Religion and Power, the never ending dance

August 23, 2012 § 5 Comments

this originally appeared on the Mail & Guardian’s Thought Leader

Many are of the opinion that religion has no place in politics. This is an understandable position to take considering the abuses that have been committed in the name of religion, whether it be Islam, Judaism or Christianity. We are too aware of how the Bible was used to justify racism right here in South Africa. None of us are blind to the atrocities that have been committed in the name of religion, especially that of Christianity. However there needs to be a distinction between religion and those who use it to attain power.

I will try (poorly) to defend religion from its very unflattering past. It is best that I use Christianity as an example since I am more familiar with it. In the interests of full disclosure, I must reveal that I am a practising Christian. I am not unmindful of the fact that this revelation may open me up to some derision. It’s almost unkosher to “come out” and admit this. Perhaps a few years from now we will have closet Christians “coming out” and making public declarations of their long held beliefs. Who knows, we might even have Christian Pride Parades along with the gays. (Is it even politically correct to say “gays” these days?) But I digress.

I submit that it is unfair to incriminate religion itself for any wrongs that have been and are being committed in its name. It would be incorrect to blame Islam for the September 11 attacks, just as it would be to level accusations at Christianity for the Spanish Inquisition. There is a vast difference between a religion and its deliberate distortion. People don’t seem to see a distinction between religion and its intentional corruption by power hungry egomaniacs that use it as a means to an end. That end is very often to achieve political power and dominion over people. Religion itself is always blameless — those who abused its teachings for personal gain are not.

We can no more blame Christianity than we can blame capitalism for the factory owners in China who force children to labour in their factories hour upon hour like slaves. In the instance of the factory owner we can blame greed, not capitalism. Just like we cannot point fingers at Stalin’s atheism or communism for his brutality. Only the lusts for power, greed or just good old madness are to blame.

I am by no means suggesting that a theocracy is the solution to our radar-less leadership. That would be last thing we need. Theocracies often end up being oppressive regimes in their noble but misguided intentions of providing some sort of moral compass for citizens. Simply stated, morality cannot be legislated, only one’s heart can do that. We can put laws against certain basic moral laws like murder and theft, but can we really put one in prison for telling a lie or for having sex before marriage? Obviously not.

If our leaders followed the precepts of the good books, I doubt our land would be in the state it is in. Of course I expect comments that will say what about the verses that call on us to stone sinners, since that too is a religious command. I would say that is the Old Testament. But this is not what I am writing about.

The laws that we put in place, including our highly regarded constitution, which was put in place by some of the brightest legal minds in our country, have no control over conscience — the conscience is the domain of the divine. It is that thing that causes us sleepless nights when we know we have done wrong, even if the written laws claim otherwise. Running away from one’s conscience is virtually impossible. This is where the moral code comes in.

Not to say that it is impossible to be moral while not practicing religion. I will be the first to admit that some areligious people are extremely moral, as some religious are not. In fact, one of my very best friends calls himself an atheist and he is nicer than I am. Much nicer.

Religion, if practiced as it ought to be, without selfish motivation, will mould better civil servants, leaders and by large a more humane society. The Bible warns against “them that make wicked laws: and when they write, write injustice; to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of my people, that widows maybe their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless.” Isaiah 10:1. Where there is corruption this is precisely what happens. It robs from the poor, the widows and the fatherless.

I am sure all major religions share the same basic tenets. In fact, these are the basic teachings of Ubuntu. If one believes that what one is doing is a higher calling than self-enrichment, then they will serve the people, not just a political party or a position. When their conscience calls them to speak out against an injustice they will, regardless of whom speaking out may offend. It is far better to offend a powerful person than it is to go against one’s conscience.

Recently, we have seen on the news that South Africa is suffering something of a moral crisis. This is where religion comes in. People don’t have faith in their leaders anymore; there is a general feeling that there is a moral deficit amongst our leaders. Our leaders lead by example. As much as we would like to think that we are not sheep, unfortunately the vast majority of people are, for it is far safer to follow without question.

