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But unlike kid’s telescopes – which, like kid’s microscopes, were blurry and disappointing and stupid – the kaleidoscope was a device of astonishing power and beauty.
The simple expedient of twisting one end caused visions of astonishing, luminous, grandeur to pour out the other.
I can still feel that tingling as if I was balanced on a precipice, reaching out to shape a whole universe; causing tectonic shifts in the intrinsic structure of reality … okay, maybe not that last bit … but you get the point.
Such power … and I had absolutely no idea how it worked.
My “device of power and beauty” was a semi-rigid cardboard tube with loose coloured beads or pebbles in the end and two mirrors running lengthways up the inside, duplicating images of the transparent junk that tumbled as it was twisted.
My first kaleidoscope wilted in my sweaty, meglomeniacal hands a few hours after I had torn it from its pretty wrapping – and I cut myself on a broken piece of mirror as I desperately pounded it to make it continue producing those wonderous images.
Which brings me to my worries about ANC policy making.
I am slightly more worried today that I was when I wrote the piece below (from July 2) just after the conference.
That is partly because I have thought further about some of the issues and partly because the consensus points within the ANC seems to be slippery – and therefore uncertainty is rising.
In short my worry is that the ANC is approaching more vigorous economic intervention with the enthusiasm and growing expectations of my six-year-old self after he first looked through his pretty new cardboard tube.
I think the likelihood of this all ending in tears in increasing exponentially – and the reasons are not very different from those that caused the ruin of my first kaleidoscope and my cut finger.
I will pursue this theme (the threats involved with increasingly desperate state interventions – especially those that worsen the problems they promise to fix) in future posts, but first my initial take on the conference; written just after having read the particularly awful English language Sunday newspapers of July 1:
Much ado – and confusion – about the ANC policy conference
The teams of journalists from the political desks at the Mail & Guardian, the City Press, the Sunday Times and the Sunday Independent could have been covering different conferences given the divergence of their understanding of what went down at Gallagher Estates in the Midrand from Tuesday to Friday last week.
This is my first attempt at a distillation of the main points – partly of the coverage, partly of what was supposedly being covered:
- Debates about policy and the struggle over who will be elected to the top positions in the ANC at the National Conference in December became blurred, to the detriment of both.
- The “Second Transition” concept became associated with Jacob Zuma (even though it was penned by his factional enemy, Tony Yengeni) and its rejection by most commissions at the conference was interpreted as a set-back to Zuma’s re-election campaign.
- The power struggle obscured the fact that there was general consensus that transformation is “stuck” and radical and urgent action to hurry the process along needs to be taken if the ANC is to keep the trust and support of its majority poor and black constituency.
- The report-back to plenary of the key breakaway commission on mining became the most blurred moment, when Enoch Godongwana presented a summary of the views on the state’s proposed involvement in the mining sector – with pro-Zuma provinces KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Free State tending to go with the SIMS compromise and the other six provinces tending to support the ANC Youth League in a strengthened nationalisation position.
- When consensus is finally reached, it is likely to include an even stronger role for the state-owned mining company – perhaps giving it the right to take significant stakes in all future mining licenses issued. Absolute taxation levels might be an area of compromise between the state and the mining sector in negotiations about this matter in the final lead-up to Mangaung where policy will be formally decided.
- There was broad consensus that the state could and should force the sale of farmland for redistribution purposes and that an ombudsman be appointed to determine ‘a fair price’ – to prevent the process being frozen by white farmers holding out for better terms. It is not clear whether this would require a constitutional amendment.
- There was general consensus that the Media Appeals Tribunal is no longer necessary, that the number of provinces needs to be reduced, that the proposed Traditional Courts Bill is reactionary and against the constitutionally guaranteed rights of women and children in rural areas, and that the youth wage subsidy (as a tax break to employers) had to be sweetened, or replaced, with a grant directly to young job seekers.
- The push for “organisational renewal” will require a number of changes: a probation period of 6 months for new members, a 10 year membership requirement before such members can be elected to the NEC, a reduction of the size of the NEC from 80 to 60 members and a downgrading of the status of the Leagues (women, veterans and youth) so they more directly serve the interests of the mother body.
So if this was a soccer tournament, what is the score?
