Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, November 26, 2004

Remind you of something?

Doesn't this story sound familiar:
"More than 8 000 landless activists have surrounded the central bank on Thursday and have threatened a big fight over land next in 2005 unless they get more public money to speed up land reform.

Joao Pedro Stedile, a leader of the radical leftist Landless Workers Movement, said peasants could stage more land occupations if [the President] did not earmark more funds to expropriate and redistribute unused farmland, as the constitution demands."

No it's not Zimbabwe, Namibia, or SA, it's Brazil.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Tutu's Tirade
Trust Desmond, South Africa's 'moral compass', to tell it like it is. Attacking the stifling of open debate in South Africa, Tutu said that "the culture of vigorous debate which had characterised the anti-apartheid movement seemed to have given way to servile, self-seeking flattery. An unthinking, uncritical, kowtowing party line-toeing is fatal to a vibrant democracy."

He also stated that he was concerned to see how many had so easily been "seemingly cowed and apparently intimidated to comply", and questioned whether proportional representation would continue to be a good system if it was not linked to constituency representation. Saying that sycophancy seemed to be coming into its own, Tutu said: "I would have wished to see far more open debate, for instance, of the HIV and Aids views of the president in the ANC. There surely can't have been unanimity from the outset."

Let's hope that this will embolden not only the press, but those within the ANC structures itself. However, Tutu's point on proportional representation and its ability to stifle controversial politicians (lest they lose their place on the party list) is notable, so don't expect a flood of Mbeki naysayers anytime soon...

Tony tries a long-shot
Tony Leon writes a piece in the Mail & Guardian which is a rather transparent dram of political persuasion attempting to align the ANC with the much-hated (in South African terms) Republican Party in the US.

Tony thankfully does not try to pin similarities in policy ideology, but under the leader "ANC has strategy and tactics of Bush's Republicans" he goes on to highlight how the ANC uses race as a diversion, similar to the way the Republicans used "Guns, Gays and God" to divert the US voting base away from economic issues.

Unfortunately, we have a president that uses race as an issue far beyond the call of reason, but to say that this is an organised, party-wide campaign tool is one conclusion too many. The ANC simply does not have to. The party has an ever-growing mandate, has a voting base that consistently votes along Apartheid struggle memories, and let's not forget, a two-thirds majority. Painting similarities with the Republican party's campaigning under their (markedly different) politicial realities is facetious at best.

That said, the DA needs to fight for something in the meantime. However, the Official Opposition's time will come when those discontent with the government's policies can see beyond apartheid liberation and vote on policies rather than party personality. But I suggest that moment has not yet found its horizon, and will probably not do so for another decade.

The DA needs black leadership at its helm. It's wishful thinking that the DA can effectively campaign in the townships as a party led by a white person, as sad as that is. As Trevor Manuel will undoubtedly have an incredibly difficult time being selected as the ANC's presidential candidate due to his colour, so Tony Leon will struggle to gain the black vote for his party with him leading it. The South African electorate still feels the rawness of apartheid, and it will choose to support black leadership in political parties for the forseeable future. The DA's recent congress retained the staus quo in leadership, but perhaps, a full four years before the next election, it's time to introduce and build the personality of a new leader. It seems a political necessity.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The first look at the new Republicans
Perhaps not having the need absolute unity in the face of a common enemy could prove to be a problem for the Republicans. Their first congressional charge, the signing into law of the Intelligence Reform Bill, has turned into an absolute shambles. This was a bill that President Bush personally supported and endorsed, one if which he had based a number of future plans on. The Senate Republicans passed it and sent it to Congress, where a clique of hard-line Republicans derailed the voting to reject it, largely on the merits of the Bill's proposed removal of budget authority for the Pentagon (which had made Rumsfeld a silent opponent).

