COPE: Andile Mazwai’s brilliant ANC analogy

March 23, 2009 § 3 Comments

If you disagree with me, know that you are an enemy

March 16, 2009 § 1 Comment

When I wrote the post about making friends with Julius Malema I was making a larger point on agreeing to disagree.
I am disturbed by the manner in which we conduct debate in this country. Disagreeing with a politician or someone in a powerful position earns one unflattering labels. When anybody raises views contrary to our own, we react emotionally and go on the attack. We don’t sit back to consider the possibility that the opposing view might have some value, even if we don’t agree with it. If you happen to work for a government institution and happen to support COPE for example, the days of your employment might be numbered. Our consciences are being bullied – the stomach is used as a weapon.

In our disagreements we are disagreeable. We seem to hold the view that he who disagrees with me must be an enemy. This is how COPE has been treated by the ruling party since it’s inception. And so we employ words most vile, demeaning and, if at all possible, humiliating. We saw examples of this when President Thabo Mbeki wrote his letters attacking the likes of Archbishop Desmond Tutu a few years ago. Of course the president had the best things to say about the archbishop as soon as they shared the view that Jacob Zuma could not be president. Those of you who have read any of my blogs know that I think highly of our former president, just because hold him in high regard ] does not mean I found everything he did or said agreeable.  As citizens we should not be afraid of criticizing our leaders, nor fail to praise them when it is deserved. Not only do you owe it to yourselves but your country and the ideals of democracy and free speech.

I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln, who said during his first inaugural address, perhaps addressing the man he defeated: “We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection.” It is my hope that as we debate and comment on the state of the nation, we will be virtuous enough to heed Lincoln’s call for these bonds of affection that should not be broken in the heat of debate. The truth is many of those who left the ANC for COPE are friends with people in the ruling party. So I urge you, whatever side of the fence you are on, let not the bonds affection be broken by the pettiness of politics.

COPE’s presidential candidate Mvume Dandala put this very well during a radio interview when he said, “When you are building an alternative voice you are not trying to create enemies, but to get more people involved in making the country work better.” I hope the members of the ruling party understand this.

In politics, I have come to realize, the virtue of humility seems to have no place; it is seen as a weakness, and arrogance as a strength — how far off the truth that is. He who shouts the loudest is smartest and the strongest. It is sad indeed.

If we carry on this way, it won’t be long before we get to a point where questioning views held by those in leadership positions are regarded as unpatriotic. We have seen this happen in the United States; anyone who spoke up against the war in Iraq was called unpatriotic. We are coming dangerously close. Some comrades in the mass democratic movement have began to use the term “counter-revolutionary” with liberal ease in order to stifle debate. The possible firing of Dr Barney Pityana will set a dangerous precedent. Opposing views are not allowed, or you will be left in the wilderness – that seems to be the message.

As a consequence, men and women of this country will cease to heed their consciences, but rather worship at the altar of the state tender. A friend of mine who disagrees with the ruling party on almost every level cannot and will not admit this in public because he said, “My conscience will not feed me, tenders will.” His life depends on tenders. People like this support the ruling party without any sense of irony. The altar of the tender is that powerful. Can we blame him or judge him for this? We cannot. But what we should try to do to people like this is to convince them that “coming out” preserves the greater good.

Many of us are patriots who love this nation. We say what we think is wrong as one would tell someone one loves dearly, because love dictates that one doesn’t shut up if one thinks that the loved one is driving down a cliff at high speed — even at low speed, for that matter.

Unfortunately some of us have misguided ways of demonstrating their affection for this, the southern-most country on the African continent. It reminds me of an abusive husband who belittles his wife by telling her that she is nothing without him. The cruel lover says this in order to control her. (In our case control is in the form of government jobs and contracts.) When she does leave and manages to succeed, the jealous ex-husband has only unflattering things to say about her.

Since many of us profess to love South Africa, I want to know the following:

How would we treat her if she were a lover?

How would we help her reach her goals?

Would we gloat if she failed and say, ‘We knew you couldn’t do it’?

We need to ask ourselves: How would we treat South Africa if she happened to be our true love?

I am saddened that we strive to feed our obese egos instead of finding ways to improve debate. The more we focus on our fragile egos, the less we focus on how we can help improve the nation.

We have to look deep into ourselves. No one is innocent. Not COPE, not the ANC, or any of the other parties. Our hands aren’t clean. I am a sum of all who agree with me. Those who disagree with me build my character. They are the ones I have to thank for helping me think the way I do.

What will destroy this country is an army of uniformity when it comes to its thinkers. We will die a painful, intellectual death if people perpetuate a certain school of thought because they want to preserve jobs, or because they are too afraid that they might not be able to find employment because they might have expressed an opinion contrary to that of some powerful figure.

We have forgotten the principles on which the country was founded. Instead we spend our days fighting petty battles. We have become a nation of the petty and arrogant. We slice and dice one another. Our internal battles have become so intense that we are slowly forgetting that we are still trying to fight for our position in the global arena. We have become so inward-looking that we have forgotten that we are competing in a global field. Since president Thabo Mbeki left the scene, our global standing has shrunk at an incredible pace. To this day, AU still sends president Thabo Mbeki to the UN to represent it. Those outside our borders see his value. Jesus Christ was right, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.”

