Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Third Term
Sanco's proposal to request the constitution to allow Mbeki is third term is a waste of time, and his highly regrettable. Mbeki himself does not support this amendment, and it would be dire for South Africa to follow this route. Lifetime presidents have been the bane of Africa's political past, and I'm a firm believer in the proverb "absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Sanco's president, Mlungisi Hlongwane, is a close ally of Mbeki, but I cannot see this as an initiative being pushed from Mbeki's side. I think this is a proposal from a group desperate to see South Africa's strong growth continue, but it should not come at the expense of the constitution. The South African constitution is still in its nascent stages, and it needs all the support it can get. As soon as we start changing major pieces like the presidential terms, we chip away at its strength and begin to turn it into a document that can markedly change at the whim of those in power. As can be seen with our Northern neighbours, this is never a good thing.

Friday, January 27, 2006

"The main problem is the Zionist (Israeli) occupation and continuing aggression against our people," Ismail Haniya [chief candidate of Hamas] told journalists outside his home in Gaza City.

"The first step is not for Hamas," he said when asked what the group's first step would be. "It's for the international community to put strong pressure on Israel to restore our rights and end all the occupation."

"The United States and the European Union must put pressure on the occupation and not on the Palestinian people. We want equality, security and freedom for all the Palestinian people, but this cannot come without the end of the occupation on our land."

Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip last year, ending a 38-year occupation, but remains in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem, which it also annexed in 1967.

"Hamas will work in two ways. The first way is resistance and self-defence, the second is national dialogue in the Palestinian territories... our fighting is only with the Zionist enemy," Haniya said.

Bye bye peace process...

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The voter's contradiction
It seems as though Hamas will acquire enough votes in today's Palestinian elections to force themselves into a power-sharing government with the Fatah movement. What makes this so bizarre is that this is a "party" that does not believe in democracy in the first place. It infers that there will be little hope of peace in the next few years in Israel/Palestine as Hamas' belligerent approach to Israel is markedly different to the more moderate Fatah movement. There are centuries of hate between Hamas and Israel, and both sides will be hard pressed to forego their electoral support and reach any kind of agreement, especially since Hamas is still a banned group in Israel.

Many commentators have stated that the rise in support for Hamas is less a support of Hamas' policies, and more retribution against decades of corruption and mismanagement by the ruling Fatah. This could then bring about the worst situation for Palestine; a Hamas-controlled government with a apathetic voter base who don't really care what Hamas does, as long as Fatah is not in power.

The key Palestinian question remains, whoever is in power: Can they control violent activity in Palestine? Hamas is made up of a number of factions, and there are a number of additional extremist groups outside of their control. Hamas can lay little claim to be able to tame them all, although undoubtedly they could be more effective than Fatah. It takes one suicide bomb to derail a sensitive peace process, and one cannot see a Hamas/Fatah government being able to monopolise all radical groups in Palestine, even if Hamas were to take the highly unlikely step of renouncing terrorism.

It will be an interesting election, but one can only feel that with the fall from power of Sharon, and the rise of Hamas as a political Palestinian force, another chance for peace has been lost for at least five years.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Sudan to back down
The UK's Independent is reporting that Sudan last night "signaled that it was ready to withdraw its candidacy to chair the African Union after five countries withdrew their support." If true, it marks the passing of what would have been a credibility crisis for the AU, and perhaps a death-knell for international support of the body.

