Thursday, April 2, 2009

Criticism is a Dirty Sport

I've been perusing Zapiro's cartoons. It felt dirty, like viewing a hideous, twisted soul. To get a better picture, imagine those dark horror movies, or even the all-action blockbusters, where the character development starts and you're given a clear indication of the bad guy. They have certain features that mark them out, a twitch, a limp, lip-licking, shifty eyes or an elitist pet that they stroke. At any rate, they're designed with a feature that makes you feel dirty being around them, as though their mind is so dark that you dare not soften in its presence lest you become corrupted.

I paged through Zapiro's latest cartoons, one at a time. Inevitably there are aspects that draw you in - you say to yourself: "Yes, he's so right about Zuma" or "Oh, I understand the shower head he's drawn permanently pertruding from his head". For a while you afford yourself a smile, but the further you go, the more you begin to realise ... this guy doesn't let up. His drawings of Zuma are hideous, everybody gets the sledgehammer, it feels like you're caught in a deathtrap and there's never a softening in his spirit.

I didn't write this peace to slate Zapiro, but rather to illustrate what it's like to be a permanent critic. For a long time the DA have worn the opposition party badge and the feeling has been growing stronger and stronger that they believe their only job is to oppose. Too often you listen to the DA in a debate, and while you agree with their criticisms, you stop at the end and try to recall what solutions they had suggested.

In truth, the ACDP can also be guilty of being constantly critical. It gets tiresome, and moreover, it becomes depressing. I've experienced those branch meetings where you talk about nothing but the evils that are overtaking us. You come out depressed and you find less energy to return.

But what then is the opposite of criticism? Approval? Sometimes. Sometimes you have to summon the extraordinary courage to admire what your enemies have achieved. There are things I admire about the ANC. I respect that they managed to get 66% of the vote - that they could pull together a huge majority spread across 9 different ethnicities. Think about the Rwandan conflicts and you'll understand that kind of significance.

There is another alternative ... to provide a viable alternative. In other words, for every "don't", provide a feasible "do". I've talked about "criticism" in a negative vein, but we also talk about "constructive criticism" in a positive way. The one diminishes and the other enhances, at least potentially, depending on how well you receive it.

My guess is that the ACDP has been better positioned than the DA to be a critic, because the ACDP's approach has been to measure the ANC up against the Bible. If the Bible says that theft is wrong, then the DA can criticise for the sake of criticism. But by having a reference to work against, the ACDP can say theft is wrong, but also has the manual that provides the solution. The Bible has plenty to say about what good morals look like and what kind of life the righteous lead. Do the DA have a manual they work against?

Either way, we have to train ourselves to be solution-minded. People who solve problems become likeable. They also become good candidates to win elections. The ANC won in 1994 because they were the solution to apartheid (at least in the voters' minds), and the ACDP must gear itself to win elections by being the solution to the ANC.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Wise As Serpents, Tame As Doves

A great man once said: "Be wise as serpents and tame as doves." When you put it into practice, you understand how remarkably perceptive it is.

To be honest, the ACDP is a meeting point of some potentially divergent views. Some of the views could be regarded as conflicting, but in truth, when you bring them together, they form a more complete picture of the kind of government I believe God expects. Let me explain.

Some ACDP members join the party because of its hardline values. End abortion, bring in the death penalty, punish criminals. Others join the party because they believe it cares for the community, that it will all alleviate poverty and help the needy. A study of politics usually finds these two fields of thought on opposite sides of the fence. Not so with the church, and not so with the ACDP.

The same Bible that tells us to kick divisive people out of the church, tells us that true religion is feeding the widows and orphans. The same Bible that tells of Annanias and Saphira being struck dead instantly for lying (in the New Testament don't forget) also reminds us that Jesus saved the adulteress who knew her actions would require her life.

The truth is both simple and complex. There is a time to be moved by anger over the sin of your country, and there is a time to be moved with compassion as you see the suffering. And very often the two work hand in hand, where the very suffering that moves you is caused by the corruption that angers you. The obvious complexity is to know the time for compassion and the time for wrath, and so often parties like the ANC get both wrong.

