Notes from underground

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Archive for the tag “democracy”

So who do I vote for now?

Put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man, for there is no help in them, says the Psalmist.

So we should know by now that one can never trust a politician. Entrust them with the government of the country, yes. But don’t trust them. So one is always looking for the least of many evils to vote for.

I was beginning to think that the least of many evils might be the EFF, but, as they say in the clickbait cliches, nobody expected this, South Africa’s Julius Malema warns Zuma government – AJE News:

South African politician Julius Malema says the opposition “will run out of patience very soon and we will remove this government through the barrel of a gun” if the ruling African National Congress (ANC) continues to respond violently to peaceful protests.

Malema is the commander-in-chief of the Economic Freedom Fighters, an opposition party he founded in 2013 after being expelled from the ANC, where he had served as president of the Youth League.

We fought for democracy all those years, only to abandon it now? Come off it, Juju!

Julius Malema Launches EFFBut then who can one vote for? What are the alternatives?

For a long time now I’ve never considered voting for the UDM because its leader, Bantu Holomisa, actually did what Julius Malema is only talking about — he staged a coup in the former Transkei “homeland”.

There’s the DA, born of crosstitution, whose former leader, Tony Leon, was urging us to “fight back” against democracy only five years after it had been introduced.

There’s Agang, which staged a coup against its own leader so a couple of non-entities could get parliamentary emoluments and pensions even if no one ever voted for them again. I suspect that a lot of people voted for Agang because they thought that its founder, Mamphela Ramphele, had things to say that needed to be heard in parliament. Well, we can see how that worked out, and perhaps that’s something that the people now saying “Thuli Madonsela for president” need to bear in mind.

Neither Mamphela Ramphele nor Thuli Madonsela have what it takes to be a successful political leader — the infighting, the backstabbing, the wheeling and dealing. Jake the Fake has that in spades, and comes out of the same mould as P.W. Botha — something worth remembering when people blame our electoral system of  proportional representation for the calibre of political leaders who rise to the top. We didn’t have proportional representation in P.W.’s time, but we still got him, even though the media voted for the other Botha, Pik.

One of the great theoretical advantages of proportional representation  is that if gives one a wider choice, and every vote counts equally. You are not disenfranchised because you happen to live in a constituency that sends the same unopposed member back to parliament year after year.

But even under proportional representation, once you’ve crossed off all the people you don’t want to vote for, there’s not much left. I think I’ll just have to learn to COPE with that.

Better the Congress of the People party than the Congress of the Guptas party.

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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>

 

Do we understand democracy? An appeal to the youth

There was an interesting “debate” on Twitter this morning, about leadership and the problems of South Africa, apparently sparked off by an article by Max du Preez, pointing out that South Africa is an open society, and not a “failed state”

One of the exchanges it sparked off was this:

if we were an open society our people would express their anger differently, nit through violent protest

. Violent protests are often the result of absent & weak . Then violence becomes a norm.

Greed ignores passive actions of resistance and criticism. Violence demands immediate attention.

ServDev2The 140 character limit of Twitter doesn’t make it the ideal medium for a serious political discussion (which is one of the reasons that I am writing this here, and not on Twitter), but I think that some were saying that violent protests were a method of the 1980s, and this is 2015. In the 1980s South Africa was a closed society. Violent protest was one way of getting the attention of those in power, and changing things.

Max du Preez’s article points out that South Africa is no longer a closed society, it is an open society. Instead of trying to get the attention of those in power, and demand that they do things (like “service delivery”), the way is open for people to take power, and do things for themselves.

ServDev1Next year we will have local government elections, and if the municipal government hasn’t delivered, there is the opportunity to change them, not by burning tyres and libraries, but by voting the bastards out of office.

This can be done by organising locally, at a local level. Instead of the big national political parties parachuting in leaders as rewards for political loyalty, we need local people to organise and vote them out.

