The bill of bunkum
- Ivo Vegter
- 28 Mar 2011 10:37 (South Africa)
“The discourse of liberation was strong in the demand for dignity and restoration of human rights. Relatively, less emphasis was placed upon the equal and complementary significance of responsibility.”
So said Ebrahim I Bham (Moulana), the secretary general of Jamiatul Ulama South Africa and executive member of the National Religious Leaders Forum, on the occasion of the launch of a “Bill of Responsibilities”. This campaign is a joint effort by Lead SA – itself a patriotic initiative of Primedia Broadcasting and Independent Newspapers – in association with the Department of Education and the South African Interfaith Council.
There was good reason for this lack of “emphasis”. The notion of imposing responsibilities and duties upon free people contradicts the very principles of liberty that the constitutional negotiators were trying to establish in South Africa.
It's not like these negotiators were mere activists or neophytes in political philosophy. People like Ismael Mahomed, Cyril Ramaphosa, Joe Slovo and Frederick van Zyl Slabbert were well aware of the purpose of a Bill of Rights. They, and the many other delegates to the Congress for a Democratic South Africa in the early 1990s, deeply understood the role of a constitution, the nature of law, and the proper relationship between a free people and its government.
It is not that, as Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motsheka, said at the launch of the Bill of Responsibilities, “all rights come with obligations”.
This might by catchy rhetoric, or be a worthy personal ambition, but as a principle of freedom it is patently false. The rights enshrined in our Constitution as Chapter 2, known as the Bill of Rights, are unconditional. They are yours by virtue of your citizenship of South Africa. They do not need to be earned.
Importantly, the Bill of Rights exists first and foremost to bind the state. To quote section 8.1 of the Constitution of South Africa: “The Bill of Rights applies to all law, and binds the legislature, the executive, the judiciary and all organs of state.”
These rights can bind individual citizens, the section goes on to say, but only “to the extent that it is applicable, taking into account the nature of the right and the nature of any duty imposed by the right.”
The line isn't quite sharp and tidy, but in general, we're protected from each other by statutory law, and we're protected from the government by the Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
Besides the sleight-of-hand with which the government and Lead SA claim we have obligations as a consequence of our constitutional rights, the Bill of Responsibilities is also very paternalistic in its purpose and formulation. It would not have been out of place in the Apartheid State, when the National Party was just as eager to impose duties on citizens instead of respecting their individual rights. In fact, the more oppressive a society is, the more likely you are to find paternalistic education, emphasising patriotic duty and moral responsibility, in schools.
Yet it is none of the government's business what citizens do with their rights, or how they live their lives, provided they don't violate the rights and liberties of others.
Aneshree Naidoo, a freelance writer and online marketing consultant for a large law firm, put it brilliantly: “It's like a madam scolding her domestic about how she spends her salary.”
It is exactly like that. It is presumptuous, sanctimonious and arrogant. It implies that other people are immature and inferior, and need our moralistic browbeating.
“The many ills of our society can be traced to the absence of a moral and a values code in our daily interaction with each other,” intoned Moegsien Williams, editor of The Star. “Our hope, with the Bill of Responsibilities, is to inculcate a set of values in the minds of our children when they are at an impressionable age and which they’ll live by as grownups.”
That's as good a definition of indoctrination as any. Who is Williams, or anyone else, to dictate values to our children? Moral values are born of individual conviction and have to be developed from a consistent set of underlying principles, which may or may not be religious in origin. They are not a fit subject for classroom indoctrination.
As if to make the point, the Bill of Responsibilities goes well beyond the rules for civilised living that are enshrined in law. It doesn't just say not to steal from, assault, or murder people.
It tells us to obey the law, and “ensuring that others do so as well”. Picture the scene: “Step aside, officer, this is my responsibility.”
It exhorts us to “give generously” to charity and good causes. It isn't for someone else to declare that we have a responsibility to give to charity, and implying that our own rights somehow depend on it.
It talks about “climate change”, “sustainable development” and “scarce resources” in a way that implies we have a responsibility not to disagree with the economic views or political ideology held by environmentalists.
Apart from dubious economics, the document gets worse. It includes patently ridiculous strictures such as treating people with “reverence”, and “greeting them warmly”. It not only asks us to respect the right of others to believe what they will, but also to respect the beliefs themselves, even if we think they're mistaken, crazy or sinful.
It flatly contradicts our law by imposing the responsibility to “not endanger the lives of others by carrying dangerous weapons”.
It tells us to eat correctly and exercise. Who made Lead SA our collective mother?
Still it isn't done. It declares that we “must ensure” that “others are not insulted or have their feelings hurt” by our exercise of free speech.
Aw, bunny. Does that mean one cannot call a civil servant incompetent? Or call a religious nut a nut? Or call ecomentalism a neurotic guilt-trip? Or call the well-intentioned Lead SA lot a bunch of self-important, patronising nannies? Or describe the Department of Education's endorsement of all this politically-correct tripe as dangerous petty-fascism?
Ironically, the Bill of Responsibilities itself hurt people's feelings. In a departure from the Bill of Rights it claims to mirror, it omitted “sexual orientation” from the grounds for non-discrimination. Needless to say, gays and lesbians (and those of us who believe queers are people too) felt insulted. That the document gave such offence was perhaps to be expected given the heavy religious overtones of the campaign, but it does make the point that “responsibilities” aren't moral just because they say they are. We shouldn't uncritically accept the preachings of sanctimonious crusaders who claim to have only our best interests at heart. (The document was quietly amended since its launch to correct this embarrassing oversight, but that only raises the question what other changes will come about surreptitiously.)
The Bill of Responsibilities is not law. For that, let's be thankful. It lays the groundwork for law, however, and certainly imposes a great deal of social pressure for its nanny-state provisions.
Without much consultation, the powers that be have decided that the Bill of Responsibilities will form part of the national curriculum. This is wrong on many levels, not least of which is the fact that the document suffers from a rather embarrassing lack of sub-editing.
I quote (having checked the text on three different browsers): “My responsibility in ensuring the right to The right to equality places on me the responsibility to: equality.”
Right. Well then. If you say so. Let the indoctrination begin. DM
- Chernodeal: Shopping for discount nukes
- Star Trek, 50 years on: A study in sexism
- Let me mansplain statistics to you
- Free the hippies! Don’t ban their drugs!
- Which principle: precaution or progress?
- How to kill a baby, naturally!
- Miserere mei, the Ebocalypse is here!
- Advanced technology or magic?
- Tourism: Still doing okay? Let’s fix that!
- Green-left messiah desperately seeking spin-doctor
- The gun genie and its bottle
- On energy, environment, and regulatory independence
- South Africa’s schools of witchcraft and wizardry
- Grab shale gas opportunity, but avoid opportunism
- It’s about who you don’t vote for
- Free markets as a moderate position
- Voting: there’s still time to change your mind
- Green tech is cool, but not because it’s green
- How Mmusi Maimane swindled a vote out of me
- The case to elect Malema to Parliament
- The intellectual gnome, Chomsky
- If Malema isn’t Pol Pot, is he still dangerous?
- Do Malema's followers understand ‘agrarian reform’?
- Look ma, I'm defending Shell's record in Nigeria!
- Any weather is evidence for global warming
- U-turn prof finds his fracking fears are avoidable
- Ramphele et al: The world according to angry feminists
- On HIV/Aids and scary-big numbers
- Cherry-picking ‘grey literature’ on rhino horn
- 350,000 reasons to kill a black rhino
- Eight myths about libertarians
- New Year’s resolutions for other people
- All I want for Christmas is a fire pool
- In defence of Donald Trump
- My old South African flag
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey