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Monday, 14 April 2014

Facebook blocking Daily Dispatch

Despite repeated complaints, Facebook is not lifting a ban on posting articles from Daily Dispatch, a major newspaper in South Africa. Since Facebook mostly provides free services in huge bulk, they do not have easily-accessed contact information like phone numbers where you can reach a human.

How can this happen? It could be a glitch but it is a convenient excuse that a paper publishing stories deeply embarrassing to the government is being blocked in the heat of an election. While FB is unlikely to be behind this, that they could have done this unintentionally or in response to a bogus scam or spam report is bad enough. That they are unresponsive to complaints makes it worse.

I am working on fixing this as are others. Until we get it right here are a few juicy things from DD that someone doesn’t want us to see.
This is a start – post links in comments and I will add them here if good.

Nkandla: ANC’s Strategy to Win

Agang’s campaign in the Eastern Cape occupies two worlds. We talk to the forgotten people, the communities where nothing works, there are no jobs and no way out. They want to be heard and they want a reason for hope. Then we enter the world of political debates, where everything is about point-scoring, who shouts the loudest and political posturing.

The PE debate (Source: Herald)
Tuesday 8 April: I am speaking for Agang in a debate in Port Elizabeth with 7 other parties, and the other opposition parties find a way to work Nkandla into every other sentence, sending the ANC part of the crowd into a frenzy each time.

Sorry, I am too much an academic to play this sort of game. We discovered the ANC’s on switch. Now talk about everything else, the humiliation and pain our people experience every day, and what we are going to do about it. How we can restore pride, rebuild hope and rekindle the promise of our new democracy of 20 years ago? But the ANC are the ones to watch. Nkandla is their issue, and you have to wonder how they can go into an election with such a liability.

So what is the ANC speaker’s response to all this? He totally ignores all reference to Nkandla and goes on about his party’s track record.

What track record? I wonder, having just been to a place called Taliban in the vicinity of Uitenhage. This is one of the most depressing places I’ve ever seen, with people living in utter hopelessness amidst heaps of trash. I talk to young people who passed matric and have no jobs. They are angry and feel betrayed.

Then the light comes on. This is the ANC game plan. Let the opposition shout Nkandla at the top of their voices, and calmly prattle on about all the good the ANC is doing. The message: Nkandla was a cock-up but otherwise we are doing just fine.

Well, are they?

Last financial year the government by their own figures lost R33-billion to wasteful spending and corruption. That’s one Nkandla every three days.

Nkandla is not an anomaly. It’s the way the government regularly does business.

And that’s just the money they admit to wasting – no doubt totally leaving out the waste of a bloated bureaucracy in the Eastern Cape Health Department that leaves insufficient funds for medical staff, to quote one example.

It is wastage on this scale that makes all our problems seem so hard. Yes, equalizing education post-apartheid was always going to be a challenge. The same for delivering quality health care to the poor and fixing economic inequality. We are not going to solve any of these problems by throwing money down the toilet on a vast scale (in parts of the country that have toilets).

In this weird inside-out looking-glass world, a government that flushes money away more efficiently than it delivers clean water has found a way to turn what should be a massive liability into an electoral advantage. A way of personifying corruption and incompetence in the president, while somehow carrying off the fiction that his personality has nothing to do with the government he heads.

Agang visits Glenmore
I think about the people in Glenmore, a dry dusty apartheid forced removal dumping ground also here in the Eastern Cape. No jobs, no hope, nothing to look forward to but the next social grant day.

Would people living in a trash heap be happy that the government has turned Nkandla into an electoral strategy to evade the issues that blight their lives?

Here’s a challenge for the ANC. Maybe you should go and ask them. Try Taliban and Glenmore to see if you get the same answer.

But first, disguise yourself as a human being. I’ll lend you my Agang T-shirt.

But of course the ANC will not take up this challenge, because Nkandla is their strategy to win. By talking loudly about this one thing, opposition parties turn the voters’ attention away from the other 120-times Nkandla-scale misspending that happens every year. We implicitly accept the ANC line that everything else is fine by making this one big failure the only one we shout about.

The personality of the president is not incidental to the ANC. It embodies what the ANC stands for now: a party of greed and self-enrichment.

