September 22 to 28 2006

A corrupting silence

In drawing attention to the current anti-intellectual populism in South Africa, Graeme Bloch (”Where did the left go wrong?”, September 15) emphasises the need for humanist values and asks ”how we fell so quickly from political and moral leadership, integrity and worldwide respect”.

In the same edition Ivor Chipkin questions the state of social solidarity in South Africa and the values institutions promote — are they conducive to the social solidarity a democracy needs?

A major contributor to the malaise discerned by these two authors is South Africa’s official attitude towards Zimbabwe. Complete meltdown of its economy, the deprivation of millions, a flood of refugees across its borders, and now brutal suppression of trade union-led demonstrations is met with official inertia and apparent unconcern by our government.

Criticism of Robert Mugabe’s regime is discouraged, even suppressed. Mugabe is shielded from international opprobrium. He rants at the ”anti-democratic West” at the Non-Aligned Movement conference while his government thugs break the bones of union leaders.

The result is the numbing of South Africa’s sense of personal responsibility, concern and solidarity. The damage to the national soul feeds into the complex of escalating crime, violence and corruption.

South Africa has to move away from political opportunism and navel-staring. The nation craves true democratic empowerment and leadership that is humane and right.

It was, after all, the resolute solidarity and concern of the frontline states and the world that isolated the apartheid regime and ushered in South Africa’s liberation. — Balt Verhagen, Johannesburg

The chronic tendency of the media and melodramatic organisations like the Young Communist League to call on President Thabo Mbeki to intervene in even minor events in Zimbabwe is becoming quite a concern.

For the league to urge the president to intervene over the Zimbabwean government’s arrest of union leaders who allegedly broke the law by organising an illegal march shows the league’s ignorance of that country’s sovereignty and the universal obligation of citizens to act in accordance with their country’s laws.

The league, and other organisations and countries calling for Mbeki to intervene, all have rules governing the conduct of their members and would enforce compliance with them if they were contravened.

We cannot dictate to the Zimbabweans how they should do things. — Luther Lebelo, Midrand

Boldness born of conviction

Pope Benedict has made a bold statement that President George W Bush, a head of state and vouchsafed enemy of terror, would not dare whisper.

No risk, no gain is the undeniable truth. The person — whether religious head or political leader — who has the courage of conviction will ultimately bell the cat. — Omar Luther King, Delhi, India

The pope’s criticisms of Islam and the Prophet Muhammad are reckless coming from a man who should be familiar with global religions. Repeating a 14th-century statement, he said: ”Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new.” Perhaps the pope should be reminded of the words of British thinker Thomas Carlyle: ”The lies which well-meaning zeal has heaped round this man [Muhammad] are disgraceful to ourselves only.”

The eminent British historian, Edward Gibbon, rejected the idea that Islam was spread by the sword, saying ”a pernicious tenet has been imputed to the Muhummedans [Muslims] — the duty of extirpating all the religions by the sword”. Gibbon said this conception was refuted by the Qur’an and Islamic leaders’ public and legal toleration of Christian worship.

The pope’s claims are refuted even by scholars of his own faith. AS Tritton, in his book Islam, writes: ”The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other is quite false.” And De Lacy O’ Leary in Islam at the Crossroads remarks: ”History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one of the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated.”

I urge the pope and his followers to study Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam by the Hindu scholar Professor KS Ramakrishna Roa. — Mufti EMH Salejee, for Jamiatul Ulama KwaZulu-Natal

Steve Irwin: is apathy better?

Reading Robert Kirby (September 15) on Steve Irwin, I felt: yes, Irwin was loud and probably annoying. But he obviously loved what he did and was incredibly enthusiastic about wildlife.

How can a crocodile hunter like Bobby Wilmot be compared with someone intent on conserving and protecting them, however strange the methods?

Irwin was against the sale of wildlife ”products” and spent much of his fortune buying land in many parts of the world for wildlife reserves.

Is it better to be completely apathetic towards conservation, or to make people sit up and notice crocodiles by rolling around with them — and perhaps motivate them to make a difference? — Leane, Stellenbosch

‘Thank God for Kirby’s curmudgeonly sanity,” I couldn’t help but intone when I read ”Crocodiles 0, stingrays 1”.

In a country where gigantic 4x4s and brashly branded citywear are often the stock-in-trade of nature lovers, and dissent is seen as oddly dangerous, he’s an unlikely hero. — Jean Meiring

Hands off our leaders!

I am getting sick of the Mail & Guardian‘s biased political news and pulling down of our leaders.

It is time you reported on South Africa’s cultural diversity, success in managing public finances, economic growth, development of former black townships, relations we have with other countries, our role in Africa, educational transformation and so on.

