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I wanted to discuss something called heuristics, which refers to the way we make decisions or reach an understanding about something, especially when the matter under consideration is complicated.

The word (heuristics) can mean the short cuts we take but the general field also deals with the many errors of thinking to which such short cuts can and do lead.

There was a particular line from a client note I wrote earlier this weak as I was considering the matter of Dianne Kohler Barnard’s booting from the Democratic Alliance that I thought about afterwards and wondered on what basis I had reached the conclusion.

The line was : “If I had to take a wild, but still informed, guess, I would say the DA is likely to pick up stragglers from this defection but the EFF will get the lioness’s share, and apathy the lion’s” (this being in relation to ANC losing support in urban black middle-class and DA attempts to keep its current support and also win some of the new.)

But then I thought I might as well show you the note before I went onto a discussion about heuristics to give myself something to use as a basis for the discussion. The version of my note below had some of the ruder but funnier bits pulled by those who have better judgement than me. But seeing as this is my website I thought I would leave in the the silly jokes as I wrote them.

SA Politics – 3 November 2015

  • Kgalema Motlanthe says the alliance is dead… and the ANC respectfully nods its head. The SACP and Cosatu look increasingly as if they will be on their own soon.
  • The Gauteng ANC and the Gauteng government fighting to bring the ANC as a whole back to the black middle class (and the middle classes generally).
  • The DA uses the meat cleaver against supposed racist sentiments in its ranks – but a rose is a rose is a rose.
  • Drought and failing infrastructure raises risk that water shortages will be the new load-shedding.
  • … and in other news, ideal candidate Tokyo Sexwale stands for FIFA presidency and the ANC Women’s League marches on the Union Buildings in heroic defence of Jacob Zuma’s dignity.
Ex-President Kgalema Motlanthe says the unsayable truth that everybody knows and a calm and respectful ANC welcomes his intervention … the pigs have indeed taken flight

In an exclusive interview with Business Day yesterday (catch it on YouTube here but the whole – extremely interesting – text here), the widely admired and respected ex-ANC deputy president and ANC secretary general and ex-country president (from 25 September 2008 to 9 May 2009) said things about the ruling alliance that everyone knows but few have dared say.

The alliance is dead, Motlanthe declared. The three organisations have become one organisation. In so becoming, Cosatu expelled 350,000 workers by expelling its largest affiliate, the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) as well as the leadership that had criticised the failure of Cosatu to take a stand independent of the ANC. The ANC would now meet as opponents those workers and shop stewards in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro and other areas of the Eastern Cape in local government elections next year.

He said a number of other things that were stern – if coded – attacks on the current leadership of the ANC:

  • Rising debt is fast approaching 50% of GDP. “We have a crisis and people who understand that are the people in Treasury because every week they have to go and borrow money in order to manage the current account… and they are raising this money in markets where political sentiment counts for naught”.
  • “Nuclear, for instance, it’s going to cost trillions,” he said. “If you have no regard for public debt… and it’s public debt… not government … it would affect each of us, each individual South African” – Business Day 02/11/2015.
  • He stood against Zuma at Mangaung party elections knowing he would lose because he refused to be part of a leadership where “it would be a constant battle just to get them to operate on the basis of the (ANC) constitution” – Business Day 02/11/2015.
  • He thought the decision to expel Julius Malema was part of the rise of unethical and factional decision-making. Now “(what) the EFF is saying resonates with their (young people’s) own feelings.”
  • The bullying tactics of the ANC in the National Assembly alienated people from minority groups – for example Afrikaners were “drawing back into their laager”.

The ANC put out a media statement, to the astonishment of many, on 2 November saying: “The African National Congress wants to affirm Comrades Kgalema Motlanthe as a leader and a voice reason” – and went on in the same vein – see here.