The City Press led with “Tide Turns Against Zuma”, but frankly I think this is more about that newspaper’s preferences than anything else. The ideological disputes in the ANC are complicated but broadly follow an Africanist/nationalist group versus a SACP/Cosatu/anti-nationalist group. Neither Jacob Zuma nor Kgalema Motlanthe are clearly in either camp (but Zuma tends towards the former and Motlanthe towards the latter). Only one potential challenger, Tokyo Sexwale, is firmly in one group (the nationalists, which is the ideological home of the ANC Youth League) and he has more chance of passing through the eye of a needle than winning this competition.
Only Motlanthe could seriously challenge Zuma in a succession race and despite all the rumours and leaks it is by no means clear whether he has any intention of running – or, if he did, whether he would have a significantly different policy agenda than that being pursued by Zuma and his backers.
Occasionally our correct and coded political dialogue is enlivened by a less experienced politician whose staff were out to lunch when their boss put pen to paper – or word in mouth, as the case may be.
One such instructive episode has been a piece by Minister of Safety and Security (Police) Nathi Mthethwa in which he attacks Helen Zille for, essentially, challenging the notion that Jacob Zuma is in any way the inheritor of the mantel of Nelson Mandela.
This article (astonishingly I think you will agree) is prominently and proudly carried in the official ANC journal, ANC Today. You can catch the full text here.
Minister Mthethwa breathlessly and breathtakingly lacerates that “disgusting madam”, … “Helen Zille and her ilk sinking in the foul waters of self-aggrandisement”.
She is the “pitiless lone voice from the gutter” with her “disgusting, shallow and shameful short memory” she is “obsessed and blinded by her hatred of the ANC” .
She has “unveiled yet again her infamous stripes” by “urinating on the progress being made” and “(s)he continues to suffocate in her own choking fires of hatred and unrestrained banal rank opportunism” with her “barren infantile political posturing”.
You might well ask what the scary and threatening leader of the Democratic Alliance said that caused the Minister of Police to wax so lyrical.
Helen Zille in her weekly missive (SA Today) took up the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s birthday to make a few sharp points about the blurring between party and state in celebrations around the old man’s 92nd birthday.
She ends her stern, school headmistress admonition with:
The great irony is that the more the ANC diverges from Nelson Mandela’s vision, the more the ANC seeks to own it … The ANC does not own Mandela. The ANC gave up its claim to Mandela’s legacy when it diverged from the values he cherished. Instead, Mandela’s legacy belongs to all those people in South Africa, from all backgrounds, who still value selflessness, integrity, non-racialism and freedom for all under the law.
This really must have hurt to have sent Minister Mthethwa into such babbling apoplexy.
The minister and his colleagues who allowed the article to be published with such proud prominence have failed to learn the most important thing about politics. Politics is always about winning the middle ground and isolating your most dangerous enemy from his/her potential friends.
The immense value of the symbol of Nelson Mandela to the ANC is precisely that he is a lifetime leader of the ANC and is venerated across the political spectrum. The political task of the ANC must be to give leadership to “the nation” and to the middle-ground, to be accepted as the legitimate leader of the South African state. Part of achieving this goal surely must be – for the ANC – to welcome its political opponents to venerate Mandela?
It seems obvious to me that through this defensive bullying and bombast Mthethwa achieves the very opposite – and frankly must be making DA strategists wring their hands with glee.
But I am coming to think I expect too much from a political party that advertises the death of its strategic sense by placing this kind of ignorant diatribe by one of its leading members in its leading publication.
The Black Management Forum (BMF) is competing with the ANC Youth League to represent those who wish to gouge economic advantage from transformation and bulldoze every law, institution, practice and idea that stands between them and the smorgasbord.
Listen to the BMF president Jimmy Manyi at a recent conference hosted by his organisation as he urges us into the Animal Farm:
- Firstly he attacks the protection of property in the constitution, saying the clauses insisting on fair or market value for appropriated land are the “sting in the tail”;
- He goes further and argues “It appears the Constitution does not support the transformation agenda in this country”;
- He bemoans court cases where previously disadvantaged individuals lost their court bids when trying to obtain tenders;
- He attacks media freedom, asking “Why is it that the media can have a field day railroading the office of the president without impunity?” … although he probably means “with impunity”.
- The times live report on his input concludes that: “Two further issues he feels need reviewing were Section 27 of the Constitution which pronounces on procurement and culture”
Manyi and those he represents are delightfully undisguised. There is something strangely compelling about a politics where the class that wishes to loot the state and pillage what it can from the transformation agenda sticks out a belligerent jaw and sulkily asserts: “F$@% YOU, it’s my right!”
