Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, May 30, 2005

Zim: From Bad to Worse
Only days after Mugabe's henchmen burned and destroyed informal settlements around Harare, comes this:
"Zanu-PF spokesperson Nathan Shamuyarira has announced that his ruling party would soon amend the constitution to abolish all private ownership rights to land and nationalise all productive farmland."
This is an about turn from the noises coming out of Zanu-PF about the return of white farmers to farming lands in Zimbabwe, and perhaps reflects the abject failure of their invitation to former white farmers. Whatever the case, it is the Zimbabwe people who will continue to bear the brunt of Zanu-PF's policies.

Things can surely get much worse in Zimbabwe. One wonders what Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Thabo Mbeki will have to say about such a blatant attack on one of the requisite pillar stones of a functioning democracy. Once again, I expect we will hear very little...

Language: Another nuance of racism
If there's one thing that consistently riles me, it's comments made by learned white colleagues about a black politician such as:

"Listen to him, he's clueless, he can't even speak English properly."
"He's such an idiot, you can see from how he speaks."
"How can we expect him to run the province when he can't even speak."

To me, this is the height of arrogant white prejudice. Why should a municipal or provincial politician even bother to speak English, when the overwhelming majority of his/her constituents speak Xhosa or Zulu? Why should any politician converse in English, when it's a second, third, or even an unknown language to the overwhelming majority of our population? And most importantly, why do these whites associate a skill of speaking a second, or third, language with intelligence? Let them try to converse in Xhosa, and let's see where their intelligence lies.

It's a simple comment, but it belies a significantly racist undertone. As I've said before, it's only when we challenge these nuances, that we will truly beat racism.

The Telegraph's after Thabo
The most verbose journalism of the week award goes to the UK's Telegraph newspaper for its attack on Thabo Mbeki for "lambasting" UK Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown over comments made on British imperialism.

Mbeki was discussing the various positions on Africa and Africanism on Africa Day in his usual Friday missive, and he quoted an article by Seamus Milne in the UK Guardian entitled "Britain: imperial nostalgia". Mbeki highlights Brown's comments quoted in the article, basically stating that the Britain should not be apologetic over colonialism and should be proud of its imperialist history. Mbeki's point is that Britain has never apologised for colonial crimes and that it is "a matter of serious concern" that Gordon Brown would make such a statement, when he is seen to be the custodian of Labour's Africa policy. Mbeki undoubtedly has a point here, especially when Brown's comments were made when he was in Africa.

The Telegraph labels Mbeki's comments as "furious" and wrongfully associates quotes from Mbeki with his comments on Brown, when he was actually discussing the white minority view in South Africa. The entire 2000-plus word letter has less than 100 words discussing Brown's comments. Clearly, the vested interest of the Telegraph's conservative slant is aimed squarely at reveling in an African leader having a pop at a Labour government slip-up.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Quite busy this morning, so posting some good articles without any commentary:

South Africa has highest spouce killing in the world (CNN)

The sliding quality of South African politicians (Mail & Guardian)

House of Representatives passes stem cell research bill in face og Bush opposition (NY Times)

Rand Group's report on Palestine 2015 (Independent UK)

An interview with Deputy Minister of Finance Jabu Moleketi (Mail & Guardian)

Apple returning to South Africa (and Cape Town) (TUAW)

South Africa: Land Ownership Remains Racially Skewed (All

Monday, May 23, 2005

White farmers back in favour in Zim?
I speculated in a recent post whether Mugabe's decision to call in white farmers for an indaba was the commencement of a desperate attempt to turn around Zimbabwe's crumbling agricultural output. Now it seems as though this is indeed the case. Gideon Gono, Governor of the Reserve Bank and Mugabe's main policy-maker, is quoted as stating:
"In order to ensure maximum productivity levels, there is great scope in the country promoting and supporting joint ventures between the new farmers with progressive-minded former operators," said Gono in a state radio and television broadcast that lasted nearly three hours.

He added that the skilled whites and other new investors will be given special guarantees of uninterrupted tenure of five to 10 years, backed by government force to prevent any disruptions on the farms.

The key problem for Mugabe though, is that many of the 4000 white farmers disposessed of their land have resumed farming in the surrounding countries such as Zambia and Mozambique, and are highly unlikely to heed Mugabe's call. But the move alone is a positive step against Mugabe's stubborn insistence that there is no agricultural output problem in the former "breadbasket of Africa". One hopes that this is a slow process of reintegrating white farmers into Zimbabwe, and that the five to ten year tenures are a way to placate hard-liners in the Zanu-PF. Wishful thinking perhaps?


Cox and Forkum highlight the story in a Mugabe cartoon..