Cosatu diplomatically trashed him: “we find it regrettable that, he has ignored all the facts,” said the official statement. “Cde Kgalema was part of the leadership collective in government and in the ANC that defended labour brokers and e-tolls …” etc., etc. See here for the whole whine.

The SACP is, for the moment, maintaining a stunned silence.

So what?

Motlanthe is seen, in my opinion correctly, as an impeccably honourable man and representative of the ANC’s best instincts – which is largely why the Zuma machine had to squeeze him out after Mangaung in 2012. But there are new winds blowing through the ANC. Zuma is either on the retreat or happily edging towards retirement. The SACP and Cosatu are closer than ever to exiting (probably by being pushed) the ruling alliance.

While opposition is growing everywhere, it does not yet threaten the ANC’s overall and powerful majority. However, anyone with an eye on 2019, 2024 or 2029 – for example Motlanthe – the implacable consequences of the current trends are obvious. Defections from the ANC are closely linked to perceptions of corruption and the nepotistic behaviour associated with the Nkandla gang, perceptions that are most strongly held by the urban middle classes.

The ANC can either start or make visible a process of renewal at its National Congress in 2017 or a gradual decline, shift into rural areas and the defection of the urban middle classes is inevitable. This is precisely the road Zanu-PF took when it started losing ground in its most educated urban constituencies. That Zimbabwean journey is on-going and unhappy.

Gauteng – trying to seize the ANC by the scruff of its neck and pull it towards modernity and the urban middle classes

Look at this full page advertisement in Sunday Independent 1/11/2015:


… and this:

Front page advertisement in same newspaper

Front page advertisement in same newspaper

So what?

We have written extensively (here for the most detailed example) about the ANC losses in the Gauteng metropolitan areas in the May 2014 election and how this is applying pressure on the ANC to move back towards its urban middle class base.

The above advertisements are an almost perfect example of the marketing – and governance – campaigns the ANC Gauteng provincial government is conducting, undoubtedly with its eye on the 2016 local government and 2019 national elections.

As the link to our research above indicates, the ANC is vulnerable in its most sophisticated urban constituencies (Tshwane, Ekurhuleni and the Greater Johannesburg Metro in this case) and is least vulnerable in the poorly educated and poverty stricken rural areas.

(Some analysts interestingly believe that this is a ‘perverse incentive’, linked to this defecting black middle-class, for the ANC to underfund tertiary education. See the inimitable Johnny Steinberg argue this case, with all the requisite subtlety and disclaimers, in Business Day 10/30/2015 here.)

The Desperate Alliance

Ms Dianne Kohler Barnard, (now ex) shadow minister of police, was axed from the Democratic Alliance over the weekend after she was found guilty of misconduct, bringing the party into disrepute and contravening its social media policy.

What she had done was share a Facebook post that argued some aspects of government were better managed under apartheid strongman PW Botha than they are today. She claims not to have read the post properly, and immediately deleted it and apologised when she realised what it said. She was initially suspended but a disciplinary committee decided to expel her from the party.

So what?

On the face of it this appears to be a harsh and hurried sentence – unless the disciplinary hearing discovered that, in fact, Barnard did have apartheid sympathies and is an admirer of PW Botha. I find this unlikely – but that her re-posting of the article was careless and insensitive is beyond doubt. However, the punishment probably has more to do with DA desperation to woo suspicious black voters than any previously hidden demonic impulses in Barnard.

The DA has to make whatever strategic choices it feels are necessary, but we doubt that expelling Barnard or, in fact, electing Mmusi Maimane, will be enough window dressing to tempt the mass of voters into the shop. Risk is always highest as one steps from a safe ledge to another. The DA is stuck in a peculiar conundrum of needing to take care of its “racial base” in its ‘safe’ white and coloured constituencies (apologies for the casual South African terminology – we use these terms because they had precise historical/legal meanings under apartheid and they have on-going consequences and meanings in the present) while reaching out to the ANC’s fragmenting urban middle-class base.

