Letters to the Editor: November 26 2010

Anti-communists also
for cadre deployment

Gavin Davis (”An independent cadre is a contradiction in terms”, November 19) is right to protest against ruling party leaders appointed to institutions meant often to adjudicate conflicts between the government and rival parties, opponents and citizens. Such appointments hurt the institutions because they create the perception of bias, even in cases where there is none.

He is right to point to the gagging of Andrew Feinstein by the then ANC whip as an action that opposes the nurturing of a democratic culture. We can add to that the similar silencing of Pregs Govender as an MP.

A litmus test is: If we have appointments to quasi-judicial organs of outstanding human rights activists with a career in the ANC, are there also balancing appointments of outstanding human rights activists formerly associated with one or more opposition parties, such as the Democratic Alliance or Azapo?

Davis is wrong, however, to imagine that “cadre deployment is unique to political parties like the ANC, steeped in Leninist democratic centralism”. Anti-communist parties are just as keen on cronyism.

The Afrikaner nationalists packed the judiciary, bureaucracy, special branch, military and SABC with their political pets—baantjies vir boeties. Their cronies were all Broederbond members, expected to toe the line.

In the United States this strategy is institutionalised as the “spoils ­system”. Cronies are indeed expected to be sympathetic to their political sponsors, or they are unlikely to be reappointed. “Deployment committees” are little different to the pressuring of old school tie and old boys’ clubs. In short: eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Whether the ruling party is Leninist or anti-Leninist makes scant difference.—Keith Gottschalk, Cape Town

Nothing critical about this forum
For a supposedly critical thinking symposium, your supplement on the proposed expansion of our gas industry (November 19) was short on both thinking and critique.

Although gas may be cleaner than coal, it is not a clean fossil fuel. The proposals by Shell, which funded the “debate”, if you could call it that, to mine shale for gas by “fracking” went largely unchallenged. Fracking is a profoundly polluting and water-intensive manner of accessing dispersed gas. It has negative short- and long-term impacts and is a topic worthy of more than a few lines of query.

If the Mail & Guardian is going to permit sponsorship for its Critical Thinking Forums by oil majors, it should at least attempt to maintain a modicum of integrity by including at least one notably critical voice among the panel. Instead we got four pages of waffle.

It all shows up editor Nic Dawes’s claim at a recent South African Civil Society Information Service panel meeting that the M&G attempts to set up debate between ideological poles when providing analysis on important macro issues. Really? And we must suppose you are not beholden to the sponsors of your debates either?

The way I read it, Shell got a free ride, with a greedwash, oops, greenwash advert. It was a poor show all around.—Glenn Ashton, Cape Town

The M&G and Shell concur with the government’s claim that increased mining, combustion and export of coal, in the face of climate science that demands the opposite, is necessary for development that will benefit the poor. This means that no matter how much energy ordinary South Africans save, this cannot result in even one less gram of coal being burned.

Whatever electricity is saved is taken up at below-cost discount by an aluminium smelter that employs about 1 000 workers. If small businesses and industries instead used this electricity, not only would they pay at a higher rate, they would also employ 10 to 1 000 times more workers, thus improving the economy.

So next time you see a power alert on TV saying electricity use is high, if it does not recommend “Turn off all unnecessary aluminium smelters” then ignore it and turn on whatever appliances you need. You cannot possibly do any more harm to the environment than what is already being done and neither can you help end climate change by switching off appliances until the government decreases mining and burning and exporting coal.—Alan Murphy, Durban

Racism is still a reality
The fact that Jacques Rousseau (“White supremacy rant against Gareth Cliff sullies rational political debate”, November 12) could not identify any evidence of racism in Cliff’s letter to the president is precisely because his defence of Cliff is racist itself.

Instead of attempting to use his analytic tools as an academic to find out whether the charge advanced by Andile Mngxitama is valid or not, he spent time trying to justify the validity of Cliff’s letter.

I don’t have anything in common with Mngxitama except the fact that we are both black South Africans. Our political orientations are poles apart—I am neither an Africanist nor a Black Consciousness activist. But this does not stop me acknowledging the relevance of his point about Cliff.

We have to accept and acknowledge, as progressive South Africans, that the vast majority of fellow white South Africans are still racist, including Cliff and his praise-singer Rousseau.

A black person does not need to be a scientist to see this reality, because black South Africans experience it in their daily lives—on the road, with their white neighbours, at schools and universities, in places of leisure, in the workplace, in the print media, on radio—just about everywhere. We are still “two nations”, white people living a noble life at the expense of the black majority, and a black ­majority remaining in poverty and hopelessness.

White South Africans use everything at their disposal to maintain, defend and consolidate the wealth they accumulated under apartheid. They attack black economic empowerment, affirmative action and all other government interventions to reverse the apartheid legacy.