The lack of Democrat parity in both the House and Senate may well infer that we will be seeing more of this type of in-fighting. If there's no need for the Republicans to fear the Democrats, they may well fear each other, a prospect that may dent to unified image of the Republican Party, and have Democrats licking their lips for Election 2008.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Mugabe protects SA landowners in Zimbabwe
SABC reports that "South Africa and Zimbabwe are on the verge of signing an agreement to protect the rights of South African landowners in Zimbabwe." Whilst it naturally is a positive step for South African property investors in Zim, it seems markedly hypocritical at the same time. A bit like saying, 'do whatever you like to the rest of the Zimbabwean people, as long as our South Africans are protected'.

If this is all we get out of four years of "quiet diplomacy", it's time for some shouting.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

The Palestinian Leadership Issue
As much as the death of Arafat brought the opportunity to reinvigorate the Middle-East peace process, so it also brought certain inherent threats, the antecedents of which are currently unfolding in the Palestinian leadership battle.

Arafat was heralded for his ability to merge the various militant Palestinians factions into some coherence and order, without which competing factions could push both the Palestine, and Israel, into full-scale war.

Since Arafat's death, the onus has been on Mahmoud Abbas, as new PLO leader, to prove that he could do the same. Ominously, Abbas yesterday concluded his talks in the Gaza Strip with Hamas and twelve other militant factions without securing any noticeable support. Abbas is likely to be the Fatah Central Committee's choice candidate for President of the Palestinian Authority in the elections in early January and this was his first real test of influence. In the talks he rightfully spurned a request to share power with Hamas in a new 'coalition' government. Resultantly, Hamas and the majority of the factions have stated that they will boycott the elections, and "scoffed" at Abbas' pleas to cease attacks on Israel until the elections.

The use of attacks against Israel in the run-up to the elections will be an easy way for the militants to promote the cause of more of a hardline presidential candidate. Their attacks will undoubtedly spark strong retaliations from Israel, which will further entrench retribution and distance the Palestinian people from Abbas' attempts at peaceful rhetoric. Israel, for its part, has agreed to assist in this current process by only attacking so-called "ticking-bomb" targets, terrorists on the way to commit suicide bombings. This however, will be a fragile premise after a Hamas attack.

The ultimate danger is that the factions will act with impunity and become self-serving cells rather than falling under any semblance of authority, as they partly did under Arafat. Abbas is no fool, and is already taking precautionary steps, ordering a crackdown on armed groups operating in Palestinian areas. Whether this will be tolerated by these groups is another acid test of Abbas' leadership.

According to Reuters, U.S. diplomats are "set to meet Abbas next week hope the election will install a moderate president mandated to talk peace with Israel." The chances of that happening are incredibly short, and if it were to happen, the Palestinian militant factions would no doubt incessantly sabotage peace initiatives anyway.

The runup to the January 9 elections will be critical in the wider implications for peace and democracy in the Middle East, and it is one which the entire world will watching for fear of its consequence. No wonder Tony Blair's congratulatory speech to Bush was marked with a plea to prioritise this issue as a central tenet of both of their final terms. There are few better things to leave as a legacy, but few more difficult.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Cheney's reveal [Wonkette]

More of the same...
Sad to see Colin Powell resign yesterday, although it was very much expected. I do have respect for the man, and I think that he was forced to sell his soul for the Bush administration in his famous plea to the UN Security Council on the merits of the invading Iraq. He clearly looked like a man who wanted to be anywhere but in that seat.

In his place no doubt, the ubiquitous Condi Rice, which completes the hawks in the Bush administration for the next four years, and ensures the continuation of Bush's isolationist and aggressive foreign policy. Expect to see even less gratifying of the UN and other international "allies" and an even more aggressive foreign policy stance.

Bush's choice of energy, education and agriculture secretaries will also be interesting to follow, and perhaps most importantly, his nominations for the Supreme Court bench in the coming months. Those judicial nominations will be an acid test of Bush's commitment to the Republican ideal, and will signal his intent on any non-partisan second term approach.

Monday, November 15, 2004

No Ronald McDonald for Brits
Big government is one thing, but HUGE government is another. The Labour government in the UK is attempting to build support for a law banning advertising on television of junk food before 9PM. Their definition of 'junk food'?:
"Food and drink with high fat, salt or sugar content. This would affect more than the usual suspects of burgers, confectionery, crisps and fizzy drinks. It might also include some soups, breakfast cereals and convenience foods popular with children, such as fish fingers."