If we had to take a wild, but still informed, guess, we would say the DA is likely to pick up stragglers from this defection but the EFF will get the lioness’s share, and apathy the lion’s.

Kidnap and MTN – risky business

City Press 11/01/2015 argues that the size of the proposed MTN fine for tardiness in deactivating millions of improperly registered SIM cards despite numerous warnings and fines, is because the matter “stopped being a purely regulatory issue and became a matter of national security” when unregistered MTN SIMs were used by kidnappers to negotiate a ransom for a former Nigerian finance minister in September.

The Nigerian Communications Commission has imposed a fine of N1.04 trillion, the equivalent of ZAR70b (a number of different estimates are given, but this is the general region). Read the full article here and another take here.

So what?

Regulatory and political risks are rising throughout the world, as sovereigns assert their power over markets, globalised or otherwise, partly in response to the Great Recession and partly in response to terrorist threats (and often to protect their own ‘national’ enterprises against foreign competition). It has now become common for massive fines to be imposed by governments on companies that are not necessarily domiciled in the jurisdictional area under that government’s control.

Drought and failing infrastructure raise risk that water shortages will be the new load-shedding

KwaZulu-Natal and Free State provinces have been declared disaster areas due to drought conditions that are worse than they have been for 24 years. Minister of Water and Sanitation Nomvula Mokonyane said 170 water schemes (that usually means dams) in the country are currently affected by the drought – Eye Witness News 02/11/2015.

Water utilities are also under pressure after years of under-investment while having had to expand connections to millions previously denied access by discriminatory legislation under apartheid.

“Water shedding will take the form of pressure reduction to manage leaks in the system and an overall loss of assurance of supply,” said Anthony Turton, a professor at the Centre for Environmental Management at the University of Free State.

So what?

Food security, food price inflation and a multitude of industrial processes are water dependent. Water clean enough for human and animal consumption is also, obviously, important. The predicted length of the drought and the state of our increasingly rickety water and sewerage reticulation systems represent increasing risks in South Africa.

And in other news …
  • Tokyo Sexwale, ex-Robben Islander, businessman, ex-Premier of Gauteng and ex-Minister of Human Settlements (and ex-too-many-other-things-to-name) has announced he will be making himself available to replace Sepp Blatter as FIFA president. Sexwale has very little football administrative experience and I cannot think of anyone better qualified to run FIFA … it’s a perfect fit.
  • The ANC Women’s League marched on the Union Buildings last Friday in the high priority cause of ‘defending Jacob Zuma’s dignity’. Some commentators have argued that it was a last ditch attempt. “That horse has bolted,” said one analyst who preferred not to be named Elspeth. Almost 300 members of the League were engaged in the mass march which was peaceful and well ordered.

So … my intention is to use bits of that to discuss heuristics, for those of you who are clamouring to hear more about that.

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.

Voluntarism 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.

Voluntarism  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 voluntarism 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

The raging race debate forces me to think about how we become culpable.

I came across an obscene argument the other day. Perhaps you have seen something similar?

It went like this: the Japanese are reaping what they have sown; the earthquake, the tsunamis, the nuclear threat and the unseasonal blizzards in the north are a karmic balancing for the killing of whales and the popularity of whale meat amongst the Japanese citizenry.

Think about this.

But first control for the sentimentalised ranking of some mammals over others in the general lovability stakes.

So consider countries that kill and eat stinky old cows (instead of noble and graceful whales) in the mass-produced beef industry.

Would anyone suggest that tragedies involving suffering and death of the citizens in countries that eat a lot of McDonald’s hamburgers (we could have spun this differently and made it KFC’s horrifyingly produced raw material) are somehow the just desserts of those people who form part of the relevant consumer demographic?

The idea is outrageous and its reasoning as deeply flawed as it is repulsive.

