Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “corruption”

Election 2019: Who can one vote for?

Some time later this year there is to be a general election in South Africa. With our proportional representation system we have a large variety of parties to choose from — some say over 200 — which will make the ballot paper look more like a book — yet it has never been more difficult to choose. As one friend wrote on Facebook this morning:

Being a person with quite clear opinions, I never thought I could be classified as an undecided voter. But that’s where I am as elections loom.

And most of the comments on that took a similar line.

I see no point in voting for a small party that is unlikely to get at least 0.25% of the vote — that’s what is needed to get one member of parliament. Anything less than that and the party will not be represented in parliament at all. So it has to be one of the bigger parties. In some previous elections I’ve chosen by a process of elimination — which of the bigger parties is least objectionable.

Here are my thoughts this time around.

The ANC

Quite a lot of people have been saying that since Cyril Ramaphosa has replaced Jacob Zuma  as president of the ANC the Zuptas are in decline, but a poor showing in the election  will make Ramaphosa look bad and strengthen the hand of the Zuptas, therefore one should vote for the ANC to strengthen Ramaphosa’s hand. and enable him to deal with the Zuptas.

My inclination is to wait and see who is on the party list. A lot of prominent politicians have been fingered by the Zondo and other commissions as having been involved in corruption on a massive scale, and stealing public funds. If any of those people are on the ANC party list, I’m not voting for the ANC. It’s no use playing the “innocent until proved guilty” card — I’m not voting on their guilt or innocence, I’m voting for who I want to represent me in parliament, and I don’t want those people to do so. So that’s a relatively simple criterion.

The DA

I haven’t even considered voting for the DA since Tony Leon’s “Gatvol” and “Fight back” campaign of 1999. Admittedly that was the Democratic Party, which later united with the rump of the right of the National Party to form the Democratic Alliance (the left of the National Party joined the ANC).

In 2003 we had a municipal by-election, in which the choice was between the right, the far right, the super right, the hyper right and the ultra right. I considered not voting, then thought that Willie “stem reg, bly weg” Marais of the HNP would take a non-vote as a vote for him, so I went along and parked up the road from the polling station. As I got out of the car my right arm was grabbed by a burly gentleman from the Conservative Party and my left arm by an equally burly gentleman from the DA, each of whom was assuring me that his party was the only one that could “Stop the ANC”. I wanted to ask “Stop the ANC from doing what?” but I feared that if I did so I would be there all afternoon, and i just wanted to vote and go home. There was in any case no ANC candidate in our ward. None of the parties or candidates said anything about their vision for the City of Tshwane. The only thing they claimed was that they would be better than any of the others at “Stopping the ANC”. I want in and voted for the only independent on the ballot paper. I didn’t know what he stood for either, but at least he wasn’t a party hack.

As far as I can see the DA just wants to stop the ANC. If the ANC does something bad, they’ll try to stop it (but the EFF was more effective at that). And if the ANC does something good, they’ll try to stop that too. Their policy is simply to “Stop the ANC.” It’s entirely negative., at least in the public image they try to cultivate.

And then there is this: Herman Mashaba, the DA Mayor of Johannesburg, writes in An open letter of apology to all South Africans | News24:

We had witnessed how an oppressive government had been defeated by the people of our country. It was a magical moment.

With this belief, I voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999.

For this, I offer my most profound apology.

Well I too voted for the ANC in 1994 and 1999, and I see no reason at all to apologise for doing so. I believed then, and I still believe now, that it was the best party to vote for at that time. It wasn’t perfect by any means, and I had plenty of complaints about it (the arms deal, abandonment of the RDP and more). But voting for it then did not turn it into what it became after December 2007. To Herman Mashaba I say Bah! Humbug.

The EFF

The Economic Freedom Fighters, like the DA, are largely negative. You know what they are against, but when you ask what they are for, the story is tailored to what they think the particular audience wants to hear. They gained quite a lot of support when Zuma was president, and I think their vociferous opposition was more effective than the DA’s whinging. They exposed a lot of corruption among the Zuptas, but the VBS bank affair has left them with mud on their faces. Zuma’s recall took the wind out of their sails, and since then they have been flip-flopping trying to catch the slightest breeze.

