Cliff Notes – The Art of Being Spoonfed Your Thoughts

Gareth Cliff has taken it upon himself to lead the new white intellectual revolution. I am unsure of whether this is because he is the most (perhaps only) articulate person on popular radio, or merely because he sommer rates himself. Regardless, this is a problem. It is not a problem that somebody with very little to say attempts to offer profound opinions on important issues – we at African Scene are perhaps guilty of the same arrogance, although we make some effort to back up claims with rational argument and evidence. But it’s a problem that he is given an audience willing to accept his every utterance at face value.

My rant was sparked off by the poster boy’s ostentatious ‘Open Letter to The Government’.

Predicting the eventual end of the ANC government doesn’t make you a prophet, but betting on any imminent change is a sure way of losing your beer money.

In this letter Cliff mentions six classic problems with the current government: corruption, media infringement, education policy, BEE, infighting (and owning BMWs) and finally, just in case the 4×4 crowd got lost with those big words, the renaming of streets and cities.

There are at least three problems with his letter: 1) the tone is accusatory, inflammatory and contains more rhetoric than evidence, 2) it is fraught with inaccuracy and hyperbole, and 3) the tirade is devoid of any positive suggestion of how things can be improved.

I, not unreasonably, believe that any discourse which is to be taken seriously needs to present an argument from a rational, balanced perspective, limit the use of loaded language and should be able to back up claims with good evidence, not mere anecdotes about nepotism. This, at least, provides a good starting point for further analysis.

Gareth, thanks for pointing out that the country needs clever people. If you think the Education Department was broken under the current government, could you please tell me when last it was fixed? Predicting the eventual end of the ANC government doesn’t make you a prophet, but betting on any imminent change is a sure way of losing your beer money.

If you had contact with anyone other than your indoctrinated fans and teenage singer wannabes, you might learn that they aren’t about to switch vote anytime soon. You might also learn about some successes of the BEE initiative (1, 2, 3, from a quick Google search). You might realise that, despite your own indifference, many people feel some degree of pain when they are forced to drive down Hendrik Verwoerd Drive. Do you even know why? And do you realise that you just made a comparison to the Nazi regime in what is meant to be a serious letter?

I guess it’s also easy to forget about service delivery, housing provision, the AIDS epidemic, and countless other pressing problems when you are earning a six figure salary and your audience tend to be the helpless middle-class. This is unfortunate, because it is typically this sector of society who have sufficient resources and political clout to steer wayward politicians in the right direction. It’s a pity that they are being misled by well-written rhetoric and are not taking up opportunities to inform themselves about important African issues beyond this tired culture of complaint.

I’m not generally a fan of entirely ignoring the negative and focusing only on the positive, but I shone with glee when I discovered that not everyone has been taken in by this jockey. And when it comes to speaking to the government face-to-face, Gareth seems to lose his steam. So to all those who rely on Cliff Notes for their daily dose of intellect – you are cheaters and would be better off reading some decent news, conducting some research for yourself, or if you’re lazy, just flip to another radio station and at least avoid further neuronal degeneration.

South Africans: you are smarter than this! You are more creative, and more critical, and more unique! If you consider yourself informed, then I implore you to think critically of the media you greedily ingest and let Cliff know where he can shove his microphone.

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  • mac

    Someone was bound to write up on this….fair call.

    I agree with Gareth that we’re facing a host of problems but as you so rightly said his letter is poor. I reckon he is pretty smart and so the tone and lack of reasoning in his letter are a pity. However, to bring attention to the issues he raises isn’t ridiculous, i just hope his readers have the common sense to look further than the writing and try to see their place in solving the problems.

  • Juliette

    Some thoughts: Cliff’s letter seems to me to be less of an attempt to ‘offer profound views on important issues’ and more of an attempt to assert his right to be angry and to convey the point that we need to expect high standards of our government and not get into the habit of expecting less just because we are so far from the ideal. I agree that Cliff’s criticism is desperately lacking in rational argument and evidence, nuance, or even originality. I think another problem with it is that it is just pointless to vent anger on such a public stage: though we may have a right to vent anger (within limits, of course) in private, it is not clear that the same is true in the public sphere, unless it is accompanied, as Jonathan suggests, with positive detailed and realistic suggestions for change.

  • Sadly, I suspect that Cliff wrote the precisely correct article for his target audience: middle class white folks. More specifically, intellectually-lazy middle class white folks who are content to snipe from the bleachers about the many failings of government without substantiation. I think there were many a nodding white head throughout South Africa when he wrote this (assuming he wrote this).

    Sadly, for Cliff to appeal to his market, he doesn’t HAVE to substantiate his rhetoric. Ironically, that paints him in the same colours as the spokespeople and whip at Shell House…

  • Juliette

    Well,this may be the case now, but I like Jonathan’s optimism in the last paragraph: we are capable of better. Keep writing Africa Scene! I like this quotation:
    “To acquire immunity to eloquence is of the utmost importance to the citizens of a democracy.”
    Bertrand Russell

  • amy

    With regards to the 3 problems you mentioned:

    1) He wrote a follow-up post apologizing for his tone (but not the content). I don’t know if he was pressured into writing that apology or if he truly meant it; nevertheless, it was made.

    2) The nitty gritty stuff aside, his main pointers are pretty spot on. Corruption, education, media etc are real problems. His failure to substantiate (properly) doesn’t mean the failings aren’t there. Could he have written a more balanced post? Certainly. But I don’t think he should be crucified for not doing so. We are all guilty of the confirmation bias. We write about things that suit our agenda and we leave out the rest. It is his blog after all. He’s not contractually obliged to write both sides of the story. Of course, being a public figure makes thing a bit more complicated. One might say he has a responsibility to be impartial. But we’re all humans and we all succumb to our emotions and we all make mistakes.

    3) Just because he doesn’t have a blue print of solutions to the country’s problems doesn’t strip him of his right to bring the problems to light. The open response letter by Justin said Gareth should have spoken about what “we” can do to bring about change instead of putting all the blame on government. Well, the thing is, he has been doing just that. He didn’t mention it in that particular letter, but he does talk about it on his breakfast show. Remarks on how we can make this country better. So I don’t think it’s fair to put labels on him based solely on that one letter.