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Phillip de Wet
Associate editor, M&G, which means a dangerously long leash for a journalist. I write about a bit of everything except sport, but mostly South African politics, SA society more generally, and weird stuff. (Small print: views expressed are mine and do not represent views of the Mail & Guardian.)
Associate editor, M&G, which means a dangerously long leash for a journalist. I write about a bit of everything except sport, but mostly South African politics, SA society more generally, and weird stuff. (Small print: views expressed are mine and do not represent views of the Mail & Guardian.)


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2016 EFF election manifesto
The Economic Freedom Fighters launched their 2016 local government elections manifesto to much sound and fury on the weekend -- but I'll be damned if I could find a copy of the actual document online by this morning. Including on its website, its supporter websites, various repositories of political documents.
Information age indeed. All the porn you can eat, pirated version of blockbuster movies before they even hit cinema, but stuff crucial to democracy? Not so much.
So it is now on SourceAfrica: downloadable, embeddable, searchable, and indexable.
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The moment Mmusi Maimane starts his much-vaunted speech on race, Twitter goes down -- and a million snarky comments are lost to history, and news churn sites.
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The impression 163,887 people (and counting) now have of SA
Cracked is big. Cracked is also weird. Their aggressive A/B testing leads to strange headlines. The URL shows the original headline on this was "Cars had flamethrowers, people had guns: 1990s South Africa", which makes more sense.
But for all its many, many, many faults, I just love this piece for its constant reference to "South Afrikaners".
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Go into journalism, they said. It's an exciting time for newspapers, they said. New technology will bring about a golden age for the entire industry, they said. 
So, I guess I have to tell people sometime:
As part of its restructuring, the Mail & Guardian is closing down the science desk. Although they've offered me different positions, I want to write science, and so will be leaving at the end of the week.
I know there are people out there who need their South African science news fix, so you can find me and my writing on Read. Enjoy. Maybe subscribe.
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Buy this book, be happy
It must be said that I am not entirely free of conflict of interest in this matter, in much the same way that water is not entirely dry. But you should buy this book.
You wouldn't be human if the news in South Africa didn't get you down every so often: social ills, corruption, the economy, poor prospects on every front. The mire is deep, the outlook grim.
What that news doesn't cover is this stuff: smart people doing smart things to make South Africa better.
It's not all good news; the innovation system too could be in better shape, and not every project will succeed. But some have, and others will, and unlike our interminable debates on policy, they are actually effecting change.
It's like a breath of fresh air for the South African psyche.
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Why you'll be sorry when you've killed off all the journalists
You know that story environmentalists always tell, about how they don’t one day want to be surrounded by children who ask: what was it like back when you had whales in the oceans?
That, except with journalists. Though in my mind the version with the journalists is set in a decidedly more post-apocalyptic environment, a world torn to shreds by rampant spin and graft and impunity.
It takes a journalist with experience, guts, and understanding to cut through the crap in the way Paton does, and one working in a solidly supporting environment. A cheap, junior, overworked reporter can’t do it, nor somebody cowed by the need to keep sources (or, God forbid, advertisers) sweet.
Remember this, when there are none of the former left anymore. Remember that we told you so. And then explain to the children why you let it happen.
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The United Front is quite angry about this piece

The great hope of the New Left is, in fact, spitting mad about this piece, according to e-mail today, and now the statement below, which it issued this afternoon.

The statement does not seem to be online yet, so here is the whole thing as issued: 


17th July 2015

The United Front neither wishes nor expects the Mail & Guardian newspaper to be its mouthpiece. But the United Front does expect the M&G to provide quality, objective, truthful and balanced journalism that is not jaundiced or prejudiced. Regrettably, its article on the United Front (‘An indefinite pause on a workers' revolution’ by Phillip de Wet) in its edition today fails its readers, the general public and high quality standards of journalism. Instead, the article is full of lies and chose to deliberately ignore detailed United Front responses to interview questions the M&G had asked. Ultimately, the fundamental problem with the M&G article is that it ends up being a propagandistic article that deliberately misinforms the public, and that unfairly puts the UF on the back-foot.
Here are the patent lies the article contains:

1.    The United Front is waiting for the emergence of a workers’ party or a new federation led by Zwelinzima Vavi;

2.    The United Front is waiting for a big cheque from Numsa;

3.    Numsa stopped giving money to the United Front before the June conference;

4.    The United Front has had several interim and steering committees;

5.    The United Front does not have real affiliates as it has token organisations in provinces;

6.    The United Front’s Preparatory Assembly held in December 2014 found little to agree on except that the ANC was to blame for almost all the woes in the country;

7.    The United Front has not done anything other than a protest in March outside the United States consulate in Sandton and a call in June for citizens to “jam the presidential hotline, fax, email address and post box with the message: ‘President Zuma – Pay Back the Money you owe us for your private home. Listen to us as the People!”

