Opinion

Politics the SA way: caricature an 'enemy' and attack it

21 April 2019 - 00:04


It's Easter, let's be nice to each other. No, wait, it's an election, let's not. South African politics never changes. It's about winning everything. From a distance we can see it easily now in Donald Trump's America, or in Brexit Britain. People, citizens of the same country, of the same colour, of the same party,literally hate one another.
It's not race or even ideology. White South Africans were throwing chairs at political rallies long before blacks were. Before black and white somehow met, our politics were already inevitable, between races and within them.
We're conviction politicians. I'm right and you're just wrong, so go rot in hell. And be quiet.
The worst thing you can do in this country is have an opinion and the temerity to express it. Every jack and his dog will shoot you down. Social media has made fatalities possible even before anyone has actually read your opinion. Take the case of David Bullard.
Bullard was invited to participate in an Institute of Race Relations (IRR) debate or seminar at Stellenbosch University last month. There was an outcry. Someone wrote a letter to Business Day demanding the event be banned. He said Bullard would play to "white fears of a dystopian future". So Bullard, who is politically conservative and tells jokes, was not to be heard, not to be seen.
This is perfectly recognisable South African behaviour but fortunately the IRR went ahead with the event and Bullard attended. When it was his turn to speak, Frans Cronje, IRR CEO, quoted a colleague, Michael Morris, who had written in The Citizen that: "Today, confronting and overcoming South Africa's mounting crises requires our society to find its courage and its voice. But that will not happen unless we defend the space for the widest range of opinions and an authentic conversation about our choices as a society. No excuse and no apology is needed to champion, and demonstrate, a commitment to doing so."
Quite right. Bullard has every right to say what he wants and go where he wants but a problem arises when you argue that but don't live it. That when you hear people and hate what they say your instinct is to attack them, to shut them up.
Cronje then went on to paint a picture of the economic calamity confronting us. Nothing new there. A blind man could describe it. And then he came, in a roundabout way, to me and the election.
Having described the Mbeki and Zuma years, and apparently assuming nothing has changed, Cronje said: "Too many analysts . would have us believe that what we see with our own eyes is not really happening; that there is nothing to be concerned about . The argument goes something like this: 'the state/ruling party only assaults property rights/racial minorities/conservative blacks/Western democracies/the market economy/freedom of speech and the rule of law in order to outwit those who would otherwise do so. And that in order to prevent such assaults you must support those leading the assaults ... because only if those now driving the assaults become even more powerful will they stop doing that which they are already so far advanced in doing.' It is all quite completely and utterly mad."
This is Cronje dealing with my contention that a strong mandate for Cyril Ramaphosa in this election would be a good thing. That he is not Zuma, but a reformer in an extremely difficult position and that the stronger his mandate next month, the deeper his reforms could be.
I won't argue the whole thing again, but isn't it interesting how someone who first stood up to defend freedom of speech and to celebrate the battle of ideas should end up dismissing me as mad? To get to mad you first distort my argument, declare it "mad" and it can then be kept quiet.
Cronje's pitch at Stellenbosch was that the IRR must win SA's great "Battle of Ideas", that the Vietnam war was lost in American living rooms.
That's old. I know what the heart of his battle looks like because I've been on the receiving end of it for months.
Mainly, it's just other ideas, but like everything in our politics they require an "enemy" even if it's just an opposing idea that has to be twisted and disfigured in order to be the better disposed of.
It has nothing to do with freedom of speech or even common sense. It's just about winning an argument, whatever the damage you do. How very civilised. How very hypocritical.

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