Monday, July 30, 2007

On "facts", bikini's and postmodernism

For a person with such a strong affinity for “objective reality”, President Thabo Mbeki seems to have a rather tenuous grip on reality ("objective" or otherwise) himself. It also does not always appear that he is in touch with his own humanity – although he always (rightly) talks about the inherent dignity of all humans in general and all Africans in particular.

This is amply demonstrated in his latest Internet missive, which would have been an eye-rolling embarrassment, if it was not about a life and death matter. President Mbeki lashes out at the Daily Dispatch for publishing “false” reports about the desperately bad service received by mothers giving birth at the hospital. The report stated that hundreds of babies die needlessly every year and continues:

Internal documents show that senior management knew the situation was out of control for years, but did little to address the crisis. Minutes from weekly management meetings reveal damning admissions by doctors that patients were dying because of outright negligence. “Mothers and babies die at an alarmingly high rate,” confirmed a former hospital gynaecologist.

Worse is that hospital staff concede in documents that “most” maternal deaths and stillbirths “are avoidable due to care”. References are also made to the worrying increase in the number of maternal and neo-natal deaths from 2005 to 2006.

President Mbeki does not engage with these "facts" (or is it "Facts") but points to the report of an official government investigation which cleared the Hospital of wrongdoing, which according to him proves that the Daily Dispatch was lying in its report. He argues that we live in a postmodern age in which we often reject the proposition that “truth, manifesting itself in the form of Facts, corresponds to reality”. Attacking the DA he then continues:

The simple truth is that the DA, perhaps taking advantage of the liberties afforded by post-modernism, is making the statement that everything is Fact - truth corresponding with reality - if it communicates a negative message about the ANC and the government. On the other hand, members of the ANC, such as the Minister of Health, remain committed to the discovery of Facts - truths that corresponds with reality - precisely to empower themselves, our movement and government to act correctly in the continuing struggle to transform our country to ensure that we achieve the objective of a better life for all our people.

It might come as a surprise to those of us in the reality based community to hear that the Minister of Health, who believes in the “Fact” (or is it "fact") that garlic, olive oil and lemon is an effective alternative treatment for HIV infection, is really more interested in "Facts" than the Daily Dispatch.

But apart from the bitter irony involved in this statement, the Internet letter is deeply troubling for what it says about the mindset of our President. What he seems to say is that he and his minister know the facts, while the reporters who spent two months at the Hospital are lying to harm the ANC. As Grouco Marxs might have said: "Who are you going to believe, the President or your very own eyes?"

This shocking letter suggests that our President is a Denialist with a capital letter - he never has to confront criticism from anyone as long as his Ministers and the hand-picked task teams or other minions tell him that those who are criticizing or pointing to problems are lying. For him, the "objective reality" is always only what the ANC believes or wants us to believe is correct. It might not be postmodern, but it is very scary and messianic.

Some of us who do not want to harm the ANC and are generally supportive of the pro-poor aspects of its policies (such as they are), might want to point out to the President that the officials who wrote the report “disproving” the Daily Dispatch story may have every reason to cover up the embarrassing negligence at Frere Hospital. We might ask for an independent investigation and wonder why we should believe a Minister who has pedaled quackery as science and has turned up disoriented and confused at a news conference. Why would we believe the officials whose credibility would be on the line if they found that there were real problems?

We might point out that the Deputy Minister called what is happening at Frere Hospital a national crisis, that after a visit by the Minister to Frere Hospital, she announced that the Hospital would receive, among other things, a 10-fold increase in its maintenance budget, an extra maternity ward, more support staff, nurses, doctors and equipment. The minister conceded there were “individual cases of inappropriate” care which had been reported and promised they would be investigated. The minister also announced that the management at both Frere and Cecilia Makiwane would from now on be given direct control over their budgets, staff and services.

If the newspaper was lying and the “Facts” proved there was nothing wrong at the Hospital, then why these reforms? The only conceivable answer is that there are serious problems at the Hospital exposed by the newspaper but that our President, caught in his own fantasy world of paranoia and ANC sanctioned “object facts” refuses to admit this.

But then again, our President has a long history of Denialism, so we should not be too surprised that he now denies those mothers whose babies have died their own experience of the “Facts” and blames the newspaper for wanting to harm the ANC, instead of expressing shock and horror at the way the Hospital has dealt with real flesh and blood people who - it can be objectively proven - experience pain and anguish when their babies die because of the negligence of Hospital staff.


Anonymous said...

