Pascal Pensées
We know the truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart.
Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.

The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.

All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.

Il n’est pas certain que tout soit incertain.
(Translation: It is not certain that everything is uncertain.)

Let each of us examine his thoughts; he will find them wholly concerned with the past or the future. We almost never think of the present, and if we do think of it, it is only to see what light is throws on our plans for the future. The present is never our end. The past and the present are our means, the future alone our end. Thus we never actually live, but hope to live, and since we are always planning how to be happy, it is inevitable that we should never be so.

 Le coeur a ses raisons que le raison ne connaît point.

When I consider the brief span of my life absorbed into the eternity which precedes and will succeed it—memoria hospitis unius diei praetereuntis (remembrance of a guest who tarried but a day)—the small space I occupy and which I see swallowed up in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I know nothing and which know nothing of me, I take fright and am amazed to see myself here rather than there: there is no reason for me to be here rather than there, now rather than then. Who put me here? By whose command and act were this place and time allotted to me?

Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things which are beyond it.

What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe.

If they [Plato and Aristotle] wrote about politics it was as if to lay down rules for a madhouse. And if they pretended to treat it as something really important it was because they knew that the madmen they were talking to believed themselves to be kings and emperors. They humored these beliefs in order to calm down their madness with as little harm as possible.

Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.

What must I do? I see nothing but obscurities on every side.’
‘Shall I believe I am nothing? Shall I believe I am God?

All that is made perfect by progress perishes also by progress.

What then is to become of man? Will he be the equal of god or the beasts? What a terrifying distance! What then shall he be? Who cannot see from all this that man is lost, that he has fallen from his place, that he anxiously seeks it, and cannot find it again? And who then is to direct him there? The greatest men have failed.

reason can be bent in any direction.

If we do not know ourselves to be full of pride, ambition, lust, weakness, misery, and injustice, we are indeed blind. And if, knowing this, we do not desire deliverance, what can we say of a man…?

Imagine a number of men in chains, all under sentence of death, some of whom are each day butchered in the sight of others those remaining see their own condition in that of their fellows, and looking at each other with grief and despair await their turn. This is an image of the human condition.


Trump’s evangelicals

“According to a new Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) poll, 75 percent of white evangelicals said they held a favorable view of the president.”

– CHARLIE MAY, Salon, APRIL 19, 2018. White evangelicals: Donald Trump is still our man!

If ever there was a way to emphasize my disillusionment with evangelical Christianity it is the uncritical, fawning support evangelicals give to US President and serial liar, Donald Trump.

It is beyond belief: only a silence of disgust and disavowal can express my indignation toward those who profess Christ as their saviour – and continue to support this disgusting individual.

It reminds me of the way some sycophantic (‘respected’) evangelical pastors gave their wholehearted support to Apartheid – and to it’s corrupt leaders like Magnus Malan, and in the post-apartheid dispensation ingratiated themselves to the likes of Jacob Zuma.

God deliver us from such a morally bankrupt Christianity.


Trump’s Dehumanizing Language Is An Assault Against Our Christian Foundation

RHEMA BIBLE CHURCH: apathy acknowledged:

While largely influenced by the faith message of American preacher, Kenneth Hagin, McCauley
– a born-again Christian preacher – having initially emphasized the prosperity gospel of material
wellbeing, became sensitized to the socio-political realities of South Africa in the late eighties.
This exposure drastically changed the perspective of the movement on prophetic theology and the political dimension of the Gospel. Pastor McCauley’s intervention in the socio-political arena began after he experienced a turning point at the aforementioned Rustenburg
Conference. During this event, a large number of church leaders from various denominations
acknowledged that Apartheid was a sinful process, they confessed their guilt in relation to it, and pledged themselves to the struggle for justice and equity. Pastor McCauley acknowledged that he had been apathetic to the political situation in South Africa and only then began to
take an active role in shaping change in South Africa. As Anderson accounts:
Ray McCauley, representing the IFCC, confessed the shortcomings of white Charismatics who ‘hid behind their so-called spirituality while closing their eyes to the dark events of  the apartheid years. (Anderson 2005:73) [I really love this: like the Calvinists of the Dutch Reform Church, the theologians and ministers of the Charismatic movement misled the church then said a perfunctory “sorry” – throwing off their guilt like a mere inconvenience, while leaving a trail of spiritual chaos!]
He thus embarked on political interventions which included working with Dr Johan Heyns of the
Dutch Reformed Church and the Rev. Frank Chikane of the South African Council of Churches.
In addition, Pastor McCauley participated in the steering committee for the formation of the
National Peace Accord, an advocacy initiative working towards peace through negotiation. The newfound political engagement by the Rhema Movement called for the clarification of their views on issues such as: abortion, pornography, freedom of expression, gay rights,
interfaith dialogue, Christian political involvement and social transformation. These issues
were addressed through a publication called Power and Passion: Fulfilling God’s Destiny for
the Nation. The position of the Rhema Movement, amounted to a support structure for the
new government and the active promotion of democracy. While Balcomb amongst others
conclude that McCauley represented a category of pragmatists that simply responded to the
changing political landscape of South Africa, there was in fact a profound theological shift
taking place within the Rhema Movement, bringing about an acute moral awareness of the
socio-political and economic realities facing the nation. This has resulted in Rhema’s view
today which proposes that these realities, more so than any historic event, will shape the future of South Africa. strategic changes in the activitie