One thing that could be borrowed from the 1980s is the Civic Associations that were organised locally back then. The difference is that back then the Civics could only organise protests. Now that we have an open society they can produce candidates for election and organise the voters, because they ARE the voters. We have democracy. We have an open society, so it can be done.

Max du Preez’s article is important. Read it, and organise. South Africa not a failed state | News24 – Linkis.com

History teaches us that countries with open societies very seldom become failed states. Only when a state’s openness and personal freedoms are destroyed can there be a breeding ground for failure.

The terms failed state, banana republic and “becoming Zimbabwe” are being used freely nowadays to describe South Africa, even more so after Eskom’s failures and the scandalous behaviour during the State of the Nation Address last month.

This is uninformed nonsense. Prod those who use these terms and nine out of 10 times you will find an Afro-pessimist or someone that never believed that a black government was able to manage a modern democracy and economy like ours.

The openness of our society is our greatest asset. This is the product of our constitutional guarantees of free speech and the rule of law, but it has now been internalised and become the new “normal”.

We don’t need to make the celeb-style leaders “listen” in the hope of getting them to do something. We need people who will use the local government elections to push the failed leaders aside and replace them with ones who actually represent the people.

South Africa not a failed state | News24 – Linkis.com:

We live as if it is the most normal thing to criticise the head of state and other politicians using extreme language. The deepest secrets of the state are regularly exposed without endangering the journalists’ lives.

When I wrote nasty things about the last two presidents of the pre-democratic era and exposed their unholinesses, I was dragged to court dozens of times, my office was bombed and agents were sent to assassinate me.

Our openness is one of the most important building blocks upon which our democracy, our stability and our relatively free economic activities are built. This is why South Africa cannot be described as a failing state in any sense of the word. Struggling state, perhaps, state with a multitude of challenges, yes, but not a failed state according to the accepted definition of the term.

As some pointed out in the Twitter interchange, people like Max du Preez (and me) are old. It is up to the youth. But as the youth of the 1980s organised the Civic Associations, surely the youth of 2015 can do something similar.

Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA

The Dalai Lama has again been refused entry to South Africa, this time for the 14th World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, the Cape Times reported on Thursday

The Dalai Lama’s representative in South Africa Nangsa Choedon said officials from the department of international relations had phoned her office in the past week to say the Tibetan spiritual leader would not be granted a visa. The office had yet to receive written confirmation.”For now the Dalai Lama has decided to cancel his trip to South Africa,” Choedon was quoted as saying.

The summit, an annual gathering, is being held in Cape Town next month, with arrangements being made by a local organising committee formed by the foundations representing four South African laureates — Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, FW de Klerk, and Albert Luthuli.

via Dalai Lama again refused entry into SA – Sowetan LIVE.

The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama

And this happens in the year when we are supposed to be celebrating 20 years of freedom and democracy. Our “freedom” is beginning to look a bit tattered around the edges.

In 1968 the South African government excluded the cricketer Basil d’Oliveira from coming with the MCC team on a cricket tour, and the result was the exclusion of South Africa from world cricket for more than 20 years. Now it seems that the young dog is learning the old dog’s tricks.

It means that, as in the bad old days, South Africa is not a suitable place for international gatherings, because people can be barred from attending by arbitrary government decisions.

If the people arranging the gathering of Nobel Laureates have any integrity, they will move the venue to a free country (Botswana for instance), which will all ow all those invited to attend.

If the organisers of the gathering are not willing to do that, then the other Nobel Peace Prize Laureates should refuse to attend. Their attendance in such circumstances would make a mockery of the Peace Prize.

 

The phony liberators

When Hugo Chávez first became president of Venezuela in 1999, he seemed to be a champion of democracy, and in initial reforms he tried to introduce a more participatory style of democracy.

But that didn’t last, and when he publicly sided with political leaders whose main aim was to suppress anything resembling participatory democracy, like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, he showed his true colours. Those who praised him for his initial championing of democracy have now become his fiercest critics, as he has clearly joined the side of the suppressors of democracy.