Our inward-looking extends to the economy we’re trying to grow. We make it virtually impossible for foreigners to work here. One of the reasons America became such a force to be reckoned with is because it embraced immigrants with open arms. Immigrants come with different ideas. According to Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class, 25% off all high-tech businesses in the US and 50% of all venture-backed companies were started by immigrants.

Dubai is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies because it has no qualms about getting foreign skills. It knows that to be the best, one must get the best. In his book, Florida points out that economies that open up to diverse peoples, immigrants and the likes are much more likely to be innovative and grow because they embrace different ways of thinking.

I am not unmindful of the fact that some will call me idealistic in my thinking. That is the beauty of youth. I am not old enough to know my limits. The reason I have hope for this country is because there are many more young people than older people. We don’t see a reason why we should doubt and limit ourselves.

Please, you are welcome to disagree with me.

I think I’d be great friends with Julius Malema. Seriously.

March 12, 2009 § 7 Comments

And I mean it. I think he is a pretty pleasant and probably funny guy too. I can’t help but imagine exchanging slaps on the back and doubling back in laughter as we have chats about whatever it is that young men talk about. As much as I take issue with some of the things he has said and what he stands for politically, that does not mean that I wouldn’t or shouldn’t get along with him personally.

There is no doubt that some people might take issue with what I just said. Particularly those who see Malema as a fumbling idiot who does not know when to shut up. That would be understandable considering some of the things I have written about him. As people, we tend to have no separation between the public figure and the fact that he is also an average guy who likes to have a drink and talk about girls. Those of us who are not public figures all have friends we disagree with on almost everything – but we don’t stop being friends simply because we disagree. We need to be able to separate the personality from their politics.

I imagine some of my friends would give me odd looks if I told them that I went go-carting with Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma (not that I have, don’t start spreading rumours now).  “How could you hang out with them after all the things they have said?” Well, I would remind those people that in my friendship circles I have friends who are pastors and atheists, friends who are womanisers and friends who have had the same and only girlfriend for the past five years. In our dealings with the complexities of human engagement, we all have these contradictions in our friendship circles. Why then can we not have friends who hold differing political views without being enemies? But that does not mean we can’t be honest in our disagreements with them.

One’s political position does not define who they are; it defines what they stand for politically. We are not our politics. We are people before we have a political position.

Thabo Mbeki is probably not the easiest person in the world to get along with, but that does not mean that one should dislike his politics simply because one does not like him as a person. I imagine being a friend with him requires a lot of work, he must not see you as just a waste of his time if you are to be his friend. I also suspect that once he has brought you into his inner circle you would have great laughs, and probably an intellectually meaningful relationship.

We should not vote for people simply because we like them.  Nor should we not vote for them because we don’t like their personalities. Competence, character and ability seem to run a distant second when people vote, which is most unfortunate. How else can we justify the fact that most voters don’t trust Zuma but somehow he still garners more votes according to opinion polls? I understand that someone is going to comment and say that it’s not him, it’s because of the party.

Like I said, I’d have a drink with Julius, I’d tease him about his political views because I know he is set in his ways. I don’t see him changing them. He would probably tease me about mine too. Much hilarity would ensue I imagine. Naturally I’d have more to laugh about. I’d talk about showers and fake accents amongst other things. I don’t know, maybe I’m just idealistic.

There are many people I agree with on almost every issue yet I cannot stand. Just as there are people who agree with me but just cannot stand me. Understandably, if I were someone else I wouldn’t stand myself either.

Just to make things clear, I’m not ANCist or anything, some of my best friends are in the ANC. I think I’m beginning to sound like a Malema, Bush and Zuma apologist. Having said what I have, I am still voting COPE and I hope you all do.

Mandela’s endorsement and Tokyo’s hypocrisy

February 18, 2009 § 1 Comment

A friend (cyber friend might be more appropriate) of mine made an interesting comment on facebook about Tokyo Sexwale who accused COPE of using old people to get votes. I quote, “I thought Tokyo said they don’t use old people to win votes!”

A few days ago the ANC marched and paraded Nelson Mandela before a crowd, newspapers and television cameras crowing about his endorsement. Perhaps I should quote Tokyo’s criticism of Cope, “”Our mothers are taken, house to house, they are also paraded on TV, these people are performing witchcraft with our mothers… They are liars. You can’t have respect for people who use older people in that fashion.” Does this mean we shouldn’t have respect for the ANC for using an old man who couldn’t even read his own endorsement because he is so frail, weak and tired?

Madiba was well within his rights to endorse the ANC. There was nothing wrong or right with him endorsing the party of his choosing. He was excersing his right to do what he thought was right.

Of course when mamu Epainette Mbeki, the former president’s mother came out to endorse COPE, Tokyo said using old people to get votes was witchcraft. Naturally, he hasn’t called out Jacob Zuma or the ANC for that matter for using an old person to get votes. His silence as the self appointed defender of the elderly is of course not surprising.

