Category: Editorial

Closure of the Mind, Independent Media’s suppression of open debate and a free press

WHEN the Independent Group was taken over by a consortium lead by Dr Iqbal Surve, there were some like me, who hoped for a fresh start. The group quickly ran into criticism, the least of which is the highly publicized debacle surrounding the firing of Cape Times editor Alide Dasnois.

After a settlement was extricated at Labour Court, the group once again ran into trouble with Dasnois accusing the group of being in breach of the settlement and so Independent was sanctioned by the Press Council, which ordered the group to apologise for a number of misleading headlines.

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Independent media can’t spell.

No sooner had the ruling by the Press Council been issued, when Independent announced it was withdrawing from the council, and a structure which had arrived out of decades of frenetic negotiation around a government-sanctioned self-regulatory mechanism. The reasons for the withdrawal were attacked for ‘not making logical sense‘.

“In ditching the Press Council, Independent Media listed as its main complaint the Press Council’s reluctance to reintroduce the highly contentious waiver as its reason for ditching the Press Council” wrote Julie Reid.

Previously, complainants waved legal action in order to bring their complaints under the auspices of the council, however the very reason the council had been set up was threefold. Firstly to avoid government regulation and intervention in the press. Secondly, to provide the public with a cost effective and impartial forum for making complaints and thirdly, to provide a Press Code that was not simply written by one organisation.

In its stead, Independent reverted to an internal Ombudsman system which had been in place during the years of the former Argus Group, and a state of affairs for which the Argus had already apologised during the TRC media hearings. In the process Independent dumped the Press Code, and formulated its own narrow view of the press, which appears to by nothing less than gabbering sycophancy so far as government is concerned.

In this sense, not only was the industry seemingly ‘regulating itself’, but the company was now distancing its titles from the legal system as well as the press council framework, in effect picking its own favourite regulator, a friendly Muslim, whilst playing a dual role of both editorial and inhouse complaints resolution. Thus setting in motion a situation where Dr Iqbal Surve, and his male-dominated and sectarian newsrooms, possessed an administrative override on any complaints made to his news organisation. While women still figure in writing and reporting, they are remarkably absent when it comes to editorship within the group and where they do affect editorial, they invariably occupy a symbolic role.

Of concern, is that there is currently no means of enforcing the Press Code when it comes to the Independent Group, and with our legal system being rather expensive and out of reach of the ordinary public, the result has been positively stifling.

Gone was any effort to balance news stories affecting a range of controversial subjects around the world, in particular the USA and Middle East.

Gone was divergence of opinion on the opinion pages.

Gone was the plethora of letters debating, disagreeing, and calling editors and writers to task.

In their place were editorial love letters, and weekly ravings by self-styled news correspondents such as “foreign editor” Shannon Ebrahim and “analyst” Ebrahim Harvey, two obviously Muslim persons, followed by lengthy and often turgid materialist and industrialist views of South Africa and the World. A world viewed via the narrow Islamic prism of the likes of Aneez Salie and Aziz Hartley.

A former shipping columnist Brian Ingpen for instance, is now a regular opinion piece in the Cape Times op-ed pages, providing the dull rigmerol of shipping information flowing into the gutters, alongside dense and impenetrable press releases, like that issued by DIRCO yesterday presumably testifying to the joys of a BRICS summit to be held in Joburg and thus available to buyers of the now 10 page rag, in 10 point type.

Independent titles in recent months have come to resemble government tearsheets, with short thrift given to concerns about whose opinion in the broader community should receive priority over the daily thrust of a hopelessly compromised news agency ANA, and equally boring headlines, with the one exception, that it appears INM have now launched a sports magazine, if only to allay fears that the group is going under.

Suppression of views with which one disagrees are the hallmark of authoritarian regimes. As a well-known commentator puts it, “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” Having a daily press the size of Independent producing government propaganda and fan-mail for the Surve Group, whilst censoring opinion, can only have the opposite effect to liberal democracy. There is a reason why Pravda is now a fashion label and a single newspaper in Russia, and is no longer the state news agency for the Soviet Union.

