Sheila Camerer
Sheila Camerer

SA civil society triumphs

Amidst all the gloom and doom nowadays, one or two bright spots stand out. Firstly, whatever one thinks of the ANC’s new team, Polokwane demonstrated that democracy is alive and well in our “liberation” ruling party. Contrast what happened in the ANC with what has not happened to Zanu-PF and Swapo, for example.

Secondly, civil society in South Africa is alive and well and has just demonstrated its strength by seeing off the Chinese arms ship. It was not government that took the principled moral high ground on this arms consignment destined for Zimbabwe. No, we were treated to a ‘Pontius Pilate’ act by government spokesperson Themba Maseko, claiming that there was nothing government could do to interfere with a “normal” trade transaction between China and Zimbabwe.

What rubbish! No reference at all was made to South Africa’s own National Conventional Arms Control Act which clearly instructs government to “avoid transfers of conventional arms to governments that systematically violate or suppress human rights and fundamental freedom” – not to mention various UN conventions to which our country subscribes.

Civil society showed its true worth and strength in our society when an NGO, the South African Legislation Centre, went to the High Court and got an order preventing the transport of the weapons across South African soil.

Nicole Fritz, Bishop Ruben Phillip and Paddy Kearney and the lawyers who acted for them are the heroes of the hour. So are the Cosatu members who also took a principled stand in refusing to offload the weapons.

So the hue and cry is on. The arms ship is being tracked around our coast and Cosatu is appealing to unions in our neighbouring states to join it in refusing to offload. If anyone doubted the strength of South Africa’s civil society, the arms ship saga should put them right.

A strong civil society is an encouraging sign of a maturing democracy. Not a word (officially) yet from government.

Flush with this success, perhaps civil society could do something about saving the Scorpions by joining the campaign of Bob Glenister and his court case and signing the petitions to save the Scorpions.