Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, March 31, 2006

Hamas in South Africa
Besides the fundamental justification of keeping an open office policy to any state power, I have to admit to not being overly keen on Hamas being invited to South Africa by our foreign office. Whilst I respect that Hamas came to power legitimately through democratic practices, I cannot condone their bloody past, their incitement to violence or their absolute non-recognition of the Israeli state. South Africa has some odd allies in Iran, Iraq and Palestine, which maligns our traditional non-aligned foreign policy, and Hamas is no different.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has some cutting words for South Africa, and whilst it tries to soften the blow with justification, the words are poisonous:
Whilst Abu Mazen's official visit to South Africa starting this week has attracted little attention, Pretoria's invitation to Hamas has precipitated consternation in Israel. This is understandable. Responsible for some of the most heinous acts of terrorism, Hamas to date has rejected the international agreements signed with Israel by the PLO/Palestinian Authority and shows no signs of moderating its position as demonstrated by its failure compromise with Fatah to form a government of national unity. It is contended that as an Islamic fundamentalist movement, Hamas cannot compromise its fundamentals without changing the raison d'etre for its existence and there is little prospect of this as a party in power.

Thus Israel is asking of South Africa, "What is there to discuss with Hamas?" What can South Africa deliver that the infinitely more powerful and influential Vladimir Putin could not? Informed Israelis may well question what South Africa hopes to achieve in talking to such a party when its own policy of "quiet diplomacy" toward the Mugabe regime has yielded nothing but embarrassment for Pretoria and further suffering for millions of Zimbabweans.

Indeed there is a strong sentiment of dismissiveness and irritation in Israel at this middle-ranking country on the tip of Africa, with a governing party strongly affiliated to the PLO, "poking its nose in" where it is not wanted. For sceptics, South Africa's naivete and arrogance may have the unintended consequence of conferring recognition of Hamas' policies and positions toward Israel. South African watchers may also point to President Mbeki's own pretensions toward global statesmanship as the key to his personal involvement in facilitating dialogue between Palestinians and Israel.

South Africa can teach Israel and Palestine nothing. It has no experience in territorial, religious, or fundamentalist struggles. For South Africans, suicide bombers are a TV image, not a daily threat. It cannot mediate, cajole, nor persuade. It has neither the leverage, nor the political repertoire, to influence the deep and stark realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. With all his charisma and credibility as a figure of reconciliation, not even Nelson Mandela could make the desert of Israeli- Palestinian relations bloom.

South Africa is not viewed as an impartial (or even honest) broker by Israel and may even be viewed as a useful idiot by Palestinians. But what South Africa can do and has every legitimate right to do, is to share its story and to provide the protagonists a space for dialogue. Whilst South Africans generally understand far too little about Israeli history, fears and suffering, nor indeed about your particular struggle for identity, emerging from our past, we do have a degree of domestic success in conflict resolution, reconciliation, reconstruction and nation-building. Surely these are some of the issues that go to the very heart of the challenges that confront Israel today?

"Useful idiot" - Eina!

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Taylor's slip
Ex-Liberian strong man Charles Taylor has "disappeared" in Nigeria, only days after Nigeria eventually announced that it would hand him over to an international court to face human rights charges.

It is certainly not beyond the realms of imagination that the Nigerian authorities "allowed" Taylor to disappear, given their reluctance to arrest Taylor or end his asylum in Nigeria in the first place. If so, it represents another return to "old" African politics that our continent simply does not need, most especially from a key African state. Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo has been making all the wrong noises as an African leader of late, becoming stubborn on African affairs issues and hinting that he will run for an unconstitutional third term.

Obasanjo leaves shortly to meet US President George Bush, where he will undoubtedly receive a grilling over Taylor. It probably won't be his easiest trip...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

ANC in-fighting and the way forward
Mineweb, part of the Moneyweb stable, carries a fairly pessimistic op-ed piece regarding the current ANC government, referring to its use of state organs for party power, internal 'dirty tricks' campaigns and corruption. The piece, along with this op-ed piece in the Business Day, certainly does however leave no doubt that the next two years leading up to the 2008 elections will be difficult days for the country.

