Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, July 31, 2006

Ring a Bell?
If you've never heard of Judge Herbert Qediusizi Msimang, prepare to know him like your oldest friend over the next few months, as he steps into the cauldron that is the Zuma trial. Msimang has been tapped as the judge to preside over the Zuma graft case, and undoubtedly feel the wrath of half of the country, whichever way his decision goes.

IOL has already given us a succint review of his entire life work and credibility as a judge, which all seems in order. By all accounts he is an "intelligent" judge with "very strong principles". He's going to need every strength in his personal portfolio to keeps his wits about him through this one. I wish him well.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gladwell on Derivative Blogging
Great post from Malcom Gladwell on the future role of bloggers and in particular, the use of derivative blogging (I.e. bloggers using, commentating on and linking to mainstream media stories). Get it all here.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Blacker than thou
The ANC held out for as long as possible, but has finally had to publicly state what has been unsaid doctrine for the past decade - that the black population is first in line for restitution over other previously disadvantaged race groups. The argument stems from a view that the black population suffered worse at the hands of the apartheid regime than other groups. In theory, this is undoubtedly true, but in practice, a race-aligned policy of restitution sways far from the moral equivalence path, and is fraught with danger for the ANC.

The debate over "African-ness" has gained substantial social momentum over the past three years, as we as South Africans move beyond the first decade of freedom and into new waters as a joint society. This new policy answers a big question of the ANC's views on South African society, and it's not the answer that non-blacks were looking for. Coloured communities have long felt maligned by the ANC government since 1994, and this only confirms deep suspicions. The National Democratic Convention summed it up perfectly in a response statement by saying "It was a case of "being too black in the past and now being too white".

I find it very difficult to support the view that it is acceptable for the ANC to unite and use all race groups to successful vanquish apartheid and create racial equality, only to move back into a racial classification which favours certain groups that suffered under apartheid over another. This announcement simply has to alienate the South African population as a whole. It seems that whilst the coloured, Indian etc communities can call themselves South Africans, they share the same fate as whites in not being able to call themselves African in a continent where they may be in their third or fourth generation.

The ramifications are substantial, not least in voting blocs, but hopefully this will engage a social debate around the concept. This may be wishful thinking, as the Mbeki government has not exactly been forthcoming on opening social debates with the nation, but it is such a fundamental question for the next decade of South African politics, that it must happen. The fact that this is the ANC's policy does not preclude it from changing in future, and only robust debate will force this change.

You may argue that this my views here are incongruent with my support for affirmative action, but affirmative action looks to gain restitution for previously disadvantaged over previously advantaged - it does not sub-categorise race groups within those previously disadvantaged. This policy of the ANC does exactly the opposite, treating certain race groups, which all suffered under apartheid, differently.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Zuma Circus Back in Town
Well, as the Zuma Circus rolls back into town (Pietermaritzburg town to be precise), brace yourself for another few months of rabid support for the populist. Beyond that, prepare yourself for one of the defining moments of our nascent democracy's history. This trial is going to tell us a substantial amount regarding the maturity of our government and the strengths and weaknesses of the society we have all created. It's also going to give us a bearing of whether or not we need to prepare to have Jacob Zuma as a presidential candidate.

With this in mind, I was interested to see the first inferences of Cyril Ramaphosa's prospective presidential campaign. Ramaphosa would undoubtedly make a more efficient, more business-friendly president, but he will have to do a lot of campaign work to overturn the perceptions amongst the broader voter base that he is both out of touch with the rural voter and is as far from being labour-friendly as possible. He undoubtedly has the struggle credentials, but as the M&G quite rightly points out, there is a perception that he had turned his back on government to pursue big wealth in business. In a country where most live in poverty, this can only be an albatross on his back.

Monday, July 24, 2006

North Korea printing dollars?
US experts are currently tracking some of the most sophisticated US dollar bills ever to be counterfeited, and indications suggest that north Korea is the culprit. It's important to note that these notes are printed at an even higher quality than the United States Bureau of Engraving and Printing! The New York Times carries an exhaustive review of the cases here.
Counterfeits of this superior sort - known as supernotes - had been detected by law-enforcement officials before, elsewhere in the world, but the Newark shipment marked their first known appearance in the United States, at least in such large quantities. Federal agents soon seized more shipments. Three million dollarsÂ? worth arrived on another ship in Newark two months later; and supernotes began showing up on the West Coast too, starting with a shipment of $700,000 that arrived by boat in Long Beach, Calif., in May 2005, sealed in plastic packages and wrapped mummy-style in bolts of cloth.

In the weeks and months that followed, federal investigators rounded up a handful of counterfeiting suspects in a series of operations code-named Royal Charm and Smoking Dragon. This past August, in the wake of the arrests, Justice Department officials unsealed indictments in New Jersey and California that revealed that the counterfeits were purchased and then seized as part of an operation that ensnared several individuals accused of being smugglers and arms traffickers, some of whom were suspected of having connections to international crime rings based in Southeast Asia.

