How the DA learnt to forget and love the ANC - Politicsweb

8 July 2018 - Remembering does not necessitate revenge or hatred. Merely caution. Far better to forgive and learn. Forgiveness is how you progress. Remembering is how you make the right decisions in doing so.

Gareth van Onselen  
Speech to the South African Institute of Race Relations Council, Johannesburg, 6 July 2018

All political parties are constantly in the process of refashioning history to their own, contemporary ends. In South Africa, a generally ahistorical society, the practice is a full-time occupation. 

By way of illustration, recently ANC deputy secretary-general Jessie Duarte suggested that Tony Yengeni had done no more than “negotiate a vehicle” and his crime nothing more serious than a failure to declare the 47% discount he received to parliament. 

Thus, his criminality became a mere indiscretion, unfairly pounced upon, and the influence he wielded at the time, as chairman of parliament's joint standing committee on defence, irrelevant to his actions or any precedent they might establish.

In this way, the past is relentlessly polished by political all-comers, so that any ambiguity is refined away and, instead, a uniformity not just of thought but morality stands in its place, stretching all the way back into the mists of time. 

History, a complex, often confusing and unsatisfying beast, is essentially an enemy in this regard. There is no stomach for contradiction. 

Any student of history, who understands its character and values the lessons it holds understand that, to this end, one must be able to hold more than one truth in their minds at any given time. 

Thus, there are no absolute heroes or villains but people, flawed and conflicted. Likewise, there is no single, teleological path to truth, linear and uninterrupted, rather a maze populated by thousand protagonists each on their own path to a different exit.

Sometimes their journey coincides with that of others, sometimes they momentarily cross but, for the most part, each is unique to the respective traveller. 

But that inevitable ambiguity is abused by politicians. To counter the messiness, a false moral equivalence is generated. The harm people do is downplayed, the good emphasised. 

Tony Yengeni, “cannot be condemned to a life sentence of hatred by people who spend their lives hating other people”, Duarte argues. And so, the parameters for forgetting are established: to be critical of Yengeni is to “hate” him; to maintain he is unfit to teach ethics and good governance, unfair. 

One must re-remember, in the name of forgiveness, in order to proceed.

It is not just that sort of uncertainty that is so unsatisfying to the politician and their endless quest for historical purity. Of late, history has become a bane of modern politics the world over, to the point where it is regarded with an almost palpable hostility and resentment. 

It is seen as far more than an uncomfortable truth, to be avoided or supressed in order to maintain some present fantasy but an obstacle, to be crushed totally. If not, then by sheer force and moral outrage, to be warped and moulded into something otherwise; something desirable, mono-dimensional and “true”. 

For the Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s official opposition, it is a particularly fraught business. Caught between a desperate desire to break the African National Congress’s hegemonic hold on both the past and the present – with it, the iron grip the party has on truth and legitimacy – it has chosen to adopt and appropriate large parts of the ANC’s history as its own. Or, at least, those elements of it that can be so used, without the contradiction becoming too glaring. 

I should like, then, to focus on the DA, and its contemporary attitude towards history.

The DA is South Africa’s current and only political custodian of liberal values. And for any liberal, history is of critical importance, as is the history of liberal thought in particular. Not only because the latter is so denigrated and maligned, thus in need of special protection, but because, with regard to the former, there is much of great value to be found in South Africa’s historical annals generally.

But it is a potential vault of wisdom we do not value and seem hesitant to draw upon.

In The Histories, Polybius writes, “All historians, one may say without exception, and in no half-hearted manner, but making this the beginning and end of their labour, have impressed on us that the soundest education and training for a life of active politics is the study of history, and that the surest and indeed the only method of learning how to bear bravely the vicissitudes of fortune, is to recall the calamities of others.”

In South Africa we are very good at recalling the calamities, raw and emotional - at least when helpful to do so; but we are far less adept at distilling from them the requisite lessons. As a result, in practice we live in an environment violently hostile towards history, yet ostensibly in love with it. 

And so, constantly, we are forgetting and re-remembering, encouraged by political parties to arrive at the “correct conclusion” as opposed to any more objective truth.

If the DA becomes addicted to the pragmatic political power inherent to that game, at the expense of any pursuit of the truth or advocacy of its principles, it will forget not just history, but itself. And the price one pays for that, is an organisation without a moral core, its nature and character defined not but what is good and right, but only by what is expedient or popular. 

