A welcome voice of reason

ANC deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe is not immune from political misjudgement. In the early 2000s he made statements in support of President Thabo Mbeki’s Aids dissidence and he has tended to view the Zimbabwean crisis as the product of the Lancaster House agreement and alleged British failures on land reform, rather than of Robert Mugabe’s brutal power politics.

The Mail & Guardian strongly disagrees with his rather feeble reasons for wanting the Scorpions disbanded.

But he has three outstanding virtues that the ANC and the country desperately need at the moment.
He stands at the ANC’s moderate centre, and he has the guts and integrity to stand up for what he thinks is right, even if that makes him unpopular. And although he almost certainly has his eye on high government office—what politician doesn’t—he is not unhinged by ambition.

In this edition we publish an interview with Motlanthe in which he frankly takes on the mindless militancy of the hardliners in his party, particularly its youth wing, and among its communist and trade union allies. He defends the judiciary, pointing out that it has a decisive long-term role to play in our democracy, independently of the personalities who may happen to occupy the Bench. He has consistently claimed that Jacob Zuma is the victim of political persecution, but significantly, has not added his voice to the chorus of demands for the dropping of charges against the ANC president.

Challenging the ANC Youth League’s childish “politics of total take-over”, Motlanthe insists that in the interests of stability Mbeki should be allowed to finish his term and that there must be room for all shades of opinion in the party and government. He also clears the air around Julius Malema’s “kill for Zuma” call of prevarications and special pleading, bluntly branding the statement reckless and urging the ANC Youth League to stop behaving as if they live in the South Africa of 1976.

Motlanthe’s other strong point is that he believes in the power of discussion as a way of resolving differences, rather than trying to annihilate his opponents, an instinct that may partly stem from his years as a trade union leader and negotiator.

After Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke ruffled ANC feathers in January by declaring that he was not interested in the views of ANC conference delegates, it was Motlanthe who met the judge, laying the basis for a conciliatory joint statement. Among other ANC leaders, the rather different reflex has been to try to block Moseneke’s expected and deserved rise to the leadership of our highest court.

In a time of high dudgeon, his is a welcome voice of progressive reason.

More accolades, fewer pratfalls

Some say sport is the new opiate of the masses, an orchestrated distraction from the more urgent concerns over which they might otherwise rise up in anger.

We disagree.

There is a case to be made that South Africans have bigger things to worry about than recent miserable performances from their sportspeople—school violence, interest rates and political gloom, for example.

But it is precisely because our reality is rather gloomy that we need sport as an alternative national glue, holding us together in the glow of pride.

There are times when even an opiate should be not just legal, but widely prescribed. We don’t need the banality of cheap nationalism, but we do need something to cheer about and give us strength for the bigger battles. At crucial times in our democracy, sport has been that drug—few things lift the national morale more than the simple, gorgeous clarity of winning.

But after a dreadful Olympics, annihilation in rugby’s TriNations and the humiliating rout of the cricket side in this week’s one-day international, it seems we have only a small drop in the petrol price to fuel the cheering. So sad are things on the sporting front that Bafana’s draw last week has been hailed as the highlight of a sporting month best treated with anti-depressants.

Worse, we now face seven sporting days of dread: the Boks play the Wallabies knowing that nothing they do will save them from the wooden spoon in the TriNations, while Bafana Bafana take on their nemesis, Nigeria, in the Cup of Nations/World Cup qualifier. A loss for the local boys will end all dreams of participating in the Cup of Nations in Angola in two years. Looming on the cricket horizon is our other nemesis—Australia.

It is not so much that we want our sportspeople to win at all costs—though that would be nice—but simply that we need them to remind us that we are good at something other than corruption, racism and xenophobia.

And we need their administrators and political bosses to help them to get on with it. Surely a few more parades, and rather fewer pratfalls, is not too much to ask for.

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