Quote of the week
What is it with us looking for a saviour to rise from these streets? In the recent months it has been Cyril Ramaphosa who will save the ANC from itself and us all from Zuma’s government. And if that fails we have the National Development Plan that will fix everything. Like Ramphela and Ramaphosa, the National Development Plan is great. It might be my own pessimism, but in my opinion these are, all three, not (powerfully) shapers of historical outcomes … they are effects, not causes. The NDP is just a piece of paper, an adequate diagnosis and a bundle of good intentions. Ramaphosa is embedded in something much more powerful, and scarier, than he will ever be. Ramphela is a single person with no established political constituency, no party machinery and a reputation for humiliating her senior managers in public (… aside from all those good things I mentioned earlier). Sure, we can hope that she will sweep the ANC’s patronage networks aside and replace it with a meritocracy pure as the driven snow. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. – Nic Borain
People talk too much about the economy and not enough about jobs. When economists, academics and bankers are allowed to lead the debate, the essential human element goes missing. This is neither healthy nor practical. Unemployment should be our prime concern. Spain, with youth joblessness close to 50%, is in the gravest crisis, but there is hardly a government on the planet that is not wondering what it can do to guide school-leavers into work, exploit the skills of older workers, and avoid the apathy and alienation of the jobless, which undermines not just the economy but also the social fabric. - John Studzinski in the Guardian
Most people have experienced some kind of recourse to instant tradition, whether from insecure teachers or peremptory bosses seeking to assert an unearned authority. Much of South African history might be summed up in that thoughtless and condescending attitude. For more than 350 years, the self-righteous, largely unquestioned trinity of culture, custom and tradition was stridently employed to justify not only rapacious European conquest, but white supremacy, which culminated in legislated white lordship. Many whites have still not grown out of this racial delusion. That tradition, of whatever hue or culture, is routinely invoked to sanctify power. Pallo Jordan pointed out on these pages that this year marks the centenary of the Natives Land Act. It was not only the infamous culmination of statutory robbery, but a triumph of invented “tradition”: white sovereignty wilfully destroying a long tradition of thriving peasant farming. – Bryan Rostron in Business Day
“In one of the last interviews before his fall, Nicolae Ceausescu was asked by a western journalist how he justified the fact that Romanian citizens could not travel freely abroad although freedom of movement was guaranteed by the constitution. His answer was in the best tradition of Stalinist sophistry: true, the constitution guarantees freedom of movement, but it also guarantees the right to a safe, prosperous home. So we have here a potential conflict of rights: if Romanian citizens were to be allowed to leave the country, the prosperity of their homeland would be threatened. In this conflict, one has to make a choice, and the right to a prosperous, safe homeland enjoys clear priority …” Slavoj Žižek in The Guardian on the crisis of democracy in the West.
Yet there has been very little reflection on the weaknesses of investigative journalism as it’s currently practiced. All too often, investigative journalism tends to focus on elite (mis)conduct, failing to recognise that the power dynamics at grassroots level should constitute the stuff of investigative journalism too. Investigative stories are often confined to the major urban areas. Many journalists have been overly reliant on a narrow range of sources, especially leaks and tip-offs from disgruntled political figures, to break stories. Many of these stories are passed for investigative journalism, but in fact are not. Leaks and tip off-driven journalism can make journalists lazy, discouraging proactive investigation and making them susceptible to manipulation by hidden political agendas. At a deeper level, it can reinforce the tendency for news agendas to be set on a top-down basis. – Jane Duncan on Investigative Journalism
In The Age of Anxiety, W.H. Auden observed that we human beings never become something without pretending to be it first. The corollary is more prosaic but, regrettably, at least as true: We humans never become most of the things we pretend we will someday be. – Kathryn Schultz in New York magazine
But in townships and shack settlements, there are very real threats to freedom of speech — the pressure to conform comes not from the fear of ridicule but from the use of force by local power-holders. One feature of democracy here about which we rarely talk is the extent to which our residential areas are dominated by particular parties. The problem is not as great as it was in 1994, when parties won more than 90% of the vote in many areas, but it has not disappeared. For several reasons, this is far more of a problem in areas where the poor live: often political bosses hold sway and they do not take kindly to competition. They also often have links to local police. And so challenging power-holders in the areas where most citizens live is likely to bring far worse consequences than ridicule — it may mean a threat of violence, in some cases from the police. In these areas, criticising the government is indeed brave and independent. – Steven Friedman in Business Day
I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional Leaders Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here and here.) Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state), the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’. This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these. – Nic Borain taking a stab at predicting our future.
“I am so afraid. I have never stolen anything from anybody. Now I am being accused of stealing a piece of land. I have papers to prove that the government has approved the deed of sale. We are prepared to pay market value for this land and we are pleading with the government to not demolish our homes but to negotiate a settlement. I have R50 000 in the frozen bank account of the fraudster who was arrested – that can go to the government for the land. We did not know we were involved in a fraudulent deal. As it is I have taken out personal loans, bank loans…how will we pay these back while our homes are demolished?” - Nonhlanhla Pholo, whose house in Lenasia is earmarked for demolition, quoted by Gillian Schutte at SACSIS