Politics of Hatred in South Africa

South African politics reached a near-miraculous high point under Nelson Mandela, with a much-wronged political leader putting self-sacrifice into practice to lead the whole nation out of its Apartheid mire. His party, the ANC, has been trading on that capital for 20 years, and rightly so. However, that goodwill has been exploited so ruthlessly in recent years, with one corruption scandal after the next, and catastrophic failures of entire provinces, that many of its supporters have become disillusioned and have stopped voting, or have given their vote to the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA). The ANC seems to be genuinely concerned by the ground they’ve lost, because more than ever, the political tactic is to brand their opponents as racist, even with all the evidence to the contrary.

The best recent example involves the DA leader Helen Zille’s remark on Twitter that people flocking from the ANC-run  Eastern Cape province to the DA-run Western Cape in order to find proper schooling are ‘education refugees’. The migration has been happenning because of scandalous corruption and mismanagement of schooling in the ECape, which has brought it to the brink of collapse. The department managed to spend only 28% of its budget in the face of incredible need, compared with the WCape, which spent all of theirs. Instead of public discussion raging about this awful deprivation of the right to education in the ECape, certain sectors began decrying Zille’s fairly innocuous metaphor (‘education refugees’) as racist. Our country has now spent a whole month pretending to be shocked about that statement, while the near-fatal pillaging of the ECape by its leaders is hardly an issue.

In the Papers Today

In this morning’s Star, the front page reports on Patric Mellet (a senior Home Affairs official) who spewed a deeply offensive rant on Facebook about Zille’s supposed racism.

The Star quotes him as saying:

The Devolved Apartheid Party (DA) are now really going back to their roots… Zille everyday more and more sounds like PW Botha… the skew mouth, the wagging finger, the voice with the wry smile and pregnant pause, and the Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into the White-Coloured Labour Preference Area… wow… this closely follows her Butcher of Hangberg orders to deal ruthlessly with opposition resulting in ‘the shoot the eyes out of protesters’ action by kitskonstabels.

Mein Fuhrer Helen Zille motormouth does not cease to amaze with her cloned NP style.

The DA really have become the Devolved Apartheid Party. How she justifies her racist rants just deepens the foot in mouth disease. PW Botha has risen from the dead. She really does him proud.

Now let’s see on what the comparisons to Hitler and Apartheid villain PW Botha are based:

  • finger wagging
  • pausing and smiling while speaking in public
  • ‘Apartheid talk about alien refugees flooding into’ the Cape

The first two points are shameful in their own way. The argument is, ‘Hitler used standard public-speaking techniques; Botha used standard public-speaking techniques; Zille uses standard public-speaking techniques. Therefore Zille is a hateful, racist Apartheid psycho.’

Zuma and Malema use the same rhetorical techniques when they speak, so are they also returning to Apartheid politics? Of course not. It is a ridiculous, cheap ploy to transfer similarity in one area (physical appearance) to other areas (political ideology) without any relevant evidence.

So what about the evidence?
The last point has the appearance of evidence, but again, it is misleading. Mellet clearly believes that Zille’s statement was motivated by xenophobic hatred for refugees, because he’s spewing this on Facebook, not in some political point-scoring forum. But he’s believing his own party’s spin on words that she herself never said (‘alien refugees flooding’). In fact, Zille herself explained a week ago on the party’s newsroom page what her not-very-unclear refugee metaphor means:

That brings me to the matter of the “education refugees”,  which is how I described the thousands of learners who arrive during the course of the first term in Western Cape schools, because their right to education has been betrayed in their home province, the Eastern Cape.  These learners accounted for 44% of all new registrations, from Grade 1 to Grade 12, in Western Cape schools this year.  This student migration is the major reason we are undertaking an emergency school building programme to complete 45 new schools within our term of office (while the Eastern Cape spent a paltry 28% of its infrastructure budget last year).  The difference is clear: We treat all children as full, legitimate South African citizens and we respect their right to education. The ANC does not.

This is the real scandal.  But it was buried by the eruption of pseudo outrage about the word “refugees” – which was conveniently uncoupled from its qualifying noun “education”. Very soon it became “self-evident” that I had referred to all black people in the Western Cape as “refugees”.  And, of course, this was irrefutable “proof” of my “racism”.

In other words, the idea that the DA is opposed to the presence of ECape people was drummed up by those trying to make her look bad. She herself was describing the ECape like a warzone from which people must flee (hence ‘refugee’), and pointing out that they are in the process of building new schools so that they can serve these people. Her concern is for the worrying state of the ECape and the shortage of schools in the WCape as a result. There is no mention of the undesirability of the people in the slightest. Generally, if you want to prevent refugees from staying in your land, you don’t accommodate them. And generally, if you’re trying to be a racist and keep a certain group beaten down, you don’t educate them. I don’t know why the ANC doesn’t care about educating people in the ECape, but Zille and her ilk are the ones trying to improve their lot. What a freaking racist she is (that’s sarcasm, if you’re bad at metaphor and irony).

