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Archive for the tag “Helen Zille”

Singapore, colonialism and Helen Zille

A few days ago there was a big tizz-wozz on Twitter about Helen Zille tweeting that colonialism was not so bad because piped water.

You can read more about that at Zille’s career in ruins:

She has a million followers on Twitter and as she waited for her flight she engaged, as is her wont, in some argument with her followers and critics.

And then, for some maniacal reason, at 8.25am, she tweeted: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.”

So powerful was the outrage from (mainly) black South Africans, who don’t have quite so rosy a memory of colonial South Africa, that by 9.59am she was obliged to tweet this: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

Except, of course, that it was. We are all prisoners of our time and our generations.

The timing could not have been better for those who were facing embarrassing questions from the judges of the Constitutional Court for the mess-up of SANSSA and CPS and the possibility that 17 million pensioners and other recipients of social grants might not get paid. That was a big joke, according to the president. Seventeen million people could go hungry, ha ha ha. They could be evicted for not paying rent, Heh Heh Heh.

But a silly tweet about colonialism, and suddenly the pressure is off.

And it was a silly tweet.

Did Thailand (then known as Siam) have no piped water until they were colonised by the Japanese in 1941? And did the Japanese have no piped water because they weren’t colonised? Did Ethiopia have no piped water before they were colonised by the Italians in 1936? Seeing the judiciary, transport infrastructure and water reticulation as products of colonialism is really daft.

But, like the misdirection of a stage magician, that silly tweet distracted the attention of the nation from something much more serious.

And, to give Helen Zille her due, she sometimes says and writes things a lot more useful than that silly tweet, and I think this is much more worth reading From the Inside: Lessons from Singapore | Daily Maverick:

I thought loftily: “What can we learn from Singapore? It’s an authoritarian country. We are the South African Miracle, the rainbow nation, that moved from being the skunk of the world to democracy’s poster child in less than a decade. Our transition was even faster than Singapore’s! They can learn something about democracy from us.”

I had drunk the Kool-Aid of South African exceptionalism.

She writes about how Singapore has changed in the last 35 years, a single generation, and what South Africa can learn from Singapore.

But I visited Singapore a generation ago, back in 1985, when South Africa was still wracked by P.W. Botha’s States of Emergency and Magnus Malan’s Total Strategy to meet the Total Onslaught.

Singapore was probably more authoritarian then than it is now, and though there weren’t Kasspirs and Hippos visibly prowling the streets there was, underneath the surface calm, that knowledge that somewhere behind the scenes Big Brother was watching.

But one other thing impressed me.

Singapore was a small country, and had no natural resources. The only resource it had was its people, and to make the most of that it invested heavily, very heavily, in education.

Back then, in 1985, the South African education system was broken, and had been badly broken for a generation, since Bantu Education and Christian National Education were brought in in the 1950s. The education wasn’t too good before the 1950s either, but at least then the government wasn’t deliberately trying to cripple it, as the National Party regime set out to do after 1948. And we can see the difference even today, when we meet the much-looked-down upon immigrants from Zimbabwe, legal and illegal, who are generally much better educated than their South African counterparts. Whatever else Mugabe and Smith before him (authoritarians both, like Singapore) managed to destroy, they did not set out to destroy the education system as the Nats did in South Africa.

Then came 1994, and all the talk of “transformation”.

But was the education system transformed? Hardly at all.

So yes, listen to Helen Zille when she talks about Singapore.

Singapore managed to transform their education system. We haven’t transformed ours.




Know your DA

During the past week the Democratic Alliance (DA) appears to have been trying to rewrite history and rehabilitate its past, including a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #KnowYourDA. This has prompted others to use the same hashtag to denounce the DA.

DAknow01One of the more controversial elements of the campaign was this pamphlet, quoting Nelson Mandela, the leader of the ANC, praising Helen Suzman, one of the leaders of the Progressive Party. The Progressive Party was the great great grandmother of the DA.

If you know anything about family trees you will know that each of your great great grandparents contributes about one sixteenth of your DNA. The pamphlet appears to be trying to tell a different story, with Helen Suzman as Mummy and Nelson Mandela as Daddy of the DA.

It wasn’t like that, and it still isn’t like that.

Check where the other fifteen-sixteenths of the DA’s DNA really came from.

One Tweeter put it in a nutshell when he said:

Akani Mathebula@Akanirelo 1h

#KnowYourDA is failing because instead of crafting a new future @helenzille wants to rewrite history. Epic fail

The Democratic Alliance was formed out of a campaign, led by one of its components, the Democratic Party led by Tony Leon, to unite the white right during and after the 1999 General Election, under the slogan “Fight back”. Their campaign posters were clearly aimed at appealing to those who were “Gatvol” with five years of democracy, and wanted to fight back against it to restore the status quo ante.