There are extraordinary and moving photographs of stoic Japanese citizens being rescued or tested for radiation as they are being evacuated from near Fukushima. Here’s one – and I hesitate to do this – and not only because it is not my property. The main reason is I do not want to be too manipulative:

I could have used this one, but I thought it might be pushing the bounds of good taste:

I do not want to go further down this path.

Only those whose lives revolve around sinister religious fairytales could believe any version of the idea that what has happened in Japan is some form of divine retribution.

I am more interested in the underlying fallacy that is much more common and certainly prevalent in our political discourse: collective guilt and the appropriateness of collective punishment – or at least collective responsibility.

Are whites the culpable beneficiaries of Apartheid? Do their children inherit this culpability and therefore the responsibility for redress? Are blacks (and, to a lesser degree) Coloureds and Indians victims of Apartheid? Are their children the inheritors of this disadvantage?

These issues are deeply unresolved in our political life – and, I believe, they are deeply unresolved in our law and in our minds.

Two startling contributions to the raging race debate – from below and slightly behind, so to speak.

White (male) drivers

The first is a letter to the editor of the increasingly excellent Business Day from one Oscar Mosito in Rosslyn

His issue is with white male drivers.

What is most endearing about Mr Mosito’s letter is his calm restraint that profoundly fails to hide his seething stew of road rage with a racial twist (or perhaps race rage on the twisted road – or twisted rage in the race … no, that’s enough … sorry.)

“For years since the dawn of democracy,” Oscar calmly begins “I have observed the behaviour of white (male) drivers on our roads, particularly on the freeway.”

“I am not sure if I should call it frustration by white people and their difficulty in accepting that black people are in power,” he continues “… or whether it is caused by the fact the Democratic Alliance is not opposition enough to defeat the African National Congress in elections, but there is a lot of frustration in most white male drivers. It is directed towards taxi drivers or our leaders …”

There follows a delightfully unconscious diatribe against white male (drivers) not respecting black political leadership, driving in the yellow line to prevent noble taxi drivers getting past on the inside lane (?) and continuously showing disrespect to “ministers, MECs, the deputy president or the president himself.”

Heaven forbid!

I have even noticed that every time they see a black person driving a luxury car, they give him a certain kind of look, but when the same black person is in a taxi, they hardly look. So, it is my plea for all white drivers who do not want to accept change to respect our leaders, whether on the road, boardroom or in sports. It’s time you accepted change … I just hope that next time you see a convoy of BMWs, you give way and know that those are your leaders …  Please set a good example for your innocent children.

Oh Joy!

It is so perfect I fear to say anything more in case I break its spell. Let’s just point out the innocence of the “convoy of BMWs” … which made me think for a while that it was a DA hoax, but then the rest convinced me otherwise … but maybe it’s still a hoax … I dunno? Maybe I am naive, maybe I am too hopeful …

In the hope that this is not a hoax (and that Oscar is a real black man and not a clever white racist trying to cause trouble) I would just like to take this opportunity to agree with him.

The white male drivers that I encounter on the roads of Cape Town are ignorant, unreasonable, arrogant, entitled oafs that I feel deeply homicidal towards.

But then so are the white women.

And the coloured men? Don’t even start me.

Oh, yeah and the black men and the coloured women and the black women … I told you, don’t get me started!

And the occasional Indians – of all genders – that mistakenly find their way here … where did they buy their licences, I ask you?

Okay, there – I feel better now.

Cape Town drivers are enough to get the blood pumping. They are a wonderful example of multi-ethnic unity – they all drive like Oscar’s very own vision of white males.

Catch the full text of Oscar’s spirited letter here.

The other example is even more delightful.

“Do not be friends with white people – they will Satinise you”

(My spell check keeps trying to change that to “Sanitise” – which is a racist little wordplay joke in itself.)

