Luckily for citizens here, one of politicians’ favourite, and most dangerous, games is not working for those who play it. Political smears are again in season, partly because an election is approaching. The current crop includes Mosiuoa Lekota’s claim that President Cyril Ramaphosa betrayed activists to the apartheid police, and whispers that Eskom is being unbundled because Ramaphosa and energy minister Jeff Radebe want to benefit their brother-in-law, Patrice Motsepe. (We don’t yet know whether claims that ANC spokespeople Pule Mabe and Zizi Kodwa abused women are political smears or the truth). These are not isolated incidents — smears are regularly used here to try to achieve political goals. Politicians are usually the targets, but not always: former national director of public prosecutions Bulelani Ngcuka was accused of being an apartheid spy, while senior SA Revenue Service (Sars) officials are still fending off allegations that they were running a “rogue unit”. Former public...

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