The arrests also prompted a more momentous accusation. After the indictments were released, U.S. government and law-enforcement officials began to say in public something that they had long said in private: the counterfeits were being manufactured not by small-time crooks or even sophisticated criminal cartels but by the government of North Korea. Â?The North Koreans have denied that they are engaged in the distribution and manufacture of counterfeits, but the evidence is overwhelming that they are,Â? Daniel Glaser, deputy assistant secretary for terrorist financing and financial crimes in the Treasury Department, told me recently. "?There'?s no question of North Korea's involvement."?

What would North Korea have to gain, should this be proved true? Well, with international sanctions being imposed and the freezing of North Korean assets, printing dollars large amounts of mostly indetectable dollars will assist North Korea in meeting import obligations from allies. Also, should you be somewhat of a conspiracy theorist, it may be part of a larger (highly improbable) theory of affecting US inflation data by flooding the US with large increases in in money supply.

Whatever the case, it forces some dangerous questions for the US...

Thursday, July 20, 2006

More drivel from Namibia
Namibia continues to pat Zimbabwe's economic collapse on the back by reiterating that Zimbabwe is a role model for land redistribution in Africa.
"Namibia's justice minister has praised Zimbabwe's controversial programme of farm seizures, saying newspapers that run negative stories about the country are taken over by forces opposed to the success of Africanism."

"When I came to Zimbabwe I was looking for chaos, disorder, lawlessness and rampant human rights abuse. I was surprised to see people working, some of them on their farms," the minister said.

Amazing to hear that he was "surprised" to see people working, and even more so that some of them were working on farms. What was his expectation, that no-one in Zimbabwe works? If so, how does that parallel with his view that Zimbabwe's land redistribution efforts are a role model?

Pointing out the obvious, let's all remind Namibia that Zimbabwe, once the proudest of African agriculturalists, has turned into a collapsed producer, becoming a net importer of agricultural produce in 5 short years.

Israeli blog updates
For the duration of the recent conflict in the Middle East, I've turned to Israeli blogger "Israellycool" to keep tabs on a local view. Have a read here.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"Proportion" in war
I have always been fascinated by the concept of 'proportionate response' in hostile activities. Usually utilised during isolated once-off attacks, where one country is 'allowed' a proportionate response to an attack on it's soil. For example, an attack on a country's citizens that killed 10 people, may find a 'proportionate response' retaliation of the bombing of their state sponsor's party headquarters and ammunitions with fewer casualties. Such analysis of 'proportionate response' are weighed up in cabinet war rooms all the time, but the cry is often of double standards.

Many of Israel's critics have decried their bombing and artillery campaigns over the past two weeks as being beyond proportionate, but in my view, this misses the point. Israel is not involved in isolated attacks on its sovereignty, but a sustained, low-level war waged by a number of state sponsored groups in countries completely surrounding the country. Now, I'm not going to go into the argument of Israel's right to exist, I'm pro-Israel but we can have that debate at another time. The point here is that Israel's response is measured against a backdrop of continued threat, and the response is to defeat an enemy in Hezbollah, not find a proportionate response to the kidnapping of the soldiers. Your view on this will always be framed by your views on the Middle East in general, and most particularly, on Israel's position within it.

The NY Times carries a good article on this issue of "proportionate response" - well worth a read.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"..the key to defusing the Middle East crisis is for Hezbollah to stop doing this shit."
- George W at the UN,overheard by microphones he was unaware of.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

SA in the G8?
Tony Blair has had an epiphany, which is to broaden the G8 into the G13 to accommodate emerging economies, including South Africa. This is a bold move from a prime minister focused on his legacy. I don't see it happening to be honest, I think that adding 5 countries from emerging economies into an eight-country negotiation tips the balances too much. I cannot see the incumbents allowing such a vote shift, and I think it unlikely. However, any representation on the G8 decision-making would be a step forward for emerging economies, and I would like to see some additions, perhaps China and India or perhaps Brazil. Although playing a large role in Africa, I think some of South Africa's foreign policy views (ties with Palestine, Iran and Iraq) may prove too hot too handle for the incumbents.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Mumbai Bombings
It seems that nowhere is immune from terrorist attacks as India falls victim to another huge attack in one of their cities. This would naturally bear the hallmarks of the Kashmiri separatists who have undertaken a number of attacks in India over the decades, but this patently marks a step up from their usual attacks. It's interesting how the method of multiple bombings delivered almost instantaneously has become the Al-Qaeda inspired modus operandi for Islamic terrorist groups, regardless of region.

These attacks are horrific, with almost 200 civilians killed. No matter how desensitised we become to these now regular civilian killings from Islamic extremists around the globe, it still remains emphatically inexplicable to me how any cause can warrant attacks on innocents. There is simply no moral argument that can justify their deaths.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The prodigal blogger returns
After an epic trip to Washington and NYC, I've returned to work with a rather large jolt. Doing the political sites of Washington was awesome (including a tour of the capitol), amazing to feel that close to a centre of power, but yet be in what feels like a very relaxed city. The museums are incredible, especially the National Museum of American History and the Holocaust Museum. New York was exceptional as always, and we had a fantastic few weeks there with friends. Even managed a spell in the Hamptons and Newport, where the level of wealth for a South African is simply indescribable.

Normal service to resume shortly.