But anyway …

Stalwart Sadtu (South African Democratic Teachers Union) Chairperson Moss Senye who is also the principal of Meadowlands High, addressing 1000 teachers in Soweto in the lead-up to his trial for assaulting a 17 year old pupil said (and I pull it all out of this Sowetan article but I indicate how I have stitched it together with the dot … dot … dot):

Whether Barbara (Creecy) likes it or not, we will have our meetings. Despite Barbara, we will vote for the ANC during the elections and they will remove her. Let us not embrace satanic people. Down with Satanism. You cannot be friends with white people, they will Satanise you …The bank called and asked when I would pay for my car. I cannot pay and I do not care. They can repossess it. We must show strength as a region. Barbara is trying to destroy us. Angie (Motshekga tried and now she is gone. Mary (Metcalfe) tried and now she has vanished. People have tried to destroy the union and failed. At no stage should you be friends with white people, they will satanise you … Our region has 10,000 members and only 75 of them are white. This is a non-racial union. We welcome everyone. We have never had a problem with Indian teachers. They have always been our members. There are two white learners at Meadowlands High. Barbara is not happy about this. She wants them to go to Parktown and other schools in the suburbs.

Again, what could I add to that that would make it any more hilarious and horrifying than it already is?

Jacob Zuma said at a press conference in Sandton yesterday:

I’m not certain whether there have been threats of xenophobia. I know that there have been rumours that have been reported. (Reported in The Star)

As I drove towards Cape Town on the N1 on Sunday people were already streaming north, belongings in those huge carrier bags – they lined the side of the highway on the Paarl end of the tunnel. At that time spaza shops belonging to Somalians were already being burned in townships around Paarl and Franschhoek.

Outside of the Western Cape it might be true, as the president says, that the xenophobic threats are “a rumour”. But ethnic cleansing does not require current violence; it requires a history of violence and a promise of the same. The history is clear (here for previous post on this issue, here for a devastating M&G photo gallery of the May 2008 riots) and the promise of further violence has been reported constantly since late 2009.

It seems to deepen the injustice  that the current round of ethnic cleansing is taking place just as South Africa and its citizens are being hailed for their hospitality and general warmth during the Fifa World Cup.

I have often pointed out that the ANC’s clever- clever populism allows it to be all things to all people. I have mostly meant that that is a bad thing.

It is a legitimate question to ask: what are Julius Malema and  Barbara Hogan (to name two arbitrary ANC leaders) doing at the same table? When you strip away all the noise and posturing you are left with the question: what, politically, economically, ethically, spiritually, culturally do they have in common? How can one organisation have so broad a policy that both these people can claim to find a home there?

Usually, my conclusion is that the original policies designed to transform us away from Apartheid are disappearing from the ruling alliance and being replaced by the objective of power (and wealth and influence) for its own sake.

This morning I want to temper that negative view.

Our society has a number of real and urgent contradictions or fault-lines where the clashing currents are difficult to manage. Here are some of the most important:

  • White versus black (versus Indians versus Coloureds)
  • poor versus rich;
  • the employed versus the unemployed;
  • Zulu versus Xhosa versus Pedi versus Ndebele versus Sotho, versus Tswana versus Venda;
  • Western versus African;
  • Urban, modern and fast versus rural, traditional and conservative – with a sub-theme of modern city women versus patriarchal men or at least men carrying around chauvinist and patriarchal ideas in their heads.

The fact of the matter is that these divisions are not represented in the clash of politics in our formal political processes of parliament and government. There is no one party on one side of any of these divisions and mostly no one party on the other.

A quick glance through the ANC’s top leadership, structures and relationships shows a very deliberate attempt to represent the full scope of South African society.

I have mentioned elsewhere how Jacob Zuma has played a crucial role in winning Zulu’s back into the ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa is in part there for Venda’s, Hogan for whites and women, Derek Hanekom for whites and farmers, Mac Maharaj for Indians; Trevor Manuel for Coloureds and business …  and global capital markets; Baleka Mbete for women … the list really could go on for ever.

