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Dear President Zuma

This letter has been a long time in coming. Writing it now is one of many intellectual steps I had hoped never to see myself going through on a journey that I had hoped I would never find myself taking. And when I talk of ‘me’,  I include the uncounted numbers of thinking, reasoning, believing South Africans across this beautiful country. People who, like me, grew up in a new country born in pure principles of the rule of law, non racialism and a respect for the fundamental human dignity of our fellow citizens. We were going to show the world what a truly principled nation might look like. A miracle in the history of human rights and an enlightened democracy.

What used to be enthusiastic talk of the great things my generationwould live to see accomplished has fast faded in the recent years. What was once excited belief in the good that we could do for this country and for each other as human beings – an idealism sprung from the hope and joy of 1994 and our first democratic elections – has fallen to silence. In its place, I have only the tatters of that hope, and a line in the sand that I no longer ask, I demand that you do not cross.

Your release from charges of corruption, on which your financial advisor has long since been tried and sentenced (and subsequently paroled without an acceptable public explanation and no review), contradicts my dream of a country where the rule of law applied equally to all, not only to those who could not buy or crush their way out of it.

That it was only the most recent in a long line of similar soft treatment (the pardon of Alan Boesak, the preferential treatment of Schabir Shaik and Tony Yengeni, the squashing of the travelgate and arms deal scandals), contradicts my dream that your party, and the governments you form with it, will govern without fear or favour and in the interests of all of the people of South Africa. Not simply of those who are rich and connected in our society.

That the leader of your party’s youth felt it acceptable to advocate killing in your name, if you were to be found guilty, contradicted my belief that you were a party that believed in due process and the absolute, inviolable supremacy of the right to life.

That your party and the governments it dominates will tolerate a South Africa where we can freely form a Black Journalists forum, yet would crucify any who would even jokingly start a White Journalists Forum, makes a mockery of a non-racial South Africa free from the narrow, racist thinking of the past.

That each year tens of thousands of rapes occur across this country, contradicts my belief that this nation values women. This is not a country where men and women stand side by side.

Mr Zuma, your party will shortly return to power once again. Because too many in South Africa have decided to place allegiance to the past before the security of their future. Once again, though I dearly hope to be wrong, your party – with you as its leader – will enjoy unmatched formal and informal control over this nation’s power. As it’s leader, you will bear a large part of the responsibility for where the ANC, and with it all of us, will go in the next five years. And so it is to you that what I say next is addressed. I am not asking that you govern fairly and responsibly as the next president of the Republic. You have illustrated on many occasions up to this point that this will not happen, and I am not so naive as to believe that the moral rot that has transformed the party of Nelson Mandela into the party of Jacob Zuma will be excised any time soon.

I, like many others for whom I believe I speak, have somewhere along the years traded faith in the government for faith in the courts. That when this government has failed to protect the innocent or uphold its obligations to treat the sick or assist those made homeless by removals or even to treat them equally, the courts have forced you to do so. Over the years, you see, more and more of us who believed in what 1994 represented have come to see our highest courts – more precisely, our Constitutional Court – as being the entity which embodies our notions of rights and constitutional values. Perversely, we no longer expect to see in the state those qualities which defined what we were going to be proud to become.

As your party has continued over the years to dismantle opposition to your will, regardless of the consequences to the principles on which this young country was founded, you have done harm beyond the simple vices of corruption matched with unopposed power. You have begun to poison what was the dream of the New South Africa, turning it from an experiment in the limits of fundamental human good to the realisation of the effects of the darkest parts of human ambition.

There is, however, a limit to this. What you may not yet have realised, but will become manifest if you continue as you have – is that you are the rulers of a land of patriots. Not to your government, which makes a mockery of respect for human rights, but patriot to a higher ideal of how a good and just society should be. Just as the end of Apartheid illustrated the realisation of that regime that this is a land of people who will not be crushed for the concentration of power inthe hands of a few, so must the ANC realise that its path of abusing the masses for its own selfish gain cannot continue forever and without consequence.

You move now into a time where a million lines are drawn in the sand before you. How many you are willing to push your party through will be a measure of your legacy and its consequences. Mine is the independence of the Constitutional Court. When you destroy that, as you obliquely threaten to do, then I will make the choice to leave this country, or to stand and fight you through whatever just means remain. There are many millions of others watching you Mr Zuma. With many millions of lines. Many are based on principle, on the integrity of the institutions that keep your party’s desire for absolute control in check. Many more are simple lines, of wanting a house to sleep in, a decent job and enough to eat. Every line in the sand that ANC has crossed, every line that it will be crossing in the time ahead, is of little consequence alone. But cross too many of us, and you will find consequences.

And so this letter is my little voice to tell you that we live in this country too. And that we have our lines in the sand. And they matter.

And don’t you dare cross mine.