Quotes

On Wonderwoman

Wonder Woman allows its heroine all the trappings of free, courageous, independent womanhood. It even cheers her on when she bashes up men. It merely propagates the unhelpful myth that if a woman is nice enough, pretty enough, feminine enough, she can do such things without ever causing offense, or being called a bitch. Really, if you want feminist inspiration, you’re better off skipping Wonder Woman and going back to watch the wiseacre heroines of the 1940s: the ones played by Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, and Barbara Stanwyck.

Zoë Heller
The New York Review of Books

On the dead

The dead are hard to think about – and, in many ways, to read about. Unlike animals, which Lévi-Strauss declared were not only good to eat but bon à penser, too, I found that I averted my eyes, so to speak, several times as I was reading [The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains]. Not because of the infinite and irreversible sadness of mortality, or because of the grue, the fetor, the decay, the pervasive morbidity – though Laqueur’s gallows humour about scientific successes in the calcination of corpses can be a bit strong – but because the dead present an enigma that can’t be grasped: they are always there in mind, they come back in dreams, live in memory, and if they don’t, if they’re forgotten as so many millions of them must be, that is even more disturbing, somehow reprehensible. The disappeared are the unquietest ghosts.

Marina Warner
London Review of Books

What happens if vote of no confidence is defeated.

[What happens if the ANC wins the vote of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma] by a substantial majority, with only a handful of ANC MPs voting with the opposition. Supposedly this would be a massive victory for the ruling party, yet it will fly in the face of not just the parliamentary opposition, but a massive body of popular opinion throughout the country. The ANC would have voted to keep a deeply corrupt president in power, with probable long term disastrous electoral consequences. Any internal ANC “reform” project will be more likely to fail.

Roger Southall
Business Day

On EFF and King Zwelithini

It’s also meant making some serious compromises. A few days ago, the EFF paid the necessary fealty to King Goodwill Zwelithini on the happy occasion of his own birthday. The King is hardly the friend you want if you’re trying to portray your party as committed to ethnically inclusive, forward-thinking progressivism. But he is power around these parts, and standing alongside him as he celebrates his eleventy-thousandth birthday is good politics.

Richard Poplak
Daily Maverick

On Nicaraguan sign language

[In Nicaraguan sign language] the sign for President Daniel Ortega, who wears a prominent Rolex watch, is tapping your wrist. The late Fidel Castro, often referred to in political speeches, is signed by a bossy wagging of the finger combined with a V-sign moving away from the mouth, as if smoking a cigar. As new words are needed, new signs emerge. To say ‘Donald Trump’, you make a gesture to indicate a presidential sash then smooth your hair across the forehead.

John Perry
London Review of Books

James Baldwin

Our passion for categorisation, life neatly fitted into pegs, has led to an unforeseen, paradoxical distress; confusion, a breakdown of meaning. Those categories which were meant to define and control the world for us have boomeranged us into chaos; in which limbo we whirl, clutching the straws of our definitions. The “protest” novel, so far from being disturbing, is an accepted and comforting aspect of the American scene, ramifying that framework we believe to be so necessary. Whatever unsettling questions are raised are evanescent, titillating; remote, for this has nothing to do with us, it is safely ensconced in the social arena, where, indeed, it has nothing to do with anyone, so that finally we receive a very definite thrill of virtue from the fact that we are reading such a book at all.

James Baldwin
Notes of a Native Son

On gay persecution

What occurred in Chechnya in late winter went beyond beatings and blackmail. Ali appears to have been one of the first men to be swept up in the recent wave of detentions of gay men, carried out on orders from the top of the Chechen government. Those who were brought in and later released issued dire warnings on Russian social networks, in closed groups for Chechen gay men. On April 1st, Novaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper with a long and distinguished track record of reporting from Chechnya, published an article claiming that it had been able to confirm more than a hundred arrests and three deaths resulting from this sweep.

MASHA GEssen in The New Yorker
The Gay Men Who Fled Chechnya’s Purge

On Venezuela

[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

On the House of Hunger

This is a book of desire denied, of what the pain of that impotence drives people to do, and how it makes them unwilling contortionists and even co-conspirators in their oppression. From ‘The Transformation of Harry’: “And there we all were; in an uncertain country, ourselves uncertain. A land with a sly heart; and ourselves ready to be deceived.” For if colonialism was any one thing it was denial: denial of land, denial of African culture, denial of any form of psychic nourishment—including hope—denial of black existence itself. And neocolonialism is the denial that any of that is still happening. First published in 1978, The House of Hunger speaks, or rather shouts, forward from its own time to 2017. Perhaps the most painful parts of the book to read are those that show how little has changed in thirty-nine years. For if colonialism was any one thing it was denial: denial of land, denial of African culture, denial of any form of psychic nourishment—including hope—denial of black existence itself. And neocolonialism is the denial that any of that is still happening.

Efemia Chela
On The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera

Solnit on ourselves and Trump

We gain awareness of ourselves and others from setbacks and difficulties; we get used to a world that is not always about us; and those who do not have to cope with that are brittle, weak, unable to endure contradiction, convinced of the necessity of always having one’s own way. The rich kids I met in college were flailing as though they wanted to find walls around them, leapt as though they wanted there to be gravity and to hit ground, even bottom, but parents and privilege kept throwing out safety nets and buffers, kept padding the walls and picking up the pieces, so that all their acts were meaningless, literally inconsequential. They floated like astronauts in outer space.