NOTE: This writer is currently under an unspoken ‘editorial fatwa’ issued by INM with respect to his letters to the press see here and here and and here, thus content carried by Medialternatives.

 

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BDS, War, the Abolition of the Right to Dissent and Freedom from Religion

RESISTANCE to war has a long and noble history. From pacifists during the Anglo-Boer War, objectors to WW1 and WW2, conscripts against the Vietnam War and South Africa’s own Border War, the names and faces of those who have chosen the difficult path of combating militarism and state-sponsored aggression, number in their thousands.

When dissent is quashed by political expediency the nuances and cadence of individual struggle against war is lost. The evolution of the ‘just-war thesis’ and ‘holy war’ by either side to the conflict in the Middle East provides a case in point, as does resistance to the promotion of war as a solution.

During 1987, ANC stalwart, then SRC president Cameron Dugmore, stood on a podium alongside 23 white conscripts from UCT opposed to military conscription during apartheid. The initial group of conscientious objectors, included Christian pacifists as well as then president of the South African Union of Jewish Students (SAUJS), Jonathan Handler. Signicantly Handler opposed the Border War on the basis of a defense of Israel.

The result was that I relinquished my membership of SAUJS. At the time, Israel was involved in a war with Lebanon, which in many respects was reminiscent of our own border war. It is a position which I have since regretted, (see below). Instead of joining Handler in his “just war thesis”, which was little more than a promotion of Zionism, and thus a moral justification for his later joining the Israeli Defense Force, and with Dugmore rubber-stamping Handler’s participation, I took the difficult path of involvement in South Africa’s armed struggle, crossing the colour line and embracing the culture of resistance and rebellion.

The creation of the environmental justice movement in the aftermath of the banning of the ECC, and my work for Grassroots, South Press, Sached/New Nation form a body of work and deserve a chapter on their own. However the lesson drawn from this experience is that the Middle East problem is not as easily reducible to a binary struggle between black and white, right and wrong. Providing a rubber stamp to either of the parties to the conflict, in my case, my open support for the Palestinians, has resulted in the dilemma of today.

Faced with a difficult and unenviable predicament, I chose a very different approach, that of civil disobedience. Lodging a public objection to Handler’s participation on the platform and Dugmore’s acquiescence, (and without access to all the facts) would have merely playing into the hands of the Botha government and its securocrats. It also risked an embarrassing side-show, in a vulnerable moment. Nevertheless we exchanged words during the media briefing session. For Michael Rautenbach, this was sign that I was ‘simply not ready for the big time’.

Not only was the SAUJS involvement untenable, but as a 19-year-old enrolled in law-school, the problem did not lead itself to any immediate legal answers, save for hoping that it would all somehow pan out and that history would be the better judge. An outright objection against the “just war thesis” and the use of ‘holy war’ instead of simple resistance, would also have required a Phd essay written with all the gusto necessary to balance the complexity of the struggle itself, solidarity amongst comrades, campus spies, security police paranoia, my call-up papers and the lack of engagement by ECC leadership.

With no support for my nascent position from either SAUJS nor ECC’s Dugmore and the merry bunch of Christian fanatics who were assured of a place in heaven with emotional guidance from the Church, and with Atheists then in the minority within the ECC itself, I took my struggle against the system and my membership card elsewhere. Burning my call-up papers, I declined to participate, and instead sent the state ‘a postcard from exile’. My arrival at an outright rejection of war was much later than anticipated, and only after an encounter with the international peace movement following the democratic elections.

It is a period which has come to haunt me in recent years, the difficulties following the banning of the ECC and SWAPO solidarity committee, not because I have been cross-examined by a racist bigot acting for a racist company, in an unfair legal proceeding without the aid of an attorney, on my involvement in some of the details — This whilst also being subjected to a religious inquisition of my secular identity. But because the paranoia surrounding BDS in its current form, and its supporters from the far-right in Fatah and Hamas, combined with Zionist intransigence and lack of public debate, have all moved to close down what little dissent and individual freedom remains.

