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A recipe for a new SA

Denis Beckett discusses his new site aimed at making a better world.

JOHANNESBURG – Mense, gut tells me it’s time I gave you a rollicking column completely free of anything that smacks of better world & so forth. And kop says: “ja, okay, next week.”

Right now I do a thing I’ve spent some time plucking up courage to do. This is to present to you my new website,, which is entirely about better world & so forth.

I get gloopy just saying that, aware that the Anonym Mob are reaching for the vitriol. But I focus on the rest of us, we who rather than rage at cruel fate for dumping us in Africa prefer to revel in what is beautiful and to fix what is not. Too bad the scorn-and-bile crowd hog the airtime, but that says that real people are quiet, not absent.  

It’s freeing up the real people that gives me faith in our tomorrows. That’s the nub of my site and it pursues a theme I’ve been punting, to mainly sceptical ears, since around the time the average Moneywebber was in nappies. The first time I was really roundly dumped on for it was in 1985, and that is a funny story.

The then new Weekly Mail had asked for a free ad in my then relatively established magazine Frontline. Shortly after, they ran a review of my first book on how to make SA politics seriously sound. The review was by a Marxist prof of economics, Colin Bundy, who kicked my book to shreds with hobnail boots.

That incidentally put me to an intriguing dilemma. I asked myself if I would (i) run so savage an assault on any colleague/competitor, and if so (ii) on one who had given me a welcome-to-the-world freebie ad? I concluded Yes, it was right. If you start getting into royal game, censoring your contributors to ensconce off-limit privileges, you’re on a highway to a very bad place. But I also wondered: would it be the same were I not a person who had given a single past-tense hand-out but a person providing continuing advertisement bookings? That answer, I never knew.

The funny bit is that while Bundy’s attack was rough all round (though surpassed later by Robert Kirby in the Financial Mail), his high point fingered my idiocy and imbecility for saying that one day Afrikaner farmers and African labourers would stand together in the same voting queues. I’m sure that many readers jeered with him in ’85. I’ve always wondered if any of them, come ’94, remembered and scratched their heads and blinked a bit.

I tell you that because I want you to have Bundy in mind when you look at my site. You will see stuff that looks as strange to you now as those queues looked to him in ’85. Be a tad cautious about shrieking Crazy! Naïve! Dwell a moment on previous times in your life where what first looked outlandish later became workaday.

Now comes the point where, if we were at a table and someone says “so what is this site of yours about, Denis?” and I say “oh, just about making a better world”, people start pushing their chairs back surreptitiously, fearing that insanity has become contagious. (One never knows, in this changing world.)

The case this site makes is that if you have a truly right political structure, you can forget all your worries about people. It doesn’t matter how educated they are, what gods they believe in, how much conflict is in their history; nothing. And the structure that is truly right is a structure that takes leaders out of the driving seat, for voters, people, you and me, to get in.

You know how all your life you have been hearing (and probably saying) “the ordinary black/ white/ Muslim / Catholic/ Someone is fine, but the fanatics/ priests/ ideologues/ mullahs/ someones will never let the ordinary people come into their own.” Well, what you have here is a structure that puts the ordinary people actually genuinely in charge. It puts them/us cast-iron solidly in charge. It puts us so firmly in charge that – breathe deep, clutch your credulity – from the moment that a society installs D2, Democracy Version Two, it is impossible for coups, civil wars, revolutions, major riots and most brands of corruption, to exist.

Now, while you’re thinking “how can he say that, is he alright in the head?” I sneak in a quick uppercut and say, like a Verimark ad, “but that’s not all.”

Among other things that this D2 will cause to happen is an inexorable march towards an equilibrium of social justice.

Nice big words in there. “Inexorable” means that this result is going to happen regardless. You could not change this result even if you had all the king’s horses and all the king’s men and all the tea in China stacked in the scale behind you. It has to happen, like water has to run out of a hole in the bucket.

 “Equilibrium” means that the Have-Mores will bid a reasonably cheerful farewell to a portion of their More, considering it a modest price for peace of mind, and the Have-Lesses will be okay with their Less, reckoning that the guys who work harder or work smarter are welcome to the Ferrari, and nothing’s wrong with Toyota.

You’ll meet both those words quite often on the site, plus another, rarer, ultra-word: “consentience”, the place at which society is at rest.

This you’ll find a truly lekker word, a delicious word in a society where “rest” is lost under a pattern of aeons of angst punctuated by months of euphoria.

How are these effects wrought? I told you; by putting you and me in control. Well, you, me and Mrs Mthethwa of the mealie-stand, by whom I mean the Super-Average Citizen. In D2 you get a new form of check and balance on power. In place of constitutional promises or entrenched clauses, you get Mrs Mthethwa.

That’s the big thing. That is what D2 is about. That is the next step up, to freer, stabler, fairer times. It comes from making ordinary voters the check-and-balance that matters, and knitting the structure so that the vying of our wills is the fulcrum of politics.

And what does that take? Decades of training? Kilometres of rule-books? No, a small adjustment to the law to permit any community – from the nation to your street-block – to make up its own powers. Oh, and the adjustment, if you wondered, will when its time comes be made with nil trauma, nil aggro, and negligible dissent

Okay, my head is alright, thank you for your concern. I know that your head sees wild pictures of chaos and expense. Go to, will you please. There’s a neat optical illusion there, demonstrating how pictures switch.

The site is coming on, through slightly snatched time; some lumpy bits are coming up for ironing, I ask for moderate patience. Mostly, I ask for another thing: discussion: Moneywebbers are bliksems vocal, here. Please do a bit of revving there too, build a buzz, a nucleus. That’s a real request. Yes, you’d be helping me out (and why should you?) but I’m saying you’ll be helping yourself, too, and I advise you to think twice before you pooh-pooh that.

I know this means free entry for the Anonypoison crowd. Even worse, I’m doing no censoring. What I will do is to shift the sewer stuff to its own slot, Webcretin Corner (my proud invention) so that real debaters don’t feel defiled. (Small secret flaw is I haven’t yet figured how to do the shifting, but I will).

This is for real, mense, I’m sick of the beloved country being let down by its operating system. I want better. This brand of better is on its way anyway, but I’m not waiting till 2085 for it to filter in via Turkmenistan. It ain’t that long before they shove me in the chimney, and my small ambition is that before they do, I want to know that my country is on its way to being a place you are uninterruptedly glad to be part of. If you share some of that, come and explore, will you? Khotso!

*Denis Beckett ran Frontline magazine in the 80s and the television documentary Beckett’s Trek in the 90s.


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