Letters to the editor: May 9 to 15 2014

Left-wing alternative to neoliberalism missing
Colin Bundy has written an informative and useful article about ANC government performance in the past 20 years (“What happened to transformation?”). Whether his assertions of fact and the specific arguments he presents are acceptable remains open to others for comment. I want to concentrate instead on the missing alternative model of economic organisation that one expects to see recommended in every criticism of “neoliberalism”.

The fact is that there is no convincing left-wing intellectual model in existence to substantiate the aspirations and claims of a “developmental state”. This may not be a deliberate omission in this article (a book extract), but it is vitally important that supporters of an alternative social and economic order do not continue to aspire to some ephemeral substitute system.

Firstly, this is not a uniquely South African problem. One of the striking outcomes of the recession that began in 2008 is that no convincing ­paradigms or models that pose alternatives to the mixed economies of rich countries have emerged as serious rivals to the status quo.

Of course we see ongoing disputes about the kinds of policy action required for countering the recession. But by no stretch of imagination can these actions aimed at economic stabilisation be considered serious rival systems of ideas. The intellectual left in major countries has no arrows in its quiver.

Second, for poor countries, the successful “developmental states” cited by Bundy, such as the “Asian tigers”, seem now to have been one-offs. These were successful because of a unique set of historical circumstances, including their being beneficiaries of American aid and protection during the Cold War. South Korea exported all it wanted to into the huge American market. This will not happen for South Africa.

Third, the self-proclaimed left-wing countries of the world do not promise much. Venezuela, for instance, with its large oil resources, could easily afford successful pro-poor policies under Hugo Chavez, but 15 years later that economy is heading for wild inflation – and the ruling regime is ever more authoritarian and repressive when it comes to dissent. Cuba, another possible model, offers good education and healthcare and nothing else. About North Korea nothing need be said.

So where do we look for guidance, both intellectually and practically? Many of us aspire to finding a path to egalitarianism; that is, for a society that treats equality with as much seriousness as it treats material progress. But the first step must be to acknowledge that there is no set of left-wing technical solutions at the level of a nation state that makes for a coherent system. This intellectual concession is absolutely essential for future progress. – Sean Archer, Cape Town 

‘There’s no Mac ministry’ – Maharaj 
– You and your reporter have short-changed me (“Maharaj for minister of propaganda”). I know the Mail & Guardian holds me in high regard. Equally, the M&G is aware of the esteem with which I hold it, especially its ability to write fiction dressed as fact.

I am pleased with your anti­-ageist stance in upholding my age as a first and primary consideration for President Jacob Zuma to appoint me minister of propaganda in the fifth successive ANC administration to govern South Africa. 

My discomfort is because, with age and cadre deployment as criteria, I have been labouring under the belief that President Zuma will be proposing to the fifth Parliament that I be elected the president of the republic. 

How could you let the country and President Zuma down and deflate my self-esteem? Surely you can do better in the area of the imagination! – Mac Maharaj 

– Oh joy! You’ve got to be kidding! An information ministry to clean up Zuma’s image! 

“Re-imaging his image” costs nothing. All Zuma would have to do is avoid being corrupt, avoid mismanaging the state, and insist on clean and efficient governance. 

Zimbabwean and Russian models (of media)? 

Is Zuma going to interfere with our free private media too? – SC Weiss, Johannesburg 

Mogoeng’s religious views should remain private 
I do not doubt the sincerity and integrity of Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng in “Upholding Christ and the Constitution“. 

I do, however, have principled ­reservations in relation to the jurisprudential wisdom expressed. 

I agree that “a perception that judges who are devout Christians have the inherent propensity to do injustice to people who are not Christian or who dislike Christianity is seriously flawed”. This would, I submit, also apply to devout Muslims, Jews and Hindus. 

But I disagree if such persons, in their office as judges, are involved in publicly declaring their devotion to any particular faith. A publicly declared expression of religious opinion can create “a reasonable apprehension of bias”, the criterion used in our law to determine bias or impartiality (as in the South African Rugby Football Union judgment of the Constitutional Court). Nothing should be done that could create a reasonable impression of bias. 

This is exactly what Mogoeng has done in this piece by publicising his views. Judges, too, are entitled to views and are obviously entitled to be devout, but such views should remain essentially private. 

The high office of the Bench requires that certain sacrifices be made in relation to freedom of expression. They may not compromise the independence and impartiality of the judiciary by publicly declaring their views. 

An erstwhile Canadian chief justice explained: the independence of the judiciary means “complete liberty … to determine cases … free from external influences”. – Professor George Devenish, Durban

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