There are many robust claims made by either parties to the conflict in the Middle East. The result though is invariably the same —  the silencing of individual right to dissent, the removal of civil liberties, the abolition of the right to freedom from religion, the right to not be constrained by the religious views of others, the very essence of freedom of religion. Theist, Non-Theist, Atheist. For my part, the conflict is one of injustice vs injustice, a terrible ‘battle between monsters and maniacs’, whether blood on the streets of Tel Aviv, Ramallah, or Gaza, and neighbouring Syria, while the public all too readily reach out for religious texts, as easily as weapons of war.

South Africa for all intents and purposes is a secular country. We pride ourselves in our Constitution which ostensibly guarantees religious and cultural rights, and we like to think we are an exception and there is somehow continuity with our secular struggle and the struggle for human rights in the Middle East. This remains to be seen.

To date there has been no proof that we are special, except propaganda and lies. The short-circuiting of debate. The sheer religiosity of those involved. The astonishing willingness to resort to bloodshed. It is time to face up to facts and to stop the rubber-stamping and handing out of blank cheques to activists on either side, preaching the exact opposite of truth. There is another path, another way out of the conflict, besides advocacy of hatred, bloodshed and eternal war.

The very essence of secularism, according to George Holyoake, the man who coined the term, is not the absence of religion, but rather the absence of religious rules. “A Secularist guides himself by maxims of Positivism, seeking to discern what is in Nature—what ought to be in morals—selecting the affirmative in exposition, concerning himself with the real, the right, and the constructive. Positive principles are principles which are provable.”

Secularism is firmly based upon enlightenment values, the right not to be subjected to religious persecution by the state nor any religious authority or otherwise. Secular values are the ‘We, the People’ values enshrined by our Constitution which are remarkable absent when it comes to the Middle East. To date there is no Freedom Charter for Palestinians and Israelis.

If South Africans are to contribute to justice and a peaceful solution, it must be because we are also willing to defend our constitution, our own history of secularism and opposition to war in all its forms, our nation’s own war resisters over the ages, and thus our nation’s core values in the non-aligned movement.

Unlike many politico’s, we must urge seekers of peace, to do this with the courage to avoid rubber-stamping the “just war thesis” and ‘religious war’ come what may, and whatever the consequences. To avoid providing wholesale support for any of the belligerent parties to the conflict over the final status of Jerusalem, whatever the ends and means, and no matter the outcome, and without at very least, measuring the results against our own conscience, free-will and opinion.

[Note: John Stremlau believes South Africa has a vital role to play. It certainly doesn’t if its media is closing down debate and opinion within our own borders]

Gauleiters, the authoritarian left and its defense of paramilitary politics in South Africa

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Fascist by any other name?

THAT some commentators and journalists are rising to the defense of paramilitary politics in South Africa is not all that surprising. Far-right spokesperson Simon Shear, whom the Daily Vox’s Sipho Hlongwane insists is required reading on the subject of the EFF and the urgent topic of whether self-proclaimed “Commander in Chief” Julius Malema, is a fascist or not, needs to be congratulated for setting the matter straight.

Yes, the EFF are a Marxist-Leninist party, and if anything, Malema is a Stalinist not a Fascist in the traditional sense of the word.

That Hlongwane should find himself quoting the author of a piece purporting to debunk Affirmative Action, and thus “The case against Affirmative Action” is typical of so many on the authoritarian left, who see in Malema many of the macho characteristics and atavistic impulses they too, would wish to emulate, yet also find the need to meekly reinterpret their party dictator and thus to apologise for his often strident and offensive comments, which exist alongside the steady racial barrage and ideological violence of his many lieutenants.

Hlongwane rushed into criticism of Van Onselen’s piece on the EFF, calling Malema a fascist, a piece which he believes is “an ideologically inconsistent mess, but the overall intended effect is to take concepts such as whiteness (no matter how many times that this doesn’t refer to white people, but a social construct of power), socialism, and even black consciousness off the table.”

If taking Affirmative Action off the table, to promote Milton Friedman, as Shear does, while dissing the new dawn Ramaphosa ANC and its politics of unity and centerism, the Maimane DA and its equal opportunity ‘property rights for all’, and thus the Rainbow Nation, isn’t in the same league, as dismissing all Marxists as simply the descendents of proto-fascists, then I don’t know what else would rate as a critique of the authoritarian centre of the new paramilitary left?

