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It is difficult to avoid an abiding suspicion that the protesters flinging faeces in the general direction of the DA led Cape Town and Western Cape provincial administrations are not always, as they claim, signed up members of the downtrodden masses.
Among the reasons I am suspicious is a good friend told me that when the recent group of 176 protesters carrying bags of shit – let’s call it what it is - were offloaded at Esplanade train station in Woodstock she couldn’t help but notice the pitter-patter of Carvella clad feet, the swish of Gucci handbags (in the hands not carrying the shit …. hmm, whatever) and the sleekly clad and buxom bodies diagnostic of a certain species of yuppie political activist.
A more interesting take, one that doesn’t bother with the relatively minor question of political parties’ attempts to manipulate or ride the underlying grievances of the poorest and most marginalised South Africans, is an excellent article by Gillian Schutte on The South African Civil Society Information Service website (SACSIS describes it’s function as: “
Though ‘shitting’ has to be one of the most taboo subjects around, it is a matter that we all deal with, on average once or twice a day. Defecation, and the rules governing it, undoubtedly comprises the complete gamut of human behaviour yet open discussion around it is deemed distasteful and disgusting. Indeed this is exactly how it played out when protesters dumped the contents of portable toilets on the steps of the Western Cape legislature in a backlash against the sanitation policy of Helen Zille’s administration. This policy offers communal portable flush toilets to shack dwellers at no cost — a system, which they say, is inadequate and often ends up filthy and untended.
Catch Schutte’s article here and I would recommend that you subscribe to the free SACSIS.org.za email service.
That being said, spare a thought for the put-upon DA premier Helen Zille and Cape Town mayor Patricia De Lille.
I stumbled across a thorough report from the Presidency (Department of Performance, Monitoring and Evaluation) into the state of sanitation services across the country. The report (download it here) makes a detailed comparison between provinces. I laboriously screen-snipped the graphs for provincial performances in informal housing areas and put them together in a graphic (which is a stretch for me, so I hope someone finds this useful).
This is what the scoreboard looks like:
(When you look at relative performance in formal areas the Western Cape also performs well, bested only by Gauteng – although, I suppose, it is not useful to run this like it was a competition. The ANC has faced rolling service delivery protests across the country for many years and the tit-for-tat between the DA and the ANC with regard to the toilet issue has almost nothing to do with ‘the facts’ or ‘the truth’.)
However the graphic does confirm that the DA has outperformed in relation to a crucial area of service delivery to informal areas – the very areas from which it is getting flack in Cape Town. And that raises an interesting point about the stability of societies as they move away from authoritarian rule and high levels of absolute and relative poverty.
There is a peculiar fact, confirmed across the world and over a long period of time, that improved service delivery itself is a good predictor of protest and disaffection.
I have an instinctive feeling of why this might be true. The uniformly downtrodden, those with no hope and no expectation of relief from ‘the powers that be’ are less likely to be moved to demand more.
Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950′s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations are related to the possibility revolt but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meet an unexpected slowing in that delivery. His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.
Here is the point expressed graphically:
So the theory is that as a middle-class emerges from previously marginalised groups, as education and social infrastructure improves, the expectation of improvement begins to outstrip the maximum rate, or the sustainable rate, of real improvement. The first thing that happens is that resistance and dissatisfaction intensifies.
This is one of the many reasons transitions like ours can be scary and unstable. The old ways of doing things and the old, essentially stable, structure is abandoned before what is replacing it has moved in and filled the vacuum and the available space.
We are in the moment when ‘the old’ is gone but ‘the new is not yet born’.
In high anxiety at my failure to publish here for several weeks (what with 12 days visiting fund managers in the UK and Europe and new commitments to the Daily Maverick – see here and here for the first two of those) I have decided to again post a modified version of my usually bespoke ‘SA Political news commentary’ … to show willing; to demonstrate that I am not entirely unembarrassed that my last post, which was also a news commentary, was on March 18.
Perhaps I am edging towards closing down this blog … but I am not quite done yet, and for those who have stuck with me this long, I thank you.
So here, written to a deadline of 06h30 yesterday, slightly modified for my hanging-by-a-thread website:
SA Political News update 23/04/2013
Cosatu and the ruling alliance: corruption claims and counterclaims
According to the Mail & Guardian (April 19-25), the battle for control of Cosatu is becoming ever more vicious. The article states that behind the noise is an apparent attempt by the ANC to close down a powerful left faction in Cosatu that has been critical of both corruption and the alleged adoption of ‘pro-business’ policies by the ANC and government. The main issues over which the battle is playing out are:
- Allegations made (according to the M&G) by “an informal caucus … of senior leaders from Nehawu, the NUM, Popcru, Sadtu, Cepawu [they mean CEPPWAWU, I think - ed], the SACP and the ANC” that Zwelinzima Vavi, the popular Cosatu Secretary General, has engaged in corrupt activity and is disloyal to the ANC-led alliance, including by failing to adequately support Jacob Zuma for re-election at Mangaung.
- A flood of accusations made through the Cosatu linked NGO Corruption Watch that many of the leaders of unions involved in attacking Vavi are themselves corrupt – Mail & Guardian in a story that works more by insinuation rather than actual content – see here for the story that was later denied by Corruption watch here).
