Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, October 31, 2005

Bizarre Quote of the Day

"Hamburgers are to Cape Town cuisine what coloureds are to South African racial politics -- everybody has an opinion on what defines the perfect hamburger." - Chris Roper of the Mail & Guardian writing in an article on finding Cape Town's best hamburger.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Zuma playing the fiddle
As much as it grates me to admit it, Jacob Zuma is playing out his 'second coming' like a true political architect. He has so firmly attached himself to the grass roots support of the ANC, and thus ensured that any other prospective presidential succession option will seem aloof and out of touch, that he is fast becoming a real danger to the ANC's, and South Africa's, status quo. For the last two months, Zuma has been campaigning around the country, singing revolution songs and whipping up the crowds. Yesterday was almost a zenith for Zuma, speaking at a wreath laying ceremony for one of the ANC's highest luminaries, Oliver Tambo. Zuma used it to further distance himself from Mbeki in small snide references in stories:

"Tambo read the speech [that Zuma wrote] and asked: do you - the ANC leaders present - think this speech is really suitable for the president of the ANC? (President Thabo) Mbeki offered to spruce up the speech, but Tambo refused.

"When the audience gave a standing applause after the speech, I went to him and said: I wrote that speech which you turned down, but the audience clearly didn't agree with you."

He also used it to build his own legend, highlighting the similarities between himself and Tambo, and incessantly noting his 'grooming' by the former ANC President.

In my view, Zuma is a creating an incredibly inflammatory situation for our democracy that will culminate at his trial. Should he be found not guilty, he will be swept on a wave of populist support that will undoubtedly take him into the presidency and infer that he will be forced to make certain populist decisions. Should he be found guilty, it will no doubt unleash a popular uprising against the judiciary that may threaten to pull the democratic principles of the new South Africa apart. Neither of which seem to bode well...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

The Impotence of the PLO
Wednesday's suicide attacks in Israel are the perfect illustration of the absolute lack of influence that Mahmoud Abbas holds over the militant groups in the Palestine, most notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Whilst Abbas has condemned the attack, and called for the disarmament of the militant groups, his appeals have carried no weight. Abbas seems to have peace in his heart, but without the militant message of Yasser Arafat -and perhaps his money- he is simply unable to stop their attacks.

Increasingly he is becoming a lame duck president, unable to be taken seriously as his state's leader and no longer recognised as the decision-maker and negotiation partner for Palestine. Sharon stated yesterday that he will no longer enter discussions with Abbas. Even worse, Egyptian President Mubarak has will meet with Hamas and Islamic Jihad without the PLO and has stated that the peace process cannot be based on the disarmament of the militant groups, thus seriously undermining Abbas' position. Sharon's decision to withdraw from Gaza in order to improve Israel's security and provide a platform for negotiations seems to have been soundly negated by the PLO's impotence.

Further, with Islamic Jihad taking a more active role in the fight against Israel, there is a distinct danger that Hamas will see the militant group as a political and ideological threat to its stature. If this occurs, we may see a marked increase in the number of attacks against Israel as Hamas tries to reassert its ideological dominance.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Rosa Parks
Fodder's beaten me to it, but some sad news was the passing overnight of Rosa Parks. Parks has come to symbolise the civil rights movement after her commitment to refuse to stand for a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus led to the nationwide bus boycott and the rise to prominence of Dr Martin Luther King. It always amazes me how such huge revolutionary movements often get sparked off by the smallest things, which have the ability to unite a gathering force to fight a common enemy. Rosa Parks was a very reluctant hero, and spent the majority of her life trying to escape public limelight. Yet still, she is seen as a central mythical figure in the fight for civil rights in the US. Let's hope she finds her peace now...

Monday, October 24, 2005

A South African role in the Middle East
There is a very interesting article in today's Houston Chronicle about the need for the PLO to learn from the South African example, and the differences between the PLO and the ANC in both policy and ideology. It's written by Dennis Ross, who was Clinton's envoy to the Middle East, and who highlights the lessons that have not be learnt by the PLO, and the need for some South African assistance in solving the Middle East peace issue from the Palestinian side:

"The South Africans are far less reticent, especially in challenging those who call for violence, and they are likely to be taken seriously by the Palestinian public. I know from my conversations with members of South Africa's government in Pretoria this summer that they are interested in playing a role — an interest that they have signaled in several venues, including meetings with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

Now is perhaps the time for a visit to Ramallah by Thabo Mbeki, South Africa's president, to share his country's experience and its lessons for the Palestinians.

No one can question whether South Africans struggled. No one can doubt the moral authority of their words. And no one can more forcefully offer a successful and nonviolent pathway to national liberation and a government of basic decency."

I think that's a very good call, and one which would undoubtedly attract Mbeki, given his penchant for - and success in - foreign diplomacy initiatives. I'm not a supporter of the methodologies or policies used by the PLO, and I do view the Palestinians as obstructionists to peace, but any effort that South Africa can play in this regard, especially given its strong ties with the PLO, I will support.

The villain in the piece? France...
In the developing nation fight to reduce choking agricultural subsidies, France has been the incessant leader of the EU cabal stubbornly refusing to make any change. French agricultural subsidies are amongst the highest in the world, and their power in the EU has continually blocked that market to developing nation farmers. Australia, to their credit, has finally highlighted the issue in statements made by Australian trade minister Mark Vaile:

"They [France] need to understand they are threatening the future of global trade and cheating millions of the world's poor out of new hope. It's not enough for them to provide aid and debt relief when the benefits of liberalizing trade are so much greater."