The need to distance our politics from religion by any means necessary has created a chasm between governing and the morality of our leaders.

Many of our great leaders were motivated and sustained by their religious faith in their fight against injustice. The great late president of the African National Congress, Chief Albert Luthuli, was a man of the cloth, and I quote from the ANC website, “As a practising Christian, Chief Luthuli genuinely and sincerely believed in the well-being, happiness and dignity of all human beings. Because of his convictions, he sacrificed all prospects of personal gains and comforts and dedicated his life to the cause and service of his fellowmen.”

Oliver Tambo too was a religious man. He did not leave his religion at the door when he fought for his people. Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr amongst others were never shy to use religious language to argue the justness of their cause. Of course there are people who corrupt religious language to justify ill intent.

Gandhi too was a religious man, a Hindi that was also deeply influenced by the words of Christ.

A missionary who went by the name E. Stanley Jones once met with Gandhi and asked, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”

Ghandi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

This is the problem with our politics also. So many of our leaders proclaim to fight for a just and prosperous South Africa, but what we see instead are the very same leaders become prosperous while the rest of our countrymen become poorer.

Perhaps, before we can cry out for better leaders, we ought to become better citizens. And that means we must abhor corruption where we see it, speak out against injustice, reject leaders that lead us astray for if we follow them we go over the cliff. The sad reality is that they never go off the cliff, the rest of do.

Let us be great citizens, only then will we get great leaders.

I will end off with this quote from India’s Jawaharlal Nehru, “If you are to suffer, you should suffer in the interest of the country.”

Cape Town Shuns Black Talent

July 24, 2012 § 8 Comments

originally appeared in my Cape Times column on July 16 2012

SIX YEARS ago, I packed my bags in the Mother City and headed for the City of Gold. I left Cape Town behind despite its beauty, my many friends and the many beautiful women who adorn the city. About the many beautiful women allow me an aside. I went to Cannes, France in my first year in Joburg. While I was there, many people who had visited Cape Town would say: “That place has some of the most beautiful women in the world.”

In Cape Town, I had the most diverse group of friends. In fact – at the risk of sounding like that guy – some of my best friends were white. I’d probably say 60 percent were white; the rest were a mixture of black and coloured.

After I’d moved to Joburg, a white friend said to me: “Most of your pictures on Facebook were with white people when you were in Cape Town. Now that you are in Johannesburg they are just of black people.” We laughed, but it was true. I will never forget looking at a picture of five of my friends one day. All of them had left Cape Town for Joburg that year.

All those in the picture were black. Hardly any of my white friends had left Cape Town for Jozi. In fact, the thought of moving to Joburg was completely revolting to them. This got me thinking – why? Well, my black friends felt that they could not progress in their careers in Cape Town. There was a feeling that they were not taken seriously and were just there to make up numbers.

The prospect of making it big in Cape Town was just never there and the possibility was never shown to them. And the money was not attractive, either.

The white kids didn’t feel there was no place for them to make it in Cape Town, so they were comfortable in their careers and did not feel the need or pressure to move.

Once my friends had moved to the City of Gold, they had bigger responsibilities and were well supported by the business owners who hired them. They didn’t feel as if they had been hired as a favour; rather, they were expected to be good at their jobs. And they were.

It was the last place I worked at in Cape Town where I really felt valued. In fact, I had my most creative years in advertising when I worked there.

Cape Town needs to rethink how to retain black talent. Everyone wants to feel that they are important to the progress of an organisation. The more Cape Town denies that there is an issue with retaining black talent, the tougher it will be for the city to retain and attract black talent.

Some organisations like to use the age-old excuse that black talent wants a lot of money. It’s not just black folk that want to be well paid. Everybody wants that.Black people already know that working in Cape Town will be tough for them, so they’d rather be paid well while working in a hostile environment.

It’s only logical. No one goes to work in Dubai to be paid the same as they would be here. The weather is terrible and you have different rights than the local people. It makes sense to be paid well for the sacrifice you are making to be there. Black people do want to work in Cape Town, but the environment isn’t friendly to them. They would rather work where they are welcome; they don’t have to beg to work in Cape Town.

