www.inside-politics.org

Analysis of and commentary on South African politics from a liberal perspective. Winner: Best Political Blog 2012.

Jacob Zuma: The man who walks in two worlds


JacobZumaSPEECH: This past Thursday I delivered an address on President Jacob Zuma to The Cape Town Press Club. For those interested, a copy of that speech follows below. It speaks to some of the themes identified in my book, “Clever Blacks, Jesus and Nkandla: The real Jacob Zuma in his own words”, and looks at the extent to which the fourth estate meaningfully interrogates Zuma’s various problematic religious and cultural convictions.

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King Dalindyebo Sentence: Full Document


I have uploaded to Inside Politics the full sentence handed down by the High Court in Mthatha Eastern Cape on 4 December 2009, against King Dalindyebo, who recently joined the DA as a member – a move DA Eastern Cape Leader Athol Trollip said he was “proud” of.  You can find it by clicking here. This is just the 20 page sentence, I hope to have the full judgment by the end of the day. In the sentence, the King is sentenced to 15 years jail time for, among other things: arson, assault with intent to do grievous bodily harm, kidnapping and culpable homicide. The sentence is a damning indictment of the King, and worth reading in full. No doubt the judgement will be equally harsh. There is no statement I can find anywhere on record of the DA ever having had condemned the King, his conduct or the sentence, despite the fact that he draws a public salary.

On paranoia


TheThingAboutSERIES: Paranoia seems to be part and parcel of public life – certainly politicians appear permanently gripped by it. Yet it is curious how often paranoia can infect otherwise rational people, when they are placed in constant contact with it. Today’s piece looks at the idea of paranoia in more detail, why it is problematic and some of its consequences. If you already suffer the problem, who knows, maybe this piece is about you?

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A poor DA statement that misrepresents the facts


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: The DA today released a statement severely criticising the Minister of Sport for the amount to be spent on the 2013 South African Sports Awards ceremony. But, while the total has increased, the amount of public money allocated has actually decreased. The DA seems to have ignored this fact, however, and slammed the Minister regardless. It’s a good example of bad news triumphing over good and a disingenuous position as a result.

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On nature


TheThingAboutSERIES: Nature – the idea and the word – has, thanks to many environmental advocates, assumed a moral quality. It is deemed, more often than not, to be a force for good, a virtuous thing that works in benevolent fashion to everyone’s benefit. But in truth nature is entirely unmoved by humankind’s concerns and as random and capricious as it is brutal and deadly. In turn, we try as much to control nature as we do appreciate it and that is something worth bearing in mind when we consider our relationship with it.

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On propaganda


TheThingAboutSERIES: When does opinion become propaganda? There are numerous factors to consider but, central to answering that question, is the extent to which any view manipulates facts, the main focus of the brief exposition below. Essentially this can be done in two ways: by altering the nature of information or by excluding it entirely. What is the effect of that on public thought? And why do that? Read on to find out.

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The ANC’s dubious donors


ANCFlagARTICLE: I am going to try and keep Inside Politics going but my new commitments will make writing more sporadic and so, along with the odd post from the archives, so to speak, I shall probably keep things shorter. That said, the article below, originally published in 2007, is still relevant today: a good illustration of how the ANC historically placed its own financial condition ahead of any human rights considerations that might curtail from whom it solicited donations. That fact still holds true today, even if the donors are more often domestic than international. It sets out of some of the party’s more more dubious funders and what the papers said about each donation at the time.

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An erosion of the DA’s liberal values: A response


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: Some two months ago I argued that an article by the DA’s national spokesperson, advocating for Ubuntu and ‘Africaness’, was illiberal and worrisome, with regards to the party’s ideological direction. Although the DA itself has not responded, a number of other people have. Below is a summation of those responses and the reasons why the majority are both wrong and wrongheaded.

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On originality


TheThingAboutSERIES: Few things are better able to excite the human mind than originality. It is the result of curiosity, the force behind creativity and impulse that drives discovery. Truly it is a glorious thing, the very touchstone for innovation and, with it, progress and betterment. But why is it so important? What is its nature and effect? What is it about originality that makes it such a powerful – and rare – attribute and why is it we should place such great value upon it?

