On Wednesday, April 27, South Africans will celebrate Freedom Day, which marks the end of years of apartheid rule as well as the first democratic elections, which ushered in a range of freedoms that were denied to the majority of the citizens of this country by the apartheid rulers.
One of the democratic breakthroughs brought about by the April 27 1994 elections was the final realisation of a constitution and its accompanying Bill of Rights, which protects the rights of all in our country and affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom.
Some of the rights the state is called on to respect, protect and promote include the right to freedom of expression and information as well as ideas for as long as these rights do not propagate war or incite violence and hatred.
In reflecting on these freedoms today, we have decided to highlight how important freedom of speech is to our democracy and how crucial it is to allow a festival of ideas to flourish if we are going to be true to protecting our enshrined fundamental rights.
It, however, pains us to witness the blatant lack of tolerance to different views and the attack on free expression coming from our own MPs who, regrettably, are expected to be the main custodians and protectors of our rights.
If anything, the conduct of the chairperson of the parliamentary standing committee on public accounts (Scopa), Mkhuleko Hlengwa during a messy meeting with members of the Eskom board on Friday, bordered on overzealousness and intolerance.
We find it hard to fathom what Hlengwa found offensive or disrespectful in Eskom board member Busisiwe Mavuso’s statement that Eskom’s problems are the consequence of the ANC government, and, rightly so, the current board cannot be expected to shoulder the blame. What Mavuso told parliament is in the public domain as South Africans by now know the looting that crippled the power utility actually emanated from ANC ranks under Jacob Zuma’s rule.
Mavuso was rebuked for her opinion on the root cause of Eskom’s destruction and was asked to leave the meeting after being accused of “theatrics” by Hlengwa. This intolerance of a different view came from a man who is expected to be leading independent oversight of Eskom. In fact, it was Hlengwa who engaged in theatrics and not Mavuso.
We would have expected him to find out if the board has indeed stuck to its mandate of cleaning up its governance issue at Eskom. Scopa must exercise oversight over Eskom and not try to play to the gallery by trying to adjudicate.
We must all accept that the Eskom board is dealing with the issues of past decisions and the accompanying corruption, which ultimately brought the country to where it is today.
That Mavuso was asked to leave the meeting is distasteful to the extreme. To suggest she is in contempt of parliament for simply stating her views amounts to muzzling her. Trying to silence a different opinion must never be allowed in a democratic South Africa.
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