- The proposal made by Fawu (Food and Allied Workers Union) for a special Cosatu congress to resolve this issue, opposed by the group named in the first bullet, but supported by Numsa, Samwu and several smaller unions.
- Support for and against the National Development Plan.
Business might be tempted to fold its arms and sit back and delight that the old ‘thorn in the side’ Cosatu is being riven by tension. However, it is worth recalling that some industrial relations consultants also delighted in the emergence of Amcu in the platinum sector as a counter to Num for similar reasons – and look how that played out. The serious political conflict in Cosatu could as easily result in higher levels of labour unrest, with higher levels of unpredictability, in a wide variety of industries than in a generally more compliant labour movement. Several multi-year wage agreements are coming up for review before the end of this year (including in the automobile, chemical, gold mining, coal mining, retail motor industry and tyre sectors – which historically have been trendsetters – Business Times). Add to this my uncertainty as to whether the tight three-year public sector wage agreement set last year will hold under strain caused by a combination of:
- the (welcome) reforming zeal of Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu,
- government’s apparent attempt to roll back the power of the South African Democratic Teachers Union, and
- the generally difficult economic circumstances for union members,
- the successes of the wildcat strikes, particularly in the platinum sector last year, perhaps having established a new baseline for increase expectation throughout the economy
and it is not inconceivable that we could have another year of potentially devastating labour unrest.
If the government’s (and the ANC’s) intention was to have a showdown with organised labour over economic growth and stability that would be one thing. But I suspect that the evident intervention in Cosatu is based on the sectarian interests at the ruling faction of the alliance rather than in any real desire to pursue the national good. If that faction faction successfully expels Vavi they might precipitate a split in Cosatu and the long awaited formation of a new ‘left’ political formation … and just by the act of pushing, through what appears to be a dirty tricks campaign, for this outcome the ruling faction risks rapidly escalating labour unrest.
The DA and the ANC try on their best dresses (or maybe not) for Election 2014
The DA has launched a campaign attempting to burnish its anti-apartheid credentials, including publishing a pamphlet with a picture of Nelson Mandela embracing deceased party stalwart Helen Suzman under the caption: “We played our part in opposing apartheid”.
At the same time, the Mail & Guardian has published excerpts of what it calls ‘draft DA election material’ which explicitly compares the ANC to the National Party. The M&G’s quotes from the draft document include the arguments that under Zuma’s ANC there is a “rise of Zulu nationalism and racist rhetoric” and “as was the case with apartheid, the ANC is using the police to suppress criticism of its government”.
In the City Press and Sunday Independent, the ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe has separate opinion pieces that argue that the DA’s attempt to appropriate Nelson Mandela is “an abuse of the human and humble character of this icon”. He adds that the DA “remains a brazen advocate for white domination and privilege, and for elaborate schemes for its retention in the guise of liberal policies”.
The general election next year is likely to be messy and disruptive – sustaining the apparently endless flow of unsettling news coming out of South Africa. From this far out it appears possible that the ANC will be arguing that the electoral issues are essentially identical to what they were in 1994 (white domination and the legacy of apartheid) and that the DA will be arguing that that is just an excuse for delivery failure – it would be difficult to conjure up a more divisive and unhelpful framing of the issues 20 years after the first democratic election.
The unravelling of the Mandela legacy
The weeklies have a flood of stories that pick away at the fabric of the Mandela story. A reality TV show “Being Mandela” is reviewed in the Sunday Times under the heading “Opening up the canned Mandelas – comic kugels help deflate the myth”. The show “unveils the vacuous, pampered lives of two of Nelson Mandela’s grand-daughters, Zaziwe Dlamini-Manaway and Swati Dlamini” – Sunday Times.
The Sunday Independent leads with a review of “struggle stalwart” Amina Cachalia’s new book “When Hope and History Rhyme” in which, among many other matters, she reveals aspects of her own alleged romantic relationship with Nelson Mandela post his marriage to Graça Machel.
All of this comes as a bitter fight among Mandela’s children (with, among others, Nelson Mandela nominees George Bizos and Tokyo Sexwale) for control of various trusts that Nelson Mandela set up on his children’s behalf comes to a head in the Johannesburg High Court – The Sunday Tribune.
There may be some inherent advantages to the exposing of myths and legends as … myths and legends – but there really appears to be no upside to this depressing deflation. None of these stories changes the reality of the 94 year old South African former president’s contribution to the South African democracy and state-craft in general, but the incessant exposure does add to the gathering gloom around the South African story.
Bits and pieces
- The Youth Employment Accord has finally been signed after three years of squabbling in the National Economic Development and Labour council (Nedlac). Not unexpectedly, it does not include a youth wage subsidy in the form of a tax-break for companies employing first time youth workers. Frankly, at first glance, the accord, as reported in the Sunday Independent, Sunday Times and City Press appears vague enough to leave some confusion as to how it might result in its proposed creation of 5 million jobs for youth by 2020. No real surprises there.
- The weeklies were full of scholarly – and not so scholarly – debate about the resignation of Judicial Services Council member Izak Smuts. The debate boils down to whether there is a tension between the quality of judicial appointments and the need to make the judiciary more demographically representative. This is an intrinsically South African debate that cuts across every sector of society and will likely be with us for many years to come – for better or for worse.
