Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
29 November 2006

About objectivity and judgment

One often hears complaints about so called experts and commentators having a hidden agenda and not being objective. This happens especially when a commentator says something negative about one’s favourite politician – whether he or she is an ANC, DA or any other aligned politician.

For example an anonymous reader of this Blog commented on my previous post about what Mr. Jacob Zuma might have said about the ANC being more important than the Constitution:

it appears to me that Pierre has lost objectivity when it comes to Zuma. As a professor I think he should not let his prejudices cloud his judgment, if in anyway he has a right to make any. He seems to be trusting the Afrikaans speaking journalist like a child does to a parent. Could it be because the journalist is white?

Let us get this out of the way: I do not believe anyone can be completely objective and pretending that one can is plain dishonest. All of us have a certain world view which influences our take on the world. We form opinions – even when we do not realize that we do.

If one holds oneself out as a so called expert or commentator (or just a good citizen for that matter) one should strive to be accurate and precise, scrupulously fair, and well-informed. One should also be self-critical and should constantly ask why one is holding the view that one does.

One’s view of someone should not be influenced, for example, by that person’s race or gender, or what language he or she speaks. Sadly it often is. In my experience many white people in South Africa don’t realize that they have certain negative expectations of black people that is purely based on racial stereotyping.

I expect that many black people probably make negative assumptions about white people too that are based on skin colour and not actual ability or conduct.

But one cannot go through life without any opinions on the important political and social issues of the day.

It would, I think, be dishonest for anyone who knows anything about our politics to claim that they do not have a view on Mr. Zuma and his character. I have no idea whether he will be convicted if he is ever charged with corruption – that is for a court to decide if a charge is ever brought against Mr Zuma.

But I do know that I believe Mr Zuma is not fit to be the President of South Africa.

My view on Mr Zuma is informed by facts, not, I sincerely hope, by his race or ethnicity or sexual orientation or even his gender – some of my best friends are heterosexual men!

Fact 1: Mr. Zuma received more than R1 million from a convicted fraudster and then did some favours for that fraudster. Fact 2: Mr. Zuma submitted a fraudulent loan agreement to Parliament to cover his tracks. Fact 3: Mr. Zuma had sex without a condom with a young woman and then claimed his culture made him do it. Fact 4: He claimed taking a shower after sex is a good HIV prevention strategy. Fact 5: He made deeply homophobic statements for which he also blamed his culture.

Whether I gave credence to the story in Die Burger because the journalist is white: anything is possible, I suppose. But I thought her being white and working for Die Burger would tend to make me more skeptical of her story, given the shameful pro-apartheid propaganda role played by Die Burger during the apartheid years.

In the end it is good to talk about the silent prejudices on race and gender and sexual orientation that permeate our society. It is when assumptions are hidden and denied that it festers.

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