Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

India overtakes SA
Call it a misleading headline, because this is not a race you want to be winning: India has overtaken South Africa as the country with the highest prevalence of people living with HIV/AIDS, according to the latest UN report. This infers few pats on the back for South Africa though, as India's HIV/AIDS penetration is 0.9% of population, whereas it's almost a staggering 19% locally.

That's all the stats I need to see - almost one of every five people in the country have AIDS. How many people do you know with AIDS? Not many? If that's the case, can you imagine the devastating effect that averaged percentage is having on certain families, communities and towns around South Africa? Government's response is patently, plainly, simply not sufficient.

There seems to be a lot of confusion amongst the pundits as to whether the report is positive or negative (if you'll excuse the macabre pun), as a quick Google News search will reveal:

Great News in Global AIDS Fight
AIDS declining worldwide?
Worldwide HIV rate slows


U.N.: Battle against AIDS still falling short
UNAIDS head: World is losing HIV fight
Aids will spread to every corner of planet

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mqoqi gooooone... again

Let's just hope this is the last of it. Cape Town deserves better.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Tsvangarai's Despondency
It shows just how far Thabo Mbeki's penchant for quiet diplomacy has failed to produce results in Zimbabwe when even Morgan Tsvangarai has lost interest in South Africa's role. Tsvangarai stated yesterday that he sees South Africa "pursuing a policy of pursuing stability rather than democracy and in that case, they are very suspicious about any change of government".

Tsvangarai visibly showed his excitement late last year when Mbeki made intimations that he would drop his policy of quiet diplomacy, but little has come of this as yet. Mbeki has tried to work through the UN, but Mugabe has been dismissive.

Zimbabwe remains a critical blot on Mbeki's presidency, and it is of interest that even so late in his presidency, he has little focus on it's resolution. The ANC AGM next year will signal the onset of his 'lame-duck' period, and he has scant time to find solutions in Zimbabwe. This just leads to the conclusion that he simply is uninterested in removing Mugabe, which is a sad state of affairs. History will not be kind...

Friday, May 26, 2006

Abbas challenges Hamas
After finding himself in an untenable position as the prime minister of a state where the elected government does not want him, Abbas has laid his cards on the table and is poised to force a watershed referendum on the two-state solution. Abbas is calling a national referendum on accepting a Palestinian state alongside Israel if Hamas does not agree to the idea within 10 days.

This presents an interesting challenge for Hamas, who have long since expounded the preference for Israel to be wiped of the face of the planet. It is a critical moment for Hamas if it is to make the unlikely development from a terrorist organisation into a political entity. We should see Hamas pushed into a corner, where should they accede to the referendum, and thus tacitly endorse they will force a rift between themselves and the more militant majority of the group, and should they refuse the referendum, they lose any political credibility they may be clinging on to.

I think that Hamas will agree to the referendum, which will put the Hamas-Fatah power struggle, and indeed the hopes of results in the Middle East, on an absolute knife-edge.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Busy blogger's roundup

No prizes for this one: NUM backs Zuma

Comments on new SA privacy bill: A right to privacy? Get over it

More SA mess in Zim: South Africa Refuses Asylum to Zimbabwe's Roy Bennett

Monday, May 22, 2006

We're not the only ones...
Whilst many of us are left cold by the prospect of a Jacob Zuma presidency, we also have to remember the rest of Africa. With South Africa's power position on the continent, political winds in our nation can affect many others in Africa, and it seems that little has been made of the foreign views on Zuma. We're not the only ones watching Zuma developments very carefully...

Africa News Dimension carries a piece overviewing the developments in the Zuma trial from an African perspective. It outlines a very basic conclusion:

"How far up Mr Zuma goes is, of course, South African'?s business. Reasons exist though, why they should put the man where he belongs: Political freezer. ... While it is the responsibility of South Africans to choose their leaders, they might bear one thing in mind. They shouldn'?t give the continent another tainted leader."

A very valid point...

