Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, December 20, 2004

As you may well have noticed from the lack of posts, I'm on leave, and will be until January 9th. Expect posting to be very light until then. Have a fantastic Christmas and New Years, and please visit again in early Jan!

Monday, December 13, 2004

The Pentagon's Dilemma
The NY Times reports that the Pentagon is currently reviewing how far they can move into the murky depths of covert propaganda campaigns aimed at neutral and even allied nations.

"The efforts under consideration risk blurring the traditional lines between public affairs programs in the Pentagon and military branches - whose charters call for giving truthful information to the media and the public - and the world of combat information campaigns or psychological operations.

The question is whether the Pentagon and military should undertake an official program that uses disinformation to shape perceptions abroad. But in a modern world wired by satellite television and the Internet, any misleading information and falsehoods could easily be repeated by American news outlets.

Pentagon and military officials directly involved in the debate say that such a secret propaganda program, for example, could include planting news stories in the foreign press or creating false documents and Web sites translated into Arabic as an effort to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that preach anti-American principles.

Some of those are in the Middle Eastern and South Asian countries like Pakistan, still considered a haven for operatives of Al Qaeda. But such a campaign could reach even to allied countries like Germany, for example, where some mosques have become crucibles for Islamic militancy and anti-Americanism.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the military's vast electronic-warfare arsenal was used to single out certain members of Saddam Hussein's inner circle with e-mail messages and cellphone calls in an effort to sway them to the American cause. Arguments have been made for similar efforts to be mounted at leadership circles in other nations where the United States is not at war."

It's an incredibly slippery slope. Once you start deceiving foreign leaders and foreign populations, how tempting would it be to actively deceive your own population. George Orwell's 1984 perhaps?

BEE: The US Investor Perspective
The American Chamber of Commerce SA recently concluded a study into the perceptions of US companies of investing in South Africa, and it found that there was "more concern over forced local equity than crime." 74% of respondents stated that BEE "negatively affected investment decisions" and Luanne Grant, director of AmCham, added that it "also received the single highest number of voluntary comments in the open-ended questions section - double that of the next cited question."

To me, this is nothing new, and probably would mirror most of the white business population. The key thing is though, is that it is impossible to look at BEE purely in a business or investment scope without seeking augmented justification from historical and social cues. BEE to me is a necessary evil. At present, a small group of big players are reaping much of the advantage and getting all the headlines, but BEE also creates opportunities for those that would be passed over under the status quo, and has been responsible for building a strong Black middle class.

There are simply too many undercurrents of racism left over from Apartheid in our older white (management-level) population. And please note before you all jump down my throat, this is not overt racism, but covert, unconscious racism. It's the nuance stuff, such as perceiving (perhaps even subconsciously) a Black person is somehow less intelligent because he or she doesn't enunciate in the 'Queens English'.

It’s exactly this kind of nuance that BEE aims to negate, and in my view, we would be weaker without it. Maybe not now, but definitely in a decade’s time. South Africans need to get used to seeing Black managers in CEO positions, Black youth need Black business role-models, and it’s what has to happen for us to build a stronger economy in the future. Yes, it’s not ideal at times, but it’s the best solution for the current development of our country, both economically and socially.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Mbeki's Approval Rating
We're not a country used to political polling, so when polls do come out, they are rather usually intersting. President Mbeki has just been given an approval rating of 59% amongst the adult voting population in metropolitan areas. Given that South Africa has such a deluge of socio-economic problems that we are trying to tackle, a 59% approval is very high, and Mbeki should be well pleased.

As expected, only 11% of respondents supported Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe (alarm bells, Mr President?), and interestingly, respondents were well split about the Israel-Palestine issue.
"On the conflict between Israel and Palestine, 26 percent agreed that South Africa should impose sanctions on Israel because of what it was doing in the Palestinian territories, 36 percent disagreed and 38 percent did not know."

Monday, December 06, 2004

An incoherent Azapo takes a final throw

"No party can rule forever and we think as the Black Consciousness Movement that it would be unfortunate when it comes to that point that parties responsible for apartheid and repression of our people could be given a mandate to rule. That will happen unless the organisations with a struggle background like Azapo and the PAC do something about it."

A rather bizarre statement from Azapo, and it goes a long way to inferring the reasons for the demise of Azapo, the BPC and SOPA. Political mandates do not take turns, and without credible alternative policies for governing, you have no party. Suffice to say that a political party cannot be voted for as an alternative to the ANC if they do not offer alternative policies. There are no rewards for just being in the game. But anyway, who are they referring to under "parties responsible for apartheid and repression"? Are there any left? Do they really think the DA (as they would consider as an "apartheid" party no doubt) will govern? The Freedom Front? The AWB?

Azapo and the found the majority of their development out of the Black Consciousness movement of the anti-Apartheid struggle, but the party never offered a governing alternative to the ANC or IFP, and simply held a policy direction that could not find support with the majority of South Africans. It was always a tall order for them to compete for the majority vote after the fall of apartheid and their showing in the recent elections signals their final demise. Time then for a final throw of the dice, and given the worse than usual cracks in the Tripartite Alliance, the Azapo alliance are making a strategic attempt to court the left-wing of the Tripartite Alliance. They have announced an intention to woo the Landless People's Movement and the Anti-Privatisation Forum for their ballot in the next elections, and such a far-left movement may just attract the eyes of jaded SACP and COSATU support.

