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Sense of humanity: If you’re not angered by the callousness of the DA, nothing will anger you


Ismail Lagardien is a writer, columnist and political economist with extensive exposure and experience in global political economic affairs. He was educated at the London School of Economics, and holds a PhD in International Political Economy.

It may be difficult to measure dignity, but take a drive past a family that has just been evicted from their home, standing by the side of the road with all their worldly possessions and nowhere to go, and you will know what being stripped of dignity looks like.

I came to learn a long time ago, in my early days as a reporter and photojournalist, not to get angry, or choose sides. But, I chose sides, hell yeah; the 1980s taught me the difference between pretences of objectivity, and intellectual honesty. It was okay for some press photographers to be friendly with the SADF, but it was in my township that they were beating, detaining and killing people. As it goes, the more I learnt, the better I felt about taking a side. Today, I can say, without fear or any sense of dishonesty, that I will not give a holocaust denier, an apartheid denier, or a defender of slavery, a homophobe or misogynist “the same” airtime as anyone else. I don’t believe it has done any harm to my credibility as a columnist, and an essayist – the craft(s) I am working on these days. I can write something critical about the ANC, EFF, DA, McKinsey or Andile Lungisa, without being offensive, I mean really offensive, and getting my arguments or comments right for the most part. 

Anger, I was taught (more seriously when I took a break from journalism in 1995 or so) in academia, was not a reliable basis for argument. It was not “rigorous”; it was not “rational”, and it was “too emotional”…. The most obnoxious types would insist that anger could not be quantified or modelled, and it was, therefore, not reliable. (Expletive withheld.)

This week, I am expressing rage and anger, never mind the “rigours” and “rationality” that are required, and the expectation that you “distance yourself” from your subject. The cause of this anger is the Democratic Alliance’s reported suggestion for the “urgent lifting of Alert Level 1 lockdown regulations that make it close to impossible for property owners to obtain eviction orders”. That is just offensive, insensitive, cruel and indignifying – and, yes, I am angry.

There is a place for anger

We are at the start of what may be one of the worst winters in decades. There is a deadly virus sweeping across the country, there is every possibility that we’re in for a bitter winter – especially in the Western Cape – and there is a critical shortage of housing, and a swelling of homelessness in the country. Under these threatening conditions, the DA wants to make it possible for people – most of whom have been affected by the almost complete stall of economic activity, and soaring unemployment – to be evicted. That’s just bang out of order. It ignores the very basis of the provision of public goods that includes the restoration, and respect for human dignity. Sure, it’s difficult to measure dignity, but take a drive past a family that has just been evicted from their home, standing by the side of the road with all their worldly possessions and nowhere to go (it happened to so many of us during the previous order) and you will understanding what it is like to be stripped of dignity. Never mind that it cannot be quantified or modelled, evictions are acts of violence that produce emotional responses like shame and anger, and are about things that have real impact on human flourishing and social suffering. These are emotions that are shaped and distorted by historical patterns of power and powerlessness in class, gender or ethnicity. If you’re not angered by this, you’re either dead inside, or you’re a liberal economist who can think only in terms of cost and benefit. There, I said it. I said it because I am angry. 

Anger has a place in moral life; who has not been angered by corruption, violence, abuse, lapses in ethics and maladministration? Let me bore you a little further, dear reader, and emphasise, again, that anger cannot be quantified or modelled, but complex and invisible to the senses as it may be, it can, and quite often does lead to social (personal and public) disruptions. In other words anger is felt, and then acted out…. 

There is a place for empathy

A couple of years ago, someone told me that I had a tendency to “overempathise”. There may be some truth in that, but I refuse to be deterred. The DA’s position may make some sense in a liberal capitalist world in which everyone has equal access to justice and a range of tangible and intangible resources. It may make sense in a liberal capitalist utopia based on free markets (I dare anyone to provide me long-run evidence where there actually have been markets that have been completely free of any government intervention – Somalia in the early 1990s does not count). We don’t live in these utopias. We live in a society that is fundamentally iniquitous – this refers to equality, equity, trauma, and structural violence, all of which are intergenerational. We live in a society, forgetting even for a moment the deadly virus, that cries out for efforts to shore up and secure common resources, and for national public efforts towards the common good. Now is not the time to reproduce the intergenerational iniquities. 