Rice cakes all round then?

Life after Nujoma
Namibians are going to the polls to elect the successor to the old war-horse Sam Nujoma. Sam and I have never agreed on many things, and it seems that life after Nujoma will be fairly congruous with life with Nujoma.

Firstly, his likely successor and Land Minister, Hifikepunye Pohamba, has been hand-picked by Nujoma himself, whilst the outgoing President has fired other candidates, without reason, to ensure his stooge's selection as SWAPO's candidate. Secondly, with SWAPO's two-thirds majority, he is virtually ensured of sweeping to victory and continuing Nujoma's principles on land grabs, anti-homosexual rhetoric, and staunch support of Mugabe. Finally, Nujoma is hardly fading into the good night, as he will remain the president of SWAPO, and will clearly retain huge influence in the affairs of the country.

The central election issue was land (In the US, "It's the economy, stupid", in Southern Africa "It's land, stupid"), with SWAPO promising that 162 foreign-owned farms would be expropriated. Whilst Pohamba claims that he will discuss compensation with foreign owners, he seems to be very keen to accelerate the land expropriation program, which could starve Namibia of any lingering, and desperately needed, FDI.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Ivory Coast prisoners on the loose
As if things weren't bad enough in the Ivory Coast, the New York Times reports that 4000 of it's most dangerous inmates escaped through the sewers of the largest prison in Abidjan this week. Officials say some are hiding in the forests, while many are in the city itself. Last week, inmates had rioted after "at least five days without water" at the prison. Seven people died in the riots.

The Ivory Coast is a rough enough place as it is, and the French will be disconcerted by the thought of 4000 murderers on the streets, criminals who can easily be harnessed by rebel groups offering protection in return for their 'skills' in fighting the French. Thabo Mbeki's notable skills as a peace negotiator must be put to good in the coming days.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arafat's Death: Part II
Interesting to note international leaders' responses to Arafat's passing, especially the careful way in which US and UK leaders couched their condolences.

US President George Bush says:
"The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinian history. We express our condolences to the Palestinian people. For the Palestinian people, we hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent, democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbours."

Not much love there then...

Tony Blair was quoted saying:
"He led his people to an historic acceptance and the need for a two state solution. President Arafat came to symbolise the Palestinian national movement."
No emotives there either...

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw takes a slightly more empathetic line, saying:
“I want to express my deep sympathy and condolences to the Palestinian people on the death of Yasser Arafat. President Arafat played such a dominant role on behalf of the Palestinians over so many decades that it is hard to imagine the Middle East without him. As the leader of his people, he created an international awareness of, and concern about, the plight of the Palestinian people. He displayed unquestionable devotion to his work.

In his usual non-committal and rather cold way, Vladimir Putin said:
"It is a big loss for the Palestinian leadership and all Palestinians."

Bush's favourite mate, Australian PM John Howard was particularly robust:
"I think history will judge him very harshly for not having seized the opportunity in the year 2000 to embrace the offer that was very courageously made by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that involved the Israelis agreeing to about 90 percent of what the Palestinians wanted."

Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said it was:
"good that the world is rid of him"

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said:
"Chairman Arafat's personified the Palestinian people's struggle" and "his influence on regional and global events has been undeniable".

On the other side of the coin, Arafat's death did find real sympathy from Western leadership. French President Chirac hailed Arafat as "a man of courage and conviction" and said "it is with emotion that I have just learnt of the death of President Yasser Arafat, the first elected president of the Palestinian Authority. I offer my very sincere condolences to his family and to people close to him."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, long a critic of Israel's policies stated:
"The Secretary-General was deeply moved to learn of the death of President Yasser Arafat. President Arafat was one of those few leaders who could be instantly recognised by people in any walk of life all around the world. For nearly four decades, he expressed and symbolized in his person the national aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Hamas predictably stated that:
"The loss of the great leader will increase our determination and steadfastness to continue Jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy until victory and liberation is achieved,"

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal continued that:
"I hold Israel responsible for the crime of the death of Arafat. All reports by doctors in the last two weeks indicate he was poisoned."