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Dealing with apartheid’s legacy: The Lee/Manuel correspondence


TrevorManuelFEATURE: Much has been made of Trevor Manuel’s recent comments on apartheid and whether or not it constitutes a valid excuse for poor service delivery. One area relevant to the debate, on which Manuel has been very outspoken in the past but did not address in his speech, is quotas in sport. In 2005 he set out his views in an exchange of letters with DA MP Donald Lee. I have set them all out in this article. Thus, one question perhaps worth putting to Manuel today, is whether or not he still thinks they are necessary.

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On wisdom


TheThingAboutSERIES: Are you wise? Or do you simply seek out cliches and promote them as if you have discovered great truth? In other words, do you believe by repeating other people’s wisdom, you might seem wise yourself? And is a cliche actually an example of wisdom? What is true wisdom’s nature and how might we recognise it? In an age of ‘instant wisdom’ – exaggerated by social media – these are questions worth considering.

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On vision


TheThingAboutSERIES: Very often the link is rightfully made between leadership and vision. Much has been written about leadership, far less about vision. What is a vision? Why is it important and what is its effect? More importantly, what can one tell about a leader by the way in which they relate their vision to an audience, the extent to which it is inspiring or dreary? Today’s column tries to answer those questions.

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Is Marius Fransman a flight risk?


ANCFlagFEATURE: Marius Fransman, ANC leader in the Western Cape, has recently been making much noise, largely on the back of a volunteer drive designed to take back the province from the Democratic Alliance in 2014. But a 2009 Wikileaks cable suggests Fransman is not necessarily the right man to be leading the charge, as he was apparently all but ready to abandon the party for COPE, ahead of the last election. So, one question worth putting to the man is: are you really committed to the ANC?

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Absolute South Africa


CriticismFEATURE: In many ways South Africa is a land of absolutes. We have come to talk in extremes. It is a kind of fundamentalism. The Trevor Manuel, Jacob Zuma exchange – about whether or not we can blame apartheid for our current condition – is a case in point. It is, ultimately, a false choice. Some things can be blamed on apartheid, others not. But that kind of nuance often seems lost on us and, as a result, reason has suffered a cruel blow. In its place, ignorance is entrenching its grip on our debate.

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The selective moral outrage of Trevor Manuel


TrevorManuelFEATURE: Trevor Manuel has made a point over the last two years of openly criticising the ANC and the ANC government on a range of different issues. Each time his outspoken ‘honesty’ has been met with much praise and acclaim. But it is selective moral outrage on Manuel’s part and, if he really is interested in setting himself apart from the ANC, then he has much explaining to do – starting with his years of complicit silence as Thabo Mbeki damaged the foundations of our democracy.

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FW De Klerk: the ultimate ‘joiner’


FWdeKlerkARTICLE: One from the archives – a look at the many political positions former President FW de Klerk adopted during his political career, as captured by five key comments. Together with the ANC, in opposition to the ANC, for the ANC, against the ANC, de Klerk has done it all. It’s a muddled historical record, but one worth noting if only to provide some context, the next time he speaks from a position of some ostensibly conviction.

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Citizenship in a republic


FreedomSPEECH: Every now and then a piece of writing, confined to the historical archives, leaps out at you, as though written only yesterday. The speech below stuck me as one such example. It is a famous remark, most famous for the passage commonly titled ‘the man in the arena’, about critics who condemn from afar. But almost every paragraph is as rich and lucid with meaning and insight; and it is prescient too. In South Africa we battle daily with the idea of what it is to be a good citizen. Here you have a secular Bible of sorts, a wonderful, insightful guide to citizenship in a republic. Read it with our country, its politics and current condition in mind. I would suggest it required reading for any liberal. Its brilliance really is something both rare and special. At some point I shall expand on its significance. In the meantime, enjoy.

