Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, September 30, 2005

Quote of the Day

"If you wanted to reduce crime, you could - if that were your sole purpose - you could abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down."

- US conservative commentator (and former U.S. education secretary) William J. Bennett speaking on his talk show "Morning in America."

There's racists in every country...

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I don't have too much to add on the Kebble murder, others have done it better, suffice to say it is difficult to conclude that it was undoubtedly a 'botched hijacking'.

The conspiracy theorists are having a field day, with even Moneyweb getting in on the action questioning links between Kebble's murder and the shooting of Allan Gray honcho Stephen Mildenhall in Cape Town recently:

"Sparking the connection between the incidents in people's minds in the investment industry is that Kebble was recently ousted from a number of company boards, with Allan Gray on the side of parties lobbying for Kebble's removal." [The association between the two shootings was being made because of Allan Gray'?s large investment in Western Areas Gold Mine, a company previously controlled by Kebble.]

Whatever the case, the concern for me once again is that international perceptions of South Africa's violent crime rates are only emboldened by a murder with questionable antecedents such as this. We begin to look like Colombia, and for a country needing all the FDI we can get, that's never a good thing.

A great story to sell more newspapers, but not a great story for business.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

There's a way to get things done...
...and a way to ensure that nothing gets done. The white farmers' union TAU SA has chosen the latter route, releasing a statement yesterday appealing to the ANC to refute affirmative action in the agricultural sector with the rationale that "South Africa's blacks were advantaged because of the presence of whites, not disadvantaged".

This is arrogance and political naivete of the highest order, which I suppose is par for the course with these clowns. By way of example, here is more from their statement:

"They (blacks) can live decent lives thanks to the people whom their government wishes to destroy through affirmative action, farm harassment and heavy taxation. After the wave of 'independence' which swept through the continent in the sixties, seventies and even the eighties, black Africa declined, spectacularly so. In many areas it has regressed to what it was before whites came. The imposition of Western 'civilisation' on the continent allowed it to flourish, with cities built mostly by Western colonialists."

Stirring stuff indeed.

It is incredible that the TAU feels that this is a methodology that will force the ANC's hand and enamour them to readdress the issue of affirmative action within the agricultural sector. It borders on extreme arrogance that they regard the ANC as a uncivilised lot that don't deserve to be in government and who will undoubtedly fail like the rest of Africa's governments if they don't heed the wise words of the 6000 white farmers represented. And it borders on racism that they hold the views in this statement anyway in the first place. It's an old apartheid apologist philosophy, believing in the barbarism of the blacks who are "saved" by white civilisation, and thus should accept their lot in being second-class citizens. The status quo has changed fellas, and your side lost.

The way to influence the ANC is to push transformation internally, prove your endeavour, and then use that as a platform for discussion on sunset clauses. No-one escapes their past, and all the strength of Mandela's humanism does not exclude white farmers from paying for the sins of the fathers - or themselves for that matter.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Filtered news
A column in today's Washington Post brings a familiar issue to the fore - the reporting of news in race-related cases. The article outlines two fatal shootings that occurred in Washington, which were reported very differently. As you may expect from the column rationale, the murder of the white citizen was front page news with interviews and neighbourly expressions of condolence, whilst the black citizen's murder was a three-line story tucked away in the newspaper.

This type of nuanced discrimination happens daily in newspapers all over the world, and South Africa is one of the most advanced proponents. South African society has become so desensitised to township murder and crime that it seems that these stories routinely go unreported, whilst stories of the murder of white people in other areas are hailed as examples of our slipping society.

Whilst reporters and publishers will undoubtedly say that this is the reason that it makes the news, that it is rare in these geographic areas of society, this does not seem to be a sustainable argument. It shows a inherent weakness in the logic used as it makes a definite determination of the value of the respective life. It is an issue that demands more attention from both readers and publishers alike.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The worst publicity
All publicity is not always good publicity for brand South Africa, and the front page of the New York Times takes a crack at South Africa's "mean" violent crime, which largely overshadows the lowered crime stats in the recently released government report. Even though it points to the fact that cash-in-transit robberies are down from 2004, the article details the "expert efficiency" of the cash-in-transit thieves and highlights their increasing violence. It goes on to state that "every time the police and security bureaucracy finds a way to thwart criminals, the criminals invent a way around it, or find an easier target." If that were true, crime statistics would be the same if not higher by common logic.