Rebecca Solnit
THE LONELINESS OF DONALD TRUMP - on LitHub

On Gupta corruption

In a scheme so audacious and lucrative that it puts the notorious arms deal to shame, [the Guptas}:

  • Entered kickback agreements totalling R5.3-billion with the Chinese manufacturer that became Transnet’s favourite locomotive supplier;
  • Influenced procurement processes through their associates at Transnet;
  • Are pocketing R10-million from each R50-million locomotive that Transnet is buying.
AMABHUNGANE and SCORPIO
Daily Maverick

On bad journalism

Dacre’s paper [the UK Daily Mail] is like the drunken lout at a party who can’t get anyone to like him. Suddenly all the girls are sluts and all the men are poofs and he’s swinging at the chandelier before being huckled outside to vomit on the lawn. The Mail desecrates the holy places where it likes to stake its claim, and would be a laughable rag, really, were it not for our degraded political culture taking it seriously. Look at the paper itself and you see it is not the real voice of England, but a dark distortion of it, a post-truth version that shouts about decency but doesn’t exhibit any, that praises aspiration but only certain sorts.

Andrew O'Hagen
London Review of Books

Jonas on Populism

Populism denies complexity, denies constraint, and denies risk. It distracts attention from the real issues that must be addressed, and, as evident in the current context, closes down space for democratic dialogue and conversation… Hence its appeal to desperate politicians and the massive traction it enjoys among electorates. We need the wisdom and the courage to resist the bullshit, especially bullshit that divides us as South Africans.

Mcebisi Jonas
Quoted by Ranjeni Munusamy in the Daily Maverick

Trump the liar

President Trump is a selfish liar, and a vain one. Those traits, together, can cause chaos, as they did on Thursday, when, in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Trump undermined his own alibi for firing the F.B.I. director, James Comey. The official story had been that Trump was moved to act on Tuesday only after the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, and the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, came to him with concerns about Comey’s competence—specifically, his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s e-mails…. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the deputy press secretary, [threw] in some smears of Comey, who she said had committed “atrocities” while at the F.B.I. and was disliked by its rank and file. Speaking to Holt, Trump stood by the smears: “Look, he’s a showboat, he’s a grandstander”; “I just want somebody that’s competent.” But, when Holt asked him about heeding Sessions and Rosenstein, Trump seemed to bristle. Could Holt think that he, Trump, needed to hear what anyone had to say—that he had his mind changed by subordinates?

Amy Davidson
The Ne Yorker

On politics of the art world

There is a recurrent moment, for lovers of art, when we shift from looking at a work to actively seeing it. It’s like entering a waking dream, as if we were children cued by “Once upon a time.” We don’t reflect on the worldly arrangements—the interests of wealth and power—that enable our adventures. Why should we? But, if that consciousness is forced on us, we may be frozen mid-toggle between looking and seeing.

Peter Schjeldahl
The New Yorker

On gentrification

One of gentrification’s most ubiquitous symbols is the emergence of a new service economy, which takes the form of trendy coffee shops, antique shops, art galleries, and restaurants. This economy caters to a new class of residents, one with deeper pockets and more ornate lifestyles. The emergence of coffee shops have been identified as one of the most prominent signs of the forthcoming economic and social refashioning of gentrifying neighbourhoods. What is significant about the sprawl of these new businesses, as opposed to standard indicators of change, is that it shows a different side to gentrification; one where not only is economic and racial change present, but also a lifestyle change as the neighbourhood is fashioned in the image of its new inhabitants.

Muhammad Zaid Gamieldien
The Con

Residual power of the speaker

  1. The Speaker may give a ruling or frame a rule in respect of any eventuality for which these rules or orders of the House do not provide, having due regard to the procedures, precedents, practices and conventions developed by the House and on the basis of constitutional values and principles underpinning an open, accountable and democratic society.
  2. A rule framed by the Speaker remains in force until the House, based on a recommendation of the Rules Committee, has decided thereon.
National Assembly Rule 6

JOEL NETSHITENZHE ON ZUMA

And then there was the cabinet reshuffle, which even officials of the ANC felt obliged to publicly disown — the bitter fruit SA has started to reap. All this is in total and arrogant disregard of ANC policies and its electoral interests, let alone the cause of social transformation. These instances demonstrate a divergence between a strange coterie, on the one hand, and the ANC on the other, which is meant to be the strategic centre of power for its members.

JOEL NETSHITENZHE
Business Day

From my childhood I have no happy memories. I don’t mean to say that I never, in all those years, felt any happiness or joy. But suffering is all-consuming: it somehow gets rid of anything that doesn’t fit into the system.

Edouard Louis
The End of Eddy

On General Ntlemeza

The judgments are replete with the findings of dishonesty and mala fides against Major General Ntlemeza. These were judicial pronouncements. They therefore constitute direct evidence that Major General Ntlemeza lacks the requisite honesty, integrity and conscientiousness to occupy the position of any public office, not to mention an office as more important as that of the National Head of the DPCI, where independence, honesty and integrity are paramount to qualities. Currently no appeal lies against the findings of dishonesty and impropriety made by the Court in the judgments. Accordingly, such serious findings of fact in relation to Major General Ntlemeza, which go directly to Major General Ntlemeza’s trustworthiness, his honesty and integrity, are definitive. Until such findings are appealed against successfully they shall remain as a lapidary against Lieutenant General Ntlemeza.