But with a statement like this, Azapo reinforces their lack of insight into the South African political landscape, and one may presume that the majority of cognisant COSATU and SACP members will take their chances with an overbearing ANC than a rudderless Azapo.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Mbeki caught out?
The Mail & Guardian reports this morning that during the course of the Shaik trial it has been revealed that Mbeki "misled the nation" during an address on January 19 2001 regarding the Heath investigation.

"Mbeki delivered a stinging attack on Scopa and attempted to justify his decision to exclude the Special Investigation Unit (SIU) led by Judge Willem Heath from the multi-disciplinary investigation of the arms deal, contrary to the recommendation by Scopa.

In his speech, Mbeki referred to legal advice obtained from advocate Frank Kahn, then the Western Cape director of public prosecutions, and advocate Jan Lubbe, then the senior legal adviser to the Heath unit. Mbeki quoted one extract of their advice, which found that “at this stage there is no prima facie evidence in law that any person or persons committed a criminal offence”.

However, he omitted to tell the nation that the two senior lawmen did in fact say there were legally “sufficient grounds” for the Heath unit to conduct an investigation and that, in their opinion, such an investigation was warranted. He also failed to disclose that they endorsed the recommendation by Scopa, saying it was “imperative” that the Heath unit be involved in the multi-agency probe."

Any serious consequences? We shall wait and see...

Thursday, December 02, 2004

DRC heats up
We've seen this movie before, and can only hope that it ends very differently. After Rwandan President Paul Kagame threatened to launch fresh attacks on the Hutu's in eastern DRC, there have been splatterings of reports of Rwandan troop movements inside the DRC's borders. In response, Congolese President Joseph Kabila announced on Monday he would send some 10,000 more troops to the area.

Kagama claims that the Hutu rebels are "poised to attack" Rwanda. Some of the rebels - made up of Interahamwe militiamen, former Rwandan soldiers and Rwandan refugees - are accused of having carried out the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which 937,000 Tutsis and politically moderate Hutus died.

These reports came a day after Kagame announced his troops would attack Rwandan Hutu militia in eastern DRC because "the UN and the Kinshasa government had failed to disarm them." Kagame last week stated: "If the international community cannot do it, who else is there to do it except us? We have no other choice but to pick off these targets. There are Interhamwe bases and ex-FAR (soldiers from the defunct Rwandan army) who we have clearly located, and when the time is right, we will deal with them."

There is a full UN Mission in the DRC, including South African soldiers, and the UN has correctly asked Kagame to provide the geographical locations of these soldiers, so that the UN soldiers can try to deal with them peacefully. This has fallen on deaf ears amongst the Rwandan leadership, which is instrumental to what others see as the 'real' reason for Rwandan incursions into the DRC - mineral wealth. Both the DRC and the United Nations have accused Kagame of profiting from its presence in DRC by extracting valuable minerals there. The DRC is one of the richest countries in the world in mineral wealth and is "reputed to contain every mineral listed on the periodic table." Easy crutch for the DRC? Perhaps, but I would not discount it out of hand.

In the meantime, Uganda has moved troops to its border with the DRC to prevent incursions by what it calls "negative elements".

The news that is the worst to hear though, comes from the stark choices presented to civilians, in what can only be seen as deja vu. Thousands of civilians have begun fleeing some eastern areas of the country after being given the choice to leave or stay, but with the threat that those who stay will be considered FDLR [Hutu Rwandan rebel group] and will be killed.

The UN states that "Population movements, difficult to monitor, have been noted in the north part of North Kivu Province," Bernard LeFlaive, a humanitarian affairs officer for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), said on Monday. Fighting began on Thursday," he said. "The Rwandan Defence Forces and their allies from [the Congolese] 8th Military Region attacked Rwanda rebels of the FDLR [Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda] and told civilians they had a choice to leave or stay, but those who stay are considered FDLR and are killed."

The genocidal war between the Hutu and the Tutsi forces in the mid-Nineties were a permanent blight on the history of humankind, and the subsequent wars in 1996 and from 1998-2003 were simply salt on the wounds. Everything in the world's power needs to be done to unravel this slipknot of war from moving any further. Thabo Mbeki has played a key role in the past four years in peace talks in the DRC, and he must lead the AU in sharing peace-keeping efforts between the Ivory Coast and the Rwandan-DRC conflict. The time is now.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Burgeoning economy
I've long believed the notion that our economy was growing significantly faster than we had thought, and that the error was due to miscalculations by Statistics SA. It is incredibly heartening to now learn that the SA economy is growing at 5.6% year on year, as opposed to the 2.5% - 3% that is continually used.

It does however beg the question, how can we afford to have Statistics SA be so wrong? The GDP growth rate is critical to the overall investment perspective of a country, and is a central figure to any financial planning. How can we have let Stats SA underestimate growth by half? It is a critical concern for me, and so should it be for government.

On the more positive side, it's a huge tipped hat to the macroeconomic policies of the Mbeki government and I salute Trevor Manuel for his wisdom and courage to make decisions on our economic growth that often flew in the face of popular consent. With the population growth rate down to 1.3%, the GDP growth rate should allow for significant inroads into unemplyment in South Africa. Don't forget that in the 11 or 12 years before 1993 the South African economy grew at roughly 1% per year. Anyway, even though the growth is largely commodity driven, perhaps the exporters can stop bleating about the rand for a few months.