An authoritarian cabal whose pundits are apt to quote Marx, Fanon and Sankara, while forgetting that the anti-hegemonic ideals propagated by these politicos were essentially founded upon humanism and the love of freedom as much as they are bound up in dialectical materialism. Marx was a fervent champion of press freedom, even if this means tolerating the excesses of the tabloids, writes Mark Thomas, citing Marx himself who said the “press, in general, is a realisation of human freedom,”

Not only does the belligerent EFF have a ‘war council’, in possible contravention of our pacifist constitution, but in many ways, its paramilitary operations have centred around the cult of personality which has evolved around Malema. A man whose daily diatribe and steady output of race-talk exists right alongside the politics of hate, symbols of outrage, and acts of political thuggery, which are emblematic of both National Socialism under the Nazis and Communism under Joseph Stalin.

Racism, hostility and ideological cant, all too familiar for many South Africans who may remember similar periods in which paramilitary organisations have graced the political stage, often urging violence, whilst seeking to play the parliamentary card of political privilege — thus it is almost impossible to check Nuremberg Rallies if they happen to happen in Vereeniging, or to counter Malema’s aggressive “cut the throat of whiteness” comment in the runup to an election in Nelson Mandela Bay.

Whether it be the brownshirts and swastikas of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and the late Eugene Terreblanche or the Red attire of ‘White’ Communist Party leader W H Andrews, known as ‘Comrade Bill’, one of the Red leaders of the 1922 Rand Revolt, the denouement and rationale in authoritarianism, dictatorship and obedience to a leader at the expense of personal freedom, has always been the same.

In 1932 the South African Gentile National Socialist Movement of Louis Weichard emerged and quickly became known as the Greyshirts because of their clothing.

In 1939 a fascist and racist group known as the Ossewabrandwag (OB) was founded and along with its volkish symbolism, was also inspired by Adolf Hitler.

All were local South African fascist groups, and one should add that the term fascist does not necessarily connote a direct causal link with the politics of the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Yet his fascist progeny have invariably emphasised ethnic, class and racial differences. Thus for the fascist right, it was Aryan race rhetoric which was used to organise amongst the various poor white immigrant communities, while for the fascist Afrikaner Reds, it was a strange mixture of class revolt and cruel desire to preserve economic advantage over their fellow black workers, and thus race privilege amongst the ranks of those with jobs, that drove their Marxist fantasy and inspired revolt.

A third not insignificant group known as New Order, emerged in 1940 under the leadership of  Oswald Pirow.

In the case of Julius Malema, like his nemesis Jacob Zuma, the imperatives of equality and civil rights for all, outlined by our constitution, appear to have been bent by sleight of hand and trick of tongue, into a perverse demand for land but only for those within the political laager, those closest to the Red authority at the Red centre, while the constitution itself is seen as merely an impediment to the leader’s ultimate stated goals of power for the sake of power and Totalitarianism by any other name. Malema’s Newcastle statements on slaughtering the opposition and land ownership for example, contradict his recent statements at New Brighton, all part and parcel of the get elected at any cost, and by any means campaign, and therefore the leader’s poetic license to say whatever needs to be said to any group, at any given time.

It was an admixture of right-wing groups, (and quasi-leftists), some armed with socialist ideas such as volkscapitalisme, which eventually became the National Party, a political organisation responsible for apartheid. The NP was openly affiliated to the International Gentile Movement, and sought special privileges for the Afrikaner to the exclusion of all other ‘race groups’ while creating an authoritarian state, a country whose economy still shares many of the defects associated with the socialism of former Eastern European Bloc countries.

Like these earlier periods, the misreading of seemingly egalitarian texts, whether the Bible or Das Kapital, combined with a volatile confluence of popular disgruntlement with the ruling party, racism in the form of anti-white hostility, and the lure of the land debate, all appear to have invigorated the paramilitary EFF party. Its leader, Julius Malema, not an emerging leftist ideological oracle, has been catapulted into media headlines, as the ranks at the forefront of the authoritarian left swell, and as demonstrated, are articulated by apparatchiks and gauleiters, who are not ashamed to draw ideas from the fascists on the far right when it suits them.

