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
21 December 2006

ANC, criticism and democracy

The letter from the editor published on ANC Today last Friday is quite revealing. To my mind it inadvertently shows some in the ANC to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of democracy.

For example, it complains about reporting on the Gautrain and criticism of President Mbeki using the so called race card to answer his critics, and says:

[O]ur allies, the SACP and COSATU, made absolutely no effort to contact us to check the veracity of the allegations originally made by the Sunday Times, which consciously and deliberately sought to project some of our leaders, and the ANC as a whole, as a corruptive force deeply embedded in our body politic.

The underlying assumption here is that the ANC will always be honest when asked to respond about corruption and we should therefore trust them. Ifw e do not trust them we are horrible racists.

But in a democracy, we have a right NOT to trust politicians and political parties. Should Americans have trusted Richard Nixon or George Bush? Should the Brits have trusted Tony Blair or Margareth Thatcher? Of course not. Politicians and political parties lie to serve their own interest. The ANC has shown that it is no different.

Its only in a totalitarian state where one is forced to “trust” the rulers. In a democracy we have a right to question and even to ridicule our rulers and their political parties. The ANC is no different despite their struggle credentials because they are also now a government party and therefore need not be trusted.

The letter also responds to criticism of President Thabo Mbeki’s style of debate. Cosatu complained that he does not deal with the real issues but tends to label and ridicule his opponents to which the editors say:

[I]n the event that a robust debate arises affecting any issue, those involved must not expect that they can unilaterally lay down rules prescribing what constitutes legitimate argument, principally to limit the possibility for the ANC and the government to defend themselves.

But that does not answer the criticism. Instead of addressing the question posed by Cosatu, it merely states that the President can argue in any way he wants to. It’s the equivalent of shouting na-na-na while sticking out your tounge at the other boys on the playground! Its infantile and arrogant at the same time.

The real question is whether it is good tactics and whether it is good for democracy for a President to call others names instead of actually answering their criticism?

I would suspect that it is neither. By using race as an all-encompassing weapon to intimidate and ridicule those who criticise the ANC, President Mbeki is de-legitimising real debate on racism. Because he is claiming that any criticism of the ANC is by its very nature racist. In the long run we will just all start laughing at him when he uses the R word.

Racism is a real issue and President Mbeki makes excellent points about how racism is embedded in our society. But people will stop listening to him if he uses this insight to try and stop anyone from ever criticising the ANC. In that way he is misusing racism for his own narrow party political purposes.

This is a rather sad development. Let’s hope 2007 will be the year when some of the good leaders in the ANC stand up to challenge this kind of clap trap.

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