In this piece, Karen Jayes of CAGE Africa examines Cameron’s ‘extremist’ speech which was made last month, which bears many resemblances to PW Botha’s disastrous 1985 ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ diatribe which brought on South Africa’s second State of Emergency.

PW Botha’s ‘Crossing the Rubicon’ speech– a reference to Julius Caesar’s march across the Rubicon River in Italy, from which sprang the Roman Empire and the genesis of modern European culture – was delivered on 15 August 1985 in Durban, South Africa to an international audience of over 200 million.

When Botha took to the stand it was after months of deliberation and advice revolving around the need to recognise black human dignity, eradicate discrimination and create real tangible equal opportunities as a solution to South Africa’s spiraling violence, international isolation and dire economic status.

In the same manner that Prime Minister David Cameron has brushed aside advice from former police chiefs, MI5 and MI6, as well as many civil liberties groups, of the dangers of the government’s counter-terrorism programme’s blanket definition of ‘extremism’ and its securitised top-down approach to countering political violence, Botha chose to ignore advice to put South Africa on the road to a representative government once and for all.

Cameron’s simplistic insistence on ideology as a motivator of political violence, as opposed to giving due credence to the real socio-political grievances over Britain’s domestic and international policies, bears strong parallels to Botha’s head-in-the-sand approach to the real causes of political violence in South Africa: the government’s ongoing violence towards those who struggled for black liberation, its detention-without trial and torture of political activists, and its assassinations of liberation leaders.

The result of Botha’s speech was disastrous for South Africa. The currency plummeted and political violence increased. A second State of Emergency – a permanent securitised state reserved for periods of war – was declared and extended throughout the country.
A closer examination of both speeches shows some striking resemblances.


Cameron: It begins – it must begin – by understanding the threat we face and why we face it. What we are fighting, in Islamist extremism, is an ideology. It is an extreme doctrine. And like any extreme doctrine, it is subversive. At its furthest end it seeks to destroy nation-states to invent its own barbaric realm. … 


Botha: We can ill afford the irresponsibilities and destructive actions of barbaric Communist agitators and even murderers … Our enemies-both within and without-seek to divide our peoples. They seek to create unbridgeable differences between us to prevent us from negotiating peaceful solutions to our problems.


Botha and Cameron have identified in the ‘enemy’ – an ideology that threatens the very fabric of life. This ideology is cast as a monster, voluminous and ever-morphing, both violent and non-violent. The only solution to defeating it is to hammer down into the thought processes of those who are the government deems are ‘at risk’ of absorbing it.


Botha’s singling out of ‘communism’, like Cameron’s targeting of ‘extremism’, cast a blanket over all those who aired grievances and spoke or acted in ways that betrayed a desire for change. Association with organisations that advocated for change meant risking being branded a ‘communist’, ‘traitor’ and even a ‘terrorist’. The policing of this was near impossible – and eventually failed – a lesson that proponents of thought policing strategies such as PREVENT would do well to consider.


Cameron: So when people say “it’s because of the involvement in the Iraq War that people are attacking the West”, we should remind them: 9/11 – the biggest loss of life of British citizens in a terrorist attack – happened before the Iraq War. 


Botha: The Party must also deal with the heritage of history. Certain situations in this country were created by history and not by other national parties… We know that … it will not be possible to accommodate the political aspirations of our various population groups and communities in a known defined political system, because our problems are unique.


In the same way that Botha consigns the blame for political violence, to ‘history’ and ‘communist agitators’ and – laughably – South Africa’s ‘unique’ character, Cameron too, shirks his government’s responsibility in contributing to an atmosphere where Muslims in particular feel that their government’s foreign and domestic policies are at odds with their own ideals.


The Iraq war, the continuing occupation of Palestine, the disastrous Syrian interventions, as well as many other conflicts between the West and the Muslim world prior to 9/11, fuel a grievance-based world view that, when unchallenged by representative leadership, open dialogue and debate, is prone to be drawn to political violence.


In their hypocrisy, both leaders fail to acknowledge the inimitable links between their own government’s policies and the grievances of large sectors of the population.


Cameron: When they say that these are wronged Muslims getting revenge on their Western wrongdoers, let’s remind them: from Kosovo to Somalia, countries like Britain have stepped in to save Muslim people from massacres – it’s groups like ISIL, Al Qaeda and Boko Haram that are the ones murdering Muslims.


Botha: The Party stands for the just and equal treatment of all parts of South Africa, and for the impartial maintenance of the rights and privileges of every section of the population. But, the Party must also deal with the heritage of history … I know for a fact that most leaders in their own right in South Africa and reasonable South Africans will not accept the principle of one-man-one-vote in a unitary system.