There is a hidden cost to meddling with the past, in that the exercise tends to defines your character in the present. And there are worrying signs the party is badly infected already.

This, then, is an analysis of how the Democratic Alliance has taught itself to forget. Simultaneously, how it has learnt to remember a new history that, conveniently, overlays almost perfectly with its own, entirely contemporary goals.

Of all the liberation movement’s historical riches permanently on display, the easiest pickings are its icons - the likes of Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Steven Bantu Biko and Chris Hani - all of whom, in death, have been deified, so that the idea of them, as Gods of the South African historical pantheon, has long since supplanted their actual character or the political ideology they espoused. 

They have each become the generic embodiment of the fight for freedom and can thus be evoked or venerated as entirely virtuous and both their lives and ideology perfectly synced with modern constitutional norms and standards, whatever their actual convictions. They have become metaphors, first and foremost, for non-racialism, when in truth they all stood, in one form or another, for a version of group think, and the antithesis of liberal thought.

In turn, because each of them sacrificed so much for what they believed – many of them their lives; if not, then a large portion of them – the combination not only demands contemporary recognition but a paradox for those political parties not moulded out of liberation or revolutionary clay: to ignore these figures would be unacceptable; to contextualise them unpalatable and to criticise their shortcomings or beliefs, unimaginable. 

It is not true, of course, but that is the fear, certainly for the Democratic Alliance. Its response has been to incorporate such people wholesale into its own story, to argue that it stands for what they stood for and, in the other direction, that the party today represents the natural home for the ideals those liberation leaders embodied. 

Supplementing this is the assumption that there is much political capital to won out of arrogating the ANC’s history in this way, and ironically, that impulse runs in two opposing directions. Both the Democratic Alliance – which seeks to emphasise the freedom credentials of ANC heroes – and the Economic Freedom Fighters – which seeks to emphasise the party’s revolutionary credentials – have sought to use ANC history to appeal to prospective voters, as the true custodians of a set of values, attitudes and behaviours once exemplified but now abandoned by the ANC.

But there is a grand irony inherent to all this: It is the ANC on which the DA relies to legitimise its past and it has thus unwittingly bound itself to the ANC as a result. 

The DA’s impulse towards appropriation can be traced back to 2013, and a national campaign titled ‘Know Your DA’. The cornerstone of it, so far as the mainstream media was concerned, was a short, 12m video.

The video was in and of itself an unexceptional affair. It portrayed primarily the role of Helen  Suzman and, more recently, that of her name sake, Helen Zille, at the time the DA leader. But it did so at the expense of many other liberal stalwarts and titans: the likes of Colin Eglin, Frederick van Zyl Slabbert and Tony Leon. 

Of them all, the exorcising of Leon had the biggest consequences as he, unlike the others, was alive and could be approached for comment by the press. Leon would say of his omission, “If you get into a contest about the past, the ANC is going to beat you every time,” before adding, “there is always a danger if you start reliving the past that a lot of inconvenient truths come out.” 

“O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive”, Walter Scott had it. 

In the five years since 2013, the DA has built up a complex and comprehensive set of falsehoods as it attempts to rewrite the past, each one building on what preceded it. To the extent that now it seems almost impossible for the party to undo, without falling on its sword. 

But more telling than Leon’s omission, was how the video attempted to position the DA’s legitimacy entirely on the ANC’s terms, drawing wholly on ANC endorsements and recognition, as evidence of the party’s moral worth. 

In the video, praise for Suzman’s role was attributed solely to ANC icons – Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (quoted as saying, “Helen fought alone to save Mandela’s life in a water-clogged cell”), Nelson Mandela (“She was the first and only woman to grace our cells”) and Albert Luthuli (“a bright star in a dark chamber”). 

As the majority of these endorsements were historical odds and ends, exceptions dug up and elevated to the level of profundity, they cut a stark contrast with the ANC’s more contemporary attitude, which is to denigrate and reject the DA’s history wholesale, and defame Suzman in particular.

And so, a small amount of limited historical appreciation is constantly at odds with a great deal of contemporary and widespread vilification. Rarely does the former ever win out at the expense of the latter.

It is understandable, of course, that the DA should wish to highlight the ANC of old’s attitude towards Suzman but her legitimacy and courage stands independently of the ANC. 

