Friday, 14 November 2014

Circus in Parliament


If the Speaker of the National Assembly, Baleka Mbethe, knows how to recognise defeat, she would fan an excuse to resign from her position. Now is the time for her to follow her name and run.

Better still, if the ruling party knows how to abate disaster, it would encourage the Speaker to fall on her sword. It is clear she does not have the acumen for the cut-and-thrust of parliamentary robust debating. And she is blatantly bias in her rulings.

Ms Mbete’s dilemma, though a national chairperson (an innocuous position with no real powers) of the ruling party, has no support base. She is there on good graces of powerful individuals within the ruling party’s executive. Thus she has no real power, and she knows this, which is why she has to do everything in her power in parliament to follow the prescriptions of Luthuli House. Since her demotion from being an interim deputy president her clout has been diminishing in real time, especially through a televised parliamentary revolution.Her demise has long been in the making though.

No one can deny the fact that the parliament of the Republic of South Africa is rendered a mere rubber stamp platform by the system of democratic party politics.  This system dictates that members of South African parliament be chosen by their respective parties. The party chooses these based on proportionality of votes received from different provinces, meaning some modicum of constituency representative is maintained. Still, the party choses the names based on party list, submitted by its provincial structures, not the respective constituencies. This means that the members of parliament are more accountable to the party than any particular constituency.

There is no shortage of criticism of South African parliamentary system. Its failings are blatant when MPs have to vote in parliament. It is almost unheard of for them to vote against their party lines regardless of their persuasions on the matter on the table. The last it happened was with the highly independent mind of the Economics professor, Liberation struggle veteran and former MP of the ANC, Ben Turok. He voted against the protection of state information bill against his party directive. For his daring adventure his party threatened him with disciplinary action and expulsion.

Before the arrival of the new kids on the block, Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), parliament was a retirement village for party loyalist and Liberation struggle heroes who attended minimal required sessions, and mostly slept their way through the proceedings. With all its faults the EFF has managed to inject some livelihood into the House of parliament. The only problem now is that, where parliament used to be a rubber stamp under Mandela, a silent House of fear and loathing under Mbeki, it has now becoming something of sheeben roundtable discussions and a clown's den kindergarden playground.

The EFF fiery leaders, former ANC Youth League leaders, and scorned president Zuma allies, conduct the business of parliament in a juvenile defiant spirit. They use the house as a platform for political point scoring rather than a place for contesting legislation. Julius Malema's second in Command, Floyd Shivambu (EFF Chief Whip) - they call themselves Commissars - has even a stronger provocative tongue and rude gestures that disfigure parliamentary debate with filth.

Albeit, EFF learnt to be savvy quickly on parliamentary rules after being caught up on several occasions by issues of procedure in the beginning. They now try to use parliamentary rules to subvert its procedures. Twice they have grounded parliament to a deadlock necessitating the abandonment of its sessions. Many times they have been thrown out of the House for errant behaviour. There are also reported scuffles between EFF MPs and the boer FFP (Freedom Front Plus) that occasionally verge on fist fights.

Things took on an alarming turn when the EFF got dissatisfied with president Zuma's reply to their question about when was he paying back the taxpayer's money wrongly used to renovate his private house. The recommendation was made by the sterling Public Protector, Thuli Madonsels, who insisted the president pay back a portion of of R246 million spend on his private residence in Nkandla on pretense of beefing up his security measures.

The president gave his usual wishy-washy answer to the EFF question, giggling in nervousness to hide his irritation. Instead of playing by decorum of parliament the EFF harried, refusing to accept the evasive tricks of the president. They started chanting: 'Pay Back The Money' within the House, joined by some amused opposition MPs to the irritation of the ruling party MPs. What happened next is best described by South African journalist and political commentator, Ranjeni Munusamy:

"For a few minutes, South Africa was on the brink of something truly horrendous. Had the riot police tried to remove the EFF from the House, all hell would have broken loose. The EFF would have resisted, and the public order policing unit, not known for their restraint, would have used force. Here's the big problem for whomever it was who called in the riot police to deal with a political battle and protect the president from having to answer difficult questions in Parliament: the Constitution of the Republic prohibits the arrest of any Member of Parliament for ‘anything they have said in, produced before or submitted to the Assembly or any of its committees'. Essentially, the police would have violated the Constitution had they gone ahead with the operation."

Sensibly the police refused to be dragged into the mess, perhaps recalling that the last time they were used to settle political scores thirty-four miners died in Marikana. During the excitement the president was snatched off parliament by the security police and the parliamentary session abandoned. The Speaker's cancellation of that session gave ample excuse for the president to evade answering the Question.

The lame official opposition party of pseudo liberals, the DA (Democratic Alliance), is itself showing signs of learning by necessity from the EFF.  Having realise that moderation is poor magnet for populist politics it is now adopting political stunts to hijack prominence. In imitation of impotent activity, it led the coalition of the opposition parties in discordant complaints that resulted in tabling a motion of no confidence in the Speaker of parliament. The major argument was that she was biased in her rulings, which is true and everybody knows.

On its part the EFF made an unconstitutional demand that the Speaker be elected from retired judges of the South African High courts. Needless to say, after much jiving around within the House, the motion was defeated because the ANC holds a majority. In fact, The opposition parties, led by the Obamesque young inexperienced DA Leader of Parliament, Mmusi Maimane, took its toys and went home in a tantrum, never even getting to vote on the motion, which probably was the intention all along, because the stunt was about getting prime media space.

Mr Maimane is skillfully fluent with a prevaricating intellect from ideologically somersaults he has to perform in trying to attract black votes into a white conservative party with liberal delusions. Where Malema is roguish Maimane is suave, but the EFF leader, being a street fighter, is much more of a  wily opponent the ruling party loves to loath.

The rumble and jungle of EFF style of politics entertains the public. Some see in it the workings of a limping democracy.  Whatever the case, at least the demand for the parliamentary channel has rocketed since the EFF came along, prompting another debate about why the public's constitutional right of being informed of parliamentary proceedings had been auctioned to private Pay TV company. The simple answer is that our politics have been hijacked by profit making imperatives, dragging us, slowly but surely, towards the American style of rule by plutocracy.