Making sense of South Africa can be like trying to understand a person with dissociative identity disorder: the contradictions are bewildering. I find it useful – before drawing too-hasty conclusions – to juxtapose opposite interpretations of events, to allow the collision of narratives and then to pick through the wreckage. (This is incidentally somewhat like the methodology of the Ancient Greek Pyrrhonists).

I read Rian Malan’s articles mentioned here, and then the article by Nicky Falkof, Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at University of the Witwatersrand. I have included a brief quote from each article to set the tone, but encourage you to click the link and read both of Rian Malan’s pieces before reading Nicky Falkof’s in full. To set these articles in tension with eachother is a little like having the patient on the psychoanalyst’s couch. And South Africa is a very sick patient indeed.

RIAN MALAN | 15/05/2017:

“So yes, I am paranoid. Most mornings, I wake up feeling like a Jew trapped in Nazi Germany circa 1938, trying to convince myself that most Germans are nice people and that the extremists can’t possibly mean what they say.”


RIAN MALAN | 25/02/2018:

“In recent years, living in South Africa has been a bit like having cancer. The malaise eating us from within…”

NICKY FALKOF  | 11/05/2017:

“Coligny story sparks fear lurking in my lizard brain – ‘they’ are out to get ‘us’.”

“Rian Malan’s article on the unrest in Coligny in the wake of the suspicious death of a teenage boy punched me in the gut. I had read the article shortly before going to bed – yes, the routine of masochists – and for a few minutes I was awash with terror. There was going to be a race war. The violence was going to land on my doorstep.

I felt, pre-emptively, like a victim.


This experience may not be surprising for some. Many white people feel like this all the time, and many black people are accustomed to living with the consequences of white fear. But it’s not usual for me. First, because, as a white person who does not live in an exclusively white world, I know enough to be appalled by Malan’s inclusion of quote by a Bangaladeshi trader whose shop was burned down, that “a black person has no heart”. Second, because I am an academic who specialises in analysing the politics of race and fear in the media. This sort of thing is my bread and butter.

Yet Malan’s article worked on me. It poked the long dormant slumbering troll of racial paranoia, the idea that “they” are out to get “us”, an idea that many white South Africans of my generation ingested along with our morning Weetbix, and that still lurks deep in the back of my lizard brain no matter how hard I try to slay it with the twin swords of reason and empathy. This is true, by the way, of even the so-called white educated metropolitan elite. It’s just that some of us know it and try to work on it, while others waft about insisting they’re colourblind and their domestic is a member of the family.

Let me be clear from the outset: I have no idea what happened in Coligny. This is not an article about the horrible and unnecessary death of a 16-year-old called Matlhomola Moshoeu (whose name, by the way, only appears halfway down Malan’s piece). Rather, it is an article about coverage of that death: about bias, ideology and the way in which the media can use fear to stoke racial tension – ironically, the very thing Malan accuses politicians of doing in Coligny.

I also have no idea whether the two accused are murderers or whether Matlhomola’s death was a tragic accident. I do know, however, that – as Sisonke Msimang pointed out on Twitter – Malan’s claim that the accused “are said by their supporters to be decent young men, raised in Christian homes, responsible and well-mannered” is ragingly irrelevant. It would be shooting fish in a barrel to find examples of decent, polite, Christian murderers. If Christianity was an automatic counter to violence then apartheid would never happened. Nor, come to think of it, would colonial genocide.

