Former president Jacob Zuma, who recently violated a Constitutional Court order, has argued that SA laws are not strict enough and are partially to blame for a lack of social cohesion in the country.
Speaking during a virtual gathering on Sunday, Zuma said the country’s laws took a “soft” stance, even against those who commit heinous crimes.
“For an example, today, if I commit a crime, if I kill somebody in front of all of you, the laws of this country say you can’t say this person is being arrested or charged because he’s killed a person, it says we must say we suspect this man has killed this person. That’s the softness of the law. Today, if I committed a crime, no matter how serious, I have a right to apply for bail,” he said.
He added: “I think our laws are not biting enough. They are not dealing with people enough. For example, people who were sentenced to life imprisonment, it is always known they will be out in 20 years.”
The former president was speaking during the ANC’s virtual umrhabulo session, under the theme “Social cohesion and the national question”.
Meeting convener Jeff Radebe said the purpose of the engagement was to discuss one of 12 national general council (NGC) papers, which could not happen in person due to Covid-19. Zuma was a keynote speaker and part of panellists which included Dr Abba Omar, Lindiwe Maseko, Steven Friedman and Dr Thozama April.
Friedman, a renowned activist and author, completely dismissed the notion of social cohesion, which he argued sought to portray everybody the same way. “If we don’t mean that everybody is the same, then let’s not use terms which imply that everybody’s the same.
“More important for the country going forward, what I’m trying to say in a nutshell, is that difference is good as long as it does not lead to domination. Our problem is not difference, it is domination. Our problem is that many white folks use their power to oppress black people, and that is what we need to be discussing,” he said.
During the event, Zuma also took a swipe at parliamentary proceedings which have, on various occasions, been disrupted by MPs. He slammed the often poor behaviour, saying it was not reflective of the country’s citizens and did not contribute positively towards nation-building.
“There is less content in the discussion of how do we move forward, building a nation and a cohesive society. That debate is not there in parliament. They [MPs}] are not necessarily, in my view, representing the citizens who are looking at them wanting to hear what hopes they give and the progress they have made,” said Zuma.
However, only voters who placed those members in parliament could hold them to account, according to Zuma.
“We think in order to deal with some issues we need to shout, use insults at times, which I don’t think reflects on social cohesion. Those who elect the people, I don’t think they are strict enough to say, ‘You are not doing what we sent you to do there, because we sent you to discuss programmes to change the quality of life of our people that will go a long way in influencing cohesion and nation-building.
“What that means is people should respect others, should be able to raise issues properly. But people think they are there to fight. The correction of that lies in the voters represented by them,” he said.
Trust deficit between citizens and the state was identified as one of the issues confronting the party. Commenting on this, April, who is a lecturer, said the party needed to dig deep to establish underlying causes for the lack of trust.
“There needs to be an alignment of ANC’s vision with a programme of action; a clear articulation of what the problem is. The document should do much more digging in terms of unearthing what the underlying issues are,” she said.
April did not mince her words, as she also pointed her finger at cadre deployment, a policy that has been heavily criticised by opposition parties.
“The extent to which cadres which are deployed in strategic positions fail in their duties and, by extension, that also extends and widens this issue of trust between the state and citizens,” said April.
The former president conceded the country had a long way to go. He pointed to the land question as one of the biggest challenges that the country was grappling with, and also hindering social cohesion.
“We have not dealt with the land issue. Instead of developing rural areas, we are not. We develop the city, therefore there can’t be cohesion when other people live in umjondolo [shacks] while others are living in decent houses. It’s like we have two nations in one world, so to speak.”