The American classical liberal and president Thomas Jefferson said that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Freedom is not a fixed state of affairs, and we can be robbed of it at any time. This is why we are supposed to have a free press: to be eternally vigilant, especially with what government is concerning itself with. But ordinary people, too, need to be vigilant, especially when the press has manifestly abandoned its core mandate.
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On 27 April 1994 all South Africans, for the first time, went to the polls together to elect this country’s first democratic government. The outcome of that election had long been a foregone conclusion, but the electoral process being done in a democratic fashion was part of the package of a free society. Freedom, after all, is a slow process, which it has often been indicted for by dictators. “Parliament’s endless bickering is hindering us from progress!” was the essence of the twentieth century fascists’ justification for dictatorship. Even in the United States, the most libertarian society, Barack Obama and his successor Donald Trump make use of so-called ‘executive orders’ to implement their agendas rather than waiting for Congress to give the go-ahead. And Congress, which has long since abandoned its duty of eternal vigilance, acquiesces.
South Africa’s parliament, unfortunately, has never been vigilant. While this was fair enough during Apartheid, as Parliament was elected particularly to defend that horrid system, our democratic parliament has no excuse. When Members of Parliament are sworn in, they do not take an oath to implement their political program; no, they take an oath to defend and uphold the Constitution. This means that the mere fact that Jacob Zuma remains President of South Africa, is that Parliament has not followed through with their promise to South Africa. On the contrary, Parliament has actively and consciously violated their oath. Two days before Freedom Day 2013, Parliament passed the Protection of State Information Act. This legislation will, when eventually signed by Zuma, among other things prohibit press outlets from reporting on any state activity, if government deems it in the ‘national interest.’ More recently, Parliament passed the Expropriation Act – similarly waiting for Zuma’s signature – which makes it easier for government to steal private property for its own ideological programs.
Parliament aside, the press media has oftentimes concerned itself with sensationalism rather than keeping an eye on government. Advocate Mark Oppenheimer recently spoke at the Free Market Foundation about this very phenomenon. Oppenheimer points to December 2015, when Zuma fired finance minister Nhlanhla Nene; the press media faithfully reported on it, but once an unknown and obscure tannie from the forests of KwaZulu-Natal wrote something racist on Facebook, all the attention was given to her. Nenegate and the destruction wrought on our economy became a story second to an irrelevant person who said something offensive. The social justice lobby, naturally, was happy with this state of affairs. “Only white people care about Nene – black people still live in shacks and a weakening rand changes nothing” is what they said when South Africa expressed its outrage about Nene being fired. To the social justice activists, Nenegate was a diversion from their own agenda, and Penny Sparrow brought them back into the limelight.
Just two days ago, Radio 702 similarly showed its contempt for South Africans’ intelligence by referring to Rhodes University as “University Currently Known as Rhodes”. Here you have a media outlet which cares not about its mandate to keep an eye on government; instead, they care about virtue signalling and advancing their own doctrinaire commitment to social justice ideology. This is not the first time the press has ‘renamed’ things to fit their narrative. Nicolai Haussamer wrote in September 2016 about how News24 casually went about renaming buildings on various South African university campuses – names chosen by social justice activists in the #FeesMustFall campaign. Oppenheimer also gave some insight into this press phenomenon, saying that university journalism schools no longer produce journalists – they produce activists. These activists then enter newsrooms with an ideological agenda, rather than a commitment to providing South Africa with the news.
Without the help of the legislature, the press, and with a constantly-beleaguered judiciary, our only hope for the protection of our individual rights and freedoms is ourselves. If 2017 is to be the year of’ anything, I hope it will be the year of vigilance – the year we came to understand that red herrings and petty distractions are not worth losing our freedom over. The days of concerning ourselves only with our careers and putting bread on the table have long past – we have all been silently dragooned into being the guardians of our own liberty. To reject this state of affairs is to acquiesce ourselves with tyranny.