The actual achievement of the fifth parliament since its inception tells a story of under achievement in actual legislative business of parliament. But who is complaining? The public might not have much bread on their tables, but there's no shortage of circus from the ruling elite.

For one, the opposition parties had walked out, under vague circumstances, of the ad hoc committee dealing with Nkandla security upgrades, thus giving members of the committee from the ruling party to easy opportunity to rig the acquittal of the president. Thinking they had killed the snake members of the ruling party presented their finding to the house for rubber stamping. But the snake was only stunned, members of the DA and EFF engaged in a roguish behaviour, trying to filibuster the proceedings for more than seven hours. The tact, of course, failed.

Eventually the riot police were called inside parliament to remove an opposition party member who was defying the orders of the deputy speaker. When the police entered the National Assebly everyone, but members of the ruling party, knew a Rubicon had been crossed towards dismantling the sacred tenets of our constitutional democracy. This would either, raise the standard of revolt, or cower it down towards a police state.

DA members, in particular, made to protect the member of the EFF to an extent of exchanging blows with the police. But they realised it was a lost cause, so packed their bags to follow her as she was being escorted outside, perhaps preferring the company of Cato in jail to the unconstitutional honours of the house of parliament defiled by Caesar entering the gates of Rome in security force regalia.

The chief whips had to throw down the gauntlet and parliament adjourned early in the evening. With that the bankruptcy of parliament’s old order was exposed.

Strangely enough, the public watched all this in shock, not all amused this time, nor were they entertained with rude, thuggish behaviour of hourable members whom they now regard as being so called to the general misfortune of the republic.

One thing is certain, under the current Speaker, the National Assembly is operating under extreme obstructionist mode. She has a sore and irascible inferiority complex that makes it impossible for her to moderate proceedings in a fair and unbiased manner. Most of the time she gives an impression that she consults her cups before making crucial rulings.

Indeed wolf whistling from opposition benches in the fifth parliament has become endemic, but that is the nature of parliamentary democracy under overheating political atmosphere. She is not fit for its purpose. Obviously she thought, wrongly, the chair would be a comfortable warm one to bolster her fading influence. Now that she has found how wrong she was its time to run if she wants to maintain the modicum of decency she still has.

Indeed it is an over simplification to put the misfortunes of parliament only in the incompetences of the Speaker, but when the driver is drunk on the wheel the passengers tend to feel motion sickness. Once you arrest the driver you have more opportunity to notice the louts. As it is now everybody is hurled hither and thither in an expensive jolly ride display of bad manners at the expense of taxpayers.


Wednesday, 12 June 2013

The Kaka Revolution

 In ancient Greece Kakistocracy meant government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens, but this has taken a different meaning in the Western Capesince faeces started being thrown at politicians and government institutions.

About 80 000 households in the City of Cape Town lack access to basic sanitation. Almost all of these denizens reside in informal areas on the city outskirts of black townships. The City resolved to provide them with PFT (Portable Flush Toilets). 

But people like those in RR informal settlement in Khayelitsha, who has about 4 000 households who needs access to basic sanitation, refused the PFTs (only 400 of them agreed to take them). They cited that they are the same system as the Bucket system – the waste product still needs to be collected. And with all the chemicals, the faeces smell is terrible after two days.

Ther’s no question that PFTs do not advance the human dignity of our people. Most people, especially males, will not be caught dead taking a dump in these ‘potties’ inside the house, with all its accompanying indignity of loss of privacy before their kids and all, so will rather risk going to the wild. Worse still, the PFTs leak and are sometimes not picked up for weeks, or their containers are not returned.

From the audit recently done by SJC (Social Justice Coalition) we know that the City of Cape Town does not have a monitoring system for the providence of these toilets. The audit revealed that the outsourced providers of chemical toilets are failing to deliver on their contracts with the City, like collecting the waste weekly as agreed upon. And that the City’s monitoring and maintenance plan is currently in tatters.  

SJC also mentioned the fact that the City has a Community Engagements problem.  This, I presume, is what prompted mayor Patricia De Lille to go around these communities, checking the situation for herself, which has made her vulnerable to political opportunists who have been following her with ‘turd missiles’, pouring the contents on of PTFs on venues she is speaking at.

It didn't help that mayor De Lille went about the media with a patronising tone that the people prefer the bucket system to toilets. Meantime the community had asked the City to first erect small structures where the PFTs will be mounted and used for each household.  They were prepared to take the PFTs if these conditions were met.

Zak Mbhele, the Premier’s Spokesperson in the Western Cape, recently wrote yet another condescending opinion piece in the Cape Argus, basically putting all the blame for the ‘Kaka Revolution’ on the ANCYL. This is, of course, the DA’s MO once it is caught wanting; blame it on the Youth League and the Third Force, or is it Turd Force now. 

Speculations of trying to make the DA administered city ungovernable are thrown around. We've seen it during the Farm Worker strikes, we have seen it during almost all Service Delivery protests. Even if they are partially correct, this political opportunism does not take away anything from the legitimate rights of people whose only concerns is to get proper sanitation and prevent their children from unnecessary death.

It is good that, for whatever reasons, that the issue of sanitation is back on our headlines. Sanitation is something most of us take for granted. If we had our priorities right, no government will think of investing in anything before it invests on the health of its people, and sanitation is at the center of the health of the people.

We travel everyday through N2 looking at people doing what is called ‘open defecation’. We look at it with disgust. We say they are behaving like animals. We never think about what choices they have. We are looking at them from the perspective of our flushed and plumed world.

Diarrhea is the second killer of children worldwide. It kills more children than HIV, TB, Measles combined. It’s a weapon of mass destruction, and 98% cases of diarrhea come from poor people who stay in Informal houses.

I see nothing wrong if the mayor and the Premier can’t go anywhere without being reminded of the shitty conditions our people live under. The chance, and my wish, is that this ‘Kaka Revolution’ will spread to other provinces also, especially the Free State and Eastern Cape where they still have a bucket systems in use. 

Perhaps then we will open our eyes to the unnecessary tragedy of losing children through diarrhea related disease, because our politicians think building multimillion stadiums is more important than the primary health of our people.