Awarded 27 honorary doctorates, made an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire and twice nominated for the Nobel Peace prize, among many other accolades, her commitment to democracy and justice was universally recognised. 

None of it made the DA’s documentary. Suzman was, for all intents and purposes, virtuous and her fight noble because the ANC of old had said as much itself. 

The distinction is a subtle one, but important. By omission the DA had set the scene for far more than the ostensible elucidation of the public mind, but a moral framework for legitimacy that would become doctrine for the party in the years to follow. 

At the heart of it was the ANC, the liberation movement and those icons who best represented them. From it the DA would attempt to frame its own authority and, before it, the party would now kneel, in perpetual defence. 

In and of itself, the ‘Know your DA’ campaign made some strategic sense at the time, whatever its shortcomings, but, with the benefit of hindsight, it was clearly the template for a new kind of politics. With it, an ever-more flexible attitude towards history and the manner in which it could be manipulated, primarily through omission, for a contemporary purpose.

This attitude was born of the age of Jacob Zuma. Understandably, the calculation was made that Zuma, a man as divisive as he was destructive, had changed the ANC; that, under him, the ANC could no longer credibly claim to embody the ideals associated with Nelson Mandela – the ultimate metonym for non-racialism. 

Into this vacuum, the DA would step and, by appropriating those parts of the ANC that spoke to the legacy, become an alternative version of the ANC and, the hope was, a safe electoral haven for those ANC voters alienated from and angry with the ANC. 

In this way, the DA believes it can use the ANC against itself and, by juxtaposing the party against its own history and highlighting those aspects of its history that best suit a contemporary vote-winning strategy, not only reap the benefits of the association but damn the ANC in turn. 

It has proven to be an intoxicating and irresistible combination. And it has mutated further still, to the extent that the DA, in recent years, has taken not just to appropriating ANC heroes but rewriting their history itself. 

For the most part, the DA does not indulge the blunt propaganda the ANC utilizes to denigrate its opponents but is far more sophisticated and devious in its modification of the historical record. 

Through omission and the subtle manipulation of facts, it has over time come to portray the history of liberation movement in general and the ANC in particular as entirely compatible and complementary with its own legacy, values and principles. And, as with any bad habit, with time and without consequence, it has become increasingly bold and reckless in the way it goes about its business.

By way of illustration: The DA’s relationship with Thabo Mbeki, South Africa’s controversial president from 1999 through 2008, was deeply acrimonious. 

Mbeki himself, at the best of times, was intensely hostile towards the party in particular; and his acolytes, who populated the mainstream media, more hostile still towards the general idea of opposition itself. His policies, most notoriously on HIV/Aids, Zimbabwe and cadre deployment, were the subject of sustained DA campaigns all through the early 2000s and, by the end of his tenure, the collapse of South Africa’s electricity infrastructure, after decades of neglect, precipitated a crisis the country has yet to fully recover from. 

The Mbeki years were, in the final analysis, the period during which the DA would, through sheer force of will, entrench itself as the official opposition, largely on the back of his failures but, simultaneously, the period during which the ANC’s hegemonic grip on South African politics did much damage to the legitimacy of the opposition project in South Africa, and liberalism as a legitimate alternative to the ANC racial nationalism.

First Tony Leon, then Helen Zille, directed much of their criticism at Mbeki himself. 

Zille had said, among other things, that, “He is ultimately responsible for the power crisis that threatens to bring our economy to its knees”;  that “he has consistently denied the gravity of national crises such as HIV-Aids and crime”, he had “allowed President Robert Mugabe to repeatedly steal elections in Zimbabwe”; and that, “the ANC and its allies might be undecided on whether Mbeki should step down, but for the DA the correct course of action is obvious: Mbeki must go and he must go now.”

But come the 2014 election and Mbeki was transformed, entirely by omission, into a hero of sorts. Not once, throughout that campaign was Mbeki’s shortcomings mentioned. Instead, he was presented in glowing terms, primarily by Mmusi Maimane and Zille, as representative of a golden age. One against which Zuma could be framed as the embodiment of all evil.

“Under Presidents Mandela and Mbeki,” Zille would say, “South Africa made progress. They had a good story to tell.” However, search the DA historical record and that good story is nowhere to be found. Nevertheless.