Noam Chomsky denounces old friend Hugo Chávez for ‘assault’ on democracy | The Observer:

Hugo Chávez has long considered Noam Chomsky one of his best friends in the west. He has basked in the renowned scholar’s praise for Venezuela’s socialist revolution and echoed his denunciations of US imperialism…

The president may be about to have second thoughts about that, because his favourite intellectual has now turned his guns on Chávez.

Speaking to the Observer last week, Chomsky has accused the socialist leader of amassing too much power and of making an “assault” on Venezuela’s democracy.

Perhaps this is yet another illustration of what was said by the Brazilian educationist Paolo Freire,

The oppressed, having internalized the image of the oppressor and adopted his guidelines, are fearful of freedom. Freedom would require them to eject this image and replace it with autonomy and responsibility. Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man, nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion (P. Freire, Pedagogy of the oppressed, 1998, p. 29).

Unless the oppressed can get beyond this barrier, then even if they succeed in overthroring their oppressors, they will simply become oppressors in their turn, and hence phony liberators.

And George Orwell said much the same thing in his Animal farm.

There are some pictures of Hugo Chávez in which he seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to the late Eugene Terreblanche. Or Julius Malema.

Zimbabwe: Harare Descends Into Chaos As Ruling Party Militia Loot Shops

What’s the difference between Zimbabwe and Egypt?

In Egypt they’re protesting for democracy; in Zimbabwe they’re rioting against it.

allAfrica.com: Zimbabwe: Harare Descends Into Chaos As Ruling Party Militia Loot Shops:

Harare came to a standstill on Monday when a ZANU PF mob engulfed the city in chaos, destroying property worth thousands of dollars, mainly belonging to foreign owned companies.

Our correspondent Simon Muchemwa told us that dozens of shops were looted when the ZANU PF militia went on a rampage, as police details stood by watching ordinary people and shop owners being abused and brutalised. Shops belonging to Zimbabweans were also caught up in the crossfire.

Christian and liberal?

In a recent comment on this blog Mark Richardson of Australia expressed the view that Christianity and liberalism were incompatible: Notes from underground: Clarissa’s Blog: Being Hated by Conservatives vs Being Hated by Liberals:

I’m a little surprised that you are both an orthodox deacon and someone who appears to identify with liberalism.

Liberalism is the replacement philosophy for Christianity. It is founded on the idea that the good in life is to be a self-creating, autonomous individual.

What matters to a liberal is that we are ‘liberated’ from impediments to choosing as we will. Therefore, the sexual revolution is thought of as a good thing by liberals as it liberated individuals from an older Christian morality.

The liberal concept of freedom, in other words, is incompatible with the Christian concept of freedom.

I recently read the biography of Peter Brown, the former leader of the former Liberal Party of South Africa, and reviewed it on my other blog here.

Reading Peter Brown’s biography prompted some reflection on just what it was that made me get off the fence of a theoretical political neutrality and actually become a card-carrying Liberal. Though I had been sympathetic towards the Liberal Party since the age of 12 (when it had been founded) and urged my mother to vote for them when I was too young to vote myself, I thought that it was better, as a Christian, not to actually join a political party, but to maintain a certain critical distance from all of them (as I do now).

I did have a brief flirtation with the Progressive Party soon after it was founded, when a friend invited me to a meeting and I was carried away by the rhetoric of their leader, Jan Steytler. I even attended their founding congress as an observer, where they adopted their policy of a qualified franchise, which basically meant giving votes to the rich and educated, regardless of colour, rather than the current Nationalist policy of votes for whites only. I had some misgivings about that. While I was still at school I had read a novel by Nevil Shute, In the wet, in which he had described a system of multiple voting. It made sense to me at the time. It gave everyone a say in running the country, but avoided the main weakness (as it seemed) of democracy — counting heads with no regard for what is in them. I tried to advocate this idea at the Progressive party congress, but no one was interested, so I lost interest in the Progressives.

