Forgive him if you like, but Jacob Zuma should resign

South Africa’s President, Jacob Zuma, has recently provided an effective negative proof of the value added by a competent press office. In an embarrassing attempt to manage an embarrassing situation, the South African public have received:

  1. A statement dated February 3, in which JZ confirms his “love-child”, while berating us for caring about his private affairs.

  2. The leaking of some “evidence” on the same day which suggests that JZ and Sonono Khoza are in fact married, and that the existence of the most recent child does therefore not suggest JZ was cheating on his 37 other wives.

  3. A further statement/apology dated February 6, in which someone finally cottons on to the fact that the man in question was elected without the moral currency or credibility which might otherwise allow us to respect his wishes in this matter, and that an apology might therefore be necessary.

  4. Communication from god, reminding us that “faith dictated that he [JZ] be absolved“, and suggesting that we should “leave this episode behind us, regrettable as it is, and move on as a nation”.

God spoke through Ray McCauley’s National Interfaith Leadership Council (NILC), as she has tended to do since they beat out her previous spokespersons, the South African Council of Churches, in what must have been a rather difficult contest to arbitrate. I’ve discussed the NILC previously, and argued against the popular notion that religious groups like the NILC have any special claim to moral knowledge.

But this incident, and this President, is about more than simple moral issues. It’s also not simply about the convoluted definitions of “culture” we can come up with in order to justify doing whatever the hell we want. Normally, I’m a strong supporter of the idea that I don’t want or need my political leaders to be exemplars of moral virtue – their job is to offer political leadership, and I don’t really care what they do in their private lives.

However, cases like these do intrude into the public consciousness, and – when placed alongside rape trials, dodgy arms-deal allegations, shady friends, financial mismanagement, reckless sexual behaviour in a country blighted by HIV/AIDS and so forth – they do provide a fair amount of evidence of a lack of sound judgement, and a poor awareness of voter interests.

As mentioned earlier, I don’t care who JZ sleeps with, or what drugs he takes, or anything else to do with his real or imagined private life. I do care that political leaders think carefully about what they do, and that they have the intellectual capacity to realise the implications that their choices might have. JZ clearly lacks one or both of these abilities.

So, forgive him if you like. Pray about it if you think that will help, or eat a crystal (I think that’s how it’s supposed to work?). But forgiveness does not mean we should forget about competence – and in this case, have we not already forgiven enough incompetence?

Killing gays may not be helpful

As reported in a previous post, Uganda is currently considering a bill that would impose the death penalty or life sentences on homosexuals. Furthermore, the proposed bill criminalises those who do not report a suspected gay person within 24 hours, and will most likely also have the effect of dissuading health care professionals in Uganda from assisting anyone who is gay – as well as dissuading gay people from seeking treatment, seeing as outing yourself as gay could land you in jail.  It’s worth reading this story on NPR to see the extent to which American Evangelical Christians are prepared to foment hatred and prejudice in order to buttress their support bases in the 3rd World – after all, surely all those folk in Africa will one day be able to afford to buy their sermons on DVD? Continue reading “Killing gays may not be helpful”

Skeptical of the skeptics

Groucho Marx (borrowing from Freud, as Woody Allen reminded us in Annie Hall) famously said “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member” – and while the point of the joke is most likely self-deprecation, it also reminds us that we sometimes need to be skeptical about the clubs we join – and the clubs we form.

Last night, Skeptics in the Pub (Cape Town) had their second meeting. I missed the first one while traveling, so was keen to meet up with the group and see what I’d missed out on in December. It turned out to be an interesting evening, although perhaps not for reasons any of the other attendees would appreciate hearing about, and made me wonder more than once whether it was the sort of gathering you could (perhaps should) go to once in your life, but never again – because each iteration of these gatherings feels just like the previous one. Every so often, a person, or a person and a few friends, decide that they should form some society or other, recruit people to their cause, and go out and change the world (or manageable little bits of it, at least). Continue reading “Skeptical of the skeptics”

