Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, June 30, 2005

Whether true or not, it's scary

It's either a very significant indictment of Iran's new leadership, otherwise it's the best politically motivated hack job the liberal CNN has ever fallen for. You decide:
A quarter-century after they were taken captive in Iran, five former American hostages say they got an unexpected reminder of their 444-day ordeal in the bearded face of Iran's new president-elect.

Watching coverage of Iran's presidential election on television dredged up 25-year-old memories that prompted four of the former hostages to exchange e-mails.

And those four realized they shared the same conclusion -- the firm belief that President-elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been one of their Iranian captors.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A sight of the next cold war?
Newspapers globally have been reporting on comments made by a senior US Army representative, General Leon LaPorte, that the US Army can "decisively defeat the North Korean threat", and that "whether North Korea has one or several nuclear weapons does not change the balance on the peninsula."

This kind of rhetoric immediately harkens back to the old days of the Cold War in the Sixties, and as crazy as it sounds, it may have some significance. Whilst the US has been largely focused on deterring nuclear ambitions in the Iraq and more recently Iran, with an overriding focus of bringing democracy to the Middle East, the North Koreans have gone about their business of developing nuclear arms halfway across the world. As Bush has no doubt concluded, Islamic militants with nuclear weapons are more of an unpredictable direct threat than the more predictable example of Natan Sharansky's "fear society" of North Korea, with all its bluster and hubris. This aside, it is well established that the North Koreans most likely have developed a number of nuclear weapons, and it looks like a strategy of containment, as opposed to aggression, is prudent.

According to Sharansky, fear societies such as North Korea have to have an outside threat to maintain internal discipline and blind patriotism, and will react with aggression if attacked. Whilst Sharansky leans toward pre-emptive strikes, it would be interesting to see what he would say about the North Korean situation, given the nuclear end game in which aggression against North Korea could see nuclear missiles landing on the USA's west coast.

As few presidents in a democracy such as the US would have the confidence to launch aggressive strikes against a nuclear power with the chance of retaliatory strikes against their homeland, one would conclude that the US would enter into a nuclear containment approach. North Korea does not have the resources to compete with the US as a Superpower state, but a nuclear-equipped North Korea does notably shift the power balance in the East. Whilst China has made significant strides back into the Western world, there still remain fears of a combative China supporting a rogue North Korean state, which would then herald a Superpower Eastern bloc, similar to the old Cold War scenario.

We're a long way off, but stranger things have happened, and history has a nasty habit of repeating itself...

Monday, June 27, 2005

BEE Codes
On Friday, the DTI unveiled the new BEE codes of practice to wide acclaim. These slightly revised codes are meant to entrench a broad-based BEE initiative, as opposed to the status quo of largely enriching a few key members of the business community. However, they once again refute the current belief held by many businesses in South Africa that regard BEE as being singularly about ownership.

The ownership emphasis has been the single most important driver of top heavy BEE deals amongst the black elite, at the expense of the greater non-white society. The BEE codes work on a scorecard of factors, each weighted according to importance, to reach an overall score of 100. Most importantly, ownership is only granted 20 points out of that 100. In other words, if your business does a gives away ownership equity to a BEE partner, but neglects the other facets in the BEE code, the maximum your company can get on the BEE scorecard is 20, giving you a poor BEE rating. This fact is lost on many South African businesses.

All the other facets, bar one, are given 10 point weightings. The second most important item is preferential procurement, which is also given a 20 point weighting, reflecting its critical nature in the path of transformation in South Africa. Preferential procurement states that companies must procure goods and services from empowered companies where possible, and this is the only way to truly filter down BEE benefits to the lower tiers of the economy. It is an incredibly effective tool to force industry-wide BEE initiatives, as opposed to only affecting the top tiers of business.

As I've always stated, although I do think there should be a sunset clause based on a set target, I do agree with BEE principles, and I think the DTI scorecard is a fair, equitable and well shaped idea. Businesses have to get their heads around preferential procurement, becasue it is a key driver in our economy.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Non-story of the Day Award

The world faces an estimated 50% chance of a nuclear, biological, chemical or radiological attack over the next five years, according to national security analysts surveyed for a congressional study released on Wednesday.

Thanks for that.

Madam Deputy
There was always going to be controversy whomever was given the poisoned chalice by President Mbeki, and it's no different for Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Besides her impressive delivery credentials, I know very little about Mlambo-Ngcuka, save for the obvious impression of her husband's stature. Like Laurence, I blame the press for these omissions.

