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Taking lessons for SA from Obama’s valedictory speeches

John Stegmann

John Stegmann interprets some pregnant lines delivered by former US President Barack Obama in his valedictory speeches; sound-bites that seem to reveal Obama as anxious about the prospect of his nationalist-leaning successor getting a bit extreme on the electorate. It’s an eminently reasonable reading and a cautionary tale about how South Africa could be going, (has gone?), the same way. Looking back on the domestic front, first we had Afrikaner nationalism, now African nationalism, where our leaders tick all the boxes typifying superiority, chauvinism, jingoism, xenophobia and racism. You could add homophobia and a few other paranoias. PW, Jacob, Donald – they all fit the bill. Witness the ubiquitous misinformation and distortion campaigns that marked Trump’s campaign (his gross over-estimation of the crowds at his swearing-in ceremony described by one of his spin-doctors as “alternative facts” which turned into a global meme). The similarities on the propaganda front with the attendant arrogant disregard for truth and transparency are in our faces here in South Africa as the Zuptoids become increasingly adept at using State machinery – even though it’s pretty clumsy and obvious. But then, when nobody succeeds in holding you accountable, who cares? Perhaps it’s time to bring on the private prosecutors… – Chris Bateman

By John Stegmann*

In his farewell speeches, former President Barack Obama issued several cautionaries to preserve America’s prized democracy. “Our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” “I spent a lot of time in my farewell address talking about the state of our democracy. It goes without saying that essential to that is a free press.” “That (a free press) is part of how this place, this country, this grand experiment in self government has to work. It doesn’t work if we don’t have a well-informed citizenry. And you (the Press) are the conduit through which they receive the information about what’s taking place in the halls of power. So America needs you and our democracy needs you.”

Incoming president Donald Trump’s America First slogan and his appointment of Steve Bannon would appear to promote nationalism. Was Obama warning Americans about extreme nationalism? If so, where’s the danger? Nationalism is not inconsistent with democracy, but can morph into extreme nationalism that foreshadows pronounced feelings of superiority, chauvinism, jingoism, xenophobia and racism, and distorts morality.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a news conference at the White House briefing room in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, Dec. 16, 2016. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Extreme nationalism therefore approaches dictatorship, the antonym of democracy, characterised by authoritarian rule, despotism, fascism and oppression. President Obama hints at how this happens:

“When the public take their democracy for granted”…and when “we don’t have a well-informed citizenry.”

Power-seeking political leaders do exploit democracy to impose despotic rule. Think of Adolph Hitler, D F Malan, P W Botha, Robert Mugabe and now Jacob Zuma. South Africans take note because we are vulnerable. Politicians need votes: Power-seeking politicians will target voters who are complacent, not well informed, unable to assess the information available, and are easily swayed by suspect logic that exploits imaginary fears (‘us’ & ‘them’) or makes irrational promises.

US President Donald Trump

Jacob Zuma is no paragon of morality or ethics as he obscures information, avoids taking responsibility for his actions, obstructs justice, shifts blame and enriches himself. If he were serious about eradicating racism he’d pursue the successful Rainbow Nation theme and revoke BEE & BBBEE that 21 years ago were intended to last 12 years. Instead he wants the ANC to ‘Win Big’ in elections so ‘we can do what we want to’.

His black voter base is stoked by perpetuating their fears of racism, ‘us & them’. He undertakes to defeat racism by eliminating ‘white monopolistic capitalism’ and replacing it with an ‘African system’. ‘White monopolistic capitalism’ is blatantly racist (‘black’ capitalism is fortunately firmly established here) and it conceals his intention to undermine democracy.

Capitalism places the economy in the hands of the citizens. Zuma’s goal is socialism (equally colonialist) that gives the State control of the economy. Beware! Our history shows that both Afrikaner nationalism and African nationalism are vulnerable to extreme nationalism where democracy is perverted to establish despotic rule.

Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama demonstrated that high moral leadership and steadfastly upholding their democratic constitutions is what creates social harmony and prosperity for all. Both leaders made early education a priority because that is how children are enabled to compete for work and become informed voters that won’t tolerate extreme nationalism, socialism or dictatorship.

  • John Stegmann is a member of the Biznews community and writes in his personal capacity.
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