A selection of op-eds and articles

More can be found here

In just two months we have veered towards tyranny

Sunday Times 24 May 2020

One year ago, we voted in a free and fair election in a progressive and open country. For all of their faults, the executive and legislative branches were committed to not just preserving liberty but enhancing it. And politicians were governing as democrats. Times have changed.

Not only did it mark liberation from a totalitarian regime, the 1994 election was both an irrevocable mandate for a democratic state and a watershed in humanity’s quest for liberty. The first written record of the word “freedom”, in ancient Sumerian cuneiform, dates to 2300 BCE when people in what is now Iraq were revolting against a tyrannical regime.

The constant push for liberty has marked the flow of history and has often been paid for in blood, as in SA. Our constitution is a particularly remarkable addition to this history.

What the constitution drives for is an individual’s freedom to determine his or her own life, without interference from the state – philosophers call this “negative liberty”. Neither the state nor society can impose any other life on you. If you want to spend your life studying beetles, you can. If you want to drink yourself into an early grave, you can do that too. Your choice alone.

Read the rest here

Centuries before the colonisers came, Christianity and Islam seeded a rich and ancient lineage in Africa

Sunday Times, 22 December 2019

Every so often, a strange notion about religion in Africa comes forth: simply put, it is the idea that neither Christianity nor Islam are African. The thinking is that colonialists and Arabs brought these religions to Africa, converted Africans and thus mentally enslaved them with foreign ideas. Only by returning to ‘traditional’ African belief systems can Africans be free.

To be frank, much is downright wrong with this notion. Even if this view of history is correct—in other words, even if we grant the notion for the sake of argument—it is highly insulting and quite rude. Africa has roughly 500 million Christians and 400 million Muslims. According to the Pew Research Center, 60% of Christians and 63% of Muslims in Sub-Saharan Africa favour making laws reflecting Biblical codes and sharia respectively. So 900 million people are psychologically colonised?

However, neither slurs nor bad manners are illegal. They are, in fact, the hallmarks of free speech. Crass insults can also be true but not in this case.

Many early Christian communities and pivotally important thinkers, such as Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430), for the development of Christianity came out of North Africa. And not just North Africa: for example, the Kingdom of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) sent a delegation to the Council of Florence in 1441.

Read the rest here

Forget the market or the state, we’ll save ourselves from this ruin

Sunday Times, 05 January 2020

At the end of 2019 and like a gambler with the mortgage on the line and a wavering floozy on his arm, government threw frenzied dice down the long craps table that public policy has become. Sport is to be nationalised. Minister Nathi Mthethwa has decreed that he will be the commissar of cricket, rugby, football and jukskei.

Worst idea since VAR.

There are two commodities that are always in fashion: oil and guns. Yet government has managed to screw up both PetroSA and Denel. Those state owned enterprises could only be more mismanaged if Denel was ordered to shell the PetroSA refinery at Mossel Bay.

Read the rest here

A society addled by political delusions, from white power to washing clean the ANC

Sunday Times, 10 November 2019

Unless you count Johnnie Walker Blue and Moët by the truckload, our politicians’ delusions don’t seem to be the product of sustained drug abuse. Although, it kinda looks that way. The South Africa they talk about isn’t the one that we live in.

No one has ever suggested that Queen Victoria and her lads over at the Institute for Race Relations were suffering from cocaine psychosis. Instead, Zille and friends were just talking amongst themselves, passing around dirty copies of Hayek, and convincing each other that they were right. In the process, they somehow lost sight of the fact that white people only account for about 8% of the population.

Then reality intruded on their 19th century dream. The DA’s black leadership quite rightly said stuff this and so went the fairly decent chance of the DA transforming itself into an inclusive middle class party based on liberal centrism. Gone for decades.

Well done, Helen. You and your chaps have managed to become more tactically inept than Ole Solskjær’s Manchester United.

All that said, the DA’s travails are a mere sideshow. It’s not running the country and, as illustrated above, has no chance to do so in the foreseeable future. The ANC’s delusions are a more serious matter because they affect us all and will do so for a generation.

The ANC’s primary delusion is that if it passes a law or creates a new policy, then this law or policy will somehow become reality. Put another way, it’s the pathological notion that to legislate something is to make it so.

Read the rest here.

Instead of politics we have endless attempts to manipulate political reality

Sunday Times, 18 October 2019

South Africa’s politicians are gaslighting the nation. Misdirection, contradictions and lies are being used to manipulate the country’s reality towards a very narrow type of politics and away from the real issues of our time.

