Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Eskom vs the ANC
With one day of campaigning left, the ANC Western Cape branch's biggest opposition is Eskom, who -after promising uninterrupted supply yesterday- turned off power again today, sending Capetonians blood temperatures into orbit.

The trouble with parastatal entities like Eskom, is that the public largely perceives them as indistinct from government, and thus, from the ANC. Service delivery failures from Eskom are equated as service delivery errors from the ANC. However much the ANC tries to distance itself from this fact, the perception remains.

The fact that communication from Eskom has been so poor, and their plethora of promises consistently broken infers, rightly or wrongly, to the voting bloc that the local government places little emphasis on their constituents perceptions of it's efficiency. This only distances the seemingly arrogant and aloof local government from the voting public, which is never a good thing in the run-up to any election.

The Western Cape is undoubtedly going to run very, very close, and Eskom is currently adding to the opposition's case of service delivery, and detracting from the positive message broadcast out of the ANC ranks. Whether it will be enough to tip the scale's in the opposition's favour is yet to be seen, but it will surely be incredibly fresh in Capetonians' minds come tomorrow. A voting public casting their ballots in anger is the last thing a complacent incumbent needs.

One thing is for certain for me, I would dearly love to see the back of Cape Town Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo, surely one of the most inept local government leaders yet seen in this country. Roll on the vote!

Monday, February 27, 2006

Dreamers of the Day

"We'll gather between 40 and 56 percent of votes" - Deluded ID Provincial deputy chairperson Louis Dunn

That proverbial personality party, the ID, is under the impression that they will take between 40 and 56 percent of the municipal vote come Wednesday. Unless the man has been severely misquoted (perhaps 4 - 5.6%?) or this is April 1st, one has to be severely concerned about the ID's leadership sanity. Has he heard of the ANC?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Pre-targeting Iraq
There's more pressure on Donald Rumsfeld and the Bush administration over the targeting of Iraq as sensitive meeting notes have been uncovered using the US Freedom of Information Act.

The notes where made a few hours after airplanes hit the World Trade Centre buildings on September 11th 2001 by Stephen Cambone, assistant to then United States Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

The notes suggest an immediate attack on Iraq, before any related proof was given. "Best info fast. Judge whether good enough [to] hit SH at same time -- not only UBL [Pentagon shorthand for Usama/Osama bin Laden]," the notes say. "Tasks. Jim Haynes [Pentagon lawyer] to talk with PW [probably Paul Wolfowitz, then Mr Rumsfeld's deputy] for additional support ... connection with UBL."

Click here for the full report.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

African Optimism, and African Realism
Yesterday at Wits, US ambassador to Tanzania Charles Stith released the African LeadersÂ? State of Africa Report 2005, highlighting the great optimism felt by many African governments with the state of the continent. Whilst I'm not so sure that just taking the results from the various State of the Union addresses is always the best bell-weather, given that Presidents will always talk their country up at the state of the union address, I do think that politically and socially, Africa is in better shape than it has ever been.

There are undoubtedly still a plethora of challenges though, and another one rears its head with the commencement of the Ugandan elections today. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is seeking his third term in office. Watching an interview with him on Sky News this morning, I noted with apprehension that he relies heavily on rhetoric extolling his virtues as a "struggle leader" who needs to sort out many more issues before the "youngsters" can lead the country. This is classic despot material, and although the elections are democratic, there are already many allegations of interference and abuse of political players in the lead-up to the elections. Jemera Rone, of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch, says "In essence these are multi-party elections in a one-party state."

Life-term Presidents are the bain of Africa's past, and the biggest danger to its future. One hopes that these Ugandan elections don't create another African dictator, by name or by action.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Vuyo Mvoko's article in the Sunday Times
I was going to post on Vuyo Mvoko's ridiculous attack on the efforts of the government to attract expat South Africans back to our land, but the guys at Some Among Us have beaten me to it. I share the exact sentiments, so let me just bump their post. Read it here.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Wag the Dog
With more media coverage and media pressure than ever before on world governments, propaganda is alive and well in state media communication. There have been a slew of allegations in the past surrounding our very own SABC, but we are not alone. Today, Condoleeza Rice announced that a total of $85-million in funding would be used, for amongst other propaganda items, to broadcast US radio and television programmes into Iran.