It seems that no news is good news for media and often, in situations like this, where there is good news to talk about the dark side of the news simply sells more papers.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

A sensationalist headline for an important development
"SA Government to Grab 1st Farm" said News24 rather gratuitously. Granted, the farm will be expropriated, but expropriated with payment for the property only subsequent to protracted negotiations with the farmer who has been requesting over 3 times the independently valued amount for his land. Assuming it is truly an independent and robust valuation, then I am in agreement with this expropriation. If it what the farmer would get on the open market, then we have to realise that this is what must occur to bring more rapid change in land restitution. What is important, is that farmers should be directed as to other areas available to them that will not be expropriated in turn.

One has to be a realist and be cognisant of the fact that this process has been left open for ten years and little has been done. One also has to rebut the alarmist, who will pull out the knee-jerk reaction (encouraged by News24) that we are "going the way of Zimbabwe". We're not. This is a natural response to a socio-political situation that will find redressment and balance in the near term.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Islamic militancy in South Africa
An interesting article on radical Islamic factions in South Africa, Anneli Botha from the Institute of Security Studies finds that the threat of Islamic terrorism is "surprisingly real". She points the finger at Qibla historical local role, as well as their role in hijacking what was supposed to be a less violet PAGAD.

"During the anti-apartheid struggle Qibla simultaneously supported the black consciousness movement in South Africa, in particular Pan Africanism. Although Qibla is a purely South African organization, it is manipulated from a safe distance by the Iranian intelligence services, which use the organization not only to propagate the world view of the Islamic Republic, but also as a cover to conduct espionage in RSA. In order to broaden its support base inside the South African Muslim community, Qibla initiated three projects:

1. Played a key role in the formation of the Western Cape-based Islamic Unity Convention (IUC), which was formed in 1994 to serve as an umbrella organization for more than 250 Muslim groups. The objective of the IUC is to promote Islamic unity in South Africa, as a precursor for an Iranian-style Islamic revolution in the country.
2. Positioned itself as the driving force behind the militant/extreme components in PAGAD, in particular the G-Force.
3. Assumed control over the IUC'?s Radio 786. This medium proved to be useful in mobilizing individuals within the Muslim community for its cause."

After detailing PAGAD's rise and fall, Botha goes on to assess the current threat of Islamic terrorism in South Africa:

"The key question, of course, revolves around the likelihood of an al-Qaeda attack against Western interests in South Africa. For its part, the government of RSA hopes that its neutrality in the so-called war against terrorism and its pro-Palestinian stance will spare it from the wrath of international jihadists.

The real threat is to U.S. and other Western interests in the country; in this respect there are major causes for concern. As a nascent democracy, South Africa is obsessed with protecting basic rights, rights that could be exploited by international terrorists working in tandem with local militants. This Â?rights-basedÂ? environment is compounded by widespread official corruption in South Africa that makes it very easy for skilled and experienced terrorists to operate and further their aims (for instance by acquiring fake documentation) without fear of detection. Moreover, South Africa has porous borders and large immigrant communities that can shelter terrorists. Furthermore, high-value targets, including large embassies and the headquarters of multi-national corporations, proliferate in the country."

I think the crack at South Africa being a "rights-based environment" is a bit hyperbolic. True, we have a constitution that enshrines certain rights, but to say that "South Africa is obsessed with protecting basic rights" ignores the fact that many in this country, including those correctly or incorrectly suspected of criminal activity, have had their rights trampled upon since 1994, and I doubt that one could say that it has hindered our security forces. The police's eventual crushing of PAGAD is testiment to this.