Mabuse J
Helen Suzman Foundation and Another v Minister of Police and Others

On Trump and lying

We’ve got a president who makes things up, and won’t retract when he’s cornered. This week press secretary Sean Spicer followed the leader. He picked up Trump’s wiretap story and added a new exciting detail: Not only had Barack Obama bugged Trump Tower, he might have used British intelligence spies to do the dirty work. The British, of course, went nuts, and national security adviser H. R. McMaster tried to smooth things over. McMaster is new to the job, having succeeded Mike Flynn, who had to resign for lying about his phone conversations. Flynn was not even around long enough for us to find out that he was also a lobbyist for Turkish interests and took $68,000 from various Russian connections.

Gail Collins
The New York Times

On Trump

Or is Trump like [19th century US President] Franklin Pierce? If you want to check it out, I’ll bet people at Franklin Pierce’s home in New Hampshire would be really, really happy to have more visitors. And since Pierce is usually near the bottom of the charts, it’s another camp that’s hoping the Trump administration just keeps going the way it is now. Like Trump, Pierce was into cleanliness. And neither man was wiretapped by his predecessor. See, there’s a lot of commonality.

Gail Collins
New York Times

On Libiya

Western-led regime change has produced a catastrophic breakdown: 400,000 people are internally displaced out of a population of six million; more than a million have fled abroad. Many layers of conflict – tribal, regional, ethnic, religious, for and against the old regime – are now superimposed, one on top of another. Libya is now a country of several governments and none, where rival entities with grand titles – the Government of National Accord, the Government of National Salvation, the House of Representatives – fight for the right to claim authority over a state that no longer exists. The real forces in Tripoli are the militias that roam the city.

Tom Stevenson
London Review of Books

On Beyoncé and Moonlight

D. Scott Miller, author of the “Afrosurreal Manifesto” claims that Afro-Surrealists “transform how [they] see things now, how [they] look at what happened then, and what [they] can expect to see in the future.” They “distort reality for emotional impact” in order to tap into the surreal experiences of reality. Scholar Ytasha Womack deems this bending of time in the Afrosurreal aesthetic as constructing “little difference between the dream world and the waking one.” The atmospheric settings of [the movie] Moonlight and [Beyoncé’s] Lemonade do just that — they make traumatic events of the character’s present experience appear to be visually magical.

Sabrina E Greig
Contemporary And (C&)

Jacqueline Rose on judging

Out of the mire, a banal but chilling proposition starts to emerge – that we decide on the innocence or guilt of a plaintiff according to whether we like them or not. Legality, our conviction in the rights and wrongs of the matter, trails our desires (whether the reverse would be preferable is not clear). Whenever I read biographies of Plath, I always have the suspicion that someone or other is being criminalised simply for being who they were.

Jacqueline Rose
London Review of Books

We are all like that

Trump bans Muslims and we claim that this is un-American, that we are not this. I don’t have to talk up “ancient” history to show that we are. I won’t bring up settler colonialism, genocide, and land theft, or harp on slavery, or internment camps for Japanese-Americans. I won’t refer to the Page Act banning those deemed “undesirable,” the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Asiatic Barred Zone Act, or the Emergency Quota Act. I don’t have to mention the hundreds of thousands of Mexicans deported in the nineteen-thirties… I won’t mention any of this, because this happened so long ago. We can always delude ourselves by saying that America was this but now we are better. Let me just say that in 2010 and 2011, state legislatures passed a hundred and sixty-four anti-immigration laws..

Rabih Alameddine
The New Yorker

Poplak on securitisation

Then there’s the renewed promise to properly “secure state infrastructure”, to deal ever more harshly with those who throw poo at it, and to establish a piece of security apparatus – the Government Security Agency – in order to make sure we fill our prisons with demonstrators and Fallists. Does South Africa need another set of government-issue car guards working for another obscure agency with a bottomless budget for wraparound sunglasses? Probably not.

Richard Poplak
Daily Maverick

On lying

There are many kinds of lying which the law already catches: lying to defraud people of money or property; lying about someone’s character; lying on oath. In Germany and a number of other states Holocaust denial is a statutory lie and a crime. But, such offences aside, human rights law has found itself unable to draw a line between freedom to speak your mind and freedom to fabricate, falsify or mislead. The reason is not hard to see: a court called on to adjudicate on, for instance, some of the tall stories propagated in the course of the EU referendum campaign would have had to assume the role of a ministry of truth.

Stephen Sedley
London Review of Books

Poplak on corruption

Apartheid-era sleaze, especially during the sanctions period, ushered in a series of financial crimes of Bon Jovi ballad proportions. That billions were stolen have never been much of a secret, but nailing downright villains has always been a challenge. The uncynical view is that former finance minister Trevor Manuel and his advisors were under the impression that chasing the missing cash would destroy the delicate green shoots of the post-apartheid economy – a decision that, like so many back in those days, dispensed with justice in favour of “stability”. The more cynical view is that the ANC cut a deal with the apartheid scum, one that traded cover-ups on pre-changeover crimes for help on perpetrating post-changeover heists.

