COVID-19, South Africa, and humility regarding scientific reasoning

Eusebius McKaiser (host of a show on Radio 702) and I were meant to be part of a public discussion at WiSER (based at Wits University) on COVID-19 and its social implications later this week. The conversation was in the end postponed – not because of health risks (although that is now an utterly sensible reason for postponing) – but because some people thought that a philosophical conversation was inappropriate, and that WiSER should include epidemiologists, virologists and the like on any panel related to this coronavirus.

FW de Klerk, [some of] the DA, and crimes against sanity

Sometimes a technical definition of something matters significantly less than the demonstrable effects it has had. If Harvey Weinstein is acquitted of the various rape charges he’s facing, that would have no implications for the women he has abused (if he is indeed guilty, as I believe he is).

The Democratic Alliance and its uncertain future

One of the few positive recent developments for the Democratic Alliance is the fact that Mbali Ntuli will be contesting for leadership of the party at their elective conference in May this year.

I say this because, as a current ex-supporter of the party, I’ve long been trying to persuade friends that there are still liberals of the “right” sort in the party, but that they are mostly younger leaders who have not yet (for the most part) occupied the top positions in the party.

Repealing Section 6 of the Civil Union Act

Friday December 6 is your deadline to indicate your support for repealing Section 6 of the Civil Union Act (via the Civil Union Amendment Bill), and you can do so by writing to Mr Zolani Rento ( or Mr G Dixon ( I’ve offered some reasons to support the repeal before, and repeat the invitation made in that post to copy and paste whatever you like from it in your submission.

The Democratic Alliance “2.0” and how they have (allegedly) killed the liberalism of Suzman et al.

With critics like Ismail Lagardien about, it’s not so obvious that political parties need to spend time defending themselves, rather than simply pointing to negative opinion pieces about them while trying to resist guffawing. This is because while much of what Lagardien says contains a kernel of truth, this contribution is hyperbolic – and prolix – enough that it would only entrench existing biases rather than change any minds.

Bread from air: the outcomes of visionary thinking

We pick the narratives that we prefer. And if we find a guru, thought-leader or intellectual who speaks to our values and dreams, confirmation bias means we celebrate their successes, and forgive them their failures. In reality, though, they’re going to be the same mixed-bag as the rest of us, albeit often operating at a higher level of complexity and consequence than we are.

Sboros on Noakes and academic “mobbing” at UCT

The text below was submitted as a letter to The Cape Doctor, a South African Medical Association publication for medical professionals in the Western Cape. In the August 2019 edition, Marika Sboros includes my name in some of her fantastical musings, and I felt that a rebuttal was in order.

Given that the publication is typically only seen by its subscribers, I post the text of that letter here also, for the record. The edition in question (pdf link) is available on, and a backup is stored here on Synapses too.

Zille vs. Haffajee on hate speech and the Economic Freedom Fighters

Before we talk about what the law says, we should talk and think about what sort of society we hope for the law to help create. The law is always going to be an imperfect tool for managing millions of often selfish, confused, partisan, and otherwise compromised humans.

So when talking about liberal values such as free speech, it is legitimate to ask whether past, current or future formulations of laws governing the value in question do the job optimally, rather than to simply appeal to them as the end-points of an argument.

Race-based party membership: Steven Friedman on BLF

Steven Friedman is right to say that BLF should be allowed to compete as a political party, even though they limit membership to black voters only. He makes this case in his Business Day column of July 31 (paywalled), but you can also read it on his Facebook wall.

The South African Electoral Act says that parties may not discriminate on racial grounds, and while that means the BLF is legally in the wrong, it tells us nothing about whether the Act deals with this matter in an ideal way.

The glorification of violence, and the case of Andy Ngo

Early this morning, Quillette (a conservative-leaning online magazine, founded by Australian writer Claire Lehmann) editor and photojournalist Andy Ngo was the target of antifa (anti-fascist) protest while covering a rally in Portland, Oregon. The banner photograph is from when he was admitted to the emergency ward for treatment. He also had some of his photographic equipment stolen during the incident.

I don’t like many of the views that authors on Quillette espouse, even as I’m happy to concede that Quillette is on the whole more objective than some of their critics claim them to be. But the point of this post is that this doesn’t matter: you don’t need to agree or disagree with a writer or speaker to know that it’s wrong for them to be assaulted for holding the views that they do.