When I went to the University of Natal at Pietermaritzburg in 1963 I actually met some real live liberals, and attended some of their meetings (as opposed to just reading their election pamphlets and other literature, which was the only contact I had had previously). The Liberals advocated “one man one vote”. I thought it better than the Progressive qualified franchise, but still thought that a multiple voting system would be better.

What finally made me join was a combination of three factors that convinced me that the Liberal Party policy of one-man, one vote was right. The first of these was my theological studies at the university. The second was the people I met at rural branches of the Liberal Party, and the third was attending Evensong at St Alphege’s Anglican Church in Scottsville. Theology, political activism and worship.

My theological studies convinced me that since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, no one is qualified to hold political power over another, and certainly neither education nor wealth (the basis of the Progressive qualified franchise) qualified one to do so. Neither did race (the basis of the Nationalist whites-only franchise).

The peasants who belonged to the Liberal Party in the rural areas were, most of them, under threat of ethnic cleansing since they lived in “black spots”, and without votes they were simply political footballs of Nationalist ideology, and most of them would not have qualified to vote under the Progressive Party policy. And those who devised the evil and unjust policy of apartheid would all have qualified to vote, but their wealth and education did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prevent them from promulgating evil and unjust laws. Some of the Nat legislators had PhDs. It was the poor and oppressed who had some moral sense, and a better grasp of political reality.

So though I could truthfully say that I had been a Liberal Party sympathiser from the age of 12, when I first saw a banner announcing the formation of the party, it was not until another 12 years had passed, at the age of 24, that I saw the need to become fully committed as a party member.

And the kind of thinking that led me to that conclusion has been very well expressed by G.K. Chesterton, when he said,

I was brought up a Liberal, and have always believed in democracy, in the elementary liberal doctrine of a self-governing humanity. If any one finds the phrase vague or threadbare, I can only pause for a moment to explain that the principle of democracy, as I mean it, can be stated in two propositions. The first is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any men. Ordinary things are more valuable than extraordinary things; nay, they are more extraordinary. Man is something more awful than men; something more strange. The sense of the miracle of humanity itself should be always more vivid to us than any marvels of power, intellect, art, or civilization. The mere man on two legs, as such, should be felt as something more heartbreaking than any music and more startling than any caricature. Death is more tragic even than death by starvation. Having a nose is more comic even than having a Norman nose.

This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

And it was such things that convinced me that the racist elitism of the Nationalists and the economic elitism of the Progressives was not for me, and so I became a Liberal.

Of course not all members of the Liberal Party were Christians. There were Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well. There were atheists and agnostics. They all had their own reasons for joining, and supporting liberal principles and policies like the the rule of law and civil rights and being opposed to authoritarian government and apartheid and ethnic cleansing. I cannot speak for the others, but I can say what led me, as a Christian, to join the Liberal Party.

So I hope that answers Mark Richardson’s question.

I also disagree with almost every one of Mark’s contentions about the nature of liberalism and what constitutes liberalism. I am a political liberal, not a theological, economic or philosophical liberal. And as a political liberal I see the freedom advocated by liberalism as being quite limited. It is limited to freedom from being oppressed by other men. It has nothing to do with being freed from morality, because part of morality, or at least Christian morality (as I see it) is that we should not oppress others. As our Lord Jesus Christ said “All things therefore whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them: for this is the law and the prophets” Matt 7:12. Anyone who wants to be freed from that aspect of morality is not a liberal but a fascist. Unless you want to be detained without trial yourself, then, don’t detain others without trial — and that applies equally to John Vorster Square, Lubyanka, and Guantanamo Bay.

For more, see here.

Bad advisors, bad advice


US President Barack Obama based his election campaign on change, and one of the things he promised to change was the detention without trial system introduced by his predecessor, George W. Bush. Obama managed to create the impression that he would get rid of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp within a year.

But not only is the Guantanamo Bay camp still there, but now Obama’s advisors are urging him to make detention without trial a permanent feature of the US polity.

Hat-tip to Obama’s liberty problem: A conservative blog for peace

Bill Quigley and Vince Warren: Obama’s Liberty Problem:

Advisors in the Obama administration have floated the idea of creating a special new legal system to indefinitely detain people by Executive Order.

