Oscar van Heerden: Evil academics are indeed banal

IN MANY respects Oscar van Heerden represents all that is wrong inside South African academia. Its de-emphasis of evidence-based research in favour of pure scholasticism. The rote repetition of other’s opinions, in an uncritical process which edifies ‘woke logic’ and the writings of the country’s institutional founders, in essence a thought-process emphasizing tradition and dogma.

Reading his latest missive published on News24, a title whose publisher sought my gagging in 2007 and then proceeded to lodge ecclesiastical charges on the basis of my attendance at a ‘mixed race’ nightclub on the Jewish Sabbath (in what can only be termed a racist inquisition of secular religion), one is struck, by the manner in which van Heerden fails to frame his writing within the context of secular humanistic norms and values.

I write this over the same weekend in which Salman Rushdie has been stabbed multiple times by an assailant enthralled by a fatwa issued against the author (and since retracted) by the Iranian regime.

Witness the callous manner in which van Heerden’s article: “The Israel-Gaza conflict and the ‘banality of evil’ proceeds to launch a bare assertion fallacy (ipse dixit) – “a claim that is presented as true without support, as self-evidently true, or as dogmatically true.” And thus a fallacy which “relies on the implied expertise of the speaker or on an unstated truism”. Which would not be all that troubling if it were not for the fact that van Heerden holds an MPhil and PhD from the University of Cambridge, (both in International Relations), and Salman Rushdie does not.

Van Heerden should know better than to posit a bald reversal of the context of Hanna Arendt’s “A Report on the Banality of Evil. Written by a Jew who fled Germany during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, (who subsequently reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the major organizers of the Holocaust), the resulting restatement would require extraordinary evidence. Evidence which he fails to either supply nor even cite.

Not even the much-maligned Amnesty Report into Israel and the Crime of Apartheid goes so far as to claim that the country is involved in anything resembling a ‘genocide’. Instead van Heerden relies upon a single source, namely the controversial opinions of one Gideon Levy, an Israeli author and journalist, resulting in immediate objections of exaggeration and hyperbole from the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, exercising its purported ‘right of reply’, a right which I myself (as a person accused of being Jewish), do not possess.

Instead of reporting Levy’s views as his own opinions, van Heerden complicates matters by immediately assuming these views to be demonstrable facts. Thus the journalist’s open speculation as to why Israel does what it does, when the state, rightly or wrongly, practices a policy of asymmetric warfare, allegedly in defense of its own sovereignty, is presented as all true without the requirement of any further support.

The unhappy result is most certainly both a decontextualisation of history and current affairs which reaches out into the world of fantasy fiction. I am not going to continue with further analysis here suffice to add that I have already characterised the tragic situation in Israel/Palestine as one of ‘injustice versus injustice’, echoing writer Amoz Oz, who claims ‘a sad case of competing juridical systems’. In other words, a war over secular meaning.

One should add though, that Arendt appears to contradict her own thesis by arguing in The Origins of Totalitarianism, that “the evil of the Nazis was absolute and inhuman, not shallow and incomprehensible.”

And note, van Heerden also appears to ignore the fact that Israel barely occupies 35% of Mandate Palestine, with Arab states holding 65% of the territory. I therefore urge readers to read: “Everything you know about the Palestinian Struggle is Wrong

Dear Anton Harber, you’re nothing more than a Putin apologist

Dear Anton Harber,

YOU were once the editor of a weekly rag fundamentally opposed to the apartheid state. I read the Weekly Mail religiously every week, since the day it arrived on our newsstands, and followed often radical opinions, many white leftie columnists and also the writing of a sole, token black arts commentator.

In 1992 I visited your newsroom, and found to my dismay that unlike South Press, which was a veritable Rainbow Nation, the Weekly Mail was essentially an all-white newsroom, catering for academics and liberal-leftie types from Houghton.

On the strength of your paper’s success you became an adjunct professor at Wits.

In 2020 the EFF were forced to apologise for referring to you and Thandeka Gqubule-Mbeki as ‘Stratcom agents’.

Absolutely nothing was said about the implications of testimony provided by one Paul Erasmus during the Timol inquest, which implicated the Weekly Mail in a disinformation campaign centering around a dirty tricks operation targeting the late Winnie Mandela, and also the struggle press.

This week, you issued an opinion piece published on News24 tackling the removal of Russia Today (RT) from Multichoice entitled: ‘Don’t silence voices to counter malicious disinformation’ in which you state:

“I dislike the Russia Today (RT) television channel because it is the propaganda tool of a dangerous and corrupt autocrat. It shows little respect for the truth, and is happy to propagate the most appalling lies. But every now and then, I would turn to it – briefly – to hear how the Russian government was seeing the world and to get an alternative – and sometimes challenging – view.”

