Pseudo think-tanks offer naive proposals

They have a few things in common: they live in the suburbs, are opinionated and dominate the newspapers’ opinion pages. They are also confident and articulate.

Worryingly, though, their grasp of South Africa’s socioeconomic realities appears very shallow. They belong to pseudo think-tank or civil society organisations such as the so-called September National Imbizo and the Midrand Group. A perfect example of their shallow diagnosis of South Africa’s social ills appeared in an open letter in the Mail & Guardian titled “Forcing politicians to use public services will make a difference” (May 11).

Written by members of the national co-ordinating committee of the September National Imbizo, the letter propagates outlandish ideas such as “it is only when politicians and public servants are compelled by law to use public services that we will get people out of their current hellish existence”. They want a “law” to “make it a crime for any politician or public servant to use private services”.

Besides the naivety of the proposal, it refers to getting people “out of their hellish existence”, which shows clearly that the authors of the call do not see themselves as part of these “people” – hence “their”, not “our” hellish existence.

These are the suburb-dwelling, self-appointed spokespersons of the poor. They have scant experience (if any) of life in the ghettos, the townships and villages where most of the poor live. They like to write but they do not seem to like to read. Do they read the Constitution, the supreme law of the land? Do they not know, for example, about everyone’s right to freedom of choice?  

Indeed, do they really know who South Africa’s poor are (the same poor people on whose behalf they pretend to speak) and what their genuine aspirations are? No scholarly thoughts are presented, no research is cited in their missives. All they do is sneer at the authorities on the media platforms they are offered without question.

They rarely get questioned, maybe because we tolerate differing views, but also because few may take them seriously.

I should not take them seriously either, but I am worried because some of these fake public intellectuals are my peers in terms of age and may become leaders of tomorrow. – Nelson Kgwete


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