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
1 February 2007

Mti vir my jok nie

The news that the previous head of the Department of Correctional Services, Linda Mti, has been appointed head of World Cup security is not surprising.

It seems part of a larger pattern that has emerged over the last year or two of the powerful acting like the high and mighty they think themselves to be.

Although Mti has not been convicted of anything, a dark cloud hangs over his head. Mti was arrested on drunken driving charges last year (a charge that was dropped, for the time being, because of delays in concluding blood tests). More troubling, an investigation by the Public Services Commission into serious allegations of conflict of interests was dropped because of his resignation late last year.

Maybe he is a nice guy who has never benefited from contracts awarded by his department and maybe he was not fall down drunk when he was stopped by officers late last year but was merely suffering from acute vertigo. Maybe he will do an excellent job as security chief.

All this should not matter to people who believe their only job is to make a success of the Soccer World Cup. They may argue that Mr. Mti is innocent until proven guilty or that racism informs the criticism of Mti, but they cannot deny that a whiff of scandal has enveloped the ex Commissioner.

People who really care about the success of the World Cup would not have appointed him because they would have wanted to avoid controversy – even if they believed that Mr was unfairly tainted. This is what happens when people feel accountable to the larger public (in South Africa and the rest of the world): they act with one eye to what the public might say because they want to keep in the good books of the public – no matter how much they may despise the public for its prejudice and stupidity. It is called democracy, really.

But some newly powerful individuals in South Africa do not feel accountable to anyone. Like Dick Cheney, when they are criticized they say in some way or another: we are in charge and you are not, so shut up. (Cheney said last week: “I am the vice President and they are not.”)

The newspapers will shout and scream and the 702 and Cape Talk listeners will complain bitterly that the country is going to the dogs, and nothing will change because the vast majority of South Africans are just busy surviving and have no time to get upset about such things. No toyi-toyi, no march, no blockade of World Cup headquarters.

But in the long run this kind of attitude threatens to sabotage the chances of poor people to make a better life for themselves. If people in power do not care what others say they will act more and more arrogantly and will be less and less accountable, which means they will inevitably begin to beleive only themselves and will make monumental blunders.

So while such people think they are sending a big “up yours” to all those hoity-toity, namby-pamby, rich, mostly white, formerly baby-eating, whiners, the big “up yours” they are really sending is to the poor and marginalized in our society. How short-sighted can one be.

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