As was always expected, the left wing of the ANC is livid about the appointment for two reasons. Firstly, they had expected Mbeki to placate them with a deputy that was more lenient on the left wing and trade union membership, whereas Mlambo-Ngcuka is all business. Secondly, and more incendiary for them, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the wife of former NPA head Bulenani Ngcuka who publicly accused Zuma of corruption in 2003. For those decrying Zuma's arraignment as a "political vendetta", the appointment of its instigator's wife only adds fuel to the fire.

For others, Mlambo-Ngcuka is tainted with a corruption smell as well. There is the brewing Oilgate scandal involving PetroSA, which Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka oversaw during her stint as Minerals and Energy Minister. In this growing scandal, Phumzile's brother Bonga Mlambo is alleged to have been given R50 000 by Imvume.

Personally, I don't think that Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is a natural successor for the presidency in 2009. Mbeki is rewarding cabinet members who have been true to his delivery mantra, and is entrenching a positive gender approach within his presidency. This is an appointment that serves his legacy, as opposed to a future presidential successor.


Nothing like strong support from your mum:
I'm in a state of shock. I can't believe it," said 75-year-old Sabbath Mlambo from her home in New Germany, outside Pinetown in KwaZulu Natal. She worried about the magnitude of her daughter's appointment, noting that Mlambo-Ngcuka had never been regarded as a leader when she was growing up.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Zuma charged

"We have decided to bring criminal charges against former deputy president Jacob Zuma, among them two counts of corruption." - NPA spokesperson Makhosini Nkosi.

Zuma gets his day in court, and South Africa gets months of continued media frenzy. Be warned, this may open a can of corruption worms. Zuma will not go down without a fight, and we can expect significant mud-slinging in the coming months.

When good ideas go wrong
I pulled up the National Prosecuting Authority's website moments ago to check on their decision whether or not to prosecute Jacob Zuma. The site offers XML-pulled headlines in crime related stories from IOL. Great idea in theory, but leaves something to be desired in practice. Bear in mind that this is the National Prosecuting Authority's website as you read these classics on the front page:

"Family still waiting for justice to be served"
"Drunk driving case postponed for the 8th time"
"Cash-in-transit guard shot in the head", [and my personal favourite:]
"NPA prosecutor in court over corruption"

Get someone to vet those headlines guys.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

I'm heading up to Kruger Park until Sunday, so my next post will be on Monday 20th June.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005


Well done Thabo!

The Star reports Zuma axed
After a few days of political wrangling and drum beating, The Star is reporting that Mbeki has officially axed Jacob Zuma as deputy president. The newspaper, as yet unconfirmed by other major media sources, reports:
In a dramatic day in Johannesburg, the president on Monday axed the man he appointed as his second-in-command in 1999 and again in 2004. Zuma's axing means he will not reply to questions in the National Council of Provinces as scheduled. The decision to fire him came after a meeting of the ANC's extended national working committee at its headquarters at Luthuli House in Johannesburg on Monday. This had followed Mbeki's consultations with senior party leaders, including those in the provinces. Zuma's firing was confirmed by senior government officials on Monday.

It is expected that Zuma will be replaced by ANC national chairperson Mosiuoa Lekota, although Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has also been mentioned. Zuma's axing may also involve a cabinet reshuffle.

Senior ANC insiders said Mbeki had little choice but to act firmly following the damning judgment in the trial of Shaik, Zuma's financial adviser. They conceded, however, that the deputy president's strong support base in the ruling party and its tripartite alliance partners made the president's decision a difficult one.

"I don't think the president has any option but to fire Zuma," one senior ANC source said.

If true, it's a very courageous move by Mbeki, but one that he had to make, both for global legitimacy, and for his own legacy. It may well start a major firestorm within the ANC, but Mbeki is an incredibly shrewd and commanding leader, and I wouldn't be surprised if he, along with other senior party officials, keep the party in line. Don't be surprised to see a number of senior ANC leaders coming out in support of Mbeki's decision to bolster support and bring in the rank and file.

Monday, June 13, 2005

The gravest of injustices
It's appalling that most of us have never heard of Hamilton Naki. Naki died two weeks ago and took with him the chance of true retribution from South African society. Naki is a man failed by Apartheid, and failed again by us all.

Hamilton Naki was the surgeon who's team performed the first half of the famed Christiaan Barnard heart transplant at Groote Schuur hospital in 1967. Under the Apartheid regime, he was not allowed to study medicine, was not allowed into a white hospital's operating theatre, and was not allowed to operate on a white person.

