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

Month: September, 2012

What separates the knowledgeable from the ignorant?


ARTICLE: It is difficult to think of two more different people than the person who pursues knowledge and the person who safeguards their own ignorance. If knowledge and its pursuit is not properly promoted and protected an entire society can become caught in ignorance’s false sense of comfort. Curiosity is curtailed, innovation stifled and difference outlawed, and that will bring an end to progress in turn. So it is well worth considering the question: What separates the knowledgeable from the ignorant?

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By the Numbers


SERIES: Some light reading for a Friday: 10 interesting numbers from current affairs and politics that tell a story. Did you know that 20.5% of people in Emfuleni Municipality in Gauteng believe it is legitimate for a man to beat a woman “if she is unfaithful”, the highest proportion of any municipality in the province? For this fact and a range of other curious and disturbing numbers, read on. Below the graphic is the full list of numbers and, in each case, the source from where they originate.

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On the nature of victimhood


ARTICLE: There is a strong case to be made that South Africa is nation of victims. And here I do not mean in the literal sense – for there are many who can objectively be described as victims of some great injustice – I mean as an attitude – victimhood: we suffer low self-esteem, we lack agency and we generally see circumstance as our ever-present tormentor. This is to our great disadvantage, for victimhood is a sure path to apathy and, with it, further injustice.

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On gullibility


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. At some point or other in our lives everyone is gullible but what separates those people who are consistently gullible from those who are not? The ability to learn from experience is important, likewise the need not to be deferential in the face of political correctness and orthodoxy.

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Zuma’s minority rights gaffe: What HANSARD says


FEATURE: In a desperate attempt to recast President Zuma’s profoundly undemocratic comments about minority rights, the Presidency yesterday released a statement that does nothing more than completely and utterly misrepresent what the President actually said. But we now have definitive proof, the unrevised HANSARD of President’s Question Time is avaliable, and you can read what he said word-for-word. Flowing from that, in turn, are a number of questions about Zuma’s attitude to nature of union’s undemocratic structure, which someone should put to him.

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The Ten Commandments according to Jacob Zuma


FEATURE: Jacob Zuma has, over the last five years, spent much time advocating his and the ANC’s religious credentials: that his is a party endorsed by God, that it will rule till the end of days, that its enemies will suffer damnation, that he is like Jesus, even that an ANC membership card is a ticket into heaven. I have organised all his religious rhetoric into ten key ideas – everything Jacob Zuma has ever said about the ANC and religion. Not only does it serve as a helpful archive but jointly and separately his statements paint a picture of a profoundly undemocratic leader with scant regard for the constitution or the basic tenets of democracy [GRAPHIC included].

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2012 Government Spend on Entertainment – Update: 7 Departments; R2 520 000


FEATURE: It is annual report season and that means, among other important indicators, it is possible to gauge how national departments have spent public money over the course of the last financial year. Earlier this year, I set out how much the ANC government was spending on entertainment – just under R50 million in 2011 – and, as the new 2012 reports are tabled, I shall keep a running total of how much is spent this time around. Here follows the third such update, with seven departments having tabled their reports [with PDF table at end].

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By the Numbers


SERIES: Some light reading for a Friday: 10 interesting numbers from current affairs and politics that tell a story. Did you know the Free State Government is spending some R15 million in 2012 to upgrade Free State premier Ace Magashule’s house? For this fact and a range of other curious numbers, read on. Below the graphic is the full list of numbers and, in each case, the source from where they originate.

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The ANC Chief Whip: Where there’s smoke, there’s fire


FEATURE: Why did the ANC react so extremely to criticism of its Chief Whip last week? Remember, this is the same party that ignored far more serious criticisms in the past. Something about the public airing of this latest problem – that the ANC Chief Whip has attended just 11 of 19 key parliamentary meetings – really upset the ANC. One explanation, which seems plausible on the evidence, is that his dire performance provides the perfect opportunity to “redeploy” someone the powers that be do not believe has the right political loyalties come Mangaung.

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Debate is about difference, not consensus


ARTICLE: There is a general and increasingly pervasive attitude that the purpose of debate is to secure consensus. That is, rather than a forum to determine which arguments and ideas are the most cogent or insightful, debate is seen as means to compromise and appease. That, however, is to denude debate of its greatest potential contribution: knowledge and understanding. When mere expression is the end, the means (rationality, evidence and reason) suffer in turn. For what is the point of trying to convince if just by speaking you are already fêted?

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Jacob Zuma on cadre deployment in 1999


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. Cadre deployment is rarely spoken about in any detail by the ANC. What follows is a 1999 interview with Jacob Zuma on the subject. Although his answers are often couched in obfuscation, a great many of them are revealling and say much about the ANC’s hegemonic and undemocratic attitude to power and control.

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On fairness


SERIES: The Thing About is a weekly Business Day column designed to discuss democratic ideas, ideals, values and principles from a liberal perspective. Fairness enjoys a reputation perhaps more generous than is actually deserved. It is, of course, an important idea but, if it is the greater good you are interested in, fairness is no guarantee it will be secured. More likely an existing conflict will be defused. That can be important but it is just as important not to confuse the two.

