Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, August 31, 2006

SNO no go?
There is a multitude of South Africans that are getting themselves into an excitable frenzy about the 'launch' of the second network operator or SNO on Monday. They need to put the champagne on ice.

The SNO comes into the market with very little behind it. Firstly, it is a conglomeration of a number of companies that joined together for the tender after previously tendering against each other. My customer service expectations? Not too good. Secondly, they will be using Telkom's fixed line services. My pricing expectations? Not too good. Thirdly, they have no infrastructure to speak of in the country, just a number of contracts on paper. My expectations of real telephony services offered in the next two years? Not too good.

Don't get me wrong, it's a good step, but it's certainly not going to be shaking the Telkom tree for quite a while yet.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Forgiveness - a multipurpose headline
Apologies for the slow blogging, this week has been pretty heavy at work, so let me first ask for forgiveness for that. Secondly, a few people have asked me my view on the very weighty discussion of Vlok's ceremonious washing of the feet of Rev. Chikane. In my opinion this is a personal process of forgiveness by Adriaan Vlok and I think should be viewed only as such. I believe that it is being misread by both supporters and sworn enemies alike, who are both using it to reopen old wounds. It's a magnanimous move on Vlok's part, but one that he is doing this for personal reasons, and I think people that have tried to equate it with national reconciliation are overstating its importance.

I think to hold the view that this compensates for Vlok's vicious past is simply delusional. There were too many lives ripped apart by his actions to ever build forgiveness with the nation as a whole. But this is exactly the point. I think that Vlok did this for his own personal reasons, not to engender favour with the nation, he must surely know that this is beyond the scope of his abilities.

This is a man who had one of the most despicable pasts within the apartheid regime, and this will not replace the judicial process. I agree with commentators who have said that Vlok must tell his story before he asks from forgiveness from the nation. Which again brings me back to the point - this is a personal admission of guilt and request for forgiveness as he goes through his own redemptive process.

I happened to be at a well known wine estate near Hermanus a few weeks ago, and had the misfortune of tasting wine when 'Dr' Wouter Basson walked in. It gave me cold chills just to be in his presence and I was never affected by his actions. I cannot comprehend what it must have felt like for those affected by Vlok's actions to hear about this ceremonial washing, but I really do think that it overstates its importance. Reconciliation must come from the everyday people that are going forward to build this great nation, and I see little role for the worst of apartheid's brutality.

Friday, August 25, 2006

I know the entire blogospohere is posting about this but I need to vent. I cannot understand how the senior ANC leadership cannot comprehend - or care about - the way their adulation of Yengeni is perceived by ordinary South Africans, and what example it sets for the rest of the country. Who knows, perhaps I do not reflect the mindset of the ordinary man in the street, but I just cannot fathom how any government could show such overt support for a man who has been convicted by it's own independent courts of law as a criminal, and even go so far as to dispute that he has committed a crime.

A raft of ANC leaders led Yengeni on the shoulders of ANC supporters in to the Pollsmoor prison. Provincial ANC chair James Ngculu addressed crowds, saying that "In our own view, Tony didn't steal money. Tony was not found with his hands in any pie or till. He didn't declare a discount." The man was given a discounted car in order to create leverage in him pushing through legislation on the Arms Deal. Pure and simple. This is not discounting a car at a dealership, however hard the ANC tries to portray this. This is simple corruption, and the ANC's visible support makes a mockery of Mbeki's efforts to clean up his government.

More humour from correctional services ministerial spokesperson Luphumzo Kebeni, who stated that Yengeni would be treated like any other prisoner; ""We don't have a category of more important or less important inmates". Funny then that Yengeni was embraced by Correctional Services Minister Ngconde Balfour as he entered Pollsmoor, that Pollsmoor wardens were toyi-toying with Yengeni outside the gates of the prison, that unlike any other prisoner he is being allowed to keep his cellphone in jail and that only minutes after he arrived, Yengeni was whisked from the tough Pollsmoor prison to the relative luxury of the Malmesbury prison.

An absolute joke...

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

In it's all in the detail
I always thought that one of the roles of journalists was to take complex situations and be able to explain them - and their relevance - to the average reader. Does someone want to take a stab at a precis of this?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Do your time Mr Yengeni
I do feel a twinge of satisfaction in the news yesterday that Tony Yengeni's appeal was rejected. Struggle credentials or not, a corrupt leader remains just that, and he's a blight on the ANC's leadership record. Yengeni will now commence his lenient sentence at one of Cape Town's finest establishments, Pollsmoor.