- ANC MP, Ben Turok, explains in the Sunday Times the terms of reference and limitation of the nine member “inquisitorial” panel appointed by parliament to investigate the “ethical conduct and conflicts of interest, potential or otherwise” of Communications Minister Dina Pule with regard to the various allegations that she has allowed her romantic partner to make significant capital out of her ministerial post. That parliament is investigating this matter can only be a good – albeit long overdue – thing.
 In order in which it appears in the quote, and supposedly constituting an anti-Vavi, pro-NDP, pro Zuma faction: the National Education Health and Allied Workers’ Union, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Police and Prison Civil Rights Union, the Chemical Energy Paper Printing Wood and Allied Workers Union, the South African Communist Party and the African National Congress
 And this group, supposedly constituting the pro-Vavi, anti-NDP faction, anti Zuma faction: National Union of Metal Workers of South Africa and the South African Municipal Workers Union (plus a host of smaller unions including the Food and Allied Workers union).
(Note for both footnotes 1 and 2 – it is undoubtedly more complicated than this, but we need to start somewhere to attempt to make sense of the chaos.)
 Wikipedia (accessed 22/04/2013) explains the use of this term in South African slang as follows: “Amongst South African Jews, the word “kugel” was used by the elder generation as a term for a young Jewish woman who forsook traditional Jewish dress values in favour of those of the ostentatiously wealthy, becoming overly materialistic and over groomed, the kugel being a plain pudding garnished as a delicacy. The women thus described made light of the term and it has since become an amusing rather than derogatory slang term in South African English, referring to a materialistic young woman.”
I am struggling to make up my mind whether there really is a small accumulation of good news, clearly visible against the looming night … or if I am just desperate. Today’s Business Day story by the always interesting Carol Paton looking at Manuel and Sisulu on a stern clean up the public service drive must be positive, surely?
… and several points in my take on the political news in the English language weeklies from last week are postive:
The Sunday Times says Jacob Zuma is planning to axe Dina Pule, Minister of Communications and Lulu Xingwana, Minister of Women, Children and People with Disabilities. Pule’s tenure has “limped from one scandal to another – including the questionable millions paid to her boyfriend from sponsorship money meant for the ICT Indaba last year” – Sunday Times.
The Department of Communications has failed to unbundle the local loop, missed innumerable opportunities with Telkom, under-resourced the regulator Icasa and generally failed to appoint/settle/keep senior management … and has had three ministers in 3 years. Fixing this is a priority area in the National Development Plan and one of the key ‘bottlenecks’ or ‘obstacles to economic growth’ that need to be removed. So Pule’s removal has (if it actually happens) to be seen as a good thing.
(Interesting – to me – speculation on the side is that Zuma might move Thulas Nxesi (Public Works) to replace Angie Motshekga (Basic Education) and have Motshekga replace Xingwana. This means that Jeremy Cronin (deputy minister in Public Works) might then replace Nxesi. But, as the Sunday Times says “there are concerns in the Zuma camp about whether he (Cronin) can be relied on to protect the president from the repercussions over the controversial R206-milliion Nkandla upgrade.”
Lindiwe Sisulu (Minister of Public Service and Administration) is quoted in the Sunday times about planned amendments to the Public Service Act setting in place ways of stopping senior administrators benefiting from government contracts. She also promised a “super-director-general’ who would ensure that all heads of department adhere to performances linked reward systems.
Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi lauded Sisulu plans, saying this would stop the “looting” of public funds by government employees. “We can only say halala (congratulations) to that!” he is quoted in the Sunday Times. I have to agree with Vavi. The biggest political failure that is actually in control of government in South Africa is the poor performance and monitoring systems – and therefore delivery failure and corruption – in government and public sector institutions. Sisulu’s intentions are to be welcomed – and she probably has the steel to follow through. So another plus.
Ramphele wanted DA to be dissolved
The Sunday Times quoted several DA members essentially claiming that Mamphela Ramphele almost joined forces with the DA, but wanted the party to be dissolved first and for her to have an equal share of a new institution. “She wanted a new political party and not to join the DA … she came with nothing but wanted an equal share” said one unnamed source.
The week has been beset with rumours about the impending announcement by the respected academic and business person Mamphela Ramphele that she is to set up a new opposition party. Speculation reached a climax when it was announced that she had resigned as Chairperson of Goldfieds on Wednesday last week. Ramphele would make an excellent addition to opposition parliamentary politics in South Africa – but the idea that one person, with no party structure or obvious constituency in hand, will change the South African game is hopeful at best. However, on the balance, this is undoubtedly another positive. (That’s three in a row for those who are counting.)
Several of the weeklies reported that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe issued an official proclamation on Friday setting March 16 as the date for a referendum on a draft constitution. Most expressed concern that local activists felt that that gave very little time to explain the draft constitution (it took 3 years of bickering to cobble together) to voters and that the draconian Public Order and Security Act would need to be suspended or repealed before campaigning for a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote could take place. All opposition parties have called for a referendum ‘Yes’ vote to allow the constitution to be accepted and signed into law without any further changes.
