Monday, January 30, 2006

Australia, cricket and racism

It would appear given the riots last year and some recent incidence reported below that Australia is a country suffering from a growing problem with racism. I saw this reported by SAPA concerning the recent South African cricket tour and thought it worth posting: "Gerald Majola, the South African cricket boss, has threatened to boycott future tours of Australia if the racial abuse towards the Proteas continues, the Mercury reported today. Its website quoted Majola as saying: "It is very serious and if it continues, yes, we would look very seriously about whether we return here for another series." Majola is on a visit to Perth to support the national team against Sri Lanka in the VB Series tomorrow. He bemoaned incidents where members of the South African cricket team have been the target of racist remarks from spectators. "It is not right when a country has a history like ours. It is something that we never thought we would hear about," Majola said. "The sad thing is, it has continued around Australia. It hasn't just been limited to one state or one city." The first incident was in Perth in December. Makhaya Ntini, Garnett Kruger, Herschelle Gibbs and Ashwell Prince were abused by sections of the crowd. Some white players like Shaun Pollock and Andre Nel were also called names. Security had been beefed up for Tuesday's match in Perth as Australian officials are desperate to avoid a repeat of last month's taunting, said the Mercury. Tony Dodemaide, the Western Australia Cricket Association chief executive, said any spectator found to be racially abusing a player would be ejected. - Sapa"

Sunday, January 29, 2006

TRC joins fight as apartheid victims and state clash

Christelle Terreblanche wrote an interesting piece in the Sunday Independent recently (22 January 2006), entitled "TRC joins fight as apartheid victims and state clash". It begins: "As the government prepares to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), two pending clashes show just how wide the gulf between civil society and the government over the commission's legacy has grown. On Tuesday Brigitte Mabandla, the justice minister, will square off against two sets of lawyers representing thousands of apartheid victims at an appeal hearing in New York over their 2002 compensation claims brought against foreign multinational companies and banks they accuse of aiding and abetting apartheid violence. The government is opposing the claims, saying the case interferes with South Africa's sovereignty and will impede foreign investment...". To read the article click here.

TRC, reparations and clashes with the SA government

For those of you following the debates concerning the international lawsuit by the Khulumani Victim Support Group against companies that aided the apartheid state and business a recent article in the Sunday Independent gives a good update. In sum, the ANC government continues to oppose the cases because they say it is against the countries interest and foreign investment. How strange for an ANC government to have such an opinion...is that not what those who did not believe in sanctions against apartheid SA would have said? To read the article click here.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The unequal cost of lying

There is nothing more tragic than watching a public figure fall from grace. Recently, the UK witnessed a spectacular. Charles Kennedy, leader of the Liberal Democrats, the third most powerful political party in the UK, resigned after denying and then later admitting he had a drinking problem. Allegedly, the problem was not that he was an alcoholic, but that, when asked about his drinking habits a few months earlier, he had denied it, thus effectively lying. This opened the door for accusations of dishonesty, which ensured his political demise.

The controversy surrounding Kennedy is a familiar one in politics. Remember the attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton? The issue was not that he had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, but that he initially denied having “sexual relations with that woman”.

Machiavelli says that governments have different rules to individuals when it comes to honesty. From a Machiavellian perspective, one wants politicians who can tell lies. Telling lies can, in some circumstances, protect the interests of the State and its citizens. This distasteful truth is offset by democracy. Democracy demands a bond of trust between citizens and the State. You must trust your political leaders enough to know they will lie or keep secrets, only if absolutely necessary and to defend life. If they lie to the electorate for other reasons, they should be held accountable.

However, lying is a tricky business, and a government’s access to power often means that it can shape how a ‘lie’ is understood. According to the online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, a lie is a declarative statement to another person, that one believes to be false, made with the intention that the other person may believe that statement to be true. In other words, lies, by definition, involve active deception. Politicians seldom own up to any form of deception. Take, for example, what I would call the recently invented ‘honest lie’ introduced during the Iraq war scandal. When Tony Blair claimed there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and that they posed a “serious and current threat” and was subsequently proved to be wrong, he said it was the fault of the intelligence services. He claims he believed the information presented to him and, as such, had not lied. He sincerely, or so he says, told the nation what he thought was true. He told a sincere lie.

But is that different from the situation with Kennedy? When asked publicly if he was an alcoholic, he said no. What we know about alcoholism is that it is common for those afflicted to fail to recognise their condition. In this sense, perhaps, he equally lied in all sincerity. But is it only the sincerity of a lie that matters, and not its consequences? The sincerity of a lie seldom matters to the victims of it. This is undoubtedly the case for the colleagues who had to cover for Kennedy when he was allegedly too drunk to perform his public duties or to Iraqi civilians and allied soldiers killed as a result of alleged misinformation.

Clearly, individuals are treated differently to governments. If an individual acts against another in ‘preemptive self-defence’, having been misinformed about the level of threat, she or he must face the law and pay the price. If a politician, on the other hand, causes the death of thousands based on misinformation about the level of threat, it is apparently entirely excusable. Unlike active deception, incompetent deception is seemingly completely forgivable when it comes to politicians.

If one man’s inability to be honest about his fondness for a tipple is enough to topple him and cost him his political career, then another man’s failure to ensure that information used to end the lives of thousands is accurate, no matter how sincerely he believed it was, should be equally damning.

This article by Brandon Hamber was published on Polity and in the Engineering News on 20 January 2006 as part of the column "Look South". Copyright Brandon Hamber.