Analysis of and commentary on South African politics from a liberal perspective.

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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