The Internet and cell phone pornography bill

The original text of this article in The Daily Maverick.

Last Saturday, in an act of flagrant disregard for the faiths of others, Pastor Ray McCauley had planned to promote his brand by exploiting paranoia around tourist safety at the World Cup. Unfortunately for Pastor Ray, a heart attack meant that he could not attend. But while tickets for the “National Day of Prayer” for a safe World Cup might as well have been accompanied by homeopathic remedies for xenophobia (which would be equally effective), the event still raises questions. Firstly, why do we need his god to help out with policing those pesky foreigners and other threats to World Cup harmony, like Ivo Vegter? Is Ray saying that the other gods aren’t up to the task or even – sotto voce – that they may not exist? Continue reading “The Internet and cell phone pornography bill”

On JZ’s call for a national dialogue on “our moral code”

Originally published in The Daily Maverick.

Many South Africans would support the recent call by President Jacob Zuma for a national dialogue on our moral code. While quips about foxes guarding henhouses may be the first thing to come to mind, two serious and separate issues are raised by this call: the desirability of such a dialogue, and the practical issue of who should take part.

On the first issue, perhaps we should start by noting that the perceived moral failings of some influential South Africans and the public response to these have a feature in common, namely a tendency to pluck a ready-made moral viewpoint off a shelf and then present that as either defence or accusation. Neither of these responses demonstrates commitment to moral reasoning or sensitivity to the fact that some issues cannot be resolved by appeal to dogma. They are, nevertheless, often successful in that new South Africans have been bred to be tolerant of difference and reluctant to criticise things they may not understand. Continue reading “On JZ’s call for a national dialogue on “our moral code””

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?

Moral clarity and the threat of the NILC

Today’s edition of the Mail and Guardian carries a disturbing article about the growing influence of religious groups – in particular Ray McCauley’s National Interfaith Leadership Council – on South Africa’s Government. Ever since the unlikely figure of Jacob Zuma launched the Moral Regeneration Movement, thinking South Africans should have been concerned about how much influence organised religion would continue to have on policy in this country. Now that danger seems set to increase, with talk of revisiting laws legalising abortion and same-sex marriage. I’ve sent a letter in response via the Free Society Institute – if you are as concerned as I am, please also protest this incursion of nonsense into a domain which really doesn’t need more confusion.