William Saunderson-Meyer

2008-08-02 00:00

Political correctness deems the phrases “First World” and “Third World” as insulting to those in the southern hemisphere. The preferred terms are “developed world” and “developing world”.

God forbid, for the sake of our fragile developing egos, that we should be insulted, aside from being screwed over in terms of trade, agricultural protectionism and the exploitation of resources. On the other hand, for the sake of veracity, why not admit that we do not live in different worlds as much as different universes?

While Africa wrestles with mind-boggling levels of violence, starvation, poverty and privation, Europe has different, far weightier, matters occupying its highly developed collective intelligence. The European Union (EU) has just ruled that the Brits are not allowed to use their preferred word, acres, to describe the size of land that is for sale. The EU giveth and taketh away. It has also decided to scrap legislation regulating the admissible curvature of bananas and the length and crookedness of cucumbers. The EU is seeking these reforms, it says, to reduce food waste. Also, more pertinently, to avoid the widespread ridicule that such regulations have drawn.

Ridicule is unfortunately not something that either President Thabo Mbeki or his likely successor African National Congress president Jacob Zuma, have to worry much about. Mbeki’s medical theories and foreign affairs stance regarding an array of states — Burma, Sudan and Zimbabwe spring immediately to mind — have drawn international derision, including from many Africans.

Zuma’s pantheon of fools is even worse. Their behaviour is so outrageously bizarre by any civilised — sorry, developed — standard that the cartoonists and comedians haven’t had such fun since the days of Afrikaner right-wing leader Eugène Terre’Blanche, with his moth-eaten underpants and gormless militaristic posturing.

The problem is, if one lives in South Africa and intends to remain, it is not quite so funny.

It is hard to make oneself heard against the clamour of the Zuma camp, which at present embraces every shade of political opinion from conservative whites who echo the refrain that the judges are engaged in a conspiracy against Zuma, to the radical Julius Malema of the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League, who offers to kill any of that ilk. What a giggle.

Those who are sanguine about Zuma and the ascendancy of his allies, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party, should reflect on how these groups deal with dissent within the ranks, never mind from their “counter-revolutionary” enemies without.

This week Willie Madisha was removed as president of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, forbidden from holding office for 10 years and expelled from the South African Communist Party (SACP). Madisha was suspended for not toeing the line on support for Zuma. In a murky incident for which there is yet to be a satisfactory public explanation, Madisha also claimed that he handed SACP leader Blade Nzimande R500 000 from a donor, which Nzimande denied.

Madisha was refused permission to call witnesses in his defence. His shop steward representative was denied an adjournment to study about 600 pages of documents relating to the charges against him. A kangaroo court.

Madisha could appeal but whatever damages the courts might apportion, there is no longer a place for him in the union movement. A Stalinist-like purge is taking place of anyone who does not support Zuma, of anyone who dares to challenge the sine qua non that Zuma must be the next South African president, whatever the circumstances.

The Left briefly seemed to offer an antidote to the authoritarianism of Mbeki. It was a false hope. Their commitment to democracy and human rights is proving to be entirely opportunistic, to be discarded when it does not suit their agenda.

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