According to the Guardian, "US propaganda efforts in the Middle East since September 11 have been relatively unsuccessful. Analysts say its Arabic news station al-Hurra (the Free One) is widely regarded with suspicion in the Middle East and has poor listening figures." Go figure...

Then comes some news from Mexico, where the government has admitted that it "staged a dramatic kidnap rescue for the benefit of a prime-time television audience."
The raid, televised on December 9, in which Mexico's equivalent of the FBI burst into a farmhouse at dawn, guns at the ready, to subjugate four alleged kidnappers and liberate three victims, had been presented by the government as proof that it was winning the battle against organised crime."

This week, a presidential spokesperson, Ruben Aguilar, accepted it was staged and called it a mistake.

The authorities have sought to share the blame with journalists that they claim asked the police to replay arrests carried out hours before.

"All we tried to do was serve you, the media," the Attorney General, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, told a news conference. "That, and show the public that there is an institution that is working for them, that has successes and that arrests people."

Truly classic...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Beauty of China
We hear so much these days about China's "work at all costs" mentality, sweat-shops and environmental damage, which can often cloud the perception of what clearly is an amazingly beautiful country. Have a look at these pictures of the Chinese countryside for proof...

Monday, February 13, 2006

An intelligence coup
Today's news that South African intelligence officials were involved in thwarting an attempted bomb attack on the final of the African Nations Cup, where Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was in attendance, is exceptional both in its scale, and is implications for African intelligence gathering.

If successful, this would have been a huge terrorist attack, with the President, and 74 000 people at risk. Stadium bomb attacks are almost always messy, as the structures tend to have many vulnerabilities that lead to collapses. It would not be out of the bounds of possibility to say that thousands may have been killed.

We do not know whether these terrorists were sophisticated enough to pull of such a large-scale attack, or whether they were simply a group of bumbling wannabe’s. Nonetheless, their failure represents a distinct success for African intelligence services, with the security personnel from three countries involved, working together to catch the prospective bombers. This type of cohesion in intelligence and policing is a great advertisement for Africa’s renewed vigour to manage its internal affairs better, and should serve as a further statement of intent. Small as it is, incidences like this give me great hope for this continent.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Cheney: the leak
Court documents seemingly now confirm what was suspected all along - that Scooter Libby was instructed by Dick Cheney to leak secret intelligence information in 2003, which has significant implications in the 'outing' of undercover CIA agent Valeria Plame.

The Washington Post reports that:
Vice President Cheney's former chief of staff testified that his bosses instructed him to leak information to reporters from a high-level intelligence report that suggested Iraq was trying to obtain weapons of mass destruction, according to court records in the CIA leak case.

Cheney was one of the "superiors" I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby said had authorized him to make the disclosures, according to sources familiar with the investigation into Libby's discussions with reporters about CIA operative Valerie Plame.

This may just be the tip of the iceberg, and this investigation into the Plame affair may well uncover a few more Vice-Presidential scandals yet. Dick Cheney has gone from a trusted aide to a real liability for the Bush White House. The second-term scandals strike again...

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Land Restitution and the Constitution
I'm starting to hear that dinner-table talk about "SA going the way of Zimbabwe" with the latest inferences on land restitution made by our President in the State of the Nation address. Once again, it's from those that are uninformed.

Land restitution is an absolute reality in South Africa. Black land ownership is still pitiful in percentage terms, with a negligible increase in the last decade. There has been little progress in land claims, and little assistance from the general South African community. In simple terms, there were injustices done in the past, where land was taken - without remuneration - from certain segments of the population. Defense of property rights of those threatened by land claims now, needs to be tempered by those same rights being far more injustly crushed in the past.

The second point is that expropriation has been forced on government by a lack of cooperation, but most notably, forms part of a judicial process, not a forced expropriation. A land claim is noted and sent to a land owner. He can then choose whether to oppose the claim, at which time it goes to the judiciary, which in the South African constitution is independent of government. A decision against the claim will be respected by government. Should he not choose to oppose the claim, then the negotiation begins on pricing, with independent evaluations of the land value. Should these negotiations fail, then the government has the right to force expropriation based on those independent valuations of the land in question. There is no scope for unannounced or unremunerated expropriations, and forced expropriations are only tendered after the collapse of the protracted negotiated route. Zimbabwe proves no blueprint for success, only lessons of failure.

