Simon Howell
Simon Howell

Truth and treason

This is not per se another article on the ANCYL’s comments regarding FNB’s new advertising campaign. If it were, it would probably devolve into an angst-filled rant at the ANCYL’s stupidity and FNB’s corporate power, much like the others I have read. Instead I want to focus on just one word, the word that the ANCYL tagged on the end of their most publicised comments — ”treasonous”. To do so however requires a slight detour, so bear with me.

In my understanding I have always thought that the concept of treason has two mutually inclusive aspects or halves. The first aspect is a concern with betrayal or an undermining of state, persons, institutions etc. The second aspect requires that the person, company or whatever that commits treason does so actively and consciously. Like other forms of crime, in order to commit treason it can be no accident when one attempts to undermine the state — the act of treason must be done deliberately, like trying to blow up the house of Parliament or something. If, for instance, I happen to spill a drink on the president by accident, and it really was an accident, then this is not treasonous. If I happen to spill a glass of acid on the president that I had prepared for just such an event, and because I knew the president might pass close by, then this might be seen as a treasonous act. While I am no lawyer, I shall use this understanding as a working definition.

Now, if treason is both a conscious activity and a form of betrayal, how might the FNB advert be treasonous, and importantly, who is committing the treason? The most visible treasonous plotters are of course the children standing up in front of a camera and asking for what are essentially their constitutional rights anyway. I think we could all agree however that even the ANCYL would not attempt to accuse them of treason. Then again, maybe they might. I shall leave that idea open for the moment. The other likely candidate is the bank itself. If we are to jump on the anti-capitalist bandwagon perhaps they are committing a form of treason in the indisputable disproportion of wealth that they have accumulated in relation to the average South African household. That is, however, a very different argument and one that can be explored elsewhere. As far as I understand this project is part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme, and while I unreservedly believe that CSR programmes are just a nice way of articulating money-making racquets themselves, again I am not sure if they could be labelled as treasonous. So, who is committing treason here? Who is actively attempting to undermine the state?

The answer is, of course, no one. Unless the truth itself has become ”treasonous”. What the advert does is demonstrate the lived reality of many children in the country — a lived reality that is essentially the result of a lack of political will and ability to finally do something about the economic condition of the majority of this country. And this is what, after that little detour, concerns me. It seems to me that South African politics has become nothing more than rhetoric, a rhetoric itself which does not even attempt to engage with the lives of the citizens of this country. The truth is that people are still, after two decades, still in poverty, still without water, still without food and still without futures. And yet now when that is revealed, it becomes ”treasonous”. Criticism is not treason. The government’s labelling criticism as treason is however self-denial, a far more valid form of treason if one was to extend the logic.

I cannot help but feel that the political progress of this country has devolved into nothing but political rhetoric, a rhetoric that can only be sustained by continually uttering ever more seemingly banal and completely incorrect statements. Calling each other comrade, however much we scream it, is not going to fix this country’s problems. Indeed the political rhetoric, much like politician’s jobs, can only continue to sustain themselves if more outrages (and more false) comments are made which keep the rhetoric machine turning. South African politics has, unfortunately, become a game of words in which the players seem to be forgetting even the dictionary. Including the Pedi dictionary, Mr Malema. When people stand up and voice the lived reality of their own experience as one which is unjust, and that injustice is called treasonous, then we live in a very strange society. If truth has become treasonous then we live in a very frightening reality.

Tags: , , ,

  • Inequality and violent protests in South Africa
  • Marx at 200: As relevant as ever
  • The politics of mental health provision in a liberal democracy
  • The present ‘world dis-order’
    • Enough Said

      “Truth is treason in the empire of lies.” – Ron Paul – US politician.

      [I do not support Ron Paul at all, but he certainly hit the nail on the head with these words]

    • Skerrminkel

      I agree with the opinion, but to me the argument sounds like a classic example of attacking a straw man?
      I think it is the duty of citizens in a democracy to criticise the government, quite the opposite of treason.
      Come-raid is just a code word, anyway.