Ah yes - just as we in Cape Town here have the ANC cutting back government funding this year to two of the city's biggest hospitals, causing untold delays in scheduled operations for the needy, with some operations now having being pushed out as far as several years due to this action.

Several elderly people are already reported to have died due to this...and that's only those who hit the headlines in the Cape. The poorest of the poor, who have no voice to be heard, remain deathly silent on this matter when their loved ones die.

Recent press reports have indicated that these hospitals can expect the same sort of financial cut-backs they experienced this year, next year, and further delays are expected to occur.The consequences of those actions are bound to be dire, and will be felt the hardest by those who can afford this sort of delay the least.

HOWEVER, we remain optimistic about South African democracy on this site...!

The national minister has allocated almost R2bln for the building a new stadium for the World Cup in 2010, so I am sure that those who have lost loved ones due to these cutbacks in healthcare funding will at the very least be sent tickets to the opening football games at the Greenpoint Stadium. That should make everything much better for all concerned...shouldn't it...?

As for the ANC, maybe they should re-read their Bill of Rights which they so proudly wave before all who will sit up and take notice in the vain hope that the observant will be thrown off their democratically impaired scent.

They hope no-one will observe the true reality of this grave situation, and thus declare our current political masters, the clowns they really are, who couldn't manage their way out of a consitutional paper bag...!

Maybe the ANC should pay particular attention in their extra-mural classes for the "democratically impaired" to the following clauses in the Bill of Rights: (1) The right to Human Dignity; (2) The Right to Life; and (3) The right to have access to healthcare services.

Once again, we come back to the question of democracy in South Africa...? "Is it true democracy when those who have no voice are trampelled upon..." Thos earguing in favour of democracy in South Africa will point to the Constitutional Court in South Africa and say they should challenge the status quo in the highest court int he land. Funny thing is, in matters like's just not happening...because if it was...people wouldn't be dying...!!! PERIOD...!!!

What is patently clear to all but the blindest of men, is that the ANC tolerate democracy, but do not embrace it...!

Now wonder they have done their best to send our education system backwards, because after all...the ANC's historical masters in the Russian and Cuban motherlands taught them one thing....namely, that educating the masses so that they can understand these matters better, is the worst thing you can do as a rulung party. Do so at your peril...!


Pierre de Vos said...

O dear, there you go and give credence to the President's letter by showing a rather jaundiced and apocalyptic view of the ANC. The cuts in the Western Cape are to my knowledge far more complex than you present them to be. Western cape government is getting less money because we have always gotten far more in the past. The government must decide where to allocate these funds and may have to decide between funding a rural clinic for the poor or giving more funds to an academic hospital where more serious operations are done. As a policy they decided to reach more people and provide them at least with basic health care. You might disagree with this policy but this does not mean that the choice represents a deliberate attempt to ruin everything. The Frere case is different because there an investigative report has exposed serious problems and now the President is trying to deny the problem.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to be so thick, but where do bikini's come into this?

Pierre de Vos said...

The President referred to bikini's in his letter to make his point. Can't say it helped me much - I found the reference obscure.

Africannabis said...

He (Thabo) blamed service delivery problems on centuries of colonialism and apartheid, saying they had led to poverty and underdevelopment and that 13 years of democracy was too short a time to fix all the problems... (The Star)

Dyantyi (ANC MEC Housing Western Cape) said the Western Cape faced huge backlogs in housing delivery because of problems created by the apartheid past...

“Today‘s just a beginning and there‘s more to come. You people deserve better. We will deliver services wherever there‘s a need but we also have to address other problems, like bringing employment from the private sector,” Dyantyi said. - The Herald

Let me start with migration and service delivery.

Migration - has increased in the past 3 years (50 additional informal settlements).

Migration is not something you can blame on the past. It happens when there is a better option somewhere else - or where you live is unbearable.

So we are talking about the last 3 years here. Not the 15 Before - or the 40 before that.

The current pressure being felt in the Cape Habitat Crisis - is failure at all levels of government - PRESENTLY.

Apportioning blame in the distant past - fails to see the obvious failure of delivery currently.

for more on this daily...

"you people"

Africannabis said...

"deserve better"...

Anonymous said...

A report in today's press (Cape Times) states that the ANC who run the Johannesburg City Council have reduced the amount of speaking time for opposition party members to only 4 seconds each, leaving some opposition parties with as little as 16 seconds of speaking time each during council meetings.

Is this the type of "embracing of democracy" by the ANC that some commentators on this Blogsite so frequently state underpins our democracy and the ANC's approach to it...?