The piece is behind a paywall, so I can’t read nor respond to the rest of your article, but it appears to place RT within the liberal ‘marketplace of ideas’, and thus merely one source of information, to which you occasionally turn to for fresh, often ‘challenging views’.

Since Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last month, and following the events of 2014, and the annexation of Crimea, RT has become anything but a source of ‘challenging views’ and rather, as you appear to admit, ‘a mere propaganda instrument’ punting the alternative world-view, of the Russian plutocrat and his oligarchs — especially when it comes to reasserting Russian territorial claims over Eastern Europe.

Unlike the USA where no restrictions on speech exist, South Africa has a particular history which has resulted in constitutional limitations on freedom of expression. Thus there exist in our constitution prohibitions against hate speech, incitement of violence as well as propaganda for war.

The Pro-Putin RT evangelism and calumny around war certainly falls into this category. It begs the question why you as a professor of journalism, feel the need to apologise for it, and raises the issue of whether or not you are even qualified to deliver such an opinion?

It was Michael Osborne, one of the legal representatives actively involved in the constitutional process who reminded me of the pitfalls of claiming free speech absolutism of the type currently espoused by Elon Musk on twitter.

“Would you shout fire in a crowded theatre?” he asked, beginning what is a well-trodden philosophical argument against absolute freedom of speech.

Surely you must understand, from your years spent, apparently combating apartheid indoctrination and brainwashing, (save for your paper’s vicious campaign against Winnie Mandela), there are consequences to speech, especially when it incites a nonchalance over violence and aggression that runs contrary to our constitutional value system?

Putin has been exposed as a liar and charlatan over his reasoning for the Ukraine invasion. The bombing of a Holocaust war memorial should put paid to the idea that this has anything to do with ‘denazification’. In truth this phrase is merely a propagandistic trope used in rallying the military, rather than the basis for a factual case, and despite its use as a casus belli.

The situation is clearly not one of moral equivalence in which two equal forces are somehow locked in a relationship of equanimity in a dispute in which civilians can simply choose which side they support, as if democracy, the rule of law and the liberal marketplace of ideas prevailed.

Putin has clamped down on press freedom inside Russia, passing laws which stifle commentary on the war. Leading to the arrest of at ‘least 2,776 people’ who have been arrested for protesting in the three days since the war began.’

This news from OVD-Info, ‘a Moscow-based organization that tracks arrests linked to anti-government activities across the country’, was not reported on its website, which was “inaccessible to Russians Saturday night” but on its Telegram channel.

In a separate statement on Saturday also reported by Canada’s The Star, “Roskomnadzor announced an investigation into the reporting of numerous media organizations over their accounts of the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the language used to describe the offensive.”

The outlets are accused of publishing “untrue information about the shelling of Ukrainian cities and the death of civilians in Ukraine as a result of the actions of the Russian army, as well as materials in which the ongoing operation is called an attack, invasion or a declaration of war,” the statement said.

If your piece proceeds to defend journalists within Russia affected by Putin’s crackdown, then I apologise beforehand. However, I have yet to see you defend independent journalism inside the country — you certainly have remained silent when journalists such as myself are gagged by the very outlet upon which your views and opinions have been published.

I therefore reject your argument as diabolical considering the current circumstances in which Ukrainian men, women and children are being targeted by Putin’s death squads.

Sincerely yours

David Robert Lewis

Hertzogate: No evidence tobacco assists patients with respiratory illness

COLUMNIST Mandy Wiener has written an opinion piece for News24 entitled: ‘The case for lifting the cigarette ban’ Her central thesis is that the ‘prohibition on smoking tobacco merely drives the practice underground’. While Wiener appears to grasp some of the health arguments being touted by the Dept of Health, she appears to be in plain denial of the consequences:

“We understand that research globally shows that those with underlying conditions are more likely to be susceptible to Covid-19.”

“The working premise is that this also applies to current smokers. It is therefore safe to assume that government has implemented the ban to stop people from smoking so it reduces their risk if they contract the virus.”

It is highly irresponsible for a columnist to be advocating a return to smoking tobacco as usual during a global respiratory disease epidemic, in other words a pandemic of respiratory illness.

Wiener then further states “According to the WHO, ‘Smokers are likely to be more vulnerable to Covid-19 as the act of smoking means that fingers (and possibly contaminated cigarettes) are in contact with lips which increases the possibility of transmission of virus from hand to mouth. Smokers may also already have lung disease or reduced lung capacity which would greatly increase risk of serious illness.”

