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Who is the con man in South African politics?

12 April 2012, 07:02
There is virtually no disagreement that con artists and politicians have much in common. Each tells you what you want to hear, gains your trust and then exploits it to his advantage whether or not any advantage accrues to you. Each feeds you a con, i.e. a lie or whole basket of lies.

The currency of con men and politicians comprises lies, obfuscation and spin. Yes, sometimes an advantage does actually also accrue to you, as long as the bigger advantage accrues to the con man. This is the essential difference between capitalism and socialism.

As much as the “free capitalist” world claims that “we hold these truths to be self-evident .. that all mean are born equal…”, the reality is that the whole system is absolutely geared up to entrench massive inequality. However, the capitalist world has been sustainable because those with their snouts in the trough at the top have left enough for the rest of us to get by on, and even have the occasional splurge.

Not so as regards the socialist/communist world. It was always bound to fail because the lie of equality could not be maintained as everyone sank into poverty. Communism always had a fatal flaw in that it established a facade of everyone earning and living equally. The Soviets provided us with images of women being treated as equals when the truth was they had less freedom than women in the US did in the repressive 1940's era and the few women we were shown as equals were propaganda.

Sadly we are terribly predisposed towards being conned. I remember an ex-Rhodesian work mate, Keith Kennedy, hosting a radio show called “Telephun Time” years ago. He would phone up South Africans and con them into the most amazing acts of foolishness, live on air. By pretending to be a wealthy businessman from overseas Keith would con a total stranger into leaving the keys to his Mercedes and his mansion with Keith, pending the stranger’s return from a trip. He conned a young lady, from a very good conservative background, to agree to be his personal escort by pretending that he was extremely wealthy and needed someone to accompany him on his private jet, whilst visiting the region.

It was utterly amazing how perfectly good normal human beings would fall for the lies and promises he proffered, and put themselves at terrible risk. Note that all his victims were from well educated affluent backgrounds.  It is much easier for politicians in South Africa. Their victims are, by and large, not from well educated affluent backgrounds. Because of history we have a large populace that has been disadvantaged in the most pernicious way; educationally.  The psychology at play during the conning process is very simple indeed and as said, genius like truth, is ever simple. The victim is simply promised what he would like to hear most and assured that he will get it. All that is needed in return is that he trust the con man.

Since trust seems to cost nothing, it is easily given, especially when you are desperate. Sadly in South Africa we have millions who are so desperate that they really have nothing to lose by giving their trust. They have nothing to lose even if they more than suspect that they are being conned. Good con men quickly deal with any mistrust by delivering a little bit on their false promises.

In Zimbabwe many Malawians were crooked out of their entire pensions using the “envelope trick”. The victim was assured that the con man could treble the victim's money. To prove it he would first do this with one or ten dollars. When the victims saw that he was indeed being returned three times what he had handed over, his mistrust was gone and he would hand over all his savings. Many returned to Malawi penniless after a lifetime of work. Politicians are very adept at doing something that seemingly proves that they can be trusted.

In our region we can safely accept that not all of our “heroes” joined the struggle out of a passion for human rights and social justice. Undoubtedly there were some that found themselves in the movement simply because it was anti authority. I personally know of one of our Zimbabwean heroes who only “escaped” into the struggle camp after he had embezzled money raised to fight the Smith regime. However, the reality is that, provided the leader has the right political blazer/badge we just assume that he can be trusted, and do not stop to think for one moment that the political blazer/badge may be part of the con. If he then does one or two good things we become passionate about our belief in him. We become one of his followers, part of his camp, part of that herd.

Con men have existed from time immemorial, in every society. There are innumerable famous examples. Just google “conmen”. As said, this proves beyond doubt how terribly predisposed we are to being conned. The worst examples are the religious con men. Here again the psychology is exactly the same. In exchange for the promise of eternal life people will put their full trust in a another human being who is good at making the promise. In this way the whole world was shocked and amazed, in 1978, when Jim Jones managed to convince 909 human beings into a mass suicide in Guyana.

There was also the “Heaven’s Gate” mass suicide near San Diego, California, in 1997, when 49 people suffocated each other so as to catch a spaceship that they were conned into believing was following in the tail of the Comet Hale-Bopp. This most successful brand of the con man has one critically important difference to others. The conning includes passionate condemnation of others, with the label "false prophets" being the favourite.

The political version of the religious con man was Hitler, who included condemnation of the Jews, with terrible consequences for both the Jews and the Germans. The simple truth is that there are con men in every sector of society, medical, legal, financial … and political. History proves this. So there is a simple but critically important question each of us needs to ask at all times, unless you are a sheep. Sheep do not think; they do not ask questions; they simply follow ... as part of the herd.

The question we need to ask … who is the con man in South Africa … because there is one … no doubt whatsoever. In seeking to identify our political con man we need to just see who matches up to the religious con men, who even led people to their deaths.

The matching will have three main ingredients – 1. Making very big promises. 2. Condemnation of others. 3. A "blind following" ,i.e., comprising people who simply refuse to see obvious faults/flaws. Good luck! And Yes, there may be more than one.

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