Monday, December 7, 2015

What do Jeremy Corbyn (2015CE) and St Jerome (415CE) have in common?

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin and St Jerome was not an early Leader of the Opposition in the UK. And no, the link is not that Syria looms large in both their lives.
Nor are the two unkindly, still less designedly, named together; there is no special link between the two. You could as well twin Lenin with Loyola and John Calvin with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. And you could go on twinning as many names as you choose from all over the place and all ages: Urban II and Hitler; MaoZedong and Phillip II of Spain; Eugene Terre'Blanche and Thomas Muntzer; Robespierre and Pol Pot; Mosley and Malema.
For however far away from one another all these leaders stand in space and time, what they share is inflexible belief - or, to use a more academic term, ideology.
The purpose of ideology is to substitute a governing set of ideas, whether religious or political or both, for a reality the believer finds unacceptable, no matter how real it is to others. That is why 'the facts' never trouble ideologues, or are easily denied by them; that is why 'the revolution' can never compromise, be accomplished or assuaged.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Oscar Pistorius appeal: justice, the law and mercy

After the Oscar Pistorius trial three things seemed plain to me besides the fact that I personally did not believe his version of events.* The first two had to do with justice and the law.
The verdict of culpable homicide was wanting in terms of achieving justice: someone was dead. Mr Pistorius had killed someone, but had been found guilty of a charge carrying a comparatively light sentence. As far as I could judge as a layman, the verdict then must also have been wrong at law.

It was a matter of common sense. Mr Pistorius must have known that shooting four times through a locked door into a tiny confined space was likely to kill whoever was inside. The fact that it turned out to be the world-famous athlete's beautiful lover Reeva Steenkamp made the case a worldwide sensation. But it did not alter the fact that even if the person had been the intruder Mr Pistorius said he feared at that moment, his intention when he fired was to kill. How did it change anything who he killed? Someone was dead.

Against this view, many insisted Mr Pistorius had received justice. He had not intended to murder anyone. Furthermore he had the right to defend himself against a criminal. There was too much crime in South Africa. It was the people trying to interpret the law harshly that were wrong and unjust.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has unanimously concluded that the lawful verdict against Mr Pistorius, and his sentence, are for murder.

In reaching this decision, the SCA is at pains not to be seen as criticising the trial judge, Judge Masipa. Different interpretations of the law are inevitable within the system and she took the view she took as a legal expert applying the law.

Well and good, of course. But it is more Judge Masipa's conduct of the trial that brings the third issue into sharp relief for me. I felt at the time that Judge Masipa, like Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, had been concerned to show mercy in dispensing justice according to the letter of the law. It is hardly something to condemn a person for, especially one presiding so composedly over so highly charged a trial.

The law is proverbially an ass, but perhaps Mr Pistorius's case rather shows the law cannot win whatever it does. The question for us after the SCA's decision is whether justice, with its obvious connection to mercy, has really been better served by enforcing the proper reading of the law.
In spite of the disgust and outrage at the abuse of women in what is supposed to be civilised society today, a number of women I know - repeat, women - believe Mr Pistorius has suffered enough and it is awful to make him return to prison after all he has gone through. Do they have a case?
What is the balance between the law, justice and mercy? Has it been met? Remember someone is dead.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What should be the language of learning at the University of Stellenbosch?

Is the Democratic Alliance raising an authentic concern that the University of Stellenbosch may be ‘jettisoning’ Afrikaans in making English the primary language of instruction? Or is the party simply appeasing its white Afrikaans-speaking voters, the accusation among its opponents?

At the risk of drawing charges of my being a rabid DA supporter and oppressive agent of white monopoly capital, here are just a few considerations that rule out simple answers.

1. In a free society, minorities would ideally be taught in their language of birth. Why else are there 11 official languages in SA?

2. To conduct studies in English is no less 'discriminatory' against, say, IsiXhosa speakers than to conduct them in Afrikaans: neither is their language of birth.

3. Many suspect this issue is politicised. Or do we entertain the same feelings about a university teaching primarily in 'African' languages?

4. Primary and secondary education are unarguably a basic right. But it is illogical (and unsustainable) to claim tertiary education is a universal right demanding one language of instruction. That is because higher education, coming as it does on maturity, is a choice people make for themselves, based on their aspirations and ability.

5. Under democracy, the fact that universities and students are government funded cannot give government the right to dictate how they work.

6. If a university teaches in a language that is not viable, it will not itself be viable. The problem of serving a privileged few is self-solving.

7. The lingua franca or common language of a people is literally the most 'democratic' decision they make, growing as it does out of the need to communicate with the majority of their fellows. The alternative to such a common language, whether first or secondary, is a language government imposes, the historical root of our present disagreements.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Have the people of South Africa really won a big victory over student fees?

The South African government's surrender in the student revolt - no university fee increases - is a panic reaction that was entirely predictable and is designed to buy time once more. The ruling party had no democratic alternative. With another heavy sigh then, okay.

But before rushing to agree with a euphoric press and its commentators that ‘the people’ have ‘won’, there are some points that need to be considered.

Even in a completely just and fair society - a wholly unachievable ideal in any case - it is difficult to see how free higher education for all could be made to work or even be a requirement. The issue of costs aside, tertiary education in the long term can only be for those who merit it and want it, if only because there will always be people who do not merit it or want it.

Right now, though, let us accept the uproar is about the short term, a problem of inequality that can no longer be shelved.

Far too many students quite rightly feel they have been cheated, or will be cheated in future, of the full benefits of a university education through the inadequacies of primary and secondary education. Others, after the toughest struggles to get to university, find they are expected to cope with more problems: arbitrary increases in fees and other charges that are impossible for them to cover.

What everyone needs, government first of all, students, universities and the wider public, is a clear and workable policy on tertiary education. There was no understanding, let alone agreement between parties on a national plan and, after the major crisis this neglect has caused, made worse by some inevitable hooliganism, a plan is now unlikely to be agreed in the near future.

The basic question is: should tertiary education be free? If government decides it should, they must be able to make it work; if they cannot make it work, they must change the policy. That is inescapable whoever is in power: it is only necessary to put yourself in government's position, pose the question, and see where it leads.

However, there are intractable political problems behind it all. Cheered on by their supporters and a media fearful of appearing on the wrong side, radicals and activists among students as well as politicians, grab the limelight with opportunist demands for apologies, changes in courses and the end of outsourcing. 

To keep up, the African National Congress as a party says one thing, taking the side of the students, while leaving their own government to carry the can when there is no money to pay for free education for all. Who is making policy then? Who is in charge - party or executive? Who among the ANC is running the country? Who and what is the nature of the ANC government the majority will almost certainly vote into power again next time?

The student revolt is not only about social justice or the lack of it. The paralysis in SA's party-state has been laid bare: a fiscus and tax burden that have not been considered; a minister of education who is not to be held responsible for his performance in the job; a Cabinet that protects him and passes the buck.

People will disagree whether SA needs a new minister and president. But democracy needs a government that is in charge until the voters throw them out for getting things wrong.


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The solution to Europe's migrant crisis

All that anyone can say for sure about what is happening is that this crisis is with us.

Europe, the Near East and North Africa are facing an exceptional event. Understandably no country was prepared for it, but all have to deal with it one way or another.

Argue as we may who is to blame for it, there is and can only be one solution now: to apply existing international and domestic law to the processing of migrants/refugees. It will be a messy, slow and less than adequate process. It will involve negotiations and questionable trade-offs, take many months of work to produce less than satisfactory results, and mean accepting that practicality and compassion will be at odds throughout. Every interest, using the media, will argue with whatever is done - and not done.

It seems trying to secure agreement on quotas and budgets is working against a collective response. As the numbers of migrants grow, improvisation is therefore unavoidable. Existing administrative capacity can only be used as best as possible and only expanded as quickly as possible where it is inevitably lacking.

