Foreign Policy Blogs

In Which The Economist Loses a Debate Against Itself

In Which The Economist Loses a Debate Against ItselfThe Economist had a piece on South Africa in the latest issue that unintentionally contradicted itself. I usually try not to let others do my work for me, but these two paragraphs warrant regurgitating in full:

The ANC has marked up some notable achievements. It enshrined civil and social rights in the constitution. It abolished the death penalty. It has built more than 3m free or subsidised houses, and has brought clean water, sanitation and electricity to millions more. Every child now has a right to at least 12 years of education. More than 15m people, almost a third of the population, get some form of welfare. Severe malnutrition among children under five has been almost eradicated. Some 6m pupils get free school meals. Having at last accepted the link between HIV and AIDS, the ANC now has a grip on the epidemic, one of the world’s worst. Crime is coming down; the murder rate has fallen by half from its peak in 1994. The ANC has set up anti-corruption agencies in a proclaimed effort to bring corrupt people to book.

But for most South Africans, the stench of graft, patronage and greed surrounding the ruling party itself is now too strong. The romance, solidarity and heroism of the days of struggle have gone. In the popular mind, ANC people, from the president down, seem keener on power, status and ostentatious wealth than on improving the lot of the poor. Always a broad church, the ANC is riven with factionalism and in-fighting. Lip service is paid to the old ideals, but the party seems increasingly rudderless. It has lost its way.

It seems that the first of these paragraphs is hard to dismiss and the second does not hold up on the evidence. No one I know of in South Africa supports graft, patronage, or greed. But how can one possibly assert that the stench of those things “surrounding the party is now too strong” when the ANC will win the next national elections overwhelmingly and with a 60%+ tally? This is a peculiar and arithmetically-challenged definition of “most.” In fact, the first paragraph is empirically right and the second is empirically wrong.




Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid