Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Archive for the tag “South Africa”

Race and identity: what is “coloured”?

Why is it that, more than 20 years after the “end of apartheid” we seem to be getting more obsessed with “race”? After Wayde van Niekerk won the 400-metre event at the Olympic Games the term “coloured” suddenly started trending on Twitter.

Why Wayde’s gold is a win for coloured identity | IOL:

The term “coloured” began trending on Monday morning and my immediate reaction was: “But why? Let this boy bask in his well-deserved glory, at least for a day.” But almost as soon as I thought that, I realised what Wayde’s win could do for the coloured narrative in South Africa. Now see, I have recently started proudly identifying myself as coloured. This was something I fought for many, many years. I was taught to resist society’s attempts to box me, to resist feeling defeated when asked “What are you?” every day for as long as I can remember. If I was to identify myself racially, it should be black, as was always the case with my family during apartheid. But then, particularly over the last two years, I began self-identifying as coloured for a number of reasons. You begin feeling marginalised, excluded from the South African narrative, called upon only when the Democratic Alliance and ANC needs your coloured vote in the Cape. You’re not white enough or black enough.

Back in the days of apartheid even the apartheid theorists had problems with the “coloured”
race classifications, they divided it into sub-categories, including “Other Coloured” for those  who didn’t fir neatly into their scheme. Also back then, most of my “Coloured” friends, when using that term to describe themselves, would use air quotes while saying “so-called coloured”.

Page from apartheid-eria ID book

Page from apartheid-era ID book

But someone recently tweeted:

If someone can be proudly Zulu for instance …. Someone should equally be able to be proudly, Coloured.

And this begs the question of what is “coloured identity”.

Comparing “coloured” with Zulu implies a cultural identity, and from the article quoted about Wayde van Niekerk that implies that “coloured” means “Cape Coloured” in terms of the old apartheid ID numbers.

We lost the old apartheid ID numbers over 20 years ago, when everyone, regardless of previous classification, was given an 08 number, and so race classifications lost some of their rigidity. But we are still asked to specify our race for things like census returns. The article quoted seems to assume some of the apartheid “own people” thinking in discussing coloured identity, as if it were simply a cultural category, like Zulu.

But a few years ago I knew a child who was born in South Africa of a Nigerian father and a Ukrainian mother. In terms of the old apartheid classification system she would be “other coloured”, but who would her “own people” be now? How should she appear on the census? Isn’t talk of a “coloured identity” marginalising people like her?

 

 

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What hidden lies: a South African whodunit

What Hidden Lies (Persy Jonas #1)What Hidden Lies by Michele Rowe

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A South African whodunit.

I’ve read lots of British and Swedish whodunits. I’ve read several whodunits set in the USA and Norway, and a few set in Denmark, Greece and Turkey. But it doesn’t seem to be a popular genre with South African writers. So I enjoyed this one, and not just because it was set in South Africa, but because it was a pretty good specimen of the genre.

The protagonist, Detective Sergeant (or is it Constable? she seems to get promoted without explanation in the first couple of chapters) Persy Jonas, seems like a fairly ordinary person — not a poet, not an aristocrat, not alcoholic or going through a traumatic divorce, not a rogue cop perpetually on the verge of being fired for drunkenness, but brought back in the nick of time because no one else is such a brilliant detective. Persy (short for Persephone) Jonas is an ordinary person and an ordinary cop. It makes it more real, somehow.

Of course she has her problems; which cop, real or fictional, doesn’t? She has problems at home — domestic violence3 in the family. She has problems coming to terms with things in her past. It’s just kind of refreshing that those problems don’t include booze and/or divorce, or perpetual disciplinary problems with superiors related to insubordination.

And of course there are problems at work. There are problems of racism, sexism and corruption, rivalries and personality clashes. But they don’t take over the story.

In addition, in many whodunits one gets the impression that murder is the only crime the police ever investigate, so the stories seem somehow unreal. In this book there is a murder investigation, but it is sandwiched in between burglary, theft, and looking for a lost dog. That makes it feel more convincing as a police procedural, somehow.

There are a few editorial slip-ups — Persy’s rank being one of them — but they don’t detract from the story, so I’ll still give it five stars. I think Persy Jonas could become one of my favourite fictional detectives.