Richard Poplak
Daily Maverick

On apartheid corruption

It would be foolish for anyone to think that in an authoritarian secret system like apartheid during the 1980s there wasn’t extensive corruption during the height of the sanctions period. Our over-reliance on such single sources of information underscores the need for this country to reckon with its past and not leave the dirty work to outsiders.

Hennie van vuuren and MICHAEL MARCHANT
Daily Maverick

On Montaigne

“Que sais-je?” “What do I know?” was Montaigne’s beloved motto, meaning: What do I really know? And what do we really know about him now? We may vaguely know that he was the first essayist, that he retreated from the world into a tower on the family estate to think and reflect, and that he wrote about cannibals (for them) and about cruelty (against it). He was considered by Claude Lévi-Strauss, no less, to be the first social scientist, and a pioneer of relativism—he thought that those cannibals were just as virtuous as the Europeans they offended, that customs vary equably from place to place.

Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker

On trolls

Trolls are also distinguished from their predecessors by seeming not to recognise any limits. Ridicule is an anti-social force: it tends to make people clam up and stop talking. So there is a point at which, if conversation and community are to continue, the joke has to stop, and the victim be let in on the laughter. Trolls, though, form a community precisely around the extension of their transgressive sadism beyond the limits of their offline personas. That the community consists almost entirely of people with no identifying characteristics – ‘anons’ – is part of the point. It is as if the laughter of the individual troll were secondary; the primary goal is to sustain the pleasure of the anonymous collective.

Richard Seymour
London Review of Books

On populism

Not everyone who criticises elites is a populist. Those who draw a lazy equivalence between Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump fail to recognise that populists don’t stop at protesting against Wall Street or ‘globalism’. Rather, populists claim that they and they alone speak in the name of what they tend to call the ‘real people’ or the ‘silent majority’. This claim to a moral monopoly of representation has two consequences that are immediately deleterious for democracy. Populists accuse all other political contenders of being illegitimate.

Jan-Werner Müller
London Review of Books

South Africans and democracy

Only 35% of South African respondents said they preferred democracy and rejected all three types of authoritarianism. To put it in perspective, Afrobarometer provided a list of polled countries. South Africa comes 27th in its public support for democracy, just below Burkina Faso and Liberia. The average support across the 35 countries was 43% (meaning, according to the survey at least, that less than half of the citizens in the countries polled are committed to democracy). Mauritius topped the chart at 74%, followed by Senegal at 66%. In the 2011-13 survey, 42% of South Africans were found to be committed to democracy.

Greg Nicholson
Daily Maverick

On Brexit

Nothing that [UK prime minister Theresa] May was proposing was unconstitutional. There is no constitution. It was an archaic convention she was violating: the peculiar English belief in ‘parliamentary sovereignty’. The slogan in the referendum was ‘Take Back Control.’ But of what and from whom? The establishment Leavers said: ‘Take back the sovereignty of Parliament, the Ark of the English Covenant. England isn’t England if Parliament can be overruled by anyone – least of all by foreigners.’

Neal Ascherson
London Review of Books

On bizarre New Age state capture breakfast

Welcome to occupied Azania during the Age of the Fallists, where “state capture” serves as an endlessly mutable neologism employed to describe the machinations of a patronage system. The gentlemen attending the TNA Breakfast Business Briefing, their eggs sweating polyunsaturated goop, their bodies melting with over-prescribed lipostats, were trying to do what everyone does in a time of self-reinforcing non-fact-based infotainment: reduce “state capture” to a series of pithy hashtags, in turn circulated by trolls/supporters, all in hope of achieving a critical mass of truthiness.

Richard Poplak
Daily Maverick

Why is Trump like he is?

Despite his reluctance, Mr. Trump reveals himself over and over, in the stories he tells, in his wide-ranging answers to questions and at times in casual, seemingly throwaway lines. Who does he look up to? “I don’t have heroes,” Mr. Trump said. Does he examine history to better understand the present? “I don’t like talking about the past,” he said, later adding, “It’s all about the present and the future.” Who earns his respect? “For the most part,” he said, “you can’t respect people because most people aren’t worthy of respect.”

Michael Barbaro
The New York Times

On the suppression of votes in USA

These restrictive laws and practices, all invoked by Republicans, have the purpose and effect of reducing turnout disproportionately among racial minorities and the young, populations that are more likely to vote for Democrats. The Republican Party is evidently worried that the growing numbers of nonwhite citizens in the US are unlikely to vote for their candidates, a concern deepened by the campaign of Donald Trump. Instead of modifying their policies to address the interests of new voters, however, the Republicans have sought to suppress those votes. The strategy, profoundly antidemocratic in the small “d” sense, can swing elections in the short term. But in the long term, it will not only damage American democracy but will be self-defeating for the GOP.

David Cole
The New York Review of Books

On the DRC

Congo is a country that has been impoverished by its riches. First it was its human capital that suffered, its people brutally enslaved by Arabs and then Europeans. Then the Europeans took it over, or, to be precise, one European, King Leopold II of the Belgians, who presented himself – the old monster – as a humanitarian, and was given the Congo as a personal fiefdom to prevent his more powerful neighbours squabbling over it. (There’s still a statue of him, incidentally, in the Jardin du Roi in Brussels.) He then sublet it to capitalist ‘concessionaires’ whose exploitation of its rubber and palm oil gave rise to atrocities that are among the most notorious in colonial history.