Zimbabwe’s stability and growth prospects impact on South Africa in a myriad ways, for example in the floods of economic refugees and the shifting size of the export and investment markets in Zimbabwe. An interesting story in the Sunday Times by senior editor Mondli Makhanya argued that Zanu-PF is likely to benefit from opposition disarray and an improving economy. “With the elections just months away, Zanu-PF is smiling and looking forward to strolling to victory. After having brazenly stolen four parliamentary and presidential elections between 2000 and 2008 Zanu-PF will not have to resort to violence and skulduggery this time.” If Makhanya is correct (which he may well be) it is going to stick in a lot of craws that through a combination of looting, patronage networks, repression and the chasing of the urban poor into the arms of the South African informal economy and welfare system, Zanu-PF might remain in power.
New Iran claims hit MTN
The jailing of Iranian born US citizen Mohammad Hajian for supplying “sensitive and potentially dangerous equipment to MTN’s mobile network in Iran” (Mail & Guardian) deepens MTN’s woes in relation to its Iranian operations.
“The conviction is damning for the South African mobile giant, as it provides judicial corroboration that the company used sanctions-busting networks to beef up its technical infrastructure in Iran” (M&G).
State of the Nation Assessment
Most reviews pointed to the key absence of any binding theme in Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation Address.
City Press probably had the best coverage.
- It (CP) correctly points out that there was a specific “shift on land reform” – with a move from “willing buyer, willing seller” to a “just and equitable” formulation. This refers to the establishment of a “valuer-general who intervenes on behalf of the state … who then oversees land valuation …to keep the price … affordable for the state to redress” – CP quotes Gugile Nkwinti (Minister of Rural Development and Land Reform).
- It argues that the youth wage subsidy has been swept aside and that government, business and labour in negotiations through Nedlac will announce a plan soon whereby “growth industries with young workforces will attract state support to hire the young and jobless … unskilled young people will also be offered a second chance to write their matric exams”. So no across-the-board subsidy … but a directed one, only in selected industries.
- It picks away at the infrastructure programme and the various roles that will be played by Malusi Gigaba (Minister of Public Enterprises) and Ebrahim Patel (Minister of Economic Development). City Press interviewed the ‘up-and-coming’ Gigaba and asked him if Ebrahim Patel had left him much of a role to play. Gigaba replied: ““Economic Development is responsible for a broader plan. My department is responsible for three big infrastructure projects: the roll out of broadband, electricity infrastructure and logistics like rail. Other departments are responsible for roads, transport and dams.”
The State of the Nation address is always over-anticipated and usually bitterly lamented as not having been specific or visionary enough. This year, not unexpectedly, Zuma enumerated the successes of government and hyped the plans. Much of what Zuma and his government will do and say in the next while will be focused on the national election in 2014 – and expectations likely to be disappointed.
Bits and Pieces
- City Press reports that the department of fisheries, headed by Tina Joemat Pettersson is in “total free fall” – raising serious concerns about government’s ability to conduct research required to determine quotas of ‘allowable catch’ for key species.
- Sunday Times business section reports that industrial unrest and violence at the Medupi construction site make the “chances of the R91bn power station feeding power into South Africa’s overstretched grid by the end of this year … slim”.
- Sunday Times reports Harmony Gold made history by making individual workers at its Kusasulethu mine sign a treaty with the company in order to lock individual workers into a contract with the company. “This is quite a revolutionary move … (it) means that individual workers can now be taken to task when stepping over the line” says Peter Major, Cadiz mining analyst. Major argues, according to the report, that if similar agreements had been put in place a year ago when trouble first started brewing on the mines at Impala Platinum, a “Marikana” might have been prevented.
(Added as an afterthought: I realise I haven’t made any kind of conclusion given that the opening paragraph suggests I was going to indicate either that I am more positive than negative or vice versa. Frankly, I can’t make up my mind. Which probably makes me a fairly bog standard South African.)
Occasionally I publish slides from a current presentation series and here are a few from something I am busy with called: “The Second Transition – SA politics and policy somewhere twixt hither and yon”.
The general idea is the ANC government is determined to move beyond the ‘transitional’ arrangements that it agreed to in 1994 and strike out boldly towards some undefined, but more profoundly transformed future.
Then, taking some liberties, I summarise what the ANC is “really” (in my humble opinion) saying in motivating the documents:
I then set out on the difficult task of attempting to assess whether the ANC documents actually propose anything as thoroughgoing as the initial motivation implies.
Frankly, the answer is “no”; although the proposals are both worrying in tone and in how contradictory and “bitty” they are.
The best formulated document is the “Maximizing the Developmental Impact of the People’s Mineral Asset: State Intervention in the Minerals Sector (SIMS) – document (get a link to that here). It contains a thoroughgoing set of proposals that change the tax system for mining and propose a complicated set of upstream, downstream and sideways linkages for the industry that will create a new set of burdens and obligations (not all bad) for the mine owners. (My own feeling about mineral resources is that these are “non-renewables” and government is obliged to get the maximum developmental benefit out of them before they are lost forever – but that is just by the way.)
