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Archive for June 2014

The dangerous nationalism of Julius Malema

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No laughing matter: nationalism is a dangerous game Photo: Refilwe Modise

No laughing matter: Nationalism is a dangerous game. Photo: Refilwe Modise (The Citizen)

It’s ironic that Julius Malema, in his first speech in parliament yesterday, would reference Louis Botha, the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa. Here is what Mr Malema had to say about Botha:

This elite pact is reflected by the fact that the most prominent statue in this Parliament, is a statue of Louis Botha, and the one of Nelson Mandela is very small and is hidden behind the statue of Louis Botha. Louis Botha is not our Hero and cannot be a Hero of a democratic South Africa. He is a colonial warmonger, who fought for the exclusion of black and indigenous people from running their own country and affairs. Its people like this who made white South Africans think they are superior and if we continue celebrating them, we are equally perpetuating white supremacy. The statue of Botha outside this Parliament must go down, because it represents nothing of what a democratic South Africa stands for.

That statue represents backwardness and apartheid and therefore it belongs to the dustbin of history and to be replaced with a bigger statue of seaparankwe Rolihlahla Nelson Mandela. We will never have true friendship and peace if white minority still behaves like they are superior and we should remain inferior in our country. All black people continue to learn the languages of white minorities as part of our attempt to reach out to them and create friendship but with very little attempt from their side to at least learn one of our African languages because they have a wrong mentality that we must suck up to them.

These are some of the legacies people like Louis Botha have left us and it must be crushed,we must not celebrate anything that perpetuates white supremacy. As part of nation building maybe we need to harsh steps by not celebrating any white person who doesn’t at least know or make an effort to at least know one of our African languages because by not knowing our languages or our culture they are effectively perpetuating the stereotypes of white supremacy. If you have a white friend as black person and he/she doesn’t know your language or not taking initiative to learn your language that person is no friend at all.

Perhaps it would surprise Mr Malema to know that, almost exactly a century ago, one of the big debates in our country was about what it is to be South African. The Second South Africa War at the start of the century, which saw the savagery of concentration camps and scorched-earth tactics, was still fresh in the minds of South Africans. One political group, lead by Louis Botha and Jan Smuts under the banner of the South African Party, claimed that the two white races – as the Afrikaners and British were generally referred to – should reconcile and build a unified country. Their definition of South African was ‘inclusive’, at least in terms of their world view: it included whites from opposing sides of the War and, in the Cape, Coloured South Africans. (Because of the pseudo-science of race hierarchies at the start of the twentieth century, blacks, in South Africa, elsewhere in Africa, and in the Americas, were not allowed to vote.)

In contrast to this message of unification, a small group of Afrikaans-speaking whites began to assert that the only ‘true’ South Africans were those that distanced themselves from the British Empire, that wanted to see a South Africa independent from the British throne. These ‘true’ South Africans also had to have another trait: they could speak the emerging language of the locals that we would later call Afrikaans. Only by speaking Afrikaans did one show true loyalty to the country. The National Party would emerge from this second grouping, and even though their leader, JBM Hertzog, also favoured the more inclusive definition of what it is to be South African, the nationalist tendencies would finally win out, with the formation of the ‘Purified’ National Party, which, as we all now, gave us the policy of apartheid. Nationalism, in this case white nationalism, would have devastating consequences for the country. It is difficult not to draw historical parallels: a message of unification after an intense period of racial confrontation (the 1910s/1990s). The rise of organised labour against monopoly capital (1920s/2000s). The impetus to solve the social and economic difficulties of a depression (1930s/2010s). A rise of nationalism and the defeat of the moderates (the 1940s/2020s?). And then?