If Karl Marx got anything right it would be that we look at the structural relations (in this case) between landlord and tenant. The agreement document between landlord and tenant is presented as a dehumanised, legal contract, and we know that legal contracts are binding. But we are living in unusual times. Tenants, landlords, bondholders and banks may want to consider entering into an agreement to defer rental or bond payments for, say, six months – as a public good, or contribution to the common good – until we get through the pandemic. 

Here’s a question for the DA – since they don’t see race. Would they insist that even white tenants have to be evicted, if they are unable to pay their bond or rent? The DA will have to answer that question. What is clear, is that the DA lacks any sense of the common good, of the long view – a view that ought to shape policies made today, that will affect communities and society in the future – and a basic empathy. 

The DA has never shared or signed up to the core values that are required for an open society: freedom, equality and justice, solidarity, contending perspectives, and core values in practice. 

There is a place for humanising of human society

I want to turn to one of my favourite politicians of the 20th century, Willy Brandt, who said, in 1955, “Our place is and remains clearly on the side of freedom and social progress, of the struggle for social security and the humanising of human society.”

The thing that stands out about the DA, having looked at them in some detail over the past decade, would have to be that they have remained tied to liberal capitalist orthodoxy – that set of beliefs that have been shown, for the best part of the past four decades, to be increasingly unable to provide answers for the most pressing questions in society. If the last global crisis (that started as a housing crisis in the US, then swept the world), has not brought that message home to the DA, then there really is no depth and intellectual courage in the party. They’re like those Marxists who imagine that we continue, in the early 21st century, to be trapped in northern England, amid William Blake’s Satanic Mills…. 

The DA has to come to terms with the fact that the only true and sustainable prosperity is shared prosperity, and as one of my former bosses, Joseph Stiglitz, has said, politicians must fight for that by assuring citizens that public support programmes will continue as long as needed. I make the claim that people who rent homes, or who have bonds to pay, need public support as long as needed. 

Expecting people to be thrown out of their homes at the start of winter during a deadly pandemic shows a lack of humanity, decency and empathy. If you’re not angered by that, I don’t know what will anger you. DM


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All Comments 35

  • “Here’s a question for the DA – since they don’t see race. Would they insist that even white tenants have to be evicted, if they are unable to pay their bond or rent?” What exactly makes you think the DA would base eviction on race? Any proof for any of your statements? Complete codswallop…

    • Typical Lagardien, he’s a race-baiter of note. I wonder how many homeless people he has invited to come and stay with him rent-free ? Landlords also have rights, they also have costs. Charity, whilst laudable, is not always affordable.

  • By singling out landlords and the DA without acknowledging the myriad social and legal contracts that make living in a functioning society possibly, to my mind demonstrates a fair degree of dissociation.

  • If you have no evictions then the private sector will not invest in rental properties and banks will stop financing property. Evictions cannot be avoided.

  • We’re faced with 2 wrongs here. Evicting someone during a pandemic is wrong. Expecting a bond holder to pay the bond on a property that they are dependant on rental income to fund is also wrong. Rates, water & electricity fees increase that burden. Both sides need help. A tragedy for all involved.

    • Ismail had a good point, but Lawrence your comment is basically correct. Very sad indeed. But why has this in recent years became such a major problem? It is not just the pandemic, but a poor economy, high levels of corruption, unemployment levels, with the governing mainly responsible.

      • You put your finger on the issue, “why has this in recent years became such a major problem?” Evictions are a consequence of something before it becomes a driver of something else.

    • Evictions mark 1/ Economy is sub-par. 2/ Overpopulation. Economy is sub-par. – I saw a world map of population growth. The entire world has between low population decrease and low population growth. EXCEPT Africa, which has very high population growth. What do you think will happen? Starvation!