View all my reviews

Who should I vote for?

In theory our proportional representation voting system should give one lots of choice. There are lots of parties to choose from, and if any of them get 0,25% of the votes they get representatives in parliament. Unlike a constituency system, there are no unopposed or safe seats, where you have no vote or a wasted vote. Every vote counts.

But I still find it difficult to decide.

What I do when following news of elections in other countries is to take one of those quizzes that you find on various web sites, where the quiz is designed to match your expressed values to the policies of one of the parties or candidates. For example, in the 2012 US Presidential election, I did one of those quiz thingies, and at the end it told me that if I had a vote in that election I should cast it for Jill Stein.

Jill who?

I’d never heard of her.

But you can read about it in American elections: rhetoric and reality.

But I couldn’t find any similar quizzes in South Africa, until I came across this one, sponsored by City Press.

Play: Who deserves my vote.

It’s pretty clunky and unsophisticated compared with the overseas ones — instead of matching your expressed values with the manifestoes of the parties and statements by the candidates, they just give you chunks of the manifestoes themselves, and ask you to pick the ones you like the most.

Well, I tried it.

At least it might give me a clue about which parties I should look at more closely before decided which one to vote for.

The answer? All of them. Well, nearly all of them.

Parties I should vote for in 2014

Parties I should vote for in 2014

That’s not much help, is it? The percentages in the graphics also seem to be a bit inconsistent, though the trend is clear enough.

But of course policy manifestoes are not the only criterion. There are other co0nsiderations, like their historical record, how much you trust their leaders, and so on.

Vote14aI’ll cross Cope off the list for a start. They seem to have spent most of their energy since the last election in internal party squabbles with various leaders taking each other to court. If they can’t manage their own party properly, there’s little hope that they will be able to manage the country.

Then there’s the ANC. But they seem to be living on past glory. Yes, they had a good story to tell — 15-20 years ago. But the recent past looms larger, and three things stand out: Marikana, E-tolls, and Nkandla. And that procession of very expensive cars in ANC colours doesn’t help; too much bling, angling for the IziKhotane vote, perhaps? Thanks, but no thanks.

The FF+? They seem too much like a retreaded version of Andries Treurnicht’s old Conservative Party to me, still standing for sectional interests, and even many of those who might in the past have identified with those sectional interests seem to prefer to throw their lot into a wider South Africanism.

Vote14aEFF. The wrong party at the wrong time. If Cosatu had broken from the tripartite alliance and started a Labour Party, I’d be interested. But the EFF looks a bit too much like fat cats selling snake oil to the poor. The sight of Julius Malema leading a march from Joburg to Pretoria from the back of a bakkie seems to sum things up. They say some good things, and some incredibly silly things that they don’t seem to have thought through. But I might, just might, consider voting for them at provincial level. That wouldn’t help Juju get into parliament, but I suspect that they might have some good people on their provincial lists.

Then there’s the DA, the Democratic Alliance. They have several stories to tell, one good, the others middling to bad. They’ve been telling us that they fought apartheid. Well some of their ancestors did, and some of their ancestors introduced apartheid, so those seem to cancel each other out. I’m also suspicious of political parties that promise jobs. The ANC used to do that too. Politicians who promise jobs usually end up giving jobs to pals. And after the Democratic Party’s “fight back” campaign in 1999, to attract those of the white right who were gatvol after five years of democracy, which enabled them to absorb the rump of the National Party which had fought against democracy for 40 years and more.. well, that isn’t easy to forget. But, like the EFF, I might, just might, consider voting for them at the provincial level.

Vote14aThat leaves Agang.

Which has the biggest chunk of the teething ring, the only one that got more than the other parties. I was pretty sure I would vote for them until Mamphela Ramphele shot herself in the foot by toenadering with the DA. But even though she’s blotted her copybook, what’s the alternative? I still think she could make a useful contribution in parliament.

So the City Press quiz, plus thinking aloud, as it were, in this blog post, is all part of the process of trying to make up my mind about where to put my cross come Wednesday. I’ve more or less decided where I won’t put it.

 Update

Just found another “choose your party” site (hat-tip to Ryan Peter), which is a bit mor sophisticated than the City Press one — I don’t know if it is more accurate. It had a different set of recommendations:

Vote14cI’m even less sure about those than I am about the City Press ones.