The insinuation is that smokers simply need to stop sharing their fags. Instead of drawing rational conclusions from her observations, she casts doubt and proceeds to make an irrational case for the lifting of the ban.

For starters, it must strike readers as a tad too convenient for Wiener to assert at the beginning of her piece that she has ‘no personal investment in this matter’. The claim is rather disingenuous since it is predicated upon the supposed independence she enjoys from her publishers and the tobacco industry. Two claims which are demonstrably false.

Wiener’s column is published in a Naspers-controlled News24 media outlet, one heavily invested in by the self-same Tobacco Industry,  if not outright controlled by those with extensive tobacco-related investments.

Medialternatives has previously covered the manner in which apartheid financiers Rupert Beleggings Pty Ltd, the real  brains trust behind Naspers, and the ultimate control behind a cartel actively involved within South Africa’s media, is also involved in capture of our justice system.

Readers however may be unaware of the manner in which the Rupert dynasty rose to fame and fortune via its stake in the tobacco industry. Orchestrating the outright purchase of Rothmans International in 1953. The biography of Anton Rupert, written be Ebbe Dommisse and Willie Esterhuyse covers the meteoric rise of the ‘Rembrandt Tobacco Corporation’, devoting an entire chapter to what they term ‘the birth of a masterpiece’.

The corporation founded in 1946 initially focused on tobacco and alcohol but later became the saviour of apartheid financial institutions.

JBM Hertzog, National Party & Naspers founder

A launchpad for the careers of prominent National Party members including Chris Stals, and Nico Diederichs. Dan O’Meara’s book Volkskapitalisme asserts that the Broederbond connection was vitally important to the early development of Rembrandt, as too it was in the formation of Naspers. The Hertzog’s were instrumental in the creation of both Naspers and Rembrandt. Two corporations which rose alongside the National Party itself, and whose founder-in-chief was none other than J B M Hertzog. The book further details various intrigues involving cousins Dirk and Albert Hertzog, Owen Horward and Anton Rupert.

It may be demonstrated, that the Tobacco industry, the same industry behind second-hand smoking and apartheid, is also behind climate change denial. A fact documented by science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Oreskes and Conway write that a handful of politically conservative scientists, with strong ties to particular industries, have “played a disproportionate role in debates about controversial questions”. The authors write that this has resulted in “deliberate obfuscation” of the issues which has had an influence on public opinion and policy-making.

It is not all that surprising that the selfsame industry is behind science denial and censorship in the Coronovirus Pandemic.

The Tencent WeChat system for instance has been accused of censoring Coronovirus Content in China. Naspers exercises minority control of Tencent via its 73% control of subsidiary Prosus, a company which in turn owns 31% of Tencent.

Citizen Lab, an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the University of Toronto, has released an analysis, showing censorship around the coronavirus on WeChat and YY — a Chinese livestreaming app similar to Twitch. The lab found that ‘both platforms began blacklisting terms related to the virus as early as the last week of December 2019, when Chinese health officials first reported an unknown pathogen spreading through the country’s hospitals.’

The self-same supposed rational gatekeepers have previously resorted to Anti-Vax propaganda. Most recently targeting philanthropist Bill Gates in the aptly named Gatesgate in which News24 editors were forced to publish lengthy retractions.

There is no evidence Bill Gates has ever advocated vaccine trials in Africa. He has instead donated much needed drug assistance to various institutions whilst funded various philanthropic initiatives which will hopefully bring post-trial Covid-19 vaccines within the reach of consumers.

British American Tobacco (BAT) part owned by Rupert’s Reinet Investments, claims it is working on a potential Covid-19 vaccine using its biotechnology subsidiary Kentucky BioProcessing (KBP). It is claim met by a great deal of scepticism and suspicion.

There is also no evidence that Tobacco assists in recovery from Respiratory disease, quite the contrary. Tobacco has been shown to cause cancer and cardio-respiratory illness.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration this week made a second revision on its stance about the risks of Covid-19 and nicotine, saying that cigarettes also increase the chances of catching the disease.

“People who smoke cigarettes may be at increased risk of infection with the virus that causes Covid-19, and may have worse outcomes from Covid-19,”


Gatesgate: Naspers/News24 sudden flipflop on vaccine testing claims

READERS may be aware of false claims made by Naspers media group, News24 stating incorrectly that philanthropist Bill Gates would be testing a vaccine against Covid-19 on Africans. The story turned out to be fake news gleaned from twitter and has resulted in a series of embarrassing retractions and apologies by the media group.

A column by ‘public editor’ George Claasen stands alongside news editor Adriaan Basson’s open acknowledgement: “There is a massive difference between testing kits to help the government determine how many citizens are Covid-19 positive, and testing new vaccines on Africans. This should have been picked up and corrected in the editing process.”