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

ANC policies of unity
The ANC has been sounding policy documents ahead of their June council meeting regarding the challenges in unifying the party. The ANC has shifted its political focus over the past few years to build a widely centrist political position and thus continue to entrench their ubiquitous political support. Yet this swallowing of diverse viewpoints, as with the conglomeration of the old NNP, COSATU and SACP, brings a difficulty in managing those diverse, and loud, voices that do not tow the party line. The ANC thus has the distinct challenge of creating unity amongst these voices to create a coherent party message. When your party leadership that is so acutely abrasive to criticism, this task becomes even more difficult, and it is no wonder the ANC is throwing these documents out to the wider audience to find solutions.

Out of these discussions, the ANC has also been pondering the national identity of the new South Africa. Once again, the party intelligensia have been considering the position of whites. Mbeki has consistently held the view that Afrikaner whites are 'more African' than English whites, and has been very quick to laud steps taken by Afrikaner groups, whilst being very quick to disparage English-speaking whites. It's a view that has been upheld across the ANC and is clear throughout these policy discussions ahead of the conference. It's interesting what the ANC hopes to gain by placing such thoughts into the public domain, given that South African business is largely dominated by English-speaking whites.


Read Moneyweb's take on the discussion documents here.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Democracy: Egoism or Equality
The Guardian, as is the newspaper's wont, carries an article by Peter Preston postulating on whether democracy has been hijacked by egoistic leaders at the expense of equality and the 'greater good'. He makes particular reference to the "exporting" of democracy by the current world powers under the "beacon of liberty", often with incongruous consequences.
"How do you run a world where every nation, great and small, conforms to the latest definition of democracy, when equality between nations and between their citizens is simply not a realistic part of the equation? Where there are winners and losers by design, one world of permanent inequality? That's a pretty feeble beacon - and some nasty supplementary questions spin out from behind it."
"The democracy we primp for global export may divide the spoils among egoists, as in Baghdad. But it doesn't answer the big questions of survival, equality, peace. It's a concept barely 60 years old, not a torch blazing irresistibly over millenniums, nor the bill of goods George sold Georgia."

Friday, May 13, 2005

The most unlikely dinner date?
Would you ever get Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House and firebrand Republican who personally let the right's impeachment charge against the Clinton White House, and Hillary Clinton, Democratic Senator and 2008 Presidential hopeful around the same table? Apparently, you can get much more than that.

The NY Times reports that the two have been working fairly closely together over the past few months, staking out shared positions on healthcare and other major issues. Gingrich has even been talking up Clinton's chances for the 2008 presidency.

It's all a bit bewildering. But perhaps the answer lies in Gingrich's political future, not Clinton's. Gingrich needs to build a more moderate image in the eyes of the populace, and perhaps, just perhaps, Gingrich may be making a giant play for the Republican 2008 nomination himself. Stranger things have happened...

No Rings Around Manto?
First prize for the most incomprehensible headline goes to the Mail & Guardian on this one. Responding to an article in the Business Day, Government Communications and Information Service head Joel Netshitenzhe stated that there was no truth to the allegations that Manto Tshabalala-Msimang was being kept away from the media to dissuade her from damaging government's AIDS program further.

Whilst buttoning Manto up is a great idea, especially in terms of the damage to our international prestige, I prefer Manto to be out in the open that operating behind closed doors. "Rather the devil you know" and all that. Imagine Manto continuing to practice her medieval solutions to the AIDS crisis without the populace having any idea of her activities. Firstly, it would hurt the pro-ARV groups (which is why government is considering it in the first place) as Manto provides a permanent platform for response by the TAC and the like when she makes her public outbursts. Secondly, we as the general public would have little account of developments (or lack thereof) have been made in the pursuit of solving our AIDS problems.

So unleash Manto I say. Let her speak her mind.

Or of course, there's the other solution. Just fire her for complete incompetence...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Zimbabwe calls the tune
Not sure if anyone missed it, but my favourite story from the weekend papers was in the Sunday Independent:
Blair win was fraud, says Zim TV
"Government-controlled television in Zimbabwe has criticised the general elections in former colonial power Britain, saying they were marred by a lack of transparency and fraud.

In the leading story on the main evening news bulletin on Friday, state television said Britain's polls were marred by 'a lack of transparency, suppression of media freedoms and fraud'.

Singling out the use of black ballot boxes and postal voting, reporters said Britain's electoral process 'raises a lot of questions about the democracy preached by the British'


The Huffington Post
Today sees the launch of the Huffington Post, an ambitious blog put together by Adriana Huffington, which aims to bring commentary on breaking news and blog posts from notable figures in politics, entertainment, business, the arts, and the media. At present, she has signed up Walter Cronkite, US Senator John Corzine, CNBC's Topic A host Tina Brown, actors John Cusack, Larry David and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, comedian Ellen Degeneres, bestselling political author David Frum and Newsweek journalist Michael Isikoff. Believe me, that's not the entire list...

Undoubtedly it will have a slight 'leftie' slant, but well worth a frequent read nonetheless...

