Category Archives: Politics

Chief Justice ahead of the times…

Instead of being behind the times, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng, is a few steps ahead. Calling for a calm debate on religion and law is revolutionary. From the furore he’s caused, it seems South Africa may not be ready for it.

Exercising his constitutional right to freedom of opinion, Mogoeng recommended that religions should influence the lawmaking process. For example, he reasoned, if laws discouraged adultery, there would be less murders flowing from adultery. Mogoeng also suggested that religion has a role to play in restraining lawlessness. Religions develop social systems and habits that could help eradicate fraud and corruption.

Nor about your religion...

Nor about your religion…

Mogoeng made it clear that he was simply raising these issues. He is in no position to change laws. On the contrary, he is bound, as a Christian, to fulfill his role as Chief Justice and to act in accordance with the constitution. In the past, where the constitution has not agreed with his religious views, he has upheld the constitution.

At the same time, Mogoeng is bound as a Christian to influence society for good. And this is what he wants to debate. He wants all religions to influence the lawmaking process so that good can be promoted in our land. Although religions differ, in the area of moral and social good they often agree. Laws that promote family, or that alleviate poverty are consistent with most religions. So Mogoeng’s call is not exclusive.
Also, the majority of South Africans do claim a religion, so why should they be governed by laws which have not been influenced by religion? This is equivalent to telling people to believe their religion in their homes, but not in the public square. A humanist would want to influence the laws that govern him, why should a religious person not be allowed to want this also? Is that not oppression of religion?

South Africa is a secular state. Some assume this to mean there’s no place for religion, but this is not true. A secular state is neutral in matters of religion, and treats all its citizens equally regardless of religion. So, if the constitution allows us the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion, then why should we not have the right to voice our opinions, based on our religions, about the laws that govern us?
Just because laws have been informed by religion, doesn’t mean laws will be discriminatory. Mogoeng spends half of his speech assuring his listeners of this, at one point saying, “Truly the ‘hallmark of an open and democratic society is its capacity to accommodate and manage differences of intensely-held world views and life styles in a reasonable and fair manner’.”

It could be argued that because of Mogoeng’s influential position he should have kept quiet about his faith. Just letting people know that he is a Christian will make them suspicious of his judgements. This is a fair comment. In fact, his keynote speech at the Conference on Religion and Law is overloaded with Biblical quotes. Enough to make any person of another religion, or non-religion, nervous. But this still doesn’t ruin his main point. Mogoeng believes religion can influence law for the common good in a pluralistic society. Should we dismiss him with some name calling? Or can we, in the true spirit of the constitution and our secular society, enter into some calm

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Filed under Church, Constitution, Education, History, Politics

No place for double-takers

What do Tim Noakes and Mamphela Ramphela have in common? They both changed their game plan. And now they’re both in trouble.

For thirty years, Tim Noakes, a professor at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, followed and promoted a low fat, high carbohydrate diet. Noakes coined the phrase carboloading. Two years ago, he changed his tune and he now follows the exact opposite. After weight gain, poor health and a significant amount of research, Noakes decided to try something new – a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. And he’s never felt better. But, when I tell people I’m trying his diet they say, “He is the last person I’d listen to. He’s done a complete double-take.”

Ten months ago, Mamphela Ramphela decided to go into politics. She formed Agang, said ‘Enough is Enough’, and promised empowerment, education, entrepreneurship, employment, and effective governance to the people of South Africa. Ten months later, the people spoke. They voted for the status quo. It was not what Ramphela was expecting. She really did think she could change South Africa, but how could she do it on 50000 votes? She’d been wrong. So she changed her plan and she won’t be going to parliament. This could be seen as strategic; even wise. Political analysts call it an egotistical mess.

Mamphela Ramphela on a tour of a South African farm. Image: Lucky Nxumalo/City Press

Mamphela Ramphela on a tour of a South African farm. Image: Lucky Nxumalo/City Press


It seems, from both these cases, that the public would rather its leaders be consistently wrong, than right. If a professor has been promoting one diet, and he realizes it’s wrong, then he should keep quiet about it. Rather promote the wrong food, than change his opinion and get us all in a fluster. If a politician has overestimated her influence, and she realizes she’s wrong, then she must just keep going – even if she will be totally ineffectual – because that is what she said she would do. Rather be consistently stupid than be inconsistent.

At the root of this public outrage is a failure in public reasoning. Were South Africans carboloading because they had applied their commonsense and decided it was the best diet to pursue, or were they blindly following a charismatic leader? Did South Africans vote for Agang because it had the most strategic election manifesto or because they were enamoured by Ramphela’s success and class?

Arguments, like diets and manifestos, aren’t wrong because the person making them has bad character. Arguments aren’t proven false because the professor or the politician is inconsistent, or has a hidden agenda. In logic, this fallacy is called the argument ad hominem. In sport, it’s called playing the man and not the ball.

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Filed under Food, Politics, Writing

An inconvenient guy.

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Julius Malema is the bogeyman of South African politics at the moment. But perhaps it’s largely due to the fact that he’s put his finger on an inconvenient truth. Published in The Witness and available to read here.

Man in a Red Beret is an Oil Painting by Vincent Van Gogh. Julius Malema has incorporated the red beret into his image as a freedom fighter.

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Filed under Education, History, Politics, Uncategorized, Writing

The Doctrine of the Strenuous Life.

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A great story of a great man with a great message! I’m looking forward to more good stories and comics from Ted Slampyak over at the Storytellers Workshop Inc.

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Filed under Art, History, Politics, Writing

Power and duty.

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“To govern is to serve, not to rule. There is nothing dangerous in a man’s having as much power as he likes, if he takes the view that he has power to do only what it is his duty to do.” -Seneca

The image is of Michelangelo’s Pieta in St.Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City

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Filed under Church, Classics, Education, History, Literature, Politics, Uncategorized

No easy problems.

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Ancient Greek tragedies are intense. But as someone has said, not all rigour is mortis. There’s a lot to be gained from reading them. They raise tough questions of life and death, relationships and justice, politics and ethics. We can look at how the Greeks faced their challenges in order to help us face ours. I recently came across a great quote by Charles Mee on this exact point. Mee is a fairly well-known American playwright. Here he speaks of why he keeps going back to ancient Greek tragedy:

“I’ve been inspired a lot by the Greeks. I love the Greeks because their plays so often begin with matricide and fracticide, with a man murdering his nephews and serving the boys to their father for dinner. That is to say, the Greeks take no easy problems, no little misunderstanding that is going to be resolved before the final commercial break at the top of the hour, no tragedy that will be resolved with good will, acceptance of a childhood hurt, and a little bit of healing. They take deep anguish and hatred and disability and rage and homicidal mania and confusion and aspiration and a longing for the purest beauty and they say: here is not an easy problem; take all this and make a civilization of it.”

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Filed under Classics, History, Literature, Politics, Uncategorized

The solution to Julius Malema’s hyprocrisy problem.

Sarah thinks she knows how Julius Malema (ANC Youth League president) could save himself endless amounts of public abuse. The Witness published her thoughts here.

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Filed under Children, Politics