One of the reasons I think Julius Malema is unlikely to face serious punishment from the ANC leadership, is the organisation values the fact that, at one level of abstraction, he  “speaks for” the 2.5 million young black South Africans between the ages of 18 and 25 who are unemployed and not in any kind of education. (I do think Malema is primarily a populist disguising his own greed, but his populism also articulates – or helps weave into the national debate – a real view and an actual constituency.)

Then the alliance relationships with Cosatu, with the SACP and broader relationships with Contralesa (Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa); the Black Management Forum and outwards all the way to polite meetings with the Afrikaaner Weerstandsbeweging are all concentric circles of the ANC attempting to straddle all divides in the Society.

I think there is a very real danger in this context of ANC politics and policy becoming meaningless and allowing people in it for personal riches and power to rise to the top.

But I think it is important to acknowlge the upside.

We are a society in which the formal insitutions of democracy are new and tentative – and the divisions are threatening and profound. As many groups and interests as possible need to find expression in the national political debate and the formal institutions do not yet represent them.

As a second prize, an overwhelmingly dominant ruling party that attempts to play the role of a parliament of all the people, that attempts to speak with the cacophony of the thousand arguing tongues is not all bad.

It’s just loud, noisy, confusing and unsettling.

Could someone please guide me here.

Has every hick journalist and political cartoonist received privileged notification that the Presidency is on the verge of jointly pardoning Shabir Shaik and Eugene De Kock? In a sort of tit-for-tat?

I cannot work out which gallery would be being played to and for which purpose.

Are we to understand that in his overwhelming desire to pardon and reward his former financial advisor, Jacob Zuma would release the Apartheid mass-murderer to keep possible critics happy?

The idea is absurd and I cannot bring myself to believe that it hasn’t been made up by journalists of various hues looking for a story beyond the endless and tacky conflict in the ruling alliance.

The precedent for a similar equation of evil is F W De Klerk’s 1992 release of Wit Wolf spree killer Barend Strydom as an apparent quid pro quo for the release of Robert Macbride commander of the cell that carried out the Magoos bombing.

Strydom had gone on a rampage killing as many black people as he could while walking through the streets of  Pretoria in November 1988. Macbride had done a number of things as commander of an uMkhonto we Sizwe cell including take the ANC perilously close to targeting civilians in the bombing of the Magoos  Bar in 1984 in which 3 people were killed and 69 injured.

Both Strydom and Macbride had been on death row when capital punishment was suspended in 1990 but that is about as far as the comparison goes.

We can, at a real streatch, understand that De Klerk was satisfying two distinct constituencies in the 1992 releases.

But what possible constituencies need to be satisfied in the pardonings  of Shaik and De  Kock. White people want De Kock pardoned and Black people want Shaik pardoned?

I don’t think so –  the suggestion is ridiculous, even for the Zuma presidency.

It is, inescapably, time for a little weekend editorialising.

Yesterday I summarised the main content of Jeremy Cronin’s criticism of  the ANC Youth League’s “nationalise the mines!” call. In as far as it is possible I summarised Julius Malema’s response to Cronin – his comments consisted primarily of  racial abuse and pompous meandering. This morning I woke filled with the urgent need to write something more and to use a tone that was ever so slightly sharper.

There are three conclusions or indicators that seem to me to shine (or rather ‘gleam balefully’) through this exchange.

1. The Zuma government and ANC are dangerously weak at the centre

Debate and the free flow of ideas is almost always a good thing.

But this isn’t debate or the free flow of ideas. Malema is not putting forward an argument. There are no ideas flowing freely between Cronin and Malema.  Malema is (essentially) racially abusing someone who has entered into the  ‘healthy public debate’ originally called for by the ANC Youth League. And there is no centre of leadership that seems able to repudiate this, to put some kind of limitation on Malema. Where is Jacob Zuma? Where is Blade Nzimande? Where is Gwede Mantashe? Why shouldn’t foreign investors,  fund managers,  and ordinary citizens not conclude that Malema represents the “real ANC”? He is ex-officio on the NEC and the NWC; he is clearly a powerful and influential ANC politician in his own right – as I argue here; he appears to have been blessed and anointed by Jacob Zuma on several occasions?

