When silence is not golden
Silence is golden, so they say. Except that silence, in a moral dilemma, represents complicity, as it does in a general legal – or in a criminal – matter. We are thus, presuming that we are moral beings, faced with a binary choice: remain silent or speak out. Each choice has consequences, and the path followed, its own implications. Amoral beings, as I have previously indicated, simply do not care, unlike those who take an either moral or immoral position.
Silence, as complicity, has been seen throughout history, from the more recent horrors of the Holocaust and its tragic ethnic cleansing and genocidal descendants, notably in the Balkans, central Africa and the Middle East, among others. Yet it can also occur in daily life. Every psychologist and teacher knows that failure to report a case of abuse against a child constitutes criminal liability as an accomplice to the act. This is the information age, and the defence: “We did not know”, is invalid and cannot hold.
Speaking out does not necessarily imply a virtuous choice. Immoral actors will speak out in defence of the most unspeakable crimes and wrongs based on false claims, as witnessed with respect to apartheid, female genital mutilation, slavery, xenophobia and wars justified on the basis of fantastical weapons of mass destruction.
Moral actors, by contrast, speak out time and again against the various evils of their times. Which raises the question: where are the Gandhis, Luther King Jrs, Luthulis and Mother Theresas of our times?
The current situation in South Africa is a perfect example of the choice between silence and speech. There is a chasm between authenticity and inauthenticity that reveals itself in such situations, and it is only by walking the bridge of moral choice that this void can be crossed. To persuade you of this, consider Jean Baudrillard’s use of the concept of the simulacrum, a Latin term for a representation or copy of something or someone. By the 19th century, it had come to refer to a copy of the real that lacked the essence or attributes of the original that it purported to represent.
Applying the term in the context of social theory, Baudrillard superseded previous readings of the term by suggesting that a simulacrum is not only a false, and empty copy of the real, but, that it becomes “hyper-real”. One cannot tease apart the simulation from what is, in fact, reality.
Here we need only consider the trending notions of “alternative facts” and “fake news” popularised across the Atlantic, but implemented locally care of a morally bankrupt London agency fingered for intentionally stirring racial divisions between South Africans as part of a PR campaign funded by friends of the president.
In the face of the amoralism espoused by Jacob Zuma and the sycophantic behaviour of his inner circle, we have to ask ourselves whether our current reality has become dominated by what appears to be a group of zombie-like figures who remain silent or who, when they do speak, do so only to echo the empty ideology of their leader.
There are many such examples available. One is Fikile Mbalula, whose use of Twitter has made him a “tweleb”. Responding to Speaker Baleke Mbete’s announcement of a no confidence vote in the president on August 8, Mbalula indicated that individual MPs representing the ANC would not be allowed to vote according to their consciences. Menacingly, on July 2 he suggested that “members of the ANC have no right to represent their jackets in Parliament. They represent the organisation. They are suicide bombers. A suicide bomber dies for an ideology whether it is wrong or right. He dies for it or she dies for it.”
This is a terribly unfortunate choice of metaphor by the minister of police. The global community generally abhors the cowardly acts of those who destroy many others in the wake of their devastation. There is something profoundly warped about someone who is prepared to die for an ideology not grounded in truth.
Aside from that, there is a clear note of totalitarian indoctrination in the minister’s factional approach. Here we have a former minister of sport who, while clearly not a proponent of his ministry, nevertheless enjoyed a chinwag or photo-op with a sporting celeb. Now reincarnated as minister of police, his expertise in policing appears to be equally questionable. He is one in an increasingly long line of unqualified police ministers. And now he is a sort of suicide bomber. This is the simulacrum personified.
In a previous column, I indicated that in a context of fear and intimidation, a secret ballot is a necessity to protect democracy. Given the majority party will instruct its MPs to vote like automatons, it becomes imperative, perhaps now more than ever, to stress that members of Parliament are there to serve the people, not their party, as the Constitutional Court has indicated.
South Africa is fast becoming a state where ominous simulacra predominate. Recently, when asked for comment on her firing of SA Social Security Agency CEO Thokozani Magwaza, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, surrounded by simulacra minions, said: “Stop harassing me.” Well, Madam, you have it the wrong way around: you appear to be harassing the long-suffering people of this country by your silence. An independent commission will explore your complicity, and culpability, in serving your master’s simulacrum.
“The people shall govern.” Remember?
If our legislators do not exercise their discretion and formidable powers to reason and vote according to their own highest consciences, then we shall be on our way to self-destruction.
Tschudin is executive director of Good Governance Africa
This article first appeared in City Press on Sunday 6th August 2017.