As we teach our students in media studies, the language and images used in a text are crucial to understanding whether and how a certain worldview is transmitted. In this article white people are “terrified”, “polite’ and “brave”. They believe in God and “put their faith in the essentially good nature of their black neighbours”. Much of Malan’s information about the initial unrest comes from “cellphone videos shot by apprehensive whites”. Once the violence begins nearby Afrikaners come armed and ready to “save their brethren”. Photographs show white people loading food on bakkies to support struggling neighbours. There is no sense of the intense irony here, of white people providing food to white neighbours while black children are so hungry that they risk the wrath of the local landowner, his enforcers and the police to steal sunflowers.

Black people, meanwhile, are “mutinous” and “militants”. They “harbour deep resentment” but are “oddly friendly considering [his] white skin”. Is it really so odd to have a black child be friendly? This happens to me all the time. They break windows and kick doors, they loot, they create “anarchy”. More than this, they are individually voiceless. Those interviewed include white residents who are mentioned by name as well as Bangladeshi and Indian residents who are spoken about as individuals. When black residents’ voices are heard, they are groups of schoolchildren who chant slogans. Where is the family of the dead boy? Where are the individual, named, humanised black residents of Coligny whose lives may also be affected by this disaster?

Perhaps most telling is the way Malan characterises the different forms of violence on display in this small town. The article’s description of the practices of the two accused is astonishingly mild and does not account for the intense fear a child must have felt in that situation. The suggestion is clear: these men are morally innocent, even though there seems to be no doubt that they were somehow involved in the circumstances that led to Matlhomola’s death. A white farmer attacks a black journalist who was not responsible for burning down his house; he is sympathetically described as “unhinged” by the loss of property. The race of the journalist is not stated, unlike every single white victim of violence mentioned in the piece. Meanwhile, black protesters attack white people who were not responsible for Matlhomola’s death and are not-so-subtly suggested to be savages.

Before the gnomes of the internet emerge to crucify me for reverse racism, let me be clear: I am not suggesting that white residents of Coligny did not experience horrible and unnecessary violence over the past few days, or that white people’s suffering and loss are not important. What I am suggesting is that Malan’s characterisation of what went on in the town replicates a longstanding apartheid trope of differentiating between illegitimate violence performed by blacks and legitimate violence performed by whites, either in reaction to or to pre-empt black violence. What else was Vlakplaas but a blood-soaked claim to the moral justification of certain types of state-sanctioned violence? Since you ask, I am in the camp that believes that violence in general should be avoided.

Similarly, in this article black and white poverty are equated, as though the situation of those who live in town and struggle to sell their dilapidated houses is the same as the situation of those who live in shacks without running water. Malan admits that the “position of blacks is even more desperate” than that of the town’s “racial minorities” – a linguistic backflip that deserves its own analysis – but his tone suggests that all residents of Coligny, whether town or township, are in the same boat. And this just isn’t true. Ask anyone who’s tried to make a home for their family in something made of corrugated iron and cardboard.

Malan’s argument that the local ANC is inflaming anti-white sentiment for its own political gain may well be true. It is not at all unlikely that the citizens of Coligny are disposable collateral damage in larger national currents – although one should then acknowledge that the same applies to AfriForum sending in private security. His points about the disaster visited on the foreign traders whose shops were burned and looted are heartwrenching and deeply disturbing, and I agree that these people need to be a much larger part of the story. I don’t doubt the veracity of his conclusions. What bothers me is the way in which he draws them.

In my department we try to teach our students to be thoughtful, critical consumers of the media, to understand that most news necessarily contains some sort of bias, and to engage their thinking selves rather than being swept away in the hyperboles that some segments of the press indulge in. But here I failed my own test. This skilful and beautifully written article, which characterises white and black poverty as equivalent, and which draws on old ideas about rampant black savagery and new ideas about innocent white victimhood, really worked its nasty magic on me. For a moment I felt terrified, afraid for my safety in my nice house behind my nice walls. This is how the politics of fear operates: it polarises, it isolates and it adds to the confusion and anxiety that lead to divided and violent societies. Journalists, especially highly skilled, award-winning journalists, should know better.

Professor Nicky Falkof is associate professor and head of department at Wits media studies. She tweets (infrequently) as @barbrastrident