This is a semi-final draft of the Members Statement I will make today during the sitting of Provincial Parliament, where each MPP is given an opportunity to make a 2-minute statement on the subject of his/her own choice. 2 minutes is not a long time to speak on any subject, let alone this one, so I am confining myself to broader thoughts about the social impact of individual freedom of expression.
It’s a semi-final draft because I know I will make further adjustments to it, right up until the time it’s delivered, and even then it’s not over. I will continue thinking about these things and bringing aspects of it into other instances.
“Of all that has been said about ‘The Spear’, it’s primary effect has been to further antagonistically polarise too many South Africans into religious, racial and gender camps, to remind us about how so many disrespect our President because of his philandering ways, and reveal how many in positions of leadership and influence too freely incite forms of moral vigilantism in order to defend him, under the guise of protecting his, and therefore their right to ‘African-ness’, – what ever that may entail, and seemingly according to each persons interpretations, whims and fancies.
Whilst much is normally said, particularly around Freedom Day every year, about our need as South Africans to learn how to balance competing concepts such as freedom of speech against human dignity and our rights to privacy and respect, we seem to have forgotten that we have committed ourselves to communitarian principles including Ubuntu, Vukuzenzele and others, that echo many biblical principles, rather than to individualist notions that we are each isolated islands motivated by self-interest and a desire to manipulate one another by all means necessary for purely personal ends. This contrast was explained in 1651 by Thomas Hobbes in his book ‘Leviathan’ where he first describes life’s ‘war of every man against every man’ as being ‘solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short’ and then contrasts this in his second law: ‘that in order to secure the advantages of peace…he should be contented with so much liberty against other men as he would allow other men against himself’. Many of us know and subscribe to the Mathew 7 injunction: “do unto others…”
The social contract we are subscribed to is in line with these principles and ought to further guide our behaviour towards one another. It calls for each of us to be bound by more than just our personal, unbridled ambitions, power and conscience, and to exercise our individual legal rights accepting we do so within a broader context rather than in a vacuum. We should exercise these legal rights (including right to freedom of speech and others) within the context of respecting each-others natural rights, within the context of the lingering and still-intense pain, hurts and losses of our mutual history; and within the context of our shared future.
It calls on us all to first assess the effects our individual free speech and actions has on the nation, to choose to act responsibly in ways that contribute towards healing, uniting and building rather than hurting, dividing and destroying.
With this in mind, surely the answer to the question: ‘What has the contribution been of this debacle (the painting and the reaction) on us as a nation?” is that it has done more harm than good?