Why is South Africa's Parliament courting Iran?
The Democratic Alliance can confirm that the Speaker of Parliament, Max Sisulu, visited the Islamic Republic of Iran last week, at the invitation of his Iranian counterpart Ali Larijani. The visit coincided almost exactly with Iran's execution of two opposition activists, convicted of "trying to topple the Islamic establishment" after they were linked to protests that took place last June, following the disputed Iranian presidential election. The two executed were among 11 people sentenced to death.
The question is: Why is the Speaker of South Africa's Parliament visiting a country with such an appalling human rights record and, instead of speaking out against the obvious abuses, using it as a platform to attack the West? The answer is: because the ANC, from Zimbabwe through to Iran, has always placed a country's historic ties with its liberation cause above any other consideration; and so principle has been subverted by political solidarity and our international reputation on human rights, reduced to nothing more than empty rhetoric and meaningless gestures.
It is disgraceful and I will be submitting a parliamentary question to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to determine what exactly our position on Iran is, its human rights record and, particularly, the appropriateness of the Speaker's visit at a time when opposition members are being executed.
I will also bring up this matter at the next meeting of the Parliamentary Oversight Authority; because if Mr Sisulu was claiming to represent the South African parliament, he certainly didn't consult anyone before doing so. And if his purpose was to extend parliamentary democracy, he picked the wrong country to do that, because Iran is neither a constitutional state nor a genuine parliamentary democracy.
Among other things, as punishment, the Iranian state carries out executions by hanging, stoning and decapitation, as well as flagellation and even amputation, for crimes that include things like adultery, alcohol consumption and petty theft. These punishments are often carried out in public. Further, many aspects of Iranian legislation do not afford the same rights to women as to men. For instance: a woman's life is valued at half that of a man's; a woman needs a husband's permission to work outside the home and a woman's evidence given in court is considered only worth half that given by a man.
I will be asking the Minister and the Speaker what South Africa's position is on all these issues.
It is reported that, among other things discussed between the two parties, was Iran's nuclear programme, about which Mr. Sisulu criticised the United States for applying double standards. It was also emphasised by both parties that Iran and South Africa have much in common because both have overcome a legacy of repression. This also raises the question of what capacity Mr Sisulu was visiting in, because the ANC's political history has nothing to do with Parliament's mandate.
What Mr Sisulu seems to have forgotten is that, in South Africa, we have a Constitution which ensures that all citizens are equal and, through a Bill of Human Rights, guarantees that people are not subjected to torture or cruel and unusual punishment. It is a sad day indeed, when someone like Mr Sisulu, whose family was so central to the fight to secure those rights, is willing to overlook them in favour of some warped sense of political solidarity.
The Economist recently noted that Iran was making a concerted effort to shore up its relations with Africa:
Zimbabwe's president, Robert Mugabe, has been courted too, along with sub-Saharan Africa's diplomatic and economic giant, South Africa, whose ruling African National Congress has long shared Iran's support for the Palestinians against Israel. Iran has for many years supplied South Africa with a lot of oil. But economic ties have tightened. Private South African companies are investing heavily in Iran. For instance, MTN, a mobile-phone company invested $1.5 billion-plus in Iran in 2007-08 to provide coverage for more than 40% of Iranians. In return, South Africa has been one of Iran's doughtiest supporters at the UN, abstaining on a resolution to condemn Iran's human-rights violations and arguing against further embargoes and sanctions over Iran's nuclear plans.
For many years, former President Thabo Mbeki ensured that South Africa's international reputation as a champion of human rights was fundamentally tarnished by its approach to Zimbabwe and its conduct in the United Nations. It appears that Jacob Zuma's administration has picked up exactly where Mbeki left off and that, as has been the case for years, party political consideration trump our legislated commitment to human rights. If President Zuma wants to put clear blue water between his own government and the legacy he inherited he needs to start instilling a culture that promotes and protects human rights and speaks out against those that violate them. He should start with this visit and speak up now.
Statement issued by Ian Davidson, MP, Democratic Alliance chief whip, February 6 2010
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