All of her other points are well taken, and the various rumblings from Ronnie Kasrils (although last year he stated that there were no Al-Qaeda operatives in the country) about "Al-Qaeda members trying to build their network in southern Africa", as well as concerns by othgovernmentsnts, especially the US and UK, highlight the vulnerabilities in South Africa to Al-Qaeda operatives. Africa has long been an effective hideout, training and transit point for shady international operators, and South Africa is no different. [Read a thorough report on Africa's role in the fight against terrorism here]

We have a potentially volatile political decision coming shortly, which may stir up local Islamic militants. As stated in the report, South Africa's 'independent' status on the war on terror and its stand against the Iraq war, have appeased local militants, but with South Africa officially joining the US-led "War on Terror" list last week, and the upcoming UN decision on the Iran nuclear situation. South Africa's neutral stance has earned it political currency on both sides of the debate, and Mbeki has already been in discussions at the UN this week with factions on both sides, including Condeleeza Rice, Ariel Sharon and representatives from Iran. They're all trying to get South Africa in their camp in the increasing likelyhood of the Iran nuclear question going to the UN Security Council.

Qibla, with its Iranian links, will be watching with interest.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Couldn't have said it better myself
Not sure if Clive Simpkins is reading my blog, but I couldn't have said it better.

"If you want to pitch a program as journalism, then do so. SABC’s Special Assignment is a superb example of genuine investigative TV journalism. But Carte Blanche has degenerated, unsubtly, into electronic tabloid. It sets out sometimes with a misinformed objective in mind and sure as hell doesn’t let the facts get in the way of the subsequently biased program."

Read the full article here.

Friday, September 16, 2005

The novelty shows
Much has been made of the recent BBC World Service/Gallup International poll comparing the perceptions of various countries as to whether its citizens feel that their country is run by the will of the people. IOL trumpets the fact that "only in Scandinavia and South Africa do the majority believe they are ruled according to their wishes". This may be true, but one has to look at its antecedents.

South Africa is a very young democracy, only just ten years old, which when placed against a century-long battle for the overwhelming majority of the country even to have the pleasure of voting in a democracy, is not a long time at all. We are still a liberation democracy, and thus every person feels great pride in the democratic process and values its process. Only recently have we started to feel the winds of change, with certain segments of the population demonstrating against slow government delivery. But, I would suggest, even these people would agree that overall, South Africa is run by the will of the people, because it hasn't been run by the will of the people for over a century. The frame of reference is different in south Africa versus other countries.

Take a look at the US, whose population has had democratic principles for over 200 years. 60% of their population polled stated that the country was not run according to their wishes. Those respondents would be answering with specific issues in mind, as the mature democracy is largely based on issues voting. For example, a respondent would answer 'no', because Roe vs Wade has not been overturned, or because the US went into war with Iraq. In South Africa, we have a much wider view of what constitutes the "will of the people", as from the Freedom Charter, it is what the majority of our country were using as their "constitution" during the struggle against apartheid. To say 'no' to that question in South Africa, would imply a tacit suggestion that it was not the "will of the people" to overthrow apartheid.

This will in time change, but for now the answers to that question, and thus the results of that poll, have to be considered against our political history to draw real inference.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

South Africa's penchant for political personalities
Rhoda Kadalie writes a very good article in today's Business Day on the cult of personality in so many of our local political parties. This has always been an issue in South African politics, and whilst Mandela used this as a huge positive, the majority since, especially in opposition, have brought out the worst in their parties. Kadalie cites the IFP as an example, and has a thorough look at Patricia De Lille's ID, which is currently in its death throes. He writes:

"The cult of the personality has boomeranged on a party that has been mesmerised by a politician who made her name in reaction to ANC misrule rather than in response to a new political direction needed for the country.

Since the ID’s ignominious start, it has deflected attention from its problems by carping at the official opposition and supporting the ANC on all major budget votes — 32 out of the 34.

The ID is rarely in Parliament when budget votes are passed, and at no stage were there more than two of the seven MPs in the National Assembly. Under De Lille’s leadership, the ID has become a lame-duck party and is everything but independent or democratic, hence its increasing flirtation with the ANC and consensus politics, whatever that might mean.

As a new kid on the block, and after just two years, it seems to have had a fair share of thugs and thieves as members, leaving those few honest souls who joined the party for noble reasons once again in the wilderness. It is an important lesson for those who chase after personalities rather than clear political policies and programmes."

