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

Month: March, 2012

South Africa and the Sorites Paradox


FEATURE: The Sorites Paradox posits that, in removing individual grains of sand from a heap, one can never tell the exact point when it stops being a heap and becomes something else. It is also called the ‘little-by-little’ argument and speaks to one of humankind’s great weaknesses: our inability to spot gradual but fundamental change over time. What happens when you apply the paradox to the ANC? Is it the same party it was in 1994? Has it changed fundamentally? If so, when did it happen?

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Moral outrage: the groundwork for authoritarianism


ARTICLE: Often South Africa seems willingly to throw itself into a fit of moral outrage about something incidental. We are currently in the process of doing exactly that, this time about the word ‘refugee’ and what it means. And so it is worth taking some time to try and objectively understand what moral outrage is, its nature and form. In the short piece below, I try to identify its general characteristics.

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Refugees: The ANC’s xenophobic bigotry revealed


FEATURE: Moral outrage often says more about those outraged than the issue at hand. The hysteria surrounding Helen Zille’s use of the word refugee – particularly from the ANC – makes the case: the meaning of the word is beyond dispute, the prejudice which has fuelled the way it has been perceived, however, has hardly been touched on. And a closer inspection of the ANC’s actual response on the matter suggests it has a lot of answer for – a new target for South Africa’s media to focus its moralising on. Whether or not it does so, however, is different question, the answer to which is revealing.

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Was Shiceka fired for promoting the DA?


FEATURE: As part of the speculation preceding President Zuma’s decision to fire former co-operative governance minister Sicelo Shiceka it was reported the ANC was unhappy with the way his department kept highlighting in its reports how well DA governments were performing. Since he has been fired, the national department has produced none of the comparative statistical information it did in the run-up to the 2011 election. So, was the way the minister’s department promoted the DA a contributing factor to his removal from office? And, more to the point, will the ANC government ever make that kind of comparative data available again?

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The nature of good leadership


ARTICLE: What is the nature of good leadership? That is a question that has elicited a thousand answers. In the article below, I look at a few of the requisite traits. In particular, the central importance of a vision and its relationship to sacrifice: that a good leader understands, in order to progress from one state of affairs to another, they must be willing to sake something on that transition and that you can tell a great deal about a leader by the extent to which they are willing to do this.

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On secrecy


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Secrecy is often thought of as something involving the withholding of information but, in contrast, equally it can be understood as the management and control of information. In turn, secrecy has a certain kind of relationship with trust and, depending how it is used, it can either enhance it or undermine it.

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How political correctness makes for bad analysis


FEATURE: There is a tendency in South African political analysis to explain away problematic behaviour or positioning by being optimistic about it. That is, to suggest it is not a problem and that it needed be cause for serious concern because everything is going to be alright. That, however, leads to poor analysis. In the piece below I look at a piece by Eusebius McKaiser that illustrates this kind of thinking and how it lends itself to misunderstanding the politics of the ANC.

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Affirmative Action and academic appointments


FEATURE: In a piece focused on academic appointments, Adv Mark Oppenheimer – a DA Young Leader – looks at affirmative action in its various forms and how each relates to the idea of justice, before concluding that only equal opportunity affrimative action can be described as a truly just remedy in overcoming past injustices. Affirmative Action has been in the news lately for a number of different reasons, from UCT’s admission’s policy to the Department of Correctonal Services’ new employment equity plan. The arguments Mark addresses and disproves are important and the relationship he focuses on – between redress and justice – critical to both this issue and South Africa’s development more broadly.

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Accountability necesitates explanation and consequence


ARTICLE: The idea of acountability seems to be poorly understood from first principles: there is a perception that it involves little more than explanation. In other words, many assume that simply by explaining what when wrong, one has accounted for it. In fact, it must be accompanied by consequence and the possibility that wrongdoing be met by the requisite action. In the piece below I look at this relationship. For anyone interested in further thoughts on the idea, see this video interview with Lindiwe Mazibuko, about accountability and its nature.

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On the ANC, refugees and offence


FEATURE: Helen Zille’s tweet about Eastern Cape refugees has caused much outcry, least of all from the ANC, which, as per usual, has used the opportunity not to talk about the problem at hand but the word itself. Ironically, given the ANC’s sudden worry about “negative feelings”, a look at its own track record reveals a party that routinely throws around deeply offensive ideas all the time. In the piece below I set some of them out and make the case: if the ANC is worried about offence, a good place to start would be by taking a look in the mirror.

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Excellence as an antidote


ARTICLE: In the piece below Wilmot James makes a fairly profound point: that excellence and its pursuit can be a mechanism through which reconciliation can be achieved. That is, to my mind, an entirely original approach. And quite true too: for a country that suffers low self esteem and over which victimhood has such a strong hold, what can be a better anecdote than setting high standards and then achieving them? Something to think about.

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In conversation about ubuntu


SERIES: Two heads are better than one, or so the saying goes. Jacques Rousseau is a lecturer in critical thinking and ethics, as well as a columnist for the Daily Maverick and, in discussion with him, the series In Conversation will look to explore a key concept or development in a few email exchanges. We start with the idea of ubuntu – a notion that has quickly been elevated to the level of philosophy, although what it actually means remains the subject of much debate. Perhaps more to the point, is ubuntu a liberal idea? Or, at the very, least can it be reconciled with liberalism?

