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
25 March 2009

Thank you Dalai Lama, you have made us proud

Today I feel proud to be a South African – and I have the Dalai Lama to thank for this. No, I have not become a Buddhist and have not  yet mastered the art of acceptance. Neither have I managed to let go of the vanity and sense of self importance associated with moral outrage.

I am proud to be a South African because so many South Africans from across the racial and political divide have spoken out against the deeply offensive and strategically incompetent decision of the ANC government to prevent the Dalai Lama from visiting our country – most probably because the Chinese government or those associated with the government donated vast sums of money to the ANC election war chest (did I hear Browse Mole Report?).

Even the Minister of Health put principle before ambition and expediency when she remarked that “the very fact that this government has refused entry to the Dalai Lama is an example of a government who is dismissive of human rights”. Remember the days when SACP deputy Jeremy Cronin was forced to apologise for warning against the “Zanufication” of South Africa? If he had not apologised his political career would have ended and he would probably have been “redeployed” as the assistant deputy manager of the Tweebuffelsmeteenskootmorsdoodgeskietfontein sewage plant.

It was therefore pretty brave (or stupid, depending one whether one has any ethical standards and moral principles or not) for the Minister of Health to speak out about this issue. She has done much better than all those cabinet Ministers who refused to answer whether HIV caused Aids after then President Mbeki went on his deathly flight of fancy about HIV. She is a true South African partiot – unlike the leadership of the SACP who issued a statement supporting the government position because, after all, those murderous comunists in China are at least communists so who cares about principles and human rights.

(Of course, if it was a collective cabinet decision to prevent the Dalai Lama from entering South Africa, Hogan would have acted improperly as section 92(2) makes clear that cabinet members are collectively and individually accountable for the decisions of cabinet. This means once cabinet has made a decision, all cabinet ministers must abide by the decision and should not criticise it publicly. If they cannot do so, they must resign. But I note government spokesperson, Themba Maseko, did not raise this issue, so I have to assume that this was not a collective decision of cabinet.)

In South Africa we tend to see things in apocalyptic terms, and when the government makes a decision like this, a decision that is so strategically unwise (did no one tell these guys that the decision would make them the laughing stock of the world?) and so obviously based on the corrupt need for money and power that it boggles even a sometimes cynical mind like mine, we tend to become hysterical. When this happens, commentators predict the collapse of the Rule of Law and shout about the end of the (idealised) world as we thought we knew it.

What we often overlook is the decency, honesty and commitment to human rights shared by many sane and reasonable countrymen and women in civil society, in churches, in the media and (even) amongst our politicians. That is why I want to celebrate the fact that this decision has so spectacularly blown up in the faces of the immoral people in government who thought they could get away with this without too much of a fuss. It shows that we as a nation is better, more honest, and more concerned about human rights than our government gives us credit for. We are actually far better than our leaders – give or take a health minister.

Which brings me to that small country of 330 000 people who only a short year ago was thought to be the happiest place on earth. Yesterday I read an article in The New Yorker about the bankruptcy of Iceland. Yes, the country is bankrupt – almost like Zimbabwe, but without the Hitler mustache, the torture and the beatings and the neighbouring ex-head of state with a Napoleon complex and a weird love of conspiracy theories discovered on the Internet.

In Iceland the whole banking system collapsed last year and its currency depreciated by 300% in a few weeks. (That would be the equivalent to the Rand collapsing to R30 to the dollar in a month or two.) The author of the article noted that many people in Iceland  seemed to have a need to blame the collapse of the country’s economy on a conspiracy and had a need to brand those in charge of the banks and the economy as evil villains. He ten explains this tendency by remarking that: “A country overwhelmed by evil has more dignity than one tripped up by fools”.

In South Africa, our need to retain our dignity as a nation often leads us, also, to brand our rulers as evil and to believe in conspiracy theories that make those people who believe 9/11 was perpetrated by the US government look like sane and reasonable citizens. We do not want to see our rulers as the fools they often are because it dehumanises us.

So, today I say, cheer up. Our government may often act like fools. They may be cynical, self-serving and often corrupt. But maybe this does not mean we have evil people in charge of our country. Maybe these people are merely stupid, incompetent and dishonest. They are politicians after all. And in the long run the decency, commitment and bravery of ordinary South Africans and even politicians like Barbara Hogan will ensure that we will not end up like Hitler’s Germany, George Bush’s USA or Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe – although there is of course always the possibility that we will also go bankrupt like Iceland.

Ces la vie. Democracy will ensure that we throw out the bums in the end. Even if it will be too late for all those people in the Free State dying of Aids related illnesses every day. Maybe not this time, but in the future we will vote out the bums and give some other fools a chance to rule us.

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