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

Month: April, 2012

Sound judgement is a weapon against moralising


ARTICLE: Good judgement is not only the key to making good decisions but, by promoting and protecting it, the best way to ensure a society values its component parts: evidence, reason, logic and principle. Very often the urge to moralise about an issue means these important ideas are forgotten and, instead of trying to understand something, in order to best respond to it, we merely condemn it out of hand, the result of some unthinking emotional impulse.

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How cadre deployment has brought Buffalo City to its knees


FEATURE: Did you know Buffalo City has been without a chief financial officer for more than 1 000 days or that, in the last three years, it has had four executive mayors and six municipal managers? Little wonder its financial management has collapsed over the last five years, to the point where the province has threatened to strip it of its powers. The primary reason: cadre deployment and politicisation of a municipality that, just five years ago, received a financially unqualified report from the Auditor-General.

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History is about questions; propaganda, answers


ARTICLE: What is the relationship between history and propaganda, and propaganda and secrecy in turn? It is an interesting question. History is often taken for granted. It is assumed that it exists somewhere out there, and it is the business of an eccentric few to define it. But in truth it is a contemporary business and a society’s attitude towards it say much about us. In the article below I look at this relationship and how these two ideas – history and propaganda – relate.

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The ANC’s all-time top 10 most disturbing quotes


FEATURE: I have compiled into a list what I consider to be the ANC’s 10 most disturbing quotes of the last 18 years. Each one made a significant impact on current affairs and, significantly, revealed the ANC’s real thinking, so they are worth documenting and recalling. But I am open to suggestions. The point of this article is to generate a discussion. So read them and leave your comments. Did Zuma’s shower quote make the list? Malema on nationalisation? Mbeki on Aids? Read on and find out. Also, leave your thoughts on Twitter, I will use the hashtag #ANCQuotes

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A Zuma flip flop: On the arms deal in 2004 and 2012


SERIES: A good quote can hold within it a thousand separate insights, just as surely as some poorly constructed thought can reveal someone as a fool. Quotable Quotes looks at what is said, what was said and, on occasion, how the two compare. Today, Jacob Zuma and the arms deal. Perhaps his biggest flip flop ever? You be the judge – see what Jacob Zuma said about it when answering questions in 2012 and how that compares his answer, to the exact same question, in 2004.

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Secrecy: the drug you slowly become addicted to


ARTICLE: The Protection of State Information Bill, perhaps now better known as ‘the secrecy bill’, has put transparency front and centre in our public discourse. I have, in the article below, tried to explain in abstract why the principle of transparency is important to a democracy and, at the other end of the spectrum, why secrecy is a danger to it. Of the many reasons, perhaps the most subtle is secrecy’s insidious effect. Once given a foothold, it gradually tightens its grip, until, before you know it, it has squeezed the very life out of a democratic order.

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How much government spends on entertainment


FEATURE: Every annual report has a line item called ‘Entertainment’ which, according to the Treasury, can include everything from lunches through to gifts and something called ‘Private Entertainment’. So, how much does government spend in this regard? R77 million in two years is the answer. To see who the biggest and smallest spenders are and, importantly, how national expenditure compares to the Western Cape and other provinces, read on. If anything, it is at least an entertaining read.

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Why ANC provincial departments have contempt for you


FEATURE: Annual Reports go directly to accountability and transparency. If they are produced by a government timeously and made easily available to the public and press, it says something about that government’s commitment to those two principles. What follows is an assessment of the extent to which annual reports are available on provincial department websites. In undertaking it, it became apparent that not only were the reports scarce, but that some 18 websites just didn’t work at all. To find out which ones, read on.

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Driving Ms Mbete: Part 2


FEATURE: Having set out the details of former Speaker Baleka Mbete’s fraudulent driver’s licence in Part 1 of this retrospective, today we look at how the press responded at the time. The various editorial comments are helpful not only because they gives a sense of the outrage but because they capture nicely the various ethical considerations at play, which are perhaps lost in a factual account of the incident and, certainly, were lost on the ANC at the time.

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Driving Ms Mbete: Part 1


FEATURE: It is now largely forgotten but in 1997 former Speaker in the National Assembly Baleka Mbete was embroiled in a serious corruption scandal. She was accused of obtaining fraudulently a learner’s and driver’s licence and, among 44 others, required to testify before a Commission of Enquiry into the matter. It is worth recalling the story because it illustrated much about the ANC’s attitude to accountability and executive office – an attitude that is now well entrenched. So, here is a retrospective: how Baleka Mbete got a fraudulent driver’s licence and what the ANC did about it.

