Steven Friedman

The people shall govern? Perish the thought!

More than 50 years ago, in Kliptown, thousands of people adopted a Freedom Charter which proclaimed that “the people shall govern”. How might they have felt if they could imagine a day when the leadership of the African National Congress would insist instead that the people are not ready to govern? An interesting aspect of…

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The new is not yet born: The battle for African democracy

Sometimes, progress can look like a mess — particularly for those who prefer not to see it. An excellent example is the current state of African politics. As it often does, the continent is offering Afro-pessimists — a long, fancy word for people who don’t believe black people in Africa can run anything — no…

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Eskom, Zuma and some people’s nightmares

What do the election of Jacob Zuma and Eskom’s power cuts have in common? Both bring out the racial demons buried just beneath the surface of the minds of many white South Africans. It was only a matter of time before the power cuts brought the racial creepy-crawlies out of the woodwork. And so, on…

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Knowing when to smile or frown

Is it only us, or do all changing societies not know when to cheer and when to worry? The latest example showing that South Africans often wring their hands at things we should cheer — and ignore problems we should wring our hands about — is the charges against Jackie Selebi and, before him, Jacob…

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Politics in 2008: The good, the bad and the likely

One of the few certainties about our politics is that things usually do not turn out nearly as bad, or as good, as we expect. The signs suggest that the political drama that the re-charging of Jacob Zuma will spark in 2008 will broadly follow this pattern. So prepare for neither doomsday nor Utopia as…

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Now we know what we aren’t — but what are we?

OK, so we know now that we are not Zimbabwe. It will take a whole lot longer before we know clearly what we are — or, rather, what we are becoming. The key implication of the Zuma victory is, surely, the point made by some grassroots delegates and a few commentators this week: that it…

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No, dear, that’s not mob rule — it’s called democracy

We say we want democracy — but we don’t seem to like it much when we see it. How else to interpret the breast-beating from commentators and some delegates here at Polokwane after the opening day of the ANC conference? Most of us no doubt know by now that day one of Polokwane was a…

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The person may change, but the policy lingers on

If you want to know why ANC policy won’t change dramatically whoever wins in Polokwane, take a look at the front page of one of our daily business newspapers on Tuesday morning, which features a photo of Jacob Zuma, Tokyo Sexwale and Zwelinzima Vavi at a meeting at Wits University. All three are laughing and…

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Why those who want to lead must emerge from the shadows

It is more than a little ironic that ANC leaders who once fought so hard to ensure that all of us can vote freely have spent the past few weeks trying to convince us that those South Africans who actually belong to the movement should have far less of a vote than the rest of…

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Palestinian peace in our time?

If you want to know why you should not take seriously reports promising that the US “peace initiative” in Annapolis will end conflict in the Middle East, it may be useful to recall something of our own journalistic past. During the height of apartheid, some of our newspapers had a stock headline they would trot…

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