After the election the united with the rump of the National Party (the party of apartheid, the former political home of most of the white right), and in order to do so introduced the thoroughly undemocratic practice of “floor-crossing” into parliament. That turned round to bite them when some of the former leaders of the National Party found the Democratic Alliance too right-wing for them, and themselves crossed the floor to join the ANC.

While this effort to whitewash the DA is reprehensible, some of the comments to counter the DA campaign are equally reprehensible. Some people are trying to counter it by attacking Helen Suzman, and trying to show that she was evil.

But Helen Suzman was not responsible for this pamphlet, nor for the misuse of her photograph and the words of Nelson Mandela.

I think Nelson Mandela’s words were sincere and genuinely meant, and for the most part true.

What is bad is the DA’s dishonesty in trying to claim the credit.

I was one of those who voted for Helen Suzman in 1961.

The Progressive Party had broken away from the United Party two years previ0usly, and she was the only one of their MPs to be re-elected. It was not perfect, and it did not have a perfect policy. But after 13 years of apartheid, and the relentless efforts by the National Party to create a race-obsessed society, the Progressive Party opted for a different policy. They switched the focus from race to class. The National Party wanted to ensure that only whites could elect representatives to parliament. They removed black representatives. They were in the process of disenfranchising coloureds, and their aim was to have an electorate defined by skin-colour. Only whites were to be able to vote. The official opposition, the United Party, were lukewarm in opposing this, and so the “progressives” left.

But they did not join any of the several parties and movements that advocated “one man, one vote”. They still wanted a limited franchise, only it was to be limited by class, not race. In their policy, anyone of any race could vote, as long as they were rich and educated. Property, income and education were to be the criteria, rather than race.[1]

But Helen Suzman’s significance was far wider than her party’s restrictive class-based franchise policy. She spoke out against the Natoinal Party’s increasingly totalitarian jackboot rule at a time when few others did (and most of those who did were detained, or banned, or harrassed by the police). And she was the only one who did so in parliament, where she could not be silenced.

But when, after several political marriages of convenience, in which the Progressive Party became the Progressive Reform Party, the Progressive Federal Party and then the Democratic Party, it finally, after the 1994 General Elections, held aloof from joining the Government of National Unity led by Nelson Mandela.

If the DA had joined the GNU, there might just have been a grain of truth in the picture of Nelson Mandela and Helen Suzman together on the DA pamphlet. But as it is, it is lying propaganda, which deserves all the contempt that has been poured upon it.

Instead of trying to reinvent the past, the DA would be better occupied in trying to rebuild the future.

As for me, I’m still waiting for Mamphela Ramphele to bring the train to the station.


Notes and references

[1] The DA is not the only one to twist history here. In 1960 there were three political parties that stood for “one man one vote” and were also themselves nonracial: the Communist Party (which had been banned since 1950) the Liberal Party, which had been formed in 1953, and the Pan African Congress (which was banned in 1960).

The Congress movement — the African National Congress, the SA Congress of Democrats, the Indian Congress and so on — was made up of racially exclusive bodies. Rica Hodgson, a member of the Congress of Democrats, recently tried to blacken the name of the Liberal Party by saying that it did not allow blacks to join, whereas it was her own organisation, the COD, that was all-white. But whether one tries to blacken the name of other organisations, as Rica Hodgson did, or whitewash one’s own, as Hellen Zille is doing, it is still distorting history.




After the ball(ot) is over

Our fourth democratic elections have come and gone. Most of the votes have been counted and it is clear that the ANC will form the national government for the fourth term running, and will control the government of eight of the nine provinces.

There are no great surprises there, so what’s to write about?

Some people have asked me what I thought of the elections and how i feel about the results, and what will happen next. So even though I’m not a great political fundi, and nowadays don’t take much interest in politics until there’s an election, since they asked, and for myself to refer to later, I’m jotting down a few thoughts.

There’s a rather sentimental Victorian song, After the ball is over.

After the ball is over, after the break of morn,
After the dancers’ leaving, after the stars are gone,
Many a heart is aching, if you could read them all—
Many the hopes that have vanished after the ball.

The ANC had a ball after the ballot in the library gardens in Johannesburg, and some of the hopes of opposition parties had vanished.

That the ANC won the election was no surprise — it has increased its majority at every election since 1994 — but this time its majority was reduced in every province but one, the exception being KwaZulu-Natal.