COPE

I never considered voting for the Congress of the People Party before, because of their in-fighting leadership struggles, which made them seem to be more about personalities than policies. But that seemed to settle down and I was seriously considering voting for them until they recently allied themselves with a militantly racist organisation called Afriforum, and a militantly anti-Christian organsation called Dignity, whose leader spouts hate speech against Christians at every opportunity. Thanks, but no thanks.

The UDM

I have long had two reservations about the United Democratic Movement led by Bantu Holomisa. One is that he once led a coup, and the second is that he seems to enjoy being sycophantically addressed by journalists as “General”.

To these an additional reason has recently been added: when the UDM conspired with other parties including the EFF to remove the DA mayor of Nelson Mandela Municipality in order to replace him with one who appears to be just as corrupt as any of the Zuptas.

The IFP

The Inkatha Freedom Party resisted the first democratic elections in 1994 for several months, and as a result more than 700 people died. Enough said.

The ACDP

The African Christian Democratic Party claims to uphold Christian principles, but I’m not so sure about that. For one thing, they favour capital punishment, though on the credit side they are opposed to abortion on demand. Being “pro-life”, I am opposed to both.

Whenever I have, in the past, considered voting for the ACDP, my mind has been decisively been made up by receiving a bundle of far-right wing propaganda pamphlets sent in the name of the ACDP by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish a right-wing “Christian” paper called Encounter, which was funded through the old Department of Information of scandal fame — one of the few instances of government corruption exposed in those pre-democracy days of media censorship. Encounter published articles from people with enormous differences in theology. The only thing they had in common was a right-wing political stance.

A friend of mine who supported the ACDP assured me that Ed Cain was a loose cannon and did not represent the party, but the fact remains that the party did not officially repudiate Ed Cain and the publications he sent out in its name. That made me suspect that a lot of the party’s support came from the right-wing followers of Ed Cain, and they could not afford to alienate them, just as Cyril Ramaphosa cannot afford to alienate the Zuptas in the ANC.

Agang

Well, I have to admit that I voted for Agang for parliament in the 2014 election, mainly because I thought Mamphela Ramphekle had things to say that the country needed to hear, and that even as a minority she could have an influence in parliamentary committees etc.

What happened? There seems to have been an internal party coup in which Mamphela Ramphele was ousted, and Agang is represented in parliament by a couple of jobsworths who are just waiting for their parliamentary pensions, because I doubt that anyone will ever vote for them again.

Oh, and also in the 2014 elections I voted for the EFF for the provincial council, because I thought they might be more effective in opposing things like toll roads in general and e-tolls in particular — another reason why I won’t vote for the ANC in Gauteng province, even if, in the event of their leaving all the Zuptas off their list, I might consider voting for them for parliament.

Oh, and there’s also the Freedom Front Plus. They are at leas more honest about their right-wingness than the ACDP.

Where next?

So here I am, the proverbial floating voter.

Are the pubs still closed on election day? Perhaps I’ll vote for the first candidate who offers to buy me a drink.

I’ve heard rumours of a “Revolutionary Workers Party”, but they are either keeping a very low profile, or the media are pretending they don’t exist, preferring to give publicity to clowns like Hlaudi Motsoeneng, who, having destroyed the SABC now wants to destroy the country as well with his local content party. The Revolutionary Workers Party sounds a bit like the MDC in Zimbabwe, but if they keep such a low profile no one will be able to find their name in the ballot book.

Are there any more promising candidates among the 200 or so others?

 

 

 

New traffic laws?

I saw a link to this article on Facebook, which seems to me to have some ominous implications Read: From 11 May SA will have new speed-limits and other driving regulations:

From 11 May SA will have new speed-limits and other driving regulations: Every festive season we hear about numerous deaths from road accidents, sadly the end of last year was no different. The minister of transport Dipuo Peters, has been actively working on new regulations and plans that can get the accident rate down. Not just over the festive period but for the entirety of the year.

This seems to hark back to the days of John Vorster, who used to try to solve all problems by legislation to make things illegal that were already illegal, and so enhance his public image of kragdadigheid — if there is a problem, pass a new law so you can be seen to be “doing something”.

Donald Trump seems to be doing the same thing in the USA — giving executive orders with little thought given to the practical implementation or their effects.

So are these changes necessary, and what are the likely effects?

  • When renewing your license [sic] drivers will now have to undergo a practical re-evaluation.
  • K53 is going to be completely reviewed and revamped (finally)
  • A variety of speed limit changes: Speed limits to be reduced from 60km/h to 40km/h in urban areas, from 100km/h to 80km/h in rural areas, and from 120km/h to 100km/h on freeways running through a residential area
  • Large goods vehicles above 9000kg GVM to be banned from public roads during peak hour traveling [sic] times.