The end result of the ACDP's melting pot is that we cater remarkably well for both sides of the equation. We are very strong in the area of tough action and we're very strong in the area of compassionate care. Of course our moral stance has never been in doubt, but a brief visit to the ACDP's website will reveal how intensely the party has campaigned to defend the weak, coupled with its continuous emphasis on community projects. It's a rare combination, but then the ACDP is a special party.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Criminal Proceedings: The Parliamentary Hotlist

There's admittedly a lot of fictitious junk mail that goes around, but I did like this one. I'm not sure how accurate these stats are - if they are true then some serious research has been done with access to detail that the general public probably can't see. Either way, there is a lot of truth here, and while some details are possibly exaggerated, no doubt many are guilty.

29 have been accused of spousal abuse
7 have been arrested for fraud
19 have been accused of writing bad cheques
117 have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses
3 have done time for assault
71 cannot get a credit card due to bad credit
14 have been arrested on drug-related charges
8 have been arrested for shoplifting
21 are currently defendants in lawsuits
84 have been arrested for drunk driving in the last year

That's 373 in total or approximately 70% of the 535 South African parliamentarians. Nobody in South Africa is perfect, including ACDP politicians, but some are certainly more honest than others. If politicians have a bad name, then look no further for reason.

The question is: what do politicians measure themselves up against? Without a moral framework, you could argue that the number of votes you get justifies your actions. Similar excuses might do, but at the ACDP we keep measuring ourselves against the Bible, which has been a worldwide authority on moral values for millenia. We regularly fall short, but at least the standard hasn't moved when we pick ourselves up again.

With a liberal party like the DA, the moral fibre of society keeps getting stretched and worn thinner. If it's not abortion, then it's gay marriage. If it's not disarming of parents, then it's disarming of churches. Very often the ACDP is painted as a group of far-right extremists. The truth is that the ACDP has simply held firm to its values, while the non-value-based parties have drifted so far by now that the difference is scary. And if you don't think the DA are that liberal, do your homework.

Monday, February 16, 2009

"Grant" is a Bad Word

My involvement with the Department of Health has exposed me to many of the shenanigans that circulate through the social welfare circles. The current problem I'm dealing with involves the forgery of documents that show HIV test results. But get this: the perpetrators are trying to prove that they're HIV positive so they can get the grant.

My understanding has always been that a grant is meant to serve as a "compensation", but here it clearly works as an "incentive". I was aware of the same problem in Britain, another showcase for handouts. In Scotland, young single women were deliberatly getting pregnant so they could get the single mother grant. The outcome is very much opposite to the intent. I don't doubt the department's good intentions, but they seem to misunderstand human nature.

The Basic Income Grant (BIG) is a hot topic ahead of the elections. Parties are going around promising free money for everyone, effectively, and no doubt those promises are worth some votes. The ACDP investigated the BIG and found a very sizeable problem: the cost of administration was the same as the grant itself. Not only that, but the system is open to huge amounts of fraud. In the end the BIG comes back full circle to where it started, because it requires additional tax income (by "creative" means, as the ANC puts it), so the citizens are simply getting back what they paid in, and forking out for a whole lot of lousy administration in-between.

Grants are nothing more than a plaster. The economy is in trouble, and while most of the other parties go around promising more band-aids, the ACDP is promising to target the source of the problem itself: a bleeding economy. The ANC Minister of Labour spoke on SABC's Interface about sticking with "tried and tested" formulas used by the current government. It's a pity he stopped in the middle of his sentence - he meant to say "tried, tested and failed". History and research show undeniably that socialist and communist economic policies kill off economies, while the ACDP promises the "tried, tested and successful" principles of free market economy, with deregulation, less bureaucracy and smaller government.