If Cape Town doesn’t change, soon, businesses in the city will have to pay more than Joburg for black talent because there will be a lack of supply.

You sold out, not Mandela!

July 18, 2012 § 29 Comments

Originally appeared on my column on 2012-01-13 08:00

People like to say that Nelson Mandela is a sell-out. That he sold black people down the river. That he lived a cushy life in prison. That he turned soft in prison and decided to sell out. That he alone is to blame for the fact that black people are still talking about economic freedom today.

Saying that he sold out demonstrates a lot of people’s ignorance when it comes to the history of the ANC and the negotiation process. By claiming that he “sold out”, this crowd indirectly suggests that there was no ANC without him; that Mandela, in a miracle to rival the virgin birth, singlehandedly negotiated a free and democratic South Africa by himself. According to this heretical thinking, in the beginning was Mandela and the ANC. Through him all things were negotiated; without him, nothing that was negotiated was negotiated. These haters of Nelson Mandela do not realise that they have turned the man from a him into a Him. God. He is no God. As he said on the day of his release, “I am your servant, I am not your messiah and I am not your saviour.”

Often, those who want to raise him to the level of deity always praise him alone as though there were no other people involved in the peaceful transition. Even Mandela himself has said: “I must not be isolated from the collective who are responsible for the success.”

What about those who blame Mandela for the negotiations? Perhaps a history lesson is in order. Thabo Mbeki led the negotiations for the ANC and his deputy was Jacob Zuma. According to Mark Gevisser’s biography, Thabo Mbeki: The Dream Deferred, in the first week of August 1991, while Nelson Mandela was in Cuba, Thabo Mbeki and Jacob Zuma were in Cambridge, Cyril Ramaphosa convened the ANC’s National Working Committee (NWC) while the trio were out of the country. In that meeting, Zuma was replaced as head of ANC intelligence by Terror Lekota, “and Mbeki had been replaced as head of negotiations, by Ramaphosa himself”.

Mandela was livid upon hearing that Ramaphosa had Zuma and Mbeki replaced whilst the three of them were outside the country. Joe Slovo had lobbied hard to have Mbeki replaced by Ramaphosa as head of the negotiations team because he believed that “he was going to sell us out”.

If people want to blame someone then, they should blame Joe Slovo’s pick, Ramaphosa. But that would be just as outlandish and insanely ridiculous as blaming Mandela for the lack of economic freedom. How can we start blaming one man? No one worked in isolation. All decisions were made by the ANC’s executive. Only lazy thinking people will blame any single individual for the way things turned out. Blame the ruling party if you want to blame someone – but they had very limited choices.

“When you negotiate, you must be prepared to compromise.” Nelson Mandela.

There are some who say that he was a creation of the ANC. It is true that he was. The prisoners in Robben Island decided that he would be the one to represent their plight. In a PBS interview, Walter Sisulu said that Mandela was the best man to handle the situation.
Sisulu spoke about how the prison warders made the prisoners run when they were working at the quarry. According to Sisulu, one day, Mandela made a decision; it meant a great deal to all the prisoners when he suggested to them that they move slower than they ever had. That changed the situation because the warders didn’t know what to do. All of a sudden, the warders could no longer give them orders; they had to negotiate with them to get things done. That was the moment all the prisoners recognised his leadership.

It was for this reason that the ANC in exile decided to make him the face of the struggle against oppression. On the “creation of the Mandela myth”, Joe Matthews said: “I was one of those who worked out the policy.”

The people who knew him, like Oliver Tambo, held him in high esteem. Adelaide Tambo, Oliver’s wife, spoke about how her husband spoke about Mandela, “When Chief Luthuli was still president of the ANC, Nelson had made a speech – that speech sometimes appears on television…. And Oliver said to me, ‘This is the president of South Africa.’”