8.    In the 19th August anti-corruption march, the United Front will be a mere adjunct subordinated to Zwelinzima Vavi;

9.    In the 2016 municipal elections, the United Front will support candidates of an as-yet nonexistent workers’ party; and

10. The United Front is risking irrelevance and will become an organisation of two people and a fax machine.
Below we provide a detailed response to these lies, and in order that the M&G withdraws the article and publishes this United Front response in full, and that the public is better informed. As stated above, the United Front had already sent the bulk of this response to the M&G prior to the publication of its article. Why did the M&G choose to ignore this? To write such a response is not our preferred option of working with the media. We would rather be focusing on our campaigns as we have done through some 20 press statements over the last 6 months and which the M&G has all ignored to date.
It is striking that de Wet’s article is shown up for its poverty by another article in the same edition of the M&G. This other article is by Kwanele Sosibo (‘Front must find a ‘clear, radical’ stance’) and provides readers with a real taste of community struggles and the role the United Front has played in some of them. Sosibo’s article is balanced and fair, and quotes real people representing real organisations. Contrary to this, de Wet’s article is entirely based on unnamed sources as if the United Front did not provide answers to interview questions the M&G had sent. Again, we ask: why did the M&G choose to silence the United Front?


The United Front is not waiting for the emergence of a new workers’ political party or a new trade union federation. The United Front exists in its own name and right as a broad coalition of workers, youth, women, the unemployed, civics, social movements, rural people, progressive activists, progressive academics and other mass organisations. There is broad consensus about the non-party political nature of the United Front. There is ongoing consideration and debate on how the UF should relate to the Numsa process for a Movement for Socialism and the ongoing political struggles in COSATU. In six national meetings, the UF has debated these questions and has now commissioned a discussion paper on these issues as part of preparations for its Founding Conference
De Wet’s article also claims that delegates at the United Front’s Preparatory Assembly found little to agree on except that the ANC was to blame for almost all the woes of workers and the country as a whole. This is just a downright lie that the M&G had already told in an earlier article in December 2014 ('Numsa's Front: United only in opposition’). In repeating this lie, the M&G ignores a publicly available 26-page report of agreements achieved at the Assembly (available on The overwhelming consensus achieved at the Assembly laid the basis for what the United Front has done in the last 6 months. This is far from the United Front having very little to agree on. That there are questions of ongoing debate within the United Front has been public knowledge from the beginning. These are about the political orientation of the United Front to socialism and the Freedom Charter, how to approach the 2016 municipal elections, and whether political parties and individuals should join the Front. These were publicly stated and explained in the report of the Assembly. The debate on these continues.
The M&G article also wrongly claims that the UF will support candidates of an as-yet non-existent workers’ party. Is there even a need to reply to this absurdity? The UF will decide on its approach to the 2016 municipal elections at its Founding Conference. At this point in time, all provincial conferences have debated the matter and put forward several proposals which are being synthesised into a composite document for further debate.

There is no expectation that Numsa will pay for the United Front. The Preparatory Assembly of the United Front held in December 2014 proudly asserted that the United Front must not depend on Numsa and that it must finance itself.
In the short 6 months of our existence we have not paid sufficient time to raise enough money of the R3,5 million required for the Founding Conference and additional millions required for operations, programmes and campaigns. We merely reasserted that we will ensure that from the word go the United Front will be able to raise its own money and not assuming that Numsa will bankroll it. But this required human resources, a fundraising plan and its implementation. And this we did not do. In the last 6 months, instead of fundraising we have been paying attention to campaigns, building UF structures and internal political debates. These activities have been key in defining the UF and building the momentum towards the Founding Conference. From our June national meeting, we are now implementing a full plan for fundraising money for the conference, programmes and operations. 
It is untrue that Numsa stopped giving money to the UF before the June conference. To its credit, Numsa continues to contribute financial resources, deploy 15 organisers, and provide office infrastructure and administrative support. This is a good foundation our new fundraising plan is building on.

Contrary to the M&G article, the UF has not had several interim and steering committees. There has ever only been one Interim National Working Committee with its provincial counterparts. The 7 provincial conferences elected new provincial committees which have now replaced the interim provincial structures. The same will happen with the election of a national committee at the Founding Conference. In the meanwhile, the national committee has recommended an expansion through the cooption of representatives of mass organisations affiliated to the United Front such as the new civic initiative called the Congress of Non-Racial South African Community Movements, the Right to Know Campaign, the Inyanda National Land Movement and the South African Food Sovereignty Campaign.

The United Front does not have token organisations in provinces. It has a wide diversity of some 240 real people’s organisations such as small advice offices, social movements, civics, rural movements, independent trade unions, women’s organisations, youth groups, and individuals from COSATU affiliates. The United Front exists in 42 centres across the country, a country of some 52 districts. As the other article by Sosibo shows, these organisations are rooted in working class communities and taking up real bread and butter issues of the people. The United Front is not, and will not become an organisation of two people and a fax machine as the article claims.