I think this might be just as much subject to the law of unforeseen consequences as the travel ban on children without full birth certificates.

Take the first one — a practical re-evaluation for drivers.

Who will do it? Do they have qualified staff who are competent to re-evaluate drivers when they have difficulty in coping with applicants for new licences? And will they be any less susceptible to demanding bribes than the existing staff?

Part of the problem is the number of unlicensed drivers on the roads, because many have got their licences through bribery. The way to deal with that is surely to implement the existing laws properly. I foresee a huge increase in the number of unlicensed drivers on the roads, because the process for renewing licences will have become so cumbersome as to be unworkable. It will not weed out the incompetent, but will penalise the competent.

n1ct

It would be far better to improve the enforcement of existing laws, many of which seem to be increasingly disregarded. It used to be quite rare to see vehicles driving through red robots, but now I see it once a week or more frequently (and I don’t go out much). I’m not referring to occasions when the light has just changed and the driver did not have time to stop, but when it has been red for ten seconds or longer, and someone has just sailed through. There are also practices like going straight from turning lanes that are dangerous as well.

Passing legislation is relatively easy. But the difficult part is the implementation. And trying to apply the changes described here will probably lead to more mess and muddle, and not reduce the road accident rate at all.

 

The Whistler: corruption unmasked

The WhistlerThe Whistler by John Grisham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is one of John Grisham‘s better novels, dealing with an investigation into allegations that a judge is corrupt, which uncovers a major crime syndicate.

It isn’t really a detective novel, since the investigators are not detectives, and their breakthroughs in the case mainly come from informers or lucky accidents, with activities and suspects being caught on video, or careless slips by the criminals.

While I have linked this post to my review on Good Reads, I’m adding more here because it has less to do with the book itself than my reaction to it.

Central to the story is the building of a casino in an Indian reservation in Florida, USA, and the way in which the corrupt judge smooths the way for a crime syndicate to profit from it in various ways. And it seems that many Indian reservations in the USA built casinos, which were to some extent, at least, not subject to the local state or federal laws of the United States.

I found this part of the book very interesting, since something very similar happened in South Africa before 1994, where there were “Bantu Homelands” that were the equivalent of the Indian reservations of the the US, and they also had a penchant for building casinos. I can quite easily picture the process of planning and building the casinos in such places being very similar to that described in this book. Many of the casinos built back then still exist, and in some cases the descriptions fit remarkably well.

One of the visions of the National Party regime in South Africa was of a “constellation of states”, which resulted in newspaper cartoons about “Star Flaws”, and snide comments about the “Constellation of Casinos”.

Nowadays we hear a lot about corruption, but much less is heard of corruption before 1994. That is largely because we now have a free press, and press freedom guaranteed by the constitution, whereas before 1994 the corruption was much easier to cover up.

In addition, a lot of the civil servants who were around at the time of the building of the casinos, and who cut their teeth on corruption in the “homeland” governments, were simply absorbed into the civil service of the new South Africa.  So South Africans might find this book an interesting read simply for the insight it gives into how the system worked back then, and even, to some extent, how it works now.

View all my reviews

Removing a bad president

Since the Constitutional Court has officially declared that we have a bad president, how does one get him to go? As that terror of the football field, Mosiuoa Lekota, put it, he has been given a red card, and it is time for him to leave the field. But he shows no signs of going.

According to the constitution, the National Assembly can vote to remove the president by a 2/3 majority. That’s unlikely to happen. The DA is muttering about impeaching him. I’m not sure what that means, but I think that’s unlikely to work either.

But there is a precedent.

Thabo Mbeki was removed as president by the ANC leadership, without consulting the country, the National Assembly or anyone else. So why can’t they do the same to Jake the Fake?

ANCflagThey can’t do that with Jake because he has done precisely what they accused Thabo Mbeki of doing (with less justification) — filled the top positions in the ANC with his cronies and sycophants. They owe their positions to him, so they are unlikely to vote for his removal.

Removing Jake is not like removing Verwoerd, or Vorster, or any of that lot. It’s much easier, as easy as removing Thabo Mbeki. All it needs is for the ANC to have the political will to do so.