OK, so they're not a global power, but Bangladeshi PM Begum Khaledi Zia stated:
"We are deeply shocked at the loss of a great leader, a symbol of struggle for freedom of the Palestinian people, and a Nobel laureate for peace. Bangladesh will continue to support the Palestinian cause... and will cooperate with the new Palestinian leadership."

Typically, New Zealand offers the most diplomatically fence-sitting response, Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff:
"His achievement was to win acknowledgement for the existence of the Palestinian nation and to advocate for the rights of a dispossessed and disadvantaged people. His failure was to not make the transformation from resistance leader to statesman. Under his leadership the Palestinian Authority was marked by incompetence, corruption and a lack of constitutional and democratic procedure."

Finally, our own Thabo Mbeki said that:
"It is indeed difficult to accept that the greatest leader of the Palestinian people Yasser Arafat, with whom we have shared so many trials and tribulations, has ceased to lead. History will record that he (Arafat) gave hope to millions of the downtrodden and despised, by instilling in them the knowledge and consciousness that despite current difficulties, they hold the gift of freedom in their hands."

No doubts where Thabo lies...

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Things getting messy for Allawi
CNN reports that 2 members of Allawi's family have been kidnapped by Ansar al-Jihad. It's always easier to dismiss when it's not your family...

Heavy week
Pretty busy at work this week, so expect blogging to be light until the weekend.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Is Arafat Dead?
I may be proved horribly wrong here, but I think that Yasser Arafat may well have been brain-dead for the last three or four days. The veil of secrecy around his condition, as well as the decision, and abrupt cancellation of said decision, of a Palestinian delegation to visit his Parisian hospital, just seems to me like the remaining leadership of a country on the brink of civil war buying time.

The skill of Arafat in keeping all of the notorious warring Palestinian factions under his control has been extensively documented, and his departure after 40 years of leadership leaves an incredibly volatile power vacuum in the Palestinian State. No wonder the Palestinian leadership has been locked behind closed doors trying to work out a safe succession in order to keep the various militant groups from attempting to take control.

The sudden death of Arafat would have left them no time to consult with the factions and attempt to build a coalition of Palestinian leadership. This makes me wonder then, is all this uncertainty about the definition of his "very complex" state of health a smokescreen to offer Mahmoud Abbas more time?

The Architect
ABC names Karl Rove as their person of the week.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Clinton on the Dems loss
Clinton has some sage words for the Democrats:

"If we let people believe that our party doesn't believe in faith and family, doesn't believe in work and freedom, that's our fault," he said. Democrats "need a clear national message and they have to do this without one big advantage the Republicans have, which is they won't have a theological message that basically paints the other guy as evil. The Republicans had a clear message, a good messenger, great organisation and great strategy," he said. "The Republicans did a better job of turning out those who were already registered who hadn't voted" as well as bringing out their base.

He also said that the party needs to rework its image and it would be "a mistake for our party to sit around and... whine about this and that or the other thing."

Good advice, let's hope they take it. More of this won't help though...

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A questionable mandate
I'm writing this before the Ohio is closed (and a possible recount may take 10 days), but it seems like a Bush state, which thus would give Bush his four more years. It looks like a victory for Bush in New Mexico, Idaho and Ohio, which would give Bush an electoral vote of 286-252, which would far outpace the 15 electoral vote margin that I had predicted. It's another weak mandate for Bush, but as the NY Times says, this is "a president who won by a whisker four years ago, then governed as if he had a landslide".

The election is very tight, and it may be circumspect to assign blame, but in terms of a wrap-up, I'll have a look at what went right for the Republicans, and what went wrong for the Democrats.

The Bush Administration's strategy of generating a underlying state of insecurity under the "War on Terror" has clearly shown itself to be very successful in forcing moderates and undecideds into maintaining the status quo and retaining strong leadership for fearful times. It was the central pillar of Bush's strategy, and the Republican party admirably thudded out his message at every opportunity, which always had the beating of Kerry.