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On xenophobia


TheThingAboutSERIES: A fear of foreigners is a deeply irrational prejudice and the trigger for it, usually, is the proximity of difference. In other words, the closer some foreign practice or person, the greater the threat to any xenophobe. The irony is that we surround ourselves with difference everyday; for though a particular community might share some generally common trait it is not universal nor does it negate an infinite range of other differences that define each human being as unique.

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Jacob Zuma’s top ten most disturbing cultural quotes


JacobZumaFEATURE: President Jacob Zuma, the highest custodian of the human rights principles and values set out in our constitution, spends a great deal of time undermining them, by advocating for a series of ‘African’ cultural beliefs that, almost without exception, are prejudiced in some way. If not prejudiced then so poorly articulated they cause an inevitable outrage and his political minders – the spokespeople in the ANC and the Presidency – are sent in to clean up after the damage he has caused. Below is a list of examples and, in each case, the kind of damage control that followed.

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On egalitarianism


TheThingAboutSERIES: In politically correct environments there often exists a strong compulsion to treat every idea as equal, or risk ‘offending’ someone by suggesting their argument weak or wrong. Because we are all equal before the law, the assumption is made everything we say is likewise of equal worth. That, of course, is not true. And we risk encouraging ignorance if we disallow critical interrogation of argument.

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The DA’s illiberal response to Lulu Xingwana


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: The DA yesterday called on the Human Rights Commission to investigate Lulu Xingwana for comments it deemed “offensive”. That, however, is an intolerant and illiberal response. To try and formally shut down an opinion you no more than disagree with is anathema to free speech, a touchstone liberal principle. Anyone can speak out against a view they deem to be wrong or damaging in some way, but when you try formally to prohibit or ban a disagreeable opinion, you have crossed a line liberals should protect not abuse.

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Marius Fransman’s political dictionary


BullshitFEATURE: Few things are more entertaining than a Marius Fransman turn of phrase. At the same time, few things are more nonsensical. It is too easy, however, to dismiss so much of his rhetoric as rubbish. Rather, I think we should celebrate it – as a kind of comic relief. In that spirit I have compiled a collection of some of his more memorable sayings (and perhaps foolishly, tried to define them). Here they are then. Hopefully I will be able to produce a second edition sometime soon. Contributions welcome.

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On vision


TheThingAboutSERIES: Few things better define a good leader than a powerful vision. And any compelling vision has to it, two component parts: on the one hand, a series of concrete steps – for intent must be realised by action; on the other, those values and principles which underpin and motivate for such action – for every good undertaking has the advancement of freedom behind it, and ideals are the aspirational force behind action. Each part can be abused, however, by ignoring the other. Here is how.

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Burning books: The African way


imagesFEATURE: Much has rightly been made of the destruction of key texts and manuscripts held at Timbuktu; much less of the spate of library burning in South Africa over the last four years. Why is that? I have compiled an archive of libraries burnt in South Africa during this period and, in the piece below, argue that while we are quick to express passion about ‘African’ cultural ideals, we have little to say about book burning in our country and what it says about our actual cultural attitude to knowledge and education.

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On destruction


TheThingAboutSERIES: It is difficult at the best of times to plan ahead. Why cater for the possibility that something which functions well at the moment might, with time, breakdown? What an onerous undertaking. But that attitude is the very basis on which ideals and assets deteriorate – through neglect and a failure to maintain and manage their integrity. Any urgent crisis must, of course, be addressed but they are best avoided by relentlessly acting to ensure those things that work retain their strength.

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Mamphela Ramphele and the triumph of narcissism over strategy


MamphelaRampeleFEATURE: Mamphela Ramphele is due to make a significant announcement on Monday. All indications are she will announce, at least, the framework for a new political party; no doubt with her at the helm. If she does, it will represent the triumph of ego over sound political analysis and, as a result, the indulgence of narcissism above South Africa’s best interests. That, and a failure to learn from history. Here is why.

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The anti-democratic demagoguery of LeadSA


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: In a mindless bit of populism and in response to the horror rape and murder of Anene Booysen LeadSA has called for bail for rape suspects to be abolished. That is a profoundly ignorant and anti-justice notion that runs directly against those rights established in the constitution. Were it to be acted upon, we would take the first step down a slippery slope that would pervert the criminal justice system itself. It is indicative of an unprincipled organisation with no sound moral compass.

