Letters to the editor: March 4 to 10 2016

Consummate statesman: Former president FW de Klerk (left) acted in the best interests of South Africa, a reader says. (Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

Consummate statesman: Former president FW de Klerk (left) acted in the best interests of South Africa, a reader says. (Juda Ngwenya/Reuters)

Readers write in about FW de Klerk, Evita and racism, and Umberto Eco.

Give De Klerk his due

  I refer to the correspondence under the rubric Bouquet and brickbats for M&G. It appears that the issue concerning “secret” meetings between former president FW de Klerk and Democratic Alliance leader Mmusi Maimane reported on was intended to embarrass the two persons concerned, and the DA. There was also an underlining assumption that such contact was undesirable.

This is most unfortunate, because it reflects negatively on the character and contribution of De Klerk. I consider that it is necessary, in all fairness, to rebut such an insinuation in no uncertain terms.

History is likely to assess De Klerk as a profound reformer, who acted with both exceptional moral and political courage in contributing, with Nelson Mandela, to taking South Africa from the state of notorious injustice and oppression that constituted apartheid to a new liberal-democratic dispensation.

  His heroic and morally courageous speech of February 2 1990, in which he announced the unbanning of the liberation movements and the release of Mandela, will probably be regarded as one of the most significant political speeches of the 20th century, ranking with Harold Macmillan’s “wind of change” speech of 1960.

De Klerk’s speech has been described as a “quantum leap” because it involved not merely incremental reform measures but a fundamental reform. It involved a leap of faith, the consequences of which were an essentially peaceful, negotiated, new and just dispensation.

Although the relationship between Mandela and De Klerk was at times tempestuous, the former never denied the integrity of the latter. They were jointly awarded the Nobel prize. This speaks volumes. This was a judgment made by the international community, which had for decades censured the oppression and atrocities of apartheid.

De Klerk proved to be a statesman of consummate ability in the way he managed the period of transition from February 2 1990 to April 27 1994. The demands placed on him by the turbulent state of the country and the party-political problems he faced were extremely demanding, almost insurmountable.

Both Mandela and De Klerk were able to put aside their personal differences and act in a manner that was beneficial for the country and its people. In everything De Klerk tried to accomplish, he acted in a selfless way, not seeking any political glory for himself.

After the ANC victory in the 1994 election, he handed over the reins of government to Mandela and served as deputy president under him.

De Klerk never claimed to be a saint or pretended that he did not make mistakes. He is modest about his achievements and, in retirement, continues to make a significant contribution to peace-making through negotiation and dialogue by means of the De Klerk Foundation.

  History will assess him as one of the greatest sons of South Africa, who, with Mandela, brought into being the liberal-democratic dispensation in which we live. In so doing, he has acquired an international reputation that is well deserved. – Professor George Devenish, Durban


There are no half-measures for full-blown racism

  What an excellent opening page of your Comment & Analysis section, by Pieter-Dirk Uys, writing as Evita Bezuidenhout ( Evita leads by example: ‘I am a racist’).

The analogous reference to alcohol abuse provides the name for the social diagnosis applicable to most of us South Africans.

Addiction carries the implications and complications of a disease, much studied, analysed and debated: you cannot have “a touch of it”; it is often progressive (no political implication intended).

It is not genetically conferred, although early exposure in the crib penetrates as effectively as a dominant gene. It is nurtured by like-minded groups, gathering under a variety of collective titles, in which its influence is enhanced by mutual encouragement – immunity to criticism is conferred by collective intellectual inbreeding. Further propagation is ensured by a mix of material advantage and the approval of fellow addicts.

  Fearless disregard for the fully developed syndrome, induced by the addiction itself, ensures a poor prognosis for recovery. The cure is difficult to administer, requiring a miraculous cultural metamorphosis or complete political frontal lobectomy. – Jack Thorne


Eco loved signs that echo signs, not those that ape reality

  Thanks for the lovely piece by Darryl Accone on the recently deceased Italian semiologist and writer Umberto Eco ( Dan Brown not Eco’s sole echo). In the second sentence in the feature, however, there is a slight epistemological problem that cannot be allowed to ride.

Accone writes: “A semiologist at the University of Bologna, Eco’s day job was given over to the relationship between written signs and their referents in the real world and in another, more interesting realm: that of ideas.”

As anyone who has followed the trajectory of semiotics (the English term rather than the American “semiology”) from Ferdinand de Saussure, through (especially through) Roland Barthes to the poststructuralism of Jacques Derrida and others, would know the sign is part of a system of signs and if it refers to anything in the “real” world this is not a concern of semiotics.

Reference is a key concern in a branch of philosophy known as linguistic philosophy, and most of the problems of reference were sorted out philosophically by the Austrian-born British philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Eco’s first – and quite masterful – foray into the field of signs was in his analysis of the narrative of James Bond stories. No one can say that this has an obvious connection with anything “real”.

  The signs in a semiotic system refer to other signs and, in the rather solipsistic media-saturated world of the image (see Jean Baudrillard) and of intertextual interplays of meaning, ultimately to themselves. – Professor Damian Garside, department of communication, North West University, Mahikeng

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