Every person in Glenmore, Taliban and countless other townships and settlements who live lives of hopelessness and despair deserve better. It is Agang’s mission to change this country for the better, and that will not happen if we let the ANC get away with this. At very least, we should force them to defend their entire track record, not just disgracefully profligate expenditure on a financially incontinent president’s house.

The sad thing is that the money gone on waste and corruption could go a long way towards the social programmes we need to turn this country around. We do not need crazy economic policies or empty promises. What we need is sound governance and active citizens who stand up for themselves – a rekindling of the promise of freedom that burnt so bright in 1994.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Ubuntu 2.0

We have a saying in these parts:
umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu
a person is a person through other people
– kind of the opposite to each one for himself. With this sort of profound philosophy in our culture, how have we allowed a culture of personal gain to take root so firmly throughout society? Why has Africa as a whole gone so badly wrong if this is a core belief – and I have no reason to believe it is not?

What I have observed in seeing this belief in action is that many interpret it narrowly – that the “other people” are “their own”, narrowly interpreted tribally or even to close friends and family. Thus, for example, someone assumes the presidency of a country and immediately everyone close to them puts their nose to the trough – our turn to eat, a phrase originating out of corruption in Kenya.

What is missing is a greater sense of nationality, that this concept does not just apply to your own, but to everyone in the greater community.

This omission is particularly obscured by the myth of Pan-Africanism, the notion that Africa is a sociopolitical whole embracing Ubuntu, as the concept is more widely known (with fewer hard syllables for foreigners). Yet the reality is far different – tribalism persists, we have wars, civil wars, ethnic cleansing and xenophobia.

Another problem is that the colonial and apartheid systems co-opted traditional leaders into a police-state system of governance. Any democratic tendencies that may have existed in pre-colonial times were subverted to a system of total obedience to authority.

What is to be done?

We need to go back to traditional values and re-conceptualize them as applying to a modern democratic order.

Ubuntu in this new order means the opposite to everyone for himself (or herself). But it also does not mean look after your own. It means pursue your life goals by pursuing the greater good.

Tied into this is escaping the mindset of cowed citizens of a police state. Sadly, when colonial and apartheid powers retreated, it was all to easy for liberators to keep their subjects in a subservient state. After all, their leaders are now in charge, so what is there to fight for? But that is a very shallow definition of what a leader is, and derives from the subversion of traditional leadership by colonialism and apartheid.

A leader should be respected by virtue of earning respect, not simply virtue of the office they hold. A leader should represent the will of the people, allowing some latitude for a genuine leader to move ahead of the people on occasion, but ultimately to bring them along to the new position. In a democracy, a leader who loses respect and credibility can and should be voted out of office.

None of this contradicts traditional African values; rather the notion of Ubuntu modernized to a democratic order is a uniquely African contribution to human society, and a project worth pursuing. Failure to adapt the concept of leadership to a democratic order on the hand entrenches colonial and apartheid power relations, and leaves the ordinary citizen unable to benefit from liberation beyond the symbolism of changing the complexion of those in power.

Monday, 10 February 2014

South Africa Decides: The Big Questions

Now the election date has been set, it’s time for the political circus to start in earnest. We can expect personality attacks, stunts, scandal.

Up to a point, we have to consider some of these things because they are revealing of character and the extent to which you can trust leaders. But if this is all we look at, we are not going to make great choices.

During the apartheid era, much of politics was about principle. Even apartheid was based on principles of a sort, dodgy though those principles were. You knew where you stood, and you knew what you were opposing. Today, much of politics is not about principle. We have scandals about politician’s private lives, corruption and incompetence.

What is missing is answers to the big questions such as
What kind of country do we want to be?
How do we get there?
Besides South Africa’s unique problems, there are global problems that need real insight and analysis to tackle. Neoliberal capitalism failed spectacularly in 2008. Oil is running out. There is no hint of peace in the Middle East. Efforts to hold off harmful climate change are too little too late.

Maybe these things do not concern South Africans as much as a failed education system, a crisis in local infrastructure such as water and a growing rather than decreasing rich-poor divide, but they all point to the same cause: a lack of clear thinking about how we got ourselves into this mess and how to get ourselves out.

What I am looking for in this election is not politicians who are most adept at slinging mud, but politicians who have serious answers to the big questions.

I throw this challenge out not only to politicians but also to commentators, journalists, editors and everyone who wants to make an informed choice on election day: focus on the big questions.