According to the M&G article, the United Front has not done anything other than a protest in March outside the United States consulate in Sandton and a call in June for citizens to “jam the presidential hotline, fax, email address and post box with the message: ‘President Zuma – Pay Back the Money you owe us for your private home. Listen to us as the People!”. This is bad journalism at its worst. The very same press statement of the United Front which called for the jamming of the presidential hotline called for a national march against corruption to the Union Buildings as well as a mass protest in front of parliament on the day that Minister Nhleko will present this report to the relevant committee of parliament and consideration of a legal challenge to overturn Nhleko’s decision and report and the legal enforcement of the report of the Public Protector on the Nkandla matter. Thanks to the initiative of the United Front, the marches to Parliament and the Union Buildings will now become a reality on the 7th and 19th of August respectively.

Yet again, quite to the contrary of the M&G article, the UF is not a mere adjunct of the anti-corruption march. It is a co-founder of the broad coalition organising for this march and sits on the committee that is organising it. So much for a mere adjunct!

In addition to this march, the United Front has demonstrated its capability to organise campaigns, involving workers and communities, among others involving:

1.    The youth wage subsidy as a false solution to youth unemployment;

2.    Fighting against the 2015 austerity national budget through a march of some 4,000 people to Parliament and 6 provincial protests during provincial budget speeches;

3.    An alternative state of the nation address;

4.    Mobilisation for the massive march against xenophobia in March;

5.    Twenty five protests on 21 March against police brutality with a focus on ending the police/army siege in Thembelihle, and the joint release with R2K on intelligence spying of social movements);

6.    Launch of the South Africa We Want (through 5 People's Assemblies on 27th April);

7.    Support for localised protests in particular with the Amadiba Crisis Committee in Xholobeni;

8.    Co-hosting the successful electricity conference held at the beginning of June (resulting in an agreed programme of action, a picket at the NERSA hearings and a submission to NERSA); and

9.    Mobilising a broad campaign to win justice for Marikana workers and families following the release of the Farlam Commission.

 These campaigns took a huge effort and a lot of our limited resources. The campaigns were crucial in immersing the United Front in real concrete struggles. This is the best way to build the front. Our own weaknesses are about planning the campaigns, a thin activist layer, not yet sustaining campaigns until victories are won, a lack of sufficient funds and limited media work. Despite these weaknesses, these campaigns show that the M&G claim that the United Front risks irrelevance is plain propagandistic notoriety. The June national meeting paid attention to these weaknesses and developed a strategy which we are now rolling out.

As if United Front affiliates and activists are not involved in, and inspired by these campaigns, the article claims that there is low morale in the United Front. Well, all de Wet needed to do is what his colleague (Sosibo) did: speak to any United Front member, leader or affiliate from the 240 organisations that make up the United Front. All of them would say building the United Front is not easy, but the process has started, is exciting and inspiring.

 The article suggests that there are “various important negotiations under way” in which the United Front is involved. This is a mystery. De Wet will have to say what these negotiations are about.


In this regard, here is what the M&G chose not to report: “We will decide at the end of October when to hold the Founding Conference. Whilst the Founding Conference is key, it should not be regarded in ultimatist terms, as some of the media coverage has tended to do. The above is different from rather shallow media sensationalist understandings about the ‘third postponement’ of the United Front launch or an overstretched Numsa. This is narrowly reducing the United Front formation process into an event.” This approach is more realistic approach in building the United Front. It was a mistake to declare in advance about the launch date because political processes best mature organically on the basis of achieving milestones. This is the approach we are now following. Already, the launch of provincial and regional structures, recruitment of affiliates and initiating campaigns are significant milestones.

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As go things you don't expect to see in the park (Emmarentia, dog side), , far away from any walls, graffiti is right up there. The work itself, meh. But the medium is awesome: plastic wrap stretched between two trees, hidden from view. Turns the whole idea of graffiti on its head.
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MTN, KnowRoaming, and "forbidden" websites
Judging from the lack of other complaints on the interwebs my experience may have been a singular glitch, but you never know.
I applied the KnowRoaming sticker to my MTN SIM, went abroad and had it save my life (and save me from having to get a local SIM in each country to be able to use mobile data for less than the price of a house), and came back to find I couldn't browse the web on my phone.
Specifically, my browser would simply return "forbidden" for any website.
Other services, like mail and VPN would work, although Google Play Store would not authenticate me either.
Best I could tell port 80 was blocked, although all higher ports were still available.
The [EDIT: strictly temporary, is it turned out] solution, as it turns out, is simply to have the MTN call centre perform a SIM re-registration, something the frontline technical staff (manning the internet, BlackBerry, and yada yada desk) could do immediately.
[EDIT: Not so much. Less than an hour later i'm back to being "forbidden" from accessing websites. Ah well, it just forces me to be more disciplined in using OpenVPN, which both protects me from prying eyes and pushes web browsing to a higher port. Sucks when data throughput is particularly poor, but them's the breaks.]
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Some historical perspective on Greece
This, right here, is what's been missing from all the coverage of Greece I've seen: a multi-millennial overview of the Greek approach to debt. Which comes down to this gem:
To a person with any historical awareness, being told that Greece is on the verge of a default is like hearing Dean Martin is on the verge of a martini.
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