There was also far more interest in this election than in the 2004 one. One reason for that may be that floor-crossing has been abolished. For the last few years, because of a weakness in the constitution, members of parliament were allowed to switch parties in mid-term without losing their seats in parliament, which made a mockery of elections. In effect the voters elected parliament for 18 months, and thereafter the politicians elected themselves. This led to cynicism among the youth, especially. Our sons refused to vote in 2004, but floor crossing has been abolished, and they did vote this time.

A more significant reason for greater interest was a split in the ruling party, the ANC, and the formation of a new opposition party, COPE, the Congress of the People Party, mainly from disaffected ANC members who were pushed aside when Jacob Zuma was elected as president of the ANC in 2007. There was considerable resentment in the ANC of Thabo Mbeki’s top-down leadership style, and Jacob Zuma was supported by a variety of interest groups, perhaps initially because it was felt that he had been unfairly victimised by Mbeki. Those who left, however, were not simply motivated by sour grapes. Jacob Zuma had been accused of corruption when he was deputy president, but instead of taking the matter to court to clear his name spent a lot of time and money and energy trying to avoid appearing in court at all. The leader of the ANC youth league, Julius Malema, for one, was proclaiming, in effect, “We want Zuma, corrupt or not”. COPE, perhaps to emphasise the contrast, brought in a former head of the Methodist Church, Mvume Dandala, perhaps because he could be presented to voters as Mr Clean.

So this is what happened:

With 400 seats in parliament, a party needs 0,25% of the vote for each MP.

Two of the smaller parties that have been represented in parliament since 1994 seem to have been wiped out in this election: Azapo and the PAC. The former represented the Black Consciousness movement of the 1970s, whose best-known exponent was Steve Biko, murdered by the security police in 1977. The PAC (Pan-African Congress) tried to keep alive the Africanist vision of the 1950s and 1960s. Its logo shows light streaming to Africa from Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to become independent in 1957. There was a vision of a postcolonial United States of Africa. The PAC tried to keep the Africanist vision alive, but the ANC’s Thabo Mbeki stole their thunder with his vision of an African Renaissance, and their only young and dynamic MP, Patricia de Lille, sick of the dithering and squabbling among the leaders, broke away to form the Independent Democrats, which did quite well, for a new party, in the 2004 elections, but saw its electoral support halved in 2009.

So we come to the Independent Democrats.

I voted for them in 2004, mainly because I thought it was a good idea to have Patricia de Lille in parliament. And I think there were quite a lot who voted ID for the same reason. De Lille asked awkward questions of ministers, and kept them on their toes. If there was a whiff of corruption, she would be on to it, trying to lay bare the truth. Unfortunately she was not able to attract other leaders of the same quality of herself to her party. It was, and remains, basically a one-woman party. Some of the elected leaders were opportunists, who disappeared through the floor-crossing windows when offered suitable inducements by other parties.

Then along came COPE, and stole most of the ID’s thunder. Its policies were not identical, but were close enough to attract many of the same people. As I pointed out in another blog post, I did one of those quizzes to see which party’s policies came closest to my thinking, and the ID and COPE tied for first place, so I voted for both – the ID nationally, and COPE at the provincial level.

The opposition party that did best in the elections, and indeed better than last time around, is the Democratic Alliance (DA).

Like the ID, it is now led by a woman, Helen Zille, who has apparently done a good job as mayor of Cape Town, and gathered a lot of support that way, especially in the Western Cape, some at the expense of the ID. Its family tree goes back to 1959, the same year that the PAC started, when a group of MPs broke away from the (white) parliamentary opposition party, the United Party, to form the Progressive Party, which was one of the distant ancestors of the DA of today, and it has tended to pass on one rather undesirable gene to its offspring. The Progressive Party and its successors never saw themselves as an alternative government, but as an alternative opposition. They raised opposition not merely to a fine art, but to an obsession. The rivalry between them and the United Party was far fiercer than that between them and the ruling National Party. They would induce a few “young Turks” from the UP to join them, and each time this happened they changed their name, to the Progressive Reform Party, then the Progressive Federal Party, and each time they moved a bit further to the right, since the people they were absorbing were further to the right than they themselves were. Eventually the United Party disappeared, and the Democratic Party was born. In the 1994 elections the previous ruling party, the National Party, became the official opposition, and the Democratic Party, led by Tony Leon, set their sights an replacing them as the official opposition, and so set out to make itself the party of the white right. They contested the 1999 elections with slogans like “Fight back” (against what? democracy?). Well, they were the opposition weren’t they? In their view the function of the opposition is to oppose everything that the government does, good or bad. So not for them the constructive opposition of Patricia de Lille, opposing the bad, but supporting the good, and offering suggestions for improvement. The DA opposed for the sake of opposing. Eventually they absorbed the rump of the National Party, but a lot of them couldn’t take it and went on to join the ANC.