Just as the message of the white nationalists appealed to white voters in the 1940s, there is a reason Mr Malema’s message appeals to black voters. There is a common enemy (for Afrikaner nationalists, it was the British Empire, and when that turned out to not be scary enough, black South Africans; for Mr Malema and his nationalists, it is arguably white South Africans). And there is economic disenfranchisement (for Afrikaner nationalists, it was the ‘poor white problem’; for Malema, it is inequality). Much like the nationalist leaders of African countries that gained their independence in the 1950s and 1960s, Malema speaks directly to the hopes and aspirations of millions of people frustrated by the current economic stagnation. Even his speech is clothed in the same rhetoric. Here is Mr Malema last night: We “acknowledge and greet the millions of South African workers, the poor, and downtrodden and dejected masses of our people”. Here is Kwame Krumah, elected as the first president of an independent Ghana in March 1957: I am the “Hope of Millions of down-trodden Blacks, Deliverer of Ghana, Iron Boy, Great Leader of Street Boys”. Idi Amin called himself the “Conqueror of the British Empire in Africa in General and Uganda in Particular”, Malema calls for the “political, social and economical (sic) liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular”. Yet both Kwame Krumah and Idi Amin caused tremendous hurt to their economies. Krumah nationalised key industries. He heavily taxed (black) export farmers. His idea of African socialism failed to deliver his followers from the perils of poverty. Ghana is now, with a working democracy and market reforms, finally realising its potential, the black star of Africa. Amin, in his attempt to rid Uganda of the ‘external forces’ (sound familiar?), expropriated land and assets from all whites and Asians, and forced them to leave the country. The economy collapsed and Uganda, one of the most beautiful countries on earth, has never really recovered.

There is a reason the statues of Louis Botha and Nelson Mandela stand outside our parliament. Both men fought for the reconciliation of different race groups. Both wanted South Africa to participate in the global economy. Both believed that education is the key to a better life for all. That should be enough reason to keep them in their place. But there is another reason for those statues: it is that we should learn from history never to open our society to the poison that is nationalism. Perhaps that is why Mr Malema wants us to forget the past.


Written by Johan Fourie

June 19, 2014 at 09:10

An ode to the beautiful game

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Ke Nako: At my first World Cup game in 2010, Cape Town stadium

Ke Nako: Before my first World Cup game in 2010, Cape Town stadium

They don’t call it the beautiful game for nothing. The FIFA World Cup, which kicks off on Thursday night when Brazil hosts Croatia, is, by all accounts, the most global of events. More than half of the global population will watch at least one game live. And there are many on-field clashes to whet the appetite: the finalists of South Africa four years ago, Spain and the Netherlands, face each other in the group stage on Friday night; the Rumble in the Jungle (England vs Italy play in the capital city of Amazonia on Saturday); Portugal vs Germany on Monday the 16th. Many pundits believe it is Brazil’s World Cup to lose. I don’t think they will have it that easy. Argentina, Germany and Spain are excellent contenders. Colombia, Uruguay, Chile, Holland and Belgium are good bets. But if I had to put money on an outside chance, I’ll go with France. And then there are the superstars who would want to shine on the world stage. Messi, Ronaldo, Robben, Neymar, Balotelli. New stars will be born – Paul Pogba (France), James Rodriquez (Colombia), Christian Atsu (Ghana) – and some will see their last flicker (Pirlo, Gerrard, Drogba). Yet the World Cup is not only about football teams or players. All across the world, Fantasy teams are being drafted. For the next few weeks, household schedules will change. Pubs and bars will be packed, the meeting place for new and old friends. There will be tears of joy and tears of sadness. Memories will be made.

As the excitement builds for the Brazilian party, I have to admit a certain nostalgia for what can only be described as one of the most memorable sporting events South Africa would ever host. And not only because South Africa did exceptionally well as a host, but because of the vivid memories I have of the tournament. See, Coetzee, Gustav and I traversed our beautiful country in search of the beautiful game. I was fortunate to attend eight games, driving roughly 5000 km to watch the likes of Spain, Holland, Brazil, England and Italy play. I have many memories of that road trip, but two stand out. The first is of watching South Africa play France in the final group game. Even though we had to win by three goals – which was nearly impossible against a good, if distracted, French side – that day in Bloemfontein will remain vividly for the exhilaration of the crowd. I know those vuvuzelas sounded on TV like a beehive on loudspeaker, but inside the stadiums they were awesome. Especially if you had a ‘conductor’, someone, usually on the upper end of the scale, who would, during a lull in the game, stand up, turn around and start blowing on his vuvuzela with a slow, marching beat. The challenge would be to see how many vuvuzelas he can recruit to his tune. Obviously, if there were several ‘conductors’, it’s one big cacophony. But in the case of that particular game, especially after South Africa scored first, the vuvuzela beat was, for a few minutes, in complete unison in a full stadium. We were one big army marching as one for our team. I knew then that there was no way France was ever going to win that game.

