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Drewan Baird. Oudtshoorn. 00 April 2013. 15h00. You can watch it here – the SABC footage of the ANC delegation invading Nelson Mandela’s space.
I have a classical education and am passably well read. Over the years I have encountered awesome thinkers in books and manuscripts and papers. Yet I have never had “heroes” – individuals I hold in such esteem that their frailties may shake me.
Bear with me please, my longsuffering readers; I am en route to some robust conclusion.
There’s Bertrand Russell. Karl Popper. Wittgenstein. Richard Dawkins. Sam Harris. Daniel Dennett. Christopher Hitchens. And that’s just the most recent ones. Click here to read my eulogy for Hitchens, the greatest literary provocateur I’ve ever encountered.
The former South African Templeton Award winning Princeton James I McCord Professor of Theology and Science, J Wentzel van Huyssteen once called me the last living logical positivist… an intended “insult” which I accepted with great pride. And as a few foremost thinkers commented, they wished it had been said of them!
Van Huyssteen later laughed the matter off, but only after a rather robust public interaction at the Stellenbosch seminary some 4 years ago.
Still, I have no heroes. From the Presocratics (c. 650-500BCE), originators of ancient philosophy, to today, nothing. Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert comes closest. And by the way, I still think Slabbert has, even in death, the most sublime “struggle credentials”. We can debate this later, mine ANC readers. I’ll supply the whisky.
Without heroes, I am not particularly piqued by the invasion of Mandela’s privacy. I am generally opposed to the invasion of privacy. But I don’t regard Mandela a saint, or worthy of particularly unique treatment; I don’t think anyone a saint. And Mandela was a politician. Enough said?
There were others equally committed to the common good. Gandhi comes to mind – a man with terrible flaws, like Mother Theresa was a women with many. Diogenes of Sinope*, one of my favourite characters, too.
What peeves me about the SABC footage is that Jacob Zuma – the president of my country – can go on national television and tell people that things are what the viewing millions can see for themselves are not so… and get away with it!
Zuma obviously think SABC viewers – voters – rank idiots unable to see for themselves that Nelson Mandela is propped by pillows and pills and is not “up and about”; “relaxed”; and “in good spirits”.
Now back to Denett and co. for a moment:
Dennett once said that Hitchens showed him – and it is something he keeps in mind always when he speaks – that there is a time to be polite and there is a time when one is obliged to be rude, as rude one has to be to stop the pollution of minds with a quick unignorable shock.
Such a time is now:
Jacob, be an idiot if you so wish, but kindly refrain from publicly regarding the Joe and Joan Soaps of my land as idiots too.
I realise that you are president only because the dimmer half of society buys your snake oil and keeps the lidasheep in an ill-fitting opulence masked by the odd cheap T-shirt at a Fridômdey rally, but if you can lie as you breathe on national TV with the exact opposite to your utterances there for all to see, what is there about you that can possibly be believed?
I may tell you frankly, sir, that I have never been a believer in your powers and your conduct confirms all my conclusions**.
In the words of Shakespeare’s Constable Dogberry, slightly adjusted: “… you have committed false report; moreover, you have spoken untruths; secondarily, you are a slander; sixth and lastly, you have belied a lady; thirdly you have verified unjust things; and to conclude, you are a lying knave. (Much ado about nothing, 5.1.204-208.)
In short, Jacob, and in service of Christopher Hitchens’s obligatory rudeness, repeat after me: I’m – a – doos.
The Mandela footage is not about Mandela; it is about us citizens and voters. Have we been so calloused that we continue without fail to keep the ANC, and idiots like Zuma, in power?
It was us who were embarrassed last night; it was our space that had been invaded!
* Diogenes of Sinope confronted the Athenian establishment. He would wander about the market place in broad daylight with a burning lantern, looking for honest people. He famously told Alexander the Great, in answer to an offer of assistance, to move out of his sunlight. People called him kynikos (like a dog) and this is where our word “cynic” originated.
** Lord Cantlemere, with some ancient fires flickering up into his sallow cheeks, to Sherlock Holmes. Words he had, unlike me, to retract expeditiously soon after saying them. (The Adventure of the the Mazarin Stone, final page.)
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