Where are those commentators now who believe that this country's ruling party honestly believes in implementing democracy to its fullest and most meaningful intent i.e. buying into the spirit of open democracy and transparency when they behave like such third world, African style dictators...?

Who on this sight honestly believes that this truly shows the ANC's desire to expand democracy to all people in this country on a fair and equitable basis...?

I come back to my point...our political masters tolerate demcoracy for their own narrow party-political ends...they do not embrace it....!

Africannabis said...

"You people - deserve better" - 1sec

B Eat that!

Africannabis said...

Damn Constovom - I keep forgetting too add...

26. everyone has the right to have access adequate housing...

my time up yet?

24b.iii everyone has the right to Secure ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources, while promoting justifiable economic and social development....

Africannabis said...

ok ok - let me not remember the day I was working in the thorasic icu @ GSH when I saw a nurse beating a patient because there was no pain killers...

that wasn't in the apartheid past - actually the ANC was in charge back then...

that's one of many stories I can tell 1st hand

But enough about me!

"You people - Deserve Better!"

what was that - right to access medical what...?

Anonymous said...

Uh-oh Pierre, looks like Moneyweb's regular commenters have found your blog ;-)

Pierre de Vos said...


I am heartened by the fact that readers of this Blog take time out to comment on posts and I have thus far never taken down any comments - no matter how offensive - because I believe vigorous debate is essential. So I appeal to those who comment to keep comments to the point and to debate issues and ideas and not merely to go off on rants and raves. It does not really contribute to debate but merely confirms the prejudices and hatreds of those who comment. There is a difference between engaging in vigorous argument and merely bad-mouthing others. please try and respect that.

Africannabis said...

I firmly believe that if the western Cape housing situation is being put under additional pressure from migration.

It would follow that there are more eastern capers in the western cape.

And more - for our health system to deal with...

I would question - the logic behind - the appropriation of money.

Especially when you consider government's IT budget is 3 times (if not more) than that of any health budget.

So between basic rights, health, housing and access to information.

Which has the largest budget?

Sorry about the rants and raves - however I find between the spin - it is not only impossible to forget the basics (38000 displaced) when you live among it, but that other rational however trite (apartheid/ bikini's)

Is all part of the distraction.

Civil Horror is the daily life of a Capetonian. Not to rant on a daily basis would be a disservice to democracy.

Anonymous said...

Sinister place, Cape Town. (hex)

Anonymous said...

Dear Prof,

As for your view that people are not entitled to rant on your Blog...fair's your blog, but then again...I never knew that ranting about basic rights was something you found offensive...and here I refer to the right of those South African's abroad to vote; the right to hospital care; and the right to dignity, and the right to life.

Terribly sorry that you find those concepts so abhorent and repugnant when pointed out to you in the cold hard light of day....especially in the context of the current politcal dispensation's performance.

Maybe you would like to see comment that amounts to soft topics i.e. the sort of intellectual masturbation on academic topics that people write academic poetry about, and which their peers can acknoweldge with lofty phrases and gentle stroking, but which doesn't really get their hands dirty with the real stuff that affects people like me on the street on a daily basis.

Ok, I get it...we can talk constitutional matters as long as we wear kid gloves when dealing with the adorable, cuddly and lovable ANC, because pointing out their real constitutional short-comings just seems to be a little too hot for you to handle...!

Enjoy your blog Prof., but remember, constituional sycophants ending leaving the country bitter, twisted and disappointed.

Maybe be a little more critical not about the Constitution, but about the current government's behaviour...then you will add value to the rank and vile like me whose comments you find so abhorent. What you miss is that it's actually people like me who care about the direction this country takes....and here we don't refer to the constitutional potential but about the current govenment's inentions which are so clearly shown by their actions and their total disregard for their own electorate...!

Ciao James and Prof...and remember...don't gag on each other when next you're getting down and dirty with each other about South Africa's Constitutional potential...! Don't worry about it now...because hey...the future always works itself out.

Adios Africannabis, but these guys are just too much...!

Pierre de Vos said...

Well, I have two comments:

(1) Not ranting is not the same as not being able to put across your view forcefully and with passion. Pointing to bad things and arguing about it is good, but if it degenerates merely into name calling it is not very useful or entertaining for most people.

(2) I still feel there is a fundamental problem with the attitude that because one disagrees with things the government of the day does, it necessarily mean that they are all evil and that they have destroyed democracy or whatever. There comes a point (the US government seems close to that point and Putin's Russia is far beyond that point) when one has every right to question the democratic credentials of a government. Our government at national level is not nearly there.