With the raft of conspiracy charges coming out of every camp, and the threat of more politically-charged trials on the way, the ANC itself is in danger of hemorrhaging over the next 20 months. Personally, I don't think this hemorrhaging will take the form of party split, but in terms of party credibility. The succession battle has only just begun, and more opponents will step into the vacuum left by the politically injured. This battle will be very ugly, given the power players involved, and it does seem to hold important clues about the future success of our nascent democracy.

This could herald the first stage of public dissatisfaction with the ANC, as their traditional voting blocks become jaded by the mess of politics, and more apathetic about the prospects for real improvements in their own lives by the power of their vote. This may in turn begin to pull back the curtains on the traditional voting patterns for the liberation party, and hold new hope for opposition parties. This will undoubtedly not occur at the onset of the 2008 elections, but the 2013 elections may prove a different story.

Whatever the case, the first clues will be in the various player's responses to the Zuma rape case, and if he gets through that one, the critical corruption case, as well as the impending decision by Jackie Selebi regarding charges to be brought in the hoax email debacle.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I went to see the movie Syriana last night, and thoroughly enjoyed a geo-political tour around the US-Middle East oil politics, much of which I consider to be racked with corruption and undue political influence.

The status quo in the Middle East, and particularly, Saudi Arabia, with the Saudi Royal family reaping in billions in oil money from the West, and spending negligible amounts on the infrastructure and welfare of their own state, is nothing short of a modern tragedy. This is encouraged by the West, especially the US, for the socio-political stability of continuous oil supply and the political advantages of limiting supply to key international competitor states. The real losers here are the Saudi people, but I have no naivete about the fact that the political stakes are simply to high to alter its course.

The only weak point I thought was the outline of the two Pakistani boys getting caught up in a suicide bombing after losing work on the oil fields. I thought it a bit too contrite, and thought it a bit too forgiving of Islamic terrorism. The fact that the boys had little real interest in Islam (backed up by the scene of the one boy drinking) and then went along with the whole plan out of a emotional duty to those who had shown them 'love' masks the real fanaticism of suicide bombers and Islamic terrorists in general.

All in all though, a fantastic film, well worth the Oscar nominations, and your forty rand.

Russians gave details of US battle plans to Hussein
The Washington Post reported over the weekend that a US Army intelligence report states that Russian officials gathered sensitive information from inside US military command regarding battle plans for the attack on Iraq and passed them straight over to Saddam Hussein.
"The intelligence reports, which the study said were provided to Hussein through the Russian ambassador in Baghdad at the height of the U.S. assault, warned accurately that American formations intended to bypass Iraqi cities on their thrust toward Baghdad. The reports provided some specific numbers on U.S. troops, units and locations, according to Iraqi documents dated March and April 2003 and later captured by the United States."
This will add tremendous strain to a US-Russian relationship that is already damaged at best. Russia, and Putin in particular, have proven to be prickly allies for the US in the last few years, openly opposing the invasion of Iraq and currently any action against Iran. Putin's own activities stifling Russia's democracy, and influencing neighbouring states, have also won him few friends in the West. But this is the first hint of true blatant betrayal, and takes Russian defiance of the West to a new level. One doubts that any comment will come out of Russia, unless specifically and openly requested by Bush, but one can imagine that there will be much diplomatic chatter behind the scenes. It'll be well worth following the Washington Post for further developments...

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The end of mutually assured destruction (MAD)
Foreign Affairs carries a very well-written essay on the rising primacy of the USA as the holder of the world's largest nuclear arsenal. The Cold War dynamics of MAD, which kept a shaky peace, as no state wanted to commence the globe's destruction, are falling away as US nuclear stocks rise and those of Cold War foe Russia, and China, decline. The US, it states, are now able to destroy China and Russia (and any other foe's) nuclear stockpiles in a first strike.

This heralds an interesting new dynamic in global political influence, and a new responsibility for the US itself. The danger of this new dynamic is obviously inextricably linked to the foreign policy ambitions of the US, which is a difficult future to predict.

Read the full article here.

Blogger holiday
Apologies for the lack of posts this week, I have been away. Normal service to resume shortly.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Bush doctrine under friendly fire
The neo-conservatives in the Republican Party have long held the upper hand in developing policy, but the traditional conservatives, or the "realists", are biting back on Bush's foreign policy doctrines.