If people like Walter Sisulu, who knew Mdiba better than any of us ever will, can speak so glowingly about him, who are we to say some of the things we say about him? If Oliver Tambo, the most revered man in the ANC, could point to Nelson Mandela while Chief Albert Luthuli was still president of the ANC, and call him the president of South Africa who are we to say some of the things we say about him? On Christmas day in exile, Oliver Tambo would leave an empty chair at the head of the table. He would say that chair was for the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and the other prisoners on Robben Island.

If we want to talk about selling out, then we should be honest. The only people who have sold out is us. The bravest thing we do is open our mouths and blame them while we enjoy the freedom they fought for. They played their part; now fix what you’re complaining about.

They have set a task for us. It is to make things increasingly perfect. As Mandela put it, “Freedom can never be taken for granted. Each generation must safeguard it and extend it. Your parents and elders sacrificed much so that you should have freedom without suffering what they did. Use this precious right to ensure that the darkness of the past never returns.”

Did the election of Zuma cost us a female ANC and State president?

March 19, 2012 § 1 Comment

*this article originally appeared in the Cape Times on the 5th of March

The African National Congress has had women activists for almost as long as it has been alive. However, when the movement was born those 100 years ago, there were just men in the room. Perhaps there were two or so women who served these men while they decided the route the struggle against black disenfranchisement would take.

It only made sense back then that men would take the initiative to lead the movement. Women, black or white were rarely given an opportunity to an education. They were essentially second-class citizens almost everywhere. Even white women didn’t have the vote. The prejudices of the day against women prevailed, even though the ANC was fighting prejudice, ironically.

The direction that was taken by the ANC is no different from the one that was taken by the rest of the world. Just as history had been male dominated for thousands of years. If one looks at Alexander the Great, Napoleon, Shaka Zulu and others. War was one sure way of making history – women weren’t allowed to fight wars even though they almost were always casualties. They were often taken by conquerors as slaves, sex slaves and were often raped. They were, unfortunately part of the spoils of war for the warmongers.

Which then brings me back to the ANC’s women problem. Isn’t it time the ANC had female president? Women have contributed a great deal to the organization. They are also respected in a lot of communities. Women have held communities together for a very long time, often, they are the strongest and most resolute members of in many communities.

In the 1980s, many women tried to feed their families by opening spaza shops and even sheebens. Which is where the term sheeben queen comes from. As a result of opening these businesses, these women often became influential members of their communities.

It would appear as though Mbeki was laying down the ground work for a future female ANC and South African president when he ran for a third term as president of the ANC, since the South African constitution wouldn’t allow him to be president for a third term. It was generally accepted that Dlamini-Zuma was his preferred candidate for the presidency even though Mlambo-Ngcuka was his deputy president in the cabinet after he fired his then deputy, Jacob Zuma. In terms of seniority within the party, Dlamini-Zuma would have most likely been elected president of South Africa, then during the ANC’s elective conference later this year, would have been elected president of the party and republic for her second term.

Unfortunately Jacob-Zuma was in a bind and thus set women back when his desperation for the presidency set in. The knock on effect of this has resulted in the re-emergence of hierarchy in the ANC. The next most senior person in the ANC is deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, therefore, if tradition is followed, he will be the next president after Zuma.

It is puzzling then that even though the ANC has many talented women, no one seriously thinks that they stand a chance as far as position of ANC president, and thus of the country. Everyone sings the praises of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, yet no one seems prepared to give her a chance for a run for the presidency. For a while, there were rumours that Lindiwe Sisulu would be in the running for the presidency in the near future. Early on in the presidency of Jacob Zuma it certainly seemed that way.

The way the wheels were turning and the power she seemed to yield within the ruling party seemed to suggest that, but things have changed dramatically since then and now seems to have been left behind by the debate amongst the men. Now even Tokyo Sexwale’s name comes up before hers is even mentioned. It is going to be a while before we get a female president by the look of things. Unless Motlanthe wins the ANC presidency later this year with Dlamini-Zuma or Sisulu as his deputy.

