Words must have meaning
“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said (to Alice), in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass,” published in 1872 set a certain standard; it has fallen to US Counselor to the president, Kellyanne Conway, to achieve a new standard for explaining away lies and distortions. In defending White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s false statement about the number of people attending the Trump inauguration, she described his statement as “alternative facts.” This quote is likely to go down in history because it is such a neat way of justifying lies with a “so what?”
Some politicians, including some in South Africa, are fond of telling porkies and do so with a straight face, as long as they can get away with it. When not telling outright lies they tailor the truth and the facts to fit the story they are trying to get across.
Take Minister Gugile Nkwinti , our minister of Rural Development and Land Reform. The Sunday Times reported recently that he facilitated the grant of a farm valued at R97 Million to a person employed at Luthuli House by the ANC and on whose farm further huge amounts of public money, totalling R30 million, were lavished before the farm went bankrupt. The minister is accused of having demanded a facilitation fee of R2 million.
Minister Nkwinti pretends to care about poor black people who were deprived of their land in colonial times or later when it is clear that of equal concern to him is the enrichment of the connected black elite. To emphasise his macho commitment to land reform he states that the principle of “willing-buyer/willing seller” is now history. Have you ever heard such nonsense? Is he saying that if a farmer wants to sell his land at a reasonable price, the department will insist on going ahead with expropriation and all the legal steps that entails?
Far more dangerous than that, though, is his suggestion that the constitution needs to be amended so that expropriation without compensation becomes a reality. He should have been fired for that alone, never mind the gift of nearly R130 million to a crony or the allegation about the “facilitation fee.”
Nkwinti knows that the ANC does not have the numbers in parliament to amend the property clause in the constitution. Undermining the constitution by a minister who has sworn to uphold it is surely a firing offence. When World Food Aid ships its first lot of donated food because this country is no longer able to feed itself because the ANC has ruined agriculture and with it the farming community, perhaps a special public holiday should be declared to thank Nkwinti and his equally hapless colleague, the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries, Senzeni Zokwana for their stout efforts.
The government continually refers to the land question as though South Africa was still a rural country. We are not; South Africa is now urban and a far greater challenge and worthwhile achievement – one that a determined government could and should be able to meet – would be to ensure that millions of people get the title deeds to the piece of land they live on. Now that would be a real, as opposed to a sham economic empowerment. Real because it would empower millions; not a few hundred friends.
Helen Zille, premier of the Western Cape, describes BBBEE as Bribe-based black elite enrichment. Unfair? I don’t think so. The problem the ANC has, apart from the Nkwinti priorities, is that it is the connected, the elite, the already well-off, who benefit from most, if not all of the schemes. Corruption is now so entrenched in the culture of the Zuma government that each new announcement, whether it be about a nuclear option or about creating industrialists, a cynical population assumes that somewhere, somehow, it is the Zuma cronies, their children, their nieces and nephews, the politically connected or at least those who are willing to pay facilitation fees, who will benefit. It is seldom if ever the poor who are the beneficiaries.
What is South Africa’s greatest problem? Surely it is unemployment. The best way to empower the masses economically is to make sure that there are jobs for them. Instead of mouthing words about radical economic transformation that have little or no meaning, the government must tell us what steps it intends taking that will result in more jobs for more people. All the rest is either lies or else just words, aimed at concealing the urge to enrich the few at the expense of the many.
It is past time that we started speaking plainly, spelling out exactly what we are going to do to relieve the plight of the three million or more black youth who are jobless and helpless, many with no chance of ever being employed. There are no jobs and too few skills for the jobs that there are. A generation of government has reached the point where we have a hopeless education system that sets our youth up for failure.
Rather than face the facts we come up with pretend policies that promise much but achieve precious little. Promising to empower blacks and ending up re-enriching the already empowered is a shocking use of “alternative facts.” We need to empower our youth and we need also to follow policies that will enable government, the unions and business to work together to pursue growth.
Only growth will empower our people. All the rest of the tired ideologies and pretend plans that come and go each year, unimplemented, are lies, or if you prefer it, “alternative facts.”
A former opposition chief whip and former ambassador to Thailand, Douglas Gibson is now a keynote speaker and writer. Follow him @dhmgibson
This article first appeared in The Star.