Hence the internal contradictions of the ANC itself, a party which risks losing elements within come the 2019 election, that have always aligned themselves with dictators from Lenin to Fidel Castro, and thus the politics of Hugo Chavez and Jacob Zuma. These “fascists” may have just found themselves a new political home. We wish them well.

NOTE: Gauleiter was the second highest Nazi Party paramilitary rank, subordinate only to the higher rank Reichsleiter and to the position of Führer.

 

 

Land ownership, is it so desirable?

PRIOR to 1994 persons defined as black did not possess the vote. The majority of people in South Africa were relegated to so-called independent homelands, most did not own land as such, and if they did, were dispossessed in one way or another by a labour system, which imposed a hut tax, drafted labourers onto the mines, and created a migrant population, which eroded both tribe and family, in the process shifting profit from the land, into the hands of the rand-lords and barons.

Some 87% of the land was thus owned by white persons under apartheid and only 13% by black persons. There was no child-care grant to speak of, no disability grant, pensions were skewed in favour of the white folk.

Today we all possess the vote, the social wage comprising child care grant, pensions, disability and veterans grant is growing, more black people own houses and vehicles than ever before and there is unprecedented level of economic activity and inclusion compared to similar periods during apartheid and sanctions.

More needs to be done. The country is beset by a taxation crisis, its fiscus strained by staggering levels of debt and its state-owned enterprises and interventionist strategies weighing heavily on the future outlook for the economy.

The controversial decision to adopt ‘expropriation of land without compensation’, taken at the ANC 54th Congress may seem like a panacea to socialists within the party and a magic bullet to members of the radical left opposition EFF, yet as both leaders of the DA and COPE have rightly pointed out, the constitution expressly forbids depriving citizens of property without compensation.

It is no policy to shout home about when South Africa is rated second on the world misery index after Venezuela, a country whose radical socialist programme the ANC is myopically imitating while under pressure from the far-left. Under Chavez, the country adopted nationalisation and expropriation as the solution to almost every problem, resulting in runaway inflation and a massive drop in living standards, in many respects a similar tragedy to what occurred in Zimbabwe.

Any foreigner listening to the opposition debate following SONA could be forgiven for believing that nothing substantial has changed since the first democratic election. The facts behind the reality of land ownership in South Africa are rather different than they were in 1994.

For starters, the post-apartheid state currently owns 14% of the land in the country , only 79.2% is in private hands.

Between 57-84% of homes owned and fully paid off in the country (depending on tenure) measured over the past year, were black owned, the result of mass state housing becoming available for purchase at low prices.*  This is not to say that the relative value of black-owned property versus white-owned property is something to be sneezed at, the value here is still undoubtedly skewed in favour of the white minority.

Likewise equity, when it comes to shares, 30% of the stock on the JSE is either in black hands, or in companies controlled by BEE, with the rest either “white-owned” or under foreign control. An uneven and unequal state of affairs that certainly deserves correcting. The question is how to close the gap? 

One need only examine two different models of socialism and their pedigrees to realise the abject lesson.  The one form of socialism is more consistent with the British welfare state than the hyperpopulism of Chavez and South Africa under Jacob Zuma, the other more consistent with Cuba and the Soviet Union than the Scandinavian social democracies in which a thriving market economy coexists with welfare as the result. 

One cannot have one’s cake and eat it is a popular saying that expresses the problem of two socialisms and not enough time and leeway to adopt or experiment with every socialist idea out there in the marketplace of ideology. The solution to Eskom for instance, isn’t to run the entire country like Eskom, again, our failing SAA and Metrorail systems offer stark reminders why the mantra of ‘jobs for life’, sheltered employment, cronyism, statism and nationalisation merely create unaffordable bureaucracies. 

The absence of economic calculation inherent to state bureaucracies has created a fertile bed for corruption and state capture, undoing the damage will of necessity entail frank and honest discussion as to what to do about these utilities. Adopting massive state intervention, without weeding out what has failed, from what works in our mixed economic system, is also not the solution to our countries troubles. 