The neo-conservative doctrine of placing the expansive pursuit of democracy at the heart of aggressive foreign policy has not found a great deal of success. Iraq is officially a quagmire, Hamas gained victory in the Palestinian elections, and Islamists have scored major gains in elections in Iraq, Egypt and Lebanon. Realists argue that this policy has actually left America more unsafe, as it has ignored other American interests, especially in trade and homeland security. According to the NY Times, they also talk of "strained American relations with Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia and China, making it harder to enlist them in fighting terrorism, stabilizing the Middle East and curbing nuclear weapons."

This poses a huge problem for Bush, and threatens to consign his second term to the traditional 'lame duck' presidency as party Republicans vie for places in the runup to the next presidential election.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

De Lille's Disaster
As the dust settles on the Cape Town government structure, the big story is not so much about the DA's welcome return, but Patricia de Lille's selling of her soul. Campaigning on the back of a promise of aggressive opposition to the ANC, she colluded with the ANC on a number of major votes leading up to the mayoral race, a decision that has driven a wedge between the ID and its voting electorate. A group of disgruntled ID supporters has even threatened to take De Lille to court, such is their anguish. This will have long-standing consequences for De Lille, and her excessive self-importance has finally caught up with her. This is a politician that will do anything to stay in the headlines, a wannabe-celebrity who puts her media face time well ahead of the needs of her electorate. My only fear is that without a deal reached for governing the Western Cape, we will be subjected to many hung decisions in De Lille's quest for personal publicity.

In the meantime, Helen Zille seems to be making all the right noises, reviewing all previous contracts undertaken by the Mfeketo office (I'm sure they'll find a few interesting things there) and vowing to introduce a strict corporate performance culture into the mayoral office. One thing is for sure, things can only get better.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A collective sigh
Well I'm happy, not necessarily because I hold Helen Zille in any high esteem, but that incumbent mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo is out of a job. The DA's Helen Zille has squeezed in after an event-filled voting process. More commentary to follow as the picture emerges...

Journalistic spelling
This is a pet hate of mine, so indulge me for a minute. I cannot understand how many spelling errors are creeping into South African journalism, both online and in print. How hard can it be to (a) proofread a simple headline or 250-word story and (b) use one of a plethora of free spell-checking tools to check 250 words of copy before it goes to print? It simply escapes me. In the Independent on Sunday, a sub-headline of about 10 words used the spelling "hingis" for the word "hinges". That is simply inexplicable. Then there are the avalanche of examples of simple grammatical errors like the spelling "loose" when meaning "lose", and the straw that broke this camel's back today "less than half and hour", seen in a headline story on News24.

Surely to be an English journalist, one must require some basic schooling in the English language?

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My worst fears confirmed
Call me sensationalist with a headline like that, but Nomaindia Mfeketo returns as the ANC candidate mayor for the Cape, and with all this talk about a last-minute deal between the ANC and the ID, I'm getting very nervous. For all the talk of service delivery, it would be a travesty if Mfeketo returns to the Cape mayoral position.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Cape Merry-go-round
The latest from the party negotiations from Cape Town is that the ANC has reportedly struck a deal with the ID and smaller parties to get them over the 106 seats required for majority. This was reported by the SABC, so I do have some doubts over bias, but I'm sure a clearer picture will emerge today.

This would be the bitterest pill for the DA, who at present are feigning absolute ignorance. An ANC majority in the Cape would cement eternal battle lines between the ID and the DA, and would be a terrible blow for the DA's recent election euphoria. Personally, I think it would be a terrible move by the ID, who in the next few years would undoubtedly be swallowed up by the ANC monolith. De Lille's voice would be sidelined and overshadowed, and the ANC would claim another opposition scalp.

Sporting Triumph
After that victory yesterday, I hope you'll forgive me for moving away from politics for a second. A truly sensational game that will be incredibly difficult to replicate, and a game which has given South Africa a new-found confidence ahead of the upcoming test series. Incredible to watch, and a joy to be on the winning side of these classic encounters - for once!

From the time of Ceasar, when the Romans realised the its importance to a nation's psyche, and its importance in keeping the masses happy, sport has found an incredible power in galvanising a society. Look no further than the '95 Rugby World Cup, which did so much for our fledgling post-apartheid nation. It's amazing how a nation can wake up with a collective smile on their faces after a win of the magnitude as this one. I suppose it doesn't hurt that the loser happens to be Australia!

