Obama is a bigger man than JZ

I am busy watching the “we are all fashioned from the same garment” Obama Easter address in which the US president quotes Martin Luther King and refers to Judaism and Christianity in terms of renewal. The video has been posted by a facebook friend, Stephanie Williams, an African-American who stongly believes, along with author Elie Wiesel that “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior. All collective judgments are wrong. Only racists make them.”

What a difference from the sectarian cant of George W Bush. This is history in the making, an American president joining two religions while urging progress, unifying while at the same time motivating a search for common ground. Sorry to say, we South African’s don’t have any leaders of the same calibre. Our politics has become parochial, fractured, insular.

If it were not for the Dalai Lama, we would have slipped off the radar completely. The world no longer needs Nelson Mandela, or Thabo Mbeki and leaders like Jacob Zuma are a dime-a-dozen, in places like the DRC and Nigeria. South African politics may as well be Italian politics, there is no longer the unity of purpose or the national resolve. The African Renaissance, along with Mbeki’s reforms have been relegated to an intellectual curiosity as the agrarian revolt lead by Zuma against civil liberties replaces national discourse with the kind of tribalism that has produced dictators in Zimbabwe and Chile.

The only upside to the absurdity of Jacob Zuma — a polygamist, animist and male chauvinist, proclaiming himself king, without much consensus, even within his own party and the resulting split in the ruling party into various factions, are posters plucked on the streets of Johannesburg – ANC – Made in China. Zuma is the Big Fish.

Last week I sat in the Cape High Court, painfully listening to attorneys debate the relative merits of the Dalai Lama’s visa application. After considerable genuflecting and urging by the silks acting for the Tibetan Friendship Soceity, — a denial of such an applicaiton would surely result in a “stain” on our democracy, and send the signal to the world that South Africa was not interested in peace, the court ruled in favour of the state. It would appear Peace has nothing to do with religion, and the Dalai Lama is just another mortal. Why, he may as well be a tourist from South London for all we care. The court deserves to be reprimanded for treating issues of faith with such disdain.

There is no urgent and pressing reason to restore basic freedoms – freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of movement? Buddhists can be denied access to their religious leaders. Catholics can be prevented from receiving Holy Mass. Jews are not entitled to Shabbat. Muslims have no intrinsic right to call others to prayer.

This is the monolithic SA apartheid state resurrected, and barely a decade after the struggle ended, no different from the police state of Vorster or Botha.I am ashamed to be a South African, to see our most fundamental liberties trashed by our government, our legal system nothing more than a petty bureaucrat, liberty denied with the stroke of a pen.

To think not so long ago, we were part of a mass democratic movement whose religious leaders joined in the fight against racism while the entire world looked towards Mandela for guidance. Has it all really come down to who did what in which bedroom, and the JZ shower scene? No, faith has a funny way of exposing the bare essential. This is not about how many wives JZ has, or what one believes about HIV/AIDS but about whether anyone in the ANC gives a damn about freedom.

Time to migrate to a petty bantustan in the kalahari, where at least their is no pretense at being part of civilisation, or being a member of those nations which enjoy fundamental human rights.

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