Yengeni's demise also has relevance for current political occurrences though. Yengeni took a plea bargain in March 2003, where he received a lenient sentence in exchange for supplying information on the Arms Deal scandal. It is interesting to note that the only thing to come out of that was the eventual indictment of Jacob Zuma by the Scorpions.

Whilst Zuma has tried to take everyone down with him in his graft trial, there seems to be no-one to take down but himself...

Monday, August 21, 2006

The Danger of Multi-cultural Society
This is exactly what radical Islamic factions want - today's news that British passengers refused to board a flight from Spain to Manchester because there were "two young Muslims" on board. There has been a substantial rise in "Islamaphobia" since the recent thwarting of the air plot in the UK, but this defies logic when blanket perceptions are made. This type of racial stereotyping only assists the fanatics cause, as it further alienates the Muslim population within Britain against a perceived backdrop of community oppression and only serves to radicalise the youth.

Friday, August 18, 2006

JP Landman speaks his mind
I've always enjoyed political economist JP Landman's comments on the country, because he always presents a contrarian view to the usual dinner table conversations about progress, crime etc. His latest views reinforce this position, as he talks about the 'lost 25 years' the country has now recovered from.
Contrasting the focus of the media on news events -- including crime and violence -- he argued that trend figures provide a more positive picture of South Africa.

Take, for example, productivity levels. In the 1970s productivity grew by 0,27% a year. This dropped to about 0,18% in the 1980s and stayed much the same in the early part of the 1990s. But since 1995 productivity has risen by between 3% and 4% a year.

Pointing out the South African economy is now 33% bigger than it was at the advent of democracy in 1994, he said it has been able to sustain above-inflation increases for the police force, as has happened in recent years, and raise the funds for the provision of social grants, which are now paid out to 11-million people in the country.

Employment has grown from about 9,5-million jobs in 1995 to 12-million jobs. It is true that four million remained unemployed and "really we want 16-million jobs". However, those jobs cannot be provided by the existing economic cake -- it has to grow.

However, growth figures in the order of 4% and a population growth rate of below 1% indicate that progress is being made at about 3% a year.

Landman noted that academic Servaas van der Berg of the University of Stellenbosch has done fine research into poverty levels. The fact is that 41% of the population live on or below the international poverty line of $1 a day in South Africa. But that figure has dropped from 57% in 1970, he noted. "If that is not steady progress, what is?"

You can read a list of JP's articles here on the bottom left of the page.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Up in a cold Jozi on business, will be back blogging on Friday...

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Cartoons await the world's response
Iran's largest newspaper unveiled an exhibition of Holocaust cartoons yesterday, a response to the cartoons about Islam last year that caused such significant outrage. The newspaper, Hamshahri, said "it wanted to test the West's tolerance for drawings" about the Nazi killing of 6 million Jews in World War II.

Only 50 people attended the opening, and I only hope that fewer people see it over the next few weeks. This kind of tit-for-tat, spiteful aggravation serves no purpose other than to stir trouble. We can all agree that the Islamic cartoons should not have been published, and as the old adage goes, two wrongs do not make a right.

Friday, August 11, 2006

UK Terror Plot Revealed
If (like me) you're curious to know all the details behind Wednesday's terror plot, Time Magazine comes to the rescue with all the details. Find it all here.

Never saw that coming?
I am constantly amused by the naivete of the DA's speechwriters and public relations managers, and I had another reason to smile today. On Women's Day, Tiger Tony led a personal attack on both Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, saying rather bluntly that they were incompetent and that the only reason they are in the cabinet is that they are women. A may agree with his broader comments on their flaws in results, but his comments on gender are an incredibly stupid route to follow for two reasons.

Firstly, it immediately puts Tiger Tony out there as some sort of sexist bigot making those calls on Women's Day of all days. Secondly, and most importantly, it is the easiest thing in the world to retort, as Manto did today, that Tiger Tony is the last person in the world to be talking of gender equality. He leads, as Manto says, a "party of white men", which is largely true.

I've said it before and I'll say it again, the only way for the DA to become a serious opposition contender is to become more inclusive and less abrasively combative, both of which make the DA a laughing stock for non-white support. Either Tony has to realise he is not in the House of Commons, or he needs to be cognisant of the fact that it's time for him to go.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Good news under a blanket of terror
Some good news out of Israel today that has unfortunately vanished under a pile of UK terror stories. More to follow...

