Wednesday, December 7, 2016
Didiza’s appointment ranks high in stupidity stakes

Didiza’s appointment ranks high in stupidity stakes

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The ANC’s decision on Thoko Didiza is so stupefying it leads me to suspect something fishy is going on, writes Xolela Mangcu.

Cape Town – United States president Barack Obama has a rule of thumb when it comes to political decision making: “Don’t do stupid.” He is of course not the first US president to leave us with a memorable phrase.

Ted Sorensen crafted John F Kennedy’s now immortalised line: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”

Richard Nixon infamously declared he was not a “crook” [LOL!]

Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall”.

His rather dour successor, George Herbert Walker Bush, boldly declared that Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait would “not stand”. He also urged Americans to “read my lips, no new taxes”, before proceeding to break that pledge and hand the presidency over to Bill Clinton.

Clinton was such a charmer that even the White House press gallery applauded his denial of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky: “I did not have a relationship with that woman, Ms Lewinsky.”

Notwithstanding his misadventures, Clinton inspired America to its longest economic growth in history with the slogan: “It’s the economy stupid.”

It is really hard to pick from the younger George Bush’s malapropisms.

The guy mistook himself for Jesus: “I trust God speaks through me. Without that I couldn’t do my job.”

President Obama’s turn of phrase has not been as uplifting as candidate Obama. As the saying goes, he campaigned in poetry and governed with prose.

To be sure, there is his unforgettable belting out of Amazing Grace during the funeral of the victims of the Charleston shooter, and his dropping of the mike at the White House correspondents’ dinner, to even greater applause than Clinton on Lewinsky?

However, it is Obama’s “don’t do stupid” maxim that is relevant for South Africa right now.

The ANC’s appointment of Thoko Didiza as its mayoral candidate ranks up there in the stupidity stakes.

How could the party not anticipate the violence that came in its wake, especially in light of the violence that is wracking the party apart in other municipalities?

Was there no intelligence – not just the human kind – that could have helped it predict such an outcome? Or is there something about the word “local” in local leadership that the ANC does not understand?

No, local does not mean mere residency or membership of a branch. Local means having deep-seated, organic roots to a community and involvement in its affairs. It certainly does not mean parachuting someone in from national leadership.

If anything, this revolt reveals a profound distrust of the party’s national leadership. Max Weber would have called it a crisis of legitimate authority.

Weber divided authority into three types – charismatic, rational-legal and praebendal. Charismatic authority is embodied in the hero who leads his people out of bondage.

The biblical Moses is the ancient example and George Washington, Nelson Mandela and Julius Nyerere are modern examples. However, Weber also said this authority “exists only in origination”.

As soon as a political movement achieves victory, its leadership must quickly dissolve into rational-legal authority. Rules, laws and knowledge about matters of state substitute for charisma.

Unfortunately, rational-legal authority often finds it difficult to embed itself in society. Because of its bureaucratic and technocratic orientation, it soon substitutes itself for the people. It turns democratic authorisation into self-authorisation.

As Thabo Mbeki rudely learned, when a leader substitutes himself for the people, he invites rebellion.

The rebellion can take one of two forms. On one hand, a new charismatic leader can emerge to establish a new legitimate authority. On the other hand, this charismatic leader can eschew seeking institutional legitimacy and set himself up as the patriarch of the nation.

A classic feature of this type of authority is the failure to distinguish between private and public property. Weber might as well have had Nkandla in mind when he described his third type of authority – praebendal authority.

This is what people are rebelling against. It is truly sad to listen to ANC leaders mimicking the National Party of yore by telling us the violence is the work of criminals. The last time I heard such gobbledygook was in PW Botha’s time. Maybe it is true that the Gods do indeed make crazy those they seek to destroy.

If Herr Motsoeneng is capable of learning anything from the Tshwane violence it should be that you can ban footage and live in your own Cloud Cuckoo-land but you cannot ban social reality.

The ANC’s decision on Didiza is so stupefying it leads me to suspect something fishy is going on, even though I can’t put my finger on it. Could the Guptas be involved?

You just never know these days. This being South Africa, something will emerge, sooner or later.

Insisting on Didiza despite her unpopularity may satisfy the ego of the party leadership but it is also the surest way to seek defeat at the polls, at the hands of its own disgruntled voters. In football, this is called scoring an own goal.

There is also the big elephant in the room – ethnicity.

I make bold to say that denying the reality of ethnicity is as stupid as denying the reality of race in South Africa. It is an exercise in what the distinguished philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah called hard rationalism.

This is the dogmatic insistence, shared by many liberals and Marxists alike, that social identities do not have any validity because they are not scientific.

They argue these identities are constructed out of false consciousness. Even if that were the case it is preposterous to think you are going to empty people of their false consciousness before you can act on the world.

The last time someone tried that, Stalin left 20 million people dead. Against this dogmatism I would offer the wise counsel of pragmatic philosopher, William James: “There is always the pinch between the ideal and the actual, which can only be got through by leaving part of the ideal behind. There is hardly a good which we can imagine except as competing for the possession of the same bit of space and time with some other imagined good.”

The way out of such dilemmas comes from what Sydney Hook, another pragmatic philosopher, called conscientiousness, or “reflexive inquiry into the features of a situation”.

Sometimes we will recognise identities and sometimes we will realise we are much more than our ontologies. Let identity recognition and identity transcendence share “the same bit of space and time.” We have social identities but we are much more than them.

The metaphor of the rainbow nation should apply to ethnic identities as well. And as we all know there is no such thing as a colourless rainbow.

But we know that the rainbow is more than an arrangement of colours, it has a transcendent identity. When it appears we don’t stop to say: “Look, colours on the sky.” We say, in wonderment: “Look, there’s a rainbow!”

The Sunday Independent

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