I thought the UCDP was Mangope’s party, and I have a kind of built-in distrust of former “homeland” leaders, especially those who opted for “independence”. But maybe I’m missinformed about that.

I’ve never heard of the People’s Alliance before, and I hope it isn’t the sushi king party!

I know of the ACDP, but would not vote for it for reasons explained in the comments below. I’m also pro-life, and so would prefer to vote for a party that is against both capital punishment and abortion.

Well, now you can try both these tools to help you decide which party to vote for!

 

Homeward bound

When we arrived at Lentswe Lodge in Serowe, Botswana, the previous night, it was dark. From the balcony we could see street lights in the distance, but had little sense how close or far away they were. When dawn came, we looked from the balcony at a spectacular view over a plain.

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

View from our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, Serowe, Botswana

When we arrived at dusk it felt as though we were in the middle of an urban area, so we weren’t prepared for the magnificent view we saw when the sun came up.

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

Balcony of our cottage at Lentswe Lodge

We packed up and left at about 8:00, and stopped on the road below the Lentswe Lodge to take a photo of our cottage perched on the hillside up above before driving into Serowe and filling up with petrol. One of the garage attendants brought us a form for a competition to win a tractor, and I filled it it. It was just the kind of thing we would win, so I thought I’d better Google for a suitable agricultural project to donate it to, just in case we did.

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

The road down from Lentswe Lodge

We set off again and as we approached Palapye saw a rather large industrial conplex, and as we passed it saw that it was the Marupule Colliery, next to a power station, which we passed at 8:50, 38.4 km  from the Lentswe Lodge.

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

Our cottage at Lentswe Lodge, seen from the road below

We drove through Palapye, and turned off to Martin’s Drift, and at 9:45, 75.6 km from Serowe, stopped at a sitplekkie to eat the packed breakfast they had given us at Lentswe Lodge – a sausage, a small carton of yogurt, two boiled eggs, a mince jaffle and an apple. I ate most of mine, and threw the carton in the bin, though there was rubbish strewn all over the ground, more outside the bin than in it. It was certainly not clean like the Namibian sitplekkies, but as it was on the right-hand side of the road, we wondered if it were not South African travellers coming through the borders who were making all the mess.

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

Crossing the Limpopo from Botswana (on the left) to South Africa (on the right)

We reached to border at Martin’s Drift at 11:15, 158 km from Serowe, and crossed the Limpopo River back into South Africa. The Limpopo didn’t look nearly as impressive as the Okavango, or even the Boteti!

Once again, the immigration officials on the South African side were more surly and less professional than those on the Botswana side. We were also amused by signs in the toilets, welcoming people to South Africa, to give first-time visitors their first taste of South African culture and customs.

Welcome to South Africa!

Welcome to South Africa!

That sort of thing seems to be common to welcome people to a country. In 1966 I left South Africa in a hurry, to escape the clutches of the Security Police, driving through the night to cross the border with Rhodesia (as it then was) at Beit Bridge, a bit downstream from Martin’s Drift. It was just after UDI, and tension was high, but relieved when we saw the desks where one had to fill in  immigration forms, each with a neatly-printed notice with the exhortation, “Please do not allow your children to scribble on the blotting pads.”

Why is it that one’s first introduction to a country is so often a notice prohibiting something or other?

There were about 50 cars parked on the grass next to the parking area, covered in dust, and we wondered if they had beren confiscated as vehicles whose papers were not in order, possibly stolen, but if they were, it seemed that the real owners had made no attempt to claim them. There were also some police vans parked there, and I got the old feeling that one used to get, returning to apartheid South Africa after a visit to a neighbouring country, that one was returning from freedom to a police state. Why is that? It was much more pronounced in the 1960s or the 1980s, but why now. I know in my head that it isn’t so, but emotionally it still feels a little like it. Is it perhaps a result of the Marikana massacre?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border - stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Apparently ownerless cars at the border – stolen? Or illegal imports? Could one of them be yours?

Beyond the border post, the countryside feels different too. There are cultivated fields with irrigation sprinklers instead of natural bush. The verges are narrower, there are more wires by the side of the road. Botswana felt wild, this now feels tame and civilised. We turned off for Lepalale, formerly known as Ellis Ras, and drove through it looking for somewhere to eat, as it was 12:30 and getting on for lunch time, but saw nothing, so headed out for Vaalwater, and passed through some bush-covered hills, as wild as anything we had seen on Botswana.

