Source: Business Live

GARETH VAN ONSELEN: Bonfire of the inanities

Political commentators want the ANC in power and the ANC in opposition, so they will seek to deliberately misunderstand the DA until it bends to their will

10 SEPTEMBER 2020 – 05:08 GARETH VAN ONSELEN

The manner in which the fourth estate has treated the official opposition over the last week has been criminal. One can make arguments about the politics of it, of which there is much to say, but really it is the hallmark ignorance that defines most DA political commentary, which does great violence to reason and objectivity.

There is a grand banality of analysis in the English media: empty clichés, born of bias or obtuseness, or both; factually incorrect claims; tortured reasoning; hyperbolic headlines; pervasive ignorance and so forth — a bonfire of inanities.

One could map it all in great detail, with much evidence in support, but as the fourth estate never bothers to do that when talking about the DA, why bother to do that when talking about the fourth estate? It deserves nothing more. And besides, what would the point? Nothing would be learnt from it regardless. It is a closed collective mind.

The consequence is that nobody — no reader, no thinker, no supporter, no opponent, no political party is any the wiser. Quite the opposite. Read almost anything on the DA this last week, and you will be stupider for doing so. That is what the fourth estate has delivered, on mass. And you will be ignorant of your affliction too, for there exists no counter balance. No balance at all, which is the worst kind of stupid.

But it is revealing. Implicit to almost every opinion on the subject is the following concession: nonracialism is a non-starter in SA today. You can stand for it in politics, but you are doomed if you do. And that is a generous description, many columns written advocate for racialism explicitly, from first principles. That we have abandoned nonracialism as a virtuous and noble ideal, is both astounding and depressing.

It is a remarkable truth that there appears to be not a single piece of commentary over the last week, in our mainstream media publications, that has endorsed the DA’s move. Which has said, even if only for the sake of iconoclasm, “You know, good on you, let’s give nonracialism a try, what can the downside be?”

Rather, like a thousand robotic sheep, not programmed by remote control but rather self-taught to congregate around African nationalism, every commentator pushed and shoved to be the first to say, “down with the DA’s nonracialism”, in whatever tortured fashion they could manufacture to deliver that message.

What else does that reveal? Hypocrisy for one: you can presume these people are all African Nationalists themselves? If that is what they want, why do they not identify as such? Curious they do not wear what they advocate proudly on their sleeve.

In turn, what is it exactly they expect anyone with a vaguely liberal worldview to do? (For nonracialism really is a basement entry point to liberalism.) Should they all pack and leave? You can be sure that that is what the real African Nationalists want. Perhaps our commentariat should stop being implicit and start being explicit, for they are surely saying you have no political home we can accept.

Do they want the DA of Maimane? A directionless, nebbish version of the ANC? Yes, it would seem. But that model began to collapse the DA’s support. You can’t have your cake and eat it. Unless you are a SA political commentator.

Then DA supporters must abandon nonracialism, embrace a milder version of African nationalism and frankly, shut up or leave. Also, they must hold the ANC to account, provide alternatives, and be corruption free. It’s mad, and a recipe for redundancy. They want the DA, but they want the DA to be the ANC.

That’s the truth. That is the brutal truth. The SA commentariat does not generally want an opposition. They hate the idea. It’s why they de-legitimate it at every opportunity, it’s why they lie and misrepresent the party, it’s why they cannot conceive of a mental universe outside that of the ANC’s (or BEE or AA), and it’s why they just get their facts wrong. It is because they don’t read the DA seriously or on its own terms; they just express whatever hostile and politically correct emotion grips them that morning.

The grand project that unites the majority of SA political commentators is the following: to find some vehicle through which they might reform/rebuild/re-imagine/restructure the ANC. This is so that they might have their beloved ANC and, with it, none of the disappointment, guilt and, frankly, horror at the total destruction the ANC has wrought on SA.

To do that, they will stop at nothing — including the generally well-governing, corruption-free, internally democratic, stable and nonracial opposition. They want the ANC in power and the ANC in opposition. So they will seek to defame and deliberately misunderstand the DA until it bends to their will. They will not stop until they have ANC totalism.

The irony, lost on the commentariat and the political left generally, is that for a good 25 years now they have, for the most part, been generally, utterly and totally wrong about everything. And yet, here they are, pronouncing with absolute moral certainty about the DA. You have to laugh.

And yet, even that is not the ultimate irony. The ultimate irony is this: they don’t matter. Not one iota. The DA should ignore them all. They have abandoned the ANC, they have abandoned the DA, and they have abandoned the EFF. And they have drawn a false moral equivalence between all three to justify that. Good luck to them, and their indefinable moral purity.

Soon enough, those in the DA still willing to endure the lies, misrepresentation and ANC pandering will stop listening to the commentariat at all. And what will they lose? Nothing. There is nothing to lose because no-one in the commentariat tries to talk to the DA — or its four-million voters — on their own terms. All they do is tell them their terms are wrong.

How many commentators or political analysts in SA work from the following assumption: “Whether I agree with the DA or not, I accept its offer to SA as a perfectly legitimate one in a democracy, and my job is to educate, interpret, explain and critique that offer on its own terms”?

Not one. SA commentators generally work from the following basis: “I believe in social justice/socialism/African nationalism and my job is to damn the DA for not agreeing with me and to interpret, explain and critique the DA through my own personal ideological belief system.”

It is a huge exercise in egoism: 90% of these columns originate from the ego of the person writing them, from the assumption that their personal experience is the way of the world. About 520,000 black South Africans voted for the DA in 2019. How many black South Africans, I wonder, retweeted any one of those columns? Can you put your ego aside for just one column, and try to imagine a universe outside of what you feel, and rather what others feel, just once? Just for an experiment, please?

There is, of course, an important place in public discourse for personal worldviews, although there should be a balance. But being able to interrogate parties on their own terms is just as essential. It is the duty of editors to ensure they have those people on their staff as well.

But most do not. They only have the latter, and they all favour the ANC to one degree or another. And so all politics is personal and every commentator cannot explain the DA, because they have contempt for the DA. Every commentator simply projects their desire onto the DA.

In the final analysis, and all the DA hostility aside, the result is inanity — a feeding frenzy of morally indignant ignorance. No-one reads DA policy for fear they might agree with it, or because they are too lazy. So it is misrepresented and misunderstood. No-one listens to the DA for fear they might lose an argument. So its arguments are dismissed out of hand or responded to in ad hominem fashion. And no-one is fair to the DA, for fear they give space to a view they detest. So its triumphs are never recognised in a stand-alone fashion, and always subsumed by some manufactured and accompanying slight.

And that is the nature of political commentary in SA: a bubble of disillusioned ANC supporters, riddled with guilt over corruption and mismanagement, unable to accept the ideological shortcomings of ANC policy and, most of all, unable to abandon their love for the party. And so they strike out, like jilted lovers. Nothing is good enough. No one will ever measure up.

They will all die heartbroken and alone.