The second memory is of the Dutch beating Brazil in Port Elizabeth. Because we had arrived way too early, the three of us (with another friend, Willem), had waited patiently outside the area where the players would arrive. Brazil arrived first, the curtains of their bus closed so that there was no way to spot any of their superstars. In contrast, when the Dutch arrived, we could identify nearly every player. It was then that Coetzee made eye-contact with Wesley Snijder, the Dutch midfielder, who returned Coetzee’s wave with a smile and a nod. Wesley Snijder went on to assist both goals as the Dutch clawed their way back against an impressive Brazilian team. Coetzee still believes that the Dutch should thank him for his contribution to their win.

The World Cup was not only a personal highlight, but it did wonders for our country too. I don’t deny that some stadiums remain underutilized and perhaps should simply be dismantled. And I certainly don’t appreciate the way FIFA, the organising body, goes about its business. But the airport, rail and road infrastructure that had been planned in South Africa long before we won the bid to host the World Cup may still not be complete had the World Cup never happened. And the impact of the event on the image of South Africa, and Africa in general, I believe, has been larger than we might think. We’ve certainly seen an increase in tourism, especially from countries outside our traditional markets, like Argentina and Brazil. And even though three reputable sport economists, Thomas Peeters, Victor Matheson, and Stefan Szymanski, claim in a recent article published in the Journal of African Economies that the per tourist cost of the World Cup was much higher than the government claims, I still think that on a cost-benefit analysis we come out positive. (Peeters et al. make a rather strong assumption: they ignore any tourist arrivals from other African countries. If these additional tourists are included, the numbers change significantly.) I’ve written about this before, and said something along these lines recently to CNN Money.

During the 2010 World Cup, I was still unmarried and shared a flat with a friend. I was about to leave on a four month study trip abroad, and still had to write most of my PhD. And I still had not met Jerry (our cat). How things have changed! Unfortunately, I won’t be in Brazil for this year’s event. But I’m sure that, when the next World Cup rolls along in four years’ time, I’ll think back to 2014 and reminisce about the past four years, and perhaps to the memories created during the coming four weeks. Which means that World Cup is somehow more than a sporting event. It is a beacon that maps the lives of millions of fans around the world. A beacon that, as Simon Kuper writes, we share collectively, that unites us as a global community. And that is what makes it the beautiful game.

They say academic papers are boring. They obviously haven’t read these.

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Source: xkcd

Academic papers in Economics, with few exceptions, have titles that are best described as unappetising: ‘A Heteroskedasticity-Consistent Covariance Matrix Estimator and a Direct Test for Heteroskedasticity‘ zzzzzzzz. So I decided to give some of the most cited papers in Economics a clickbait make-over.* (I chose ten of the 100 most cited papers in Economics.) See if you can guess the paper – the link will take you to their respective Repec pages. And please add more ideas in the comments section.

When Michelle heard what her friends earned in New York, she decided to move there too. She never expected this to happen.

Daniel thought it was a great idea to buy insurance. Then he discovered this.

What is the recipe for economic growth? Finally, we have the answer.

His bank wouldn’t give him a loan. Then Joseph tried this.

My mother said to never trust an economist about the future. But sometimes – like this guy – they get it spectacularly right.

Mosquitoes killed millions of Europeans. This is what happened next.

One more reason to blame the French!

Janet Yellen takes her husband along when she wants to buy a second-hand car. Here’s why.

This guy committed a crime. Here’s why he should not be punished for it.

I laughed so hard when I saw this guy confuse correlation and causation. He should’ve just read this!

Some popular book titles have also been clickbaited. And to those looking for some clickbait inspiration, you can randomly generate your own here.

I doubt that Economics papers will get sexier titles in the near future. But the clickbait movement, whether you like it or not, is here to stay and will perhaps force scholars to sell their papers more overtly. A little bit of clickbaitism might indeed be necessary to attract a larger (non-academic) audience, and help close the gap between the profession and the real world.

*I thank Waldo Krugell for this idea. He introduced a paper on the ‘Spatial persistence of South Africa in the twentieth century’ with a clickbait title – ‘South Africa implemented apartheid. You would never have guessed what happened next’.

Written by Johan Fourie

June 4, 2014 at 10:10