One can seemingly always rely on the ANC to say something stupid. I had planned to ignore the most recent example of this until I saw it get even worse. They have taken issue with an art project by some high school students. Some of the T-shirts on display had unflattering depictions and captions of ANC members. They’ve since decided to ignore the constitutional right to freedom of expression, that the ANC members are public figures and all that entails, that the artists are high school students and that the syllabus includes a section on political commentary.
All the aforementioned points would suggest that they should learn to shrug off such criticism and focus on improving the state of the country. That they don’t is hardly surprising considering that they’ve shown a disregard for free speech with regard to The Spear and multiple cartoons by Jonathon Shapiro. Strangely enough, Zuma dropped a number of related defamation cases this year, some of which he’d been pursuing for seven years.
So what are my issues with the current ANC statements? Well we can start with this one.
We view this as an attack on the ANC and on the country since the South African flag featured in the background.
An attack on the ANC? Well, one needs to be very careful about what the difference is between attack and criticise or satire. Criticism is a vital part of a healthy government and it’s hard to see how merely displaying a shirt with an unwelcome viewpoint is an attack.
More worrying, though, is the conflation between the ANC and the country. It must be a conflation because it would be madness to consider it an attack on South Africa purely because the flag is in the background. Although the ANC is the ruling party of South Africa, which could certainly explain the flag’s presence, the two are not the same entity and should never be referred to as such. Unfortunately, that line was reinforced in a later response.
“Public schools must serve our interests not the opposition. An investigation by the MEC must be done,” [Siboniso Duma] said.
That’s even worse as now they are blatantly trying to co-opt schools into serving the ruling party and disseminating their ideology. That should never be the case. Schools, and all other government provided services, should be politically neutral and cater to citizens of all races, religions, sexes and political parties. We also hear that:
We strongly believe that the people involved in this despicable deed, which borders on racism, have a personal vendetta against the ANC and are now using innocent pupils to further their narrow venomous interests.
I find that one particularly interesting because racism is a charge often thrown around in South Africa, usually in order to shut up an opponent. However, one must be able to say why something is racist. It’s not impossible that the T-shirts were racist but we are not told why that is suspected. Are they racist purely because the politicians depicted are black? If that’s the case then it would be impossible to criticise a black person, no one is infallible, and very difficult to challenge the ruling party. The latter is no doubt the intention but a position which would severely undermine our ostensibly democratic political system.
The part most likely to be racist is the association between the ANC and KFC, possibly reflecting an American meme that considers all black people to love fried chicken. One would, of course, need to also hear the artists side of the story as to why they chose to say that. It’s not much of a stretch to consider that KFC is merely a synecdoche for fast food in general. It would certainly fit in a comment on politics and society after we have learned about an ANC member spending R50 000 on fast food in just 10 weeks. The racism link also seems less plausible when one remembers that one of the designs was based on Bakers, a brand I’m not aware of having any racist connotations.
Personally, I think the ANC is worried about it’s future, and it should be. I’ve already pointed out the sorry state of the country and its leadership before and there is an election coming up. Before the previous election, a number of ANC members split off to form COPE. Now, a year before the following elections, another group has split off to form the EFF. You don’t have to be an expert in political science to realise that a fragmenting party is in a bad state.