The inaugural conference of the Free Society Institute was held on August 29, 2009. I recently launched the FSI with the intention of providing an umbrella organisation for the various atheist/secular/etc. organisations in South Africa, much as the IHEU does internationally. What follows is the speech from which I no doubt deviated at the conference.
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.
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.
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.
It has frequently been commented that the US has a rather peculiar relationship with democracy, at least in an ideological sense. They trumpet its virtues and their pride in being democratic, and even sometimes start wars, ostensibly in defense of this political system. But if democracy means – as it surely does – that everyone gets to vote, and everyone’s vote counts equally, then how can we square the stated American commitment to democracy with the likelihood that Dubya would reject the outcome of any Iraqi election (for example) which placed a dedicated theocratic government in power, no matter how fair that election may have been?
Does sitting on your hands mean that you should resist complaining? A friend claims that complaining is a natural part of human conversational fabric, whether or not one intends to try and resolve the issues that are being complained about. My argument was typically principled but highly impractical (as they often are), in that I was making the claim that unless you are prepared to try and effect change, you really don’t have the right to complain.
If you’re a South African who is eligible to vote (and have an ID book, unlike one Resistentialist I know), then you may be interested in this analysis of how much your vote could matter. The Cape Town race is one that’s too close to call, as is often the case.