in more ways than one, for instance saw it when some disgruntled people broke away from the ANC after the Polokwane conference and formed a splinter organization. This bishop said it was a positive development and yet the people who broke away from the ANC told the country and the world that they were leaving the ANC because they firmly believed that democracy was dead in the ANC.
Furthermore, they claimed that the very Constitution was in jeopardy. Why did they say this? They were furious that a leader to whose continuance in power their fortunes were linked had been removed. It was all done democratically mind you. Delegates of the ANC from the entire country had voted, and the vote went 60% in favour of the current president, and 40% voted in favour of the former president, Thabo Mbeki. Yet when these people left the ANC, they claimed they did so because democracy was dead in the ANC. Was the vote in Polokwane not a democratic process?
After leaving the ANC to form what has since become a resounding political comedy, COPE, the leaders of this organization have never held an elective conference, where their supporters would have been given a chance to say who they want to lead them, between Mosiuoa Lekota or Sam Shilowa.
Instead, the matter was fought out in courts of law where Lekota emerged victorious with Shilowa continually fighting on in the courts for reprieve. But, the question remains whether a leader can compel people to support him/her because a court of law has declared him/her the leader. Our question is why has democracy never been given a chance in COPE to allow their followers to vote who should lead them? If this is why Lekota, Shilowa and their merry men and women left the ANC searching for democracy, the world is still waiting to see them implement it in the little political corner they have painted themselves into.
You may be wondering as to who is the bishop I'm referring to here, well let me not keep the reader in suspense. There is only one notorious bishop in this country; his name and title is Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu. He has acquired for himself a socio-political status that is threatening to overshadow even the majority government that the people of this country have voted into power. As from the moment when Thabo Mbeki was voted out of the leadership of the ANC and removed by the NEC from the country's presidency, the bishop has stood out as one of those who, for a reason they never stated, been bitterly disappointed that Thabo Mbeki was unseated.
It was done by the ANC, democratically, yet the country heard or read that these people were unhappy that Mbeki had been removed from leadership. Those who were ministers resigned, with tears running down their cheeks, and have since been heard on many occasions, denouncing the decisions of the current government. The late Kader Asmal and former Minister of Intelligence Ronnie Kasrils are prime examples of those people who have led the charge against decisions that the current government is making. They remain ‘loyal' members of the ANC though.
Let us examine the current hullabaloo about whether our government should have or have not granted a visa to the Dalai Lama to attend the bishop's 80th birthday. The bishop's birthday no doubt is a very important event to himself, his family and his friends. It is however, not a national event or priority (at least not one that should be put ahead of diplomatic relations).
In a strange way in our young democracy the birthdays of certain persons have been elevated to the status of something closely resembling national holidays. The simple fact is that bishop Tutu's birthday cannot take precedence over government foreign policy. His birth on a particular day, month and year is just an ordinary event common to all of us mortals.
The South African government has very important bilateral political and economic relations with the government of the Peoples Republic of China. It is a well-known fact that the Dalai Lama and the Peoples Republic of China are enemies. The Dalai Lama seeks the independence of Tibet from China and China is opposed to it. The issue here is not whether the Cause of the Dalai Lama is just or not. The issue is whether South Africa, as a country, can manage capably, to entertain the wishes of two politically-hostile forces and retain the friendship of both. Should it, in fact?
The importance of the friendship we enjoy with the Peoples Republic of China is historical and current. Historically, the ANC received massive material support from the Peoples Republic of China in our war against apartheid. Currently, we enjoy cordial political and socio-economic relations with the Republic.
In the bigger scheme of things, what should weigh heavier, the friendship of the bishop to the Dalai Lama or the friendship between the two countries? In the scheme of things, who is Bishop Tutu? A prelate who has won honours because he raised his voice against apartheid? Who did not? The mass of the people of South Africa fought, suffered and died to defeat apartheid. Is their sacrifice to be made to play second fiddle to the personal friendship of two prelates?
Bishop Tutu now compares our government to the National Party government; in fact he is now saying that the ANC government is worse! Why? Because it has not granted a visa to this holy monk from Tibet? Is that the only reason?
The bishop certainly has an axe to grind with president Zuma's government, that we know. His rancour against it goes back to the time when COPE broke away from the ANC, and when Zuma became president. We remember that he has said that ‘when I walk in the streets of New York, I am ashamed to admit to the American people that Zuma is going to be my president'.
To this prelate, the opinions of the Americans weigh more heavily in his mind than the opinions of the people of this country who chose Zuma. Who should we go with in this private crusade, the ANC government chosen by us or the American opinions in the person of this bishop? Why does he think we should care what Americans think of our president? If Zuma is not a suitable president for South Africa, aren't we citizens the people who should decide that? We never criticised who the Americans chose as their leader, even when they decided George Bush should be their president!
The issue I have is that it seems there is a growing number of people in this country who seem to imagine that their birthdays are tantamount to national events, maybe because Western countries have given them Nobel Peace Prices. Well, if my memory serves me well, the first Nobel Peace Prize Winner in this country was the late Chief Albert Luthuli, and we have never been put under pressure to celebrate his birthday...even his matrydom!
When Chief Albert Luthuli accepted the Nobel Peace Prize he said he was accepting it on behalf of the people of South Africa, not himself. Here is a bishop who now threatens the South African government with downfall because one of the guests at his birthday has not been granted a visa. This is blackmail, plain and simple. "If you do not grant a visa to my esteemed guest, I will prophesy your downfall, South African government!"
Does participation in protests and marches against the Apartheid regime entitle anyone of us to elevate ourselves to celebrity status, giving us the clout to dictate to government who to grant a visa to and who not to? How did Bishop Tutu earn this right? When the white boys at the University of Pretoria urinated on food that they later fed to old women the Bishop sprang to their defence, demanding that the Blacks should forgive them... even before they had apologized. He chaired the TRC, that exercise where officers of the apartheid police were being granted forgiveness, while they apologized yet smiled at us? Is this how this man has earned his Nobel Peace title? Does this Nobel prize then empower individuals to make their birthdays more important than government policy? If so, maybe everybody should now trot out their level of sacrifize during the struggle, and compare notes with prelates who now believe they did more than everybody to free this country.
I believe we have more pressing problems in this country than the granting or not of visas to monks. The trade with China may not be an important consideration to the Bishop and his liberal friends, but a relationship that promises to bring more investment to our country is more important than any number of bishops and Da Lai Lamas.
I write this article in my own account; I am not a government spokesperson or an ANC official. I fought in the Wankie Campaign in Rhodesia as a member of the illustrious Luthuli Detachment in 1967. I was captured by the Rhodesian Security Forces, tried at Salisbury High Court and sentenced to death by Justice C Lewis. I spent two years on Death Row. I served a total of 13 years in Her Majesty's Maximum Security Prisons and was released in 1980 when Robert Mugabe became President of Zimbabwe. It has never entered my mind, however, to brandish my sacrifice in front of the face of the government of the people of South Africa because they have not done this or that....let alone imagine that my birthday, 2nd January 1944, should supersede government foreign policy!
Thula Bopela, is the author of a new book entitled "Then we saw Freedom Day" (a sequel to his first book Umkhonto WeSizwe, Fighting for a divided people) He writes in his personal capacity and takes personal and full responsibility for the opinions expressed in this article.
Click here to sign up to receive our free daily headline email newsletter