Friday, October 14, 2016

South Africa under President Zuma: a call for pessimism, realism or optimism?

They say we live in a post-factual age where we decide things irrationally, purely on our emotional feel, and most of that is decided on line.
We don't study, read or think anymore, or even watch TV like we used to. Teenagers text endlessly - three times a night according to a recent report - and send each other selfies that can get them into trouble, while adults actually find themselves in trouble for what they Tweet or ReTweet. The luckless Penny Sparrow springs to mind.
You will have your own view how far that is a true picture of the times. On one reading of history, things stay pretty much the same the more they change, though in the middle of our global world's unremitting electronic and social media din, you can be forgiven for thinking things have never been worse. 
But could it all be just a case of temperament, of whether we as individuals are optimists or pessimists, see the glass as half full or half empty?
In a Business Day article titled Big Questions and a big day is upon us*, Peter Bruce editor-in-chief of BDFM writes: 'How does this all end? .. the war at the centre of our body politic?'
He presents the daunting list of so-called student protest that has burnt universities and their books; the alleged crimes and misdemeanours of President Jacob Zuma; the highly suspect case of fraud brought against finance minister Pravin Gordhan by SA's National Prosecuting Authority, which claims to be 'independent'. 
Bruce passes on too the disconcerting rumour that a Russian delegation is in South Africa to push ahead the even more suspect, astronomically expensive nuclear deal Zuma and President Putin are supposed to have signed and sealed between the two countries. He questions how SA's state-owned Eskom, designated to handle it, can be capable of handling it.
And the 'big day that is upon us' is the long-awaited day the Public Protector Thuli Madonsela publishes her interim report on state capture, with its putative 'damning evidence' of an improper relationship between SA's president and his wealthy friends, the Gupta family. At the last moment, Zuma and his faithful servant Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Des van Rooyen are both trying to interdict it.
No wonder Bruce's gloomy conclusion is: 'Things have gone too far. The damage is too much. Jacob Zuma has broken the state.'
Yet is this where realism, with its different perspective and line of questioning, must come in?
The conclusion goes too far. The present major crisis has been incubating for years, the wholly foreseeable outcome of more than two decades of one-party government in South Africa.
As the local elections this year show and will turn out perhaps to prove, we are in fact in the throes of the most serious democratic challenge to ANC hegemony to date. It contains opportunities for better times as well as risks of worse. Democracy was and never will be a destination we reach. It is a way of life and, as with life, no one promised it was plain sailing.
US President Barak Obama said in his speech to the National Democratic Convention last month: 'It can be frustrating, this business of democracy. Democracy works, but we've got to want it. Democracy isn't a spectator sport.'
The state of South Africa is not broken. It is broken when the constitution is dumped and we have a Mugabe or Putin or a Julius Malema at the top of a new order.
You can argue what is going on is a widespread, enormously promising fight against such a development. So far at least, it is not the state but the ANC that is breaking. That was always certain to be a huge, noisy event.
Or is that not realism, but optimism?
*October 14 2016

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Who is the racist when two people accuse each other of racism?

An exchange on Twitter between Democratic Alliance MP Belinda Bozzoli and Economic Freedom Fighters spokesperson Mbuyeseni Ndlozi MP over the students shutdown of South Africa's universities went like this*:
- "All responsible organizers [of the protests] have condemned arson. There is no need for you and the DA to do a petition."
- "No need? Nobody has exclusive rights to wanting a peaceful solution."
- "It's not rights, but needs [I] am aiming at ... You are the white brain behind it. Always preferring an apartheid response to protest."
- "Wow, your repertoire of cheap shots is endless."
- "Yes, nothing is cheaper than a white brain! Brains should aim at being human! Not white! To be white is to presuppose black inferiority!"
An anonymous reader found the language about 'cheap non-human' brains and other pejoratives 'in use by some' to have 'no basis in science' and 'very ugly'. S/he asked if anyone had any clue 'where this language is coming from.' This is one answer:
It comes from multiple sources, in the most general terms from our evident differences and prejudices. One strand of thought there would be physiogomy, the notion that character can be deduced from physical features, the shape of jaw, the size of nose and skull. In late 19th century Europe there was a considerable science in the measuring and mapping of skulls to explain different characteristics.

This easily joined hands with Social Darwinism and the imperialism of the age in an account of black 'backwardness' and is now borrowed and adapted by Mr Ndlozi to account for the backwardness ('non-humanness') of whites. It is due to a white brain. We have to weigh that against others busy today measuring the cubic capacity of brains to make the case for differences in sense and sensibility.

Perhaps your puzzlement is like mine: the impossibility of actually knowing whether Mr Ndlozi believes what he says, or is just being mischievous, or, could it be, superstitious?

For another source, overlooked in modern times, is magic: 'magic' here being merely science that does not work, and the beliefs and explanations that are offered in the absence of scientific experiment and testing.

Magical thinking is very plainly at work in the beliefs of the Nation of Islam you refer to; in the existence of Lizard People; in conspiracy theories of Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Freemasons, Illuminati, controlling the world; in religious fundamentalism in all its multiple and bizarre forms.

There is a more humdrum source: insult - at one level the above is no more than an exchange of insults, no more meaningful or to be analysed than one person calling another a stupid idiot.

Personally, I put it down to politics (which includes racism as a necessity today). To my way of thinking, the simple explanation is not only the most reliable, but the best way to preserve one's own sanity.

*Reported in Raceballs 2, Politicsweb October 6 2016

Sunday, October 2, 2016

'Sully': the movie, the man and the message

Forget it if you think the film Sully is just about heroics, about a marvellous hero of a guy who landed his plane on the Hudson River with 155 souls on board and saved every one of them.
Captain 'Sully' Sullenberger
Sully is an astounding, unbelievable hero to those people and will always be a hero to you and me and the world. But the surprise is the film quickly has you realising: No, of course - that does not mean he was a hero in his own eyes - to himself.
Greatest of all the pressures on him that followed the sensational death-defying drama were the fearful self-doubts that threatened to drown him metaphorically. Sully had to find his own answer to who is really is, and what he had actually done, not just on the Hudson, but with his life.
In this fine, gripping film, Sully arrives at his unheroic answer that is world famous, and at once a comfort - and the challenge - to us all. Don't miss it.