If poorer EU countries opt out, the richer ones will end by taking more than their fair share of the burden simply because there is no alternative. Democratic governments must do their best to be honest with their citizens about the inconvenience and sacrifice this involves. They will have to grin and bear it when it makes them extremely unpopular with their electorates.

NGOs and charity will help, but inter-state cooperation alone can solve the problem. Eventually all the disagreements and recriminations we are witnessing will be replaced by a coalition of the willing. There is no other way.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A passing thought on the UK's new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

In ‘Status quo fatigue yields new radicals', September 15, you point to Greece’s Syriza, France’s National Front and Spain’s Podemos among others to suggest that ‘the question remains whether [radicalism] is a temporary phenomenon or the younger generation will continue to demand fundamental change.'*
Radicalism is with us because ‘the younger generation’ is. The benefits of the views and values of youth may be arguable, but every generation has to live with them.
However, as you also note, radicalism definitely waxes and wanes according to levels of ‘social stress’. And, inevitably, every younger generation grows up.
So when times turn bad and foster radicalism, there is always a generation that has either been there and done that or, if it hasn't, simply does not understand what today's youth are on about. On the other hand, when times are good, why would any darn fool want to change things?
There are exceptions. The UK’s newly elected Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn is one. Mr Corbyn is a permanent radical. Thirty years ago he was ahead of the times. Today he is thirty years behind.
 From the Business Day article September 15 to which this is a reply

Monday, September 14, 2015

Can Britain be right to kill her own citizens?

To judge by commentary in the papers and on TV and internet sites, the drone killing in Syria on August 21 of two British citizens fighting alongside Islamic State (Isis), and the same but much higher profile end this week of so-called 'Jihadi John', continues to confuse and divide public opinion in the UK. No doubt it is doing so in many other parts of today's global village.

Was the Conservative government right to authorise these strikes? Not surprisingly the Labour Party has questions. But the Labour Party is in opposition again after last year’s elections and faced with the tricky task of judging a public mood swinging between Islamophobia and compassion for innocent Muslim refugees fleeing to Europe. The opposition has questions, but it raises them, one senses, gingerly, not all of one mind.

In any case in Britain’s democracy, the questions come in from across the political spectrum. What was the legal basis for the deadly strike? Was the action justified on grounds of self-defence against a clear and present danger?

MPs are not alone in demanding to know why the British parliament was not consulted before the action was taken. There is no law that says it must be, but it can now be called a convention for the executive to consult the legislature on such serious matters, along with the other conventions that are the historic basis of the British constitution. The fear is the UK is merely following the USA again, adopting unlawful drone strikes. Prime Minister David Cameron is doing a me-too on Tony Blair. Many see now what they did not see at the time Blair took his country to war in Iraq. They believe he was no more than the puppet of US President George W Bush.

All that aside, are drone killings out of the blue not fundamentally inconsistent with human rights? With the need for justice and a fair hearing? Do drone attacks also kill innocent people? Who can prove they do not? Is this the start of a slippery slope? Are the rule of law and democracy itself under threat in the UK, a country that should be guarding and honouring these institutions?

There are no answers all will accept. The questions overlap with no sharp boundaries between them. Nevertheless in assessing the use of drones in the radically different technological world of the 21st Century - a world where the nature of warfare is changing like everything else before our eyes - it helps to look at these questions separately on political, legal and moral grounds, even if those grounds can never be completely distinct.

On political grounds, Mr Cameron seems justified in arguing his government’s first duty is to ensure the safety of British citizens. More to the point, he can claim that their safety is what British citizens expect first and foremost from his government. If that involves the use of drones in today’s terribly dangerous world, so be it. Against this, calls for rational restraint and for negotiations with Isis - the calls the new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is making - may be as arrogant and remote from the real wishes of the public as Tony Blair’s gung-ho adventure was in Iraq.