An alternate view
The majority of our South African media is firmly entrenched in the Lebanese/Palestinian camp in terms of their reporting, and it comes as being quite refreshing to see an alternative view. One such comes from an op-ed piece in the M&G (of all places!), which asks the question why it is too much to even acknowledge Israeli suffering during this conflict. It also raises some interesting positions:
We all know that one-person-one-vote in the greater Palestine of 1947 cannot happen in our lifetime. The reality is that the Knesset will not be dismantled and shipped back to Poland. Israel as a state will not be eliminated. We are compelled to find a way forward lest this struggle should grow and spread like a cancer into every tissue of our world. This struggle is the key international political issue in the modern era.

But the crux of the article surrounds the antagonism against Israel:
Why is it a step too far for you to acknowledge Jewish suffering and legitimate Jewish national aspirations? While this part of the debate usually degenerates into a futile historical tit-for-tat, I just can'?t abide the '?oh please, don'?t evoke the holocaust again' argument, when the irony of Nazi collective punishment is evoked at the same time.

I cannot tolerate the ignorant and belittling equation of Israel and apartheid. I have also heard your '?echoes of silence' after Ahmadinejad's holocaust comments, and after Hamas's and Islamic Jihad's outrages on school buses and in restaurants. I note you have nothing to say of Syria'?s rape of Lebanon, and of the 1,3-million Israeli refugees -- or the fact that the faceless militia of Hizbullah has concentrated more rockets and missiles in southern Lebanon than any other army in the world -- and is using them without regard for civilians, while the IDF tries to warn civilians in advance.

But what irks me most is that thereÂ?s nothing like an Israeli atrocity to the latent South African Jewish lefties of their seders with zeder. It simply doesnÂ?t wash with me that bashing Israel is the only expression of their Jewishness, and that they count themselves in when they have an opportunity to bolster their local political legitimacy and try to dodge the Jewish = Zionist tar-brush. I guess we have an uncomfortable place in South Africa. Like all those who benefited from apartheid, the Jews have a lot to be ashamed of, but also a lot to be proud of.

Worth a read, if only for most people as an alternative view.

Monday, August 07, 2006

The ANC Chameleon Continues
The ANC continues to surprise with its new batch of left-placating policies with its latest pearl - restricting the number of empowerment deals its high-ranking members can undertake. This has been a long time coming, under a swathe of conflict of interest calls from the general public.

ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe recently declared that Â?We should declare that, once an individual has been empowered, he or she should no longer be regarded as a historically disadvantaged personÂ?.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Mbeki Playing Politics?
Our president, Thabo Mbeki, has always seen himself above the ramblings of petty politics, and has seldom felt the need to dip his toes into its muddy pool. Why then, was he out making very Cosatu-friendly statements about rich employers?

Mbeki has clearly gained no friends in Cosatu and the SACP over the past 18 months, and these recent statements should be put in that context. If anything, Mbeki is an ANC party man, and the calls from Cosatu and the SACP to split from the tri-partite alliance would have stung him deeply. Further, Zuma's trial is about to begin, in which Mbeki is expected to be called to testify within the cloud of conspiracy theories and populist anger. Gaining allies within Cosatu at this time is vital, and it must be for this reason that he poked his head from between the curtains.

It seems that it has worked. For now...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Reporting Africa
I haven't read the book yet, but the M&G's introduction to Charlayne Hunter-Gault's new book New News Out of Africa makes me want to. Hunter-Gault argues that Africa's sorry state is partly shaped by the image its own people have of the continent, which is largely built by the media. Africa has traditionally been portrayed only in terms of what she calls the "four Ds - death, destruction, disease and despair", and only through a conscious change in reporting will we be able to help to build up Africa, both in the minds of potential investors abroad, and in terms of the African people themselves.

Being an ex-bureau chief for CNN in Africa, this lady knows what she's talking about, and she has had a huge influence on how CNN portrays Africa, building the "Inside Africa" series on CNN and changing the slant of reporting. This has laid a foundation for more positive stories about Africa on CNN, which anyone who saw the recent "Eye on Africa" week-long reporting can attest. The book is available here.

Zuma's Revenge
Is the first sign that Zuma suspects he's going down in his graft case? Zuma's statements in court on Monday, followed by support from Cosatu and - rather randomly - the ID, call for investigations into Mbeki's role into the arms deal. If memory serves me correctly, has this not already been done? Zuma is falling, and is trying to pull the ANC down with him, starting with the central figure in his 'conspiracy' - President Thabo Mbeki. Bizarrely, this only encourages me, as it seems to indicate a desperation on Zuma's part, which I sincerely hope is well-founded.