(catch The Times article here)
I have whipped through the State of the Nation address while Jacob Zuma is just getting started. My initial impression is good, maybe even very good …. but maybe there has just been so much bad news and poor performance that any detailed and thoughtful stuff from government is likely to impress me …
Here are some bits and pieces:
As always the address was long on the broad brush, leaving the details to ministerial budget votes over the next few weeks.
However, there were interesting bits:
First a claim that no-one appears to be believing …. I will have to check these figures and see how they arrived at them:
We are pleased to announce that by the end of December, we had created more than 480 000 public works job opportunities, which is 97% of the target we had set.
More money for public infrastructure – power and transport
Over the next three years government will spend R846 billion on public infrastructure.
One of the most favourable public expenditure/infrastructure statements was:
Among other things, this will look at the participation of independent power producers, and protecting the poor from rising electricity prices.
We will establish an independent system operator, separate from Eskom Holdings.
Money to subsidise the employment of first time young workers
Proposals will be tabled to subsidise the cost of hiring younger workers, to encourage firms to take on inexperienced staff.
He announced a plan to hold departments accountable:
The Ministers who are responsible for a particular outcome, will sign a detailed Delivery Agreement with the President.
It will outline what is to be done, how, by whom, within what time period and using what measurements and resources.
Very concrete education targets:
We aim to increase the pass rate for these tests from the current average of between 35 and 40% to at least 60% by 2014.
Results will be sent to parents to track progress.
In addition, each of our 27 000 schools will be assessed by officials from the Department of Basic Education.
This will be recorded in an auditable written report.
We aim to increase the number of matric students who are eligible for university admission to
175 000 a year by 2014.
Brutal admission on certain health failures:
We must confront the fact that life expectancy at birth, has dropped from 60 years in 1994 to just below 50 years today.
We are therefore making interventions to lower maternal mortality rates, to reduce new HIV infections and to effectively treat HIV and tuberculosis.
We are implementing plans to increase the number of police men and women by 10% over the next three years.
Concrete stuff about housing and mobilising private sector funds:
We are working to upgrade well-located informal settlements and provide proper service and land tenure to at least 500 000 households by 2014.
We plan to set aside over 6 000 hectares of well-located public land for low income and affordable housing.
A key new initiative will be to accommodate people whose salaries are too high to get government subsidies, but who earn too little to qualify for a normal bank mortgage.
We will set up a guarantee fund of R1 billion to incentivise the private banking and housing sector, to develop new products to meet this housing demand.
The appointment of Menzi Simelane to head the National Prosecuting Authority is profoundly reminiscent of the National Party’s style of rule in the declining years of Apartheid.
Do you remember the Broederbond, and other instruments of Afrikaner Nationalism? Do you remember the stolid manipulation of every conceivable government, parastatal or private institution? The constant need to appoint National Party apparatchiks to every level of management?
The fundamental nature of Menzi Simelane , down in his bones and in his genetic code, is to do what he is told by the president and the party. As director general of Justice he attempted to instruct the prosecuting authority to desist from prosecuting Jackie Selebi, he lied for Mbeki, he lied to the Ginwala Commission and he believes the executive has the right to instruct the prosecuting authority – and hang what the constitution says.
Now Jacob Zuma has appointed this man to head the National Prosecuting Authority. This soon after Zuma appointed Mo Shaik – whose only apparent credentials is slavish loyalty to Jacob Zuma – to head the South African Secret Service. The Secret Service and the prosecuting authority? What could he want with those institutions?
There is no doubt – in my mind, at any rate – that Simelane is appointed primarily because he will be prepared to lie and otherwise intervene in the legal process to protect this president and these rulers as he has done for the previous gang.
Only a government entirely overrun with apparatchiks and political gangsters could make an appointment as brazenly in-your-face as this. This is haughtiness and lack of sensitivity taken to new and dizzying heights. This is the demonstration that the Zuma government will go to any lengths to protect itself from legal prosecution – no matter what the consequences for sentiment, constitutionality and good governance.
The declining years of Apartheid saw the best of young Afrikaners abandoning the party and the bureaucracy of government. What they left behind was an increasingly predatory state in terminal decline, deeply corrupt and entirely dependent on patronage and extra-legal manipulation.
This is the brink upon which we again stand.