Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, May 31, 2004

The US Army has had to admit that a man that has enjoyed iconic hero status in the US, former NFL player Patrick Tillman, was killed in Afghanistan in a friendly fire incident (Independent). Tillman, who turned down a $3.6 million football deal to serve with the US Rangers after 9/11, has been the subject of reams of newsprint since his death last month, with articles in every major international and US magazines, including Time and Newsweek. The embarrassment for the US Army comes after they reported that he had died attacking a legion of better armed enemy combatants and had been issuing fire orders until he was cut down by enemy fire. The Independent reports that he was standing next to an Afghan soldier who was mistaken for an enemy combatant, and further, that there were no enemy troops in the area at the time. Tillman was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star. Given that at the time, the 'War on Terror' was going through a very tough time, it's clear that the US Army needed national heroes. Whilst it does not change his sacrifice in joining the Rangers, it's a sad day when his "ultimate sacrifice" turns out to be at the hands of his own comrades, but even more so when the US Army attempts to take advantage of the situation for their own means...

The UK's Northern Irish minister is on his way to SA to review our Truth and Reconcilliation Commission, reports the Mail & Guardian. One wonders how they will have to adjust the process to their historical conflict, and who they select on their panel. Integral to the success of our TRC was the leadership and compassion of Archbishop Tutu, and it will be interesting to see who will be selected to head up the commission, and if that person can give it the crediblity it requires to be successful.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Was Iran the secret mastermind behind the Bush Iraq war? This is the question of the week after the raid on Ahmed Chalabi's home last week by US forces and the revelation that he had very strong diplomatic ties to Iran's Islamic government. The Guardian this morning asks the question whether the hawks in the Pentagon were manipulated into the Iraq war thrust by false information delivered through Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress. This would then give Iran a friendly Islamic led government at the expense of the unpredictable and hostile Hussain.

With much of the pre-war intelligence built around information provided by Chalabi, this could have disastrous implications for both the Pentagon and the White House. What I'm surprised about is that this investigation was made public, given the enormous potential for embarrassment it holds, especially with the secretive nature of this neo-conservative US government. What seems to have happened is that it's become the usual intelligence turf war between the Pentagon and the CIA, with the CIA calling publicly for this investigation.

Bush's Iraq speech last night brought two interesting talking points. Firstly, his comments on the proposed destruction of the Abu Ghraib prison as a symbolic gesture. Whilst it is clear that he was forced into this speech by recent polling data on Iraq, as well as the recent wave of scandals, most recently the Chalabi incident, it is difficult not to see Bush as a leader that is increasingly desperate in the face of weakening power. His comments on the destruction of Abu Ghraib is a transparent attempt to bring closure to the abuse scandal by making the Abu Ghraib prison an isolated area of abuse, in order to sweep any systemic abuse problems under the carpet. Bush is undoutedly desperate to get this abuse scandal behind him, and insofar as the fact that this speech was largely an election speech rather than a policy speech, it is debatable whether the American public will be misled by this red herring.

Secondly, he also stated in the speech, "Iraqis will write their own history, and find their own way." My question is this: What would happen if, in the democratic elections in January, the Iraqi people chose to bring to power a party that endorsed a theological Islamic government as opposed to a multi-party democracy? Would the US stand for this? Would all that work, and all those 'coalition' deaths, be in vain? What scares me is how much Bush is relying on the creation of this democratic state, and how far he will be willing to intervene in the affairs of a sovereign country in order to make good on his 2004 election promises.

Kerry's response will be interesting, as for all his road work, he really hasn't seemed to make much connection with the US public on key election issues such as Iraq. The question six months away from the election is, whilst this election is largely going to be a referendum on bush, can he bring out enough of his political personality and policy positions to catch enough of the swing vote to propel him into the Oval Office?

Friday, May 21, 2004

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely"

First of all, Thabo Mbeki's state of the nation address is available off the government website. Click here.

I've been thinking a lot about the ANC's two-thirds majority recently, and absorbing the substantial media debate surrounding the issue. As I've said before, intensely authoritative Mbeki is, I cannot see him changing the constitution to hold onto power for another term. But what is imperative, is the development of a strong opposition to keep the ANC's power in check. But this is essentially the root of the problem, as a strong opposition cannot be foreseen in the perhaps the next two ANC terms.

In Leon's own party newsletter, he states "By our own analysis, the DA represents a staggering 76% of white South Africans and approximately 2% of black South Africans. Indian and coloured voters are fairly evenly split between the DA and the ANC, and small fringe parties such as the Independent Democrats and the Minority Front show evidence of ethnic support among Indians and coloureds. In other words, one of the untold stories of the 2004 general election is the extraordinarily high levels of ethnic consolidation." This ethnic consolidation cannot hold for the long term. As the ANC continues to bask in the post-1994 honeymoon period, with blind support from the Apartheid oppressed masses, the time will soon come where delivery will be the forefront of government, rather than our racist past. But to take advantage of this, opposition policy has to be on consolidation of their own power bases. Every political party will extol their challenges in crossing over to other ethnic voting bases, but in my mind, at least for the next ten years, this is simply not going to prove a strategy that allows for one party to provide a strong opposition.

