Margaret Thatcher famously told her Conservative Party at its conference in Brighton in October 1980: "The lady's not for turning."
AMONG the many things to be learnt from the Bangui debacle must surely be the broad lesson that publicly elected representatives should do the jobs they are paid to do.
South Africa is back at the top of the world news agenda. As always when this happens, the most pressing question is whether we can handle it.
Nearly 20 years into our democracy, South Africans are stalled by failure fatigue.
It is an axiom of medicine that disease is most effectively combated when it is identified early and therapy begins before it takes a fatal hold. The same is true for most social scourges - Aids, unemployment, debt and violence.
Back in 2001 I was interviewed by a South African weekly for a story about the 150th anniversary of Reuters, where I worked. After an hour discussing exciting innovations - recent and pending - and the challenges of split-second journalism, I walked the reporter to the door and stopped at a framed copy of founder Julius Reuter's guidelines for reporters, which stressed speed and accuracy.
The besT thing Mamphela Ramphele has going for her as she sets out into the stormy waters of party politics is her personal brand. The question for the next one to six years is whether that is enough.
If we exclude election year replays when we are treated to two state of the nation speeches a few weeks apart, tonight's address to parliament and the nation will be the 20th of our still young democracy.
As the South African Revenue Service closes in on Julius Malema, I find myself wondering whether to think of him as the villain of his story or its victim.
Speaking against the snowy backdrop of Davos, where business and government leaders gathered for their annual jamboree this month, Trevor Manuel lamented to one or other international TV channel's camera that our protesters were inexplicably violent.
There was a yellowing telex message stuck to the wall of the United Press International bureau in Johannesburg in the 1980s which asked: "How far is the beach from the sea?"
Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan, like Trevor Manuel before him, regularly laments the failure of parliament, the press and state departments to mine the data the government puts out. Though we all have many excuses, mostly concerning time and manpower, he has a valid point.
Separate conversations on recent flights have underlined for me the important role language will play in our search for cross-cultural unity and harmony.
Blade Nzimande and the SACP in KwaZulu-Natal have opened a can of very ugly worms with their call for controls on the language used to debate the qualities of our president.
An optimistic view of the American election last week is that it signalled the end of the ugly polarisation driven by the Tea Party movement and the beginning of a return to rational government or opposition based on facts rather than hatreds.
Parliament faces a formidable test as deliberations on the Protection of State Information Bill head for another deadline that could end the negotiation on how much transparency we impose on our government.
Just about every ambitious politician in the country has found reason in the past week or so to make mention of - if not devote an entire speech to - the legacy of that great South African, Oliver Tambo, who would have turned 95 last Saturday.
If anyone still doubts the crippling effect of the ANC's internecine war, they need only look to the Eastern Cape, where the battle has stalled almost every level of government.
The thing about submitting to statehood, JM Coetzee argues in his novel Diary of a Bad Year, is that there is no turning back.
Former US president Bill Clinton underlined the perils of America's polarising politics in his celebrated address to the Democratic convention a few weeks ago.
There is a little, dog-eared yellow book called The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996 in the satchel I use to cart the electronic necessities of modern life.
Friends sometimes ask why I continue to hang a picture of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela in my small collection of struggle-era news photographs signed by the colleagues who took them.
There was a phase early in the campaign against the Protection of State Information Bill when some lobbyists - while discussing a strategy to defeat the government's awful plans - agreed they would not encourage the DA to endorse their cause.
At a debate in East London last week, author William Gumede and political analyst Somododa Fikeni underlined the challenge we face as a diminishing ANC fights ever more desperately to hold onto its huge electoral majority.
Transforming the socially engineered mess that democracy inherited from apartheid in 1994 was always going to be almost impossibly hard.
Public- and private-sector leaders queued to speak to South Africa's newspaper editors at their annual meeting this weekend, all bringing versions of an appeal to be taken more seriously in what they do.
There is a note of Mandela fatigue creeping into the public debate as we celebrate Madiba's 94th birthday and mark International Nelson Mandela Day.
The role and powers of the courts often kept negotiators up at night during the drafting of the final constitution but I don't recall that anyone foresaw how much of a role the judiciary would play in enforcing good governance.
Youth unemployment is getting worse, so let's not dismiss last week's ANC proposal of a job-seekers' grant too quickly - especially since no one gave any detail of what this new category of social security might entail.
Wouldn't it be wonderful to have a say in choosing who our next president will be?
The widely held view that President Jacob Zuma is out of his depth rattled him enough to cause him to protest at a recent National Union of Mineworkers function: "I know what I am doing ... I am not here by mistake."
MARTIN Plaut, co-author with Paul Holden of Who Rules South Africa, described our country this week as "democratish".
Max Sisulu did not particularly want to become Speaker of the National Assembly. He took the job because he is that loyal cadre that others pretend to be, who does what the ANC tells him to do.
The Spear debate has become clouded in a sea of red herrings, but may yet prove in retrospect to be one of the most important of our post-apartheid history.
The French philosopher who wrote under the pen name Voltaire urged tolerance of dissenting opinions and uncomfortable ideas more than 300 years ago.
We surrendered a powerful resource in 1994 and the years immediately after when we assumed the war against bad government was won and allowed our vibrant civil society to wither.
