Jonny Steinberg writes a fortnightly column, called "Free Agent", in the Sunday Times. He previously wrote a column in Business Day. Both newspapers are based in Johannesburg.

In November 2007, Jonathan Ball Publishers published Notes From A Fractured Country, a selection of the Business Day columns.

Sunday Times

  • Better off than before, but still in last place, 24 February 2013

"Two sets of facts about South Africa do not sit comfortably together. The first is that we are a society in a state of agitation. Striking farm labourers set buildings alight, demanding higher wages; people take to the streets each week with stones and burning tyres to protest against poor services; tens of thousands of enraged platinum miners bring an industry to a halt. Everywhere discontent simmers; periodically, it explodes. ..."

  • Ramphele's sharpness may yet be her undoing, 10 February 2013

"In the early summer of 1994 I was lucky enough to have an interview for a Rhodes Scholarship. Young, nervous and desperately aware of the stakes, I walked into a room of sombre-looking men and women. About 10 minutes into the interview, a middle-aged man was halfway through asking me a question when the chairwoman of the selectors, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, interrupted him. I don’t remember her precise words, but I recall that she humiliated him, saying something to the effect that time was too tight for lame questions. He did not speak again: he spent the rest of the interview head down, doodling on a piece of paper. ..."

  • Let's build the ladders we are groping for, 27 January 2013

In my previous column on these pages, “When a McJob is worse than no job at all” (January 13), I suggested that we may have to revise the notion that our greatest crisis is unemployment. Much of the social unrest of the past year — in the platinum mines and on the wine farms — was driven by the rage of working people. It was not unemployment that angered them, I said, but the jobs they had. ..."

  • When a McJob is worse than no work at all: Despite the unemployment crisis, young people are not prepared to give up their dreams of a better life, 13 January 2013
  • Might Verwoerd have changed the course of SA? New book suggests he was the only Afrikaner leader with enough imagination to have ended apartheid, 16 December 2012
  • If only Thabo Mbeki had been wise and brave: The seeds of every rotten thing happening now were planted by him at the start of his presidency, 2 December 2012
  • Past ANC presidents turning in their graves: With his suggestion that Africans should shun other cultures, Jacob Zuma reached new heights of foolishness, 18 November 2012
  • Men on The Mountain and a downhill slide for the ANC: With echoes of a 1960 uprising, Marikana may have been the blow that breaks the party's grip on its heartland, 4 November 2012
  • Use of live bullets at Marikana raises questions: Until recently, the police met violent protests with minimum force. So who gave the new orders? 21 October 2012
  • Changes in crime rates do not answer deep questions: But they may simply reflect how clearly we are thinking about how we as a country got here in the past 18 years at least, 7 October 2012
  • Crisis in police: Rot set in when ANC installed its own man as commissioner and disbanded units so it could take control of SAPS, 23 September 2012
  • When the watchers from the shadows pounce on the rabbits: The poor study the rich to find ways of earning a few cents by serving them - but this scrutiny is not done with a light heart, 9 September 2012
  • Marikana blood has stained ANC and Cosatu as stooges: What is happening here is not the end of order, but a very painful recalibration of its cogs and its joints, 26 August 2012
  • The bitter bargains of Charlotte Maxeke, pioneer: She masked her thoughts and mouthed the prejudices of her oppressors to win white concessions for her people, 12 August 2012
  • ANC's soul erodes as it smothers popular dissent: Party contains discontent, but price is steep and will be steeper if crack in labour widens, 29 July 2012
  • Unruly ruling party is a victim of its own success: A whole society fights it out within the confines of the ANC with dangerous consequences for itself and SA society, 15 July 2012
  • Out of the blue and forever out of the loop: The latest 'guest' to head up the police will be treated politely and kept in the dark until the day she leaves, 1 July 2012
  • We'll reap whirlwind from discordant discourse we're sowing: Politicians will live to regret whipping up pretend insurgencies as a way of masking their own problems, 17 June 2012
  • Complicated sex lives underpin rage at Spear: Debacle deepens Zuma's younger supporters' sense of being under attack, 3 June 2012
  • Somalian bush telegraph has finger on SA's pulse: In East Africa they say black South Africans, oppressed for so long, are like children suddenly given the run of the house, 20 May 2012
  • ANC has turned cops into monster it once feared: The police may be poised to become the valve that releases this country's excrement into the political process, 6 May 2012
  • Feudal force fields contrast with stark power lines: Which feels worse: the harried power of wealthy South Africans, or rich Ethiopians' cheery blindness to poverty? 22 April 2012
  • A month of infamy makes us cry for our ordinary country: The xenophobic attacks of May 2008 had a special impact on paler minorities, 8 April 2012
  • Loyal opposition redefined within the ANC: Even when people protest against the way the ANC runs South Africa, they do not contest its sole right to do so, 25 March 2012
  • The ANC's evil twin is organising in our jails: As values change, the unsettling parallels between the ruling party and the number gangs grow more striking, 11 March 2012
  • Dramas in the ANC will keep it going for foreseeable future: Or until an opposition party convinces the country's poor it can create jobs, 26 February 2012
  • Crossed wires in SA short-circuit relationship with science: Apartheid's sorry tangle finds a successor in complicated, race-based mistrust, 12 February 2012
  • Mbeki's demons goaded him into a wicked trap: He may gain by comparison with Zuma, but his presidence damaged South Africa, 29 January 2012
  • White arrogance undermines black opposition: Nostalgia for National Party rule is not only wrong-headed, it endangers SA's future, 15 January 2012
  • Bad old policing habits die hard in the new SA: Cops still treat young black men like farm animals on Friday night 'revenge' patrols, 1 January 2012

Business Day archive:

  • A suspiciously speedy plunge to ignominy of 'national ogre', 9 December 2009
  • Between gloom and illusion on the southern peninsula, 7 September 2009
  • Fleeing the cities we inhabit, in whichever ways we can afford, 26 February 2007
  • SA needs its leaders to snap out of their depression, and govern, 12 February 2007
  • GOVERNANCE/ A lesson for SA’s leaders in the art of the possible, 16 January 2007
  • Seeing the maps would allow SA to get a better bearing on crime, 4 December 2006
  • AIDS TREATMENT/ Walking backwards into the fray, 20 November 2006
  • Mbeki's anxieties around AIDS damaged national psyche, 6 November 2006
  • Centralised structure of police force no longer serves SA’s needs, 23 October 2006
  • Why those who need democracy most are least equipped to use it, 9 October 2006
  • The stories we weave in our different kinds of fear, 20 September 2006
  • Belief in an evil mastermind absolves us of responsibility, 11 September 2006
  • Looking beyond the easy answers, 30 August 2006
  • Scorpions–police standoff as inevitable as it was petulant, 28 August 2006