In such circumstances the strict letter of the law can easily be made to look like a barrier to common sense and observing it mere foolishness. In contradiction of the critics and doubters, legal experts as well as government ministers claim the drone strikes were legal: more may well be necessary in future. Isis directly threatens British lives and British law recognises the right to take pre-emptive action when one’s life - and by extension, therefore, citizens’ lives - are directly threatened. The left across the board are not satisfied with this. Their view is that government ministers and selective legal experts would say that. Totally new thinking is essential if the world is to avoid the apocalypse.

So the legal argument is muddled with the political, the political with the legal, and the moral argument with both. A fierce debate rolls on while what are called ‘ordinary people’ get on with their lives, trusting they won’t be blown up on the bus to work or in the market.

It is the moral question that is the most intractable in the end. As one comment on a website ran: “Questioning the authority of unauthorised military action does not equate with sympathy or support for Isis.”

Well, does it?

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Is violence becoming an end in itself? - the choice for South Afica's democracy

The problem in SA is not that the ANC or President Zuma is uniquely corrupt, but that one party is unchallenged in power and has been for too long. Corruption inevitably follows that everywhere.
Moreover, what everyone forgets is that it started long ago with the arms deal under former president Thabo Mbeki, not President Zuma. President Mbeki is remembered for not firing a single minister or official except those who disagreed with him. No one called it tyranny then. No one dared to.
The criticism of ANC government - that it is absolutely corrupt and ineffectual, that Zuma is a 'tyrant' - runs to extremes, just as constant publicity encourages the Economic Freedom Fighters to excess. The freedom of the press can be used to harm freedom as well as to defend it.

Iwe hope to put right evident wrongs like Nkandla, as the EFF insist they will, the means must be weighted in the scales as well as the end. There is a choice. There is the way of due process and the rule of law, the way unmistakably marked out by the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela of "trust, common decency and rational discourse". And there is the way of Julius Malema and the EFF.

We must ask ourselves what in the end that offers other than the threat of meeting violence, as they see it, with violence.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The scourge of corruption in South Africa

Heaven forbid people are stopped from blaming the government, the resort of authoritarian regimes. And heaven knows twenty years of ANC government has spawned nepotism, cronyism and incompetence enough to keep a whole nation of critics at work.

But as the proposals to solve the problems crowd in - a new ANC leader, a DA electoral breakthrough, achieving the promised land of the ANC's 'national democratic revolution' or the wonderland of the 'fighters for economic freedom', the EFF - we need to remember: no person or party can run a modern rights-based state without an autonomous bureaucracy that works both efficiently and effectively. To put it less academically, a corps of people who see themselves as public servants, trained for the job and committed to doing it decently.

This vital component is still missing in South Africa not only due to the governing ANC's policy of cadre deployment, though that plainly makes things worse.

The human resources to transform the state and society for the hopeful successor generation of 1994 did not exist. How could they, after half a century of legalised apartheid had neglected or ignored education for the majority of non-citizens and reserved positions of leadership and control to a minority?

All South Africans live with the consequences today, but with an ironic as well as painful extra twist.

As the ANC government comes under increasing democratic pressure to tackle corruption and inefficiency, so the word goes out through the party-state that such misdeeds are starting to be penalised.

Honest and competent officials, along with the venal, face a baffling new threat. In a system where loyalty and connections, not merit, have been the criteria, they find they had better now enforce the regulations to the letter.

Two things follow hand in hand: delivery slows further while rule-breaking continues to grow.

Corruption after all is a black market, closing the gap between the supply and demand of goods and services.


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Can deputy president Ramaphosa be the answer to South Africa's looming crisis?

RW Johnson in his new book and a follow-up series of articles on Politicsweb has as his theme How long will South Africa survive? The Looming Crisis. This involves him covering many more aspects of the subject than can be answered short of writing another book.
However, something should be said regarding the specific point of the role a new leader might play after replacing the compromised President Zuma. On this question, Mr Johnson naturally raises the name of Cyril Ramaphosa. Along with commentators who identify leadership as both the problem and the solution to the country's woes, many South Africans would see Mr Ramaphosa as at least a candidate for next president on his qualities as a leader. He is strongly placed also by being deputy president already. 