Everyone who follows South African politics with any enthusiasm knew that 2012 would be an interesting year, but with seven months to go before Mangaung, "interesting" has taken on an oriental connotation.
Leon Wessels, the former National Party democracy negotiator who became a human rights commissioner, made a simple point in a radio interview about democratic South Africa's 18th birthday last week. We have become very good at telling, he said, but we have lost the art of listening.
Normay and the United States have taken very different routes in their trials of the most evil men of their recent history.
There is nothing quite like a road trip to help one to reconnect with the complexity and wonder that is South Africa.
ANC members of the Matatiele town council were ordered by their party last week to reverse a majority vote to sack mayor Ntombovuyo Nkopane and two other executive committee members.
GODZILLE has finally acknowledged that it was a mistake to refer to the children who travel west along the Indian Ocean seaboard in search of a better education as "refugees".
South Africa is entering a dangerous season from which it may not emerge unscathed.
Twin stories in the Saturday Dispatch this weekend lifted the veil just slightly on the mechanics of the corruption acknowledged even by the ANC as a major threat to our society.
One of President Jacob Zuma's favourite dodges when faced with an issue on which he would prefer not to take a position is to say: "We must talk about this matter."
The rich man's rand is being stretched far and hard to transform South Africa from a minority economy to an inclusive one.
This is the week of every year in which the chasm between the parallel universes of South African politics and finance yawns widest.
The new South African society is being shaped in large part by role models - good ones sometimes and, at others, unfortunate examples of what we can and should want to be.
Is it possible that we South Africans expect too little of ourselves, and the low benchmarks by which we measure ourselves explain our failures?
Nkosazna Dlamini-Zuma's failure to unseat the African Union Commission chairman, Gabon's Jean Ping, in an election in Addis Ababa on Monday was not the foreign policy disaster some are calling it.
The ANC has been selling access to government leaders at least since 2006.
"Things are never so bad they can't be made worse," said Humphrey Bogart. It is a thought worth holding on to as we tumble towards the ANC's elective conference in Mangaung at the end of the year.
It is sad for the ANC that it is having to celebrate its centenary year at such a low point in its history, and with one of the weakest leaders it has ever had at the helm. How do you savour such a brave record when the once-great movement is sliding ever deeper into corrupt ineptitude?
Everyone who reads this column, whether online or on paper wrapped around a portion of chips, will make use of some public and some private service today.
Contrasting experiences in recent weeks amplified the debate in my head about the future of news in print - and led me to a happier conclusion than I had expected.
Greener's Law, which says one should never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel, was never so apposite as last week, when parliament voted to adopt the Protection of State Information Bill.
The first South African country report of the African Peer Review Mechanism said in May 2007 that our government did not quite get public consultation. It still doesn't.
Aubrey Matshiqi, one of my favourite political analysts, posed an important question at a public debate in East London this week: Will the ANC succession struggle deliver a leadership that is capable of addressing the accumulating challenges of poverty, unemployment and social deprivation?
President Jacob Zuma set alarm bells ringing again on Tuesday when, in an address to parliament, he effectively warned the Constitutional Court to leave the business of government to the government.
Thabo Mbeki fought valiantly during his presidency against the advance of sound-bite journalism.
LIAM Fox, the British secretary of state for defence, has been felled by a relationship uncannily similar to Jacob Zuma's relationship with Schabir Shaik.
THE Daily Dispatch reported the award of this year's Nobel peace prize to three brave women, two of them from Africa, on the front page, with an eye-catching montage anchored by the well-known face of Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
DESMOND Tutu is a consummate actor and a clever poker player - skills that have helped a little to make him one of the most important figures in modern South African history.
WOULD-BE president Tokyo Sexwale warned this week that the gathering global economic storm could be the second stage of a full-blown double-dip recession.
South Africa has tried to punch above its weight in global diplomacy, but has failed since Nelson Mandela retired from the presidency to land that devastating left hook that the world would talk about for ever after.
WELL, they've done it. The ad hoc committee on the Protection of Information Bill finalised a text on Monday for parliament's rubber stamp that will make it a prison offence for a whistleblower to pass a classified document proving crime or corruption to anyone other than a police officer.
ONE can forecast the value of the rand, the price of a share or the weather if one dares, but I have learned over many years that predicting political events is a mug's game.
IN 2003, Thabo Mbeki described South Africa as a country with two parallel economies: one developed, rich and globalised, the other broken, poor and rural.
ARCHBISHOP Desmond Tutu has always spoken more from the heart than most people would dare, whether it is to greedy government ministers, errant parishioners, the needy poor or the wealthy elite.
NO ONE could reasonably argue that the challenge of youth unemployment and poverty is not on the South African agenda: it gets a mention in almost every cabinet-level speech and most of the policy documents that flow from our bloated executive.
WATCHING parliament in action is often quite disappointing so it is heartening to see a more positive episode unfolding.
Most South Africans have tended over many years to treat policy debate as a spectator sport, muttering on the sidelines, perhaps, but seldom daring to stand up to defend a line call.
Spurred by a measure of self-interest, the South African media has devoted more space in the past year to the secrecy bill than to any single draft law other than the constitution.