We don’t need to be dragged down into negativity. We are positive about the future; we know where our leadership is taking us. To our leaders I say: don’t succumb to the M&G‘s pressure, which discourages debate, paints a bleak future and depicts black people as incapable and corrupt. — Michael Siphiwo Mxhosa, Johannesburg

Self-righteous moralising

L Benjamin (Letters, September 15) objects to taxpayers subsidising the public health bill for HIV/Aids patients and says citizens should assume personal responsibility for their chosen ”immoral behaviour”. These are perplexing assumptions from a doctor trained through public subsidies.

Being born into the world is not ”immoral behaviour”, yet tens of thousands of South African children live with HIV contracted in utero or post-partum.

Benjamin further assumes that contracting HIV is a choice. In fact, people often contract it from a steady or regular partner without making any personal choice at all.

And countless women cannot make sexual choices in a patriarchal society.

These realities should assuage self-righteous moralising. We have a national responsibility to be compassionate towards all sick people. — Reverend Craig Morrison

Dramatic ‒ but is it true?

Richard Calland ( September 8) suggests the ANC is disintegrating and that the working class is rising up to claim its rights, which he seems to see as a good thing. But is this actually happening? Is the Zuma affair destroying the ANC? Is Abahlali baseMjondolo rising unified?

The Zuma affair is a source of bad press for the ANC. Many fraudsters and poseurs have gathered to support Zuma and revenge themselves on the party for not taking them seriously. The media love this, and have transformed political pipsqueaks like the Youth League and the Young Communists into towering cardboard images.

However, the ANC is not wholly media-led and ANC activists are unlikely to view Brett Kebble’s political playboys as serious leaders. Even in KwaZulu-Natal, Zuma’s support base is divided; elsewhere, he commands scant real support.

Within the ANC, there is little public discussion about a succession issue that commands obsessive concern among its enemies. No doubt some leaders are quietly garnering support. But we shall never learn about this from newspaper headlines and Zwelinzima Vavi’s mendacity.

We were told before the last election that mass disillusionment would cut ANC support — but its support grew. Before the municipal election there were national demonstrations that did not weaken the ANC — they were mainly publicity stunts organised by ambitious would-be ANC councillors.

Take the Anti-Privatisation Forum (APF), which claims to represent the people (as opposed to voters). When the APF contested the recent election, it performed pitifully. Calland views Abahlali in the same way that foreign leftists used to view the APF. Is he as misguided as they were?

Abahlali’s programme is to compel the eThekwini municipality to live up to its promises. It is doing this through legal means. It accepts the system and only wishes it to work better. In short, it is not a radical alternative, but reformist.

How could Calland misunderstand this? Surely he wants to believe that the ANC is corrupt and disintegrating, and that something is coming to replace it? Presumably he is deeply dissatisfied with the present system and would like to see an alternative.

But his failure to think through his dissatisfaction merely opens the door to the charlatanry one sees in the Friends of Jacob Zuma and their hangers-on. — Mathew Blatchford, University of Fort Hare

Goldin family wanted ads flighted

Although Darron Araujo’s feelings and concerns about the flighting of adverts featuring Brett Goldin are appreciated (Letters, September 15), they do not reflect Liberty Life’s intentions nor the Goldin family’s wishes.

Shortly before Brett’s tragic death, he featured in adverts for Liberty’s new investment product which, when he died, were immediately withdrawn out of respect for him and his family.

In accordance with the Goldin family’s wishes, Liberty is now airing the adverts again. The family felt he would want his work to continue, and it is their wish that his memory should be honoured and live on through it.

Liberty would not have reflighted the adverts, but the family expressed, both verbally and in letters to us, that acting was his passion and to deny his work an opportunity to continue would be to deny his achievements as an actor.

Beyond the Liberty adverts, there will be many instances where his work will remain a fitting tribute to a remarkable man. — Howard Fox, marketing divisional director, Liberty Life

I’m surprised people are offended by the continued airing of work by a dead artist. Should we ban all books by dead authors, or ban movies featuring dead actors?

Surely the best way to remember an artist is to be exposed to his or her art? — Ketan Lakhani, Durban

Short memories

What I and millions of other South Africans want to know is: are Vlok and his former colleagues going to wash the feet of the fathers and mothers whose sons were killed over South Africa’s borders?

They were youngsters, many straight from school — they didn’t volunteer. And if they didn’t want to go, they were jailed and labelled traitors and cowards.

They’ll have to start washing feet every day if they want to get through all the parents whose sons they sacrificed. They have short memories when it comes to the white and coloured South Africans who fought their war! — Lilian Horak

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