Almost every other document – and there are 12 in all – meanders between
- being meaningless wish-lists,
- statist and authoritarian blueprints to bully and control and
- well researched and argued guides to fixing key aspects of what is wrong with our society
Almost all the good stuff is lifted body and soul from the meticulously researched National Development Plan with its focus on the 9 challenges of
- widespread unemployment
- ailing infrastructure
- low standards of education
- exclusion of the poor from mainstream development
- a resource dependent economy
- a failing public health system with a large disease burden
- inept public service provision
- widespread corruption and
- societal divisions.
My presentation itself does not make strong predictions on how far the ANC will get with its deliberations … although what is clear is that policy discussion this whole year will be drowned out by the Mangaung election noise. It is is going to be difficult to ascertain any real direction through the clamour of the struggle to re-elect Jacob Zuma.
Leaving aside all the slides that deal with the actual documents, I do, however conclude by asking some questions of our key players … and I include those slides here for your interest:
As the months go by, I will hopefully have time to flesh out some of those question.
But for now I am in the final days of the road show trying to make sense of the mess of proposals and hints in the documents, which span issues as diverse as fracking the Karoo, IDZ’s to SEZ’s, the Treasury versus EDD versus DTI, local procurement fantasies, some excellent fixes of BEE from Rob Davies, the lonely excellence of the Gordhan and Marcus and infrastructure looking more and more like the ANC’s one-trick-pony.
Think of the various interests of classes and groups in our society as constituting an ecology in which political parties and organisations find niches to graze, hunt and be sustained.
The system can change and niches shift, narrow or broaden – and in response the denizens that live in each niche must adapt or become extinct.
Alternatively, major fauna can begin to change for other systemic (or extra-systemic?) reasons and new spaces and niches close or open in response.
And a shockwave goes through the ecosystem and a number of species appear and/or
rabidly (oops) rapidly evolve, while others disappear.
Like all metaphors this one is going to break down the closer it gets to the real world, but I think something like this is happening to our political ecosystem – as the ANC’s DNA drifts towards the lumbering, complacent and patronage-networked side of the spectrum.
The gaps that are opening are in the middle classes, in the cities and amongst urban professionals – niches which (that?) are being vacated by the ANC as it settles its rump into the comfort of a sort of conservative, patriarchal, kleptocratic, bureaucratic and ethnic politico-ecological pouf-cushion.
I make this observation as I watch (on eNews channel) the DA marching on Cosatu’s head-office in Johannesburg in a historical reversal of roles that I am struggling to get my head around.
I saw a Twitter post from Ranjeni Munusamy last night in which she said: “After the
#DAmarch tomorrow, maybe nuclear powers will march to Greenpeace offices. Will make just as much sense”.
I get her dismay completely, but I suspect that is just my old assumptions about the shape of our political ecology dominating my brain.
Why shouldn’t the DA be going up directly against Cosatu?
They are, increasingly, competing for exactly the same constituency - the constituency recently, in effect, vacated by the ANC.
That is what all this business about Zille attempting to recruit Vavi into the DA has been about.
They have been flirting - because they feel how close they are to each other – and now they are fighting, for exactly the same reasons.
On Sunday Ferial Haffajee wrote an extremely interesting piece in her City Press, pointing out that Cosatu is increasingly dominated by public sector unions - and therefore increasingly represents “a middle”, rather than “a working” class.
The story uses this graphic:
… which I think comes from a Uasa Federation study by economist Mike Schussler that points out that the employed in south Africa enjoy relatively good living conditions with an average salary of R13 200 and further that public sector workers are significantly better off than their private sector counterparts.
Cosatu has created a middle class where one did not exist in the 18 years of democracy. That it is funded by the public purse (funded in turn by you and I, the taxpayers) is neither here nor there. What is remarkable is how a federation that started as decidedly blue collar has altered the identity and social position of its members so quickly and so effectively that it could turn the public policy of tolling on its head.
So what is happening right now?
There is an inevitable frisson in the relationship between Cosatu and the DA.
Cosatu and the Democratic Alliance border the niches vacated by the ANC, namely the unemployed and the middle classes. (The unemployed and the middle classes, perhaps more than any other groups, have the most to lose from the ANC’s, at best squandering, at worst looting, of societal resources available for growth and relief.)
As the opposing crowds gather in the streets of Johannesburg, the blue DA marchers versus the red Cosatu defenders - those for the youth wage subsidy and those against it – we might be expected to conclude that these are bitter class enemies.
I still think not – to my eyes I cannot distinguish them ethnically or class-wise … (but I accept that I might just not have cracked those codes).
The ANC – as well as agents of the state, I think – will strive mightily to prevent Cosatu from finding the DA – and vice versa.
As romantic literature suggests, love and hate lie alongside each other like geological strata – always in the process of metamorphosing, one into the other.
(Note – I think my various metaphors here don’t adequately take account of the differences in Cosatu – and ultimately break down on that point. I do think the public sector side of the federation is more middle-class and the private sector side more radical and competitive. However it is easier for the ANC to keep the public sector unions – the DA’s natural allies in class terms – on side because, ultimately, those unions are dependent on the state budget over which the ANC has control. Obviously there is a cost involved in the ANC buying off those middle class unions, and it is a cost ultimately borne by the unemployed … but that is an argument for another post. I am not sure if the DA will be able to capitalise on this contradiction, but it is not impossible that is precisely what the party is trying to do in Johannesburg as I write this.)