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Try Dr Death
It has always been one of post-apartheid's bitterest pills that 'Dr' Wouter Basson was acquitted by an empathetic judge of his despicable torturous and murderous crimes. Yesterday it was decided by the Constitutional Court that he should face trial on six charges of conspiracy to commit offences beyond South Africa's borders. This opens the door for Basson to be tried again, and tried he should be.

Before I get an comments to this point, I realise that putting Basson behind bars would not change the past, but some semblance of justice has to be gained for the vast number of lives that he destroyed under apartheid. I can't imagine what the families of his hundreds of victims think of the judicial system in South Africa. It's time for their retribution.

Floor crossing, which comes to a close at midnight tomorrow night, was the subject of a reportedly riotous debate in Parliament yesterday, and rightly so. Many of the opposition parties originally lobbied for its introduction in 2001, but yesterday all but the ANC called for its scrapping.

The problem for smaller parties is simple. Floor-crossing can only take place if 10% of the party seeks defection, which for a smaller party of say 20 seats, is easily reached. For the ubiquitous ANC, about 27 MPL's have to seek defection, which is a significantly harder prospect. If 20 MPL's were to seek defection the law would prevent them from doing so. This holds the huge disadvantage for opposition parties.

The disadvantage for the general public is that we lose total respect for our MPL's, and most importantly, our process of democracy. It's a natural result of our proportional representation system, where seats are allocated as opposed to voted out of a constituency. This concludes that the MPL is accountable to party only, rather than the people, and with every floor crossing comes a disappointing inference of the impotence of the democratic voting process. Proponents will argue that it reflects the MPL acting in the best interests of his or her abilities to influence policy, but to me, it will always be an MPL acting in his or her own interests of power at the abject disadvantage to those that voted the MPL into Parliament.

In my opinion, floor-crossing largely does far more harm than good, and is a misguided principle that denigrates the strength of what South Africans fought for in their new democracy. It should be scrapped immediately. Will it happen? Not with the ANC in power.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mending the fences
The joint statement put out by the Zuma and Mbeki over the weekend, largely brokered by the ANC's NEC, holds a shaky peace between the two split factions of the ANC, but continues to highlight Mbeki's leadership mettle.

Whilst many will argue that this is a desperate act of a divided ANC to mend fences ahead of upcoming regional elections, I also think it is a marked triumph for Mbeki's style of leadership. In previous posts I outlined what Mbeki's response would have to be to burn out the flames of the Zuma issue, and he has played it like a fine philharmonic. He has largely kept out of the fray in the face of Cosatu, the ANCYL and SACP drum-beating, leaving his deputies to fight the battles, and thus has not elevated the crisis further. Now, by pulling Zuma into this joint agreement, he has forced Zuma and his supporters to accept the rule of law in following judicial progress, and has strong-armed the alliance partners back into the party line.

"?We need to respect Mbeki just like we respect Zuma, which means that the anti-Mbeki songs (at Cosatu and ANC mass gatherings) must stop," Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said.

This storm will blow over. Hat tip once again, Thabo Mbeki.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Bad news on human development
As we could well expect with the ravages of AIDS and poverty in SA, we have been steadily slipping on the United Nations' Human Development Index, dropping 35 places to 120 out of 177 countries since its inception in 1990. [Report available here, UN HDR website here] The explanation is in the criteria:

"The HDI focuses on three measurable dimensions of human development: living a long and healthy life, being educated and having a decent standard of living. It therefore combines measures of life expectancy, school enrolment, literacy and income to allow a broader view of a country's development than does income alone."

From those criteria it's clear to see where South Africa goes wrong. What is still worrying though, is that we have lost so much ground against other nations on the scale. The fact that even Palestine is ahead of South Africa is even more worrying, although I suppose that smaller population countries would score higher on literacy and school enrollment.

Some explanation was offered by UN officials under statistical manipulation by the Apartheid State: "UNDP officials said South Africa's HDI fall was inevitable, taking into account the manipulation of statistics by the apartheid system, which simply ignored millions of residents on the fiction that they were citizens of some notionally independent country."