I don't doubt that some level of social welfare through grants is necessary, but I argue firstly that the size of grants on offer is counter-productive, and secondly, that you can administer grants in more effective ways. Basically, social welfare works far more effectively when you adopt the mindset of "incentive" rather than "compensation", as I alluded to earlier. In this regard, work-for-food schemes, small business incentives and tax breaks for labour-intensive industry spend less on outflow and gain more in inflow. The object of social welfare is to move its recipient towards self dependency, and I'm sure you share my position that cash handouts fail to do that for the most part. In simple terms, the fear of not having enough to live on drives you to find a job, while earning a grant you can live on creates a crowd of unproductive dependents.

In the end, grants are a form of financial enslavement of the people to a bloated, centralist bureaucracy, the king of all "big business". While the throngs have so often voted for parties that offer short term thrills and spills, maybe you've done enough homework to realise that the solution to South Africa's economic woes is less government and more democracy.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Struggle for Finance

Lack of finance is of course an easy excuse for the ACDP. Whenever we're asked why we don't have a bigger share of the vote or why we aren't more visible, we just whip out the excuse like a foreign language phrase book.

The ACDP's struggle for finance has a number of both sound and dubious reasons. There's the obvious reason that the IEC allocation is awarded according to the percentage of votes you receive. While I can't easily see another solution (do you really want to award R5 million to the Soccer Party if all parties get an equal share?) I do also see the benefits of the arrangement. Firstly, the party that does the work to win an election gets its reward. Also, when an opposition party has to work with less for the same election, it provides an impetus - in other words, when they do succeed, you have a hard working party governing your country. Because the reverse is also true, that argument goes out the window! Quite simply, once you're in, you're in - you make money when you have it.

That you need money to win an election is undeniable. While credit must go to the ANC for achieving such an impressive 1994 win, gaining votes across a wide span of ethic groups, their preparation lasted over many decades. In the short term, money pays for a lot of things: TV and radio ads, posters, brochures, hire of public venues, transporting voters and rally attendees, petrol costs for canvassing, staff to run offices, telephone campaigning, stationery costs, and more importantly, labour. It's extremely difficult to win an election with staff who have normal jobs and work in their free time - they need salaries to devote themselves full-time.

I was once asked the question: if you want to run the country, why aren't you confident enough to raise finances? A powerful question indeed. The reality is that fundraising, especially for something notorious as politics, requires a certain amount of thick skin and a kind of carefree attitude that doesn't mind what people think. That style comes easily to politicians, but not to church folk, and the majority of ACDP members and staff are church folk. It truly is easier to stand up for something you believe in, like pro-life, than to knock on someone's door and shake the tin can.

The next big problem is that funding prefers to support a track record, but you can't have a track record until you've been elected. How much of a track record can you build up without funds? And how much zero-cost-based activity can you engage in when you have a job?

What I seem to be painting here is a circular problem that keeps coming back to itself. In other words, it looks like a Catch-22 or a dead end, and if you were a hyper-pragmatist or a cynic, you really would have to throw in the towel and leave politics to the dirty guys.

Personally, I don't lie down like that, so here's my vision of the way forward with regards to improving the ACDP's finances. Firstly, focus 60% of the party effort on a 2-month fundraising drive. Develop a core marketing package: a presentation that you can deliver in a businessman's office, including an impressive brochure, smart slideshow and clinically rehearsed speech, using your best orators. The ACDP does have enough strong points to get support going, but needs to present it well. Deliver these speeches to about 200 businesses with owners who sympathise with the Christian position. I guarantee this will have success, at least with about 10 businesses.

Then set aside 20% of those raised funds to sponsor a business fundraising dinner, where guests are invited to a free meal at a restaurant, where they will be sold the ACDP. The core list of guests will be those who showed interest but did not make a commitment, as well as those who sympathised with the party but did not make time for a presentation. In other words, get the more hesistant supporters in. Take a big offering on the night and sign debit orders.

Once again, set aside 20% to repeat this cycle, but in a new location with a different crowd. Also look at a strategy where the same businessmen can return for another free dinner if they bring a paying guest.

This cycle has to continue, but another 10% of the raised funds must go to partner maintenance, or in other words, marketing brochures and feedback materials that go back to those who have sponsored the party, including possible free functions.

Okay, that's a simple idea which even I could implement. Maybe I should.

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