Whilst minority opposition parties jostle for position as big fish in a small pond, their focus should rather be on partnerships that can create an inclusive opposition party that cannot be immediately dismissed as being 'anti-South African' or hold 'racist agendas' as almost all opposition parties are accused of being at present. The IFP and DA's partnership in KZN was a start, but more inclusivity is needed to take the mandate of the opposition beyond single ethnic groups and into an opposition that can be supported by a diverse cross-section of the population for the policies and promises they offer, rather than the enthnicity they represent.

Only then will there be a check to the ANC's power, and only then, will there be the requisite antidote to the mantra "Absolute power corrupts absolutely."

On a different tack, have a read of this great article in the Guardian today, about both Bush and Kerry being part of the Order of the Skull and Bones when at Yale. Within the first year of Bush's presidency, all but one of the other 14 Bonesmen from the class of 1968 had spent a night at the White House. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Bring out the scapegoats!

So the Abu Ghraib torture trials have started. Today, the first of the fools, Spc Sivits, goes on trial in Baghdad, and the Western World looks to punish the 'guilty' as quick as possible so we can all forget about this mess and go on building the Empire without any fuss. The problem is, I'm starting to feel pangs of irrational pity for these soldiers at the centre of the issue. As we found out recently in the now infamous New Yorker article, this type of socio-sexual torture comes right from the top. Similar, if not identical, techniques have been used in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, and these are clearly not all the work of loose cannons within the ranks. This is a directive that has to have come from the CIA/Pentagon's intelligence leaders that were under a significant amount of pressure from the Bush administration for immediate results. Pressure breeds pressure, and if the New Yorker's Hersh is correct, which would not surprise me, then there should be many more heads to roll. The chances of that happening? Very slim... These guys are the implementers, and are thus guilty as sin, but clearly they're taking the fall here. Ask the US Army, they're the guys that are the most incensed about it, as they take the fall for their political masters again!

As a concurrent theme to this debacle, Noami Klein writes a great piece in the UK's Guardian newspaper this week, noting that these soldiers were only in Iraq because they were desperate for work under Bush's "economic recovery". Sabrina Hartman was a pizza restaurant manager, whilst Lyndie England and Ivan Frederick were laid off prison guards. Also in this article is an interesting tit-bit about Bush trying to reclassify restaurants and fast-food outlets as 'manufacturing' enterprises to attempt to halt the rampant slide of job losses under the current manufacturing industry definition. Watch this space...

With the NNP's party conference coming up in three weeks, let's hope it's their last. Tacking the word "New" onto the party seered into the minds of this country's population for all the wrong reasons was never a viable long-term strategy. The NNP has simply not found its feet, its voice, or a truly defendable political position, and has as such lurched from mindless standpoint to mindless partnership, ever more desperate as the years go by. For me, the moment the NNP started calling the DA racist sounded their death-knell, and for a political party with their heinous past, strong leadership with a solid political strategy was their only hope, and in Kortbroek, strong leadership they did not have. Farewell New National Party...

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Found a great little RSS Newsfeed reader to assist me in my morning reading. It's called KlipFolio and works incredibly well. Have a look here.

Monday, May 17, 2004

Had a great weekend of reading up in a hut in the mountains of Bains Kloof. South Africa won the 2010 World Cup Football bid, which is truly awesome news. Anything that can generate in excess of 160 000 jobs for this country is fantastic. Well done to Danny Jordaan and the team, although it was sad to see how old Nelson is looking. He really needs to slow down, and I hope that was his last overseas trip. The old man deserves some peace.

On another note, there was a very interesting article in the British newspaper, The Telegraph, this weekend, where Helen Suzman attacked the ruling ANC government, and branded Thabo Mbeki as racist. This is an interesting challenge from a woman that needs no introduction (and who is impervious to accusations of racist agendas) and one which I wish would open up more constructive debate on the government in South Africa. Much discussion has been made recently in this vein, although very little in our own (fairly toothless) media, but rather in the foreign media, with the result that debate and criticism is largely underdeveloped. Mbeki, as one of the exile ANC leaders, holds a markedly distinct view of reconcilliation from Mandela, and one which may not entirely run parallel to what South Africans expected in the continuation of the Mandela era. I do think that Suzman raises some important points, and that, as South Africans, we should be more critical of our leadership. Whilst at present, any criticism is easily washed away by the ruling government as racist diatribe, this will not always be the case, and in lieau of a strong opposition in Parliment, the public has to take the lead on keeping the government on its toes.

Whilst personally, I think Mbeki has done a laudable job in keeping South Africa politically stable through what has been a challenging time, his views on HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe will no doubt define his presidency. I think many of us forget what could have happened to this country, both after the 1994 elections, and after Mandela stepped down as president. Nontheless, Mbeki does hold views that are notably, if subtly, anti-white, and in my view, he has tried too hard to define himself as an international figure, when South Africa is crying out for domestic action.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Not quite sure what this is going to be yet... Just some thoughts, religion, politics & sport? Let's see where it goes