    • Tofolux

      I cannot for the life of me understand how any person must go to this great length to berate someone on the Queens language. Let me get this, and maybe all of this has got to do with the simple education I had under a tree in my village. What is the fundamental issue at hand? Is it the interpretation of words in the dictionary and how we as africans in particular have experienced of late how the queens english has been thrown at us at every turn, or is it the overt political campaign of FNB? I think that sometimes we should insist that these people speak to us in our languages and if there are any mistakes, let us publish and ridicule and paint pictures over their heads for daring to mispronounce or misusing our languages in a non african way . But clearly our humanity will far outweigh this idiocy. @Simon, FNB was wrong they are totally out of order to use scripted messages and campaign for the opposition using children who are clearly not representing the majority. Secondly, FNB must decide how they must be viewed going forward. As a bank, their interests are not just local, it is international. It is incumbent upon them to be apolitical because this very govt whom they criticise represents and protects their international interest. I mean how do you expect govt to engage them? At what point is there a conflict of interest? Also what about personal info of their client base. Instead of nuancing this issue with non-sense you have to address major issues at play here.

    • Kimon Paxinos

      It’s called obfuscation. All politicians are good at it but yes, even here there is a fine line that should not be crossed. Labeling things as “treasonous” when business or children articulate inconvenient truths is to shut-down any hope of conciliation and a shared social, political and economic reality. We need political leaders who pay more than lip-service to tolerance and inclusivity.

    • GrahamJ

      Calling legitimate comment treasonous or dangerous is actually a veiled threat that retaliation of some sort can be expected.

      This government becomes more aggressive in direct proportion with the increased criticism it receives.

      It’s actually getting frightening.

    • Kennedy

      Well noted – it is worth noting that SA has a political system in which left-wing views, and socialist extremism, are considered the de facto political standard and ‘received truth.’ Mao Zedong himself commented how this system subsists on lies, and in fact is based on the constant suppression of the truth. Mao noted that ‘If you want to understand what left wingers mean, take the words and invert them. Left wingers say one thing and mean the exact opposite’.

    • Graham

      So we are not allowed to debate what the ANC says? We must either agree or stut it?
      The ANCYL used the word ‘treason’. If they do not understand the word, maybe they should not use it.

    • The Creator

      Well, they have to say something to suck up to the Sage of Nkandla.

      The old apartheid government used to say much the same kind of thing, and in those days it was actually the cabinet ministers saying it. Nowadays the cabinet ministers order the kiddies to scream abuse, on pain of being expelled like Malema.

      Don’t take it seriously.

    • KMS

      Makes me appreciate the most innovative bank in the world even more.

    • Tofolux

      Well, well, well, Now that FNB has apologised, I wonder if any of you will now accept that you are wrong in defending the indefensible, The problem I have though is that ALL of you are so quick to shout from your anti-black wagon and scream about morality. And yet here again, you have not only been proved wrong it has exposed all the hypocrisy that exists in the anti-black world. So do the right thing, the ultimate moral act and apologise.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Oh dear Tofolux, I fear you’ve have hit the nail on the head – maybe your misconstruing this issue as one about language does have a lot to do, by your admission, with your simple education under a tree in your village. Simon went to such length to berate using the word treason because, as he points out, it was not only inappropriate, but also incorrect use. There was nothing treasoness about the adverts. There are many negative connotations raised when falsely accusing someone or some entity of treason.
      You and the ANC obviously see no need to apologise for your false statements or misleading accusations. You heartily condone selective ANC action and inaction towards the average South African and refuse to consider how their betrayal of the people could be treason.
      It was politically (i.e. economically) easier for FNB to apologise than get into a semantic argument with an aggressor who’s use of the word treason is obviously deficient, but who’s thinly veiled threats are not. FNB backed down to a powerful and increasingly bullying government who can and will make their business environment difficult to operate in – just as business deferred to the Nats before.
      In the past you would have argued that under apartheid business had a moral and ethical imperative to challenge the government of the day – this kind of hypocrisy is par for the ANC.
      Don’t you think Ron Paul’s quote is particularly telling here when treason is so obviously not the issue?

    • Deeno

      Jes @Tofolux – using the race card in every one of your arguments shows the real depth of your thoughts and the width of your opinion. Here’s a challenge – try for once not to bring race into an argument – (nobody here above has).
      As a person of colour, I think you are the real narrow-minded racist.
      Go join the ANCYL!

    • seriously

      @tofolux every post anti-black , the tired old race card , if you think a apology under dures is an apology good for you . The day one cant critisize your own government is a sad day . And as for english … There is a reason we use it , please try using afrikaans ,zulu , isindebele ect in dealing international . SA as a whole is just a small part of the world. Please make valid arguments or think through what your saying before you post something

    • seriously

      And thank you for the article very nice read,

    • Lennon

      “Though I know the word in your language, I still fail to truly grasp its meaning.” – Hobbes, Wing Commander III

    • Tofolux

      @Critic cynic, FNB apologised. No semantics, they APOLOGISED.
      @Deeno, if you havent heard, we experience institutionalised racism on a daily basis. eg people being dragged behind bakkies, thrown in lion’s dens and being mistaken for animals and shot at point blank range. I guess you want us to forget that.