Friday, May 19, 2006

Kudos to Obasanjo
I have written with concern before about Nigerian President Obasanjo's bid to change the constitution to allow him to have an unprecedented third term. Changing constitutions to retain power is a penchant for many leaders on our continent, and usually ends on political and social turmoil. It is thus with satisfaction that I read that the Nigerian National Assembly denied his request, and equally so, that Obasanjo has manfully accepted the decision.

This seemingly small decision is another milestone for democracy in Africa, and illustrates the growing maturity by which modern African nations are handling their nascent democracies. Obasanjo's respect for the decision - although it came somewhat grudgingly, is equally important in the bigger picture, and he must get some credit for that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Striking guards are a disgrace
The violence caused by the striking guards has evaporated any public sympathy and turned a reasonable request into a thuggish demand. Their latest escapades, looting and vandalising property in the centre of Cape Town, as well as attacking journalists, is an absolute embarrassment for our country, and our policing as a whole. Surely, given the actions of striking guards elsewhere in the country, the local police would have pulled in more resources for this march.

However, the greatest scorn must be poured on the striking guards themselves. The irony of the general public having to be protected from those that are supposed to be protectors themselves seems to be lost on them, and government should now step in to mediate. This has simply gone on too long, and now too far, for this to be kept between trade unions and the industry. I am a free-market protagonist, but when public violence starts to enter the fray, it's time for more influential pressure to be brought to bear.

Guards blaming the violence on "skollies" is laughable and pathetic. The amount of damage caused around the entire city centre is the work of much more than a few bad apples, and this must have been foreseen.

I hope Cosatu provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich spends his night in jail taking a long hard look at the trade union's actions.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Vaz on Zuma
A great post from Vaz shows the probable road from a Zuma presidency, with patent parallels to Venezuelan Hugo Chavez's populist, but ineffectual reign. Chavez is a perfect example of populism winning over pragmatism, resulting in a leader brought to power on personal charisma over requisite skills and capabilities, with obvious consequences. Vaz says:
I have only one question to be posed to Zuma: "Which is greater: the man, Zuma or the country as whole". If the country is the answer, then he should be honourable and fade away into background, instead of pandering to some by seeking the presidency in 2007 then ultimately 2009.
Methinks Zuma's ego would say "no comment"...

Friday, May 12, 2006

Privacy: A neo-con throwaway
The Bush Administration just seems intent on pissing off the entire US electorate, on both sides of the political spectrum. Their views on privacy, a traditional battle-ground for conservatives, have been confusing to say the least.

The latest is the row over phone-tapping of Americans citizens, which was down-played by senior officials months ago as affecting a tiny number of citizens who where actively engaged in Al Qaeda-related initiatives. His exact words were, "We're not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans." Reports this week found a different story, with the major telecom companies, AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth turning over tens of millions of phone records for investigation, even going so far to state that the "N.S.A. had created an enormous database of all calls made by customers of the three phone companies in an effort to compile a log of 'every call ever made' within [the US]". Another broken political promise, and another loss for the right to privacy.

Bush's second term has been an absolute nightmare for him, with the traditional "lame duck" second term woes coming very early for him. Any political capital that he had earned from the last presidential election has been lost, and he is finding himself to be a punching bag for the pack of power-hungry wolves, Republican and Democrat. It's going to be a tough last few years...

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Populism vs Intellect: A growing divide?
Xolela Mangcu writes an interesting op-ed in the Business Day this morning, detailing the danger for intellectuals from the increasing favour of populist leaders (such as Zuma) and it's influence on the ANC's leadership decisions.

He writes:
"How then can we go beyond this 'us and them' mentality? First, I have the utmost respect for the people Memela mentioned as government intellectuals - Pallo Jordan, Itumeleng Mosala, Charles Nqakula, Keorapetse Kgositsile. I doubt very much they would have sent him on his vitriolic mission. I would instead suggest a triangular relationship between government intellectuals, independent intellectuals, and organic intellectuals. At the apex of the triangle would be government intellectuals who feed into public policy the ideas emanating from the independent and organic intellectuals at the base.

The intellectual engagement would occur in its full complexity inside the triangle. For that interaction to be fruitful and productive there would have to be an understanding that government intellectuals, independent intellectuals and organic intellectuals operate according to their own logic.