Why? To do something with the people wrongfully imprisoned in Guantanamo. Why not follow the law and try them? The government knows it will not be able to win prosecutions against them because they were tortured by the US.

Guantanamo is coming up on its ninth anniversary – a horrifying stain on the character of the US commitment to justice. President Obama knows well that Guantanamo is the most powerful recruitment tool for those challenging the US. Unfortunately, this proposal for indefinite detention will prolong the corrosive effects of the illegal and immoral detentions at Guantanamo rightly condemned world-wide.

Needless to say, this is thoroughly bad advice, and one can only hope that he will not take it, and also that he will sack these advisors and appoint others who have a better understanding of all those good things like freedom and democracy.

Politics: style and substance

I spent much of yesterday watching the TV, Sky News, most of it on attempts to form a government in Britain. Hung parliament. David Cameron speaks of the need for a “strong and stable” government, while Nick Clegg speaks of a “stable and good” government.

It’s a pity there Lib Dems didn’t win more seats, so they could negotiate from a position of strength. As it is, whichever way they go will actually be to their long-term detriment. Endless talking heads outside doors, speculating, speculating, speculating. I think of how different the atmosphere is from South Africa, or at least South Africa as it was in the glory days of the 1990s, where there was the African desire for inclusion, not just the Government of National Unity, which was a kind of constitutional mandate, but a real attempt to bring everyone on board, like getting Gatsha Buthelezi as Minister of Home Affairs, even though he made a total cock up of it.

There was a desire for consensus, rather than the British winner-takes-all system, which makes so many Brits uncomfortable with a hung parliament. Here only the Democratic Party refused to come to the party, and insisted on being a British-style opposition, opposing everything the government did, good or bad, as a matter of principle.

It’s all different now, of course — the ANC can’t even extend the politics of inclusion to their own party, and there are no longer any issues of principle, it’s all personalities and jockeying for position, and the media are only ever full of stories about who’s in and who’s out with not a hint of what policies they stand for. It’s all personality clashes.

In the evening it seemed that a deal between the Tories and the Lib-Dems was in sight, and Gordon Brown knew the game was up, and resigned. He made a rather touching speech outside 10 Downing Street before going to hand his resignation to the Queen. He walked off down the street with his wife and children to the car. I don’t recall any other British prime ministers leaving like that. I think most of them left almost surreptitiously, from the back door. But there is another contrast. Five years ago I thought that we in South Africa were fortunate to have Thabo Mbeki as head of government. For all his faults, he seemed preferable to Tony Blair, George Bush, or Robert Mugabe, or most of the other prime ministers or presidents in the world.

But now I think that Gordon Brown was better than Jacob Zuma, and seeing him walk down the road with his family, after saying that he was giving up his second most important job, as prime minister, but would continue the first, as husband and father, seemed to emphasise the contrast. It’s PR, of course, staged for the media, but there is some substance to it as well, and a huge contrast to Jacob Zuma’s family life.

But I only follow British politics sporadically, and from a distance. British bloggers are closer, and perhaps see more clearly. One British blogger, Tony Grist, remarked Eroticdreambattle: A good man?:

If a good man does bad things is he still a good man?

Or- to narrow things down more specifically to the career of Gordon Brown- can a person claim to be in possession of ‘a moral compass’ if he never seems to use it.

The defining characteristics of Brown’s career have been cowardice, lack of principle, corrosive ambition, sulkiness, disloyalty and double-dealing. He tacitly supported the Iraq war, encouraged the banking free for all, created a culture of paranoia around himself, persistently undermined his colleagues- including Tony Blair- and (behind closed doors) sulked and fumed and bullied. In what way are these the actions of a ‘good’ man?

I’m asking because I’ve just been reading this. Gordon Brown has failed in most things, but he’s somehow managed to sell us all on the notion that he’s a moral person- that whole son of the manse thing. Well, I beg to differ.

and a little later he elaborated

Brown comes from a very moral place- from Scottish Presbyterianism and Christian Socialism- and has betrayed almost everything he was taught and once stood for.