So Mellet, a person acquainted (I hope) with metaphor, context, and the DA Newsroom website, should have had no trouble differentiating between what Zille said and meant, and what spin doctors have said about it. The fact that he even complains about her attempts at explaining, when he clearly needs the explanation, is even more horrifying.

So What?

One of the online comments to the Star article thought that this was just a case of name-calling of the sort that takes place all the time in politics. He said:

it funny dat helen zille can call President Zuma names but when it happens to her people must be fired.

Name-calling is always regrettable, and Zille is obviously not always impeccable, but there’s a difference between name-calling and attempting to sow racial hatred by likening someone to an Apartheid monster. The latter is slander, and it might even qualify as racial incitement and hate speech (a British student was imprisoned for racist joking on Twitter recently on these grounds).

One way or another, it is yet another instance in a long line of ANC accusations of racism in the DA, when the evidence is uniformly to the contrary. If you say something enough times, people will start to believe it, and it seems to be the weapon that the ANC is employing to attempt to discredit their opposition, who have an annoying habit of not running provinces into the ground. But if the ANC is having to drum up racism that isn’t there, then who is the one guilty of Apartheid divisiveness?

This tactic seems to me to be an attempt to bring back the divisions of 20 years ago so that it can once again be ‘the ANC against the racist oppressor’; it is an attempt to restock Nelson Mandela’s political capital without having Mandela’s integrity. And sadly, if some of the comments on the Star article are any indication, it is working.

Spanking and Obedience

Solomon was the wisest of all kings, but he failed for lack of obedience. Christian parents these days seem to me to be making sure that none of our kids resemble him in any way, whether good or bad.

I’m no model parent and I dislike reading or writing about parenting, and so I feel a little out of my depth commenting about such things. Nevertheless, I feel like there is an imbalance in Christian thinking about obedience (virtue though it is) and the use of spanking (which is treated like a virtue, though it isn’t) when obedience is lacking.

Corporal Punishment

In government legislation, the trend is increasingly to view any physical punishment as abuse. It has (unless I’m misled) been banned from schools, which has led many teachers to feel that their arsenal of disciplinary measures is worryingly depleted.

While I feel for teachers, I can also understand the blanket rule outlawing corporal punishment. That’s because teachers are frequently insane. For example, I had a history teacher called Mr Nielsen who had only one eye and suspiciously bottle-like scars around the blind one. He used to throw things — even wooden board dusters — at misbehaving boys (surely not a good idea when you have only one eye), and forced some to eat pieces of chalk. I would not have liked to see him with a cane in hand. I heard unconfirmed reports that he eventually fled when it was discovered that his teaching qualification was fictitious. I was also caned with a cricket bat for wearing our official purple athletics shorts instead of our white cricket shorts to practice (as if being the only high-school kid in purple shorts wasn’t punishment enough in itself).

More to the point, even with the practice outlawed, we have regular reports of horrific abuse taking place in the classroom. Lenient sentences were given out to firstly a female teacher who was filmed repeatedly beating a girl’s knuckles with a wooden duster, and a principal who lashed a boy four times with a hosepipe. In another incident this month, four teachers took turns beating a boy so that he required surgery after forming blood clots and losing sensation in one testicle. The boy was not particularly angry, because he claims that such discipline is normal where he comes from (he received twelve lashes on his rear and three on his hands – that was last normal in Ancient Rome, son).

These are sadly not isolated incidents or the worst of the lot; they were just the ones in the news this month. The prevention of abuse must surely be a priority.

Parents fare even worse when it comes to discipline. The NY Times reported in November that spanking and other physical punishments had led to three separate child deaths in America, including a 7-year-old girl literally spanked for hours (with pauses for prayer).

Abuse like this rightly provokes outrage, and this seems to drive the move to ban physical discipline entirely. Nevertheless, we don’t ban kitchen knives because people stab each other with them; similarly, banning spanking itself may be an overreaction. Within limits, spanking can be a helpful way of teaching children that bad behaviour reaps unpleasant consequences. It can be administered without rage and without cruelty. Furthermore, I doubt that banning spanking altogether would do much to stem physical abuse, as I can’t imagine that legality is a strong motivator for an abuser. Even if spanking did die out, it might spare children some physical pain, but it won’t spare it the need for therapy later in life. One less mode of punishment, but the same abusive parents.

If banning spanking would be an overreaction,  some Christian writers have overbalanced the other way, making spanking a virtue.

Spanking for Jesus?