As for Mr. Mbhele, who has entrenched himself on DA’s poached ‘struggle credentials’,  I would like to remind that it is not a ‘false narrative’ sir that the DA government does not care about the poor. Your government does not give a damn what happens in the townships unless it spills over to the N2.  Then, because it affects your constituency driving to the airport, Stellenbosch, Somerset West, Gordon’s Bay, etc, you deploy massive Cape Metro cops to form a barricading wall between the township and the freeway. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that people are daily being attacked at R300 at night, their cars being hijacked and damaged. But no Cape Metro police have been deployed to protect them. Why? Because it’s mostly black people who use that road. Instead when people plan to march about it the Premier tweets false information that the Youth League is planning another strike towards making the city ungovernable.

When the community of Camps Bay was under attack from organized criminal element that were breaking into their houses a special Task Force was deployed there within three weeks. Athlone has been under similar operation from the organized criminal element hardly anything has been done about for months. 

Crime is made into a priority only when it affects the rich and mostly white, like squadrons of police that are deployed along N2 at a slightest provocation & protest.

The truth of the matter is that we are caught between a hard place and the rock between the ANC and the DA. One is concerned with taking us into black led plutocracy with endemic signs of corruption. And the other is running a sophisticated elitists and racist government whose design is to maintain the status quo that was inherited from the apartheid regime. Yet the DA acts surprised when the majority of black people think it is bringing apartheid by the back door.  

What do you call branding people from the Eastern Cape as refugees if not Apartheid Policy of Separate Development? What is behind driving black (Indians, Coloureds and Africans) people out of the province, and then complaining about scarcity of black skilled and educated in the province. 

Four years ago in the Western Cape, Head of Departments statistics were as follows: Coloured (50%); Africans (16.6%); Whites (16.6%); women constituted 25% of HOD’s. When the DA took over power in 2009 this stats changed to this: Whites (62%); Coloured (30.7%), Africans (7.6%); women 23%. Black people are not fit for purpose under the DA, they are either corrupt or incompetent. That's exactly the same thinking that engrossed Verwoerd and Botha.

All these things are a clear indication that the DA wants to take us back to the apartheid era. The only difference and irony is that it now wants to oppress black people with the help and through the vote of black people.

This nonsense also of raising Conspiracy theories whenever one is confounded by a situation they have no answer to is a symptom a failing government. The ANC during Mbeki second term liked this, and this is the period the wall papered cracks in our national dialogue were beginning to be glaring. Now we see the same in the DA. Opportunism is within the nature of politics, and there will always be people who would use your failures for their own vested interests. But does that mean we must explain everything with Conspiracy theories? ANC Councillor houses get burnt in the township, sometimes within the crowds are people wearing DA t-shirts. Has the ANC ever accused the DA for trying to render the country ungovernable because of that?

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

The Spear, The Smear & The Fear

We are all familiar with Voltaire’s frequently cited saying about defending your opponent’s right to say even what you strongly disagree with your life. This is why I think Brett Murray’s picture, The Spear, should not have been vandalized even though I feel it distasteful and borders very closely to hate speech.

My understanding of hate speech is the use of words or symbols that are deliberately abusive and/or insulting and/or threatening and/or demeaning directed at those you disagree with, calculated to stir up hatred against and/or ridicule them.

Other’s think Murray’s picture is just a prank, or satire designed to make a moral point? I understand their point of view even though I disagree with it. After all obscene speech is not always offensive to all people because it depends on how you receive it, according to your lights, or the baggage you carry. But obscene speech pollute our intellectual environment, thus should be restricted in public space, especially when there’s a strong possibility it would breach the peace.

Liberal thinking (our Constitution leans more that way) tends to be overprotective of speech that causes harm to the freedom/dignity of minority groups but careless of it when directed to the majority, that is beyond the obvious rights of democracy.

For instance, were you at any given time and corner to conduct a survey about how South Africans feel about homosexuality, you would find that the majority are strongly against it and regard it as being abnormal. Our Constitution, rightfully so in my opinion, protects freedom of sexual orientation. But it can be argued that it does not protect the majority’s choice to feel offended by homosexuality as abnormal.

This is because in what in liberal or what is termed progressive thinking, homosexuality is regarded as being natural. Most Africans don’t think so even if, thankfully, most of them are not homophobes –save incidents of bigotry and violent intolerance against lesbians (which is more about ignorant bruised machismo than homophobia).

The point I’m trying to make is that freedom of choice in our Constitution does not take sufficient consideration of the majority rights to be protected from bullying tactics of a cunning minority, while it is extra sensitive and vigilant in the protection of those rights for the minority.

This is not necessary a bad think, especially when we consider the world history where the minorities have horribly suffered under the hand of the majority. But in South Africa the opposite has been the case. The majority has for far too long suffered under the hands of the minority, yet our Constitution acts as if the opposite is the case. Why?

The majority was never consulted in the drafting of our Constitution, while the minority had an inordinate influence on the process, and naturally were vigilant in guarding against the abuses by the majority. Thus you sometimes get this scenario where the so called freedom of expression of the supposedly enlightened minority diminishes to suppression the voice of the majority. This endangers public peace in the sense that a suppressed majority tend to resort to violence to make their point. Chaos ensues, and the minority are left dumbfounded as to what wrong has been committed.

Also, the minority group of this country, which is influential in intellectual and economic sense, has never bothered with trying to understand, accommodate or be sympathetic to the majority’s gestalt. They assume theirs is the more enlightened view, and expect the ‘savage’ majority to tow their line. This is a dangerous attitude coming from the sophisticated ignorance of liberalism.

Of course the Constitution is a living document designed to serve and influence our best values. But what happens when the majority loses respect for the Constitution because they feel it does not respect nor serve their values? Or that it is designed to undermine the gains of democracy? That’s a potential explosive situation.

The African American and the Advisory Counsel of the President of Ghana likes to say; “you are not an African because you are born in Africa, you are an African when Africa is born in you”. Africa has never been born into the majority minority of our country. This is the crutch of the matter that feeds the yawning gap that is drawn in racial lines in our country.

Having said that all of that, protecting people from offense, and protecting their dignity are two different things. The fact that members of the majority may be justifiably outraged by hate speech is not a sufficient justification for censorship. But as citizens in a civil society, we are entitled to be treated with respect in the choices we make. Such dignity is precisely what hate speech laws should protect.

The distinction between protecting from offense and protecting individual dignity parries the thrust of our Bill of Rights. The offensive character of a message does not provide an acceptable justification for official censorship. But it raises questions about the precise dimensions of the category of expression that would prohibit and how to decide cases on the border of that category.

For example, many among the minority group regard Murray’s painting as a critique of post 1994 ANC politics rather than a libel to the person of Jacob Zuma. The opposite is true for the majority. To me it is a question of judgment whether this is an attack on the ANC as well as an attack on the person of Jacob Zuma. But where there are fine lines like these to be drawn I prefer the law to generally stay on the liberal side of them.

Hence I’m against censorship in this case, and the unfortunate acts of intimidation even though I feel offended and outraged by the picture. So I’m with Voltaire on this one. I would protect with my life Murray’s rights to be distasteful and/or offensive so long as it does not fall into hate speech.

I would like to remind those who think it was correct to haul down the picture to maintain public peace that this only serves to encourage the bullies, and forms a dangerous precedent. Public order means more than just the absence of fighting: it includes the peaceful order of civil society and the dignitary order of people interacting with one another with mutual respect, and this includes the offended. Above all, it conveys a principle of inclusion and a rejection of the calumnies that tend to isolate and exclude not only vulnerable minorities but the voiceless majority also. We desperately need to learn to disagree without being disagreeable.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Lessons from the African Arabic Front

As I watched the historical protests on the TV news about the Arabic African states like Tunisia and Egypt I was reminded of how thin the nature of political authority really is, and how simple to arrive at the democratic dispensation when the will of the people asserts itself.

It also became clear to me that this sclerotic state of affairs in African politics is pervasive, not limited by party, region, ethnicity, or other demographic factors, and reminded me of the poet-prophet who walked the imperial city of London about 200 years ago wondering about the fettering chains of self-imprisonment. This led him to write the poem, London.

I wonder what William Blake would say now as he watched the people of Tunisia and Egypt throw away their chains. Would he be stunned by what he sees and feels - human misery everywhere: " ... mark in every face I meet / Marks of weakness, marks of woe." I often get the same feeling as I walk the teeming and sewerage drenched streets of Phillipi, or Enkanini (one of the shack areas of Khayelitsha).

People Blake saw as miserable were in large part because their minds were radically restricted by oppressive ways of thinking; victims of "mind-forg'd manacles," imprisoned by their own mental limits and the limits imposed upon them by others. In essence this is what the people of Tunisia and Egypt are throwing away. It even looks ridiculously simple; rising up all of a sudden after a docile period to concerted efforts to gain their political and individual freedom. And the right to exercise real democratic control over their future, rejecting all delaying tactics of leaders whose mandates has run out. It tells a story of emancipation as old as mankind of people - people who had accepted inhumane conditions from their rulers for so long, suddenly taking extraordinary risks to say enough is enough.

In our country things are slightly different. We saw the Sharpeville massacre lead to June 16 - people rising up to take the responsibility of their own liberation into their own hands. Even then, despite popular lies now, it was the handful, the rest wanted and continued with their mundane lives under the oppressive regime.

We also saw the second wave of in post liberation struggle, during the formation of the Congress of the People (Cope) - people coming into grief with the failures of the new government trying to find a frame work to structure their grievances. We are seeing it now in the nascent agitations of political parties like Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) and Cope, where the majority of the supporters reel against the expired leadership that wants to hold on to power by hook and by crook beyond their allocated mandate, and in the process creating conditions of chaos so long as they extend their tenure illegitimately.

The contemporary struggle, seen here and in places like Tunisia and Egypt, is diffusing the imprisonment of the majority by the elite few, be they of the ruling or capitalist class. As such we may be subjected to "the troubled air that rages" because the elites never surrender willingly power unless it is taken from them through a revolution.

Modern revolutions, as we are witnessing, take different forms: the so-called Facebook revolution in Tunisia; Virgil revolution in Egypt, Internal implosion in our political parties. What they have in common is giving ability to the people to effectively raise their voices against the suppressive elites.

What Africa is slowly realising is that the liberation we believed to be our political redemption has become little more than a veneer for the same forces which we decried. The oppressive "kings and nobles of the land" have simply exchanged clothes with our liberators. Hence the "perfect storm" the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was talking about when she urged Middle East leaders to embrace democratic reforms. She told an international security conference in Munich that there was a "perfect storm" which made democratic change a "strategic necessity".

The "perfect storm" can be interpreted as a self designed constitutional crisis in Ivory Coast and a political party like Cope. Where the ruling parties usually rely on state security power to promote their tenures, the political parties like Cope rely on their official structures to manipulate for the antics of expired leadership to hold on to power indefinitely, and to disorientate the general public by promoting an agenda of revitalising the expired authority. But, as we are now seeing, in the end it all works out to incentivise protests that expose the sheer hollowness and illegitimacy of these leaders.

Those who look for ideological rhetoric to underpin the current agitations in our continent are misled and misinformed. The overriding ideology here is the will of the people and their dissatisfaction with the status quo of their respective leaders. The agitations themselves are a people's vote of no confidence in the ability of the given leaders to guide, or even make a meaningfully impact in the lives of their countries or parties.

It is no coincidence that leaders who do not have the backing of the numbers try to delay the inevitable through violence, chaos, endless postponements of elections, or refusing to accept their outcomes by relying on security forces or even running to the courts of laws to seek the authority they lack in the political democratic process. It is a sign of panic and impotence before the voice of democracy. But all this fear of democracy ever achieves is to tear and exposes the wisp veil of their illegitimacy.

Political leaders in Africa are largely isolated from the social spirit of their people. Hence they have to buy it through violence, chaos or material means. But what is becoming clear is that African politics are entering a maturing age where neither violence, chaos, manipulations, nor nostalgia for the past, etc, can be used to hold people down who want to be masters of their own fate.

Thursday, 08 April 2010

Why rock the boat?

Am I missing something here? If Zimbabwe, according to the Zimbabwean Herald, will one day be considered a “shinning example of Black Economic Empowerment” why are Zimbabweans leaving their country in droves? Or are they, in revolutionary language, counter-revolutionary.

“Wisdom should have convinced the white community in South Africa that they need to co-operate with the South African government to address the inequalities prevalent in that country,” the editorial read.

“In the same way that Zimbabweans got frustrated with the willing buyer-willing seller approach, the South Africans will also begin to take what is rightfully theirs by force if they see no progress in land redistribution."

The writer said that the fruits of Zimbabwe’s land reform programme were beginning to be seen.

“The huge payouts that new tobacco farmers are getting from the auction floors are transforming their lives.”

Zimbabwe was seen as the “bad apple” in the region led by a “delinquent leader” because it was dealing with the historic, social and economic injustices of over 100 years of colonial rule.

“But now the chickens are coming home to roost for South Africa.”

The writer found it sad that ANC Youth League president Julius Malema's call for redistribution of wealth was being "myopically dismissed by the whites in South Africa as madness on the part of Cde Malema".

"Yet his frustrations are widely shared across South Africa. Ominously, they point to the struggles for the control of resources that will soon be visiting that country."

Seemingly our comrades in Zimbabwe know more than most of us about what is in the offing in this country.

Recently I had a long discussion with my friend who is an ANC member. He confirmed to me that the wagon was on gear now. When I asked what he meant he alluded to Malema’s visit to Zimbabwe and rambled about China being the only ancient civilization in human history to have re-emerged as a major force in the world. “Africa is on that path.”

This got me thinking about China as the model of modern development.

To justify its monopoly on power, the Chinese’s Communist Party promised and delivered on constant economic growth. There was a lot of talk about patriotism—the Chinese version of the ideology of revolution when they want to be vague or hide something; as Democratic Revolution Movement is ours here.

Supporting the government, alias the Communist Party, is a patriotic act in China, and criticism of it is unpatriotic or, if done by a foreigner, is anti-Chinese. Of Big brother prefers the language of counter-revolutionary here; after our development is through the Soviet bloc, not the cultural veil for tragic politics that was Maoism.

Some people now in China, especially the educated and middle class live in extreme affluence, with a certain cosmopolitan style a Cape Townan suburban snob might find enviable. Capitalists are doing all right in post-1989 China. There’s money to be made, a lot of it, that is if you belong to a right clique, or are connected to the communist party pedigree; or if you rely on your own innovation you must know how to keep your mouth shut and “play the game”, as my friend put when trying to convince me to join their department.

I told my friend I don’t know to be anything else except myself, which is what mostly gets me into trouble. He told me I didn’t have to be shut up about my views; I just need to trim them to fit a bigger scheme of things. When I asked what was the bigger scheme of things he became evasive.

But I must give it to him, he seemed to have thought things through than I had suspected initially; and indeed China seem most likely to be their best model. I just wonder where would they find the technocrats to do all the work when they seem bent on chasing the best brains out of their organisation, or country for that matter. I don’t see Juju and his company as the technocratic types, and that is the group which should have been groomed and educated about a decade ago. They now should have been ready to take the positions of technical skill an interventionist state requires. Juju’s group prefers short-cuts, learning how grab, and they are not alone to blame, after all big brother has never really took the idea of development, educational and otherwise, too seriously. Unfortunately, as China can now boast, it is the only real thing that will turn things around. Perhaps Juju and his cabals should be sending students to study in China, late is better than never.

As it look now we would be in the near future then be ruled with a velvet glove when we behave, and an iron fist for those who refuse to “play the game”—no nice things for them, in Juju’s language.

There’s a lot of talk about Chinese people, especially in the rural areas, not being ready for democracy, that it may create chaos and mess. My understanding is that democracy is a messy thing because it is an aggregation of views and opinion to find the most popular. Ordinary people too, ignorant or otherwise, should have as much control over decision making of who must govern them, or how the national resources should be distributed. Of course this strikes at the heart of the authoritarianism, hence the talks of the party knowing what’s best for its people.

Dressing up authoritarianism by talks of patriotism or counter-revolutionarism does not hide the fact that you want people to subordinate their freedom. Others dress this subordination in cloaks of liberal grandeur like development. Why are modern parties so bent afraid of democracy and like to equate it with obedience rather than participation on the basis of equality? I don’t know. The best I can do perhaps is to end this with a quotation from Lasch as hear him scream on my head:

The people are busy–I’ve spent a lot of time around them. I’ve got a pretty good feel for this. Their jobs suck and they’re exhausted. When they get it together to do something amazing like build the CIO or create the Civil Rights movement, it’s a mitzvah composed of all kinds of things, especially incredibly tenacious, labor intensive organizing ... Some of them are wonderful, and some of them are awful, and most of them are in between–kind of like everybody else…. The world has always been a scary place, and it’s always been the fit though few who have undertaken to make stuff better. And, over time, they pick up some fellow travelers, and, oddly enough, things do get better.”

Others may see it strange that I’m very much interested in Lasch, but I think he was “attempt to provide a pedigree for a more radical, more democratic–and more consistent–brand of cultural conservatism,” one that combined economic leveling with traditional and local ways of life.

Things do get better; no thanks to any political party, only because people know exactly what is good for them and when. I trust the people, especially the ignorant ones because there’s far more wisdom sometimes in being ignorant than being clever. I distrust clever people, especially those with a political agenda.

Oh, I must go to sleep now. Paris has gone to sleep, grown tired of waiting for his mom who has just sms me that she’s just been awarded a crown of being the sexiest woman at Hout Bay—and women in Hout Bay are sexy, in an underrated kind of way that I like.

There’s growing wind, threatening to rock the boat. Outside the sea is dark, oily dark imposing a sense of mystery on things.

Lionel Trilling once quoted Charles PĆ©guy’s memorable adage in the Preface to The Liberal Imagination—“everything begins in mystery and ends in politics.”
Perhaps; but everything that ends in politics must eventually return to mystery, or tumble into irrelevance. The times! The times!

Wednesday, 07 April 2010

The Dangling man

As I read media reports of the president of the ANCYL going to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe to "study" and "learn" about nationalization from the failed state of Zimbabwe? [Zimbabwe, the classic case study of how to run a once thriving nation into the ground]. I’m thinking what a quick learning boy. After all birds of the same feather naturally flock together. He can export and import more politics of factionalism and hatred.