And what will give the ANC the political will to do so?

Not burning tyres.
Not toyitoying students.
Not service delivery protests.

Votes.

Think about it.

We fought for democracy, for votes for all, for years, decades, centuries even.

So why not use it.

Vote.

Vote for anyone but the ANC.

And think about this.

In every municipality where the ANC loses control, the tenderpreneurs and those who benefit from them will be hit where it hurts most.

If that happens in a lot of places the parasites will of course desert the ANC and try to influence the new rulers, but they’ll have to bribe a whole bunch of new people to do that, and if a lot of municipalities are governed by a UDM-EFF-DA coalition they’ll be watching each other like hawks and stinging each other like scorpions if they catch anyone engaged in bribery and corruption. That’ll make it harder and more expensive for the tenderpreneurs. And by the time the parasites have managed to infiltrate, the ANC will be purified and fit to govern again.

Isn’t democracy marvellous?

demonsAnd while everyone is talking about the Guptas at the national level, remember that this year we are due to have local government elections, and it is the small-town Guptas who offer people positions in local party branches who are just as bad as the big-time ones. I think C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape letters, referred to one of the tasty dishes on the demonic menu as “municipal official with graft sauce.”

We all (those of us over 18 anyway) have the vote now, so we do have the power to remove that dish from the menu of some demons, at least. And if we have the power, why not use it?

And, while we’re about it, can’t we bring back the civic associations of the 1980s, and keep local government local? And clean.

<./political rant>

 

Mamphela Ramphele for president?

Three months ago I wrote a blog post in which I said that one of my political dreams was that I would like to see Mamphela Ramphele as president of South Africa before I die. I conducted a straw poll on that blog post, and 80% of those who responded said that they would also like to see her as president. Of course that doesn’t translate into 80% of South African voters, but it still indicated that some people would like to see her as president.

Mamphela Ramphele

Mamphela Ramphele

And now comes the news that she is possibly thinking of forming a political party, or movement, or think-tank or something, and that this something will be explained later today.

I look forward to it with a certain amount of trepidation.

I rather hope that she isn’t going to form a new party.

The record of new parties in South Africa is not very good, and among the new parties have been one-woman parties, and their record had not been any better than any of the others.

I voted for Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats in 2004 and 2009, and where are they today?

The problem with the ID was that through Patricia de Lille seemed to have a fresh approach, and a willingness to tackle the problems facing the country, and a real vision for the future, the party itself seemed to manage to attract only a bunch of mediocrities who, like people in other parties, were simply trying to fulfil their political ambitions. Quite a number deserted to join COPE, which seemed to have nothing at all to offer except leadership squabbles. Patricia de Lille left the PAC because it was led by cobweb-covered fuddy-duddies who lived in the past and had no vision for the future, but she didn’t attract enough dynamic leaders to make a new party flourish.  Can Mamphela Ramphele do any better?

Mamphela Ramphele, like Patricia de Lille, is attractive as a political leader because she tries to analyse problems and look for solutions instead of mouthing platitudes.

When I wrote the blog post saying my dream was to see her as president, it was before the ANC’s Mangaung conference in December, and my totally impractical what-if wish was based on the thought that the ANC might come to its senses and elect her as leader and as presidential candidate. Totally impractical, of course. And the precedents also don’t look good. I think Mamphela Ramphele as leader of the ANC would have faced the same problems as Mvume Dandala did as leader of Cope — presiding over a bunch of squabbling ambitious rivals bent on providing the media with an endless succession of personality clashes to distract attention from policy issues. As I said, I don’t think Mamphela Ramphele really has a taste for that, and lacks the moral turpitude that seems to be a prerequisite for the job. There are still good people in the ANC, people with good ideas who retain something of its former vision, but they have largely been sidelined or have sidelined themselves.

But there is a precedent of sorts. Frederik van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine withdrew from politics to found IDASA, the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa. IDASA has been a think-tank, and we probably don’t need another think tank. Perhaps what is needed is something between a think-tank and a political party — a bit less abstract than the former, and a bit more visionary than the latter.

Mamphela Ramphela is one of South Africa’s foremost public intellectuals, and it would be good if she could attract a number of others. But that is not enough. It also needs popular support. There is plenty of popular dissatisfaction with the status quo, and in the past organisations like the UDF and MDM effectively mobilised the dissatisfied into a popular movement. But a similar movement today would have a weapon that the UDF and MDM did not have back then — the vote.