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On humanism


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Today, a look at humanism and the idea that human achievement and potential is often downplayed in the favour of some supernatural explanation for accomplishment. This might seem beneficial – for one it allows one to abdicate responsibility when it comes to destructive behaviour – but that comes at a cost, including an inability to celebrate the great things of which humans alone are capable.

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Inside Ideas: Lindiwe Mazibuko on accountability


VIDEO SERIES: Too often we use ideas without thinking about their actual component part, how they relate to other ideas and, importantly, whether or not other people undersatnd them the same way. Inside Ideas is a video series designed to explore key political concepts and what they mean. We start with a conversation with DA Parliamentary Leader Lindiwe Mazibuko MP about the idea of accountability, what it means and why it is important.

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What constitutes good argument?


ARTICLE: What are the structural characteristics of a good argument? Many of the key ingredients are well known: evidence, reason, logic, language, but how do they all relate? Also, what combination results in a powerful argument and what combination results in a weak argument? I have tried to answer some of these questions in the short piece that follows below.

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On callousness


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Pain and suffering is as much a part of life as joy and pleasure but the lessons they hold are often counterintuative and thus, not well learnt; for one’s inclination is to ignore or dismiss pain simply because it is onerous indeed to try and relate to it. But that attitude comes at a cost.

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UCT Admissions: The DASO alternative


DOCUMENT: The University of Cape Town has for sometime now been the centre of much attention as a result of its race-based admissions policy. In a response to that debate, the UCT council recently established a Commission into UCT Students Admissions on the Admissions Policy and called for public submissions. What follows below is the submission from the Democratic Alliance Student Organisation at UCT, in which the case is made, rather than race-based selection, a basket of socio-economic indicators be used – an alternative approach to redress, based on equality of opportunity.

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The other election


SERIES: The instantaneous and dramatic nature of current affairs lends itself to a kind of historical amnesia, one where the captivating nature of those things unfolding today, causes one to forget the bigger picture. From the Archives aims to put forward the odd reminder that, more often than not, history is merely repeating itself. In all likelihood, somewhere, someone has already experienced and commented on those all-consuming issues that appear to have materialised only yesterday. This time, a retrospective on the other important election involving Jacob Zuma: at the ANC’s 1997 general conference Zuma was elected Deputy President and his formal relationship with Thabo Mbeki was first established. How he got elected, and what he had to say about Mbeki, makes for interesting reading.

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Learning the hard way


FEATURE: When Jackie Selebi was appointed police commissioner in 1999, and despite much evidence suggesting his appointment would be problematic – least of all that he was first an foremost an Mbeki loyalist, not an expert – the decison was widely welcomed by the mainstream press. Today, Selebi’s successor, Bheki Cele, is also disgraced and so it worth asking: what did the press say about his 2009 appointment? Did they praise it? Or where they critical? Because the problem with the appointment was essentially the same. Have a read and find out.

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Tolls back then and why this time it’s different; or is it?


FEATURE: History, they say, repeats itself. The current and widespread discontent concering the introduction of eTolling in Gauteng might seem without precedent in the new South Africa but cast your gaze a little further back into the past and you will see the issue has raised its head before. Things then, as now, were much the same: a nationalist government, failing infrastructure and an incapable state. The plan failed back then but we can surely learn a lesson or two from it. Or can we? Charles van Onselen relates the story and asks the questions we should be thinking about today.

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On loss


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Loss is as much a part of democratic life as victory but a far harder outcome to accept. And many resist it, long after it is no longer negotiable. Not accepting it is, of course, one thing but to try change the rules in order to negate it, far more problematic behaviour.

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The language of meritocracy


FEATURE: To what degree is South Africa a country that embraces and embodies excellence? That is, to what degree are those things fundamental to a meritocracy inherent to South African public discourse and its political culture? In the piece below the DA’s Federal Chair, Wilmot James, looks at this question and tries to understand both where we stand as country in this regard and what the Democratic Alliance has to do, in order to better embrace excellence and its benefits.

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The Imaginarium of Marius Fransman


FEATURE: ANC Western Cape Provincial Chairperson Marius Fransman has written an article that, well, it’s quite something. I was going to say hilarious, and I did laugh heartedly at much of it but then, on reflection, decided that ‘hilarious’ did not do adequate justice to some of the remarkable gobbledygook contained within it. Mixed metaphors, mangled grammar, poor language, bad spelling – it reads like the wildly-impassioned speech a maniacal super villain spits forth, mad with an over-the-top power lust, just before he inevitably duffs his whole grand plan and is captured, all red in the face and puffing, like someone who has been locked in a sauna for a day and a half. Anyway, you should read it first, before reading this. You can find it here. Oh, and also make a note of it. This is going to be one of those humdingers you are going to want to recall from the archives come 2014.

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187 votes: How Julius Malema was elected


FEATURE: So Julius Malema has been expelled from the African National Congress Youth League (ANCYL) and while South Africa reflects on what this all means, it is worth taking a trip back in time, to April 2008, when Malema was first elected President of the league. Why? Well, his election had all the tell-tale signs of what was to follow. And, with the benefit of hindsight, it makes for interesting reading. In the end there were just 187 votes in it but what an important 187 votes those proved to be. Here, then, is a brief re-cap of the ANCYL’s 2008 elective conference, as told by South Africa’s media.

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