Magazine article The Spectator


Magazine article The Spectator


Article excerpt

A new insult

From Mr Lionel Slier

Sir: D.J. Taylor (`Bastard liberalism', 8 September) touches on a word which is of great interest here in South Africa.

Since 1994 the meaning of the words `liberal' and 'Liberal' have done a complete somersault. During the height of the apartheid years the Liberals in South Africa tried to uphold some eternal verities such as multiracism, equality, brotherhood and colour-blindness. Noble people started the Liberal party, led by the author Alan Paton. This was a breakaway group from the official parliamentary opposition, the ineffectual United party.

The Liberal party actually had no chance. Outside the English-speaking urban areas there was no support for it, and even inside these areas the support was very weak. When the Nationalists passed a law making it illegal for whites and blacks to belong to the same political party, the Liberal party disbanded.

Yet the white members of this party regarded themselves as 'liberal' (small 'I') in outlook and behaviour. They crossed the colour divide where and when they could, quietly, and without making a big deal of it. Some did it as a form of personal protest against the government; others did it out of a genuine desire to remain in contact with black people.

Now since 1994 there has been an ANC government and a new political dispensation. With this there has been a rise in prominence of black writers in the formerly white-dominated English-language press. All these writers have this in common the word 'liberal' has become pejorative. It is used scathingly and with contempt. We even have the new combination `liberal conservative' and its mirror image - `conservative liberal'. One is not too sure what exactly either of these combinations means but they are so commonplace that they must mean something. So now, here in democratic South Africa, to call someone a 'liberal' is once more an insult.

Lionel Slier

South Africa

The myth of cheap labour

From Mr James N. Docherty

Sir: Ross Clark's plea for freer immigration (`The land of opportunity', 8 September) was heard 40 years ago: `Who will staff our factories and hospitals?' Now many of the children of those useful immigrants of the 1960s form an unemployed underclass in many of our cities. Farmers and builders may like cheap labour, but its true cost is borne by the taxpayer. As Paul Kennedy said in Preparing for the Twenty-first Century, `The problem was that the hostcountries sought labour and got people: workers who, joined by their families, required housing and education and medical attention.'

James N. Docherty

Rothesay, Isle of Bute

The pros of ID cards

From Mr Clive Kaye

Sir: Like many liberal commentators Matthew Parris (Another voice, 8 September) dismisses all thought of identity cards without considering the ancillary advantages offered by modern technology.

Apart from making deception more difficult, identity cards could save many lives by the additional, voluntary inclusion of other information. This might include illnesses and medical conditions, next of kin and, not least, willingness to donate organs if killed. This could solve the problem of insufficient donors at a stroke.

Clive Kaye


'Zionists' and the ANC

From Professor KaderAsmal, MP

Sir: The South African parliamentarian Tony Leon is selective in his facts and tendentious in his views (`Who are they calling neoNazi?', 25 August). `While the [United Nations anti-racism] conference agenda has airbrushed out references to "the racist practices of Zionism",' Leon says, `our local education minister, Kader Asmal, last week denounced the "violence that is systematically carried out in the name of Zionism".'

Leon offers this as evidence of `the corrosion of the impeccable non-racial credentials which were once the calling-card of the ANC'. Here is what I actually said: `Those who think that Zionism is inherently racist must reckon with the fact that some of the most courageous antiapartheid whites in South Africa happen to have been Zionists as well. …

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