A number of websites have published criticisms of Michael and Debi Pearl’s book called ‘To Train Up a Child’, especially after it received the attention of CNN, and after the book turned up in each of those 3 homes in which the punishments killed the children.

I haven’t read the book, but what I’ve read and watched from him suggests that Pearl is sensible more often than his detractors give him credit for. For example, he advises parents not to spank while they’re angry, which is good counsel. On the other hand, he has spanking advice for children as young as six months old, which is well before children have shed that salamander-like blankness from their eyes, and seems a lot early. He also says this:

A child with unacceptable habits becomes a rejected child, then a dejected child, and eventually a self-loathing kid who feels that he can never please anyone and that no one likes him. I am sorry the psychologists and secular child advocates don’t get it, but then if all parents practiced child training as I have suggested, there wouldn’t be any need for abnormal psychologists or child protection agencies. A lot of people would move on to more practical kinds of work, and there wouldn’t be any more crime or war. (Source)

Good parenting would solve much of life’s problems, but I doubt that utopia would actually break out if we all just followed the steps.

In fact, ‘following the steps’ is one of the problems. Parenting requires uncommon amounts of wisdom. And while we can benefit from the wisdom of others, learning wisdom is learning how to think, how to apply, how to foresee. You have to be provoked into thoughtfulness, not taught a more complicated system of laws. Provoking thoughtfulness is the goal of Biblical wisdom literature, which is why it is so often intentionally paradoxical (see Proverbs 26:4-5). It is a violation of wisdom literature to treat it as law, and yet that is what Christians so often do.

For example, when Proverbs 13:24 says, ‘He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him,’ it is not making a law to specify beatings with a rod as the godliest form of discipline. One can use the rod liberally and hate one’s son, and one can use forms of discipline other than the rod and completely fulfil the Proverb. The rod is a figure of speech: it is at least a synecdoche (where a part, the rod, stands for the whole, discipline), and it is possibly even imagery borrowed from farming where shepherds use the rod to keep their sheep in line, but not necessarily meaning to suggest that we should be applying these farming practices to our children. The proverb is advocating discipline as the hard-but-loving thing to do for one’s children; it is not making a law to command God’s people to beat their children with sticks.

So please do away with the idea that you are somehow more godly, more obedient, more Christian, more Biblical for hitting your children. It is not wrong to do so (lovingly), but there are many other forms of discipline that you can and should use, including positive incentives rather than only negative experiences. Don’t imagine that you’ll somehow get a better seat at God’s banquet for literally using a rod.


Not only do we get in a muddle concerning the mode of discipline, but also in the matter of when discipline is deserved.

‘Gospel Centred Family’ by Moll and Chester seems like a decent enough booklet. The first chapter was fine anyway, although, I was under-impressed by the quote included in the questions for further reflection at the end:

Paul Tripp says obeying parents = ‘willing submission to authority without delay, without excuse and without challenge’.  (Source)

This ‘first-time obedience’ idea has its merits. Obedience is an important, potentially life-saving lesson to learn. Submission to authority is OK as a general rule. Kids also have a habit of begging, coercing, stretching, and bargaining away little pieces of their parents’ souls, so it is obviously an attractive idea for parents that they should be demanding unquestioning, undelayed obedience (and of course, if they get anything less from their kids, it’s a green light to give the kids a spanking!).

Raise your kids to obey unquestioningly if you think it’s good, but please stop calling it Christian.

If Christian parenting has anything to do with teaching our kids about God and modelling God-like principles to them, then first-time, unquestioning obedience is a misrepresentation of His character. God demands obedience, to be sure, and its lack was the downfall of heroes such as Saul and Solomon. But consider the following that is also true about modelling God’s character to our children:

  • Most Biblical laws (more explicitly so in the NT) are given with either a justification, a motivation, or an incentive (look at Ephesians 4 for example). ‘Because I said so’ is rare in the Bible. So why should our kids not be able to ask why before they obey (assuming defiance isn’t their only motivation)?
  • We are not God. This seems obvious to say, but we obey God because we believe He is a good and omnipotent King. We are neither good nor consistently right. Our kids should have the right to appeal against our pronouncements made in error. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, it says.
  • God displays incredible patience towards us, giving us numerous chances to obey.
  • God does not punish us immediately.
  • God does not give us what we deserve.

I’m not advocating that parents allow endless bargaining and backchat; without firmness and consistency you’re sure to breed an unruly mob. Nevertheless, first-time, unquestioning obedience is not what God insists upon from us, or demands what we instill in our kids, and neither is it particularly good for teaching our children to become wise. Again, you may still think it is the best way to raise kids, and it may be (much of the time), but just don’t call it Christian.

Risk and Jesus’ Revolution

People seem naturally to prefer life in high contrast: things must be black and white, goodies and baddies, easily categorised. Unfortunately, having a category for something usually ends any further thought on the subject. This happens all to often with goodies and baddies in scripture, especially the Pharisees. We know they’re the enemy, and so we usually avoid to identifying ourselves with them in any way.