  • Yeah, I suppose walking ankle deep in sewerage is better for your humanity.
    What the DA are doing is not great and I am sure they would like not to have to do it.
    There is also no explanation how the costs of keeping people in housing should be funded?

  • “Let me bore you a little further, dear reader,” – good job because you did. There was no new info, insights or solutions. You should be angry about evictions in a pandemic but to make a difference you need to help move toward the solution instead of scoring cheap political points and race-baiting.

  • I wonder what tune you’d be singing to if you had land invaders on your property? I guess the trains blocked by invaders should be parked?

    This is a stupid article

  • the DA must surely run out of feet to put in their large mouths! talk about ‘own goals’ and just before local elections!

  • Just think. If Zuma and the ANC hadn’t robbed the country blind, there would plenty of proper houses built AND this would have led to thousands of jobs to build them. What is worse???

    • James! You hit the nail right on the head. This is spot-on. It is not anyone else that should be blamed for this situation, but the anc, who allowed jz to rob SA blind and into bankruptcy. The DA tried stopping the continued robbery on a number of occasions, just to be outvoted by cr and his ilk.

  • Maybe some of these critics should visit other provinces and see whats happening under the ANC, that is if you can get there through all the potholes and sewerage. This kind of thing is always tragic but at some point the law must prevail or anarchy will follow. I wonder why all these liberal whiners havent moved to another provence if its so bad in the WC. Also the elephant in the room is why and where are all these people from? Oh yes the Eastern Cape, running away from ANC corruption and incompetence we dont want to talk about that do we!

  • So I have a flat I rent out. Tenant still has job, but has simply decided not to pay rent. I have a bond to service. I need the income to live.
    So I must simply suck it up and try and survive while he couldn’t care less?

  • These evictions are directly attributable in large part to the ANC’s monumental failures / sabotage re policy certainty, cultivating a prosperous country, and meeting its governance mandates. Thus, it’s smugly dishonest to accuse the DA of callousness without any mention of this obvious connection.

  • The DA has taken a step to the right to shore up its losses to the FF+. Whether this costs them dearly, as many predict, only time will tell. Recent by-election results, however, should give them pause.

  • Whilst we remain under lockdown and a “National State of Disaster”, our country is being torn to shreds, and our rights and freedoms stripped by NCCC with very little or no parliamentary oversight. So Ismail, I’m guessing you don’t have a bonded investment property? Free rent for your tenant?

  • I wonder where the ANC lies on the empathy scale – while they loot, mismanage and rob the country blind thus destroying the economy, leading to this very kind of thing as more and more people struggle financially?

    • Maybe you should read the various and numerous articles by the author in which he is critical of the ANC also. At least there is a semblance of objectivity and not total one-sidedness. A rare occurrence these days in which demonisation of the other has become so common.

  • Evicting a tenant is a complex and difficult process regardless of COVID, race and or lease agreement. The procedure is provided for in the Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Property Act (“PIE Act”).

  • The problem has nothing to do with the DA and everything to do with the party that they oppose. Too many untruths here to respond to. What a bitter, twisted little writer.

  • Viva DA! If Ismail Lagardien is anti-DA, then I am for them! (I am surprised that DM publishes such #$%^. DM reading in, where are the pro-DA articles? Bias mmmm?

    • Unfortunately for you and fortunately for the DM reader … it is not a propaganda machine for any political party! Keep it that way.

      • Yes but it would be appreciated if DM is more even handed in its articles when dealing with the DA. Criticise when appropriate but praise when appropriate. We get plenty of the former but little or none of the latter.

  • This is how I feel when I see how elected ANC officials continue to protect those involved in corruption…”… I am expressing rage and anger, never mind the “rigours” and “rationality” that are required, and the expectation that you “distance yourself” from your subject.”

  • When I was younger, being liberal was something to aspire to. When did it become a term of opprobrium?

    “you’re a liberal economist who can think only in terms of cost and benefit.” The word “liberal” does not belong there.

    The last global crisis was not “liberal”. It was unbridled US capitalism.

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