Instead of service delivery protests, a new mass democratic movement could encourage people in municipalities plagued by corruption to organise their own local parties to elect their own local leaders to municipal councils and thus oust the corrupt ones. So perhaps what Mamphela Ramphele needs to do is to form not one new party, but dozens of new local ones, reviving the civic organisations of the past, and take back the cities, one by one. And the country would follow.

 

The Times – UK ‘more violent than South Africa’

We South Africans have got used to foreign journalists like PETER HITCHENS rubbishing South Africa in their columns, but now one of the papers he writes for has had to admit that violent crime in Britain is worse than in South Africa.

The Times – UK ‘more violent than South Africa’:

The United Kingdom has overtaken South Africa as the world’s most violent country.

# UK violent crime “worse than SA” – Daily Mail

# Britain’s crime wave is nothing to be smug about (editorial)

The UK has been left with some soul searching to do after findings that Britons experienced more incidents of violent crime per 100,000 citizens than South Africa, which is often depicted as the world capital of violent crime.

Commenting on a report in UK tabloid the Daily Mail, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, Dr Johan Burger, said: “Maybe now those who have been pointing fingers at us will get their own house in order.”

The Daily Mail reported yesterday that the UK has a higher rate of violent crime than any other country, “beating” the likes of the US and South Africa.

Hat tip to Contact Online Weblog: UK ‘more violent than South Africa’.

Of course the problems that people like Hitchens writes about are here. We had a lot of electricity blackouts in January 2008, as he writes. But they have not continued. A long-term solution needs to be found, and people are whinging because they will have to pay for it (just as they do in Britain).

There was xenophobic violence between February and June 2008 — 2008 seems to have been a bad year — in which more than 60 people died — about the same number as in the Sharpeville massacre in 1960. And though the violence has dropped off, there is still racism and xenophobia. But the Brits elected two MEPs from the xenophobic BNP to the European parliament this year, so South Africa doesn’t have a monopoly on xenophobia either.

And yes, we have corrupt politicians, and we had the Travelgate scandal, but that was small beer compared with what has recently been revealed about British MPs fiddling their expense claims.

It’s not a train smash, it’s the presidential Inauguration

Yesterday was the inauguration of the fourth president of South Africa since the advent of democracy in 1994. According to some reports, the bash cost R75 million.

All the TV news channels were reporting it non-stop. In the midst of them showing the chairs being arranged and the like, there was one of those ticker-tape things at the bottom of the screen with a fleeting mention of a train crash in which 100 people had been killed, or something. We waited for more news, but there was no chance of it. The preparations for the inauguration were everything, nothing else mattered.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated in 1994 we went along and joined in the flag-waving jubilation. It was, after all, a historic occasion. “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Sion: then were we like unto them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter: and our tongue with joy.”

But when Thabo Mbeki was inaugurated in 1999, we stated home, and looked at bits of it on TV. Kgalema Motlanthe was inaugurated without a big fuss being made, and perhaps Jacob Zuma could have had a more low key affair as well.

So, bored with the chair-placing by chair-placing account of the inauguration preparations, I switched to a Brit TV station. They might not tell us about a train crash in our own city, but they could perhaps show us something more interesting thatn a bunch of overpaid politicians with umbrellas.

They were showing a bunch of overpaid politicians who had cheated on their expense accounts, and made our own “travelgate” scandal look positively amateur, and I have to admit that the temptation to schadenfreude was great indeed, after reading the sneering comments of the British Daily Mail’s Peter Hitchens He has four wives and faced 783 corruption charges: PETER HITCHENS on South Africa’s next president | Mail Online:

Once, South Africa dominated the nightly news for weeks on end. Now the liberal media barely mention it. Why not? Because post-apartheid South Africa is a failure.

Well, welcome to the world of failed states, Mr Hitchens.

Oh, and it turned out that the train smash wasn’t so serious either, but they could have told us.

Moral regeneration redux

A friend recently wrote to me that he is in a quandary to know which party to vote for in next month’s general election that is:

  1. not corrupt
  2. not filled with monsters from the past
  3. not a joke

And I have to admit that I am in the same position.