Last Sunday was Palm Sunday, and our preacher helpfully sketched a clearer picture of what was actually going on when Jesus was being welcomed into Jerusalem with such optimism (the waving of palms thing). [I’m stealing all his best info, which he in turn wishes to credit to that excellent book on Jesus, The King of God’s Kingdom (which you should read/buy if you haven’t, and even if you’re one of those skeptical types).]

In the first instance, the waving of palms was a politically charged action: a few decades later, when Jerusalem minted its own currency in defiance of Rome (shortly before being utterly obliterated by them), they chose the palm leaf as the image on the coin.

Secondly, the pilgrims arriving for the festival knew about Jesus’ miracles, and were now making a bid for him to declare himself king. They began using the acclamation, ‘Hosanna’. This isn’t a word like ‘Yay!’ or even ‘Praise God’. It means ‘Save!’ (or ‘Save now!’), and it’s from Psalm 118, a song that has to do with God (and His king) cutting off the nations that threaten them, rescuing His people against impossible odds.

So the crowd had become convinced that Jesus was the king that God would use to throw off the yoke of Roman occupation. He was supposed to lead them into a golden age, even if the task seemed impossible. The festival crowd — perhaps as much as two million strong — was being stirred up with revolution songs, and was readying to enthrone the rebel leader in the city of the King. It’s safe to say that things were a little tenser than the Sunday School version allows.

There was good reason for tension. The last time someone had tried to mount a resistance to Rome, at around the time of Jesus’ birth, things had gone very, very badly. The Romans came to meet the uprising, by some accounts flattening the town from which it originated, and selling all its inhabitants into slavery. Except, that is, for the 2,000 rebels that the Roman governor crucified as a warning to others. The people who were meant to take warning were those people now in power: the Pharisees and the Chief Priests.

We’re accustomed to treating them like whatever Darth Vader’s team is called on Star Wars — and surely some of them must have been typical power-hungry politicians who deserve our scorn — but we recognise too infrequently how much of a point they had. How many of us reasonable folk, when in a position of responsibility, would have done differently?

  • They knew that their scriptures promised a new king, but they also knew that Rome was deeply intolerant of pretenders to the throne and would not be as forgiving as the last time (marching to Palestine tended to leech all of the Pax out of the Romana). Lives depended on them backing the genuine article.
  • They knew that the Messiah that was promised was supposed to come from David’s family and David’s town. Jesus was Galilean, as far as they knew. He couldn’t be the one.
  • Jesus didn’t look like much of a king. He was an artisan, an itinerant teacher from the school of no one, hailing from the town of nowhere. He had no military credentials whatsoever. He did amazing things, but he was cavalier with some of the cherished Torah (breaking the Sabbath and so on), and he hung out with cheats and prostitutes and scum on the Roman payroll.

The people were all so impressed with his magic, but they didn’t know their theology. They didn’t know that he should be disqualified. He didn’t have the credentials, and his power might come from the Devil for all anyone knew. Supporting this guy against the Romans was too much of a risk.

This explains some of their behaviour earlier in the gospels. In John 11:47-50, the baddies say:

So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the Council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.”

In other words, Jesus is making too many waves; the Romans are going to notice. The utilitarian equation therefore determines that it’s better to kill the one man, rather than starting a war on his account.

And then shortly after the optimistic welcome in the city, when in a game of brinkmanship, the rulers are able to prove that he’s not the Messiah (by having the Roman overlords kill him), they say:

“Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” (John 19:15)

It’s an ironic indictment upon them in the context of John’s Gospel, but they say such things in order to reassure the Roman governor that they are not attempting to throw off the rule of Rome. There is no need for any further Roman intervention: the revolution dies with one madman.


All of this has me thinking: what should the leaders have done? They behaved according to God’s plan, of course, in one sense, but surely the right thing to do would have been to take the risk and support Jesus. Who knows what the outcome would have been if they had?

I certainly would not want to have been in their position.

And yet in one sense, each of us does take a similar risk in believing in God and, specifically, following Jesus. There isn’t indisputable evidence in His favour; beliefs are passed on through the experience and example of flawed (sometimes idiotic) believers; following Jesus involves a degree of hardship and sacrifice (indeed it even costs many their lives each year). People today are fond of demanding proof that God exists or that Jesus is who he said he was, but not even the people who saw his miracles were satisfied that he was the one. Maybe there can simply never be enough proof for something like this. Either way, you’re required to take a risk, whether it be the ‘reasonable’ Pharisees’ move to stick with the Devil you know (in the hope that redemption of a safer type lies just over the horizon), or the more uncertain move to join ranks behind the One who says He’s your King.