Also I hear the nazists leader of the AWB is dead, from the hand he refused to feed.

With all this I’m reminded of the biblical tail titled ‘the prodigal son’, where a son demands his inheritance from his father and go squander it with harlots and drunkards only to realise later on his left with nothing and forced to feed with swines.

That’s the feeling I get when I look to the new generations of the likes of Julius Malema, who never really fought for the fruits of liberation they’ve inherited. Like the prodigal son they’re spending its capital on hooliganism they call the revolution.

Most people are baffled as how is it possible that such an obvious buffoon can get away with so much and with seeming impunity. Well, I’m not really surprised, even pygmies, when standing on the shoulders of giants can destroy the vision of the nation, or at least block its view. What is needed is for those who can see through the internal light to nuture and share with others until the whole nation can see.

For those of us who grew up in the township during the early eighties are now again getting a sense of dejavu, of having been here before. We remember how the criminals hijacked the liberation struggle then for their ends, until our communities, through organisations like United Democratic Front and Black Conscious Movement, stood up to reclaim back their communities.

Then too the criminals and opportunists spoke the language of populists and liberation, but people eventually saw through them. The same is happening now. Nothing will change until we all become the change we want to see.

The best way to counteract the bad effects of populism, lawlessness and the eventual breakdown of the constitutionalist balance is not to be part of it. To be an example. Changing things is a myth where the rot has settled, the transparent bias in that case is always towards greater and deeper decay.

It is getting clear now that the best of what has been thought and said in the world is being lost to the vulgar, unfeeling, greedy, virtueless world of commerce, consumerism and politics. Of course in Malema’s suedo revolutionary language it called making history. They confuse history with dust raising.

History is never plotted, and its ramifications are complex. It might appear as though unfolding chaotically in a given political but when you dig deeper you see a strata of order in both its public and personal dimensions.

The chaos of history has its own galvanizing potential. Though seemingly prone to the vain it tends to be resistant to triumphal vulgarism and political chauvinism in the end. Perhaps it is of our advantage that the likes of Malema never realise this until it is too late for them. Their type can only learn against the rock and when they are no longer in the pedestal they fluked with shenanigans.

Helen has come in now. I must move away from this sterile topic and hard desk to try and recapture what is, at this stage, best about our lives. [We’re going to lunch at Noerdhoek, driving through the enchanting Chapman’s Peak. Isn’t it wonderful that we are still able to delve into the world's ordinary enchantment even under conditions of emotional intensity?

When I sat at this desk I was trying to catch the creative vein, rediscover my love for storytelling but was led astray by the flattening narrative of our time and a spike of emotional intensity as watch my country descend slowly into … (ah come on, these are no times to be despondent but to confront the strictures of our era with courage. I know enough about the history of this country to know this kind of things happens all the time, and no matter how long we dangle on the abyss we always find our way back].

I’ll have that glass of Sauvignon Blanc now, La Motte to be specific; after all I’m by now complete bourgeoisie.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

The land of Ulro: thinking through Milosz

The Prince of This World governs number.
The singular is the hidden God’s dominion ...

We were miserable, we used no more
than a hundredth part
of the gift we received for our long journey.

Moments from yesterday and from
centuries ago –
a sword blow, the painting of eyelashes
before a mirror
of polished metal, a lethal musket shot,
a caravel
staving its hull against a reef – they dwell in us,
waiting for a fulfillment.

I knew, always, that I would be a worker in
the vineyard,
as are all men and women living at the
same time,
whether they were aware of it or not ...

Instead of leaving to theologians their worries, I have constantly meditated on religion ... To write on literature or art is considered an honourable occupation, whereas any time notions taken from the language of religion appeared, the one who brought them up is immediately treated as lacking in tact, as if a silent pact had been broken ...

They rage like wild beasts in the forests of affliction ... an urgent lament for the precipitous decline ...

My imperviousness to the usually rather shallow progressive-atheist arguments was like the chess-player’s contempt for cards ...

From Schopenhauer’s Godless, meaningless, ceaselessly cruel universe, in which the competitive struggle of the will to life delivers only suffering, there's no escape except in the paradoxical renunciation of the will by the will. The atheist philosopher wrote:

"Our state is originally and essentially an incurable one, and . . . we need deliverance from it . . . . Salvation is to be gained only through faith, in other words, through a changed way of knowledge. This faith can come only through grace, and hence as if from without."

The sceptical irony of the classicist is more attractive than the priest’s puritanism. Yet, what does it mean to be sufficiently well informed about Darwin if there are not rational grounds for an unaided human reason, and the gaps are glaring.

Ought I to try to explain “why I believe”? I don’t think so. It should suffice if I attempt to convey the colouring or tone. If I believed that man can do good with his own powers, I would have no interest in Christianity. But he cannot, because he is enslaved in his own predatory, domineering instincts, which we may call proprium , or self-love ... Still it does not mean man is helpless; any good that must be done in and through needs his / her openness to it and cooperation. Grace limits her work to man's intricacies. What all-powerful will limit omnipotence to the whims of a worm? Except, of course the God of love.

Human reasoning is limited, much more so than he rationalists realise. Here is placed the victory, that is, of the resurrected Christ. It confounds all powers of human reason. To conquer by death, human's ultimate failure? St Paul's foolishness of Christ's crucified.

All man of goodwill are staggering to their own victory through death, which, I suppose is essentially what is meant by redemption.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

I’ve heard an honour of travelling the length and breadth of our province (Western Cape) in the company of great men and women, most of whom like me they see in COPE a last beacon of hope for our people. Most of us, seeing the general anger of people against politicians, were concerned by what we see as the fire next time (James Baldwin) when the false promises of the Zuma Project become glaring; the social unrest that may occur in our country. Who’ll douse those flames when they flare?