However, even accounting for the fact that those statistics were poorly crafted, the current statistics must infer that we are actually in a far worse position socio-economically than many would think.

Mbeki's service delivery remains very much in the spotlight...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

SABC bias swept under the carpet
As if the conclusion was ever in any doubt, the investigators into the allegations of bias at the SABC in covering the Deputy President "booing" issue have determined that there was no bias. Ignoring any evidence offered by E-TV, the investigators found their 'patsy', the freelance cameraman Sanjay Singh who was reportedly "late on the scene", a fabrication disproved by E-TV's own coverage. The determination that the "incident was fully covered in the SABC radio news" is laughable at best, and at worst, incredibly worrying.

Bush's big gamble
With Judge William H. Rehnquist's recent passing, the space at the head of the US legal system, the chief justice, has opened up, and President George W Bush is laying all his cards on the line in nominating Judge John G. Roberts Jr. for the post. Judge John G. Roberts Jr. was his nomination for replacement of the Supreme Court seat.

Chief Justice's are often replaced from outside of the Supreme Court bench, but Bush knows that he will be in for a major fight on Roberts in the Senate. This move falls under the "legacy" ambit of Bush's presidency. A Chief Justice will serve out his entire life, and it is any President's great wish to be able to leave a legacy of a Chief Justice that will be able to shape US law in the same eyes as the President himself. With Roberts being a mere 50 years of age, that means that the Republicans will have 25-30 years of a Chief Justice that carries their legal ideology.

Bush can expect a huge fight to nominate Roberts. He is a strong conservative (albeit there are more extreme versions on the Supreme Court bench) and the Democrats will spare no favours to Bush on his nomination, especially given that Bush is politically vulnerable at present under the poor response to Hurricane Katrina.

Phumzile's burglars walk free
In what is even more embarrassing than the original security breach, the two suspects in the burglary on Deputy President Phumzile Mhlambo-Ncguka's home have been released through a lack of evidence.

Whilst many people used to theft and crime carried poorly hidden grins when the Deputy President was found to be a victim, they will be wringing their hands with glee now that she has been a victim of the all too familiar "charges dropped through lack of evidence" scenario. Let's hope that this may spark Phumzile into action to address the vast shortcomings in our policing service.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The DA at Crossroads
Whilst rumours of the DA's demise may be grossly exaggerated, the party does face a crossroads. Having pinned great hopes of a net gain in the floor crossing farce, they now have a situation where four NNP members of parliament crossed to the ANC, thus shattering the DA's hopes of a majority in their traditional stronghold, the Western Cape legislature.

Much has been said of Tony Leon's style of politics, which simply does not suit the South African political climate. His verbosity on attack and sniping comments against the presidency and the ANC are only construed by the masses to be tinged with racism, and to them it is patent that he is always trying to be the champion of the previously advantaged. Leon's leadership offers little to the Black majority and offers little as an alternative in government to the ANC. He has become something of a lost cause, one which those within the DA seem to tolerate because the party has largely become so markedly ingrained with the Tony Leon personality and one which the rest of the population ignores as his oft overboard criticism and opportunistic style alienates the party's view from mainstream appeal.

It is time, and has been for two years, for new DA leadership. A Black leader with vision and transparency who will present alternative offerings to the ANC beginning at a regional level, and move to challenge at national level. The question naturally remains whether Leon has squeezed the lifeblood out of the DA as a brand and whether their is any party presence that a new leader could save. I think that the DA should be bigger than Tony Leon, although it may take some time. New leadership can build on its largely White platform and slowly begin to aggregate Black votes through supportive and inclusive rhetoric, presenting real solutions and alternatives, as opposed to abject criticism of every government move. It may take some time to repair the damage, but the time for change is now.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Quote of the Day

"It's like being in a Third World country"

- Mitch Handrich, manager at Louisiana's biggest public hospital on the effects of Hurricane Katrina.

If I hear another person glibly refer to this as their "Asian Tsunami", and thus equate one American life to 2500 Indonesian ones, I may start to write letters.