The young Brown would, I think, have been disgusted by the things his older self wound up doing in the pursuit and exercise of power.

But another British blogger takes a different view. Neil Clark: Farewell, Gordon Brown. You weren’t that bad:

Neil Clark: Brown should have strung the bankers up from the lamp-posts – it’s what the public wanted

He’s been called the worst Prime Minister ever – and that was by a politician from his own party. But was Gordon Brown, who announced that he was stepping down as Labour leader yesterday, really that bad?

And goes on to say Gordon Brown was not the worst prime minister ever | The First Post:

None of the candidates mooted as replacements for Brown have distinct ideological positions. You certainly couldn’t say the same about Jim Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Tony Crosland and Denis Healey – the six Labour candidates who set out to replace Harold Wilson when he stepped down in 1976. Back then, the policies the politicians espoused – and not their personalities, or their media image – were decisive.

But in today’s neo-liberal, globalist era, where policy parameters are set by international capital and sovereignty-impinging institutions such as the EU and the IMF, politicians have largely been reduced to mere managers. And because the difference between their policies is so small, so the emphasis has shifted on to personality.

That many regard Brown’s premiership so negatively has little to do with the man’s actual record in office, but owes a lot to the fact that ‘Gloomy Gordon’, the man famous for having the ‘worst smile in the world’, was ill-suited to the personality-based politics of today.

True, there were many things he did do wrong: signing the undemocratic Lisbon Treaty, which surrendered even more sovereignty to the EU without a referendum; his failure to renationalise the railways; and his continuation of Britain’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

As Clark points out, politics today is certainly becoming a matter of style rather than substance. But on the positive side

He was certainly a better PM than his warmongering predecessor, who took us into military conflicts which will make us a target for Islamic militants for many years to come, and John Major, who destroyed Britain’s railways. And he also comes out favourably compared to Sir Anthony Eden, who led us into the Suez fiasco and Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Adolf Hitler led to World War 2.

But there is one real issue, which is at the centre of the wheeling and dealing to form a government in Britain, and that is that the Lib-Dems are wedded to the idea of electoral reform, and this determines the extent to which they will support any of the other parties that wish to form a government.

The Liberal-Democrats want a system of proportional representation, which will more fairly represent the wishes of the voters. When South Africa had a constituency system only a minority of the population were allowed to vote, and even some of those who did have the vote were effectively disenfranchised because many constituencies returned unopposed candidates. Now we have proportional representation, and every vote counts.

The disadvantage, however, is that proportional representation with a list system makes members of parliament accountable to their parties rather than to the electorate. If media image counts for a great deal in British politics, it counts for very litte in South African politics. Julius Malema has had a poor media image for some time, but that counts for little. What counts is the party cabal.

As a non-Brit, my main interest in British politics is their foreign policies. The warmongering propensity of the Labour government of the past 13 years has helped to make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. Leftist socialist Brits say that the most important thing was to vote Labour for sake of the British working class, and they care a lot less about the fact that the Labour government has enthusiastically participated in the bombing of the working class in other countries. Working class solidarity and socialism that is no longer internationalist becomes National Socialism. Add to that the denial of civil liberties at home by enthusiasm for such things as 90-day detention manifested by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with the bulk of the British media calling that “the moral high ground”, and Labour’s record is not a good one. I’m not sure that the Tories would have been any better on those issues. The Liberal Democrats at least made some effort to oppose those things, and my thought was that a hung parliament would be a good thing if it enabled the Lib-Dems to restrain the worst excesses of Tories and Labour.

But in Britain, as in South Africa, I think it is well to heed G.K. Chesterton’s wise words

Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle–the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this — that the man should rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this–that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t.

Politics is getting interesting again, thanks to two fascist clowns

Easter week of 2010 will be remembered as the week when politics in South Africa became interesting again, thanks to two political clowns and the media.