Tokyo should not have higher standards for other parties than he has for his own. It is a sad day when we speak of our politicians and say, “What did you expect?” That is what many have come to expect of this once respected man. ANC members have whispered to me and called him an opportunist that can’t be trusted. They have said he will go with whatever side he believes will win. They no longer recognise the comrade they fought with in the 80’s and early 90’s. As his wealth has escalated, his character as a politician has diminished. No one doubts his business acumen, it is his political opportunism that leaves one wondering. Is this just a case of man gaining the world but losing his soul in process?

Should Mbeki publicly endorse Cope but remain an ANC member?

January 28, 2009 § 6 Comments

Imagine a scenario where former president Thabo Mbeki decides to announce his endorsement and intentions to vote for Cope but decides to remain a member of the ANC. I cannot imagine a situation that could rattle the feathers of some of the over inflated egos at Luthuli House more. Some of those egos are “too big, too wide, too strong, won’t fit they’re too much and they talk like this but they can’t even back it up.” “Quoting” Beyonce while discussing politics seems a tad out of place. Perhaps I should make a better analogy. Let me point to the most widely followed election in recent memory. The US elections.

(Just an aside here. I was commenting on someone’s status on Facebook about something they had said regarding the ANC. In my comment I quoted Dr Martin Luther King; someone then commented saying, “Trust Cope to quote Martin Luther King who, at the time, was speaking about equality during the 1960s. What relevance does Dr King have to our democracy,” as if there was something wrong with quoting people from other countries. I’m afraid if that person sees this blog post I will be taken to task for making references to America.)

Two weeks before the American general elections in 2008 a very well respected Republican sat before Tom Brokaw, the host of MSNBC’s much-respected Meet the Press TV programme. This particular Republican, according to opinion polls, had been the most respected American for years. In fact, had his wife not forbidden him from running in 2000, would most certainly have been the Republican nominee for president, meaning that he would have ended up president of the United States instead of George Walker (Dubya) Bush. He would have been America’s first black president.

This Republican gentleman and former National Security Advisor, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State, General Colin Luther Powell endorsed Barack Obama, a member of the Democratic Party, for the presidency of the United States. During his endorsement he mentioned that he was and still is a member of the Republican Party but felt that Obama would make a better president than his fellow party man, John McCain. Although he endorsed an individual, it was essentially an endorsement of the Democratic Party’s platform.

General Powell made that endorsement fully aware of the impact it might have on the fence sitters. Here was an established, highly respected man going out of his way to make known his intentions of voting for a member of a different party to that of his own. Although he allowed himself to be used to bring falsified evidence before the United Nations, which led to the invasion of Iraq, perhaps the endorsement was a way of correcting that error.

He was not hounded out of the Republican Party after his announcement. Of course they were not happy with the endorsement. It was his right to express his preferences. Some tried to spin it by saying he was only endorsing Obama because he is black. Maybe it is time our country matured enough to allow people to express their preferences without fear or favour.

Unfortunately I don’t see Luthuli House viewing Mbeki’s endorsement of Cope as his democratic right. He would most likely be called a traitor at first. Then names and a host of animals that can be found in a zoo. The endorsement would then be ridiculed. They would say that he wants to rule from the grave. They would accuse him of bitterness. They would say that people aren’t going to switch from the ANC and vote for Cope simply because Mbeki decided to do so. The funny thing is they would spend an awful lot of time telling us how insignificant the endorsement was. They would also appear on every SABC station telling us how it would not make a dent in the ANC’s support base, which would make you how wonder: is it really inconsequential? Fikile Mbalula would say that he was right all along; Mbeki was behind Cope all along. Then Julius would call for him to be disciplined or call for his expulsion.

I had the rare opportunity of seeing Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula at a wedding I too had the privilege of attending some time last year. While all the guests were having tea before the reception, they stood together and talked, like two lonely figures. No one really walked up to them, to talk to them. Then later at the reception the master of ceremonies made the following pronouncement, “I see Mr Malema is also here.” There was much laughter. Make of the laughter what you will. But I digress, as usual. Excuse the ADD.

Should senior members of the ANC who might be sympathetic to Cope publicly announce their intentions to vote for Cope even though they remain members of the ANC? Should they come out and say that they are doing so in order to strengthen democracy and not necessarily weaken the ANC? Will a stronger opposition not in fact strengthen them? Maybe not in terms of numbers, but in strengthening the democratic processes within the party?

Members of the ANC should have the freedom to endorse and to state their intentions of voting for Cope even though they are still senior members of the ANC without the fear of being suspended.

If the rumours are true that the ANC is busy denying – President Motlanthe’s intentions of refusing the position of deputy president should Zuma become president, then it is difficult not to view his discomfort of serving as deputy to Zuma as a vote of no confidence in his presidency.

If, in the next few weeks and months, people decide to go public and announce that they will vote Cope but will remain members of the ANC, then the ruling party should understand one thing — these people do not love the ANC any less. It’s just that they love their country more.

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