I have been interviewed several times this week about the Cosatu strike.

Is this an irreparable breakdown between the ANC and Cosatu?

Does this have implications for Zuma’s bid for re-election at Mangaung?

How stable is the ANC/Cosatu alliance?

What do I think of Jackson Mthembu’s response to Vavi’s claim that the ANC says “Cosatu is exaggerating poverty of workers in South Africa”? (… or whatever … If you can’t follow the subjects and objects in that sentence check out the ANC statement here – or not.)

Where is the SACP in all of this … and is Cosatu split between its president and secretary general?

Where is all this leading … what is going to happen … what does it all mean?

I’ll give those of you who are interested a kind of answer to those questions in a separate post, but I first wanted to say:  it’s a peculiar business this being a ‘talking head’, someone whose views are sought on something as slippery as what’s really happening in our politics, where it’s all leading and why.

This is not (only) an idle existential question to while away a windy Cape Town Saturday morning … it is brought on by a perilous attempt at humour by that leading bastion of irony and satire, the South African Communist Party and their laugh-a-minute, Umsebenzi Online – and more particularly the March 8 “Red Alert” that you can catch here.

(Perhaps only start reading from the “Succession battles at leading newspaper” headline. That way you might still be open to that old Marxist quip: history repeats itself “first as tragedy, then as farce” – here for Wikipedia’s sketch of the source of that quote, Karl Marx’s excellent The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon – something I find it difficult to believe the writers of Umsebenzi Online have actually read or understood … but that is just by the by.)

Anyway …

The SACP’s satire is a teasing poke at … well, at people and institutions that do what I do for a living.

The premise is that Umsebenzi Online has come into possession of “dramatic new evidence” of a deep factional split at 195 Jan Smuts Avenue … which is the address of the Mail & Guardian newspaper.

The premise is that editor Nic Dawes is being challenged by “the ring-leader of the Young Turks” Matuma Letsoalo.

And the issue over which they are divided?

Whether to stick with the fading Julius Malema as the leading character in the soap opera the M&G produces or replace him with “the unions” as the new villain.

Umsebenzi Online then seeks the views of “two well-known, dial-a-quote, soap opera specialists – Aubrey Habib and Eusebius Mashele”* who proceed to pontificate incoherently about the split at the M&G.

There is a whole cast of villains in Umsebenzi Online’s slightly stilted (hardly unexpected that – Ed) attempt at humour.

And all the villains are ‘talking heads’ … people who have come to make their primary living from giving their views on the South African political soap opera.

I think there is a real question to be answered about political analysts – poorly asked and answered in this pinkish satire

Are the views of ‘political analysts’ any more reliable than anyone else’s? It’s not like there is a professional association that erects barriers to entry and puts in a whole lot of quality controls. And anyway such associations are usually just a gang hierarchy that protects the turf from competition.

My own answer – and I have to have one, or my tongue would shrivel up and drop out of my head and my fingers fuse uselessly to this keyboard – is that political analysts are to politics what critics are to art and literature. The critics don’t have to be artists or writers themselves – in fact, that might well be a drawback to them performing their function.

Critics come to be what they are through a market mechanism – their views are sought out and some consumer ends up paying for them. The art consuming public is looking for confirmation, information or rebuttal; they are looking for a view against which they can balance their own view, or learn something from – or just to think about.

The best critics are a mirror for the artist – trusted or hated by the practitioner, it doesn’t necessarily matter.

Rubbish critics can find an oppulent home in rubbish publications and TV stations – because mediocrity does so often rule the mass market mechanism.

Fine critics can quietly go about their business and eke out an interstitial existence of quiet excellence and the small comfort of professional respect.

Or the other way around.

I am all in favour of communists using satire to further their aims – it is so much more desirable than the dystopian bureaucratic terror which appears to be the default instrument – when available – of this vanguard of leading intellectuals.

But I wish this satire had been more … well, funny … and clever – basically, more thoughtful. We are bludgeoned daily by the views of “experts” – and it might not have escaped you that I both bludgeon and am bludgeoned in my turn.

How and why political analysts come to be part of our lives and part of the cultural and public intellectual process is an important question – one we should think about before consuming the sometimes suspicious fruits they offer.

* Those fake names are a melding of the real Professor Adam Habib:

Aubrey Matshiqi:

Prince Mashile:

and Eusebius Mckaiser

(Right you four, you can send donations to The Association of Professional Standards in Political Analysis for the free publicity – Ed)

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