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On heroes and villains


ARTICLE: Something about sensationalism fuels the impulse to adulate or denigrate people – that is, to see them either as heroes or villains, good or bad. When that attitude is well set and pervasive in a society, the subtlety and ambiguity that marks human nature is overlooked in favour of the kind of moral absolutism that understands everything (and everyone) as either right or wrong. Not only is it temporary – one day someone is a hero, the next a villain – but often it is to misunderstand the attributes of a real hero in the first place.

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Mangaung: The ANC’s shame


FEATURE: The ANC has spent much time over the past six months waxing lyrical about the deep significance of Mangaung and the Free State to the party, as it celebrates its 100 anniversary. But an overview of the way in which local government has been managed by the party suggests a different attitude. Indeed, so fundamentally mismanaged is the Free State, if anything the ANC owes its people an apology. What follows is a general overview of the way in which the various local authorities in the Free State – and Mangaung in particular – have performed according to the reports of the Auditor-General. It makes for disturbing reading and, I would argue, leads one to the inevitable conclusion that, if the ANC owes anything to the Free State, it is an explanation.

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How Midvaal delivers more to the poor than ANC-run councils


FEATURE: Every municipality is required by national legislation to implement an indigent policy. If someone registers as indigent, they receive from their local government a package of rebates for basic services such as water and electricity. With regard to income, the set minimum is R2 280 – earn less than that amount and you can qualify as indigent. But municipalities can set the threshold higher. Midvaal boasts the highest threshold in Gauteng. And the reason it is able to do that is because it runs the most efficient administration in the province too: proof that good governance is the key to effective poverty relief programmes.

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The eternal battle between outcomes and processes


ARTICLE: What is more important – an outcome or the process designed to achieve it? How you answer that question will say a lot about you. Those primarily concerned with outcomes are usually responsible for change and, with it, progress. Those overly concerned with processes usually stifle progress, unable as they are to understand its purpose in the first place (to generate an outcome) – or to adapt when it fails. South Africa today places far too much emphasis on process. Indeed, in politics we have a process for everything (a tribunal, a committee, a review, a commission, an investigation, etc) but when it comes to outcomes – and with that accoutability – well, they are far harder to find. So it is worth exploring the relationship between these two things, to try and better understand the role each plays.

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In conversation about tolerance


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. Few ideas get more attention than in South African public debate than that of ‘tolerance’ – and, with it, the seemingly omnipresent idea of ‘offence’. We get offended a lot. Too much perhaps? In response, tolerance seems to have become an excuse to avoid the proper critical examination of bad ideas and poor thinking. These, among others, are some of the issues explored this week.

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Mbeki’s 1994 TV debate nightmare


SERIES: In this edition of From the Archives: As the Republican Party process to determine a presidential candidate plays itself out in America, with a seemingly endless stream of televised debates, it is worth asking why we don’t enjoy a similar culture of public debate in South Africa. Why did Jacob Zuma and Helen Zille not debate each other on live television in the run-up to the 2009 election? The answer to that question is a complex one, and a lot, I suspect, to do with Zuma himself. But the ANC more generally has never really advocated for this kind of thing, certainly Mbeki fought it tooth and nail – and he was no Jacob Zuma. Why? One reason is the ANC’s obvious attitude to debate but, with regards to Mbeki, the answer might be a little more personal. Here follows a retrospective on the first and only time democratic South Africa presidential candidates debated on live TV – in the run-up to the 1994 election.

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On authenticity


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Politics and public life lend themselves to compromise and appeasement. Both these things, in turn, help to generate an incentive structure that often does not reward but punishes authenticity. Constantly those that would seek out public office are encouraged to present to the world a version of themselves that is as inoffensive to as many people as possible. But what happens when one attains a position of power? Does that incentive still hold, or are people then more inclined to reveal their real selves?

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What would a society mired in mediocrity look like?


ARTICLE: Mediocrity is a devilish thing – pervasive and insidious and yet so ill-defined. It is relatively easy to understand what excellence is, much harder though to define its nemesis. What I have tried to do in the article below is describe what a society firmly in mediocrity’s grip might look like. It is a helpful exercise, if only because it makes it easier to understand the important role excellence plays and its general effect.

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Bitou at the brink


FEATURE: The story of Bitou municipality (Plettenberg Bay) and how the ANC’s closed crony model of local governance corrupted democracy and development in the area. Described by the DA’s David Christianson, the story sets out how the ANC administration, through the mismanagement and misuse of resources, brought the municipality to its knees, and the extent of the problem with DA inherited when it came to power in Bitou in last year’s local government elections. It is a powerful illustration of the kind of damage poor governance can do and, much like the story of Gauteng’s Nokeng Tsa Taemane municipality which Helen Zille set out during the election and DA Mayor Gesie van Deventer’s description of what the DA found when it took over Drakenstein demonstrates that much of the ANC’s poor governance is only fully revealed when it is removed from power.

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