Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Can we get back to delivery now?
After months of squabbling Dyanti and Zille have finally agreed a way forward in the Western Cape. It's definitely not a victory for Dyanti, which I'm happy about, with Zille only acceding to an additional two more sub-council chairmanships for the ANC.

This is largely a face-saving measure and leads me to believe that Dyanti may have been put under some weighty pressure from the ANC structures in the seats of power up North. It's definitely a victory for democracy though, and one hopes that this will dissuade other regional ANC structures from following similar ridiculous routes (assuming anyone beats the ANC anywhere else!).

Let's hope that this is the last of this petty sniping from the ANC, and that we can all get back to governance in what is a critical 4 years in the lead-up to the World Cup. All in all though, I'm very glad that democratic principles have been upheld and that the ANC was not allowed to bully its way around the electorate. Perhaps our young democracy is stronger than we all think...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Multi-culturalism in Secular Western Societies
A number of recent events have really opened the debate about the role of multiple cultures in secular societies of the West, most notably in the US and the UK. In the UK, the recent controversy over the niqab, a Muslim woman's veil, has sparked huge debate around the obligation of integration into British culture by Muslim societies.

Jack Straw, the former foreign secretary, called the veil "a visible statement of separation and of difference", clearly intending to provoke debate around the topic. Tony Blair has tried over his term to develop Britain as a successful multi-cultural society, but the threat of terrorism has raised questions. The British populace is all too aware that the London bombers were home-grown, fully-fledged British compatriots, and many are perturbed that Muslim communities are not integrating into British culture. The other side of the debate is that Muslim communities feel that they should be free to follow their own cultures within the British culture, as Britain is a secular society.

The US has also experienced its fair share of similar issues, most recently with a debate over Somali Muslim taxi-drivers in Minneapolis who are refusing to carry passengers with alcohol.

These debates highlight the tightrope that secular state governments have to walk between liberal societies and non-secular communities. Should the minority be forced to integrate with the majority? Does this infer the majority is superior in their culture? Will this further radicalise minority communities under feelings of oppression?

With increasing globalisation and cross-border immigration, the protection of non-indigenous communities becomes a more pronounced issue that will only continue in prominence and salience. Multi-cultural secular societies have a real challenge in finding the right balance between a national identity and the protection of minority rights. The key surely, must be found in dialogue, both at a political and a community level. Cultural expression is surely a case of people over politics.

Friday, October 27, 2006

SA Constitution Under Threat?
Interesting op-ed piece in the Business Day today by Aubrey Matshiqi covering our constitution and its role in a secular state. He hones in on the liberal democratic values it espouses:
This model of liberal democratic values is blamed for being the main source of the evil perceived to be afflicting our society. In other words, in the minds of a growing number of South Africans, the constitution symbolises the corrosion of our moral fibre and thus stands in the way of moral reconstruction and regeneration.

Personally, I don't ascribe to this, and think the an open constitution allows all to share the freedoms that many fought so hard for. Matshigi however, raises some important questions about a secular democracy and a Christian majority:
These are questions we have to confront, given that the majority of South Africans across racial, class and cultural lines would definitely vote in favour of capital punishment and against pro-choice legislation and same-sex marriages if they were given the opportunity to participate in referendums.

This raises questions about the position of the constitution and the Constitutional Court in society. Our society is becoming increasingly polarised on this question and this may lead to tension between those who stand in opposition to the constitution on religious and cultural grounds, and advocates of the “basic structure” doctrine. Basic structure doctrine is a theory according to which certain features of the constitution are “beyond the limitation of the powers of amendment”. If this approach were to be taken, it would mean there would be clauses permanently protected from the possibility of amendment.

The proponents of this theory may want to argue that constitutional provisions which pertain to issues including, but not necessarily limited to, the death penalty, gay rights and the termination of pregnancy should become subject to the basic structure doctrine.

Well worth a read.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A positive and a negative
I was interested to read that Trevor Manuel has indicated that the budget for land restitution will be markedly cut next year. I was also interested to read that the government has settled 92% of all outstanding land claims.

This is both negative and positive at the same time. Negative in that it sends a bad signal to the masses, to whom land restitution is still a hot-button issue, and is likely to become even more so in the next few years. But it's incredibly positive that government has settled such an overwhelming proportion of land claims made, and much more should be made of this. It's not a small number of claims - nearly 73 000 in fact - and it is interesting that government has chosen not to make a huge deal about this. One wonders whether this is to allay further land claims in the short-term.