COPE (the Congress of the People Party) in an apparently shrewd move, picked Mvume Dandala as their presidential candidate. A Methodist minister, and not a career politician, was perhaps a good choice to fight an anti-corruption campaign, but then they blew it by also choosing Allan Boesak. Of course the Pan African Congress (PAC) also chose a prominent Methodist minister, Stanley Mokhoba, in 1999, and still not no more than 1% of the vote.

In the 1990s, after the fall of Bolshevism, public opinion polls showed that in Russia the Church was the most trusted institution in society – above business, the army, politicians, academics. One resuly of this was that politicians were always looking for photo ops with church leaders, in the hope that some of the magic pixie dust would fall on them.

But when I was applying for a job at London Transport when I went to England as a student, and the only people I knew in England were clergy, they said that clergy were not acceptable as references. Anyone else but not clergy. Clergy, of course, as just as much sinners as anyone else, but in this case they were regarded as somehow more corrupt and even less truthful. So putting clergy as the public face of a political movement to show that it is honest can backfire.

A fellow-blogger and Methodist minister Dion Forster is involved in a new initiative to encourage ethical behaviour in all politicians, business people, civil servants and others, Unashamedly Ethical:

Unashamedly Ethical is a broad based, independent, initiative to promote ethics, values, and clean living among business and individuals. It challenges people to make a personal pledge to ethical living, and challenge others to do the same. In doing so we can turn the tide on corruption and poverty.

Now that could be a good idea, but I think some people are just too wedded to greed for it to make that much difference.

A pledge is a good thing. It is a good thing to encourage people to follow ethical values, and to agree to do so publicly. But perhaps something more is needed. Perhaps someone needs to record unethical behaviour as well. There are radio ads about not trying to bribe police officers, but how effective are they when police officers themselves solicit bribes?

Many years ago there was a court case when a Newcastle busnessman tried to bribe a traffic cop to quash a ticket. The traffic cop took the bribe, but the busnessman still had to go to court and pay his traffic fine, and he sued the traffic officer. The judge in that case threw it out of court, but not before making remarks about the unbelievable moral turpitude of both the plaintiff and the defendant. The trouble is that that kind of moral turpitude is now so commonplace as to be almost unremarkable.

As the Unashamedly Ethical web site says,

… people are tired of the injustice, abuse and lack of accountability we see all around us. People are constantly being challenged to change and to go public with their values and beliefs so that their peers and constituencies can hold them accountable.

But when foreigners are arrested and threatened with deportation by officials who threaten to destroy the papers that show they are here legally unless they get a bribe, it is often easier to pay the bribe. Thaking pledges are all very well, and can be good PR for business organisations, civil servants and politicians. It’s what happens when they break their pledge that might make the difference.

Niehaus: journos twist the knife — and the facts

When journos get the knife in, they really twist it (and the facts), and stab again and again.

Consider this report about the former ANC spokesman

News – South Africa: Niehaus has no degree: report:

Former ANC spokesperson Carl Niehaus does not have a doctor’s degree in theology as claimed, a newspaper reported on Tuesday.

According to Beeld newspaper, Niehaus did not get a doctor’s degree in theology from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands, as he had claimed. This was during his stint as South Africa’s ambassador in Den Haag.

Note that the body of the story says that he didn’t have a doctors degree from Utrecht, but the headline suggests that that he has no degree at all, which seems to be a deliberate attempt to mislead.

Now perhaps that is because there’s a general election coming up, and the media believe that all’s fair in love, war and politics. If your political opponent is down, kick, kick and kick again. If he’s done one thing wrong, make it look as though he’s done everything wrong, and nothing right.

Max du Preez, a well-known journalist, goes even further, and is more specific: “He lied about having a degree and a doctorate… he apparently only has a matric certificate behind his name” (Pretoria News, 19 Feb 2009).

Now when Carl Niehaus was released from prison he visited the Missiology Department at Unisa (on 26 March 1991) and all the department staff gathered in David Bosch’s office to meet him. He was a student in the department, and was one of the very few to have been allowed to study for a Masters degree in prison. Willem Saayman, his supervisor, described the hoops he had to jump through to deal with all the red tape in order to visit him in prison to discuss his studies. I don’t know if Carl Niehaus was ever awarded the Masters degree, summa cum laude or not, but he would certainly not have been allowed to register for such a degree at all if he had “no degree” as the media are now claiming.