Naki had been self taught during his adolescence. At the age of fourteen he was hired by the University of Cape Town to maintain the tennis courts on the university grounds. In 1954 he was promoted to helping with the care of laboratory animals. He soon progressed from cleaning cages to more advanced laboratory work. Such was his skill, that he was drafted in early in the heart transplant team and the majority of the research and testing carried out on animals preceding the surgery was undertaken by Naki. Naki was drawn into the actual surgery team, and was responsible for taking the heart out of the recently deceased Denise Darvall, which was then given to Barnard to transplant.

But given that a lauded black heart surgeon was never something the Apartheid state would tolerate, Naki was kept under wraps and was listed only as the hospital's gardener. Whilst Barnard went on to milk international fame and recognition, Naki returned to his one-room shack in Langa without electricity or running water. When he retired, he was paid a gardener's pension.

In 2002, Naki was given the Bronze Order of Mapungubwe, one of South Africa's highest honours, but it did little to bring him the widespread fame that he so richly deserved. Ironically enough, it seems that he has continued to be markedly celebrated internationally, putting our own media and culture to shame. Headline obituaries can be found in the print editions of The Economist, The New York Times, The LA Times, The Telegraph and the The Independent. In South Africa, all I can find are passing articles noting his death.

A 2003 interview with Naki is carried in the Guardian quotes the heralded Dr Barnard as saying "[Naki] probably had more technical skill than I had."

I salute 'Doctor' Hamilton Naki.

Friday, June 10, 2005

African trade
Leading up to the G8 meeting, with it's all important focus on Africa, it's critical to remember what African primary producers are up against. Ghanian journalist Cameron Duodu writes in the Independent of an example of Etheopian coffee export:
What does Ethiopia gain by trying to satisfy the alluring, but deceptive, export market? I found the answer in a heart-rending tale by a Ugandan coffee entrepreneur, Andrew Rugasira, He revealed that: "One needs approximately five grams of roasted and ground beans to make a cup of coffee that sells [in the UK] for £2, so one kilogram can make 200 cups, worth £400. Green coffee beans are bought [in the coffee growing countries] for an average price of 70p per kilogram. In other words, less than 0.2 per cent of the value of processed coffee is retained by the growers."

Where does the remaining 99.8 per cent of the coffee price go? Mostly to the transnational corporations that roast coffee and sell it to the supermarkets and smart coffee shops of the West.

Fiscal conservatives will no doubt say that it's their fault, they should be moving further up the value chain and exporting roasted coffee, but in my view, that's unfair and in most cases, naive. What is required is Western companies investing in Ethiopia and assisting in establishing roasting factories, as most of these producers in Africa are so poor in relation to their Western counterparts, that there is simply no avenue for them to pursue. They cannot afford to import critical technologies that would allow them to compete with transational companies, and if they were to do so, those transationals would undoubtedly and rapidly crush them in a price war.

Then there's the obvious injustice of agricultural subsidies, which probably does more to keep Africa poor than any other economic structure. As the Western leadership so often gesticulates, whilst they berate African countries for holding on to trade barriers, trade has the benefit of increasing export revenues and growth. Interesting that their barriers are still up then. Finally, there's the need for more stringent anti-dumping laws, where again Africa takes a beating.

All of these elements require constant pressure on Western governments, and it is up to us to maintain that pressure. Read up here and get involved.


Although her leanings are often more left than mine, Naomi Klein writes a sage article in the Guardian regarding this very topic.

This is what keeps Africa poor: not a lack of political will but the tremendous profitability of the current arrangement. Sub-Saharan Africa, the poorest place on earth, is also its most profitable investment destination. It offers, according to the World Bank's 2003 Global Development Finance report, "the highest returns on foreign direct investment of any region in the world". Africa is poor because its investors and its creditors are so unspeakably rich.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Madelaine Albright on Arab Democracy
Ex-Secretary of State Madelaine Albright writes on op-ed piece in the Washington Post. She argues:
"that if Arabs are able to express their grievances freely and peacefully, they are less likely to turn to extreme measures and more likely to build open and prosperous societies. And in promoting democratic institutions in Arab countries, we should bear in mind that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable. Our goal should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.

Well worth a read, get it here.

All Eyes on Thabo
Thabo Mbeki flies back into the country today, a man scrutinised as never been before during his presidency. This decision will be a yard-stick of his political leadership, and will be a crucial test of the character of the man.

The pressure is squarely on his shoulders; facing an expectant nation with one side wanting to see him support a fellow resistance leader, and the other wanting him to show the world that this South Africa government defies corruption. The G8 is waiting in the wings, with Bush's future Aid, and much of Mbeki's NEPAD, reliant on Africa's willingness to rid its governments of corruption. A softening on Zuma will surely have a marked effect on these discussions.