It is becoming inescapable: the reason for the level and tone of bullying racial abuse that passes for “debate” about race, nationalisation, black management in the parastatals – you name it – is that there are NO guiding ideas coming from the centre. At this level it is becoming clear that, indeed, the centre cannot hold.

2. Race to the finish

Jeremy Cronin is not some Jimmy-white-racist off the street that Malema should feel safe to abuse and dismiss. Cronin is a revered ANC and SACP leader, poet, intellectual, ex-political prisoner. If Malema can dismiss him as a “white Messiah” a “reactionary” and a racist – with the implicit support of the whole edifice of Zuma’s government and the ANC – why would any white South African, or white non-South African for that matter, believe that they might have something to offer up to the country, to the debate, to the future?

The “race card” played with such impunity by ANC and government leaders – and other important South Africans – is becoming a bizarre obscenity that has long undermined any legitimate attempt to combat racism. Crying wolf about racism means that we no-longer recognise it when we see it. It is becoming much safer to assume that the cry “racism” is an attempt to throw off pursuit or criticism.

3. Malema is a looter and Cronin an imperfect builder

It appears (to me anyway) that Malema represents those who hope to leverage their “race” (using the imperative for affirmative action, black economic empowerment and transformation more generally) and the general dominance of the ANC in government, to loot the state and ransack the economy.

The Eskom/Bobby Godsell/Jacob Maroga debacle, which I cover here exposed the Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League as being on the side of crony capitalism and Cosatu as being on the side of development and the effective use of state assets. The clash between Malema and Cronin emphasises the point even more clearly. Everything that Malema argues (or rather bombastically threatens) implies that he claims to speak for “black people” as “black people” – with all the attendant historical disadvantage and current entitlement to redress.  Everything that Cronin says is about perfecting a developmental strategy to address poverty and unemployment.

Now a difficulty for me here is that I think Cronin’s premise is wrong and in any other situation I would rather argue about his implicit hostility to business and markets. However, my argument with Cronin is one about strategies and tactics – and I would have no quibble with the end goal of rolling-back poverty, inequality and unemployment and the creation of a better society.

Malema, on the other hand, wants nothing more than his and his cronies turn at the trough.  There is no evidence or reference to social goals in Malema’s bombast; there is only a threatening racial antagonism, a chauvinistic racial solidarity and a bullying demand to be given more of the assets of this state and economy to dispose of in consumption.

Late yesterday the  South African Communist Party came out in defence of its deputy secretary-general and it is probably appropriate to let them have the last word (and I will try not to quibble with the details):

20 November 2009

The SACP wishes to condemn in the strongest possible terms the insults that the President of the ANC Youth League hurled at our Deputy General Secretary, Cde Jeremy Cronin. We find it very strange and politically dishonest that whilst on the one hand the ANCYL calls for a debate on the question of nationalization yet, on the other hand, it throws insults on those who are taking up the debate.

As the SACP we shall not sink to this level of political and intellectual dishonesty, but instead we call upon the President of the ANCYL, or anyone for that matter, to engage the issues raised by Cde Cronin in a principled and comradely manner, without resorting to the Mbeki era type of insults against the leaders of our Party.

For the record, we invited the ANCYL to participate at our political school last month, to, amongst others, debate this matter of nationalization, but did not take up the invitation. We wish to further invite the ANCYL to feel free to respond in any of our publications to debate this and other matters, in a principled manner.

Issued by the SACP

Malesela Maleka
SACP Spokesperson – 082 226 1802

And from me (Nic) have a good weekend and thank you for your patience.

