ANC - That Beacon of Linguistic Subterfuge

2013-07-29 18:55

Always be suspicious of politicians’ words!

When you hear politicians speaking or read their public utterances in the media, do you feel moved to pinch yourself and wonder if you have heard right, whether you are being taken for a ride, have possibly lost your marbles or just blanked out on a new lexicon of the English language?

If so, don’t panic.

F A Hayek (1899-1992), the Austrian economist, political theorist and historian picked up on this phenomenon, associating it with political ambition bent on gaining or retaining power and influence through moulding perceptions and a given viewpoint through choice of vocabulary. By developing and taking ownership of words and terms that resonate to the advantage of the person in charge, it becomes difficult for opponents to counter them or scale the moral high ground – for without the right words to argue or state your point of view, you are disarmed.

A topical example is Juju’s “Economic Freedom Fighters”. Although a serious outcast to some, Juju still has a following that needs to be noted – if only for its dodgy down side potential. Even the name of his party is a fraud.

Economics is the study of how scarce resources are allocated according to market forces, but the EFF wants to “fight” for them (what “them” is, is unclear, but one can guess!), nationalize anything worth having and direct how everything happens from the centre; in other words it stands for the effective abolition of conventional economics. The fact that it could win some electoral support is a sorry indictment of our national intelligence quotient.

Of course they are not the first to butcher the language or mislead with words.

Let’s look at more random examples of how terms are hijacked for use by all manner of politicians – and start with that evergreen “Social Justice”. The most objective and succinct definition of Social Justice that I found was:

“The fair and proper administration of laws conforming to the natural law that all persons, irrespective of ethnic origin, gender, possessions, race, religion, etc., are to be treated equally and without prejudice.”

That sounds pretty good – although to me it implies little more than clean government, which is what sound democracy should be. So what is so special about it and why do politicians flog it to death?

In our instance they use it because it gives license to use history as an instrument of plunder and capitalize on the injustices of the apartheid era – invariably for short term personal gain. And even though the classic version of “Social Justice” (above) would in all probability yield a better life for everyone in the long run, that is not what it is about for those articulating its gospel.

Interestingly, there are other useful terms too, which relate to and promote “Social Justice”. These include trendy words like “transformation”, “restitution”, “empowerment” or “empowerment initiatives”, all of which masquerade as bridges to the Holy Grail of Social Justice.

To make things still more interesting – and no doubt intentionally confusing - the locally used term “empowerment” has little to do with empowering people at all. Empowerment generally comes from education, experience and hard work – none of which fit the South African paradigm. So for South African “empowerment”, you can more often than not substitute the terms “confiscation, reallocation, seizure or coercion”, which is invariable at the expense of the original creators of assets, wealth and value. A highly visible example of South African style empowerment is the elevation of our current deputy president from having been a trade union boss to a multi millionaire.

It is safe to suggest that he knew little about running a business until he was “empowered” – and it is a safer guess still that he still knows far less than he should, given his obscene wealth. That said, one would have to concede that by now he must know something; he is, by all accounts an intelligent man.

But hey, is he worth $675 million? Let’s move on.

Have you ever wondered what “Workers Rights” are all about?

To the best of my understanding, workers are people, and according to our law all people (or citizens) have human rights protected by law. But workers – and more particularly unionized workers – would seem to be special because they also have “workers’ rights”.

And that is a distortion that goes deeper than one might think.

Consider this - the trade union federation Cosatu is a direct partner with, and participant in the ANC led government which in a sense makes union members shareholders in government. That gives them an advantage - not only through direct government influence over all the nation’s citizens – but because of double representation, over other citizens.

How’s that for subterfuge?

Of course, as things are unfolding, Workers’ Rights could end up crippling our economy to a point where our threadbare democracy comes adrift. Following Marikana and the accelerating deterioration since then, the ANC has come out of the closet with a (pro NUM) ANC official on record as having said of a successful competitive union, “This [Amcu – the union in question] is a small cockroach that needs a mild spray to solve it" - words that found their origin in the build up to the Rwandan genocide. Meanwhile, people are getting stabbed and beaten at NUM rallies and – according to one union official - are being killed for wearing NUM T-shirts. Clearly, those two words “workers’ rights” imply different things to different people and amplify differences.

They might still have devastating consequences for us all.

But if the national vernaculars trouble you, try at all costs to look on the bright side by recognizing that the worst might not happen if you pay it limited attention and ignore the waffle of politicians. Remember, Social Justice is a moving feast with a perspective that changes, depending on who is in charge and Workers Rights seem to only mean something when used for personal leverage or to get one’s way.

Words are cheap.

As for “transformation”, “restitution” and “empowerment”, my guess is that they might come in useful as buzz words during the run up to the 2014 elections, so be prepared for them. Of course they will generate limited tangible actions for – as we by now should know - it is common for the political left to use words devoid of meaning and to act only when spurred on to do so.

But in the long run - and hopefully - common sense and a sense of meaning still beckon.

A luta continua!


AB praises selfless skipper

2010-11-21 18:15

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