Bernard Porter
London Review of Books

On Donald Trump

Politics is an effort to make human connection, but Trump seems incapable of that. He is essentially adviser-less, friendless. His campaign team is made up of cold mercenaries at best and Roger Ailes at worst. His party treats him as a stench it can’t yet remove. He was a germophobe through most of his life and cut off contact with others, and now I just picture him alone in the middle of the night, tweeting out hatred.

David Brooks
The New York Times

bell hooks on love and freedom

Without an ethic of love shaping the direction of our political vision and our radical aspirations, we are often seduced, in one way or the other, into continued allegiance to systems of domination—imperialism, sexism, racism, classism. It has always puzzled me that women and men who spend a lifetime working to resist and oppose one form of domination can be systematically supporting another. I have been puzzled by powerful visionary black male leaders who can speak and act passionately in resistance to racial domination and accept and embrace sexist domination of women, by feminist white women who work daily to eradicate sexism but who have major blind spots when it comes to acknowledging and resisting racism and white supremacist domination of the planet.

bell hooks
Love as the Practice of Freedom

Swede Mantashe fantasising about being a dictator

I’m not the minister of education. Because if I was, my first reaction would be to close them. For 16 months. And open them after six months, and close the residences for six months. After a year, people will know higher education will be important for their future. You are not doing anyone a favour by studying… That will be my starting point, but unfortunately, I am not a minister of higher education…And after a year, everybody began to appreciate that ‘where I go to university, I am not doing any government any favour. It is my future. And that future is in my hands’.

Swede Mantashe
As quoted in the Mail & Guardian

Free speech is an aberration

Free speech is an aberration – it is best to begin by admitting that. In most societies throughout history and in all societies some of the time, censorship has been the means by which a ruling group or a visible majority cleanses the channels of communication to ensure that certain conventional practices will go on operating undisturbed. It is not only traditional cultures that see the point of taboos on speech and expressive action. Even in societies where faith in progress is part of a common creed, censorship is often taken to be a necessary means to effect improvements that will convey a better life to all.

David Bromwich
London Review of Books

On the destruction of SARS

In January, senior SARS officials up to level seven were ordered by SARS commissioner Tom Moyane to re-apply for their jobs. Seasoned staff with years of experience and international training and with formidable successes under their belts were flown to Pretoria where they were re-interviewed and assessed by audit, consulting, corporate finance, tax services and risk advisory firm, Deloitte. In August, many of those interviewed learned their fates. As National Projects is to be disbanded, says a SARS insider, the type of in-depth national investigation the unit was capable of conducting will no longer occur, leaving a massive gap that organised criminals as well as unscrupulous individuals are bound to exploit.

Marianne Thamm
Daily Maverick

TA-NEHISI COATES on palatability

So often I am asked—as all black writers are asked—how their message might be packaged to appeal to those who have no appetite for what we are saying. The interlocutor is usually a person of good faith, who is in agreement, but the question is always a trap. Any writer who takes as their starting place any doubt as to their own humanity, or the humanity of their subject, has already lost…. For black writers, this is a formula for never evolving, for writing the same thing over and over. For black writers the danger is having their work devolve into workshop on racial sensitivity.

TA-NEHISI COATES
The Atlantic

On the war on drugs

The United States has declared war on cancer, on pornography, and on terror, and the lesson to be gleaned from those campaigns is that, unlike most other wars, those declared against common nouns seldom come to a precisely defined conclusion.

Melanie Cobb
The New Yorker

On the arbitrariness of testosterone testing in sport

The “female” sex hormone oestrogen is generally found in higher levels in women. And men tend to have higher levels of androgens like testosterone. But both oestrogens and androgens are also found in men and women. Making any cutoff point, such as trans women requiring a consistent testosterone level below 10 nmol/L – the level set by the IOC – is pretty arbitrary, and ultimately useless.

Katharina Lindner
The Conversation

Poplak on the Local Government election

“Cast your eyes at the board,” said a grim-faced Duarte, of the vast screen that dominated the electoral centre. “Since the 2014 national elections, four million morepeople have voted for the ANC — to me, that it is not a defeat. That is nothing to sneeze away. And local elections here historically and internationally have a lower voter output. That doesn’t mean we’re losing the country.” But, Duarte was just being Duarte, and had screwed up the numbers. This was a local election, over the course of which punters tick one ballot for a ward councilor, another for popular representation and, outside the metros, a third for a district municipality.

Richard Poplak
Daily Maverick

Election conduct

(1) No person may-
(a) compel or unlawfully persuade any person-
(i) to register or not to register as a voter;
(ii) to vote or not to vote;
(iii) to vote or not to vote for any party or candidate;
(iv) to support or not to support any party or candidate; or
(v) to attend and participate in, or not to attend and participate in, any political meeting, march, demonstration or other political event;

Section 67(1)(a)
Local Government: Municipal Electoral Act

On transgendered Indians

The transformation of transgender women into goddesses for an annual Hindu festival takes place in an atmosphere of reverent, somber concentration. Laugh lines vanish, replaced by an impassive mask. Skin becomes stone. As they prepared to perform in the Mayana Kollai festival in a fishing village in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, some of the dancers slipped into trances so deep it appeared they might have fainted.