Destiny Man ad: Don’t be that guy

January 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Dalailemma

October 4, 2011 § 4 Comments

It is beyond shocking that South Africa might deny the Dalai Lama a visa again. He was denied entry into the country the first time around just before the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Pretoria effectively admitted that it didn’t want to raise the ire of China by allowing him into the country. The press release should have read, “We’re chicken, and we’re really scared of China, so we’ll do what China wants because we’re China’s bitch now.”

We like to call China a friend, but only one-friend benefits while the other is screwed of their dignity. We’re pimping our moral grounding for Chinese money. Maybe I should have just called this column, “The whoring of a nation.”

It would be pathetic if we didn’t allow the Dalai Lama to visit South Africa in order to attend his friend’s birthday, Desmond Tutu. This Nobel Peace Prize winner is being treated no differently from your common criminal.

Our government has selective moral positions when it comes to matters of moral standing. One thing on Tibet, and another on Palestine.

The SA government doesn’t stand for what it believes, it stands for what China believes. We have no backbone. We have lost all moral standing we once had during the Mandela era. It would appear as if our foreign positions are dictated to us by foreign entities. We have committed a great treason against ourselves.

When Nelson Mandela was president, we had swagger. We knew what we stood for and what we stood against. We were direct and were respected for it. No one told us what to do, no matter the financial clout of the government we were dealing with at the time.  Back in 1998, when he was president, we were even more desperate for FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) than we are now. Yet we never for a moment cowered to whims of powerful foreign nations.

What this tells us is that a country’s moral standing goes hand in hand with it’s leader’s moral standing.

Our moral authority was clear for all to see. Whether we were at fault or not. The Americans were completely uneasy about South Africa’s relationship with the “Axis of the Outcasts”, Cuba’s Castro, Iran and our relation with Gadaffi and made it very clear to us that this was not ideal and were unhappy. The message was effectively, “You can’t be friends with people we don’t like.” It was a very high school girl kind of affair. Which is what China is doing. Being a high school girl and we’re like the friend that’s desperate to be liked but is being bullied.

When then president Bill Clinton came to South Africa for a state visit in March 1998, Nelson Mandela said to the press, with Bill Clinton standing two metres away from him, “Those who feel we should have no relations with Gaddafi, have no morals. Those who feel irritated by our friendship with President Gaddafi can go jump in the pool.”

He said it with such certainty and moral conviction that it was clear that we are a sovereign nation that deserved to be treated with respect, and not dictated to, even though our economic clout was a mere drop in the ocean compared to that of the United States. He would not allow us to be treated as anything other than equals. Not only that, we had to behave as equals. Now we’re like a dog waiting for approval from its master so that we can get some breadcrumbs on the floor.

Some speculate that we fear losing out on our standing as a member of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, a group of developing nations that have formed a strategic trading partnership to give them leverage against the West).  Well, India has given the Dalai Lama refuge and they are part of BRICS.

China needs us as much as we need them. China won’t drop South Africa because of the Dalai Lama. They need our minerals and we need their money. They need our resources for their rapidly expanding population, China is not going to react out of emotion and pull out. Our moral cowardice is disgusting.

The Sayings of Julius Malema

September 14, 2011 § 4 Comments

‘Kill the farmer’ oppresses black people

September 14, 2011 § 1 Comment

Originally appeared on News24, 2010-03-30 07:55

The reasons the ANC would want to defend its right to sing, “Kill the boer, kill the farmer” are completely understandable and legitimate. The song is part of a history of a necessary struggle that was eventually won after hundreds of years of oppression.

This oppression was in fact the direct reason the song came into being in the first place. Had there been no apartheid, no brutality against the peoples of colour, the song would never have had a reason to exist. It would have been unnecessary – as unnecessary as Citi Golf would be to Khanyi Mbau.

The system created an unbearable anger; it composed and conducted the song. It was a product of what we abhorred. It could be argued that apartheid should in fact be credited with the creation of the song, and while we’re at it, all the songs of the struggle. With the new dispensation, we became the masters of our fate; in 1994, when Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first democratically elected president.

