Over the last 150 days we have learned much about the power of the habitual in post-millennial, post-apartheid South Africa. We have heard it in the grumbling, cavilling, quarrelling and grousing about the logic (or lack of) of government decrees. We have also seen it in the defiance of logic among the many bourgeois folks who mistook their entitlement for rights, whether to go running, do yoga on the beach, surf, get takeaway coffees, or to purchase items subjected to restricted trade… We saw it in the contradictory messages relayed by official government channels, in the conflict between some experts advising government, between government officials and such experts, and in the ways in which opposition parties contradicted themselves as they opposed government proclamations.
President Thabo Mbeki was at it again on his Blog, talking about canards and quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley. A canard – apart from being the French word for duck – is apparently a deliberate falsehood and President Mbeki is upset because so many deliberate falsehoods are being spread about the ANC and the country. Says our President in his usual obfuscating style:
The resort to the potent weapon of the canard is a consequence of a determination that freedom means the right and possibility for any individual or group to use all means and methods to advance their particular interests, regardless of what happens to the rest of the society to which they belong [my italics].
President Mbeki then points out some of the canards spread by the dark forces, including that the ANC would use its overwhelming majority to change the Constitution to entrench ANC hegemony; that media freedom is in under threat and that the ANC has gone morally astray.
Three things struck me about this Blog entry. First, I was struck by the fact that President Mbeki objected to the spread of these falsehoods not because they were false as such but because of the potential harm it would cause to society. The people who peddle these ideas are bad because they do not take into account how it might affect the masses of our people.
Maybe I am reading too much into this, but it seems to me revealing because it suggest that the President sees himself and the ANC as the guardians of what is good for the people and thus perfectly placed to judge what kind of statements qualify as canards and which ones not. It also suggests that lies that will be good for society can be tolerated.
Second, it is intriguing because the examples of these “deliberate falsehoods” the President mentions are at least open to debate. For example, the Minister of Justice did table a fourteenth constitutional amendment, which would have eroded the independence of the judiciary, which means the fears of the naysayers were not that far off. And now people close to the President wants to buy the Sunday Times, which could easily make one draw the conclusion that the ANC does want to stop the media from saying bad things about it. Reasonable people could differ on this, but to our President, these are blatant falsehoods.
Of course, the President could argue that these perceptions are wrong, but to call them deliberate falsehoods seems rather over the top. At best, it is a matter of opinion. It is a bit scary though that President Mbeki is so sure of his own view that he can brand those who differ from him as deliberate liars.
It suggests that he thinks – no, he knows – that he has an exclusive access to the (political) truth and that he is the guardian of this truth. This is the same kind of attitude that got the President to question the link between HIV and AIDS and ridicule the use of anti-retroviral drugs.
It suggest that our President cannot see that reasonable people can differ about important issues of the day, but rather thinks those who differ do so because they have a hidden agenda of undermining the government, the ANC and his Presidency. This is just my opinion, and the President would call it a canard, but it seems to suggest that our President is a paranoid megalomaniac.
Third, the President is silent about some other rather important and far more clear cut lies. He does not say a word, for example, about the revelation that Essop Pahad, Minister in the Presidency, told blatant lies when he angrily wrote to newspapers in 2000, denying that he tried to stop the arms deal investigation.
Now Andrew Feinstein confirms in his book that Pahad had indeed tried to rescind the Scopa decision to investiagte the arms deal. This makes one wonder how many other times Pahad lied when he issued denials or attacked newspapers for spreading lies.
To me it is interesting that the President can write his column at exactly the time when it is revealed that his own office was at the heart of the most obvious fabrication on one of the most important issues of the day. It seems to suggest a complete lack of shame, irony or at least critical self-knowledge. It also suggests that the President does not think Mr Pahad’s lies qualify as canards because these lies were for a “good” cause?
How many other lies have we been fed “for a good cause”, I wonder? Or can we expect a Blog next week arguing that the very allegation that Mr Pahad is a liar is a canard peddled by the Dark Lord Sauron to undermine the ANC and the masses that it leads?BACK TO TOP