Hills near Vaalwater

Hills near Vaalwater

At Vaalwater there was a restaurant that looked closed, and a Hotel-Bar, which looked more like a local watering hole than a place geared to providing meals.

Beyond Vaalwater the Waterberg mountains were beautiful, as I remembered them from passing this way with Stan Nussbaum 13 years ago. We went on into Modimolle, formerly known as Nylstroom, and had lunch at the Wimpy. They did a reasonable steak egg and chips, small enough to eat, and I knew to avoid their hamburgers at all costs.

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

Waterberg, between Vaalwater and Modimolle

We left at 2:56 pm, having covered 408 km from Serowe, and drove along the old road to Bela Bela, formerly Warmbaths. The road was quite narrow and winding, and there were obviously many, like us, driving here mainly to avoid the toll road. But this road is also far more interesting, and I always love seeing the sign to “De Nyl, s’n oog” (The Nile, its source). From Bela Bela we drove along the R101 where the speed limit was 120 km/h, so it was no slower than the freeway, though we went at about 110 most of the way to Pienaar’s River.

After that it started to get more built up, and at Temba, north of Hammanskraal, the speed limit was 60 in many places, and when we started to encounter pedestrian crossings with humps, we went on to the toll road. It cost just over R18.00, and a bit further on there was another toll gate, where we had to pay another R8.00. We had no more South African cash money, so Val used her credit card, and  so it cost about R26.00 from Hammanskraal — I wonder what we would have had to pay if we had gone on the toll road at Modimolle? But Hammanskraal is within Tshwane, and so people from there, coming to work in Pretoria, would have to pay over R50.00 every day, and they are the poorer people. There are protests against e-tolls that are about to be introduced on most of the Gauteng freeways, but these older toll roads are just as iniquitous, when a 20c per litre increase in the fuel levy would pay for the lot.

We got home at 4:30, having covered 538,7 km from Serowe, 1140.5 from Maun, 1545 from Shakawe, 1836.4 from Rundu, and  2338,4 from Odibo, which was about the furthest point we had reached from home. Over the whole trip we used 5,6 litres of fuel per 100 km.

You can see an index to all these posts of our travelogue of Namibia and Botswana here.

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Political dreams

Now here’s a story that’s likely to have financial journalists and tenderpreneurs frothing at the mouth

Opinionated Vicar: Prophet of the Day: the President of Uruguay:

Think of a world leader, politician, or indeed anyone in power that you know, who gives away 90% of their income. Tricky. But there is one: But there is one: the President of Uruguay. He has personal wealth of just over £1000, which takes the form of an old VW Beetle, and living off 10% of his official salary means that his regular income is about the same as that of an average Uruguayan.

Look at the Uruguayan president’s house (his wife’s, actually) and compare it with Zumaville.

If there’s one thing that the “mainstream” media can’t stand, it’s a politician who isn’t on the make, and there are very few of those around. One of the few African politicians who was not on the make was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and the Western media published lots of denigratory articles about him. There was one syndicated article, with a title like The “teacher” who reduced his nation to beggary, which did the rounds for about 20 years, and was reprinted again and again. I saw it several times over the years in South African newspapers.

I have a dream that before I die I will see Mamphela Ramphele as the president of South Africa.

It’s not likely to happen, of course, because the way our political system is constructed anyone who now wants to get to that position has to be prepared to devote all their time to the political infighting and backstabbing that constitutes out political process. Mamphela Ramphele is one of South Africa’s South Africa’s foremost public intellectuals, and I doubt that she has the stomach for that kind of thing. Moral turpitude seems to be a requirement for the job.

But I’m not alone in having this dream; it is shared by at least one other person.

Of course it is too much to hope for that such dreams can be fulfilled twice in a lifetime.

It should have been enough that in 1994 South Africa gained its freedom and was liberated from the evil ideology of apartheid. Back in the bad old days the enemy was obvious, and the moral choices were clear. The country was in the grip of an evil dieology, and if we were to be liberated that grip must be broken.