Deregulation, competition, inclusion and participation are far better vectors of growth. I have already proposed the creation of an ‘energy commons‘ and ‘water commons’ in a deregulated environment, as a third way out of the socialism versus capitalism quagmire, the mess in which the bulk sale of services results in no service at all.

Is land ownership all that desirable if it comes at the expense of the social wage, dependent as it is on taxation? If all that one has is land but no access to capital, and no marketplace in which to sell one’s goods, what is the use of radical quick-fixes which merely return productive land over to subsistence agriculture?

Is the breakdown in social cohesion that will invariably result if the state is able to expropriate without compensation, really worth the trouble? White landowners, difficult as it may be, are unlikely to simply give up their land without costly legal battles, resulting in unintended and ancillary conflict. If anything the reality of implementing such a policy, one which would need to define both its victims and its beneficiaries, in terms that are anything but conducive to social cohesion, could make the land reform programme unworkable, at least without a resort to extra-legal and even violent means.

If there is no real security of tenure and the government not the courts is the final arbiter of who owns what — who is defined as ‘unwilling donor and willing recipient’ — what we will have will be no better than what occurred in countless failed economic systems, in which the state not the citizen comes first.

Despite the enormous gap in living standards which certainly need to be rectified (our Gini coefficient marking South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world), the Living Standards Measure (LSM) 10 has gone from 5% black in 2004 to 29% black in 2014. This is nothing to be sneezed at in the track record of our so-called ‘mixed economy’ or ‘developmental state’.

Another vector which analysts fail to explore, since it is often politically unpalatable,  is the fact that our population has grown from 20 million in 1960 to 52.98 million in 2013, which means we have more than doubled our population in 50 years. For every one job that would have been sufficient to provide an income and a house in 1960, three jobs must be created today.

Time for a four child only policy? Limiting our population over time would do a lot more to boost economic outcomes in the future than dooming generations to a form of land invasion multiplication in which invasions turn the countryside into nothing more than a slum chess board. One has only to examine China’s economic miracle to realise that densification alongside the building of entire new cities, and policies such as household responsibility under Deng Xiaoping, did more for the average worker than any rural reform under the previous Mao regime.

Another example I find fascinating is that of Singapore, for reasons that are very different to that provided by the Democratic Alliance. In fact I find it amazing that the opposition is unable to discuss the quasi-socialist policies implemented by Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first Prime Minister. They are considered socialist since they entail some degree of intervention in the economic welfare of citizens and in a different manner than what is considered the norm in Western countries. 

Joseph Stiglitz in his New York times piece on the subject lists four distinctive aspects of the Singaporean model:

“First, individuals were compelled to take responsible for their own needs. For example, through the savings in their provident fund, around 90 percent of Singaporeans became home-owners.”

“Second, Singaporean leaders realised they had to break the pernicious, self-sustaining inequality that has characterised so much of the West. Government programmes were universal but progressive, while everyone contributed, those who were well off contributed more to help those at the bottom, t make sure that everyone could have a decent life … Not only did those at the top pay their share of the public investments, they were asked to contribute even more to helping the neediest.”

Stiglitz then goes on to list the distribution of pre-tax income to help those at the bottom and investment in education and scientific research as points three and four.

Yes, there is an urgent and drastic need for land reform, just as there is need for better internet access for the poor, for food and climate security (in the form of food garden allotments and renewables), community tool-shops which replace DIY with Do-It-with-Others (DIWO), and for a raft of safety and social security measures, but none of these need arise as a result of nationalisation of private property and expropriation without compensation. In fact a social wage that is both tangible and living standards-related may be a far better approach to the problem at hand.

There is a grave risk of Ramaphosa (or Zumaphosa?) carrying forth the Marxist shibboleth of ‘nationalisation at all costs’ and ‘expropriation of land without compensation’ by any means, and thus the lifting of assets from citizens, simply robbing the wealthy in order to sate the poor, to its inevitable conclusion. The eminent danger of making decisions based upon purely political considerations and thus based upon ideology instead of reality, could well see South Africa adopting the failed policies of Venezuela and Zimbabwe, without any regard for the consequences. 