CANDACE FEIT
New York Times

On Brexit

The big guns of the international liberal order were wheeled out to stop us going headlong for the Puerto Rican option: the IMF, the WTO, the OECD. Ten Nobel economists added to the din; Obama wagged a finger; Clinton too. Then Soros. In reply a forest of fingers was stuck in the air. This was a vote against experts and technocrats, and the architects of austerity; it was also a vote against ‘free’, as in free trade and, above all, free movement: the ‘free’ of the global markets and the single European market. People know by now what’s meant by market democracy: markets

Jeremy Harding on Brexit
London Review of Books

On humanity and racism

What sort of community is envisioned by the first-person plural ‘we?’ What do ‘we’ within this community hold in ‘common’ and how is that holding-in-‘common’ socially and politically organized? And what is meant by ‘humanity’ and its corollaries: ‘the human,’ ‘humanism,’ ‘humane?’ The anti-racist invocation of ‘our’ ‘common’ ‘humanity’ is evidence of a belief in – or more likely a longing for – a state of being that is deeper than and anterior to the imposition of race. If ‘we’ are all ‘human’ after all, then surely racism and racist violence are illegitimate; it will not do for one ‘human’ to oppress, exploit, torture, kill another.

Joshua Williams
Johannesburg Workshop on Theory and Criticism

Jimi Matthews resignation letter

It is with great sadness that I tender my immediate resignation. For many months I have compromised the values that I hold dear under the mistaken belief that I could be more effective inside the SABC than outside, passing comments from the sidelines. In the process the prevailing, corrosive atmosphere has impacted negatively on my moral judgment and has made me complicit in many decisions which I am not proud of. I wish also to apologise to the many people who I’ve let down by remaining silent when my voice needed to be heard. What is happening at the SABC is wrong and I can no longer be part of it.

Jimi Matthews
Acting Group CEO, SABC

On transgender rights

I would tentatively suggest that we are witnessing the first signs that the category of the transsexual might one day, as the ultimate act of emancipation, abolish itself. In ‘Women’s Time’ (1981), Julia Kristeva argued that feminists, and indeed the whole world, would enter a third stage in relation to sexual difference: after the demand for equal rights and then the celebration of femininity as other than the norm, a time will come when the distinction between woman and man will finally disappear, a metaphysical relic of a bygone age.

Jacqueline Rose
London Review of Books

On Euro 2016

The Croatian team has not always been so ethnically homogeneous. Eight years ago the national side included the Brazilian-born Eduardo, one of the country’s most popular players, who had become a naturalised Croat when he was signed by the Dinamo Zagreb youth team. This seemed to mark the start of the diversification of European football, as players switched nationality at the same time that they moved clubs. (Eduardo had calculated that he was more likely to get into the Croatian national team than the Brazilian one; today that would not be such an obvious call.) It hasn’t happened – the melting pot never materialised.

David Runciman
London Review of Books

Trump lies like other people breathe

[Donald] Trump lies the way other people breathe. We’re used to politicians who stretch the truth, who waffle or dissemble, who emphasize some facts while omitting others. But I can’t think of any other political figure who so brazenly tells lie after lie, spraying audiences with such a fusillade of untruths that it is almost impossible to keep track. Perhaps he hopes the media and the nation will become numb to his constant lying. We must not. Trump lies when citing specifics. He claimed that a “tremendous flow of Syrian refugees” has been entering the country; the total between 2012 and 2015 was around 2,000, barely a trickle. He claimed that “we have no idea” who those refugees are; they undergo up to two years of careful vetting before being admitted.

Eugene Robinson
Washington Post

On Hitler’s underlings

‘Working towards the Führer’ explains how many initiatives, including some of the worst, originated in the wider Nazi bureaucracy rather than with Hitler himself. And it can be argued that this commandment to second-guess and anticipate Hitler helped him to surf into ever more radical and terrible policies which are usually attributed to his invention alone.

Neal Ascherson
London Review of Books

Jenny Diski on Writing

It is a kind of heaven. This is what I was made for. It is doing nothing. A fraud is being perpetrated: writing is not work, it’s doing nothing. It’s not a fraud: doing nothing is what I have to do to live. Or: doing writing is what I have to do to do nothing. Or: doing nothing is what I have to do to write. Or: writing is what I have to do to be my melancholy self. And be alone.

Jenny Diski
As quoted in the London Review of Books

In “The Old Regime and the Revolution”… Alexis de Tocqueville observed that, in the decades leading up to the Revolution, France had been notably prosperous and progressive. We hear a lot about the hunger and the song of angry men, and yet the truth is that, objectively, the French at the start of the seventeen-eighties had less cause for anger than they’d had in years. Tocqueville thought it wasn’t a coincidence. “Evils which are patiently endured when they seem inevitable, become intolerable when once the idea of escape from them is suggested,” he wrote.

Nathan Heller
The New Yorker

Ahmed Kathrada on racism

I refer to [an] incident, when years ago, together with some friends, I used a ‘Europeans only’ lift. A white woman, who also wanted to use the lift, told us to read the sign. We responded by saying that ‘we do not mind sharing a lift with Europeans’ and that she was welcome to join us’. Of course, she must have been horrified at the attitude of us ‘non-Europeans’ and chose not to take the lift. But, we asserted our dignity, and made our point.

