By Sipho Seepe

The inspiration for this book is multi-faceted and multidimensional. First, it is a response to the many readers and scholars who have asked for a compendium of my essays.
For those who have only been exposed to fragments of my writing, I hope this collection provides them with a fuller portraiture of my ‘ideological orientation’ and intellectual posture.
For those who have attempted and battled to pigeonhole me into a particular grouping or political home, I trust that after reading this collection they will find that my passion lies not in the domain of narrow party politics or inter-party politicking but rather in a quest to make a case for justice and fair treatment for all.
In this regard, redress for historical injustices and the total liberation of the previously (and still) marginalised in South Africa loom large.
Secondly, Unmasking the Politics of Mass Deception seeks to protect the complexity of history. It rails against the tyranny of a single narrative.
In doing so, it seeks to provide the kind of intellectual activism that African American feminist scholar bell hooks writes in Killing Rage: Ending Racism (1995): “At the heart of intellectual work is critical engagement with ideas. Intellectual work can itself be a gesture of political activism if it challenges us to know in ways that counter and oppose existing epistemologies (ways of knowing) that keep us colonised, subjugated, etc.”
Ours is a troubled state marked by contradictory impulses. As Justice Cameron observed during the Sunday Times Literary Awards (in 2013) that our “polity is boisterous, rowdy, sometimes cacophonous and often angry… Political debate is sometimes annihilatingly divisive. Race rhetoric still sometimes substitutes for performance. Gross inequality, largely racially structured, persists… We have had nearly two tempestuous decades of disputes, clashes of interests and contests. There have been conflicts between civil society and the state, between provinces and central government…”
A single narrative is a grave insult to the rich portrait of the country’s unfolding drama. There are fewer ways of gaining crystal clarity of one’s thoughts than the willingness to subject one’s political and intellectual positions to ruthless but fact-based and reasoned critique.
I ask for no less.
There ought to be no holy cows, irrespective of their location, or locus of power, whether this is in the House of Parliament, the halls of academia, the editorial hubs of the media, the command centres of government or in the lobby of civil groups.
However, mindless and senseless criticism, devoid of logic and common sense should not be entertained.
I am certain some who read this collection will do so not with the intention of learning anything from it but with the sole purpose of misunderstanding, misrepresenting and distorting what has been written. For this kind of a reader, there is simply no cure. Put simply, this book is an act of rebellion. It is a deliberate refusal to jump onto the safe and cosy bandwagon of mainstream ‘thought’ that is nothing short of an echo chamber of parochialism and partisanship.
Unmasking The Politics of Mass Deception is an attempt to broaden our conceptual lenses as we engage in this experiment called democracy. It dismisses the attempt to locate political players outside the historical continuum of socio-economic and political structural issues and challenges. This dislocation of political players outside the political parties is dishonest and serves to exonerate the new mandarins of their individual and collective culpability to errors of commission and omission undertaken under their watch.
The world we inhabit does not present us with neatly packaged problems so that we can work out neatly packaged solutions.
Ours is not a world that is made of saints and demons. It is made of fallible human beings whose lives are inspirational and, at times, disappointing. There is no attempt in the book to try to rehash the obvious. Neither is there an attempt to quarrel with some of the valid comments made regarding the main political players of our time.
The book, however, takes issue with the ubiquitous pretence that there is only one way of explaining the motives behind human actions. The complexity of human behaviour requires deeper engagement that goes beyond the headlines.
In doing so, this book provides a necessary balance to the one-sided picture that has been bandied around. One hopes the articles contained in this collection are helpful in providing plausible explanations that would have been deliberately dislodged from public discourse and public memory. Finally, putting together this collection of essays was probably inevitable.
My previous collection, Speaking Truth to Power Post-1994 Political Reflection provided a reflection and a critique of the Mandela and Mbeki presidencies.
Speaking Truth To Power represented, to quote Professor Jonathan Jansen, “an inspiring assembly of alternative thought and a monument to what is possible – intellectually and politically – in our youthful democracy”.
Unmasking the Politics of Mass Deception seeks to continue this exploration of the times we live in and interrogate the political lens through which political reality is viewed. To find the most appropriate title for this collection of essays was not easy. It took months of exploring various options. Competing titles included, Against the Herd, Speaking Out of Turn, Restoring the Balance, Opting Out of the Echo Chamber, Cutting Through the Clutter and Rebel With A Cause.
There is a convergence of intended meaning in all of them. Each title reflects a certain sense of disquiet and revolt against the current ubiquitous groupthink that infects and contaminates the public discourse. It is groupthink that falls for easy answers. And make no mistake, the falsification and oversimplification of history is not new. We have been here before. Subscription to a simplistic narrative obtained during the political transition from the Mbeki to the Zuma administration.
In an insightful and perhaps unknowingly prophetic article Waiting for the barbarians (Business Day, 31 October 2005) the late Karima Brown and Vukane Mde dismiss the “Mbeki, good – Zuma, bad” proposition. They argued that:
“[such a proposition] ignores the reality that under Mbeki’s stewardship we have developed the clear symptoms of crony capitalism. It ignores the virtual disintegration of the state at the local level as patronage and rampant corruption take over. The ‘corrupt Zuma, anticorruption Mbeki’ hypothesis conveniently ignores the quashing of the investigation into the arms deal, which is identified by some commentators as the real tipping point in our slide towards officially sanctioned graft. It is a mark of Mbeki’s successful image management that he now finds himself cloaked in the robes of an anticorruption crusader, instead of being held responsible for the slide that has occurred under his rule.”
The same can be said of the fast-floundering narrative of the “nine wasted years” in light of the last “four wasted years”. “Nine wasted years” was conceived as part of a broader narrative designed to perform a cruel trick to mislead in the name of Thuma Mina and New-dawnism.
The ‘New Dawn’ has since proved to be a figment of fertile imagination. Without doubt, there were missteps and wrong decisions taken during the last decade. But these cannot be resolved by finding and isolating a few convenient scapegoats.

Professor Sipho Seepe is the Deputy Vice Chancellor – Institutional Support at the University of Zululand

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