The state prefers the intelligence of its people to remain at the level of children in a kindergarten," wrote Yan Lianke in an article headlined, On China's StateSponsored Amnesia, published in last Monday's International Herald Tribune. "It hopes people will follow instructions, just as children follow their teacher's instructions - they eat when they are told to eat, they sleep when they are told to sleep. When they are asked to perform, these innocent children enthusiastically recite the script prepared by adults. To achieve this, the brains of people who have memories must be reformatted, voices of people who are good with words must be silenced, so that the memory of younger generations won't be contaminated."
Lianke's article could have been distributed as a background note to President Jacob Zuma's speech eulogising the 13 South African soldiers killed in the Central African Republic (CAR). Zuma and his speech writers would have us believe that these men died for an unexplained "national interest" and "the interests of the African continent". They want everyone
to follow instructions, to shut up and stop asking questions, with the blanket prohibition that discussing such matters endangers national security. This is hardly an original approach: see Samuel Johnson ("Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel"). It's also going to be interesting to hear the government explain how the CAR deployment, which seems to have been about protecting Francois Bozize and certain business
interests, was in the interests of the continent. While SA's legitimate peacekeeping deployments in the Democratic Republic of Congo and elsewhere continue to receive a broad level of support, this is something else entirely.
"When the security situation in the CAR deteriorated in late 2012, our government made an assessment that resulted in the deployment of 200 additional troops in the CAR as a protection force for the trainers and the military assets that were already in that country. These additional soldiers were not trainers. They were not deployed to train but as a protection force for the trainers," said Zuma.
But Zuma did not tell us what that "assessment" was. SA would like to know.
Zuma's intent in the CAR appears to have been about flexing SA's continental muscle in the midst of a civil war. The mandate for all this is impossible to discern, and government officials trip all over themselves the more they are asked about it.
At the level of the ruling party, however, the reformatting of brains is well under way. Last Thursday's parliamentary hearing on the CAR was a disgrace. The African National Congress (ANC) MPs on the defence committee were not interested in the truth about what happened in the CAR. Their task was simply to offer legislative cover to the executive, which they did with much success, in between wanting to get on the next plane out of Cape Town.
Now, instead of holding the defence minister to account, the ANC MPs want Democratic Alliance MP David Maynier to be investigated for saying the government lied about developments in the CAR. ANC MPs are the real threat to democracy.
Make no mistake: Marikana and Bangui mark a turning point for SA. The Marikana massacre showed that this state is willing to mow down its own people. Bangui shows that this state is willing to shed the blood of other Africans and South Africans in uniform on the basis of an undefined national interest. Domestic and foreign policy are now unambiguously in harmony.
Marikana and Bangui have put an end to the liberation narrative of "all shall be equal before the law" and striving for "world peace through negotiation and not war". Zuma wishes to build a strong state anchored by the police, the military and the spy establishment. All the while, he and his ministers will drone on, repeating irrelevant liberation rhetoric to defend their actions.
But SA is neither a parliamentary committee nor an ANC branch. Zuma and company have forgotten, if they ever really understood, that the real "heroes" of the fight for democracy were ordinary South Africans. And they won't be so easy to shut up.
Written by: Palesa Morudu
Picture credit: Business Day Live
• Morudu writes from Cape Town. This article was published on Business Day Live.