While I am writing a response to the shocking news that Mo Shaik will be our new head of the SASS (South African Secret Service) here’s a thing you just can’t miss:

Julius Malema attacked Nedbank from a platform while addressing students at the Mangosuthu Technikon in Umlazi, Durban.

The real reason Nedbank had withdrawn funding from Athletics South Africa, said the ANC Youth League leader, was because the company was unhappy that our three medals from the world championships were won by blacks.

Julius Malema (Jelly Totsi - thanks Andrew D) looking like his good self

Julius Malema (Jelly Totsi - thanks Andrew D) looking like his good self

Fleshing out his position – so to speak – he went on to say: “What does the youth league know about hermaphrodites? The imperialists must not impose this on us if they have hermaphrodites where they come from. They must enjoy living with their hermaphrodites, because in South Africa there are no hermaphrodites.”

And a jolly good argument it is, too.

The story, in all its confusing glory, is laid out here. That is also where I got this picture, which, lets face it, paints a thousand words.

Is Julius Malema  the only person prepared to tell the truth around here?

Julius bemoaning the under-representation of “Africans” and/or “black people” in the economic cluster:

We [black people] cannot just be reduced to security and the very important issue of economy is given to minorities…. Minister of police, minister of intelligence, minister of justice — [they are] all Africans. But in the economics cluster, it’s minorities. We welcome that (the appointment of Gill Marcus to the SARB) … but we would have expected once again an African child to occupy that strategic position …We need to build confidence in the markets that Africans are also capable of handling strategic positions in the economic sector. As quoted in the Mail & Guardian

Now Julius Malema is the court jester and his words have been repudiated by the king in clear and unambiguous terms:

“We have never looked at things in terms of race and ethnicity but, rather, in terms of people being South Africans” – Jacob Zuma, a few days later.

But it is clear that the clown is not just a clown. His function is to reflect the rump of ANC – or South African – thinking, especially when that thinking is out of line with the constitution or unacceptable in the sort of liberal democratic traditions the ANC has come to prefer to espouse. Thus, the contention is that many in the ANC (and in the intelligentsia the party consists of and represents) are as unhappy as clown Julius is with the fact that the profile economic ministries are in the hands of “whites”, “Indians” and “coloureds”.

I can imagine someone who has known South Africa primarily as the post-Apartheid miracle-with-cool-game-reserves flabbergasted by this stuff.

Whites, Coloureds, Indians and Africans – WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? I thought you were all Africans! Those are defunct Apartheid categories; made up scientific nonsense.

Well sorry to disappoint you, but every South African above a certain age, no matter the colour of their skin or the kink in their hair knows exactly what “race” they are and EXACTLY what “race” every other South African they meet is.

GIll Marcus slaved away in the depths of the ANC’s exile in Lusaka and Trevor Manuel fought policeman in the streets of Cape Town and Pravin Gordhan moved the cadres of operation Vula from place to place and Mac Maharaj was a master of disguise in the great war against the Apartheid beast, but they are not “black people” or, as Julius Malema would have it, they are not even African children.

And it is true. They are not. And only Julius Malema is prepared to say aloud the thing that everyone knows.

All these people derive from groups rigidly defined by the Apartheid state (and the colonial state that it evolved from). All those groups were significantly favoured in comparison to the group defined as “African” by that state and its predecessors. The ongoing consequences of this definition and favouring/retarding survives in the the cultural and economic structure of this world and in the heads of our citizens.

Julius Malema is a politician, obliged to talk in political generalities and abstractions. There is no room here for individuals escaping the categories and weight of their past. Each one of these people, and a myriad others, are seen as representatives; and for Julius and for millions of other South Africans, what they represent is their “race” as defined by Apartheid.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t struggle against this, assert non-racialism and the constitution, berate those who claim status as “victims” or those who claim superiority. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shield our children from the corroding effects of this “knowledge of sin” which burdens every South African above the age of about 30.

It just means we all understand the awful court jester. We wish we didn’t, but we do.

I am a political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

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