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

Glass half-full, or half-empty?


Sarah thought that she hadn’t married an optimist… Published in The CS Monitor and available to read here.

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Tour de Free State

Three families, fourteen children (from 9 months old to 13 years old), seven days, 25-50km’s per day, through the Eastern Free State, on bicycles. This is what our recent family holiday consisted of.



We often had lunch under trees…





And next to dams…



And saw beautiful sights…







And did loads of riding…






And had loads of laughs…


And ate juicy apples…


And hung out…



Until next time…beautiful land.


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Filed under Beautiful Buildings, Children, Cycling, Uncategorized

Live Jazz with the Melvin Peters Quartet.

Join four of South Africa’s top jazz musicians as they celebrate our country’s rich heritage. Melvin Peters on piano, Bruce Baker on drums, Jonathan Judge on saxophone, and Ildo Nandja on double bass, will be performing the hits that have made South African jazz famous.

When: Friday, 14th March, at 7pm.
Where: Room A1 at UKZN PMB. Park at the Hex and follow the signs.
Tickets: R50. Book with Sam on email: or phone: 083 257 9059


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Filed under Art, History, Jazz, Uncategorized

An inconvenient guy.


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 ancient Romans knew how to adopt. If their biological children were looking a bit knock-kneed and pale, the sort to ruin a good family photo, they simply imported new genes into their line. They chose children for power, for wealth, and in Caesar Augustus’s case, for the glory of the empire. When Julius Caesar needed an heir he scouted round for the most handsome, military-minded, political genius he could find, and adopted him. Shortly thereafter, the Roman empire conquered the world.

The problem with adoption today is it’s been swamped by emotion. Feelings of compassion, sacrifice and attachment can bond you to a baby, but not when that baby becomes a back-arching, collapsing three-year-old, or a teenager with an identity, and an opinion.

Some people say that the love of Christ has constrained them to adopt. I’m partial to that motivation, as long as the love of Christ also constrained them to have biological children. Else adopted children can read between the lines: if you needed a different kind of love to have me, if you needed a supernatural love to bear with me, then I must be a burden, an issue waiting to happen, a rebellion biding time for its voice.

Even better than the Romans though, I think the best reason to adopt is to avoid morning sickness. That would mean that you were simply adopting because you wanted more children, more easily. And what child would rebel against just being wanted?

A white friend was recently asked by a shop teller if her adopted black child was her last born. That shop teller had caught the South African vision. Once a child is adopted, it is no longer adopted. They don’t have a heart mommy and a tummy mommy. They have new birth parents. The adoption is over; not to be mentioned again; especially not in juicy whispers.

But if you happen to like morning sickness then adoption is a great way to improve your family line. A large number of Roman emperors, from Tiberius to Hadrian, were handpicked for their positions through adoption. That’s because emperors knew that their own genes weren’t necessarily the best genes. Some modern families are wising up to this as well. Friends of ours have managed to eradicate eczema and an untold number of allergies from one stream of their family line; others have finally produced a son who has height in his DNA; and still others are overjoyed to at long last have a child who can dance.

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Filed under Adoption, Children, Classics