With Mbeki being a second term president, and one concerned with his legacy, the prudent response would be to follow an NPA announcement of charges being brought with a request for Zuma's resignation 'until the end of the trial', by which time Zuma will most likely be damaged beyond repair. Should Zuma refuse to resign, as has been inferred, then Mbeki would have to take the courageous step of relieving him of his duties as Vice-President.

This would naturally fly in the face of Zuma support from within the ANC and Tripartate Alliance, with the party lines already extremely blurred at present, but this may well be a risk Mbeki is willing to take. The ANCYL, along with other supporters, has already hedged their bets on their support of Zuma by calling for him to have the 'opportunity' to face trial. Much of Zuma's support comes from ANC back-benchers and factions of the ANC rank-and-file membership, who believe that this has from the outset been a political feud. However, Mbeki may believe that these members may be swayed by his tough leadership, perhaps relying on other high profile ANC members to bring these segments into the party line.

It will also give Mbeki a defendable reason to shake up his cabinet, something he has been interested in pursuing since his reelection, and clears the way for his partial successors, not least of which is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

In my view, Thabo Mbeki has been a man never slow to take on his opponents, and I think that he will face this political watershed by ridding himself of Zuma from both his cabinet, and the vice-presidency.

Monday, June 06, 2005

The Zuma irony
There's some fantastic irony in the fact that Jacob Zuma takes over as acting president today with Mbeki out of the country in Chile. What does add a little bit of substance to the rumour mill is that National Prosecuting Authority head Vusi Pikoli will accompany the president to Chile.

Some idle airplane banter perhaps?

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sudan Red Herring?
Thanks for the brand damage

Thursday, June 02, 2005

On the ground in Zim
This e-mail letter from Eddie Cross, a Zimbabwean from Harare writing to friends, is being circulated around the net. It offers a very stark, but insightful view on the situation in Zimbabwe at present:

"The Destruction of the Informal Sector.

In the past week the government of Zimbabwe has taken steps to destroy much of what has become known throughout Africa as the informal sector. This consists of about 3 million small-scale business enterprises - none of whom are registered or pay direct taxes but which play a major part in the nation’s economy.

There are 800 000 small scale peasant farmers and their families, but it is in the cities where this kind of economic activity has thrived as the formal sector has crashed. The activities take on many forms - cross border traders who take orders from urban business and then find the foreign exchange and go to South Africa or Botswana to source the products required. I estimated once that about 5000 traders crossed the borders every day doing anything up to 20 per cent of all imports.

Vegetable and fruit sellers are found almost everywhere - a vendor selling just a few tomatoes every day can make as much as a worker in industry. Small scale industry goes on where ever there is a vacant lot and takes on all sorts of tasks and produce products such as wire netting, door frames, windows, furniture. The motor industry and public transport is another area of informal sector business - hundreds of small vans operate in urban areas and provide a very efficient form of local transport, which is used by millions every day.

In the housing sector the role of the informal economy is just as ubiquitous - with a back log in housing running to over 1 million units on official lists and only 1,4 million housing units actually on the ground, over 40 per cent of the urban population is thought to be technically homeless - they live in crowded tenements and as lodgers - often living as a whole family in a single room. Desperate for any sort of privacy and family life many take to constructing shacks in other peoples yards or on vacant ground in peri urban and township areas.

This means that some where about 2,5 million people live in makeshift urban accommodation without adequate sanitation or clean water. They include hundreds of thousands of children. Many brought to the towns because the education and health services are so much better than they are in the rural areas, or their parents have died from Aids or a related illness and they are living with the extended family.

So we have a massive structure of informal sector activities - almost eclipsing the formal sector that was so dominant in 1980. I estimate that informal business may generate as much as half our GDP, handle as much as 40 per cent of all foreign exchange and 20 per cent of our exports and imports. They support 3,4 million urban people and 4 million rural people. They provide transport for the great majority and meet the basic housing requirements of at least 8 million people. They pay taxes through the indirect systems of taxation that exist (VAT and others) and provide a huge market for the formal sector as well as income support for the majority.

Despite the complete failure of the Zanu regime to maintain the formal sector - with GDP declining nearly 50 per cent in 7 years, exports down by half and employment by over 40 per cent - the State has now decided to decimate the one thing that is working - the informal sector.