It looks as though the DA has mellowed a little since Helen Zille replaced Tony Leon as leader (what is it about politicians called Tony? Leon, Blair or Yengeni, they all seem to go wrong). But when we drove to the polling station to vote on Wednesday we were faced with posters saying “Stop Zuma”, so it looks as though they are still up to their old tricks. I’d rather know what they are for than what they are against. And I’d rather know what they are against than who they are against.

At one municipal election a few years ago I was met at the polling station by two burly gentlemen sporting rosettes, who escorted me, one on either side, to the polling station, each telling me that his party was the only one that could “stop the ANC”. One was from the DA and the other from the Freedom Front +. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways, otherwise I would have asked what it was they wanted to stop the ANC doing, and why they automatically assumed that I would want to stop it too. What they did not tell me was how they would run the city better than the ANC had been doing, so I went in and cast my two votes, the proportional one for the ANC, and the local ward one for the only candidate who did not seem to be affiliated with any political party.

There’s one other party I’ve occasionally considered voting for, but never have, which also lost support heavily in this election. That is the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP). My biggest gripe with them is that they claim to have a monopoly of Christian principles, when some of their principles don’t seem all that Christian to me. What really clinched it, though, was that in previous elections, just when I was thinking of voting for them, the ACDP would send me a bundle of right-wing propaganda written by one Ed Cain. Ed Cain used to publish far right political propaganda, some of it subsidised by the former Department of Information (remember Muldergate?) aimed at the Christian market. He could publish radically different theological views without a qualm, side-by side, and didn’t care how theologically inconsistent they were, as long as they promoted a consistently right-wing political point of view.

The other parties are composed of sinful men and one expects to find human failings among them. Until Christ comes again, human politics will be tainted by human sinfulness. But when a party has the hubris to claim that its equally tainted principles and organisation have somehow had an immaculate conception, even when they are (like Ed Cain’s) the most ungodly of the lot, that’s when I look elsewhere on the ballot paper.

And there are two parties that I was never tempted to vote for, both regional. One is the United Democratic Movement of Bantu Holomisa. The quiz I did actually placed it second, tied with the DA. But Bantu Holomisa once staged a coup in Transkei, and I’ll never be tempted to vote for a politician who has tried to bypass voting and seize power. They lost most of their support to COPE, I should think, and that’s probably a good thing. The other is the Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), which was started as a cultural movement, but Gatsha Buthelezi (as he was then known) turned it into a rival to the ANC when he was snubbed by the ANC. It seemed like a silly and unnecessary quarrel, and provided a lever for PW Botha’s “third force” to try to destabilise the first democratic elections. Hundreds of people died as a result. And now that the ANC has a Zulu leader, people in KwaZulu-Natal are switching their votes to the ANC, because they can see that the propaganda that painted the ANC as “anti-Zulu” was grossly exaggerated, or simply false.

So that’s my take on the election. A view of one voter out of about 17 million, and if you asked all of them you’d probably get 17 million different views, so it doesn’t really count for much. Now my political interest has dropped. There was a time, years ago, when I was more politically active, because then we were indeed fighting an ungodly government, founded on ungodly principles. But those political goals were achieved, in 1994. And on Wednesday, standing in the queue to vote autumn sunshine in the school yard, seeing the big thorn trees with their heavy seed pods, seeing the people of South Africa, black and white, moving slowly forward to vote, that was my political goal achieved. If someone tries to take that away from us, as has happened in Zimbabwe, then I might become a political acvtivist again. But one of the advantages of democracy is that one can, within limits, leave politics to the politicians.

But, if I’m still alive in 2014, maybe I’ll look back on it and see what I missed, and what I thought would happen, but didn’t.

So what do I think will happen? How important is it to “stop Zuma” as the DA exhorted us?

I have my doubts about whether Zuma will ever get to start. I don’t find him impressive as a political leader, that’s why I didn’t vote for him. He doesn’t strike me as a person with visionary leadership. He’s basically a shrewd politician who’s good at getting himself elected. What he does when he’s elected is a different matter. And the people who agreed to support him at Polokwane in 2007 — they’re all hoping for different things from him. I doubt he’ll be able to deliver everything that they are expecting. But if he knows what’s good for him, he’ll concentrate on getting competent people who can improve service delivery for the millions who voted for him, and if he succeeds, he may stand a chance of being reelected in 2014.

But the ANC is still the ANC. It’s a popular organisation, and a lot of people in it still take seriously the slogan “the people shall govern”. Thabo Mbeki forgot that, and they kicked him out. And if they kicked Mbeki out, they can kick Zuma out too.

See also Cori’s Blog: Why I would still vote ID.

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