There was never a “rogue unit” at SARS. Yet for the revolutionaries in red, those sons of the soil, the rogue unit was a such a threat to the principles of fair taxation that the judiciary’s time and resources must be used to punish the unit’s fictitious masterminds. The EFF views Pravin Gordhan as a rebooted version of Emmanuel Goldstein in George Orwell’s 1984.

Over at Luthuli House, the great economic question of our time, the one issue that must be debated, is changing the ownership of the Reserve Bank. For once the Reserve Bank is no longer privately owned, then it will be able to do exactly what it is doing now: setting interest rates and issuing coins and banknotes. Economic policy is no longer about the production, distribution and consumption of goods and services: it is a cudgel in ugly factional disputes about who gets a ministerial sports car. Implementation of actual economic policy is irrelevant.

The Public Protector has launched into a holy war against President Cyril Ramaphosa as part of a wider messianic struggle within the ruling party. Instead of investigations into corruption within municipalities, Busisiwe Mkhwebane distracts with affidavits, dubious claims originating from secret sources, and outright lies.

The politicians have managed to manipulate and destabilise the notion that politics is about societal problems and issues. Instead, individual vendettas have become the topics of ordinary conversation and the media documents these spats one Facebook post at a time. And this brand of politics suits the elites just fine.

Read the rest here

Amid a fog of deception, what if Malema is not lying?

Business Day, 23 March 2018

Politicians lie. Except when they don’t, and our problem is that it is extremely hard to separate the truth from their falsehoods. Our politics is a swirling post-truth fog where nothing is quite what it seems.

Of course, we all tell lies and more often than we readily admit. Little white lies such as look at what the Easter Bunny brought you. Bigger lies such as I’m the perfect candidate for this job, stacks of experience. People do misrepresent themselves, sometimes out of shame, sometimes for fun, sometimes to get laid.

Politicians, however, are in a league of their own. They actively and knowingly create a world of smoke and mirrors to hide their real political agendas. A New Dawn? Please, the new cabinet is basically the old cabinet and the parliamentary benches are depressingly the same. Mining will be a sunrise industry? South Africa’s mineral reserves are declining and any future mines will be highly mechanised.

Either Patricia de Lille is a crook or the DA’s old guard, probably headquartered in Stellenbosch, doesn’t want a coloured mayor. Who knows. As for De Lille herself, the Pan African Congress to the Independent Democrats to the Democratic Alliance…shrug. The only thing that seems to be reasonable certain is that the DA can’t, despite statements to the contrary, keep its own house and Helen Zille in order.

Election manifestos declare that each and every social ill will be solved. They are filled with promises that crime will disappear, poverty will be eradicated, hospitals will function and jobs will fall like manna from heaven. But these manifestos belong in the fantasy section of Exclusive Books.

Post-2019, gangsters will continue to sling tik, Eskom will roll over debt until the sun goes supernova, and Bafana Bafana will lose; quite possibly to an under-9 team from Guam.

Read the rest here

Leninism looms large over ANC’s self-destruction

Business Day, 04 September 2017

Wreckers, spies, saboteurs, diversionists…the hunt is on within the African National Congress. The 8th of August 2017 motion of no confidence marked the start of a long purge. The ANC will root out those MPs who voted against President Zuma, those comrades who forgot that they are Members of the Party and not Members of Parliament.

The Counter-Revolutionary Rightist Bloc will be eradicated. The show trials have already begun.

On the 17th of August 2017, the ANC dismissed MP Makhosi Khosa from her job as the chairperson of Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Public Service and Administration. The ANC in KwaZulu-Natal will continue to grind her out in a disciplinary process.

The Hawks are back to circling around Pravin Gordhan, more vultures than hawks, I think. This time, they are going to drag Jabu Moleketi and Trevor Manuel into the proceedings. Jimmy Manyi must be pleased.

In 2016, Manyi opened a case with the Public Protector against Manuel, Gordhan and Nhlanhla Nene over Eskom’s loss of R100bn. The case has nothing to do with Eskom and everything to do with Manuel’s 2011 open letter, in which he called Manyi, “…a racist in the mould of HF Verwoerd.”

Does the Economic Freedom Fighter’s Floyd Shivambu remember his 2011 remarks about that letter? Back when he was in the Youth League, Shivambu said, “We now do not know who Trevor Manuel represents, because his remarks falls squarely into the political agenda of right-wing political forces opposed to the ANC.”

One must also appreciate the irony of Derek Hanekom’s impending fate. In 2012, Hanekom spearheaded the ANC’s purge of Shivambu, Sindiso Magaqa and Julius Malema. Magaqa’s crime was to insult Malusi Gigaba. Live by the long knife, Comrade Hanekom, die by it.