Now hindsight is a wonderful thing, but I would say that the Democratic Party itself must shoulder much of the blame for Kerry's loss. A Republican commentator on television last night likened this election campaign to the 1996 Clinton campaign, where Republicans had similar personal hatred of Clinton as the Democrats currently hold of Bush. The problem is, she says, is that vitriol is not enough to carry an election. To defeat an incumbent, you have to show a strength of ideas that juxtapose the President's positions. I have to agree with her. The Democratic hatred merely instigated the Republicans to step up their election campaigning to a state of war, thus largely cancelling out negating Kerry's hand and polarising the electorate along distinct party lines. Kerry had much difficulty winning over the undecideds, and was hopeless at pulling any half-hearted Republicans onto his side.

The Democratic party, and Kerry himself, had little to offer in policy besides broadsides at Bush, which made it difficult for undecideds to see him as a Presidential realist. It's signature of the nature of the polarisation of the political populus that he had managed to push the vote so far.

Another factor it seems is the youth vote. The traditional Democrat-leaning youth vote was expected to come out in droves for this election, but according to Daily Kos "MSNBC exit poll indicates that the youth did not vote. The 18-29 bracket voted the same this year as in 2000, while 30-44 group was down."

There's no doubt though that the Republican party remains the dominant force in US politics. With a majority of Republican governors, a majority in the House of Representatives, a majority in the Senate and a President in the White House, there's little to stop the Republicans from extending their powers.

In closing notes, I'm sad to see that Minority House Leader Tom Daschle has been beaten by Thume for the South Dakota Senate seat, I recently read his book "Like No Other Time" and was impressed by his insight. Also interesting to note that Nader didn't have the large effect that the Democrats were fearing.

So what now? It's almost deja vu from 2000, with Bush facing an incredibly polarised and entrenched public. There's little doubt that Bush will continue to plough on with his unilateral agenda and continue the platform that will define his presidency, as September 11 and Iraq have for his past term. The rest of the world will naturally be along for the ride (watch out for Iran), and there is sure to be much controversy along the way.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

US election day
Here we go, let the lawyer's fees begin! This election is so tight I think it would be optimistic to think that we will have a result by tomorrow morning (our time). 10 000 lawyers on either side need to earn their wage. We'll wait and see.

Moeletsi Mbeki had an interesting chat last night on Moneyweb's radio show where he discussed the influence of the elections on South Africa, amongst other things. Read the transcript here.

Zuma finally faces questioning
Jacob Zuma will be reminded that the Shaik monkey is still firmly attached to his back when he is forced to answer Parlimentary questions tomorrow, courtesy of Democratic Alliance MP Raenette Taljaard.

Taljaard will be asking two questions:

1) Would Zuma reconsider his answer of March 13 2003 about meetings with arms dealer Alain Thétard. If not, she asks why not. If he answers yes, she wants details about when he met Thétard and what they discussed.

2) Does Zuma, in light of the KPMG forensic report submitted in the Shaik trial, stand by his statement to the parliamentary ethics committee that the payments he received from Shaik were interest-bearing loans.

The answers to those questions could be potentially crippling to Zuma, and I'm pretty sure Zuma's team of lawyers are finding ways for him to hide behind the sub judice rule.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Presidential Prediction
Right, 24 hours to go, so let's get the predictions out. As much as I would like the another result, I predict the George W Bush will get four more years with an electoral college margin of 15 votes.

Reconsidering privatisation?
The announcement that SAA lost R15 billion in the past two years has shocked a jittery cabinet and encouraged them to seek a revision of all 19 of SA's state-owned enterprises. Could this be the final straw in pushing Government into privatisation? Probably not.

The government is utilising the SOE's in a plan to "increase the level of fixed investment in the economy from 16% of the size of the economy, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP), to 25% by 2014." The plan aims to reduce the cost of doing business in South Africa and involved the use of SOE's to improve infrastructure.