Ahmed Kathrada

Sisonke Msimang on Mabel Jansen

There is no question that in the coming week she and her defenders will try to explain away her racism. Already she has suggested that her racist words were taken out of context and has claimed that she is being attacked…. Sensible South Africans will not believe this. The judge will have to go. It would be best if she resigned rather than subjecting the country to a long and dramatic hearing process, but we are not a country known for good leadership in this regard.

Sisonke Msimang
Daily Maverick

CASAC condemns attack on IEC

Mr Malema’s remarks that the IEC “continues to rig elections … You stole our votes in Alexandra and we allowed you” is unsubstantiated and has the capacity to undermine the impartiality and effectiveness of the IEC, as the critical local government elections loom. It is ironic that the EFF has chosen to attack the IEC in this manner so soon after going to great lengths to safeguard the independence, power and authority of another Chapter Nine body, the Public Protector. The Constitutional Court judgment in the Nkandla matter was a strong vindication of the importance of these independent constitutional bodies in our system of governance.

Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution

What to do with statues

Likewise, in Budapest, the brokers of the Communist bloc have been moved to ‘Memento Park’, where ‘giant monuments from the Soviet dictatorship’ are displayed cheek by jowl: they’re all here, the heroic peasants and founders of the fatherland, Comrades Lenin and Stalin – the latter figured only by his boots, which were all that was left of him after the revolutionaries of 1956 pulled him down.

Marina Warner
London Review of Books

Those in the opposition [in support of the impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff] claim that they want to send a message about good governance. But the real reason the president is being impeached is that the Brazilian political system is in ruins. Her impeachment will provide a convenient distraction while other politicians try to get their own houses in order.

Celso Rocha de Barros
New York Times

On truth

There is beauty in truth, even if it’s painful. Those who lie, twist life so that it looks tasty to the lazy, brilliant to the ignorant, and powerful to the weak. But lies only strengthen our defects. They don’t teach anything, help anything, fix anything or cure anything. Nor do they develop one’s character, one’s mind, one’s heart or one’s soul.

José N. Harris

Con Court on President’s duties

Unsurprisingly‚ the nation pins its hopes on [the President] to steer the country in the right direction and accelerate our journey towards a peaceful‚ just and prosperous destination‚ that all other progress-driven nations strive towards on a daily basis. He is a constitutional being by design‚ a national pathfinder‚ the quintessential commander-in-chief of State affairs and the personification of this nation’s constitutional project…. An order will thus be made that the President’s failure to comply with the remedial action taken against him by the Public Protector is inconsistent with his obligations to uphold, defend and respect the Constitution as the supreme law of the Republic.

Mogoeng CJ
Economic Freedom Fighters v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others; Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others

Blair and Clinton to blame for Trump?

The way Tony Blair and Bill Clinton have conducted themselves since leaving office is a hostage to the fortunes not just of their personal reputations but of the political causes they still represent. It is sometimes said that Clinton and Blair should shoulder the blame for making politicians like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders so appealing to their erstwhile supporters. But that’s probably as it should be: parties move on. If the scandal of deliverology contributes to the election of President Trump, that would be another thing entirely.

David Runciman
London Review of Books

Freedom of MPs

Tyrannical rule is usually at the hands of the Executive, not least because it exercises control over the police and army, two instruments often used to prop up the tyrant through means like arrest, detention, torture and even execution. Even in a democracy, one cannot discount the temptation of the improper use of state organs to further the interests of some within the Executive. Needless to say, for Parliament properly to exercise its oversight function over the Executive, it must operate in an environment that guarantees members freedom from arrest, detention, prosecution or harassment of whatever nature. Absent this freedom, Parliament may be cowed, with the result that oversight over the Executive may be illusory.

Madlanga J
Democratic Alliance v Speaker of the National Assembly and Others [2016] ZACC 8

On the white Aids denialists

Enter the Mbeki-defending goons that Tandwa quotes. Like Matthias Rath (the vitamin salesman), and Peter Duesberg (an academic who cannot get published in a peer-reviewed journal), Anthony Brink (an advocate) and Chris Rawlins (an accountant) are not recognised by any scientific forum as “experts” on HIV. To confer on them the title of “independent researcher” when they obviously do not have the skills to conduct such research, is an egregious error. The irony is that the privileged, old, white, and male AIDS denialists, while relying on the gullibility of young journalists, claim to be advancing a decolonial agenda.

Scott Burnett
The South African

Con Court on collective bargaining

This Court has previously recognised that the right to “collective bargaining between the employer and . . . [employees] is key to a fair industrial relations environment”. The LRA is concerned with the power imbalance between the employer and employees. It sanctions the use of power by employers and employees, but only as a last resort, and only after the issue in dispute between the parties has been referred for conciliation. Collective bargaining therefore implies that each employer-party and employee-party has the right to exercise economic power against the other once the issue in dispute has been referred for conciliation, and only if that process fails in one of the manners described above.

Khampepe J
Transport and Allied Workers Union of South Africa v PUTCO Limited [2016] ZACC 7

On the madness of Trump, Cruz and Rubio

How many of you Trump alarmists are ready to defend Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio as somehow more reasonable or mature than Trump? Both men are ambitious nihilists bought and paid for by corporate sugar daddies. Neither one can point to a single original policy idea. They’re just peddling the same tired brand of obstruction that has come to define the “Republican agenda.” Cruz is basically Sen. Joe McCarthy with a Bible and a better comb-over. Rubio is like some dry-mouthed hate-bot dreamed up by Ayn Rand during her lost weekend in the Caribbean.

