South Africa Gets Caught Up In The Partisan Divide

A few weeks ago, Trump caused a media furore when he tweeted that he was going to instruct his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to look into “land and farm seizures” and “the large-scale killing of farmers” in South Africa, seemingly after he had watched a segment the previous night on Tucker Carlson Tonight about Expropriation Without Compensation in South Africa.

The tweet immediately ignited a fierce partisan debate. Political figures from all over the world and opposite ends of the ideological spectrum weighed in on the subject, their opinions predictably biased by their pre-existing view of Trump, whether negative or positive.

And, sadly, as a result, much of the nuance in the discourse around EWC was lost. There is a more complex discussion going on in South Africa,  but much of that is unknown to international commentators who probably knew very little about SA politics before Trump’s rash tweet. Scrambling to appear knowledgeable on the subject, opponents of Trump leapt to glib defences of EWC as a good policy designed to correct past injustices in SA (there is, in fact, robust opposition to EWC by South Africans of all races and political persuasions) and his supporters were quick to characterise South Africa as just another hellish foreign shithole. Read More…

Undermining Property Rights Has Never Worked And Will Not Work

Last week the South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the nation and announced that the ANC would be pressing ahead with the policy of expropriation without compensation. This would mean changing the South African constitution to allow the confiscation of private property without monetary restitution (EWC). It wasn’t an entirely shock move by Ramaphosa, he had been making statements to this effect for some time now. In June he said:

One of those is to expropriate without compensation to unlock the wealth of this land, which has been held in few hands from the days of colonialism. That alone should be able to add an injection to the growth of our country.”

Readers of Imagine Athena will not need convincing that undermining property rights is a disastrous move by the ANC and augurs ill for the South African economy. It has never worked and there are numerous historical examples of how disastrous it can be. What is the definition of madness again? Read More…

Don’t Blame Theresa May. Brexit Was Never Going To Be A Romantic Adventure

I haven’t written much about Brexit, lately. I’ve been adopting a wait and see approach.

I realised pretty quickly how technical and complex the process of exiting the European Union actually was and I thought it would be wise to read and learn from people who were experts in trade and regulation. Much of the discourse around Brexit focuses on ideological and theoretical matters, with the minutiae of actual EU legal code rarely discussed. Very few people are knowledgeable in such matters and we didn’t hear from them at all during the referendum campaign, which, in hindsight, was woefully short on substance. The single market and the customs union were hardly mentioned and Leave (with some exceptions) never put forward a model for leaving the EU. No one had any clear idea of what the UK would look like post-Brexit. It really was a leap in the dark. Read More…

The Sad Thing About Useful Idiots Is That They Are Often Intelligent And Educated

Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.” – George Orwell

There is a two-part brilliant series from the BBC World Service, presented by journalist John Sweeney, currently available in the archive, about the so-called “useful idiots”, otherwise intelligent people who become apologists for abhorrent regimes, which they think they understand, but do not. Read More…

The Past Is Not Perfect And We Should Not Expect It To Be

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about our relationship to the past. History was one of the subjects I studied at University, so the past has always been of great interest to me. I also know that the past is not one and the same for everyone. History can be broken down into so many different areas and people from different countries, regions, economic, religious and political backgrounds etc. will each have unique stories to tell about the same period of history. There is no overarching grand narrative. History is more complex than that.

Which is why I am concerned by the political tendency nowadays to oversimplify the past and take a very negative view of it as racist, sexist and oppressive. Just to name a few examples: there is the recent Rhodes Must Fall movement which tried to topple statues of the British colonialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town and Oxford University. (They were successful at UCT, but not at Oxford.) The British writer Afua Hirsch wrote a very controversial article last year in The Guardian calling for the removal of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. The reason: Nelson did not voice opposition to slavery whilst he was alive. There have also been attacks on 90s sitcoms such as Friends because some of the characters made un-PC jokes. A pre-Raphaelite painting by John William Waterhouse was taken down in February from a gallery in Manchester because it “sexualised” women. Read More…