Government intellectuals tend to be informed by the logic of practicality, organic intellectuals tend to be informed by the wisdom that emanates from everyday struggles, and independent intellectuals tend to be informed by the logic of critical autonomy. But all of this requires government intellectuals who are willing to enter the inside of the triangle fully prepared to be taken on by both the independent and organic intellectuals, without a resort to name calling.

This triangular intellectual model has implications also for the political sphere. As things now stand we have a standoff between a technocratic professional class that sits at the apex of the triangle, thinking it has everything worked out for the rest of society. Its discourse is that of economic progress, and it is mostly associated with President Thabo Mbeki.

At the base you have left-wing intellectuals, social movements and disaffected youth to whom someone like Zuma has great appeal. But it is clear to me that both men are so stuck in their own worlds that they would never be able to traverse this divide.

There is therefore no ducking the question: will the ANC give us a leader who can enter the inside of the triangle and manage what is clearly a cultural clash within the organisation? That would require a senior member of the party who is widely respected on both sides of the divide.

Who shall it be: Pallo Jordan, Cyril Ramaphosa, Mosiuoa Lekota, Kgalema Motlanthe, Tokyo Sexwale? In short, the ANC and SA need someone who can grasp and transcend 'the meaning of the situation as a whole'."

It's a nice premise, and I would love to have an intellectual, especially one with a business mindset like Tokyo Sexwale, but the political animal does not move in such wishful ways. I would be very surprised if any of those listed would end up as our next president.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The ANC's Zuma dilemma
As I had thought, Zuma was found not guilty yesterday. I won't comment much on the verdict, as it seemed to have been widely expected, but rather on the "what now" of this story.

Firstly, it is important to note that this is a two-piece drama, with Zuma's graft trial commencing in July. He is likely to garner similar visible support at that trial, especially since his support has been emboldened by this one, and this presents perhaps a more dangerous note for the Mbeki-ites within the ANC. During the recent rape trial, the focus of the mob's hate was an individual, but during the graft trial, that focus will lie squarely on the Mbeki cabal and the alleged "conspiracy" to oust Zuma. This could prove to be a very, very difficult time for the current ANC leadership, and threatens to further enunciate the split within the ANC. Moreover, it will further extend Zuma's legend within his populist support, and should he be found not guilty, it will undoubtedly push him on a wave of sentiment at a presidential attempt.

Secondly, there now exists a huge dilemma for the ANC. Zuma was sacked as deputy president after the announcement of the Shaik verdict. They have today invited him to 'discuss' his future with the ANC, but I will imagine that little will happen until the verdict of his graft trial. The ANC leadership is really struggling at the moment to know how far to distance themselves from Zuma. It's like a game of poker; they can't be seen to be aloof, as that adds credence to the 'conspiracy' note, and they can't be seen as being too close, lest he is indeed found guilty of corruption.

And what of Zuma himself. His political ambitions undoubtedly rest with the ANC rank-and-file, not the elite, who have already washed their hands of him. I have no way of knowing at this stage what effect the rape trial has had on the perceptions of the rank-and-file. Hopefully, they would have at least seen his views on women and seeming ignorance about AIDS as worrying factors, but this may not be the case. His power base in KZN seems not to have been concerned at all, but the rest of the country is an unknown factor. It will be very interesting to see some research out of Markinor or Research Surveys to test this. What is known however, is that this is definitely a victory for Zuma in his presidential quest, and is the the first stage of "recovery" for him from a number of political set-backs. He must be emboldened by the support outside of the courthouse, and would probably feel that he still has a shot at the ANC leadership, and thus, the presidency.

Many have written off Zuma's chances off the back of these two trials, but I'm not so sure. This is a man that is clearly not being judged by his populist support on his Western-style leadership credentials, but rather on the fact that he is "their man". If he comes through these two trials unscathed, he may not count on the elite's votes, but I would imagine he would still have much of his populist support intact.

I will follow his graft trial with interest, because Zuma as a president is not something I would like to see.