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10 Questions with Ryan Coetzee


INTERVIEW: The DA’s Head of Strategy and Special Advisor to the Western Cape Premier, Ryan Coetzee, will soon be working for Britain’s Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, on his party’s strategy in government. I asked him some questions about strategy, why it is important, how best to understand it and whether politics lends itself to a different approach to strategy, as opposed to the way it is practiced in other fields.

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Reflections of a departing diplomat


SPEECH: Former Leader of the Democratic Alliance and current South African Ambassador to Argentina, Tony Leon, is to vacate his post and return to South Africa at the end of September. What follows below is his farewell speech, delivered to the Argentine Institute for International Relations. In it, he reflects on his term and some of lessons about diplomacy he has learnt during his time in South Africa’s diplomatic core. An interesting insight into the thinking of an Ambassador.

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2012 Government Spend on Entertainment – Updates: 5 Departments; R2 152 000


FEATURE: It is annual report season and that means, among other important indicators, it is possible to gauge how national departments have spent public money over the course of the last financial year. Earlier this year, I set out how much the ANC government was spending on entertainment – just under R50 million in 2011 – and, as the new 2012 reports are tabled, I shall keep a running total of how much is spent this time around. Here follows the second such update, with five departments having tabled their reports [with PDF table at end].

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By the Numbers


SERIES: By the Numbers is a new series – a collection of 10 interesting numbers from current affairs and Inside Politics articles. I shall try to run it each Friday (if not every Friday then most Fridays) – hopefully, some more light-hearted reading for the end of the week. Below the main graphic, I have linked to the source of as many of the numbers as possible.

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ERROR: ANC-run provinces do not compute


FEATURE: Some four months ago – more than 120 days past – I documented how the websites for 18 ANC-run provincial departments were broken. I recently revisted them all again, to see if anything had changed. Nothing had. In fact, 19 are now broken and, of them, 15 have been broken since April (possibly longer). As in April, the only exception was the DA-run Western Cape Government. Its websites not only worked perfectly but were the most user-friendly. That tells you much about the attitude of those governments to transparency and accountablity; for access to government information is your right. To see which didn’t work and why, read on. [GRAPHIC included]

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2012 Government Spend on Entertainment – Update: 3 Departments; R236 000


FEATURE: It is annual report season and that means, among other important indicators, it is possible to gauge how national departments have spent public money over the course of the last financial year. Earlier this year, I set out how much the ANC government was spending on entertainment – just under R50 millionin 2011 – and, as the new 2012 reports are tabled, I shall keep a running total of how much is spent this time around. Here follows the first such update, with three departments having tabled their reports [with GRAPHIC and PDF table at end].

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Petrol price increase “indefensible”: ANC


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. A lot of people forget but the ANC was once in opposition – from 1990, when it was un-banned, to South Africa’s first democratic election, in April 1994. Perhaps not formally elected but, for that period of time and in the run-up to 94, it assumed the role. Here are a few quotes from the ANC back then. I wonder how the ANC has held up in government against the standard it set when it was in opposition?

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On political support


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 the idea of political support and the public expectations which accompany it: promoting and protecting the public interest. The relationship between these two requirements of public office can be a vexed one, however, for both politicians and the public.

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The Sowetan, Zuma and Zille: A critique


FEATURE: Shortly after her 2009 election as Western Cape Premier, the Sowetan newspaper decided to make an issue out of Helen Zille. Because it didn’t have anything suitable, it decided rather to manufacture some news. So it took a comment Zille had made about President Zuma and blew it out of all proportion, setting off a media frenzy. What follows below is a 2009 article on the incident, setting out how the Sowetan manipulated ‘the news’ in order, presumably, to do nothing more than sell newspapers.

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On moral outrage and bad journalism


FEATURE: In late 2010 the DA removed Sowetan journalist Anna Majavu from its mailing lists. In 2011, the mainstream press found out and the response, fuelled by the ANC, was so hysterical looking back it puts the outcry over The Spear in a whole different light. We seem to specialise in hysteria and moral outrage in South Africa. In the 2011 article below, I responded to all the vitriol and tried to put the decision in its proper perspective. I note with some irony that today the DA is still around, Anna Majavu, however, has abandoned South Africa for Australia.

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How personal bias corrupts ‘expert’ opinion


FEATURE: The Erasmus Commission was set up by the former ANC Premier of the Western Cape, Ebrahim Rasool, to probe the allegation that the DA-led coalition in the City of Cape Town – and Cape Town Mayor and DA leader Helen Zille in particular – had improperly used public funds to spy on their political opponents, despite the City having initiated an independent investigation into the matter, which cleared the administration and the DA of any wrongdoing. It was, after the City of Cape Town took it to court, found to be unlawful, as the DA had argued all along. Not so Pierre de Vos, however, despite being a ‘legal expert’ almost everything he said about the commission was wrong. The reason: a particular bias he holds for politicians, Helen Zille and the DA, which rendered his ability properly to analyse what was happening null and void. Here a 2008 article showing how.

