Letters to the editor: August 1 to 7 2014

Target: The media's obsession with President Jacob Zuma and his family makes 'objectivity impossible', a reader writes. (Madelene Cronjé)

Target: The media's obsession with President Jacob Zuma and his family makes 'objectivity impossible', a reader writes. (Madelene Cronjé)

Media narrative stuck on the ?‘corrupt’ ?Zumas

The front-page story in the Mail & Guardian last week (Zuma’s daughter gets top state job) raises very sharply the paper’s obsession with anything linked to President Jacob Zuma. This obsession makes objectivity impossible.

The reality is that every minister has a set of posts over which they have total control and discretion. The ministerial handbook classifies these posts clearly as political appointments.
Among them is a minister’s chief of staff. Qualifications, experience, political trust and general ability are taken into account. There is no requirement that the post be advertised; there is no competitive process.

Yet the impression was given of wanton disregard for the law in the appointment of Zuma’s 25-year-old daughter, Thuthukile, to a chief of staff post. This is misleading. The only explanation is that the story had to fit the M&G‘s narrative of a corrupt Zuma, who would ensure that his daughter is favoured unfairly.

Another insinuation is that of nepotism. Such logic implies that the 72 ministers and deputy ministers who make decisions about who works in their political offices would have to discriminate actively against anyone related to the president.

Zuma has more than 20 children, and they and other relatives are likely to be found in the pool from which political appointments are made. To argue that anyone with Zuma blood must be excluded is absurd, especially when there is no competitive process prescribed by law.

The only sense I can make of it is to do with the “blame Zuma” construct, and the same goes for general business discrimination against anyone linked to Zuma. A Sunday paper published a so-called “family tree” of Zuma money, indirectly prejudicing anyone linked to Zuma in business.

Politics is fickle. It cannot be assumed that a link to Zuma means business favour. If anything, Zuma’s relatives end up having people afraid to deal with them because of this assumed favouritism. This is unfair. When the Hawks dropped the case of Zuma’s son’s car accident, they were made to explain themselves. Being a Zuma now means you can’t even have an accident without it being politicised.

The third area that needs examination is the noise about the fact that, as a 25-year-old, Zuma does not have much experience and was promoted too suddenly. Yet at 25 I was appointed as a business development executive of one of the biggest global advertising firms in South Africa.

Yolanda Cuba was as young when Tokyo Sexwale made her the chief executive of one of the biggest black-owned mining firms in this country, and she accounted for herself very well. At 30, Robinson Ramaite, today an accomplished businessperson, was the youngest director general in government about 10 years ago.

The issue of affirming the potential of young people in general and young women in particular cannot be overemphasised. Such interventions have to be deliberate. It takes people in leadership to take the necessary risks and give a chance to someone with potential, despite a lack of experience in that particular field.

Somehow, after 20 years of demo-cracy, the debate about affirmative action always feels like the moving of goalposts. When you have experience and no qualifications, there is also noise – see Hlaudi Motsoeneng’s SABC appointment after almost 30 years of experience at the broadcaster. In the case of Zuma, with her two degrees, the noise is about her bloodline and maybe even about her race and gender.

The M&G article, like others in the media recently, tries too hard to find fault with Zuma. I think the head of state must be held accountable by the public: parliamentary questions and queries from the media must be posed and the president must be able to respond.

But stories such as this one border on an obsession with Zuma, even when blame must be placed on others. Many things are used as proxies to blame Zuma.

This has terrible implications, such as the insinuation that his ministers, relatives and children cannot think for themselves and any mistakes they make must be ascribed to Zuma. It has to stop if we are serious about having constructive conversations about accountability in our body politic. – Lebo Keswa, Johannesburg

Secular humanism has made good of evil

  The basic argument of the article Decriminalise sex work to help control Aids pandemic, scientists demand seems to be that the means (the decriminalisation of prostitution) justifies the end (the reduction of HIV infections), which in moral matters is not only dangerous also but false.

Lobbying for the decriminalisation of prostitution is not new. Prostitution was there before HIV and Aids, and it will likely continue after a cure is discovered – if it is not legalised in the interim. Arguing for its decriminalisation to reduce HIV infections is opportunistic.

If “fear of the police ... as well as abuse itself often prevents sex workers from protecting themselves against HIV infection”, the thing to do is to straighten out the police – not decriminalise prostitution. Prostitutes and other lawbreakers ought to fear the police.

In the article, the editor of the Lancet medical journal asks “why should we condemn and criminalise the exchange of money for sex” (when we should) and not accept and embrace sex work as part of the “human story”[?]. Murder, rape and theft are also part of the “human story” but are not accepted or embraced, much less decriminalised.

The deeper problem is that the Lancet editor is expressing his personal belief, thus creating the false impression that it is a reasonable deduction from scientific research. Based on whose belief system are we to accept or reject the decriminalisation of prostitution?

This is the issue: belief systems. The courts and the country are under the sway of secular humanism. The courts will ultimately decriminalise prostitution if they are consistent in their secular-humanistic interpretation of the right of all to “dignity, freedom and equality”. It is lamentable that the courts have emptied that phrase of meaning.

Who would have thought that homosexuality, same-sex marriage and abortion would be recognised as human rights? In holding to the dogma of secular humanism, judges have created a court-sanctioned lawlessness that calls good evil and evil good. – Lungelo Ncede, Mdantsane

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