If I had not seen it myself I could not have believed that so stupid and heartless a thing could be carried out. On Thursday last week I watched armed police destroy the markets in Beitbridge - the border town with South Africa. I saw them burn food, steal groceries and smash furniture. Afterwards one street kid said to me as I walked past - "this is cyclone Gono!" referring to the governor of the Reserve Bank who seemed to have triggered this exercise in an effort to gain control of informal money markets. Others just sat stunned - not quite appreciating that the State had just robbed them of virtually everything they owned.

We saw evidence of the cyclone all the way to Harare and then over the weekend we saw the Capital City go up in flames. The markets at Magaba, Mbare all destroyed and billions of dollars worth of goods taken or destroyed. My daughter witnessed a team on the street cutting a vendors hot dog stand loose and then loading it onto a truck - she remonstrated with them and they threatened to arrest her. Some Z$2 billion in cash stolen from vendors by the Police.

All over the City homes were destroyed, goods stolen or destroyed and people threatened with loaded weapons and live ammunition. They were also threatened with tear gas supplied by Israel that stuns its victims.

Officers in charge of this mindless destruction said that they had orders to shoot anyone resisting. In one area I visited the majority of the squatters had voted Zanu PF in the recent election, believing that in doing so they were protecting themselves from eviction because the land they occupied was not theirs - they sat stunned by events surrounded by burnt out wrecks of their homes and crying children who had spent the night out in the cold.

The question is why are they doing this - punishment is one reason given by police to those they were hurting, punishment for voting MDC in the cities. But I think there is another reason and this is that Mugabe - now in the final stages of his rule, has decided - like Stalin in the 30's and Pol Pot in the 60's and the Afrikaner administration in South Africa, that it is time to move some people out of the cities and back to the rural areas. This is a mass eviction of unwanted urban poor being forced to go "back to their rural homes" and "grow food!"

In the cities they are a threat - restless, independent and proving a powerful support base for opposition politics. In the rural areas they can be controlled and perhaps forced to grow food where none is being grown at present. Will they get away with it - probably, just like Stalin and Pol Pot and the apartheid regime. But only for a while, eventually the tide will turn and when it does, those who were the oppressors will themselves become the victims of their own evil acts.

To back up this thesis that strange new Ministry called the Ministry of Rural Housing and Social Amenities with Munangagawa in charge has been given a massive budget from nowhere to operate with. This suggests that they really are trying to force a relocation of population. In the past 5 years, rural populations have been declining - the math's suggest by as much as 10 per cent per annum. This coupled with the impact of Aids has meant that these areas can no longer even feed themselves. Mugabe is trying to reverse this situation.

When you go to bed tonight - just think of those tens of thousands of poor, hungry, destitute people and their children who will sleep in the open in near zero temperatures, without hope or a future. Mugabe is goading the population to revolt - then he can declare a state of emergency and remove what is left of our civil liberties and rights."

Eddie Cross

Bulawayo, 1st June 2005

Shaik Guilty
Shabir Shaik has just been found guilty on the two counts of corruption and one of fraud, more to follow...

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The New Colonists
The Guardian carries an article on the "new scramble for Africa"; efforts made by multinationals, often with tacit Western government support, to enter agreements with corrupt fiefdoms for their mineral wealth. Conservatives would call it simple capitalism, but when there's millions of starving people ruled by corrupt leadership, a little more care is required.

Simon Taylor, director of Global Witness, which has been prominent in urging reform, said: "Western companies and banks have colluded in stripping Africa's resources. We need to track revenues from oil, mining and logging into national budgets to make sure that the money isn't siphoned off by corrupt officials."


"Who was Deep Throat?"
The story of the day is undoubtedly the unmasking of the "Deep Throat" source from the Watergate scandal as being former FBI number two Mark Felt. While most of us were not even born then, the Watergate scandal had far reaching effects on US governance and Oval Office policy.

The Washington Post broke the story in the early 1970's, and in doing so, brought the newspaper onto the world stage, defined both journalism and politics for half a decade, and created instant celebrities of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Last night's announcement brings to a close one of the most closely guarded secrets in US history.

What makes this so fascinating is that it offers two great stories; the intriguing tension between power and the press, and one man's decision to betray his pseudo-paymaster in the interests of truth. The story, and the resultant resignation of the President were a milestone for journalism in the US. But in the midst of the aggressive polarisation of a 'conservative' government (and its followers) railing against the antics of a perceived 'liberal' press, the story was also a showcase of a well functioning society, where no person is above reproach. Investigative journalism was proven to compel transparency and force conversations contained in silence, and it largely defined investigative journalism's appeal and function in the last thirty years.

It also gives Bob Woodward free reign to write his next book, which will no doubt be out before Christmas..


These guys must not have been happy this morning.