Sudan's chairing of the AU would have blocked any efforts by the AU to police government-sponsored atrocities within the Darfur region and would have kept any UN peace-keeping efforts there firmly off the AU agenda. The collapse of the bid through strong negotiation and diplomacy by other Africa n Union members bodes well for the body and is another stepping-stone in the maturing of African politics.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Anton rupert
I'm sure I'll not be the first or last to pay respects to Anton Rupert, but suffice to say he was a pioneer who put South African business firmly on the global platform. His skills not only forged his own business empire, but also initiatives that changed the lives of others, such as the WWF, the Small Business Development Corporation and the Peace Parks Foundation. His passing yesterday leaves a large hole in South African business. May he rest in peace.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Voting amongst the youth
Local government corruption
Tender scandals
Lack of service delivery
Populist leader lists
Lack of communication

Can you blame them?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Thabo's First Female President Hopes Dashed
That may be a misleading headline, so call me an journalist! There has been much conjecture that Thabo Mbeki wants his successor to be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who would become the first African female president, but that mantle has been taken today by Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who was sworn in today as president of Liberia. Famous for the antics of previous leader Charles Taylor, Liberia was supported in their acceptance of the new female president by the attendance of none other than Laura Bush and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

For her part, Johnson-Sirleaf stated that her priorities were "stamping out corruption, getting electricity in the capital and assuring a future for 100,000 ex-combatants who laid down arms last year, many of whom are prowling the streets, unemployed."

Friday, January 13, 2006

Iran's bravado
Iran's current bravado in breaking the IAEA seals on its nuclear plants and stating that it will bar the UN from inspecting its facilities is patently based on the US' current armed forces commitments in the Middle East. The US simply could not handle another conflict in the region, with its forces committed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and Iran's brinkmanship is drawn from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad trying to establish himself as a bold Islamic leader standing up to the Western powers. It's classic Middle Eastern politics, and we can expect to see more shows of defiance by Iran, at least until the US starts withdrawing from Iraq. My take is that they will avoid the negotiating table, probably push the issue to go to the UN Security Council, and then return to the negotiating table to extract maximum concessions, probably some time early next year.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Tony finds parallels in Israeli and SA politics
Tony Leon made a speech yesterday in Jerusalem that was partially transcribed in the Business Day today and managed to find some wisdom on the corollaries between the current Israeli situation and the situation in south Africa. In it, he states:
In Sharon’s absence, Israeli politics now faces a “de-alignment”. The two major parties that have dominated Israeli political history, Labour and Likud, are close to becoming historical relics. The one has moved to the left and the other to the right, leaving a gap in the centre. That is the gap Kadima seeks to fill. That is where most Israelis want to be, and that is where Sharon began to build his new political home. The question is whether this political arrangement will succeed, and what kind of peace process it will bring to the region.

SA, too, will one day face a political “de-alignment”. The ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), has great power. But it is deeply divided and it is being pulled apart by historical and social forces it cannot control. We South Africans often congratulate ourselves on our new democracy, and rightly so. We defied the doomsayers and built a democratic system that is now more than a decade old. Yet democracy is only truly tested in times of crisis.

It has been enlightening to watch the reaction of Israeli leaders in the wake of Sharon’s incapacitation. Despite their grave concern for the prime minister, they have carried on with their duties. Most impressively, the democratic debate and discourse have continued.

The lesson for us in SA is that institutions must be stronger than the strongest of leaders. Only if democracies can build healthy, independent institutions can they withstand the shock of misfortune.

Whilst I don't believe that Likud and Labour are "are close to becoming historical relics" (quite the contrary given the current situation with Sharon), I do follow his inferences about the need for institutions to be stronger than individuals. Whilst initially, after the demise of apartheid, South Africa required a strong individual like Madiba to pull the nation together and push reform through expediently, we are fast becoming a normalised democratic state, where the emphasis needs to move away from individual leadership and towards strong institutions. The ANC's strong hold over the judiciary and other institutional organs shows that we still have a way to go in this regard.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Headline of the day

Zuma backs Mbeki's anti-corruption stance
- From The Mercury

Friday, January 06, 2006

ANC matures in party list selection
One thing I've always enjoyed about Thabo Mbeki is that, for better or worse, he backs himself to make tough decisions that often fly in the face of his natural support. I believe he does this with a bigger picture mentality, in the knowledge that history will judge him better than his traditional support base may at the moment the decision is made. It explains his huge failures on Zimbabwe and AIDS, but also his successes such as the decision to axe Zuma, or the decision made yesterday to purge party lists of "populist" leaders for the upcoming local elections.