I think both the DA and the ANC might be on the verge of an evolutionary spurt that will change what they are and thus see them shifting into new ecological niches in our political landscape.
I also think that the landscape itself changes much slower than we think or hope.
arism is a term for a species of political error – and I dredge this up from the gleaming days of my youthful involvement in the ‘mass democratic movement’ in South Africa. The taxonomic system we developed for naming and defining ‘mistaken beliefs’ was tiresomely thorough and self-righteous, but I have to confess that I still dip into that frame of reference and find there useful analogies and ways of understanding the world.
arism means believing that through pure force of will, cleverness of organisation, brilliance of strategy, accuracy of tactics and shear hope, anything could be achieved no matter what the inherent conditions.
I am convinced that the Democratic Alliance foray into the townships and squatter camps is either a form of volunt
arism or it will result in the DA becoming something else entirely – and ultimately something very similar to what the ANC has become.
This somewhat pessimistic view of politics is based on the assumption that politicians and political parties do not have a free hand to sell what they like to whoever (whomever?) they like.
The racial divide in South Africa and the racial solidarity of the groups which face each other across that divide is a deep structural phenomenon and not a casual consumer preference.
When Julius Malema talks about “the Madam and her tea girl” referring to DA chief Helen Zille and the DA MP and national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko he finds a resonance.
This ‘resonance’ is not something created by clever marketing and it is also not something that can be got rid of like Vodacom changing its colours from blue to red.
Groups of people, their ideology, culture and attitudes can be changed – particularly in the powerfully denaturing environment of modern industrial cities. This is how an African peasantry became the urban proletariat of South Africa’s modern capitalism. And it was this process that created the possibility of an ANC that represented all black Africans in the country and not just specific tribal groups.
But do not overestimate the power and speed of this process. Think of the ethnic boroughs in New York; think of the Xhosa/Zulu tussle in the ANC and think of the unbridgeable divide between the black and white experience in South Africa.
South Africa’s history, including colonialism and Apartheid, has a powerful momentum in our lives today. I think this means that the hope that the DA with more black faces and branches (but essentially the same ideology , structure and principles) could make a serious electoral challenge will remain just that – a hope.
A party still called the Democratic Alliance could displace the ANC, but only by becoming something very similar to its foe i.e. led by black people with a history of opposition to Apartheid and primarily about redressing the past, directing state resources to benefit black people and channelling wealth towards the emerging black elite.
The “rump” of the DA are good old white liberals (in the best sense of the word) who have their ideological roots in the closing years of Apartheid.
A party with such a “rump” will never (in any time frame that could be relevant to us) represent a majority of black South Africans – even urban professionals, even a significant minority. To represent those people the DA would have to be of those people, run by those people and be an instrument to further the interests of those people.
I do think urban African professionals are in the process of defecting, with disgust, from the ANC.
But I will be looking for a Movement for Democratic Change lookalike (to the ANC’s ZANU-PF) to emerge from the South African political dynamic.
That ultimately means I am still looking for an organised defection by the industrial working class and their middle class allies that will emerge from a split in the Ruling Alliance – that would probably put Cosatu on one side and the ANC on another.
On this basis the ANC could lose control of the cities to a political formation like the MDC - although not one that could be portrayed, as the MDC has been by ZANU-PF and by the ANC (which can already sense the threat), as having been funded and set up by white farmers and other ‘enemies of national liberation’.
There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong … that we have it within ourselves to escape the awful gravity of our history; that we really are free to choose our future.
My view, however, is that the choices we do have are all within a narrow band of possibilities confined by the deep structural features of our past and present.
Thus the ecology of our society and our politics remains the same – or at least changes extremely slowly – but the creatures that inhabit the landscape are modified by natural selection and drift and displace each other in the niches that are available to them.
(My next post will deal with the question of what the ANC is becoming as it changes its niche as the party narrows and shifts – geographically, ideologically and socially.)
This added after publication:
The über-troll of South African political analysis R.W. Johnson added this gentle corrective to the version of the above article published on Politicsweb: “Am I the only person astonished by the fact that Mr Borain can’t spell voluntarism ?” He’s quite right about this – as he is about so much – although he is usually also interesting. He was, appropriately, hanging out with the racist bullies in Politicsweb’s comments section, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his sneering tone.
The word is voluntarism (not volunterism, as I originally had it … I got it wrong because I mistakenly thought ‘we’ had made it up and I could therefore spell it as I pleased) and it means: “any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology” – from Dictionary.com.
You might be wondering why the Sunday papers were filled with conflicting version of the results from the municipal election.
The answer is contained in a decent story on Times Live written by Brendan Boyle:
The DA took 23.80% of the vote for ward candidates, 24.08% of the proportional representation vote for parties, 15.3% of the vote for ward councillors and 21.97% of all votes cast.
The ANC took 60.98% of the ward vote, 62.93% of the proportional representation vote, 69.43% of the district council vote and 63.65% of all votes cast.
So you can spin your version in a number of ways – and everyone has been furiously doing just that. See here for the DA using the proportional vote comparison which gives it 24.08 percent versus the ANC 62.93 percent and therefore casts its performance in the best possible light (something it is perfectly in its rights to do.)