But Mr Johnson does not fancy Mr Ramaphosa's chances of 'reversing the present downward drift' even if he wins the leadership struggle. He writes:

"What discussions [of the leadership struggle] lack is the comprehension that the visible decline in South Africa's governance and economic management is not finally to do with this or that leader; it is a social process" [emphasis in original]. 

This assertion seems oddly out of place coming from Mr Johnson. He is hardly a communist and, one imagines, no Marxist either. Perhaps he means only, as he puts it in his last article, that Cyril Ramaphosa, "lacking any real base within [the ANC] system .. would be even more at its mercy .. The system would prevail."

There seem to be two worthwhile points to make here. The first is academic. If Mr Johnson is not intending to suggest determinism by his reference to 'a social process', then politicians, including all contemporary politicians in South Africa, have agency - meaning they are not entirely at the mercy of circumstances. It will not help to argue or elaborate this point further. Those who believe people are puppets out of stupidity, or made so out of the promise of money, will not be persuaded otherwise. 

The second point cannot be set aside, one way or the other, so easily. Even if Mr Ramaphosa is at the mercy of the ANC 'system', all the rest of the ANC and all the rest of SA's complex society are not. Certainly not indefinitely, come what may.

The key point to grasp in SA's early stage democracy is 'the system' that Mr Johnson asserts nothing can beat is not the ANC per se: it is one-party government that equates the ANC with the state.

This built-in hegemony, the unavoidable outcome of events, has political and economic effects that can be challenged and changed. But it has shaped the country's moral climate and response. Until recently, it was unpatriotic to take sides against what the party of liberation said or did, not to mention 'racist' and imprudent to do so. President Zuma still appeals to South Africans to be 'patriotic'; he means support him and the ANC in all they do. Who seriously believes that can work as it once did?

Mr Johnson’s impossible-to-beat ‘system’ cannot of course finally change until the ANC loses its virtual monopoly of power. That is coming, fast or too slowly depending on your views, through social and economic changes no one controls and that inevitably produce all manner of opposition.

It is arguable what form this opposition is taking and how it will work out. Instead of Tony Leon not so many years ago, followed by Helen Zille, there is a new and articulate young black man at the top of the DA. There are the extraordinary claims for Mr Malema as next, or at least a future, SA president. That this idea is entertained at all is because of his supposed appeal to 'the young', the future being the young. There is the real time, real split in Cosatu and the prospect of Numsa and other affiliates forming a workers party. 

SA is a changing situation in a rapidly changing global world. Different 'class' interests are stirring the pot, but not in the old decisive Marxist sense: the ANC operates in an infinitely more complicated social and political context than Marx ever imagined.

The bigger truth is all of us, the ANC included, are currently living in a patronage phase with the resulting infighting, incompetence and stalemate Mr Johnson lists. But these are more symptoms than causes. 'The ANC' is not uniquely flawed intellectually and morally to a man - and woman. Nor is SA's 'decline', if that is what it is called, a 'social process' that is determined; it is as open as ever to change as SA's underlying politics changes and different leaders adjust to it.

Leadership, or lack of it, will always play its due role in events, and events in determining leadership.


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Why even the Constitutional Court hasn't put an end to the scandal of Nkandla

The difficulty with the media’s sustained campaign against President Zuma is it suggests that if we can somehow get rid of the man all will be well. Is the president, along with the earlier scandals the ANC massaged away for him, personally responsible for Nkandla? Yes, of course he is, but as the head of a declaredly democratic ANC government, not for the cost of the window fastenings or even the notorious swimming pool.

If Nkandla were only about the items the Public Protector reported on, President Zuma could easily enough raise the two or three million rand to pay for them out of his own pocket. But Nkandla has always been about far more than his improper benefits and their price.

It is about a total lack of state system, supervision and management. It is about a civil service that lacks competence and confidence, training and professional standards. It involves a culture in which the local Big Man shares largesse with his 'people' in a traditional exchange of favours. It is about the three modern 'estates' of business, unions and government sticking together through thick and thin.