Take the recent Karoo tour with the Western Cape Premier Candidate. As I was looking at the stabbing poverty of our people in towns like Beaufort West I felt like a phony, slamming it in and out of people’s difficult lives when a certain old lady, with disappointed eyes, took the premier candidate aside and said; “Boesak, I don’t want you to promise us anything; but I’m glad you came to see the kind of lives we are living.” Back on the air-conditioned car with dark windows I felt discouraged by the enormity of poverty and all. I looked back at the book I was reading, the lines I had underlined. At first they didn’t make much sense to me until later on:

One might almost imagine that there were no such thing as absolute truth, since a change of situation or temperament is capable of changing the whole force of an argument. We have been accustomed, even those of us who feel most, to look on the arguments for and against the system of slavery with the eyes of those who are at ease. We do not even know how fair is freedom, for we were always free. We shall never have all the materials for absolute truth on this subject, till we take into account, with our own views and reasonings, the views and reasonings of those who have bowed down to the yoke, and felt the iron enter into their souls. [Harriet Beecher Stowe, Dred: A Tale Of The Great Dismal Swamp (1856)]

I was listening to a political debate on the radio and felt we were busy arguing about who has done what, who can do what better than whom; meantime people are living hopelessly difficult lives. It’s not that our government does not have resources to ameliorate our people’s plight; it just that the money is in wrong hands of people who do not know how to spread it around and make people’s lives better. They’d rather it goes down back to the treasury than putting it to real use. Tell me then; how fair is freedom in that scenario? How can we leave with ourselves?

As I said, I felt discouraged. In my discouragement I put down my book, sent my vacant eyes to the naked poverty running on the township streets before turning to read Dr. Boesak’s, There’s never been a time like this speech: “Our hopes of yesterday are still there, but have become the disappointments of today. Our joys of yesterday in so many ways became the tears of today ... We’re here to say we have a new vision in which we can believe in, we are here to say we’re chiseling a new road that everyone can walk, a new home that can be a home for everyone. We’re here to say it is not too late; we are here to say we’ll not be ruled by fear, we’ll not be prescribed by hopelessness, and that we’ll not be hopeless. South Africa is our country; South Africa is not bound to failure, we’ve a God given calling to fulfill, and the time to fulfill that calling is now.”

I recalled that I still had my hopes and beliefs to give the people, and wrote it on my knee that I’ll never allow my leaders to forget this. I whispered in my heart for theirs to hear that the Congress of the People (COPE) will not only be a movement for the new era, with a commitment to putting its ear on the ground and basing its actions on the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, but it’ll be the vehicle of deliverance for their hopes. I said, yes COPE is a party that subscribe to democratic values while being sensitive to individual and minority rights, but it must be more; it must be the party of the people by the people through the people. COPE needs to enshrine as one of its founding principle that everyone has a right to decent life, liberty, prosperity, property, free speech, freedom of worship and assembly, and equality before the law. And COPE must believe these rights to be fundamental. That they are not subjected to a vote, or depend on the outcome of electioneering and populism.

Having seen how easy it is to manipulate governing laws to suite the capricious and arbitrary power of the day, I recalled my enthusiasm and hopes at the Sandton Convention that historic November day. When we said we’ll no longer trust even in legislation if the the values and ideals espoused by it is not robustly followed, or does not become part of the very fabric of political process. When we saw the crossroad moment of the devaluation of our institutions of our freedom and civil liberty, for the promotion of the ascendancy to power of one man, and defense of his criminal allegation, we said not in our name.

“I’m telling you now; you’re part of this moment, part of this tidal wave of the future. You are part of this vision for hope we are offering the peoples of South Africa, a home where everyone is welcome, but we will go out and challenge this country, we will pick its people up; we will hold our hopes high, and let me tell you,: There was never a time like this.” COPE’s work has just only begun. Sometimes when an idea arrives at an opportune time, and finds right leadership, of progressive spirit, it acquires a force of inevitability. COPE is an idea whose time has come, hence, as Reverend Boesak would say: COPE is on the Roll.

Friday, 06 March 2009

Fire next time?

I’m surprised at those who criticize the Congress of the People (COPE) for choosing for its election strategy integrality, moral uprightness and ethical governance. What are they trying to say, that politics should be left to characters of moral dubiousness and corrupt tendencies? May be I’m taking the finger for the moon here, but isn’t the whole exercise of criticizing the venality of Tripartite Alliance politics about wishing for change and better run government? Or are we just barking at the moon to ridicule the ANC without any real end goal.

COPE in bringing Bishop Mvume Dandala as its election presidential candidate has put its money where the mouth is. This could not have been an easy decision for it’s already established leadership, but they showed signs of real leadership by putting aside personal aspirations for power for the good of the party, and ultimately the country. COPE also has shown that it shuns the easy path of attracting popular mediocrity by insisting upon the value of excellence and integrity, something not yet very popular with the black masses. By so doing it made its actions congruent to its words.

Our political life will remain both absurd and corrupt as long as long as the more excellent minds and upright characters are excluded from fruitful participation by the preponderance of mediocrities. Not that our country needs to be ruled by clerics and academics, but our political leadership needs to be in the hands of those who, by their well developed intellectual and moral abilities, are able to discern the common justice and universal good for us all. If these men are, by necessity of training, are to be found in intellectual and religious institutions, so be it.

The truth of the matter is that South African politics within the ruling party have fallen on evil days. They’ve been hijacked by men who have learnt to sublimate immorality into compound group and individual interests. Too much (in dissolving institutions that stand in their venial ways and try to change laws to suit their corrupt tendencies) already has been decided by those who are determined to make us a banana republic. Their weapon is providing bread and circus for the masses while creating ‘sclerotic society’, where the accretion of powerful vested interests robs the economy, thus the country, of its vitality. They care more about empty attachments to hereditary obsolete ideologies that are inimical to wealth-creation than making things work.

Those who officially opposed them up to now on the other radical hand tend to object to the revolutionary strain of socialism for the belief in economy that supposed to prosper when left to the free play of the market forces. Their head of steam is usually yoked to the programme of liberalism. They call their rule laissez-faire economics. There’s an impossibility they do not want to acknowledge, that of trying to build collectivist conclusions on individualistic premises. The buttress of laissez-faire is the necessity for unlimited private money-making as an incentive to maximum effort. The conclusion that individuals, acting independently for their own advantage, will produce the greatest aggregate of wealth is argued/purchased at the expense of facts.