Read the rest here

We should all be ashamed of our inequality and poverty

Daily Maverick, 26 October 2016

The news is getting surreal. The National Prosecuting Authority wants to throw Pravin Gordhan into jail, so Pravin exposes Gupta corruption. Students protest, buildings burn and universities have given up on holding exams, except for Stellenbosch University. All quiet on the winelands front. The police save us from the evils of a priest standing still. Zuma’s chief lackey, Des van Rooyen, interdicts Thuli’s report on state capture while the ANC praises her report on state capture.

The law of gravity is an instrument of Aryan repression. The ANCYL’s chairperson, Collen Maine, is now in the running for a Nobel Prize in economics: apparently, junk status would be great for the country. And the patriotic Russians over at Eskom lurch closer to procuring a trillion rand of nuclear power.

Drama, drama, drama.

I hope that the craft beer swilling folks at the Democratic Alliance have also tripped over into wonderland. I really do because the DA’s warning that the Department of Social Development won’t be ready to disburse social grants on April 1, 2017 is, well, I can’t think of a metaphor about how scary that is.

Seventeen million South Africans depend on social grants. That’s about a third of the entire population. Meagre old age pensions and foster care grants are the only things preventing our people from returning to the days of apartheid’s rickets and extended bellies. Yet we may not be able to pay social grants. How bad has it got if there is a shadow of a doubt about our welfare net?

Even if the odds are one in a hundred that we fail to pay granny’s lifeline in seven months from now, we should be worried. The country will burn if people aren’t paid their grants, and so it should. We don’t deserve peace if we, out of administrative incompetence, throw 17-million back into extreme poverty.

Hennie Lötter, a South African philosopher, has pointed out that, “Poverty has been called ‘the world’s most ruthless killer and the greatest cause of suffering on earth’.” The social grants scheme is one of the ANC’s finest policy decisions. But let’s not go overboard with the praise – helping out the poorest of us is no fantastic moral virtue, it is the very least we can do. We would have lost the remnants of our humanity if we hadn’t.

But we have somehow stopped talking about poverty. Or HIV/Aids for that matter. Poverty and HIV/Aids should be the headline news, every single day. We should be tweeting about the desperation in Bloemhof, Lindley and Zastron. And no, they aren’t obscure parts of Zamdela. Look ‘em up on Google Maps: I know you’re reading this on a smartphone that costs more than a war veteran’s grant, so no excuse. Especially since you got free wi-fi with your overpriced latte.

One of the reasons, I think, that we focus on everything but the daily hardships of the majority is that poverty seems so normal. South Africa’s inequality is omnipresent: there are the rich and there are the poor and that’s the way it has been and always will be. If so, then we have a horrendous collective failure of imagination.

To channel Norman Mailer, fug that. I’m gonna dream that within my lifetime South Africa will have 10% unemployment. I hope that all our kids will not only have enough to eat but can also go on a holiday: even if it is only a trip from the Cape Flats to the beach where they can smear ice cream all over their precious faces. Yes, some children in Manenberg have never gone to the beach.

We should all dream about the eradication of poverty, and to make that dream a reality we need to talk about poverty. All the time.

Another reason, I suspect, why the middle-class is obsessed with flights out of Waterkloof and Game of Thrones instead of foster care grants and shacks is that poverty rattles our conscience. We sit in cafés and throw down a couple of hundred rand. We can’t get our kids off the PlayStation, which is most annoying as we also want to save the galaxy one pixel at a time.

Very few of us would have domestic workers if they were paid a living wage of R8,000 a month. You’d have to carry your own golf clubs if our economic system functioned. Heck, the entire economy is based off cheap black labour in mines, farms and smelters. Our nearly 40% unemployment helps to lower wages: the poor have to fight each other for scarce jobs, bidding down their labour value while we reap the benefits.

The guilt of driving a new car while kids walk 10km to school in shoes that their parents bled for leads to weak and desperate justifications. We have jobs because we work hard: try working underground and you’ll see what hard work is. We had parents who invested in us: all over this country people are trying their level best just to keep their kids in school, off nyaope and away from violence.

If you think that black people are lazy, please emigrate to America and join Donald Trump.

We should all be ashamed of our inequality and poverty. Hiding away in gated communities and complaining about corruption won’t defeat poverty: we have to discuss it. As for the ANC, stop dazzling us with the soap opera of your factional battles. Get back to your desks and make this country what it should be: a country where, “Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres.”