Either way, I would probably prefer it if Trevor hid this decrease in the notes of the budget, rather than leading with it, as it does raise significant questions for a large proportion of the country.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

More Fox Humour Part II
I'm thinking of starting a regular series on Fox reporting, because it's just that humourous. In fact, it's a study in solid political propoganda. The latest is Fox correspondent Neil Cavuto posing the question: "Will the Democracts crush the US economy if they control Congress?". This under the premise that the Democrats are "largely socialist", which one of his guests stated as gospel. Absolutely classic.

It's fairly obvious to see the audience they're playing to have very short memories. Forgetting about the longest period of growth in US history led by a Democratic president - Bubba Clinton?

Friday, October 20, 2006

ANC needs some cash
I particularly enjoyed Smuts Ngonyama's response to criticism of the ANC's proposal for parties to be paid more by Parliament. "A proposal is a proposal. It has to be discussed. It's unfair to bludgeon the ANC if it is a proposal," he said. Well in that case, I would like to make a proposal that I take over the reigns of the presidency and use the national coffers to buy Magnums for the entire population, but noone must criticise me.

Anyway, I digress. The ANC has been having a tough time raising funds in what has undoubtedly been a very difficult year for the party. The easy option is to table a proposal whereby all parties will be paid more by Parliament, thus significantly increasing the ANC's funding. It's one of the perks of being the majority party, and would happen in most other countries, but it's the level of increases that poses a problem. The ANC proposal would raise MP's pay from R19 000 to R50 000 a month! Increases in line with inflation you say?

This will undoubtedly be more cannon fodder for the lower levels of Cosatu who will only see more governmental gravy-boating. It will be interesting to see who sticks their necks out over this one.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Just enough time today for a quick roundup of interesting news:

Snuki showed Special Assignment doccie to presidential aides before airing: read.

CNN reports that SA to 'broaden' land seizures: read.

Republicans hope to win mid-terms by distancing from Bush: read.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Joke of the Day
Why is it that parties that are losing touch with their voters so quickly become delusional. Case in point - the PAC. After a decade are hemorrhaging members and voters, so much so that they hold just 1% of the electorate, the PAC stated yesterday that it had set itself the goal of reaching 20% of the electorate in less than three years.

PAC president Letlapa Mphahlele said that the party "resolved to appoint an election campaign committee to work on a strategy." For the PAC's sake, let's hope that Karl Rove's brain, Nelson Mandela's personality and Bill Gates' pockets are on that committee.

Monday, October 16, 2006

More De Lille Humour
The ID really seem to be struggling with this whole 'opposition party' racket. After villifying the DA over the mayoral system, De Lille announced that the ID was "wrong" to vote with the ANC during the mayoral election and that it will no longer support the change from the mayoral system in the Western Cape.

"We are saying an emphatic no to the ANC. We do not want the exco to be forced on Cape Town and we want Dyantyi to immediately stop the process," De Lille said.

Without the ID's support in a legal battle, it seems that the ANC will find it a lot tougher to challenge the mayoral system, as their reasoning for doing so was to make the local government "more representative". For reasons of democratic strength, I for one can suggest that this is a good thing...

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Bye bye Snuki
The truth always outs, especially truth as obvious as this. Snuki Zikalala has finally been nailed by an internal SABC investigation for "restricting the use of certain commentators and analysts because of their political viewpoints" and misleading the public by denying having an "editorial blacklist".

The public broadcaster's propaganda held court over the South African public under Apartheid. There it should stay. Bye bye Snuki...

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Sowetan Poll: Not all good news for Zuma
The Sowetan Poll conducted on Monday is no great victory for Jacob Zuma, despite it finding that 57% of respondents would like Zuma to succeed Mbeki as president of the republic. This is for two reasons.

Firstly, the respondent base. The Sowetan's readership is split largely between the Black middle class and urbanised blue collar Black workers. The lines of battle were distinctly drawn here, with the majority of internet voters - middle class respondents - not wanting Zuma as president, whilst telephone voters overwhelmingly backed him. This readership is not quite a mirror for the electorate, and a wider respondent base may well erode this figure.

Secondly, we have to remember that Zuma has had an absolute stranglehold on media publicity about his presidential 'bid' we have heard nothing from other potential candidates. Towards the beginning of next year, when the potential candidates will start doing the ANC dance of never outright saying they'll be offering their services, but preening in any attempt to convey themselves as presidential, we may see an erosion of those Zuma support figures. This may be the best it gets for Zuma, and 57% of the Sowetan's vote does not a president make. I do concede here though, that these other candidate entries could both be a boon and a threat for Zuma, as a number of other candidates may split the middle class votes whilst the populist vote remains resolute with Zuma.

