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Thanks to Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africans have come to think of ourselves as the centre of the democratic universe. After the miracle birth of democracy twenty years ago, he was one of the architects who drafted a Constitution that has become the envy of the world. Continuing the theme of storytelling as antidotes to the intoxicating effect of power, one can tell two stories stemming from North Africa, hoping that Cyril Ramaphosa reads them, in preparation for his future, and long-awaited, accession to executive power.

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When Sanral Chief Financial Officer Inge Mulder reiterated the threat to e-toll refuseniks that they could be thrown into jail if they did not pay their e-toll by the end of April, my mind wandered back to two watershed moments in history. The first happened in 1895, the Jameson Fiasco. Historians imprecisely call it a ‘raid’, but since it ended before it began, but had massive ramifications, it is more fitting to call it a fiasco. Their mission, conspired between Cape Prime Minister Cecil John Rhodes, British Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain, the American mining engineer John Hays Hammond and Jameson, was supposed to reinforce the aggrieved locals (the uitlanders) who were supposed to have been under siege after having supposedly mobilised against the injustices of President Paul Kruger’s Zuid-Afrikaanse Boer Republic. The hapless raiders, under the command of Dr Leander Starr Jameson, were intercepted before they could reach Johannesburg. Unfortunately for the conspirators, the Joburg residents, including my great-grandfather, had about as much enthusiasm for joining an armed insurrection than they had for paying tolls. It was a spectacular flop. The ringleaders were arrested and thrown into jail (including Frank Rhodes, the brother to the Cecil John, as well as the hapless Hammond). Add a comment

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When officials are “cowardly”, they open the space for civilians to rise to the occasion and take more courageous action. It’s not a solution, but there are moments when we see the benefits of the courage of citizens. At a recent post-Nkandla Report public meeting at Wits University, Public Protector Advocate Thuli Madonsela was asked in question time what advice she had for her successor. “Be a coward.. like me,” she said disarmingly. “Cowardly” is not how anyone, even her enemies, would have assessed her character. She explained that all she had done was to perform the job mandated by the Constitution, to remain within her legislated powers, and take care to only make findings that could reasonably be substantiated from available evidence on a balance of probabilities.

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Not a bad start to the year, two front page stories in two different papers, in two days on two different issues - quoting me.

Opening the gates of happiness for the New Year. 

In one of those interesting TED talks Nic Marks, the brains behind the pioneering research into the Happy Planet Index, boils down the essential ingredients for happiness to five simple statements.

Connect; Be Active; Take Notice; Keep Learning; Give. 

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Until South Africa heeds the lessons from e-tolling nightmares in Gauteng and beyond, it will be condemned to repeat them

The Gauteng e-tolling saga has become a disaster of titanic proportions for Sanral CEO Nazir Alli.

A century after the sinking of the supposedly unsinkable Titanic, Alli has, with the e-tolling system, steered us into unsafe waters at high speed with overweening faith in technology.

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About John GI Clarke

John Clarke hopes to write the wrongs of the world, informed by his experience as a social worker and theologian, to actualise fundamental human rights and satisfy fundamental human needs.  He has lived in the urbanised concentration of Johannesburg, but has worked mainly in the rural reaches of the Wild Coast for the past decade.  From having paid a fortune in toll fees he believes he has earned the right to be critical of Sanral and other extractive institutions, and has not held back while supporting Sustaining the Wild Coast (www.swc.org.za), the Southern African Faith Communities Environment Institute (www.safcei.org.za) and the Opposition to Urban Tolling Alliance (www.outa.co.za), in various ways.

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