Above all, it is about the one-party state, which enables individuals and government, assured always of servile party support, to ignore the law and all accepted norms of democracy without any come-back.

When President Zuma goes, as he will and maybe sooner than we think - remember how former president Thabo Mbeki suddenly went overnight when it suited a handful of people at the top - South Africa still faces a massive journey before it becomes a democratic society. The hope is Nkandla has at least been the first real step on the way.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Immigration and xenophobia in South Africa: the end of the liberation dream

As outbreaks of violence against foreigners prove near impossible to control, as the numbers of people fleeing and deportations increase and international pressure on SA mounts, there is another reason why government will not be able to leave immigration problems to fester as they have.

How do we know an illegal immigrant is more likely to break the country's laws and create trouble than a legal one? This seems to be the assumption in the current crisis, leading to general agreement it is ok for illegals to be 'sent home' while legals are ok to stay.
But the true answer is we do not know: we do not have here the easy solution to our problems many like to think we have. We are deciding on the basis that a legal immigrant has gone through some process - has been checked for a criminal record, can show means of support and meet other requirements.

The awkward truth is the ANC, like any other government, cannot in any circumstances treat everyone the same. They cannot avoid having criteria for letting any person in or keeping him or her out. Legals are permissible and made acceptable by legislation, which means 'xenophobia' is always there in the eyes of some.

Whoever is let in precludes others who are not let in because no government on earth can let in everyone. And the more efficient government is at enforcing the rules, the more cause there is for resentment and protest among the 'undesirables', backed or attacked by their sympathisers or maligners: the refugees and unemployed, who are said to be a drain on 'our' resources; those in honest work who are taking 'our' jobs; the educated middle classes whose skills mean 'they' are running the economy now.
These are the hard choices that must be faced and made by policy makers. In South Africa, an ANC government that had no clear policy and had done little or nothing to think one out was willing to make 'illegal' immigrants the scapegoats for all the problems: for 'crime and unfair business practices,' to quote President Jacob Zuma.

Broad sections of the public have little option but to go along with this. The issue is lost sight of in arguments about intolerance and controlling the violence, setting up refugee camps, appealing to an illusory Pan Africanism, the equality and brotherhood of all Africans. There is hair-splitting about whether the trouble is xenophobia or Afrophobia or just criminality. We hear the excuse of a Third Force again as a floundering ANC government that promises a better life for all does not know which way to turn.

When President Zuma admits, as if his government has just noticed, that SA's immigration laws are 'less than perfect' and under review, he is admitting the real world sets limits to freedom. He expects other African countries to take their share of responsibility. We glimpse we are at the beginning of a conclusive chapter to our liberation dreams.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Is early retirement for President Zuma the answer to South Africa's problems?

Most of us like a simple answer to a simple question, but history and society and politics always fail to oblige the closer you look at them.

Wars are not explained by a single cause and especially not by the fancy that they are fought between good guys and bad guys. In 2014 ‘the Hun’ is no longer solely blamed for the Great War a century ago and ‘oil’ does not supply the single motive for great power intervention in the Middle East it did just a few years back.

Once upon a time, a Jewish homeland in Palestine was not the crime against humanity some say it as now, but a long overdue effort to show some humanity to the Jewish people; the Ukraine and Tibet expose the one-sidedness of the charge of ‘the imperial west’; Africa’s and the world’s lived experience of socialism sinks its claim to be the solution to the ‘evils of capitalism’. There is no Happy Ending in the real world. The most disastrous idea human beings can have is that a heaven on earth is possible.

Coming down to earth, then, and closer to home, are we right to frame our questions and answers as simply as we do? Are the DA really a bunch of white racists and rented blacks? Is President Zuma a ruthless tyrant destroying the constitution to stay out of jail? Once he leaves office, will all be well? These are popular assertions, common beliefs.