They are involved in corrupting black people (we have to note that in most of the corruption scandals involving ANC leaders, white business people are a common denominator). In this context the black majority cannot just accept “criticism” from white people.

Cliff’s letter was not a criticism but an attack on the government. This is the kind of propaganda we are fed by the white-dominated print media. That does not suggest that we do not have challenges in government—corruption, poor servicing of our people by public officials, the legacy of apartheid, racial poverty and so on. Everybody in our country is expected to contribute through constructive engagement to find a way to resolve these challenges.

Cliff does not need to mention “race” for him to be racist. His lack of respect for the late Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was not just about disrespecting the late minister but her family too, including the entire black majority. Rousseau’s choice of words borders on racism too.

It worries me that after 16 years of democracy there are still such people in institutions of higher learning.—Khaya Magaxa, SACP provincial secretary, Western Cape

The mote in the eye of Israel
I fled my native South Africa in the 1980s, being opposed to apartheid as an ordained minister. Now, after living for many years in Israel, where I have been deeply engaged in matters related to the Israeli-Arab conflict, I was amazed that Edwin Arrison (“Palestinian Christians redefine narrative”, November 12) could blur the line between fact and fiction.

Arrison says Christian tourism to Israel is Israel centric to the detriment of Palestinians. But anyone familiar with the industry here knows that most pilgrimage tours to the Holy Land are whirlwind visits to biblical sites, ignoring the “locals”, both Arab and Jewish. Some of the biggest tour companies are owned by Christian Arabs; those owned by Jews often assign guides who sympathise with the Palestinian cause.

I organise Israel’s biggest annual tourism event, an eight-day gathering that brings thousands of evangelical Christians from more than 100 nations to Jerusalem. We also bring Christians to Israel throughout the year, so we know something about this market.

We, too, are concerned about the disconnect between most pilgrimage tours and Christians in Israel. So, at our annual event, we introduce our participants to Palestinian and Israeli Arab Christian leaders and arrange bus tours to their communities.

Arrison expresses concern for Palestinian Christians but ignores the fact that they are persecuted by their Arab Muslim neighbours. Last year in Gaza a Muslim gang lynched the director of the local Bible Society and has yet to be held accountable.

Two-thirds of native Arab Christians fled the Palestinian areas in the past six decades, most before the Israeli “occupation” began. Israel is the only country in the Middle East whose Christian population has grown in the past half-century.

Arrison writes that Jesus is on the side of the weak. He implies by this that Israel is their oppressor. I travel all through Israel and the Palestinian Authority and have yet to see the poverty levels one witnesses in South Africa. It appears that you have a bigger problem on your doorstep. Didn’t Jesus say something about taking the plank out of your own eye?

In the past two decades the Muslims of northern Sudan have murdered two million Christians in the south. Many of them were even crucified. These are the weak and we have all neglected them.

There are few aid agencies there, three American evangelical aid groups and a Jewish relief organisation. What has Arrison done to help these weak Christians on his own continent?—Reverend Malcolm Hedding, executive director, International Christian Embassy, Jerusalem

Teach them about sex
The education department should be primarily accountable for the youths’ sexual thinking and conduct. Let them be taught in line with the challenges of South African society.

Teenagers spend more time at school, interact more with one another at school, talk about their lives more often at school and the same schools have educated adults (teachers) who have immense influence over them.

Instruction about sex and sexuality needs to be direct, explicit, data-based and accessible. We cannot leave such teaching to chance. Our education can be more effective only when policymakers and teachers make research-informed decisions about what, when and how to teach pupils about sex and sexuality.

Such an education would engage learners in not just talking about their sexual experiences but also about their sexual thoughts and beliefs. As teachers, we can and must educate the youth about sex before they educate themselves, as they do now.—Pakane Lamola

Township brought to life
Well done to your writer Monako Dibetle, who wrote such a vivid and well-crafted piece on Kagiso (November 5). His writing really brought the township to life, both its past and its present.

The image of his father and him scurrying home with a barrow full of ice melting in the heat will stay with me forever. The piece reminded me that detailed reportage and a crisp voice can convey the South African story more eloquently than even the best opinion piece.—Pippa Green, University of Pretoria

Selebi’s sweater problem
Thank you for an excellent review of the book Finish and Klaar (Summer Books, November 19). What interested me was Jackie Selebi’s clothing in the picture. The suit is clearly tailor-made, good shoes, modest tie, but, ye gods, under it he wears a knitted jersey à la PW Botha!

What is it with South Africans and their weird sweaters under suits? If you’re cold, wear a T-shirt under the shirt and a waistcoat under the jacket. Anyway, Selebi will look his best in the chic orange gear of the prison service.—Madeleine Roux, Montagu



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