We could do a lot better by simply listening to what economists have to say and deriving solutions from the hard lessons which have come before.

Of the four objective goals listed below and published here nearly three years ago, published under a similar piece, only one has been adopted by our government. I therefore provide these again to raise the agenda for a new South African future.

Unconditional basic income grant – this is a payment once a month into your bank account, to all citizens of voting age, essentially outlawing poverty and preventing the worst excesses of the marketplace, such as the coercion of labour.

Income equalisation – in jobs that are seasonal, a central fund evens out the high and low periods, guaranteeing safety when there is no work, and creating savings when there is not.

Rent stabilisation – a form of rent control, sets maximum rates for annual rent increases and, as with rent control entitles tenants to receive required services from their landlords and to have their leases renewed.

Free education grant – a tertiary level grant to learners enabling access to higher education.

*Source: South Africa Survey 2016, SA Institute of Race Relations.

Zille and all that Mmusi Jazz

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A ploy to raise the stakes in bid for Presidency?

IT WAS inevitable that the opposition Democratic Alliance would arrive at its own Rubicon. The saga involving party stalwart Helen Zille, what she said or didn’t say, what was meant or not meant, the affectations of white liberal insiders, the embarrassing grand old colonial edifice and all its past glories, suddenly rendered impotent by a growing and vocal group of black entrepreneurs to its left and the irony of a conservative Afrikaner establishment to its right. Let’s just say that the old model of opposition politics no longer holds.

While cavalier, Mmusi Maimane was certainly reading the mood of the electorate, setting the stage for the 2019 general election, and his run for President in standing firmly against superiority, class attitudes and snobbery within his own party. Admittedly with this type of populism, it is all about political demeanour, perceptions and the will of the masses on the ground.

That national student movements such as SASCO found themselves weighing in on the subject, meant the DA, an alliance if ever there was one, was suddenly finding itself cast into the national spotlight. Provincialism of the kind articulated by Zille and her followers had no place. And hence while some bemoaned the outcome, a tragic fait accompli, it was inevitable that the party would find itself at a cross-roads, with a choice of futures. Can the DA ever hope to govern the nation, without creating tensions amongst its provincial partners?

It was no less than Douglas Gibson who first characterised the problem, Zille was past her sell-by-date. Thus Tony Leon soon found himself publicly praising Maimane for taking tough action against Helen over the colonialism tweets. While the prevarications and equivocations by the premier went from bad to worse. That the Cape Town lady was deploying the politics of World War 2 in her defence, admittedly of an Asian economic model merely made her arguments seem antiquated.

This was not a society gone racially mad but a case of corrective action, a necessary medicament arising from the furore surrounding a simple online tweet, and requiring a better perspective, than the past fiasco which had been a case of not growing up, or too much too soon —  the party head-hunted struggle stalwart Mamphela Ramphele mid-flight, in the last general election was unable to broker an effective alliance with its grass-roots ticket and thus a broad coalition of partners that could have produced a major victory for moderate black voters and their allies in the civil service and SOEs.

If the party is to have any hope of winning the next general election, it has to move forward under its current leadership. There are a number of caveats. Can the social wage be protected if not by social democrats? Whereto the provinces versus the national vote? Is there a way of saving the Western Cape’s unique character, given that the DA is an alliance, which has done remarkably well in South Africa’s metros? Where to Mmusi from here?

It was thus apt, that Zille announced her suspension today, with a tweet “DA has suspended me. They have agreed I can share my reasons why I should not have been suspended. Here they are:

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Only time will tell whether or not this emerging political formation, untrammelled by the corruption within the current Zuma administration, and unhindered by the ideological baggage of the far-left, will pull through to its destiny in a future national cabinet. My bet is surely on Maimane for president, and come the next election, anything but the current Mafiosi state of Jacob Zuma.

Resist temptation to negate policy of non-alignment

SOUTH AFRICA has a long and celebrated history of non-alignment when it comes to the numerous wars between the great powers.

During the cold war, the ANC received funding from members of the Eastern bloc and Warsaw Pact, but the party developed its own policies in regard to the apartheid regime.

