24 October 2022

The statements by the EFF during Parliament’s debate on the Electoral Amendment Bill are undemocratic and an attempt to silence any form of criticism. They must be seen in the context of other authoritarian attempts by the political elite to suppress activism and close democratic space.

The prepared statement was made in a submission by EFF representative, Thapelo Mogale.  In the statement, the party attempted to delegitimise opposition to the Bill, incorrectly claiming that civil society organisations like ours, who have opposed the Bill, are beholden to donors with narrow interests and should not be heard.

To be clear, as a small donor-funded NGO, we are aware of our role in society. We are funded by a range of donors, all of whom can be viewed on our website. Our donors have no material influence in our campaigns and political positions. Philanthropy is an acceptable practice in a democracy if there is transparency and accountability.

Further, members of Parliament represent everyone, not just their political parties. The role of Parliament is to consult the public and every person has the right to be heard by Parliament.

Parliament rejected public participation

Tellingly, the EFF voted for the fatally flawed Electoral Amendment Bill, the contents of which are an insult to the electorate and its process undermines participatory democracy. Our intention was to oppose the prioritisation of political party interests over the interests of people. Our interest is to deepen democracy, not undermine it.

Parliament has reneged on its obligation to ensure meaningful public participation in the legislative process. The arrogant statements by the EFF laid bare this contempt for democracy. Their tactics are nothing but symptoms of political paranoia and poverty of imagination.

A tradition of closing democratic space

Of course, the EFF’s tactics are not new in our politics. They stem from a tradition of political paranoia, where the political elite use silencing tactics to attempt to delegitimise activism and divert attention from their failures.

We’ll never forget when former ANC President, Thabo Mbeki attacked working-class activists who were campaigning for access to life saving HIV treatment, accusing them of being “counter-revolutionaries” that are beholden to western funders. Political paranoia was also used to justify the state-sanctioned spying of activists, who were building constituencies under the banner of Right2Know. In 2016, ANC’s State Security deployee, David Mhlobo accused NGOs of collaborating with foreign forces to fund the #FeesMustFall student movement and “destabilise the country”. Just a few months ago, the ANC National Chairperson, Gwede Mantashe put the lives of community-based climate justice activists in danger, accusing them of campaigning for apartheid and colonialism.

We will not allow the political elite to further hollow out our democracy by continuing with this tradition.

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