But now there is no single source of evil that one can point to; it is just the usual messy mishmash of human sinfulnes, greed, lust for power, incompetence and corruption. In a sense South Africa has become normal. It is what most countries have to contend with, one way or another.

It reminds me of a song that we used to sing in the early 1970s, buy a little-known British gospel rock group called Parchment:

Yesterday’s dream didn’t quite come true
We fought for our freedom, and what did it do?
Now no one can see where they stand.

Let there be light in the land, let there be light in the people
Let there be God in our lives from now on.

Twenty years ago today: first soccer match at Loftus Versveld

We went to Loftus Versveld for a soccer match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Sheffield Wednesday – the first soccer match ever to be held at Loftus, the shrine of Northern Transvaal rugby.

There was a curtain raiser with womens’ teams from Kaizer Chiefs and Sundowns, which was actually the first soccer match at Loftus, and possibly the first time women had played there too. Chiefs won easily.

Then the Sundowns Masters played The Media, and the Media won. The big match was preceded by parachutists coming down onto the fields, and some people paraded round the field carrying a banner saying “Snor city welomes soccer” – a reference to the civil servants, many of whom have moustaches.

It was an exciting game, with plenty of action and movement, and ended in a 2-2 draw. Our daughter Bridget and her friend Tracy were wearing their Intermilan shirts, but got a Sundowns flag to wave too.

It was a historic occasion.

Liberalism and old liberals revisited

Yesterday, while on holiday in Pietermaritzburg, we visited old friends Colin and Mary Gardner, whom we had not seen for a long time, and one of the things we talked about was a proposal by Paul Trewhela for a new history of the Liberal Party of South Africa, and also Paul Trewhela’s notion that the Liberal Party ought to have gone underground in 1968, instead of disbanding when the Improper Interference Act became law.

(the picture shows Val Hayes, Colin & Mary Gardner)

I’ve blogged about Paul Trewhela’s proposals before, so I won’t repeat everything that I said there, but Colin Gardner came up with a new slant on it. He was a member of the national executive of the Liberal Party at the time the decision was made to disband, and he said that they had considered ignoring the Improper Interference Act (which prohibited multiracial political parties) and just carry on as if nothing had happened, and decided not to. One of the reasons for that, that I had not been aware of, was that some Liberal lawyers, who were in touch with some National Party lawyers, said that that was what the government was expecting, and if it happened, they would declare the Liberal Party a “white” party, and prosecute the black members for contravening the Improper Interference Act. Basing political decisions on what was, in effect, idle gossip over tea at a Law Society meeting, or something similar, may seems strange, but that was one way of gaining intelligence of the intentions of the government.

And as for Paul Trewhela’s idea, which he still seems to be pushing, that the Liberal Party ought to have, or even could have, gone underground, it would have been impossible, for reasons I have already noted (Notes from underground: A liberal underground in South Africa), namely that, having operated openly and publicly for 15 years, all active Liberals were known to the SB (Security Police), and any such activity would have been reported to them immediately by their izimpimpi.

Colin Gardner also remarked that one of the things that followed the passing of the Improper Interference Act, though not necessarily caused by it, was the rise of Black Consciousness. At first the National Party government welcomed BC, because they saw it as their policies bearing fruit, but it didn’t take them long to realise that it was independent of their control, and not at all what they had in mind by “own affairs”. Steve Biko’s declaration of himself as a “non-nonracialist” could initially be mistaken for what the National Party government had in mind when it passed the Improper Interference Act, but eventually they learned that it wasn’t.

Colin also thought that Steve Biko was using “non-nonracialism” as a tactic, and would, if he had lived, become nonracialist, though whether he or his ideals would have survived in the current South African political climate might be questionable.

Steve Biko didn’t have a good word for what he called “white liberals” (which continues to be a swear word in South Africa), but I suspect that what he had in mind when he used the term “liberal” was Nusas (the National Union of South African Students), rather than the Liberal Party. And, as have pointed out in Notes from underground: A new history of the Liberal Party?, the word “liberal” is still misused, and still misunderstood, as much as, if not more than, it was 45-50 years ago.

Politicians’ genitals: private or public parts?

In the same week controversy has erupted in both Canada and South Africa over the depiction of the genitals of politicical leaders of those countries in works of art.