Friday, May 06, 2005

Labour's Third Term
As Labour rolls into another term this morning, I cannot help to feel a little bemused by the widespread surprise of Labour's shrunken winning margin. With the resurgence of the Lib Dems, and the effective noise created around Blair's decision to go to war, was it not obvious that he would have an increasingly politically polarised nation and a significant loss of voter support?

Anyway, it's good news for Africa, as Labour's focus on African aid and support has far surpassed any efforts made by the Conservatives over the years, and we should be thankful for another Labour term.

As an aside, there's an interesting article in this morning's Guardian about the (US) Republican reaction to the win, and Karl Rove's thoughts on the need for a stronger Conservative Party.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Is this really freedom of the press?
The Mail & Guardian reports on media organisations' rebuke of governments inferences to pursue regulations allowing for punishment of journalists over false stories that create unnecessary panic. The media organisations say that this is a unwelcome infringement of their press freedom. I don't want to comment on the radiation story, as the organisations claims on press freedom are not made specifically on this story, but rather have more far reaching ramifications. Centrally, is press freedom the freedom to make unsubstantiated claims without reproachment?

The media organisations claim that self-censorship is strong enough to act as a deterrent. "There are enough bodies in place for the media to self-regulate", states Herman Wasserman, a journalism lecturer at the University of Stellenbosch. The FXI states that if journalists concerns prove to be false alarms, then they will be discredited in the eyes of the public, which will be the ultimate deterrent for organisations making baseless statements. A noble thought, but one that seldom occurs in this country, which is what I want to explore.

In commenting, let me first make it clear that I am not in favour of any attempts by government to limit the reporting abilities of respectable journalists. Any law suggested by government would naturally have to be incredibly clear on this point, and avoid opportunities for abuse by government over ANY legitimate criticism. In addition, I am not commenting necessarily on government criticism, it reaches to any stories that do have the ability to impact on the population. In fact, I highly doubt that anything like this type of legislation will come to pass. I think that government is simply trying to give media groups a well deserved warning. There has to be a balance between effective investigative journalism and salacious stories that do not attempt to find truth. I do believe that we need to encourage better standards of reporting in this country, and most importantly, better fact-checking of investigative stories. The media is a very powerful communicator in South Africa, where most people do not have access to a wide variety of media sources, and are not very cynical about journalistic integrity.

In more developed countries, self-regulation works because the reputation of a newspaper matters to consumers, as there are a wide variety of competing media. If an investigative story surfaces, there are various checks and balances that the story must go through to prove itself before publication. Random allegations made by smaller media vehicles are simply not given any credibility, and are not communicated to the wider populace audience. On the flip side, if the story proves to be untrue or uncredible in any way, there are major repercussions. For example, Dan Rather's "resignation" is largely due to the fake documents regarding Bush's military service. Two NY Times editors have been fired or quit in the past few years over plagiarism or false claims by their subordinates. In the UK, the very public spat between the BBC and the Labour government led to the firing of the reporter making the allegations, Andrew Gilligan, as well as the BBC's Chairman, no less.

This is not necessarily the case in South Africa. Very rarely (if ever) do you see repercussions on journalists making outlandish claims. In contrast, newspapers are encouraging huge attention-grabbing headlines to sell newspapers, often with scant respect of the truth. This happens in foreign media markets, but in the majority of cases, only when it is backed by basic facts. The lack of media choice means that consumers cannot effectively 'punish' a media outlet by not purchasing the paper, there simply are too few alternatives. For hypothetical example, here in the Cape, the Argus is an horrendous paper with incredibly dodgy journalism. The Cape Times is better, even though they're in the same media stable, carrying the more heavyweight local journalists, and pulling more stories from reputable international sources. However, if I don't like a story loosely reported by the Cape Times, I have no avenue for my daily newspaper.

I'm not sure that government intervention is the best vehicle for change, but media organisations themselves have to be much more forceful on self-regulation and the eradication of sensationalist journalism when it comes to matters confronting the nation at large. If they do not, they will only have themselves to blame if government does follow a legislative path.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Land reform in South Africa
The Financial Times carries an interesting report on the economic risk surrounding land reform in South Africa.

His support for Mugabe withstanding, Mbeki has a clear vision of the huge socio-economic risks associated with an accelerated land reform, but knows that he must provide a solution. One hopes that this solution is developed before the succession debates for the 2008 presidency are commenced. If not, as the FT states, it will be critical that the ANC succession debates are open, transparent and predictable, as not to make land reform a politically charged issue that is largely exaggerated under attempts at gaining popular candidate support.

The FT article closes by stating that "South Africa?s economic stability is overvalued because the potential for political turmoil is rising." It's threatening talk, but I cannot see the ANC turning their backs on the economic strides made in the past decade. Presidential hopefuls like Zuma and Dlamini-Zuma are worldy enough to comprehend the need for international investment, and the resultant dangers of undertaking an inequitable land reform program. Their are equitable solutions to this issue, they just need to be negotiated.