On the Emerging Africa blog there is a discussion on whether the important questions today are about authority, identity, morality or something else. And I would say that at this point in our history, with a general election coming up, and all sorts of stories circulating about corruption among politicians, that morality probably tops the list. I’m as disturbed as some journalists that people in the ANC seem not only to support people who have been involved in corruption, but also to approve of their behaviour (the demonstrations in support of Tony Yengeni are a case in point). Going to jail for fighting for truth and justice is one thing, going to jail for fraud and corruption is another.

But morality is also an issue for journalists. Carl Niehaus may have lied about some of his past achievements, but some journalists have also apparently lied about Carl Niehaus.

Greed, which used to be regarded as one of the seven deadly sins, is now regarded as a virtue by many of our political leaders, and that makes morality a hot issue.

And for those of us who are neither politicians nor the journalists who write about them, St Paul’s advice applies, “let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Cor 10:12). In ten days Great Lent begins, and we pray the prayer of St Ephraim:

O Lord and Master of my life! Take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk.

But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience and love to Thy servant.

Yea, O Lord and King! Grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages.

A plea bargain for Zuma?

Yesterday the media were reporting that Jacob Zuma’s legal representatives and supporters were looking at the possibility of a plea bargain in his impending corruption trial. They spoke of this as a way of going forward.

It seems to me that that would be the worst possible outcome. As I understand it, a plea bargain means making a guilty plea in exchange for a reduced sentence. Far from being a way of going forward, it is a way of moving rapidly backwards. We then have the opportunity to vote for a party whose leader is not merely suspected of being corrupt, but one we know is corrupt because he himself would have admitted it.

If, on the other hand, Zuma is tried and acquitted, we can go forward into the next election, knowing that his record has been cleared. If he is tried and found guilty, and the court determines the degree of his guilt, then voters can weigh that up with other factors in deciding whether or not to vote for the ANC. But with a plea bargain, one cannot escape the suspicion that the corruption goes far deeper than anything that has been revealed up till now.

But the biggest problem is not Jacob Zuma and the unresolved accusations of corruption. Corrupt politicians are a universal problem. Most countries have them. One almost expects them to be corrupt, and encountering a politician with a degree of integrity is a pleasant surprise.

No, what threatens our infant democracy is not Jacob Zuma and the suspicion of corruption. It is rather the attitude of some of his supporters. As one columnist has put it:

The Times – If Vavi is so concerned about SA he should allow us justice:

CONGRESS of SA Trade Unions secretary-general Zwelinzima Vavi has me confused.

Last week he told us that the union federation is deeply concerned that if ANC president Jacob Zuma is brought to trial, then workers would plunge the country into chaos.

The only way to prevent this chaos, he told us, would be to dump the looming trial against Zuma.

He said: “We fear what could happen should something happen to him [Zuma]. The belief among workers and South Africans — that the ANC president is a target of machinations, runs very deep.”

This is shocking and preposterous blackmail by Vavi.

There is zero evidence that “workers” are angry that Zuma is facing the music, as any ordinary citizens would do, if there were such serious allegations against them.

Protests held to drum up support for Zuma (such as the marches on KwaZulu-Natal courts on Friday), draw pathetic responses.

The two persons who have threatened violence if Zuma is not let off are Vavi himself and the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema.

So one is left wondering what revelations Cosatu has to fear from a Zuma trial that makes them so anxious to prevent it.

One of the problems in South African politics over the last few years is that there is so little choice. That may seem a strange thing to say when our elections have been contested by upwards of 20 parties, and we have a system of proportional representation, so that for the first year or two after the election we have a parliament that generally reflects the will of the people (that is, until the crosstitutes start their floor crossing, after which parliament represents no one but the politcians themselves — that is a corruption that has to be weighed against any possible corruption of Zuma).

But the fact is that Cosatu represents one political force that is not represented in parliament. If it were not part of the tripartite alliance with the ANC and the Communist Party, Cosatu could serve as a counterbalance to the Thatcherism of the ANC and its policies of Black Elite Enrichment (BEE), on the one hand, and the white racism of the Democratic Alliance on the other. Cosatu could be the voice of the working class and the poor.

But now that Jacob Zuma has become president of the ANC, in part with the support of Cosatu, one is not quite sure whether Cosatu thinks it has bought Zuma, or whether it has sold out to him. Before last December, if Cosatu had stood on a separate ticket I might have voted for them, but Vavi’s utterances since then have shown that that would have been a mistake.

I think I’ll stick with Patricia de Lille and the Independent Democrats.

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