www.inside-politics.org

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

Month: January, 2013

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.

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