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Careful what you wish for: A National State of Emergency might usher in the death of democracy


Koos Kombuis is a South African musician, singer, songwriter and writer who sometimes goes by the name of Joe Kitchen, André Letoit and/or André le Roux du Toit.

In the minds of many people, the difference between a National State of Disaster and a National State of Emergency is a bit fuzzy. That’s why so few alarm bells went off when Cyril Ramaphosa, finally commenting on the Eskom crisis, started using the word ‘emergency’ instead of ‘disaster’.

Across the country, calls have been heard pleading with the government to issue a State of Disaster to deal with the Eskom crisis. President Cyril Ramaphosa himself has indicated that he is considering an energy emergency.

We should be careful what we wish for.

It was Max du Preez who alerted me to the subtle – or perhaps not so subtle – difference between a State of Disaster and a State of Emergency.

“Can the president cancel or delay a general election during a National State of Disaster?” was the question on my mind.

“No,” was Max’s answer. “A State of Disaster is not the same as a State of Emergency.”

So, what’s the difference? And how many South Africans are actually clear about the difference?

After the recent floods in KwaZulu-Natal, some newspapers reported that Ramaphosa had declared a National State of Disaster, while other publications called it a State of Emergency. In the minds of many people, the difference between these two states is a bit fuzzy. That is why so few alarm bells went off when Ramaphosa, finally commenting on the energy crisis, started using the word ‘emergency’ instead of ‘disaster’.

Perhaps it’s time to notice the red flags and pay attention to the ominous signs. Soon, it might be too late.

Wikipedia defines a State of Emergency as a “situation in which a government is empowered to be able to put through policies that it would normally not be permitted to do… during a natural disaster, civil unrest, armed conflict, medical pandemic…” The list goes on to include war, insurrection, etc.

Are we at war? No. Do we have civil unrest and insurrections? Yes, from time to time, but these occurrences, as recent studies have pointed out, might have more to do with faction fighting within the ANC than anything else. Do we have an energy crisis? Yes, we certainly have. But it is not a crisis that requires a National State of Emergency. It is simply a crisis that cries out for competent management and the cessation of stupid ideological constraints.

Neither a National State of Disaster, nor a National State of Emergency, will be able to save Eskom. It won’t save or fix South Africa, nor save the ANC from itself.

Of course, a National State of Emergency is something that can be abused. It has happened before. Remember the bad old days of PW Botha, when the End Conscription Campaign and many other organisations were banned, the media was muffled, and random arrests shook the country? It happened here. It happened in Brazil. It can happen anywhere. And it can happen here again.

There are, of course, degrees of severity in National States of Emergency. The worst of these scenarios, according to experts, include martial law, in which individual liberties are severely restricted, a state of siege in which political activists are apprehended, or property seized to be occupied by the military for use in defence of a country and its citizens.

Whatever it entails, a National State of Emergency is never nice. It is not a normal state of affairs. It is not conducive to business, it is bad for tourism, it creates a paranoid society, and, of course, in a worst-case scenario, it can turn innocent citizens into prisoners – without the benefit of a trial – as well as shield corrupt politicians from being prosecuted.

We must be clear about this. A National State of Emergency in South Africa might spell the end to democracy and bring us to the brink of dictatorial rule.

Look at the big picture. Right now, the ANC is at a dead end in much the same way the National Party was during the 1980s. There are numerous similarities, too many, in fact.

There are, of course, also many differences between that time and now. We still have a remarkable amount of freedom of speech. Whereas the National Party under PW Botha was quite an efficient machine that used the police, the army and the legal system to rule ordinary South Africans with an iron fist, modern-day South Africa is simply and steadily falling apart because the government seems to have lost all interest in doing the normal things a government is supposed to do.

That could change overnight, though. We only need one disastrous “family meeting” – and it will not be an amicable meeting – to turn Cyril Ramaphosa into PW Botha.

There are ominous signs everywhere. More and more ministers are using threatening language towards dissidents, as we have seen with Bheki Cele, Gwede Mantashe and others. During the State of Disaster necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, this government got a taste of what it felt like using the army to exert control. Corruption became easier. Right now, South Africa has degenerated into a sort of free-for-all backyard where everyone is looting everything they can lay their hands on.

The existence of an RET faction is a media myth; there are no longer any good guys and bad guys in the ANC.

They are no longer a political party, they are a crime syndicate. As such, they have no hope of winning the next free and fair general election, and they realise it. A National State of Emergency might be their final trump card to try to remain in control.

Whereas PW Botha used his State of Emergency to crack down on anti-apartheid activists, “die rooi gevaar”, and “sekere ander persone”, the ANC could very well use a State of Emergency to control what it perceives as “counter-revolutionaries”, “neo-liberals”, et cetera.

Under PW’s rule, the ANC was illegal and Nelson Mandela was declared a “terrorist”.

I’m not a particularly big fan of Kallie Kriel and Flip Buys, but I don’t want to live in a country where AfriForum or Solidariteit/Solidarity are banned. Not to mention, obviously, ActionSA and the countless groupings of people who are trying to protect our democracy and rule of law.

Already, threats have been made against the judiciary. And not just by crackpot parties like the EFF. There are ministers in Ramaphosa’s Cabinet who have made such utterances. For these, they were not reprimanded, let alone fired.

If the future scenario I am painting sounds too far-fetched to believe, or simply too verskriklik to even consider, remember, for a moment, who the ANC’s international friends are.

The ANC is far more likely to take its cues from authoritarian leaders like Xi Jinping or war-hungry maniacs like Vladimir Putin than from established democracies. These guys are the ANC’s friends and role models. They have one another’s private numbers on speed-dial.

We should be afraid … very afraid. DM


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  • Robert Pegg says:

    We got through the dark days of apartheid to become a democratic country, so we can get through this and come out smiling. The ANC is digging its own grave, let it carry on and hope sanity prevails in 2024.

  • Carsten Rasch says:

    Indeed. The ANC loved the SoD so much they kept it going months after it should have been ended. Primary reason is because it suspends the powers of Parliament, empowers Cabinet and allows for aberrations like the National Control Centre to be formed. We certainly cannot trust the ANC government with anything, nevermind a SoE.

  • André Pelser says:

    Spot on!
    also alarming is the Ramaphosa relatives at the centre of our energy crisis and search for a solution. A state of emergency and nepotism is a toxic mix. Angola, Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa where family connections have dominated serve as warnings. We have to defend our constitution at all costs and see off this criminal syndicate masquerading as a political party in government. The ANC has around 1,5 million members in a country with a population of approximately 60m and has been stealing public funds to finance itself, epitomised by the blatant abuse of tender processes, like the Chancellor House “investment” in the disastrous Medupi and Kusile power stations.
    The ANC is rotten to the core, its leadership (or should one say control?) is living up to the infamous statements by party stalwarts that they did not join the struggle to be poor and that it their turn to eat!
    The protection of Zuma by ANC MPs in parliament is an indelible blot on all those that voted for him.
    Ramaphosa is simply a place keeper and has no chance of escaping the Zulu/Xhosa competition for power and the accompanying spoils. Thus the positioning of his family and relatives in the energy business.

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