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On academic freedom


TheThingAboutSERIES: There is a growing tendency among some academics to serve at the state’s behest; that is, to abandon the preserve that academic freedom aims to safeguard and protect from political agendas in order to pursue and validate political projects, under the guise of objectivity. So it is worth considering the nature of academic freedom, why it is an important idea and what its purpose is in a society; most importantly, why it is so crucial to any genuine attempt to pursue the truth and what happens when it is ignored.

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On archetypes


TheThingAboutSERIES: It is surprising how ubiquitous archetypes are in any society. Sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, we spend much time advocating for various different stereotypes and, with that, indulging in the moral auditing that inevitably accompanies that approach. But no archetype exists in the real world, they are a fiction, and so it is worth distinguishing between principles and archetypes because we confuse the two to our great disadvantage.

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Zille, the Guptas and the Weekend Argus’s shoddy journalism


WeekendArgusFEATURE: This past Sunday the Weekend Argus ran a story which reported that the Democratic Alliance had received a donation from the Gupta family and that Helen Zille had personally organised it. It relied on a single source to make that claim, in a front page banner lead. However, that particular piece of ‘news’ was actually broken in March 2011, some 23 months ago – every, single element of it, almost word-for-word; and all the Weekend Argus did was disingenuously rehash and reframe an old story as new. It is an example of journalism at its weakest and the question now is, what is the newspaper and the media more generally going to do about it? Time for a bit of that famous self-regulation, one would think.

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The ANC’s top ten ‘treasonous’ people


ANCFlagFEATURE: As the ANC has turned its bullying gaze towards First National Bank, so one of its perennial slurs has once again been invoked – ‘treason’, and the suggestion that FNB was attempting to overthrow the government. It is a hysterical and wholly inaccurate accusation, designed to silence criticism and shut down debate – and FNB is not the first to be labelled ‘treasonous’ by the ANC. Here follows a list of ten such instances. In each case the charge is outlandish and wrong, and, in each case, it is used as a response to disagreement rather than any actual threat. Perhaps more importantly, together they describe a party out of touch both with reality and its own history.

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The ANC and FNB: Treason for some, freedom of speech for others


ANCChinaFEATURE: Here follow two 2009 election adverts. The first is from the Freedom Front Plus, the second from the African Christian Democratic Party. Both are harrowing and aim to induce much fear in the viewer about the state of South Africa, in an attempt to win their support. Compared to the FNB advert, they are extreme and make no attempt to allude to a problem in inspirational language. Rather they are cut-throat, highly provocative and damning of the government. One is forced to ask, given that there is so much unhappiness on the ANC’s part about the mild FNB ad, why neither of these two parties were ever labelled as ‘treasonous’?

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An erosion of the DA’s liberal values 2?


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: Two days ago I wrote an opinion piece on the DA and the extent to which collectivist ideas and archetypes – Ubuntu and ‘Africaness’ in particular – were becoming increasingly well-entrenched in its language; that it had failed to define those ideas and that they were in conflict with its core liberal beliefs. That opinion has been met by no official response from the DA, signalling either agreement or a politically expedient silence. To further make my case, a transcript of a radio interview with the national spokesperson adds further weight to my argument. Seeing as the DA is unwilling to debate the matter, cased closed, I would say.

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The New Age and the commercialisation of accountability


AccountabilityFEATURE: Much has been made of the extent to which corporates and parastatals have sponsored the New Age business breakfasts, and rightfully so. Here, however, is another take on the significance of these occasions: what we are seeing the commercialisation of President’s question time – money in exchange for the chance, seemingly, to interrogate the head of state. It represents the ANC’s ideal response to the necessity of accountability: you can’t have it, but you can pay for the pretence of it.

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On mistakes


TheThingAboutSERIES: ‘A mistake’ is often the excuse given in public life for some or other indiscretion. Public figures, sportspeople celebrities and politicians alike use the idea to explain away bad judgement. Often their explanation is legitimate; just as often, it is not. In other words, their ostensible ‘mistake’ was not actually an innocent oversight on their part, but a deliberate act of deceit. Saying it was a ‘mistake’, in such circumstances, help dilute personal responsibility. And so it is worth trying to better understand the idea and when or when not it is applicable.

