South Africans must ask the hard question, the truth is not always what it seems to be

ANC deputy secretary-general,Jessie Duarte Photo: Phill Magakoe

Today we know that the second war in Iraq was based completely on a lie. Some estimates are that by 2011, eight years after the Bush and Blair led invasion took place into the country, an estimated half-a-million people had been killed with a quarter of these being civilian deaths. These people died because the invasion was based and justified on the premise that the government of Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. These weapons of mass destruction were never found.

Colin Powell, the United States secretary of state at the time, was not initially convinced that a war in Iraq was justified. The securocrats such as the vice-president at the time, Dick Cheney, who also happened to be the secretary of defence in the Bush Senior administration when the first war took place and as a result had unfinished business in Iraq, as well as the then secretary of defence, Donald Rumsfeld, simply had to convince Powell that Hussein had the weapons.

When Powell was eventually convinced, based on the infamous dossier, he later presented the same case to the United Nations Security Council and the world. All the US and UK administrations were hoping that Powell should do, was to, in the least, create the perception that the Hussein administration had the WMD. 

Whether Saddam Hussein had the WMD, or not, was immaterial to these war hawks. What they tasked the top diplomat to do was to create the perception to the world that the WMD existed and that they would be used. The war was thus justified, and continues to be justified, based purely on perception.

The second war in Iraq, unlike the first which was based on the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, is one of the most devastating and explicit examples of the role that perception has come to play within contemporary society. In today’s world, perception is even the basis for rhetoric whereas before rhetoric, as a science and art, was based on facts and persuasion. Herein lies of course the trap of what we have come to know as ‘fake news’; a concocted perception must be created. 

A large part of the role that perception has come to play in today’s society is not only based on our politics, as we saw in the second war in Iraq, but also largely due to the economic system that we have come to embrace in the last two decades. We would have thought that given the financial crash in 2008/2009 that traditional economists would have changed the financial system but this seems not to be the case.

A large part of market economics and thus financialisaton is based on perception. This perception in turn, sometimes devastatingly maybe other times constructively, leads to speculation. The supply and demand of stocks are therefore determined by the perception that brokers and investors have of the company and this leads to speculation. Speculation and perception therefore working hand in glove are neither true or false. Both are figments of the imagination.

As some have written before, whether the Rand falls or appreciates before or after a cabinet reshuffle, for example, is pure speculation. This speculation is often based on the perception that is created and this then influences the performance of the market, in this case the market of currency trade.

Therefore, if the perception is created that President Trump is anti-corporate tax then the investment in corporates in the US will increase because more profits will be gained because of less tax. Whether President Trump actually cuts tax is not important, all he need do is create the impression, the perception, that he will cut tax because he wants investments today as investors know they can only reap their profits tomorrow. This may be an oversimplification of financialisaton but key is the role that perception and speculation plays and the destructive roles they play, as seen in the economic global crisis, in economies.

All of us know that it is dangerous to suggest that Cape Town will have no water in five years’ time. It is dangerous because for example tourists would not want to come to visit a city where they get less water than when they are at home. Businesses would not want to open shop in a city where they will not be able to access something as basic as water. Therefore, all of us, no matter what party affiliation, realize the affect that no water will have on people’s perception of Cape Town.

Researchers have been very critical of an international survey on corruption ratings done by Transparency International. They have been critical of the survey based simply because the information sort to determine the outcomes of the survey are based simply on the perception of people in that country. In other words, there is hardly any reliable data or, put simply, hard facts to back up the suggestion that the country is as corrupt as the citizens of that country suggests their government to be. The criticisms has led the survey to now include the word “perception” in its title.

For example, it is quite possible that the media in the United States, who are currently under attack by the Trump administration, may declare their president to be corrupt. In turn, a large part of the US population, relying on the mainstream media, will start to believe that their president is corrupt. Yet this is not based on tested evidence that the president is corrupt. It is based rather purely on a perception created that Trump is corrupt.

Recently, the World Economic Forum warned that South Africa was dropping in its competitiveness based on the fact that the perception of high corruption in the country existed. It ranked South Africa 61 out of 137 in its Competitiveness Index but the WEF went on to mention the general state of the economy as also reasons for this state of competitiveness. Yet the WEF does not explain the link it wishes to make between corruption and competitiveness but our media was only too willing to carry the corruption headline.

On the contrary, academics led by Jia Shao in an article called, Quantitative relations between corruption and economic factors, indicate that there exists no relation between the measurement of corruption and wealth creation. Brian Levy in his work, Working with the Grain, confirms something similar in his examination of the developmental situation in Bangladesh and its state of corruption. Less corruption, these academics suggest, does not necessarily mean low economic development.

As we saw with the second war in Iraq, ill-informed perceptions can cause havoc and destruction in a country. While we must condemn corruption, in all its forms and anywhere that it takes place even in civil society and the private sector, we must not create the perception that South Africa is paralysed by our state of corruption. Our economy is not at a standstill because of corruption. 

We can only fight dishonest perceptions with the truth and the truth can only emerge from hard researched investigations. 

Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC