Democracy for whom the bell tolls
Nthakeng Pheello Selinyane
IN happier or grieving times, we love saying the Basotho nation founder Moshoeshoe The Great, as Victoria’s London referred to him in archived correspondence, named peace his sister. You hear it in technical workshops like the so-called national dialogue conferences such as the Vision 2020 one of January 2001, or at tragic conjunctures like the September 1998, June 2007 and May/June 2015 watersheds, but never in calmer, less excited moments.
The present being one of the near-tragic conjunctures, I have deliberately decided to address democracy as human and not an abstract phenomenon. A fortnight ago I wrote in this newspaper against trivialisation of death via its technicisation, i.e reducing a killing of a human being to a technical glitch that can be fixed by a technical fiddling like a so-called reforms roadmap and workshop; plus a self-pitying amnesty bill. It is in that spirit that I want to take death of democracy, (which I read about here on 5 January 2017) as death of one of us, as a human death, which should be mourned as such. For death of democracy has been accompanied by our own death, and therefore it is our own death.
Above everything else, the central nerve of democracy is accountability. Everything else in the infrastructure of democracy is meant to assist the discharge of accountability. Separation of powers is about that, the judiciary is about that (who killed who/what, for what reason?), the oversight duty of parliament over cabinet, and of each minister over national corporations, etc. are about that. So it is not only the auditor-general whose function is concerned with accountability; once we think that way we kill democracy. The essence and rationale of accountability is that someone is doing on our behalf some functions which we cannot all do at the same time as we do all others that arrest our attention; and s/he must do them the way we would do if we had all the time. S/he cannot, therefore, refuse to explain yourself and answer questions about what we have sent him or her to do on our behalf.
Yet it is here that our elected representatives, their executive (ministers), and its bureaucracy have proudly, publicly and flagrantly failed and defied us. Most glaringly over the past 10 years, the state and “its” security forces have stubbornly told us that they cannot answer to us about arbitrary ambush, seizure, torture, and disappearance, and even pretentious arrest or death of some amongst us. They even tell us the acts and refusal to account are for our own good, for our security. But any security that is ours — not that of rocks and shrubs — can only be defined by ourselves. At the most extreme when Lt-Gen Tlali Kamoli refused to testify in public at the Phumaphi Commission, he cited “sensitivity” of his status as “custodian” of national security. He didn’t even understand that the minister, and not himself, was the custodian of that security. The minister himself said he was “a mere politician”, not fit to shepherd the army, whereas it was his duty to so do!
At the height of political friction and conflict in the 1980s, prominent opposition activists (of the fold of current rulers) and a leading “anti-state” newspaper editor were seized from their homes in the dead of the night by unidentified persons and later found dead in the wild. The hideous acts were credited to a presumed state death squad which citizens named koeeoko, which was supposed to be a mythical beast of similar profile. Between 2007, through 2014, and the moment of writing, our security forces, especially the army, have been exhibiting manners that (seek to) emulate the koeeoko. It cannot be that when we seek answers for the same, we are referred to the executioners, who in turn spit in our face, having first told their civilian overlords that they are “mere civilians”, as the Phumaphi Commission and other public testimonies have since revealed.
When recently the police arbitrarily detained the Basotho National Party spokesperson Machesetsa Mofomobe for a whole day they refused to give him reasons or charges, and police spokesman Clifford Molefe said this was proper and regular way of working. They repeated the same with the All Basotho Convention stalwart Montoely Marks Masoetsa, and still his public protestation of the unexplained ordeal only met a thunderous silence. When privately clad riflemen in an “unregistered” vehicle stormed the Alliance of Democrats youth president Thuso Litjobo and hauled him away to a “bush” police station, next tried to kidnap him together with Mofomobe, and still later actually kidnapped and tortured Litjobo’s fellow youth leaguers, Molefe affirmed the same as typical police-and-army operation when the targets/victims cited notorious Military Intelligence operatives among their pursuers. He publicly affirmed the operatives’ refusal to produce (MI) positive identity, and use of unidentifiable vehicles in these joint operations, as routine and acceptable.
These have hallmarks of known MI acts over this decade, now with an after-fact police legitimation – a possible explanation of Molefe’s fumbling and fury when the media asked him questions. Molefe said the reasons why this unusual conduct of the army and police couldn’t be explained was because that would compromise its goals. If doubtful you should call police hotline, he says, in the heat of the pursuit! You might not withhold co-operation for the ostensible dubiousness and fraudulence of this conduct, says Molefe, for you’ll be obstructing the law! Your behind belongs to any man to take and keep for himself, whoever he is, with blessings of Molefe’s office!
Our politicians often consciously accept sub-optimal deals from their interlocutors for fixing our democracy, whereas such poor throw of the die can only produce further problems and complications in future. In 1998, knowing they could only get a field skewed in favour of the incumbents, the opposition signed for the Interim Political Authority (IPA) which saw them play second fiddle to government, instead of a previous demand for Government of National Unity or replica of the Transitional Executive Council (TEC) of South Africa.
While they fought over seats on the IPA, their leading activists like Thesele ‘Maseribane who led the three-party Setlamo youth as president of BNP’s Thaka E Ncha were being arrested willy-nilly, almost on a daily basis, and their leaders remained tight-lipped. The incumbents, supported by some on the national political left, insisted it was their prerogative “to restore law and order”.
Today it is Thesele and Thabane who was on the “arresting” side, whose spokesmen and activists are persecuted while all eyes are on leaders’ passage home from an exile triggered by the same soldiers who are hunters of their men; whereas their return rides on the assumption that the military threat has subsided. Some opine that they remain nonplussed and transfixed, while the government’s train of (security) reforms on which they are assumed passengers hurtles to a defined destination of obfuscation, kicked off with that monologue of the government and its partners recently, as part of rolling out that roadmap it has produced by itself and for itself, and preceded by a technical workshop on security reforms, which the prime minister christened as not everybody’s business, while also chastising media and civil society for fanning the existing precarious state on national security which he had all along said did not exist.