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Let’s dump our ‘foreign, frigid and feelingless’ Bill of Rights

Dali Mpofu, the CEO and “editor-in-chief” of the SABC, has lashed out at members of the South African National Editors’ Forum (Sanef) for “pretending to be converted to foreign, frigid and feelingless freedoms”.

The issue that provoked Mpofu’s outrage was the Sunday Times‘s reliance on the right to freedom of expression in defence of its coverage of the health minister’s peccadilloes, and Sanef’s support for the newspaper. Freedom of expression, of course, is one of a number of rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Bill of Rights of our Constitution. You’ll find it in section 16.

The Bill of Rights is described in the Constitution as “a cornerstone of democracy in South Africa” that “affirms the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom”. But Mpofu disagrees. Some of those rights, he says, are “foreign, frigid and feelingless”. Which rights exactly could he be referring to?

Could he be thinking, for example, of the rights to privacy (section 14) and human dignity (section 10), which Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang relied on in her dispute with the Sunday Times? Should she be allowed to invoke those “foreign, frigid and feelingless” rights to protect her reputation? Or perhaps he has in mind the right to freedom of opinion and belief (section 15)? That just causes problems for SABC news producers. What about the rights to fair labour practices (section 23)? Many a boss would agree with Mpofu that those are particularly troublesome. Oh, and the right to vote (section 19) — now there’s a “foreign” freedom if ever there was one.

Come to think of it, why not just dump all those “foreign, frigid and feelingless freedoms” foisted upon us by that bunch of foreigners in the constitutional assembly in 1996? That would make life much easier for people like Mpofu and his political masters, who would then never have to explain their actions to anyone.

Fortunately for Mpofu, for the moment he still has a right to freedom of association (section 18), so nobody will force him to become a member of Sanef.

(Disclosure: I am a member of Sanef)


  • Robert Brand

    Robert Brand teaches media law, ethics and economics journalism at Rhodes University. Before joining academia, he worked as a journalist for the Pretoria News, the Star and Bloomberg News.