    • The Critical Cynic

      Dear Tofolux,
      I am so sorry you received an inferior education and are unable to see things very clearly as a result. I’m sorry you cannot see that FNB’s apology was a business decision and not a moral one. I am sorry that you are unable to see how the ANC abuse their position and blur party and state lines. I am particluarly sorry that you interpret an anti-ANC stance as being anti-black and I am very sorry that you are unable to see how millions of black South Africans are being pushed to the side by an elitist, corrupt, nepotistic and opportunistic minority. I am sorry that your life experiences have turned you into a bitter black racist, an anti-white (or is it just anti white male?) nationalist with a racist xenophobic axe to grind. I’m sorry you fail to see the truth in the FNB situation, that you have truly become one who sees the world as you are and not as it is. I acknowledge that Apartheid most likely had the most to do with this way you see the world and I’m sorry it has damaged you so obviously.
      I am however, not sorry for seeing the ANC as a bunch of thin-skinned bullies with a grade 2 playground approach to politics. That just makes me cringe in embarrassment that they are out there representing me and my (your?) country. I’m just sorry that so many South Africans are being so poorly represented.
      Have I missed out on any apologies you still feel I might owe you?

    • Simon Howell


      Firstly, I am unsure what your issue is with my use of “the queen’s English.” This forum exists for us to grapple with and debate issues of importance to the community of readers. If you could suggest another mode or language by which I might express myself in a manner which is understandable, then please feel free to let me know. I have yet to find one and as such will continue to express myself in the clearest possible way I can, for the benefit of those who take time to read my posts.

      Secondly, I think you have proceeded to react to my post in the very way that I find problematic in general. The issue is with political rhetoric and its inability to sustain itself and not, per se, with either FNB or the ANCYL. They serve as examples. Irrespective of whether FNB or the ANCYL have apologized, said anything, or for that matter gone mad, the point I am trying to point across is that the political rhetoric in this country has come to a point where it no longer even makes sense. What is its purpose then? And do the people who espouse this garbage have an understanding of the very real consequences that their speech acts have? Do they ‘know what they say’, among other things? To charge someone with treason is highly problematic when the ‘thing’ that they state is ‘treasonous’ cannot, in any way, be treasonous. Treason is a specific action, with specific consequences. Arguing that people are in poverty and need the government to listen is in no way treason…

    • Tofolux

      @Simon, at some point you need to grasp the fact that NOT all the citizenry of this country had the same access to be tutored in the ”queens english” and at some point there has to be a consequence when we interpret, articulate and understand. The point is, should you engage me in my mother tongue, I would not dehumanise you because your tongue did not roll properly over your lips. I would be more open to be understanding and helpful instead of this unwarranted cynical and cold attitude that is so arrogantly displayed. Secondly the main issue at hand is FNB and the fact that they were called to ORDER. Everything else are side issues. He said, she said means nothing in the face of what FNB did. Hence it would be prudent for us to articulate our positions around this action, get consensus on how citizenry feels and how we are to influence those so that when we move forward we at least have an idea where the point of departure should be. That Simon, is prudence, it is responsible, it is what we called being correctly informed. In any case, why didnt you ask ANCYL for clarity on their statement as opposed to making it a side issue. I will guarantee you that they are very capable to give you clearer clarity and better understanding on their response. So stop using the usual ”gevaar” tactics to deflect discussion on important national issues.

    • mawela ndlamlenze

      In time, we shall be in a position to bestow on South Africa the greatest possible gift – a more human face.
      Steven Biko
      in line with the above qoute one cant challenge a status qou and when the defenders of the status qou bark one runs at the first sight of the battle.just like biko and them one must be willing to fight to give south africa a more human face

    • seriously

      Thanks for article Simon i enjoyed it . Please continue speaking your “queens english“ and im looking forward to your next article . And be careful so that you dont commit treason :).

      Since im getting tired of telling you same things let me be clear.
      Every word has a meaning , if you say someone commited treason that is what was meant , why you should think about what you say before you do . And your rant about english is just funny , as my first language is Deutsch then afrikaans ,dutch them English . When communicating and shareing ideas it is meant for a wider audience , so please give me an alternative to english which most people understand, and i will gladly use it .