On the left, Eugene Terre’blanche (known as ET), former leader of the AWB (Afrikanner Resistance Movement), and on the right, Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League.

ET made headlines by the manner of his death, and the rumours that circulated around it, and his political buffoonery lay in the past, though his funeral was a circus, if media accounts are to be believed, and some of his supporters appear to believe that Julius Malema’s racist rhetoric at least contributed to his death, if it was not directly responsible for it.

But, as the front page of City Press shows, they were actually birds of a feather, both dedicated to overblown fascist and racist rhetoric. But a nation divided? I doubt it. Both these demagogues appealed to small but vocal minorities, and they have been boosted by much media attention.

For ten years or more, politics has been excessively boring. Endless stories of graft and corruption, and fat cats jockeying for position. In the apartheid days we were largely protected from such stories because the press was kept on a tight leash by the National Party regime. The best one could say about the corruption stories was that they showed we now have a free press.

But the antics of ET and Malema and their supporters provide entertainment, and the media are determined to give it to us. Not all of the jounalism is responsible, though. One can expect sensationalism from tabloids like The Sun, but even “responsible” papers like the Sunday Independent could not resist a sensation-mongerring headline like

Was ET gay and bonking darkies?

based on the rumour that a used condom had been found in the room where ET was murdered. The police had categorically denied that a condom had been found, but the Sunday Independent was not about to let the facts get in the way of a good story. They did include the police denial — in small print, right at the bottom. So the antics of the media are almost as entertaining as those of the protagonists.

But it also reaches the point where it goes beyond a joke.

The last straw was when Julius Malema kicked a BBC journalist, Jason Fisher, out of a press conference, claiming he had been insulted.

Malema apparently castigated the Movement for Democratic Change, the Zimbabwean opposition group, for speaking from their air-conditioned offices in Sandton. And Fisher pointed out that Malema himself lived in Sandton, and Malema blew his top.

Any politician in a democratic society with a sense of proportion would probably have grinned, said “Touché!” or something similar, and moved on.

The fact that Malema perceived that as an insult and lost his cool over it and kicked the journalist out speaks volumes. It doesn’t matter what Malema said. The words he used are not important. It his actions that show that he is a fascist, with no sense of democracy, and no sense of proportion.

As another journalist in City Press, Xolela Mangcu, put it, “Il Duce step aside: a fascist fire rages in Malema.”

If Malema had any political nous at all he would see that as an insult, and an insult far worse than saying that he lived in Sandton.

As Mangcu says of this incident

Perhaps a little world history could be helpful in opening our eyes to what Malema’s reaction could mean for our young democracy and people.

The historical figure I have in mind is Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. On the eve of Mussolini’s reign as prime minister a critic asked him about his party’s political programme. Mussolini mocked the critic thus: “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our programme? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo, and the sooner the better.”

Mussolini concluded his tirade thus: “The fist is the synthesis of our theory.”

And that statement is a pretty good summary of the political programme and philosophy of ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, which Malema has just visited, and spoken admiringly of ZANU-PF.

This, is of course, an embarrassment to the leadership of the ANC, which is trying to portray itself as a neutral honest broker between ZANU-PF and the MDC, an image which Malema’s blatant partisanship has shattered. His outburst to the BBC journalist has shown his true colours. It bodes ill for our democracy if his political career goes any further. Xolela Mangcu is hopeful that it won’t

Could Malema be the face of the replacement of politics with violence? I doubt it. Malema will ultimately trip on his own words. Besides, South Africa is too complex and differentiated to fall under the rule of one Il Duce.

I hope he’s right.

But if anyone is getting cold feet about coming to South Africa for the World Cup for fear of a bloodbath, don’t worry about it. Julius Malema is unlikely to become president this year, or next year, or any time for the next nine years. And a lot can happen in nine years. South Africa has plenty of precedents of politicians who appeared to have a meteoric rise, and had a sputtering fall. Tielman Roos, for example. Anyone remember him? With any luck, Julius Malema will go the same way.

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