Remarkable here are the historic ties with non-aligned Nordic countries, who also funded and supported the campaign against apartheid, so too, the significant role played by the African unity movement (and African Union) in developing a cohesive platform of independence and non-alignment.

Lately there are disturbing signs that our country is once again being drawn into a partisan global conflict, effectively taking sides in the Middle East War and the war in Syria. It would be foolhardy to ignore the recent hosting of Hamas leader Khaled Mashal by the ruling party and what appears to be pro-Assad, pro-Iran policies slowly developing in relation to Syria, and of consequence, the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

Early this year, South Africans were stunned to hear that a family of Syrian refugees in Cape Town have been told by a Home Affairs official that their asylum application was “unfounded”. The department declared their home country “stable” and rejected claims they feared for their lives if they returned to the war-torn country.

“Humanitarian aid was, therefore, not warranted,” the department’s finding is reported to have said. This is in line with the fiction created by Russia and other nations, that the diminished Assad regime is the only legitimate role player, and since it is officially not at war, and the conflict is ironically merely a “civil war” at best, the 450 000 people who have died in the region never existed.

Nelson Mandela shortly after his release and whilst on the Ted Koppel Show explained his principled position on the Middle East, in particular the Israel and Palestine conflict:

“I explained to Mr Sigmund, that we identify with the PLO because just like ourselves, they are fighting for the right of self-determination. I went further however to say, that the support for Yasser Arafat and his struggle does not mean that the ANC has ever doubted the right of Israel to exist as a state, legally. “

“We have stood quite openly and firmly for the right of that state to exist within secure borders, but of course, as I said to Mr Sigmund in Geneva in August, that we carefully define what we mean by secure borders, we do not mean that Israel has the right to retain the territories they conquered from the Arab world, like the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the West Bank.”

“We don’t agree with that, those territories should be returned to the Arab People.”

While Mandela’s position may no longer be considered relevant to the ruling party, any political pundit worth his or her salt would be abrogating responsibility in failing to consider the following facts, which present significant obstacles so far as the BDS version of history is concerned:

Firstly, the Assad regime has been at war with Israel since October 1973, when it attacked the country on the holiest day in the Jewish calender, Yom Kippur. Any support for the regime may thus have unintended consequences, that of deteriorating further into a religious war.

Secondly, the flag of Assad’s Ba’ath Party is the exact same Pan-Arab flag waved around at Pro-Palestine rallies. BDS supporters may thus justifiably be accused of supporting the deaths of civilians in Syria in the name of Empire.

The influx of Arabs into Israel from Arab States, following the 1948 war, is well documented. Many of these Arabs were also Jews and Christians. Thus the problem in the region is not between black or white, but between right and wrong.

The position of Mandela continues to enjoy resounding support amongst South African Jews, the position of BDS on the other hand, in its evolving campaign, most recently articulated by the Media Review Network and others — namely that Israel has no right to exist, and consequently should be replaced by an Islamic State — has absolutely no support within this community, and where it does, such support should not be misconstrued as support on behalf of any one of the major religions.

Ideologically, those Jews, such as myself, who happen to be non-Zionist (and thus also non-Theist per se), have provided solidarity with the Palestinian cause over the years.

There was a time when such solidarity provided by the left was one of unconditional support. After so much death and destruction in the region, doing so without conditions is nothing but irresponsible madness. One has merely to point to the problem of 13 million Syrian-Palestinian refugees, many of whom are now in refugee camps in Jordan. That South Africa has a role to play in a negotiated peace, is clear. Our country also has a humanitarian role in assisting these Palestinians in relocating to our fine country.

I therefore wish to affirm here, that we are all hostages of the crisis, and thus hostages of the war, irrespective of our religious affiliation or otherwise, and that a secular solution — a negotiated settlement between the parties — is one that involves all parties, and thus both points of view. Such a solution, necessitates that we avoid taking sides as a nation, in what appears to be nothing more than a sectarian conflict, a partisan religious conflict as is the one over the Jerusalem-West Bank, which mirrors the neighbouring wars involving religion cascading around the Middle East.