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
17 February 2011

“How very dare you!”

Minister of Higher Education, Dr Blade Nzimande, often pens what appear to be highly learned  critiques of the capitalist system, neo-liberalism, liberals and the evils of imperialism. Ironically, he is also a member of the government who has imposed neo-liberal economic policies on the poor and unemployed of South Africa. 

While he rails against neo-liberalism and the evils of fat-cat capitalists (and goodness knows, we need someone to rail against these selfish, greedy and selfrighteous idiots), the government he belongs to continues to implement “pay-as-you-go” policies for the provision of water and electricity to all South Africans, ensuring that many poor people will be denied access to the basic services they require to live a dignified life. He is also part of the government who yearly evicts thousands of poor people from their homes in inner cities and so called “squatter camps”  – all done in the name of “progress” in an effort to impose a neo-liberal world order on South Africa and to clean up cities so that capitalists can make bigger profits.

He therefore seems like a man who knows how to deal with contradictions. Or perhaps he is just a man who has managed to ignore the contradictions around him to ensure that he retains his vast privileges as a cabinet minister – the R1.2 million cars, the VIP body guards, the fawning underlings, the free trips to Cuba.

In many ways, Minister Nzimande is a living contradictions. He is a highly learned man with a PhD who has the ability to write articles containing sophisticated (if slightly hackneyed) Marxist jargon, but he is incapable of launching even a remotely intelligent defence of the policies and performance of his Department and that of his co-Minister of basic education. Thus, confronted with serious criticism of the failing schooling system and with persistent questions about the integrity of the matric results for 2010, he did not pen an intelligent and articulate rebuttal to answer his critics and to demonstrate why their criticism was wrongheaded or illogical (as some of it might well be).

Instead, like a wounded dog, he shrieked and howled in outrage. He reminded me of Derek, a character in the hilarious Catherine Tate Show, who is clearly gay but becomes extremely offended and defensive when people assume he is gay, often exclaiming: “How very dare you!” or “The impertinence.” or  “What? Gay, dear? Who, dear? Me dear? No, dear”.

In Parliament Minister Nzimande defended the government’s education policies in the now infamous statement below:

If the Matric results are bad, this is taken as proof that this government of darkies is incapable. If the Matric pass rate goes up, it means the results have been manipulated by these darkies. The arrogant, sneering tone of this discourse, which is often racist, frankly, is aimed at undermining the confidence of our people in both our education system and government.

This statement has made the news because Nzimande used the term “darkies”. But it should have made the news because the statement was so shockingly vacuous and stupid. Does the Minister disrespect the electorate – both those who voted for the ANC and those who voted for other parties – so utterly that he could not even bother to conjure up one or two good arguments to explain why there are still serious problems with our education system? Is this really the best our Minister of Higher Education could come up with?

Oh dear, we must really be in big trouble. Where was the intellectual engagement? The lucid explanations and justifications? The plausible answers?

Now, if he had come up with a clever put down of any of his critics, one might have forgiven him for not dealing with the issues. The British are rather good at this sort of clever put down. And in politics a clever put down has its time and place.

Minister Nzimande could have emulated F. E. Smith who said about Sir Winston Churchill: “Winston had devoted the best years of his life to preparing his impromptu speeches.” Or Winston Churchill saying about prime minister Clement Attlee: “A sheep in sheep’s clothing.” Or Jonathan Aitken who, making the point that Margaret Thatcher was rather uninformed about world affairs said of her: “She probably thinks Sinai is the plural of sinus.” And my favourite put down of all times is that of Denis Healey, talking about facing a verbal attack from Geoffrey Howe: “It’s like being savaged by a dead sheep.”

Oh, if only our Ministers could show half the wit and one tenth of the intelligence of those who thought up the insults produced in the previous paragraphs. (One might argue that English is not his home language and that he could not be expected to be witty in a language other than his mother tongue, but his put downs – in Zulu – of the DA’s Lindiwe Mazibuko was even more embecilic, bemoaning the fact that she had not grown up in a township and hinting that she was a coconut.) Instead our Minister of Higher Education produced the bizarre claim that anyone who expresses concern about the low matric pass rate is a racist and that anyone questioning the dramatic rise in the matric pass rate last year is also a racist. One would have expected such “logic” from one of the pupils who had failed matric last year, not from the Minister of Higher Education.

Of course, we all know what the Minister was really saying. Like Derek in the Catherine Tate skits, his denials contained in it an admission: he was admitting that the critics had unanswerable points and that he had no intelligent or thoughtful way to defend the government’s education policies and the way these have been implemented and that he had no other way of responding to the often valid criticism (being incapable of admitting mistakes and problems) and was therefore forced to embarrass himself with this completely illogical rant. 

Anyone with two brain cells knows that in South Africa in 2011 we do not have a fair education system and that the system is failing the majority of our children. If one is poor and is forced to go to a township school, one’s chances of obtaining a decent education are rather slim. If one happens to be middle or upper middle class and one’s parents can send one to a private school (as some cabinet Ministers sometimes do) or to one of the good government schools, one has a decent chance to get ahead in the world.

In effect, the system of Bantu Education is alive and well in South Africa and is being overseen by the ANC government who claims to have freed us from apartheid. Maybe that is one contradiction that is so painful and shocking that even Blade Nzimande is finding it difficult to live with it – hence the racial outburst.

Guilt and self-hate masquerading as self-righteous indignation, perhaps?

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