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An erosion of the DA’s liberal values?


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: In yesterday’s Sunday Times, DA national spokesperson Mmusi Maimane wrote an article which, while attempting to advocate against stereotyping, ended up doing exactly that; seemingly the reflection of his own personal views about ‘Africaness’, Ubuntu and the inherent characteristics of ‘Africans’. It is troubling and indicative of a broader challenge facing the party: how best to safeguard its core beliefs and values without pandering to ‘identity politics’ and group identity.

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On perspective


TheThingAboutSERIES: Perspective is a vital and important part of understanding the human condition and making the best decisions in order to thrive in it. Perspective encourages compassion and sympathy; the lack of it, selfishness and callousness. Often we fail to develop or seek out the proper perspective on things because we are too engrossed in our universe, which we see as generally reflective of the experience of everyone. When our personal context becomes the be-all-and-end-all of our perspective, it is not just our analysis that suffers but our ability to relate to others.

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10 steps to avoid moralising


AFEATURE: South African public discourse is awash with moralisers – people who care little for argument or reason, evidence or logic, but rather wish nothing more than to shout their position from the treetops, in the belief that it represents some universal truth. The effect of this on debate is damaging. It is also infectious. What follows below is a list of ten suggestions to avoid moralising. Hopefully, they constitute a helpful guide to some of the pitfalls inherent to moral indignation, and how best they can be overcome.

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On pettiness


TheThingAboutSERIES: Far too much of debate is defined by pettiness – that is, the superficial and, often, ad hominem response to argument. It works like sickness, once injected into a discussion its effect is difficult to resist and, before you know it, the meaningful exchange of ideas has devolved down to the trading of insults. Being petty is the attitude of bully; overlooking it, the key to intellectual progress and a sure sign of maturity and self-awareness.

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Blade, the SACP and the idea of respect


RespectFEATURE: The idea of ‘respect’ is one profoundly misunderstood in South Africa. Not just misunderstood, however, but deliberately misused as a euphemism for deference, in order to give the demand of respect a more acceptable veneer. Leading the charge in this respect is Blade Nzimande and the SACP and a recent exchange between Nzimande and a caller on radio is as revealing in this regard as it is disturbing. So it is worth unpacking the idea in a bit more detail in order to better understand that underlying all these various calls for respect is a deeply authoritarian impulse and the abdication of personal responsibility.

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Culture, culture everywhere and not a drop to drink


FreedomARTICLE: ‘My culture’, ‘our culture’, ‘one must respect culture’, ‘in our culture’, these are some of the phrases that dominate South African public discourse. But ask anyone to define exactly what they mean by their culture, its precise parameters, values and principles, and you will find yourself staring at a blank face. It is the ultimate ‘get out jail free card’ in any argument (perhaps along with race), evoked in an unthinking manner, as if beyond scrutiny or criticism from first principles. Morally untouchable. Were we more honest about the general nature of many such cultures, we would, no doubt, be fairly horrified.

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On tolerance


TheThingAboutSERIES: It has become fashionable to champion diversity as if the idea and its practical manifestations are one in the same, both good and virtuous. This is wrong. Diversity, as a value, is important, good and necessary but not every actual difference in a society is therefore equally virtuous. Many things that are ‘different’ are anti-freedom. One needs to distinguish between allowing difference the space to flourish and evaluating and responding to that difference itself. If we fail to do that, tolerance suffers. It becomes a euphemism for blind acceptance, which is not its purpose.

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Biko’s archetype: Are you a ‘real black’?


InsidePoliticsFEATURE: We are currently involved, as ever, in an intense discussion about identity. On the one hand we have a series of prejudiced comments about sexual orientation (Mulholland), race (Schutte), culture and gender (Zuma); on the other, the various responses to them. But such debates are nothing new, especially when it comes to race and culture. The debate addressing what it is to be a ‘real black’ or ‘African’, for example, is far older than South Africa’s new democracy. And so it is worth returning to its origins. In the article below I look at the writings of one of the key thinkers behind Black Consciousness – Steve Biko – and his views on the subject, before concluding they are no different from or less problematic than those more recent comments about which so many are rightfully outraged.