Maimane would mention Mbeki 15 times during that campaign, Zille at least five times, all uncritically and without context. Under Mbeki, Maimane said, “we saw progress”; his  “I am an African” speech, “gave me the confidence to become what I wanted to be”; the future was, “alive with possibility under President Mbeki”; “our spirits soared” when Mbeki claimed he was an African; electricity was delivered and, Maimane said, “I voted for the ANC that year”, because “I believed that President Thabo Mbeki would steer us in the right direction.” 

This was a new Mbeki, his past sanitized for the purpose of some contemporary agenda. And inherent to that, as with the ‘Know your DA’ campaign, legitimacy bestowed on the ANC of old. 

The web would be further extended. During the 2016 local government elections, an analysis of all Maimane’s speeches, reveals “Mandela” was referred to 21 times and “Madiba”, 9 times. Mbeki was mentioned five time, Walter Sisulu 3 times and Josiah Gumede, Saul Msane, Pixley ka Isaka Seme, John Dube and Sol Plaatje all once. All in glowing terms.

Notable in their absence are any of the DA’s own historical heroes whom Maimane literally never once mentioned. He relied only on the ANC’s grand historical figures, now the DA’s own heroes, as the primary source from which the best of South African democracy flowed.

It became for the DA a problem so acute, in the juxtaposing of ANC icons - old and newly imagined -  with Zuma that, when Zuma went, the party was left with nothing to turn to; for it had so celebrated the party itself, and the party was now all that remained. In its eagerness to damn Zuma, it had no ideological or distinctive policy alternative it could fall back on to distinguish itself. It is a paradox the DA is still in the process of resolving.

More worryingly still, sometimes the DA distorts history to such a degree that those claims made about liberation icons bears no resemblance to the truth at all; rather a fiction or archetype of an idea or person; one that never existed in the first place. 

Its description of Steve Biko, the founder of South African black consciousness, as a man who, “stood for the idea which said that we are not defined by the colour of our skin or the shape of our nose, but by the content of our character”, was typical of this inclination to refashion and redesign the historical record.

But there are a myriad other examples. In July 2017, desperate to position itself on the “right” side of history, the DA pre-emptively released a statement in response to news about Kenneth Kaunda’s death. Only, he was not dead and the party was forced to retract. 

Nevertheless, it wasted no time in celebrating Kaunda as a “freedom fighter” and “African liberator”, all without reservation or context. Kaunda, a highly autocratic socialist had, in fact, banned the opposition, resulting in the curious contradiction that was the leader of the official opposition in South Africa venerating a man who had literally established a one-party state.

It had not a critical word to say about Kaunda. More recently still, the party’s veneration of Winne Madikizela-Mandela’s as an icon, without a single reservation, served to do to her history and the DA’s what Maimane and Zille had done to Mbeki’s. She was now, “a great South African”, who stood as, “a bright light”, “for principle” and who, “will always be remembered for your selfless and steadfast commitment to our democracy.”

In the 1999 election, the Democratic Party had put its opposition to Madikizela-Mandela front and centre in its campaign. And for good reason, not just because of 14-year old ‘Stompie’ Seipei’s death but the machinations and subsequent allegations that defined her prosecution. 

In 2009, the DA formally objected to her nomination as a member of parliament, saying it was “quite extraordinary” the ANC had not removed her given her criminal record. Today that statement has been removed from the DA website. 

She, like Mbeki, is cleansed. And the DA, as with Mbeki before, has bestowed on this re-imagined hero uncritical praise and legitimacy, from which it would aim to position itself as one of the primary benefactors. 

The unintended by-product of all this has, in fact, been a decline of the DA’s legitimacy and independence. Whenever it has advocated its own history, it has implicitly and explicitly come to subject it to the ANC’s approval and endorsement. 

Expediency explains some but not all of this. There is too, within the Democratic Alliance today, a dearth of intellectual thought; at its worst, a prevalent anti-intellectualism, hostile to any uncomfortable truth that cannot so easily be adapted and absorbed into a commodity with immediate electoral value. 

There is not only the negation of any ability to understand history for what it is but an inclination to deny it as true. 

As the party has grown, at a relatively rapid pace, it has incorporated a raft of new and young members into its ranks, many of who have been quickly elevated through the party hierarchy, to positions that belie their lack of experience and expertise. 

Likewise, who together constitute a broad and fluid ideological pool, either too young to be aware or simply ignorant of the party’s own history, principles and previous positions to ensure consistency in thought and deed. 