More hypocrisy. Botha lies outrightly – the National Party’s policies on education, business, land ownership and human relationships themselves favoured whites over others. This is a self-evident fact. Cameron, too, has not considered that the involvement of Britain in Kosovo and Somalia took place after the worst atrocities against Muslims had already occurred, and often resulted in a status quo in those countries that did not reflect the aspirations of local populations, but rather erred to the West. Instead of taking a long hard look at their own policies, both leaders point the finger at others and deny the voices of many calling for change.


Cameron: We need to put out of action the key extremist influencers who are careful to operate just inside the law, but who clearly detest British society and everything we stand for. 


Botha: Their actions speak louder than their words. Their words offer ready panaceas such as one-man-one-vote, freedom and justice for all. Their actions leave no doubt that the freedoms that we already have-together with the ongoing extension of democracy in South Africa-are the true targets of their violence.


Ah, fanning fear again. Here both leaders resort to harping on about the dangers of elements of society that operate within the law, those which call for due process and adherence to justice. Even these people, audiences are led to believe, are a danger. But attacking legitimate forms of dissent betrays a dangerous desire to silence it.


Cameron: Now the third plank of our strategy is to embolden different voices within the Muslim community. Just as we do not engage with extremist groups and individuals, we’re now going to actively encourage the reforming and moderate Muslim voices. 


Botha: How do we build a better future out of cultures, values, languages which are demonstrably real in our heterogeneous society? We are resolved, we are committed, to do so in two fundamental ways. Firstly-by letting the people speak. By letting the people speak through their leaders.


Botha, like Cameron, chose ‘leaders’ that were unrepresentative of the majority of the population, and which many perceived as sell-outs. Some of these leaders even came forward as part of the post-apartheid Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings to own up to their betrayals, some of which resulted in the imprisonment of activists and leaders. In the same way, Cameron’s choice of ‘leaders’ in the neo-conservative Quilliam Foundation, are questionable for their willingness to defer to the government’s line.


Cameron: I also want to issue a challenge to the broadcasters in our country. You are, of course, free to put whoever you want on the airwaves. But there are a huge number of Muslims in our country who have a proper claim to represent liberal values in local communities … so do consider giving them the platform they deserve. I know other voices may make for more explosive television – but please exercise your judgement, and do recognise the huge power you have in shaping these debates in a positive ways.


Botha: I have a specific question I would like to put to the media in South Africa: How do they explain the fact that they are always present, with cameras et cetera, at places where violence takes place? Are there people from the revolutionary elements who inform them to be ready? Or are there perhaps representatives of the reactionary groups in the ranks of certain media? My question to you is this: Whose interests do you serve-those of South Africa or those of the revolutionary elements? South Africa must know, our life is at stake.


Cameron’s advice to the media is a warning sign, a direct threat to the delicate and vital independence of the media that is a tenet of British society. Perhaps the Prime Minister needs to read up a bit on fundamental British values? Botha’s outright attack is the next step on the government own ‘extremism’ ladder.


Cameron: We need the police to step up and not stand by as crimes take place. We need universities to stand up against extremism; broadcasters to give platforms to different voices; and internet service providers to do their bit too. Together, we can do this. 


Botha: I believe that we are today crossing the Rubicon. There can be no turning back. We now have a manifesto for the future of our country, and we must embark on a programme of positive action in the months and years that lie ahead. The challenges we face call for all concerned to negotiate in a spirit of give and take. With mutual goodwill we shall reach our destination peacefully.


Cameron’s round up of counter-extremism policy is a call to the security establishment, media and academia to march in line with government orders. It is in no small way a call to ‘extremism’ of a different sort: the denial of the legitimate grievances of Muslims in relation to British domestic and foreign policy; the shirking of responsibility for the security establishment’s role in contributing to political violence rather than countering it; and a thinly veiled threat to academia and the media to co-operate.


Like the National Party’s disastrous apartheid policies, these actions are cloaked in a veil of ‘positive action’, but his speech is a call for ‘mutual goodwill’ that through its alienating language and scare strategies, is in itself really full of malice.


‘Extremism’ for Cameron unambiguously singles out Muslims for discrimination no differently to the way in which black South Africans were singled out for discrimination under apartheid.  The grounds of discrimination under apartheid was race and under Cameron, it is a religious barometer defined solely by his government. Their tacks are the same.


The ex-prime minister of South Africa said that, in this relentless march into tragedy, ‘there can be no turning back’, but South Africa managed to turn itself around from the brink of full blown societal violence, through negotiation and dialogue and an acknowledgement of truly representative leaders, an end to harassment, detention and torture, and an approach that relied on the fundamental setting down of the rule of law based on international human rights treatises and its application to all.

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