Eastwood does Oprah

A couple of nights ago, the Doctor and I watched a feature-length episode of Oprah directed by Clint Eastwood, titled Invictus. It was somewhat like going to a church service (at least as far as I can recall) where everyone is hopped-up on Ecstasy while trying to channel the spirit of the Dalai Lama – such was the overwhelming schmaltziness of this account of how Mandela saved South Africa with an oval ball. Parts of it were good – here in South Africa, much chattering occurs around the authenticity of accents when movies feature local characters, and both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon did a good job in this regard. Also, some of the action scenes (rugby scrums and so forth) were appropriately animalistic (in general, though, the rugby scenes were rather devoid of tension or spectacle). But in what appears to be a concerted effort to win a couple of Oscars, Eastwood lays on the cheese to such an extent that at one point the Doctor remarked “this is more than cheesy – it’s an entire fondue!”. Continue reading “Eastwood does Oprah”

A sad index of life in South Africa (for some)

A month or so ago, Thelma’s father died. Thelma cleans our house every week, and has done so for 7 years. So when she asked to borrow some extra cash to travel to and arrange the funeral, we had no hesitation in helping out, and also resolved to tell her on her return that she should consider the money a gift. Today was her first day back, and at some point in the late morning, she handed S. a piece of paper – a certified copy of her father’s death certificate.

Having experienced a similar bereavement myself (semi) recently, I know the need for such bits of paper well, in terms of winding up estates and transferring bits and pieces of a life into another name. But in this context, it seemed little more than an index of mistrust – the mistrust that many of the people Thelma encounters still today feel towards people in her socio-economic class and – to not beat around the bush – people of her race. Some of her employers may have demanded such a piece of paper – and I couldn’t help wondering if, over the years I’ve known her, I’ve ever given her reason to think I might demand one too.

I think not, and I certainly hope not.

SA Elections: The DA’s “Stop Zuma” campaign

The DA’s “Stop Zuma” campaign has me (a historical DA supporter) concerned – so much so that I was compelled to agree with 6K, which is rare on matters political.

The DA probably has the best pollsters and analysts of all the SA parties, but they got this one wrong. I’m convinced that it will be a vote-loser. As “Dismayed” comments at 6000 miles… (linked above), it will only appeal to a small set of current DA voters, and perhaps turn a few current DA voters off too.

Helen Zille has done a great job of undermining the negative perceptions of the DA under Leon, particularly the perception that they were all about being “anti”, rather than building their own profile as a party fit to govern. The campaign (until “stop JZ”) was great, as it did exactly that – far less carping about what others were doing wrong, and far more trumping of the DA’s virtues as a party ready to lead.

“Stop JZ” is uncomfortably reminiscent of the “Fight back” campaign, easily caricatured as “Fight Black”. The undecideds who were thinking that maybe the DA is no longer a “white” party, and that perhaps it’s time to give them a chance, have now been given a firm shove away from voting DA.

To be clear: I do think Zuma should be” stopped”. Not necessarily stopped from being President, but stopped from riding roughshod over the rule of law, and stopped from undermining some of the values people have fought so hard for in SA’s short democratic history. But our best chance of stopping him – and cynical populist rabble-rousers like Malema – is to create a genuine democracy in this country, where it’s feasible that someone other than the ANC can win an election. The only power the voter has is that parties and leaders feel that they can be (and are being) held to account for their actions, and for as long as the ANC is guaranteed election wins, that’s not going to happen here.

To make that happen, we need to strengthen the opposition, and the opposition is not strengthened by confirming the prejudiced view of the majority of the population: that the DA is a shrill, reactionary – and white – party. I do not believe that the DA fits this prejudice, but can certainly understand why some people believe it. The average voter makes their cross based on these perceptions and prejudices, not necessarily on a careful weighing of options. We simply don’t have the maturity to be that kind of democracy, and nor do most of our population have the educations that those sorts of choices presume.

It comes as a great surprise to me, but I can’t say with any confidence that I’ll be voting DA tomorrow.

3 signs of the end-times

My mother always claimed that bad events arrived in clusters of 3. Or maybe it was good things. Either way, the principle – however silly (my logician-brain immediately notes the self-sustaining nature of this hypothesis, in that a careful selection of beginning and end-points to a cluster would make the claim unfalsifiable), came to mind just now when catching up on some local news.
Continue reading “3 signs of the end-times”