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A belated apology
In what they couldn't do in the run up to the local elections, the ANC government yesterday said sorry for the Eskom power outages that affected Capetonians over the past few weeks.

The government has largely been pushed into this position for two reasons; firstly, because the electorate sees Eskom as indistinct from government, and secondly, because the problems are set to continue, and government's silence on the issue is highly noticeable.

Joel Netshitenzhe said that government "profoundly regretted" the power outages and that "While investigations on the immediate causes of the disruption are continuing, the main focus at this juncture is to ensure that we minimise this."

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

DA has deal for Cape
The DA announced yesterday that they have a deal with the smaller parties that will give them the magic 106 seats for majority in the Western Cape. The deal, which they have until March 18th to confirm, joins the DA, the ACDP and a few smaller parties together in a coalition.

This is the best result of a bad bunch of options for the DA, as one could simply not see a miracle partnership of the DA and the ID lasting for more than a few months. The egos involved would simply be too great. The ACDP realises that is has little serious opposition clout, and would be best served by influencing policy within a DA coalition, so it provides their best opportunity.

Personally I would be very happy for this coalition to be confirmed. I get a new mayor that isn't Nomaindia Mfeketo, and I don't have to hear Patricia de Lille crowing away on each and every municipal decision.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Quote of the Day

"I never said sabotage"

- Alec Erwin, before explaining that "everything points to someone placing it there (a bolt in the turbine)."

Alec, it's the same thing dear.

Battleground Cape
There are two big stories to come out of this election; the gains of the ANC nationally, and the Western Cape municipality. The ANC extends their gains from the last municipal elections in 2002 against a perceived backdrop of service delivery failures, lack of poverty alleviation and corruption allegations. Their move from 60% in 2002 to 67% in 2006 (despite the loss of the Cape) says great things about the strength in voting bloc of the liberation party. It will take many years yet before the majority of South African voters express their protest against service delivery and other issues by voting against the ANC, as they see it as a betrayal of the party that led them to freedom.

Personally, I think the ANC grip on power in the Western Cape was solely theirs to lose as opposed to the ANC winning it, and lose it they did, for two reasons: Eskom power failures and Cape Town Mayor Nomaindia Mfeketo. The ANC paid dearly for both of those issues, one largely out of their control regionally, and one very much of their own doing.

The results as they stand at present (with 98% of the votes cast) are the DA with 42%, the ANC with 39% and the ID with 11%. Although a far cry from their insanely predicted 40-58%, the ID still remain King-makers of this arena, but they're not playing ball. After calls for a coalition last night, the ID (read Patricia De Lille) is resolute in the fact that they will not enter any coalition. What the ID is seeking is the situation where they are the swing vote on each and every decision made in the Western Cape, thus elevating their status. Any coalition with the DA or the ANC pulls them in to a party line, and hides the face of the ID from the voting public. For Patricia De Lille, eternally seduced by hearing her own voice, this is nirvana. Politically astute it may not be, as it may only lead to a seizure of the wheels of government in the Western Cape, but it is exactly what De Lille has been pining for since the party's founding four years ago.

What's going to happen in the Cape? The next few days will tell, but one can only see the DA's elation turning to apprehension.

*As a final note, let me congratulate the IEC on what was an impeccably run election.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

My vote
I voted yesterday evening in Newlands in what was a very pleasant, easy and quick experience. I still feel a distinct pang of patriotism and pride every time I vote, and if you didn't vote, for reasons of laziness and apathy, I'd encourage you to make your mark next time. Our democracy needs each and every one of us once every few years. It's well worth the effort.

The Koeberg 'sabotage' story will no doubt go down as a true "wag the dog" story delivered by the ANC to dissuade voters from penalising them in the Cape polls. The story goes like this: Said saboteur scales security fencing, gets through high security throughout the outer reaches of Koeberg to reach the inner workings of the reactor, somehow avoids the IAEA cameras in every room, grabs a loose bolt, runs into a room where the heat would undoubtedly combust any normal human, and hurls the bolt into the generator.

As said in my previous post, the Eskom outages could seriously trouble the ANC's dominance in the Cape, and in my view, this was a vain attempt to shift the emphasis.