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Small, smaller, smallest: The decline of SA’s minority parties


FEATURE: What follows is a brief 2009 election overview of the results of the five more established smaller parties: the African Christian Democratic Party, Freedom Front Plus, United Democratic Movement, Independent Democrats and the Inkatha Freedom Party. Outside of the ANC, DA and COPE, they constitute the five next biggest (or smallest) parties in the National Assembly. It suggests that, come 2014, there is little point to them standing in every province. Doing so might allow them the pretense of being ‘national’ but, in reality, their results are so poor as to render it a foolish exercise.

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Trevor Manuel and the ghost between the lines


FEATURE: Trevor Manuel, like Thabo Mbeki before him, is no stranger to mispresentation in order to try and make his point. In 2009 he took issue with a number of critics who suggested that Springbok coach Pieter de Villiers was not up to the job, acussing them, effectively, of racism. On one such occassion he responded to Business Day editor Peter Bruce with an argument that not only warped what Bruce had actually said, but contradicted his previous position in doing so. In the article below I tried to set out why his argument was both flawed and devious.

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Like trying to sew the head back onto a chicken


FEATURE: Throughout Thabo Mbeki’s time as President he failed properly to consult other parties, as the Constitution requires, when making judicial appointments. But if Mbeki was bad, Jacob Zuma has been far worse. Things came to a head in August 2009, when Zuma – as prone to gaff as he is contempt – announced his decision for Chief Justice before consulting, indeed before he had even notified the relevant parties. His mistake was explained away by all and sundry but if you take a little more time to look at events, it becomes clear that it was deliberate. In this 2009 article, below, I show how.

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Mbeki as Jekyll and Hyde


FEATURE: The book, ‘The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ provides a helpful metaphor in better understanding the relationship between the two offices which defined Mbeki’s time at the apex of South African politics. In this 2008 article I looked at these two positions held by former President Thabo Mbeki – ANC president and South African president – and offered some insights as to how they merged, to the detriment of his own aspirations and South Africa’s democracy.

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The many-tentacled cash cow, and other mangled metaphors


FEATURE: Before there was Marius Fransman – the reigning king of convolution – there was Edwin Naidu, who would, week-in and week-out, generate for the Sunday Independent a series of metaphors so mangled they would produce in equal quantities much laughter and confusion. And not just mixed metaphors but a wide range of cliches, unoriginal and over-used, if that isn’t redundant.  In the 2008 article below, I look at some of them and set out just how bizarre and devoid of meaning many of them are. So, if you want to see why Vodacom is a many-tentacled cash cow, read on!

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The sad decline of the Sunday Times II


FEATURE: This is the second piece I wrote in 2009 about the decline of the Sunday Times. It concerned a story given exclusively to the Sunday Times, by the Democratic Alliance, which it turned down in a rather incoherent fashion, only for the story subsequently to be prominently carried by other print, radio and television media outlets. The question I tried to answer was: had the Sunday Times lost the ability properly to identify the news?

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The sad decline of the Sunday Times I


FEATURE: Over the past decade or so, the Sunday Times has suffered sustained damage to its reputation, as number of internal problems manifested in a series of external crises, most of which revolved around stories that were simply not up to scratch. In 2009, I wrote about two such examples, the first of which follows below. Essentially the newspaper served up a seven week old story as if it were breaking news, ignoring everything that had been said about it up to that point in doing so.

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The HSF: Losing Focus


FEATURE: For a period of time during the late 2000s, the Helen Suzman Foundation seemed to lose its ideological direction somewhat. Today it is once again on a firm liberal footing. The reason was that its Director, former DA MP Raenette Taljaard, seemed so concerned with ‘facilitating debate’ that the HSF effectively became a platform for government policy, as opposed to liberal thought. To illustrate the problem, in 2009 I wrote the following article, which looked at one edition of Focus (The HSF’s flagship publication). It contained no less than five speeches by Jacob Zuma. And that was just the beginning of the problem.

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Zuma’s speech-making: Grasping in the dark


FEATURE: President Jacob Zuma’s speech-making has, for some time now, been the source of much criticism. Not only is it dull and dreary but the content – particularly when it comes to matters of state – is so generic and vague as to render it almost meaningless. In a nutshell, he says nothing and he says it in painstaking fashion. I wrote this article in response to the President’s 2010 State of the Nation address, one of many lowpoints. In it I argue this kind of blandness can only be excused as bad speech-making up to a point – if a public representative is deliberately vague, concealing the facts, that is dishonest and the attitude of a dissembler.

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The logical errors of Pierre de Vos


FEATURE: When personal bias fuels analysis, as opposed to facts and evidence, inevitably one falls prey to logical error – because reason does not support your position, you are forced to rely on illogical claims. In the article below, written in 2008, I look at some of the logical mistakes made in an argument put forward by Pierre de Vos, about Helen’s Zille’s opposition to the establishment of the Erasmus Commission. Ultimately, the Commission was found to be unlawful by the courts but, at the time, de Vos was convinced the Democratic Alliance was hiding something. The result was a rather messy argument.

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