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Goodbye DA, hello future


InsidePoliticsAs this is a new year, it seems appropriate I start it off with a new beginning. Although not directly relevant to this site, which I have always run in my personal capacity, after 12 or so years with the DA I felt it best, as they say, to move on to other things; and so, from 1 January 2013, I made that decision and am no longer working for the party. I shall continue to keep Inside Politics running and we shall see what the future holds. So, expect some exciting, new articles, starting tomorrow and included amongst them some very interesting subjects I think deserve a bit more public attention. Thanks to all the friends I made; to them and everyone else, see you somewhere in the great debate that is South Africa’s future. Goodnight, and good luck.

Inside Politics wins Best Political Blog


InsidePoliticsThank you to everyone who voted. Inside Politics won best political blog for 2012. Congratulations to all the winners. Hopefully, in 2013, I can raise the bar somewhat. I have a range of interesting ideas for the year ahead and, I hope, some pieces which can get a few meaningful debates going. In the meantime, if you are visiting the blog for the first time, welcome. You can follow Inside Politics by e-mail simply by going to the bottom of the page and filling in your address. (When you confirm it, you will receive an e-mail the moment any new post is loaded to the site.) Alternatively, you can follow Inside Politics on Twitter here:

or me, here:

2012 had some had some great highlights, check out the Key Pieces tab for more. (Everything from how much Jacob Zuma costs the public to a defence of the Spear and Freedom of Speech). And, along with that, I hope, some helpful pieces on key liberal ideas and what they mean. Until 2013, thank you again.

Vote for Inside Politics as Best Political Blog


SA Blog Awards Badge I have entered Inside Politics in the 2012 South African Blog Awards, in the category ‘Best Political Blog’. The award-winners are announced on 31 December 2012. Prior to that, there is a public voting phase, which runs from 19 December (today) until 28 December, were after three finalists in each category will be determined and ranked first, second and third by a panel of judges. So, if you like Inside Politics, please vote for it. To vote, click on the badge. You get one vote. When you click on the badge, you will be taken to the SA Blog Awards page, where Inside Politics will be automatically selected. When you enter your vote, you will be sent a confirmation email which, importantly, you must respond to for your vote to be registered. So, if you like Inside Politics, vote for it by clicking on the badge above and, if for some strange reason you really feel strongly about it, tell your friends. Thank you. Gareth

Cricket SA: The long shadow of Thabo Mbeki


ExcellenceFEATURE: Cricket South Africa has recently announced it will appointing a new national selector not on merit, but on their race: they must be black. Not only are quotas anathema to professional sport in general and excellence in particular but, for the most part, South African sport seems to have moved beyond demographic representivity; at least, that is what the Minister says. But CSA seems trapped in the past and, with that, held hostage by the antiquated thinking of Thabo Mbeki.

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On hysteria


TheThingAboutSERIES: Much public rhetoric in South Africa is defined by hysteria and our response to current affairs, often hysterical in turn. So it is worth paying some attention to the idea. What is the nature of hysteria? Certainly it is extreme in nature but how so? It is perhaps best understood as a kind of drama, with heroes and villains, good and evil. And thus, the last thing hysteria will ever indulge is subtle or ambiguity, doubt or uncertainty.

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On expression


TheThingAboutSERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. We spend much time, in a myriad different ways, expressing ourselves to the world at large. But what, actually, is it to express an idea? And does a thought change when we verbalise it, from some abstract inclination to something more concrete? If this does happen, it’s a process we often don’t pay enough attention to.

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On foresight


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. I am back and normal posting will resume from tomorrow. In the meantime, here is yesterday’s column, on the idea of foresight and how it works. The ability to foresee things can often be mistaken for guesswork. The difference between foresight and randomness is reason and being able to argue forcefully, the ability to use language and logic to present a prediction.

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