How often does a comment or article begin: “I hold no brief for Julius Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters, but ...” and then follows a brief for Mr Malema and the Economic Freedom Fighters that presents them as the only chance we have of overcoming poverty and power.

In the search for a simple answer everyone can agree with, a handful of commentators dig a little deeper and discover a general lack of accountability in South African society. Accountability becomes the panacea. We must all become accountable.

Lack of accountability, we are told, accounts for why the arms deal is not properly investigated. It is the reason the Public Protector has trouble getting her findings to stick. Members of the ANC, and those connected, enjoy preferential treatment all because of the lack of accountability.

But when will the party elite, conscious as they are of the graft and corruption and waste of taxpayers' money, find themselves lacking in accountability? When will the ANC, indistinguishably both party and government, move beyond 'calling for' an end to abuses of power, when they were returned to power on the promise to end them?

It will be when people realise lack of accountability is not the sickness but a symptom.

In SA one party controls the state. The ANC constitute the executive and subordinate the legislature by appointing the majority of the legislators. The party staffs administrative posts, influences the law’s sanctions, determines preferment and punishes apostasy.

Call it a party dominant democracy or an effective one-party state. Whatever term we use, the majority of SA’s people at present do not find they have - or choose not to vote for - a political alternative. As a result, a hegemonic ANC, under no real threat of losing power, has no compelling reason to initiate change.

Not only that. For leadership to attempt a far-reaching clean-up, or adopt a strong policy line, risks a split, the last thing any in the ruling party will risk. The drift is towards inaction and inefficiency and an authoritarian response to dissent, developments long ago obvious in neighbouring Zimbabwe and, to some minds, begun in SA under former president Thabo Mbeki and merely gathering pace now.

One-party rule is radically unaccountable and unresponsive. It cannot be fully offset by a free media, by the courts and Chapter 9 institutions, by churchmen’s prayers for people's moral regeneration, or by idealistic calls for South Africans 'to all pull together’. Indeed, as disillusion with the ANC spreads, such calls appear to be giving way to enthusiasm for the dubious methods of its rowdy offspring, the EFF.

There is no simple answer to the new SA’s problems: they require a democratic society to underpin the institutions that are already in place and not honoured. That is not imposed from the top down. A democratic society emerges from the bottom up, through slow changes in people that are not simply explained in historical, social or political terms.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Economic Freedom Fighters fight over their overalls

The Economic Freedom Fighters fiercest fight, the party insists, is going to be to keep their red overalls on in the national assembly.

There are media reports that, failing that, EFF members will go naked. Perhaps that is journalistic licence, a fickle media's dig at their recent darlings, now their over exposed 'new kids on the block' are starting to look as if they may be running out of road - or at least running out of headline-catching gimmicks, which detractors say is the same thing in the EFF's case.

Parliament should never have allowed the EFF to turn up in what is party uniform in the first place. The concession was profoundly mistaken, either patronising or cowardly of the house. It flouts an institution that is supposed to represent all the people of South Africa and to work, in spite of great differences, for the collective good, not to divide the country's citizens into 'class enemies'. 

The red overalls signalled danger clearly enough. Their extravagance and the even more extravagant claims made for their symbolism - that the EFF speak uniquely for 'the poor' - secures publicity for the EFF rather than any benefits for the poor or, for that matter, 'answers' about the Nkandla scandal. Nkandla is a public disgrace for the African National Congress, a democratic party and government, without the need for theatre.

EFF overalls and rowdiness are not bringing the ANC to heel. They have merely provided sensational material to a media starved of more worthwhile opposition to report. Most dangerous of all, EFF conduct is increasing the chances of an authoritarian response from a jittery majority party that has always been out of temper with opposition and is inclined to overreact to it.

SA has a great and testing objective to pursue. The country and its diverse people are attempting to become a democracy under a constitution widely acknowledged for its enlightened liberalism.

Even if the ANC are clumsily throwing their weight about in the early stages of the project, it should be countered by constitutional process. The only people to profit from anarchy are the instigators of anarchy.