In Canada ‘Well hung’ nude Harper painting sparks mixed reactions | Toronto SUN:

A nude painting of Canada’s prime minister has politicians and Tim Hortons employees cracking jokes, pundits crying foul and one federal department reportedly offering up cash.

Titled Emperor Haute Couture, the portrait hanging in a Kingston, Ont., public library shows a full monty Stephen Harper, leaning back on a chaise lounge chair surrounded by a doting team with a terrier at his feet, about to sip a steaming Tim Hortons coffee.

In South Africa, on the same day, came the news that ‘Portrait of Zuma is below the belt’ – Politics | IOL News:

The ANC is outraged at a portrait that shows President Jacob Zuma, in the pose of Lenin, with his genitals hanging out. And the party is headed to court to force the artist Brett Murray, the Goodman Gallery and the City Press newspaper to remove the portrait.

The Goodman Gallery said Murray will not comment and will let the art “speak for itself”.

The 1.85m-high piece, priced at R136 000 and titled The Spear, was first reported on by City Press and a picture of the portrait was printed and displayed on its website.

Perhaps conspiracy theorists will see something significant in the fact that both the above newspaper reports were published on the same day.

In South Africa attempts to have the Zuma painting removed have been criticised as attacks on the constitutional right to freedom of speech.

The Bill of Rights states:

16. Freedom of expression

  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes ­
    1. freedom of the press and other media;
    2. freedom to receive or impart information or ideas;
    3. freedom of artistic creativity; and
    4. academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.

  2. The right in subsection (1) does not extend to ­
    1. propaganda for war;
    2. incitement of imminent violence; or
    3. advocacy of hatred that is based on race, ethnicity, gender or religion, and that constitutes incitement to cause harm.

But in this case there is an earlier section of the constitution that might be in conflict:

10. Human dignity

Everyone has inherent dignity and the right to have their dignity respected and protected.

So if the matter ever gets as far as the Constitutional Court, it will be interesting to see which constitutional principle prevails.

But it is certainly not the first time that politicians’ genitalia have been the subject of political satire. Back at the time of the Rainbow Warrior affair a newspaper cartoon depicted French President François Mitterrand with his fly open and a very erect nuclear missile protruding. He was flanked by the leaders of other nuclear powers, and I think the caption was “Mine’s bigger than yours.” I forget which newspaper it was in.

And of course in South Africa there is the political cartoonist Zapiro, who for a long time depicted Jacob Zuma with a shower protruding from his head, after Zuma had said that having a shower was his way of taking precautions against HIV/Aids.

But last week’s art offerings seem to have been of a somewhat different order.

And, like the Bill of Rights, I find myself in two minds over the whole thing.

On the one hand, I think that both as the State President and also as a human being, Jacob Zuma has the right to dignity and privacy guaranteed by our constitution. Even though he holds public office, he has the right not to have his private parts treated as public and exposed to public view.

And this is akin to the principle behind the recent phone hacking scandal in the UK, in which the former newspaper executve, Rebekah Brooks, has been charged with perverting the course of justice.

Can one by-pass this principle by calling it “art”? And where does one draw the line between the work of artists and that of paparazzi?

On the other hand, I recall the trial of Johannesburg artist Harold Rubin for “blasphemy” back in 1963. The Wikipedia article, however doesn’t do either him or his work justice, and omits to mention that his exhibition was opened by Brother Roger, CR, an Anglican monk of the Community of the Resurrection, who was later pulled off a train to give evidence at his trial, and whose evidence probably played an important part in his subsequent aquittal. The picture in question, with the title “My Jesus”, did not, as the Wikipedia article claims, have the head of a monster, but showed a human being on a cross undergoing extreme suffering. This is not the way Orthodox Christian ikons depict Jesus Christ on the cross, but Harold Rubin was not a Christian, but a Jew, though the life and death of Jesus possibly had more significance to him than it did to most Jews, something that he tried to express in his picture.

The legal system at the time certainly did try to curtail Harold Rubin’s freedom of expression, but then at that time we had no Bill of rights. And the Bill of Rights we now have explicitly guarantees the freedom of artistic expression. But Harold Rubin was no paparazzo, and I believe, as did Brother Roger (who knew much more about art than I do), that it was a genuine work of art. I’m not so sure about last week’s offerings.

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