“We messed up and for that we apologised to you, our readers, and to the Gates Foundation” says Basson.

Claasen’s narrative on the other hand, is exceedingly bizarre considering his own admission: “When I was a young cub reporter, ethical accountability by the media was a rare phenomenon. Press codes mostly did not exist and a watchdog such as the Organisation of Newsombudsmen and Standards Editors (ONO), the international body today guarding over journalism standards, did not exist and was only established in the 1980s”.

One should note here that any comparison with the activities of other media houses during the struggle period referred to by Claasen would quickly assess that neither Grassroots nor South Press for that matter, had similar lapses of judgement. Whether the same can be said of the Weekly Mail and its treatment of Winnie Mandela is another story.

Although other media players acted recklessly under various media restrictions and were perhaps, victims of embedded journalism, the old Argus Group showed more backbone than Naspers did in allowing open criticism of the regime. Criticism notably missing from papers such as Die Burger during the same period.

Both Basson and Claasen should therefore be reminded that they speak on behalf of a discredited news organisation that continues to lie about its role during apartheid, was found guilty of gross violations of human rights by the commission of inquiry into apartheid, and today stands accused of waging a campaign against the TRC and also of going so far as to corruptly influence a 2010 decision by our labour legal system, in order to avoid culpability.

The retraction this week follows the passing of Conrad Sidego, ‘the only person to have experienced discrimination’ at Naspers during apartheid, according to the company, a company which itself is a marvel of reinvention.

This follows several well-publicised scandals involving former senior Media24 journalists accused of sexually abusing boys while they held senior positions at the company,

The public retractions by News24 editors, welcome are they may be in some quarters, are thus one of the rare moments when the Naspers corporation has found pause to consider the deleterious effects of its lack of journalistic integrity.

Surely time to demand why no retraction of the many previous ‘errors of fact’ introduced by the apartheid lie factory?

Why no public acknowledgements of complicity in the dirty tricks operation waged against anti-apartheid newsrooms and following similar revelations made by Paul Erasmus during the Timol and Aggett inquests?

Could it be that in all these cases, none of the victims turned out to be billionaires?

Latest fibs by South Africa’s Jingoistic Press.

READERS who enjoy spotting lies, may entertain themselves with today’s offering of blarney from South Africa’s jingoistic “yellow-press”

First up, there’s a paid-for-by-the-nuclear-industry piece by Mathew le Courdeur, published by News24, which just proves that if you fly a group of journalists on an all-expenses paid holiday to Russia, you can get easy coverage on nuclear reactor technology. Technology which has yet to solve the problem of waste. The cost alone of dealing with nuclear waste makes the industry prohibitive.

The news site published by Media24, recently closed down its comments section, to avoid criticism of its apartheid past following a recent reversal, in which it suddenly offered a half-apology after defending corporate failure to appear before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the past decade.

If the the rave reviews of Russia by a journalist without any credibility isn’t your cup of tea, then try a more nuanced Pro-Putin piece in the Mail & Guardian. What is surprising about the Russian reality is how images on the ground, are disconnected from the content of a news piece which ignores atrocities such as Aleppo and Ghouta. Syrians were gassed by Assad, with the full support of the Russian government.

Thus the image of a poster with the words: “Rassia (sic) is the enemy of Syrian people” published right next door to the article with the charming but misleading title: West ‘ignored Russian offer to have Assad step aside’ appears to contradict each other (evidence perhaps that you can try to lie, but your conscience might just get the better of you?)

The content of the obviously Pro-Russian propaganda piece, appears to implicate the West and not Russia for supporting Assad. The revision of history via the culture of published lies is demonstrable.

The Mail & Guardian started out as an all-white newspaper publishing propaganda for the anti-apartheid movement. It now appears to offer similar services to Oligarchs and dictators around the world.

Media Reaction: Radio jocks diss Lebo M

REACTION to the Lebo M news-story at a Cape Town radio station was predictable. Lee Downs of Heart 104.9 lead the way, roasting the producer who had apparently “caused a scene” at the Naledi awards on Tuesday. Rebuking the co-producer of the musical The Lion King, for being an uppity prima donna playing the race card, Downs sided with organisers of the event in particular Dawn Lindberg.

Downs was however merely following the lead taken by the print media, in particular The Times which as it turned out carried a front page feature with Dawn Lindberg “hitting back” at Lebo M over the alleged “disrespect” shown to him and other black theatre professionals at the Naledi Theatre Awards.

The Lion King co-producer, who won the award for best musical, “said in his acceptance speech on Monday night that he felt insulted to be seated in the back row, and that the theatre industry did not recognise black people.”