This dilution of the DA’s institutional memory has rendered it especially susceptible to forgetting, in favour of a new set of memories, manufactured by ruthlessly efficient public relations machine that has elevated market research above policy and promoted public favourability over principle. 

Its new generation is enamoured with the ANC. Directed by a new leadership, enmeshed in the ANC’s universe, its rallies are often initiated with the call “Amandla” and met by the inevitable response, “Awethu”. It talks increasingly of “transformation” and the “triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment”. It has bound itself to ideas like the National Development Plan, the implementation of Maimane says, will “honour Tata Madiba”. 

Unsurprisingly, it is not matched by any similar such generosity from the ANC itself. An examination of the record of those ANC heroes so venerated by the Democratic Alliance today, demonstrates an intense and often malicious hostility towards not just the party but the idea of opposition itself, against liberalism as an ideology and those genuine DA heroes, born of the party’s own struggle. 

Winne Mandela, for example, cared nothing for the DA. In 2016, she would describe the party as “morally‚ ethically and intellectually bankrupt”. Quoting Nelson Mandela, she would say the DA was “a party of white bosses and black stooges” and that, “Similar to the old apartheid strategies of ‘Strategic Communication (Strat-Com)’‚ the DA seems to use the same propagandistic tactics of “70% facts and 30% fiction”‚ to particularly confuse the illiterate aged in the townships.”

And so, while the DA relentlessly praises the ANC, the ANC relentlessly denigrates the DA. The DA seeks the approval of people who regard it with contempt and who waste no time distorting and misrepresenting its own history, only to reap the benefits of the DA’s synthetic praise and adulation.

The City of Johannesburg, at the behest of mayor Herman Mashaba, is currently undertaking a public process to find a way of honouring Winnie Mandela. There is talk that renaming the council chambers themselves would be an appropriate tribute. If that come to pass, it would be instructive: that someone who demonstrated nothing but contempt for parliament, routinely absent yet who, year-in and year-out, drew a public salary, should now be held up as an exemplar of public duty. 

In April this year, in a tribute to the late Chris Hani, the DA said in a statement, “The DA remembers Chris Hani and will continue to work to realise his dreams for our country.” 

His dream was a socialist utopia. But it matters not. People like Hani are malleable ideas in the DA’s hands, not real people. Their history is a blank slate. Their politics defined not by what they believed but by what the DA believes. And, increasingly, it believes whatever will deliver the most votes.

The Economic Freedom Fighters, who wish to nationalise every component part of the South African state, are painted as a dangerous threat to our economic well-being. Kenneth Kaunda, who nationalised most of the Zambian economy is, however, a hero. 

Each serves a particular purpose and so, although they are one and the same, they are different. The one attacked, the other celebrated. Jacob Zuma was responsible for Marikana, and the brutal killing of 44 South Africans. Nelson Mandela’s role in the Shell House Massacre is literally wiped from memory. At the time, ANC security guards shot and killed nineteen people on the pretence they threatened to storm the building. A commission of inquiry would later reject their explanation. But Mandela bears no responsibility for that in the DA’s eyes. It is necessary that he be a God, so that Zuma could be the devil.

“Corruption in the ANC started when Jacob Zuma took over in Polokwane in December 2007”, Maimane declared in July 2016, “It was for this reason that Thabo Mbeki described the ANC under Zuma as an ignoble parasitic and corrupt organisation.”

As it so happens, Mbeki made his claim that the ANC risked becoming, “an ignoble, blood-sucking and corrupt parasite” in October 2005, and of a party he oversaw.

But the DA will care little for the distinction. In the same 2016 speech Maimane said, “When I had an opportunity to vote for the first time, I voted for Madiba.” That is what really matters.

Earlier this year, in a shameless display of ignorance and contempt, the party failed to issue any condolence for the late Judge Ramon Leon. It was a remarkable omission not only because of his unfailing service to the liberal cause but to the DA itself, a party he had played no small part in personally helping rescue from the brink of bankruptcy. He was conveniently forgotten, like so many others, because the ANC and the media had done much to defame him and his reputation, generating an environment the DA, weak and supine, deemed too dangerous to enter. 

In a subsequent newsletter, bemoaning the media’s bias but ignoring his party’s own, Maimane would plead, “Let’s rewrite our future, not our past”. Argued, “This is something the ANC is very fond of doing. The longer it can keep the public attention away from its many failures, the better. But in recent weeks the practice has been turbocharged, with a more brazen rewriting of our history than ever.”