Monday, May 08, 2006

All eyes on Zuma
Naturally all news but the Zuma verdict pales into insignificance today. Whilst I haven't been following the trial as closely as I perhaps should have, I do get the distinct feeling from the little I have heard that there is probably enough doubt and 'noise' to infer that he will probably be acquitted. I would not like to see Zuma go forth as a presidential candidate, and thus I hope the trial, whatever the outcome, has stuck enough mud on him to allay those fears.

The ANC's rogue Cape branch
The latest comments coming out of the ANC's Cape Town branch must be of concern to the party as a whole. If not, I am extremely concerned about the hubris of our governing party.

African National Congress provincial chairperson James Ngculu stated on Saturday that "We in the ANC strenuously reject any calls that we should allow the DA to rule and we become the spectators (of) the circus in the City of Cape Town whose principal actor has been aptly called GodZille." Ngculu said they must not "relax or relent" until they had removed Zille.

This Cape anomaly is a definite yardstick for the ANC's respect for this country's hard-fought democracy and so far, they are failing to prove any semblance thereof. Whilst earlier rogue statements by the Cape branch have met with dismissal and public distancing by the national party structure, the continued insinuations by the local branch that the ANC will try with all its might to make the Cape ungovernable for the DA is illustrating a distinct lack of will to bring the local structure into line.

This is of great concern to me, and I can only hope for more public messages by the national ANC leadership of support for democracy in the coming days.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Bob laughs the whole thing off
After a rampage of hate and violence against white farmers and businesses in Zimbabwe, Bob has clearly seen the light in the midst of the economic and social chaos and stated that everyone should just "let bygones be bygones".

In other words, I think in his mind he's saying, "we're even". Now that's a contender....

But the ridiculous quote of the day must surely go to Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, who praised Mugabe, the latest in a long line on despotic, oppressive African leaders, calling him a "true democrat"!


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Leon tries a pigment shift
The DA has been criticisms by many, myself included, for not dropping Leon in favour of a black leader. Tony is undoubtedly aware of this, and has recently been attempting to distance himself from 'white' opposition in favour of 'black' opposition. Case in point is his speech on Tuesday commemorating the public service and parliamentary career of Helen Suzman.

Tiger Tony chastised traditional English-speaking universities and NGO's for their lack of government criticism, and heralded 'black intellectuals' as being the boldest and most effective critics of government. As Tony himself is probably the biggest critic of government, he is by implication trying to align himself to the 'black intellectuals' as opposed to the 'English-speaking' sects.

If this is indeed a new subtle strategy, I am not convinced of its efficiency. Leon has simply made himself too polarizing a leader to be wished away with PR spin.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Press Freedom Day
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, and the South African National Editors' Forum (SANEF) is launching a public education campaign around the benefits of a free press. This could not come at a better time for South Africa, as various events in the past years or two (read Snuki Zikalala at the SABC, attacks on the press in the Zuma trial etc) have heralded worrying signs for local press freedom. Africa has a deplorable record for freedom of the press, and free speech in general, and we have one of the worst proponents on our northern border. I always worry that populist leaders, like Zuma, find this an easy weakness to exploit, much to the detriment of our democratic practices.

Press freedom is an inalienable cornerstone of a functioning democracy, and it is vital in on the African continent where corruption, mismanagement and centralised decision-making abound. I have long lamented the lack of quality investigative journalism in South Africa, but perhaps this SANEF initiative will bring more demands from the public at large, and lead to a more efficient, more productive, and bolder press.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Pope rethinks condom ban
It's a welcome and brave deliberation, and one which may in the future bring far-reaching consequences for the spread of HIV-AIDS, with the Pope calling for an investigation into the Catholic Church's blanket condom ban. Granted, it is currently only being considered for those in marriage where one partner has AIDS, but this is the first signs that this rather short-sighted rule may be up for debate at the Catholic Church's highest level. There are millions of Catholics around the world, and especially for those in 3rd-world countries in Latin America and Africa, the condom ban is an incredibly dangerous principle to hold.

AIDS grants no respect to religion, and any efforts that can be made to reduce the infection of HIV and AIDS have to be incredibly welcome, most especially on our own continent.