(This added half an hour after publishing – it has been pointed out to me by some of the people I follow on Twitter – @Bruceps and @RyanCoetzee – that the only choice that all voters were offered that indicated their party preference is the proportional representation vote which gives the ANC 62.93 percent and the DA 24.08 – strongly persuasive that this is the number that most accurately indicates party support.)
The Sunday papers seems to have arbitrarily shifted from one usage to another.
I have used the figures from the IEC website for the overall total of votes cast for parties. Here they are (if you click on any one of the nine it will enlarge and become readable):
As of right now (this was 12.40 on May 20 2011) the ANC is sitting at 63.63 percent of the vote (66.35 in 2006), the DA at 22.1 (14.77), the IFP with 3.94 (8.05) – and newcomers to municipal elections COPE with 2.31 and the National Freedom Party with 2.54. The other important factor to consider is the ID got 2.02 percent in 2006 – which we must assume has mostly gone to the DA in this election.
The trends are important but are likely to be overlooked by the degree in which they were exaggerated before they appeared.
If anything the ANC is likely to continue to drift upwards and the DA downwards – because the constituencies in which the ANC is stronger are bigger and messier and therefore results take longer to come in.
The leader article in this morning’s Business Day points out that only 9.2 percent of South African’s are ‘white’ and with the Democratic Alliance running at about 22 percent of the vote the official opposition has already broken out of it’s racial ghetto.
I think this is the correct way to spin it.
Some DA supporters might be feeling disappointed – it looks like they have only one metro (Cape Town); but my feeling is anything more than this was hopeless optimism.
The DA talking up its game was always going to end in tears.
The fact is the party has done extraordinarily well – particularly in the metropolitan areas.
The ANC has won with reduced majorities almost everywhere and the DA is up an astonishing 8 percent on its performance in 2006.
These are the significant trends in the election and the statisticians will be furiously projecting forward to 2014 – although you should note that the ruling party tends to do worse in the municipal vote (a global trend).
The ANC is giving hints that it takes the criticism and promises to fix the three areas that have contributed to the reduction of its margins: candidate selection, poor service delivery and widespread corruption in local councils.
Were this to happen the results, as they are running, are the best they could be.
I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.
The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.
In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.
I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.
Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.
(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at email@example.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)
If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy - fill your boots! “
He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.
I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.
He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.
This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.
He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.
Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was looking scary.
And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.
I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.
I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.
Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.
I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.
President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.
Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.
The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism
I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.
For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.
At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.
The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.
It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.
This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.
Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.
Helen Zille also rises
My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language, is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.
Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.
Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes
I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.
There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.
The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.
Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?
I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.
The cacophony – let it stop!!
It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.
I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’ or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.
It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.
I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.
We all get an occasional red herring dragged across the trails we follow.
For political analysts this is an occupational hazard.
Our “sources” have their own agendas and we have to be eternally suspicious of the bright little threads of information we find scattered across our paths.
Here is a paraphrase of a piece of information I have heard several times and in several slightly different versions in the last few weeks:
Word from deep inside the ANC is that the ruling party’s own polling data is hinting at a catastrophic swing in their biggest urban African constituencies towards the DA.
Now I would hesitate to imply that serious spin doctors in our political kingdom would normally spend much time and energy ensuring that Nic Borain was lead or mislead in a particular way.
But during an election the parties throw prodigious amounts of energy into the void and at times like this even your humble servant occasionally gets caught in the crossfire.
So, without having any clue as to whose interests the viral spread of this particular snippet might serve this is the breadth of my suspicion:
- The information is an exaggeration of something that is true and comes from DA strategists hoping to deepen the momentum achieved and create a sense of excitement in the electoral constituency and in the party machine.
- The information is neither true nor false (is either invented or partial) and is put about by ANC strategists to mobilise previously loyal voters who, out of disillusionment or apathy, were unlikely to vote on May 18.
- That the rumour is designed to galvanise the lethargic or disillusioned ANC party machine – a swing towards the DA by urban black professionals will be an intolerable repudiation of the current stewards of the ANC.
- That the information is being put about as part of the myriad factional battles within the Ruling Alliance – most obviously as a stick to beat Jacob Zuma with in the lead-up to 2012.
Of course it might just be the plain and unadulterated truth that the ANC’s bespoke polls are indicating a serious swing in urban professional African constituencies away from itself and towards the DA.
This seems a logical consequences of some of the failures of delivery and the endemic spread of corruption and cronyism – but not a trend I would have imagined registering on the pre-election polls.
I do not expect any swing will massively change the structure of local government, but I imagine it would be symbolically important.
The most positive outcome of any such swing is one in which ANC party reformers use it to attack the drift towards cronyism, corruption and incompetence in their party and government.
And, of course, any such increased representivity of the DA will continue to act, in word and deed, as a check and balance on the African National Congress.
However before I get ahead of myself, let me just state that I think it is always safer to suspect that the information is leaking for a particular purpose before I conclude that I have got hold of the thread because of superior sources or methods, or because the ANC’s strategic centre has become a leaky sieve.
My sources may be superior and the ANC’s election campaign may be collapsing in a heap … but bitter experience teaches me that the more likely explanation is that someone is attempting to play me … like an out of tune harmonica.