Maimane asked why this is before answering his own question by quoting George Orwell: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.”

Thus, Maimane argued, “if you can determine how history is remembered and retold, you can secure your power going forward. And if you have power right now, you can ensure that you are the writer of this history.” Ultimately, he argued, “And so we see, from the ANC, a fixation with symbolism over substance”, something he described as a “self-serving tactic that is used at great cost to the people of this country”. But, he assured the party faithful, so far as the Democratic Alliance itself went, “We are not concerned with owning and rewriting the past.”

The party does not lack for brazen hypocrisy.

All of this constitutes a great risk. The final effect has been a hollowing out of the DA as an institution and a corrosion of the party’s institutional memory, the alienation of many age-old supporters and a contempt for those who sweated blood, risking their own reputations in environments far more hostile to the idea of opposition than that which the DA enjoys today, to establish the foundation on which the DA rests.

The only justification, so far as the DA itself is concerned, is a commensurate increase in electoral support, and among former ANC voters in particular, come the 2019 national and provincial elections. 

The DA managed 22.2% of the vote in 2014, and around 6% of all votes cast by black South Africans. Without a significant increase in those numbers, the party’s strategy of appropriation will have come at the cost of the party’s identity, and the implications of that are profound and far-reaching. 

The long-term consequences of this relatively short-term game remain the great unknown. But the game itself, along with the reputation of those who championed it, will be on the table the next time South Africa goes to polls.

It will be interesting to observe to what lengths the DA will be willing to go ahead of the 2019 election, whether it will break with this pattern of historical appropriation or turn more heavily than ever before to it. 

In closing, I mentioned earlier that the idea of forgiveness played a part in South Africa’s a-historicism. It is worth dwelling on this for a moment. 

Forgiveness is one of the sacred texts in South Africa, it exists beyond scrutiny and on it so much of our foundation is built. But it has, however, become a euphemism for ignorance. To forgive someone is to forget. Duarte’s sentiment’s about Yengeni make the case.

In the best sense of the word, forgiveness makes no such demand. Nor is it necessary to “forgive and forget”. 

Remembering does not necessitate revenge or hatred. Merely caution. Far better to forgive and learn. Forgiveness is how you progress. Remembering is how you make the right decisions in doing so. 

We have forgotten so much in South Africa. Cyril Ramaphosa is reborn. The day he raised his hand in the ANC NEC, in support of a call to oust Mbeki, forgotten. His blind endorsements of Jacob Zuma ignored. 

Julius Malema, who almost single-handedly destroyed the National Prosecuting Authority’s case against Jacob Zuma is now recast as revolutionary. 

All those ANC members, Bheki Cele, Naledi Pandor, Blade Nzimande, who denigrated and defamed the Public Protector in support of Zuma, have now found new roles under Ramaphosa, their pasts eradicated.

Every day we purge history in South Africa, so that we might progress. Not just in politics, but everywhere. Our universities are tributes to contemporary political desires and ideas. History, as a discipline, is fighting for its life. 

We value the past only when affirms the present, never when it challenges it. If that inclination takes hold of the opposition, it will become the way of things. For then the only alternative is convention. And the idea of an opposition denuded of its very purpose.

There are some small safe guards, holding out against this onslaught. I would like to think the Institute can count itself among them. 

To protect them, we need to invest in things that appear to have no immediate value, for history is an amorphous and intangible beast. But, if we fail to protect them, if we fail to invest in history, then we augment not only a grand uniformity of thought but the ability to think outside it. 

When that happens, as is happening to the DA, one outsources the truth – such as it is – to those who wield power. Power lives only for the moment. And so, without watchers, the moment becomes everything.

The ANC bubble – the moment - is today verging on all-consuming. As it spreads, it simplifies and censors. It is not transparent but opaque. You cannot see outside of it. As the world of ideas shrinks around you, the future and the past are reconciled in the present. Time stands still. And you forget. But of those all, it is the forgetting that is most destructive. For it is not just to redefine truth and meaning but to close off imagination itself. And that is both the saddest and most tortuous death intellectual thought can suffer.

Gareth van Onselen is the Head of Politics and Governance for the South African Institute of Race Relations, a think tank that promotes political and economic freedom. If you agree with what you have just read then click here or SMS your name to 32823.   

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