Having said that, the song didn’t defeat apartheid. No song brought apartheid to its knees. Yes, songs were a necessary and an extremely important part of the struggle, but it was the peaceful resolution that was entered into through CODESA and other talks before the first truly democratic elections in South Africa in 1994. As a result, it can be argued that there is no need to fight tooth and nail for this song. So what if some judge considers that song Hate Speech? The banning of that song is not going to diminish the ANC in any way. There is no need to fight it.

Since we claim to be a free people, are we truly a free if we continue to sing songs that talk to us as if we are still oppressed? Does that make any sense at all to sing as if we are? I am not talking about the fact that the economy or the land is still in white hands. I am referring to something that no man has a hold over but each man. The one area each man is his own master – the mind. To continue singing this song is to further oppress our people and is completely irresponsible, for it serves to tell them that they are not yet free. You are still in Egypt, not in the Promised Land. This is what the song says to me.

As you might have noticed, dear reader, I am not discussing the merits of the judgment that led to the banning of the song. In case you were not aware, the song was called hate speech, thus banned.

In his inaugural speech in 1994, Nelson Mandela said, “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.” This song does not heal, nor does it bridge any chasms that divide us. If anything it widens them. The song simply does not build.

Madiba went on to say, “We have triumphed in the effort to implant hope in the breasts of the millions of our people. And then he told us to act as a united people, for national reconciliation, for nation building, for the birth of a new world.” Kill the boer, kill the farmer song divided us; it did not show the values that the founding fathers hoped we would those of nation building.

As Napoleon Bonaparte so eloquently put it, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” By singing the song, Julius Malema did not act as a leader. The song points us to a system, which has been, arguably, abolished. A leader points the people towards hope, not despair, possibility. Not destruction, a bright future. Not a bleak past.

As Steve Biko wrote in his paper, The Definition of Black Consciousness, “We cannot be conscious of ourselves and yet remain in bondage.” This song only serves to tell black people that they remain in bondage. It tells them to be angry at something they have already overcome, because we all know that the song did not literally mean kill the farmer it simply meant death to apartheid. Why sing it now?

The song should not be banned, but it should not be sung either. Why should a free people be in bondage to the past?

Nelson Mandela Saying Mbeki is the best president South Africa has ever had

September 5, 2011 § 5 Comments

“I have said it so often, but want to repeat it here at what must certainly be the last time that parliament will bend its own rules to allow me to address it: no President or Prime Minister in the history of this country can claim to have done more for the people and the country than has been achieved by President Thabo Mbeki.

He is a modest man and I know he would prefer that I do not sing his personal praises, but his achievement as President and national leader is the embodiment of what our nation is capable of. Public acknowledgement of his achievements is to affirm ourselves as a nation, to assert the confidence with which we face our national future
and conduct ourselves on the international stage.

Thank you, Mister President, for leading us with such vision and dedication to your task.

— The full quote by Nelson Mandela during a joint sitting of parliament to mark 10 years of democracy in South Africa, Monday 10 May 2004, Cape Town.

Sarah Palin’s resignation is all about the 2012 elections

July 4, 2009 § 1 Comment

I am convinced this is her bid to drum up her base ahead of the 2012 elections. Effectively she’ll have a 2-year head start before the primaries. Think about it, who are her possible challengers? Bobby Jindal is no match for her. My hair is more charismatic than that guy. Newt Ginrich is past his sell by date. There is that young congressman though, I forget his name is, maybe him. Oh yes, his name is Eric Cantor. I think that he might be her main challenger if he decides to run. But then again, I don’t know what I’m talking about.

I also think that she wants to make sure that she can blame whatever failures there are on the new governor when she runs for the Republican Primaries and eventually the presidency. She will claim that she ran the state well when she was governor. She is taking a page off Obama’s book. He was senator for two years when he started running. Her resignation comes 2 years into her term.

I suspect that she will leave everyone in the dust. There is no doubt in my mind that she will raise a lot of money. More so than any of her challengers. Perhaps she will play the victim card. That might work for her. Think about it, it could be a narrative of a woman who was victimized by the press when she was running with John McCain. She was governor of a state that the negative press finally hounded her out of office.  These are my very foolish and brief thoughts on the Sarah Palin saga.

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