The ANC stated yesterday that only "candidates with the skills necessary for running local authorities" had been included on its election list, at the expense of the plethora of populist leaders that use struggle credentials or friends in high places to maintain a corrupt and largelineffectiveve local government. This will divide voters between those that love to see their populist leaders in play versus those that want to improve service delivery, but there is no doubt which side of the fence the future of the country must lie. Service delivery is a failure at local level, and it is no secret that local government in South Africa is a poisoned beast.

The cynical observer will say that this is Mbeki making a play to get his 'yes-men' into key regional government positions to shield him from disruptive activities in the 2007 succession battle. I believe that Mbeki, for all his paranoia and defensiveness, has shown a genuine drive to improve the lot of average South Africans, and to improve the perceptions of government both domestically and internationally. He is in his last term, having to make up for some significant failures in this regard, but his commitment and focus on improving the delivery of government's promises made in his seminal state of the union address cannot be faulted.

I think this decision shows both a maturity on the part of the ANC to move away from people politics towards true service delivery, and a strength in Mbeki's presidential mettle.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Someone's been out of the limelight too long...
Patricia de Lille's assertion that "racism" is behind her refused entry into the Raddisson despite there being "plenty of empty tables" seems a touch desperate to me. With her party crumbling around her, and upcoming failure in local elections, De Lille is desperate to get herself back in the public frame. What better way than to begin crusade against foreign hotels that are "turning away locals in favour of foreigners during the high season".

I have been to the Raddisson plenty of times, and almost always have seen plenty of non-white people there. In addition, there are sections that are reserved for hotel guests, and tables that are reserved for customers who have phoned ahead and booked them.

Call me cynical, but this just seems like another one of De Lille's publicity antics, and I doubt that it will help her party to regain any of its former lustre.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2006: The Year of Zuma
If Zuma's woes in 2005 dominated the media cycle in 2005, it's only set to increase in 2006. With two trials covering the most heinous of personal and political offences - rape and corruption - Zuma's name will be the ink used by many a scribe's pen in the coming months.

His first challenge to the ANC leadership has been his December 30th statement that he will continue to campaign for the ANC in KZN for the upcoming local elections, flying in the face of his previous assertion to stay clear of ANC activities until the culmination of both trials. And this sets up the pivotal prelude to Zuma's year - which side of the party line will his former colleagues and allies fall? This move is undoubtedly a pre-emptive attempt to assess the lie of the land from his faithfull, ensuring that he can start the new year, and the run-up to his watershed trials knowing full well who is in his camp, and who is not. The ANC will be forced to make a tough decision; to bar him from campaigning, or to sweep it under the carpet. Anything less than a complete barring will be seen as a victory for Zuma.

With the rape trial set for court in February, and the corruption trial in July, Zuma will have no respite from the media, the public, or his party. And with little political party support from inside or outside the tripartite alliance, Zuma has only his populist followers to call on. The problem for him, is that the opinions of populist supporters are easily swayed by the Cosatu/SACP leadership, and an emphatic guilty verdict in the either trial (especially the rape trial) would probably lose him even the most one-eyed of loyal supporters (non-withstanding his jail time!).

Either way these trials conclude, Zuma will find it incredibly difficult to find his way back onto the ANC party lists. One would imagine that he would be forced to go it alone, or find a position within the Cosatu/SACP area of the tripartite alliance, which, given his support for government macro-economic policies would make for an unusual inclusion. But one thing is for certain, we will undoubtedly be very tired of hearing Zuma's name come the end of 2006.

Blogger returns
I'm back after an all-too-short holiday spent between the beaches of Cape Town and the winelands of Stellenbosch. Posting will be back to normal from today.