COPE comes with an understanding that each age ought to determine for itself what the state can do, and what the individual must contribute towards the commonwealth of the nation. Private power must be subjected to democracy by decision-sharing, profit-sharing and wider share ownership of wealth. Call it Social Liberalism if you like, what’s important is that we must secure accountability from the government for the collective wealth coming from aggregated production while utilizing the technical private skill for public service also. Captains of the industry must be genially constrained by their undertaking to serve the public in wealth production. Organs of state must be run by qualified people with public service ethics who are professors, business managers, bankers, economists, scientists, etc.

COPE’s political philosophy is not just a compromise between politics of nationalism and liberalism; it involves so much more new ideas that are unfamiliar to both traditions. We can count the vetting of its parliamentary list by an independent panel as just but one example and fresh idea. In essence COPE is about real equality, fraternity, inclusiveness and democracy, and seeks to operate by organic unities that answer the challenges of the day. Call it Obama philosophy if you like, but the truth of the matter is that it is just what is demanded by the times. It is about paying attention to innate qualities of everything while doing away with what does not work.

It might seem, as we look at the Bills being passed in the US that Marx’s predictions are coming true, with Capitalism imploding from what he termed its internal contradictions. Marx was right to some degree when he said; "Owners of capital will stimulate the working class to buy more and more expensive goods, houses and technology, pushing them to take more and more expensive credits, until debt becomes unbearable. The unpaid debt will lead to the bankruptcy of banks, which will have to be nationalized, and the State will have to take the road which will eventually lead to Communism. "

But the road leads to an egalitarian (Social Liberalism) society than Communism. The short-run instability of capitalism is a greater threat to the social order than the long-run inequity in wealth and income distribution. Hence for now it is more important to adjust the internal structures of capitalism for macroeconomic stabilisation than it is to start revolutions that’ll almost always end up betraying their causes in any case. The imperative question is, will the captains of industries and government leaders learn? If not, I tell you social uprising shall be worse menace of the 21st century than the terrorist terror. People will not forever content themselves only on shackling themselves to their houses for fear of repossession. In the words of Baldwin, it’ll be fire next time. South Africa is not absolved. A whole lot of integrity is demanded of us all. COPE stands as our fresh political start and meaningful platform to meet each other halfway. How I hope we’d yield the lesson.

Sunday, 18 January 2009

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Lies, damned lies, and statistics

Mphuthumi Ntabeni

ABSA stadium in East London, where the African National Congress (ANC) celebrated its 97th anniversary the and launch of its manifesto for the 2009 national elections last week is almost a backyard of my home. I’ll not get into the insufferable noise, the street drunkenness, reckless driving, and dirt such things generate. My mother, a now wavering supporter of the ANC, had serious issues with it though, threatening to tip over her scales against the organisation. “The rowdiness of it all”; her words.

As I went to the ABSA stadium I was listening to Bob Dylans’ song; Desolation Row: ‘They’re selling postcards of the hanging. / They’re painting the passports brown [yellow]. / The beauty palour is filled with sailors [politicians]. / The circus is in town . . .’ I was hoping against experience to hear something fresh, and battling with cynicism, thinking there must be better things to do with one’s holiday than this; ‘[E]verbody is either making love, or else expecting rain. . .’

I had noticed an interesting, even worrying, turn in the ANC campaign; the use of commodity market strategies for the election campaign. [The young lady with flowing braids—mimicking Vodacom—in a consumption pose: My ANC! ]The manufacturing of popular will does not get more narcissist than personalized commercialisation, I thought. The idea, I suppose, is to launch into the subconscious the idea of the ANC as not just a political party but a way of life to be consumed as a cultural statement, hints of suaveness and all. The ANC too now once to be part of modern culture.

The staduim was painted yellow with ANC supporters in jovial mood, ferried for free from all corners of the country. As I sat behind myriads of these t-shirts I was amazed at the irony written at their backs: Better education, health, safety and security, jobs for all, social development. They’re advertising their failures. These are the areas the ANC has proven to be shabby, to say the least. The scandolous audacity of it! I thought. ‘They all play the penny whistle. You can hear them blow; if you lean your head out, far enough from desolation row . . .’ The whole thing looked more like a stock-in-trade of some low comedy whose punch line I didn’t get.

Then came the speeches; the usual recycled self-satisfied fealty bosh and romanticized version of our history, tilting towards revolutionary heroism that lacks proper understanding of the mechanics of our national inherited history. Jacob Zuma (JZ) lacked depth, as usual. Even his leitmotif, umshini wam, seemed to have lost its spark, sounding stale and contrived. Then, in tradition of the organisation, he read the statistics of ANC’s achievements, bringing to mind what Hilaire Belloc wrote; ‘Statistics are the triumph of the quantitative method, and the quantitative method is the victory of sterility and death.’ Mark Twain put it more succinctly in the sentence (wrongly attributed to Disraeli sometimes) I used as a title of this article.

JZ spoonfeeded the masses with optimism, taking his authority from reading birds intensines; poisoned them, in totured self-confidence, with hopes of rooting out corruption, something he has no moral authority over. The masses got distracted, not paying much attention after the automaton chants. With ill equipped habits of culture, nostalgia for the past, they stood no chance to grasp the glaring truths. Overdetermined into redundancy by rehearsed political habits they’ve yet to unshackle themselves from political manipulations. You could sense their human spirit getting resteless, straining to go beyond emotional attachments of the past.

More than any other time I was convinced that attending ANC rallies is a waste of time, and subjecting oneself to verbal wasteland. Only people with vested interests can endure it, after all, gold has no smell and hungry stomachs no noses. Once again though, I doffed my hat to the ‘ill fed, ill housed and ill clothed masses’ for the resilence of their intoxicated hopes in dubious claims of blatant propaganda. ‘And nobody ever thinks too much, about desolation row . . .’

I felt dizzy and tired with going in circles on the fetish ANC wagon that’s stagnated on nostalgia. I guess that makes me elitist. So be it. Having drained my ungratified faculty of curiosity , and in grips of aggressive cynicism, I left before it became apparent I was counter revolutionary. ‘Praise be to Nero’s Neptune; the Titanic sails at dawn. Everybody is shouting, whose side are you on . . . I got your letters yesterday, about the time the dawn’ broke. When you asked how I was doing; was that somekind of joke? All these people you mention; yes I know them, they’re quite lame . . .’ The folk singer echoed in my ears.