The problem though, is that general electoral voters don't vote for the ANC president - who becomes the ANC candidate for president of the republic - the ANC does. 2008 will be a very interesting year in politics...

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tutu at 75
Firstly, I just wanted to pay tribute to Desmond Tutu on his 75th birthday on Saturday. Secondly, I wanted to comment on how much I appreciate that this man still holds true to his principles and speaks his mind, even at 75. Whilst many others have tried to leave the limelight and return to a few final years of peace, Tutu is still actively campaigning for the truth, justice and the principles that he fought so hard to protect. His ongoing spat with the ANC over hubris and weatlh creation refers.

Happy Birthday wise man.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Succession or Bust
With Zuma squarely back in the frame again (at least until he gets re-charged), the business media is quite rightly searching for alternatives. Today sees two op-ed pieces, one in the Business Day, and one on Moneyweb, putting forward ideal options for presidential candidates.

Xolela Mangcu writes a great piece of analysis in the Business Day regarding the elitist vs populist "false choice" and maps out a political spectrum to find the ideal leader who has historical populist credentials with strong elitist (and business-friendly) ideals. It's a well written piece and well worth the read. His choice? Tokyo Sexwale.

On the other side, Barry Sergeant looks at Tito Mboweni's credentials as an ideal presidential candidate, largely from the world-class record of the SA Reserve Bank.

As far as I can see, neither of these will be viable options to challenge Zuma, should he dodge the next bullet. It is highly unlikely that Sexwale will leave the lucrative business empire he has steadily built for public office, no matter what the alternative. And Mboweni simply does not have the wider credentials to expediently generate a support base. He is in a post that I would imagine the majority of the rural voting bloc does not understand, and he will be largely unknown to a great proportion of the population.

Place your money on Cyril Ramaphosa.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

More Fox Fun
The Fox News network never seems to cease providing humour in its efforts to spin the Republican cause. I'm sure you've all heard about the Foley case that is lighting fires in Washington at present. If you haven't, the hooplah is about the Republican Congressman for Florida, Mark Foley, who was caught in inappropriately explicit communications with teenage male pages (assistants). Coming up the mid-terms, this was something the Republicans do not need, especially since it has now surfaced that many senior Republicans, including House Speaker Dennis Hastert, knew of these communications and did nothing to stop it. Foley has resigned, but he is now just the bottom of the pile of heads the Democrats are after.

Fox News also thinks this may be negative for Republicans, and has now started using the brilliant strategy of pretending that Foley is a Democrat. On Fox's O'Reilly Factor, they discussed Foley, using three 15 second clips of Foley, with the headline "Foley (D-FL)" - stating that he is the Democratic Congressman for Florida.

Propaganda is a wonderful thing...

Monday, October 02, 2006

Learning from history
The historian in me loves this kind of thing, but I'm not sure I agree with the parallel here. The New York Times carries an op-ed piece about the daring raid on Rome's port in 68 BC, and its similarities to the modern Al Qaeda attacks of 9/11. The contributor shows the curbing of civilian rights and the eventual decline of Rome's democracy that occured in the aftermath of the attack, and tries to state the case for a similar occurence in our time.
The perpetrators of this spectacular assault were not in the pay of any foreign power: no nation would have dared to attack Rome so provocatively. They were, rather, the disaffected of the earth: “The ruined men of all nations,” in the words of the great 19th-century German historian Theodor Mommsen, “a piratical state with a peculiar esprit de corps.”

Like Al Qaeda, these pirates were loosely organized, but able to spread a disproportionate amount of fear among citizens who had believed themselves immune from attack. To quote Mommsen again: “The Latin husbandman, the traveler on the Appian highway, the genteel bathing visitor at the terrestrial paradise of Baiae were no longer secure of their property or their life for a single moment.”

What was to be done? Over the preceding centuries, the Constitution of ancient Rome had developed an intricate series of checks and balances intended to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single individual. The consulship, elected annually, was jointly held by two men. Military commands were of limited duration and subject to regular renewal. Ordinary citizens were accustomed to a remarkable degree of liberty: the cry of “Civis Romanus sum” — “I am a Roman citizen” — was a guarantee of safety throughout the world.

But such was the panic that ensued after Ostia that the people were willing to compromise these rights. The greatest soldier in Rome, the 38-year-old Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus (better known to posterity as Pompey the Great) arranged for a lieutenant of his, the tribune Aulus Gabinius, to rise in the Roman Forum and propose an astonishing new law.

Read the whole piece here.