The ANC government has had to endure opponents slights that they would change the constitution for their 'corrupt' ways as soon as they could. As yet, no significant changes have been made, despite the two-thirds majority. There is a healthy respect by the ANC for the constitution, that they largely voted into existence. As Minister of Defence Mosiuoa Lekota states yesterday "Democracy demands self-discipline" and discipline is what the ANC has proven time and again with respect to the integrity of the constitution.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Slow posting
Apologies for the slow posting, I've been snowed under at work. Normal service to resume tomorrow...

Monday, February 06, 2006

The cartoon show
This weekend's events surrounding the cartoons of the prophet Muhammad show both the dichotomy of freedom of speech and the need for cultural sensitivities. The cartoons, which can be viewed here have sparked a firestorm of hatred in the Islamic world, culminating in the torching of the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus and Beirut.

Freedom of speech is a valued right in the Western world, markedly less so in the Islamic. What many in the West do not understand is that, unlike Christianity or other major world religions, the Islamic faith forbids depictions of the prophet Muhammad, and thus the Danish newspaper cartoons are to them one of the greatest public affronts of Islam by the West.

There has always been a tension between the right to freedom of speech on the one hand and what some societies would define as hate speech on the other. There lies a natural responsibility in freedom of speech to avoid crossing the line of human dignity and hate speech. Therein lies the need for cultural sensitivities.

This being said, whilst I think the Danish newspaper was foolish to publish cartoons of this nature in the current global environment, the reaction of the Muslim world has been ridiculous. Various groups, religious or otherwise, daily face attacks on their belief systems or perceptions, without resorting to senseless violence and incitement. The banners used even in the London march calling for "massacre" do nothing to steer public perception away from the very position some of the Danish cartoons were taking of the Islamic faith as a terrorism-inclined faith. It becomes a reinforcement of the exact statement that the cartoons depicted. It seems like another cause hijacked by extremist elements of the Muslim faith to further entrench the internal position that the West is oppressing Muslims, which in turn becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The fact that these cartoons were first published in Denmark in September 2005 infers that these latest riots have been part of a well-orchestrated campaign by those in whose interest it is to further radicalise the Islamic faith.

It's excrutiatingly ironic that the cartoons that have caused all the problems accompanied an article on free speech, isn't it?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Carter's Folly
Don't get me wrong, I love 'America's Sweetest President', Jimmy Carter, as much as the next guy, but his statements yesterday that "there's a good chance that Hamas could become a nonviolent organization" are optimistic at best. Jimmy Carter's eternal sunny disposition is a trait endearing in a grandfather, but in the hard realism of Middle Eastern politics, simply out of place.

Hamas is an organisation that has come to world fame on the back of terrorist activities, and come to electoral power on the back of a dissatisfaction with the ruling Fatah movement. There has not yet been a single indication that Hamas will renounce terrorism, quite the contrary. As a political party, Hamas cannot be a military group as well, and it is this fact that will continue to dog their relations with Israel and the West. We can all be optimistic, but it remains optimism, not reality.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What's happening at Europcar?
I came across something really appalling at this morning, a banner for Europcar with the sequence "Yes, I've been raped"; "Nobody at our office gets raped"; "Vote Europcar". See below:

See screenshot below:

I assume this has to be the work of some disgruntled employee or customer, but it is shocking, both for the viewer and the company itself. It shows the type of brand damage that can be done, but its antecedents are inexplicable.


UPDATE: I chatted to the Sales Director at Media24, who tells me that this is part of a bona fide campaign by Europcar, which makes this even more bizarre. It's supposed to be an "election parody" aimed at the upcoming local elections. What motivated the Europcar marketing director to pass this banner is totally beyond me. You're a car hire company, there is absolutely no brand awareness gain in being offensive. As a service company, they have probably already lost thousands of customers that have seen this ad, including me.