Steve Almond
Salon

A state of emergency in France erodes liberty

So not only is the present state of emergency [in France] in the process of being legitimised by the constitution, but a substantial part of what it allows is being written into legislation so that it can apply in normal as well as extraordinary circumstances. The terrorist attacks, it seems, have served as a pretext to expand the lawful extent of the use of state force. There has been virtually no protest (it helps that demonstrations are banned).

Didier Fassin
London Review of Books

UCT students were arrested for burning portraits. White students attacked black students, and no one is handcuffed. For a rugby game.

Chief Jastice
On Twitter

US Justice Scalia dies

[Justice] Scalia tends to lampoon his enemies. A “ ‘living-Constitution’ judge,” he explained, is a “happy fellow who comes home at night to his wife and says, ‘The Constitution means exactly what I think it ought to mean!’ ” By contrast, Scalia said, he was sometimes forced by the rigors of originalist methodology to make decisions that lead to consequences he finds repugnant.

Margaret Talbot
The New Yorker

The Public Protector cannot realise the constitutional purpose of her office if other organs of State may second-guess her findings and ignore her recommendations. Section 182(1)(c) must accordingly be taken to mean what it says. The Public Protector may take remedial action herself. She may determine the remedy and direct its implementation. It follows that the language, history and purpose of s 182(1)(c) make it clear that the Constitution intends for the Public Protector to have the power to provide an effective remedy and direct its implementation.

Navsa J
SABC v DA [2015] ZASCA 156

Phiyega: I did not lie

I did not lie and I am not a criminal… I have full confidence that our country’s judicial system will afford me a fair trial. In fact under the circumstances I find myself in it is the only just, fair and objective platform I can resort to… All I want to do is for the truth to come out.”

Riah Phiyega

Trump’s campaign as a reality TV-show

The debates are no longer what Trump might call a classy venue.  Fox’s announcement of the lineup, shortly before Trump stormed off, likely didn’t help. Rand Paul, who had been excluded last time because of low poll numbers, made it back onto the main stage, for a total of eight participants. In a well-run reality show, the field is quickly winnowed down. This one is getting bigger. And so Trump went off to look for a more exclusive club, at his own rallies in Iowa and, soon, everywhere.

Amy Davidson
The New Yorker

Symptoms of fascism

Symptomatic of this risk of flipping over into fascism were a set of rituals and practices Adorno particularly abhorred – for instance, the technique of calling for a discussion, only to then make one impossible; “democratism” in the form of endless, and at times fruitless committee meetings; suspicion and paranoia, especially in relation to questions of leadership and representation; a mode of behaviour (he qualified it as barbaric inhumanity) that confused “regression” with “revolution”; the blind primacy of “direct action” as a substitute for “thought”; a formalism and proceduralism which were indifferent to the content and shape of that against which one revolts. For him, dialectics meant, amongst other things, that ends were not indifferent to means.

Achille Mbembe

On Charlie Hebdo

The indignation of ‘Je suis Charlie’ and the momentary confection of national identity – carefully stage-managed by the government – were overwhelming. People find public grief exhilarating, as we know from the death of Diana. In the avalanche of sentiment, Todd argues, France lost sight of the fact that ‘the right to blaspheme against your own religion’ is not the same as blaspheming ‘against someone else’s’, especially ‘the religion of a group that is weak and discriminated against’.

Jeremy Harding, London Review of Books

On Trump’s race bating

Trump’s hate, his theories, his xenophobia and bigotry, and his intimations of deceit and foreign infiltration at the highest levels of the White House—it’s all a thousand per cent on purpose.

Amy Davidson

On patronage politics in the ANC

Nene’s firing sent the disturbing message that the rural barons were dominating the ANC. They have reportedly chosen the heads of the ANC women’s and youth leagues and its KwaZulu Natal leadership — now they could ignore a two-decades-old understanding in the ANC that the credibility of the finance ministry was more important than factional battles. But concern that the Treasury was in the hands of all-conquering patronage politicians united opponents on the left and right because it was clear that economic policy was not at issue, but whether the barons could get their hands on public resources.

Steven Friedman

Munusamy on swearing in of new Finance Minister

Zuma could not be bothered to do so. His tone was flat as he announced the appointment and handed over Constitutional Court Judge Sisi Khampepe to administer the oath. When Zuma and Van Rooyen shook hands, there was little rapport between the two. Van Rooyen looked nervous and uncertain, only smiling briefly at Zuma. What is clear is that Van Rooyen has no personal connection to the president; he came on recommendation from those close to Zuma. From an interview North West Premier Supra Mahumapelo did with ANN7 television, it appears Van Rooyen is favoured by the “premier league” lobby in the ANC.

Ranjeni Munusamy

Kierkegaard on how the world will end

A fire broke out backstage in a theatre. The clown came out to warn the public; they thought it was a joke and applauded. He repeated it; the acclaim was even greater. I think that’s just how the world will come to an end: to general applause from wits who believe it’s a joke.

Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or, Part I

David Medalie on Nostalgia

[Nostalgia] is rarely the past as actually experienced, of course; it is the past as imagined, as idealized through memory and desire. In this sense … nostalgia is less about the past than about the present. It operates through what Mikhail Bakhtin called an ‘historical inversion’: the ideal that is not being lived now is projected into the past.

David Medalie
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