What happens when we define ‘the enemy’ in terms that would justify shooting them down like mad dogs in the street?
I have often felt that the terms of our political debate are too extreme – from all sides of the political spectrum.
The idea or assertion that the government, the state and the ruling party is made up of an undifferentiated herd, squealing and grunting at the trough, might be rhetorically satisfying, but it’s wrong and not designed to foster our democracy.
But a more serious problem is emerging as the a Ruling Alliance, feeling threatened and burdened, has started characterising all forms of opposition as driven by white capitalists full of nostalgia for Apartheid.
The best example I can find is contained in Blade Nzimande’s Chris Hani Memorial Lecture.
Nzimande makes explicit something that is being articulated from every part of the Ruling Alliance – and it is important not to dismiss his words as part of a “loony left” view.
Nzimande defines two enemies of freedom, democracy, national liberation and “our revolution and its objectives”. These enemies are:
- The new tendency including tenderpreneurship and the general danger of business interests within our broad movement overrunning and defeating the revolution
- The anti-majoritarian liberal tendency
The first one is clearly ‘the enemy within’ – tenderpreneurs and similar – and in this he might be supported by the DA.
But in the lead-up to the municipal election, it is the second enemy and how “it” is defined that is of interest to me.
This is the essence of it pulled out as quotes and paraphrasing from the lecture:
Firstly, the Democratic Alliance and the print media are the organised representatives of the enemy.
Thus: … there is a “liberal offensive against the majoritarian character of our democracy” that with “growing arrogance and strident nature” is “pushed by the likes of the DA” but mainly conducted by its “principal ideological platform and mouthpiece … South Africa’s mainstream print media”.
Secondly, the enemy consists largely of previous beneficiaries of Apartheid:
In fact the (anti-majoritarian) liberal agenda seeks to defend, protect and advance the interests of the white capitalist class and the petty bourgeoisie, without explicitly saying so like during the era of the racist apartheid regime; and yet in a manner not different from white minority rule, but in conditions of black majority rule!
Finally, the main strategy of this enemy is to get the state to stop supporting the poor and instead make it (the state) an instrument for making capitalists richer still.
At the heart of the liberal offensive is the objective of weakening the capacity of the state to act in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor … In addition such state intervention in favor of the capitalist or local ruling elites … undertake(s) further measures (like repression and destruction of the trade union movement, especially its progressive components) in order to ensure that the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist relations of production are strengthened.
Believing your own propaganda
Like all effective propaganda these characterisations by the Ruling Alliance - here expressed in the mostly pseudo-intellectual terms of Marxist Leninism – rely on packaging elements of truth with confirmations of people’s lived experience – at the same time confirming their prejudices and fears.
In this universe a Media Appeals Tribunal or the disruption of a DA rally in Mamelodi are minor acts of resistance against an evil and dangerous invader.
The lie that the DA only represents Apartheid nostalgia equals the lie that the ANC is only a platform for pillaging the state.
Both characterisations leave the protagonists stranded on their high horses beyond the frontiers, with no roads back and no options but to push forward into the night.
- The business of government becomes the business of enriching the governors … rather than the business of governing and thereby serving the electorate’s overarching interests?
- The extremely rich rewards to be gained from holding political office cause the party list process – especially in the ANC – to become one of mayhem and murder, endlessly chaotic and contested?
- All classes of South Africans whose interests are inimical to the looting of the state, political patronage, ransacking the parastatals, incompetent government and tenderpreneurial activity of all kinds (the black and white middle classes, the industrial working class and the urban poor who are dependent on service delivery as well as big and small business, which both need a functional state, stable rules and the rule of law) begin to shift their support to opposition parties, social movements and trade unions?
- In turn this puts pressure on the Ruling Alliance as Cosatu and ANC democrats start pushing against the tide.
- The ANC withdraws into governing through systems of patronage and razzmatazz populism as its class base shifts to the rural poor, unemployed urban youth, the state sector and the political/economic elite and fast-and- loose forms of international capital and organised criminals (the last two categories are experts in dealing with this kind of politics)?
I think this is the way the cookie crumbles. With the proviso that no-one knows the future – and it is always more unexpected than not - and I think the cookie crumbling in the way that I have described means:
- The Democratic Alliance continues to transform its racial profile (in electoral support as well as leadership) and strengthens its support in urban constituencies throughout the country in the May18 national municipal election.
- There is a significant showing in that election by other opposition parties and independents.
- Cosatu begins to plan for the inevitability of either ‘a coup’ within the ANC or a withdrawal from the Ruling Alliance and the establishment of a viable alternative political home.
- The backlash within the ANC after the election will be severe leading to very high levels of contestation before and during the 2012 elective centenary conference.
That’s the way I see it, although I might be wrong.
If I am right, the next few months is the last chance for the ANC to be saved from the future its current leaders are securing for it.
A rescue job will have to reject the Nkandla style patronage networks as well as the ANC YL style technocratic tenderpreneurialism and those who back it. That doesn’t leave much political room for a challenge or much of an internal constituency in which to nestle it – other than on the left.
Just thought I would mention that in passing … I am now so busy with paid work (hurrah!) that “in passing” is the only time I will have for a while.
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.