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More weasel words – “moderate”

15 September 2008

After commenting on the article on weasel words at the Mattress Police (see previous post) I was struck by another one — “moderate”.

It appeared in a Wikipedia article on Clemens Kapuuo, a Namibian politician who was assassinated 30 years ago. The Wikipedia article quoted another article in Time magazine, which described Kapuuo’s death thus:

in the black township of Katutura, outside the capital of Windhoek, Chief Clemens Kapuuo, 55, a popular moderate and leader of the multiracial Democratic Turnhalle Alliance, was assassinated by two gunmen who escaped without a trace.

What does it mean to describe a politician as “a popular moderate”?

It makes him sound wishy-washy, doesn’t stand for anything, changes his opinions depending on who he is talking to.

I thought Clemens Kapuuo’s memory deserved better than that, and as a result spent most of the day rewriting the Wikipedia article, almost from scratch. It’s not a full biography, but I hope it does give a better picture of the man than the colourless, meaningless epithet “moderate”.

I’m sureTime intended it to be a praising epithet rather than a damning one, but that says more about Time‘s attitude to Africa and African politics than it does about Kapuuo. Presumably by “moderate” they mean the opposite of “extremist”, but who then were the extremists in the ever-changing mix of Namibian politics?

A Wikipedia article also can’t give the full picture. Wikipedia doesn’t allow original research, and its guidelines stress that there should be a neutral point of view, and that means sticking to facts that have already been published.And, in the case of Kapuuo, many of the facts have not been published and some of them have been hidden.

Perhaps the mystery would be solved if one could find the truth of who killed him and why. Did his killers kill him because they thought he was a moderate, or because they thought he was an extremist, or for some other reason altogether? And if they thought he was an “extremist”, what did they think he was being extreme about?

For most of his political life he worked for one main goal: the end of South African rule in Namibia. He wanted the United Nations to take over the administration, and lead the country to independence. He, and his predecessor as Herero chief, Hosea Kutako, had been petitioning the United Nations for that since the 1940s, long before anyone else did so. No doubt  he was very disappointed when in 1973 the United Nations decided to recgnise a rival political party, Swapo, as the only legitimate representative of the Namibian people. But would that suddenly make him a “moderate”?

Perhaps only Time can tell.

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