“Dictatorship” is a very strong word. It is usually used to indicate the absence of a constitution and the presence of a ruler or rulers who do as they please, but this is usually an oversimplification.
South Africa, for instance, does have a constitution, but when a constitution is ignored or easily modified, the State in which it operates ceases to be constitutionalist. China, North Korea, and Zimbabwe are good examples of dictatorships with constitutions, but which are not constitutionalist. South Africa is fast approaching this point, with the recent announcement that an amendment to remove the compensation clause from the property rights provision of the Constitution will be considered.
Here is a list of ten items I believe are indicative of South Africa’s approaching dictatorship.
This article will not be an in-depth analysis of each item.
In order of concern, with 1 being the most concerning and 10 the least:
1. Expropriation without compensation
No democracy has ever existed without property rights. Property rights are entwined with constitutionalism, the Rule of Law, and with human rights.
If property can simply be taken without due process, the most important component of which is compensation, no opponent of government is safe. The destruction of property rights is also usually a first step toward the destruction of intermediary organizations — i.e. those entities that form the buffer between the individual and the State, like companies and civil society — and is thus a crucial part of centralization.
Expropriation without compensation is currently being considered by Parliament’s constitutional review committee, which will report back with its recommendations in August. If the Constitution does end up being amended, it will be the first amendment to the Bill of Rights since the Constitution came into being, and therefore sets a worrying precedent for the other rights.
2. Internet censorship
The Films and Publications Amendment Bill proposes that all content distributors (like the Rational Standard, but also YouTube and Facebook) submit their content for approval with the Films and Publications Board before posting it. Thankfully, thus, the Bill seems completely unworkable. This does, however, open the door to arbitrariness and selective-enforcement.
The infamous Prevention and Combating of Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill is also apparently going to be tabled in Parliament again soon. RS writers have written widely on the problems with this bill. It represents, along with expropriation without compensation, the greatest threat to continued democracy at the southern tip of Africa.
3. Threats to disarm law-abiding South Africans
The new Minister of Police, Bheki Cele, recently saidthat “We’ll have to work very hard to ensure South Africa is disarmed”, making snide remarks directed at American gun culture in the same breath.
South Africa regularly tops the world in rates of violent crime, especially murder and rape. Combine this with our lackluster police service that often takes hours to respond to emergency calls, and you have a pressing need for civilians to be able to own and liberally use firearms to defend themselves. Government, evidently, has other plans.
No doubt, a disarmed civilian population will also make any kind of future resistance to tyrannical government far more difficult.
Read Gideon Joubert’s analysis of this at Paratus.
4. Raids on journalists
Investigative journalist and author of The President’s Keepers, Jacques Pauw, had his home raided on 28 February. The book is known for exposing various facets of former President Jacob Zuma and his corruption network.
This raid happened after Cyril Ramaphosa became the chief executive of South Africa’s law enforcement apparatus, so this was not a final strike by Zuma.
5. Draconian new traffic law
The AARTO Amendment Bill will strengthen the presumption of guilt for those who have violated traffic “law” (no such thing exists). This means that if you decide not to challenge a traffic charge in their administrative ‘tribunal’, you will be presumed guilty.
The Bill also ousts the jurisdiction of the ordinary courts in the first instance and replaces them with an administrative agency. This means motorists will need to spend time and money struggling to get through this bureaucracy before they can finally appeal to a real court.
6. Raising the drinking age from 18 to 21
By the stroke of a pen, government will criminalize millions of South Africans who are old enough to marry, contract, join the military, and crucially, vote. Whatever you think about the apparent necessity for a law of this kind, there can be no debate about its distinctively authoritarian and arbitrary character.
7. Unemployment-inducing minimum wage
The minimum wage is only one part of government’s agenda to have complete control over the voluntary agreements between the public and intermediary organizations like companies.
It has been stated repeatedly that the National Minimum Wage will cause more unemployment — and consequently more dependency on government — and economic principles back this fact up: If you do not provide R3,500’s worth of a service to me, then I won’t hire you at all or keep you as an employee, because it would be illegal for me to pay you less. It really is as simple as that. Government has ignored this reality, despite protestations.
8. Threats to ban the old flag
Government is not calling for the old flag to be banned, yet. For now, it is only the Nelson Mandela Foundationand the usual crowd of academics and journalists. But this does play right into the State’s agenda of censorship and control.
You can read more about the potential banning of the old flag here.
9. Carbon tax
Why put a new tax in a list of indications of impending dictatorship?
South Africans are overtaxed. We have been saying this for years. Section 1 of the Constitution requires that government be open and responsive. As with the minimum wage, it has ignored this completely. It is pressing ahead with new taxes regardless of the public will.
10. Public acquiescence
Ramaphoria is, clearly, not over. Most of the items listed above have gone unnoticed to the general public. Everyone is still head-over-heels in love with our well-spoken new President.
This is the least concerning item not because it is not extremely important, but because the other nine items are more pressing and urgent and should be dealt with first. If we are able to diffuse the imminence of dictatorship, this item will move progressively further up the list.
It remains as true as ever that the price for freedom is eternal vigilance. I have repeated this several times in my articles and will continue to do so. Never let your guard down. Never trust someone who has authority over you.