Some have suggested the Hong Kong meeting should be delayed if the EU does not produce an offer to significantly lower its agricultural trade barriers -- an idea Vaile rejected.

"I don't believe the meeting should be postponed, even if the EU does not put forward a better proposal," Vaile said. "I believe that the EU and France would need to account for their actions before the parliament of world opinion."

Couldn't agree more. The effects of these agricultural subsidies negates aid efforts made by France in the developing world, and they should be forced to concede this point. Public awareness within France and pressure from other governments has to be increased, as the only method left open to force France's - and thus the EU's - hand.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Truth Outs
As was widely postulated to be the case, the UN report into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri has found that there was indeed Syrian influence.

The Middle East is filled with surrogate states that manipulate and largely control smaller states within their sphere of influence. This is no different to many other areas of the world, including the former USSR republics and the states within NAFTA. However, the Middle East has the issue of state-supported terrorism, which makes the meddling in the politics of the child state that much more dangerous. Hariri was a firm antagonist against Syrian intervention in the Lebanese state, and he paid the full price for his courage. Ultimately, his assisination led to widespread protest and the withdrawal of all Syrian troops from Lebanon for the first time since the late 1970's, thus backfiring on the Syrians. What punishment or self-recrimination will be upheld in Syria will be difficult to speculate, but most probably will be markedly less than is deserved.

State influence is one thing, but direct military intervention, leading to assassination, is one step too far. The more independent the Middle East states can become, the less they are funneled into one ideological bloc, and the more opportunities there will be to find peaceful solutions in the extended region.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

China's growth and the environment
Whilst the world watches China's phenomenal growth over the past decade, there is a sneaky suspicion that it's also watching an environmental time-bomb. Chinese politicians view environmental awareness as a Western or capitalist weakness and have spared little thought for their impact on the world's environment.

A Greenpeace report published yesterday outlines some of the Chinese environmental threats:

1. China is now by far the world's biggest driver of rainforest destruction

2. The Chinese are firmly on course to overtake the Americans as the world's biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, and thus become the biggest contributors to global warming and the destabilisation of the climate

3. The growth of China's carbon dioxide emissions over the next 20 years will dwarf any cuts in CO2 that the rest of the world can make

4. On current trends, China will by 2031 be consuming 99 million barrels of oil per day. Total world production today is only 84 million bpd

5. Acid rain is falling on one-third of the country

6. Half of the water in its seven largest rivers is "completely useless"

7. Five of the 10 most polluted cities worldwide are in China

8. China - growing at nearly 10% a year - already consumes more grain, meat, coal and steel than the United States

According to Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute in Washington DC, the leading American environmental analyst, if growth continues at 8 per cent a year, by 2031 China's population, likely to be 1.45 billion on current UN predictions, will have an income per person equivalent to that of the US today. He said:

"China's grain consumption will then be two-thirds of the current grain consumption for the entire world. If it consumes oil at the same rate as the US today, the Chinese will be consuming 99 million barrels a day - and the whole world is currently producing 84 million barrels a day, and will probably not produce much more.

"If it consumes paper at the same rate we do, it will consume twice as much paper as the world is now producing. There go the world's forests. If the Chinese then have three cars for every four people - as the US does today - they would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars, compared to the current world fleet of 800 million. They would have to pave over an area equivalent to the area they have planted with rice today, just to drive and park them."

The only realistic pressure that can be placed on China relates to threats of boycotting trade, but with the size of the Chinese trade with Western countries, this is a highly unlikely option for capitalist leaders. The Chinese are in a boom phase were diplomatic pressure is unlikely to sway them either, and it seems as though the world is on a collision course with Chinese consumption.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Blogger Back
I'm back from holiday in the Wild Coast, to a seeming firestorm about avian flu. It's always interesting being out of the news loop for almost two weeks, and return to a media storm about a particular subject. Given the number of infections (mostly in birds not humans), it's interesting to me whether this current media storm is a media driven phenomenon. I.e. is this media alone getting caught up in a feeding frenzy where the prevalence of the story in competing media vehicles drives the importance of the story itself, rather than its actual newsworthiness or credibility. Whilst I have no doubt about the seriousness of the potential epidemic should the avian flu mutate to be able to pass from human to human, there seems to be little new news about the disease in the newspapers, merely lines and lines of quotes from various 'experts' who all seem to be saying the same old thing.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Blogger on leave for ten days
I'll be taking a well earned break up to the Transkei for ten days, and will be returning on the 17th. No posts until then, but plenty after...

Monday, October 03, 2005

A Credibility Crisis
The DA is facing a credibility crisis after their court appeal against the floor-crossing of four of their black MP's was dismissed. This leaves only one black person, Joe Seremane, left in their leadership structure.

Tony Leon's aggressive rhetoric has largely alienated the black population from the DA, and no number of publicity walks through Soweto will bring them back into the fold. It's a difficult dilemma for the DA, but one which offers a rather obvious solution. To have any serious opposition political capital, Tony Leon has to step down and the party has to be markedly shaken up. It is simply too easy for the ANC to tag the racism button to any aggression Leon and the now lilly-white DA uses in attacking government. The firebrand Leon's style, so out of sync with South African politics, is seen by the general public as corroboration of governments racist labeling of him as they see television footage and hear radio excerpts of his oratory explosions.

Leon has led the DA into mediocrity, and it is high time he takes cognisance of this fact. At the moment, the DA is moving more and more to the right in the public's perception, and there is little time to save it.