Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Manto's neglect
It seems to me as disgusting that our health minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the person solely in charge of this AIDS-ridden country's prevention policies, cannot find time in her diary to attend the official AIDS Day event tomorrow.

We're used to Manto shooting her mouth off, disparaging successful global prevention policies and hawking her vegetable wares, but this is just disrespectful. We all know that she has been ill of late, and that will be the only reason for reprieve in this case.

This all off the back of another damning report on Government's AIDS prevention policies. The Actuarial Society of SA (Assa), in collaboration with the Medical Research Council and the Centre for Actuarial Research (CARE) at the University of Cape Town released a report yesterday highlighting that "about 250 000 young South Africans aged between 15 and 24 became infected with HIV this year, suggesting government’s prevention programmes are not hitting the mark".

That's another 250000 young people that will find it incredibly difficult to contribute to the long-term success of our nation. We need solutions Manto, and we need them now. Not pitching up to an official government-sponsored AIDS Day event shows a complete lack of insight.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Zuma in the Sunday Telegraph
An interesting interview with Zuma in the UK's Sunday Telegraph this weekend. Zuma ridiculed comparisons with Mugabe, stating:
"As a member and a leader of the ANC all I do is carry out ANC policies," he said. "How could you have an individual who would become such a monster? The ANC system does not allow for that kind of thing."

He also went on to share sympathy with Bob's blame of the UK for not dealing with land reform and make some dubious comments about Zimbabwe's economy, denying that the wave of illegal immigration of Zimbabweans is proof of the country's economic failures:
"Refugees from Mozambique, Lesotho, Botswana, Swaziland pour into South Africa every day. Zimbabwe is not an exception because there are economic problems in these countries."

Undoubtedly worth a read though...

Monday, November 27, 2006

Tiger Tony to move on
In the truly British parliamentary style he so suits, Tony Leon has announced that he will step down as DA leader at the party's May 2007 conference. Without belittling Tiger Tony's leadership over the past 13 years, I have to feel that this represents a huge opportunity for the DA to realign their political style and interaction with the South African electorate.

The party has long since borne the mantle of the 'white opposition' with Tony's highly combative leadership style, and the selection of a new leader with a leadership style that more closely suits the South African parliamentary environment would undoubtedly assist in both achieving more as opposition, and become less alienated from much of the voting electorate. The ideal candidate would be a non-white candidate, so as to move away from the simple label of 'racism' whenever Tony has employed his combative approach. This final item on the shopping list is unlikely though, given the lily-white upper echelons of the DA's leadership.

Anyway, what it does give us is an interesting political year in 2007, with this 'succession debate' offering a tasty preamble for the much more significant ANC succession debate a few months later.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

My Favourite 404 Not Found Error
So Neil Watson from Crime Expo SA, the sensationalist crime site that was showing gruesome pictures of crime victims, seems to have been shown up to be the charlatan that we all hoped he would be. Not content with playing on the fears of the old-school white elite, or with draining the hopes of a proud nation, Watson now stands accused of taking money he solicited through the site, and running (hopefully off to Canada or Switzerland, or wait, maybe Iraq).

His site has been suspended due to non-payment, and he seems to have disappeared, along with a nice sack of loot from all those agreeing with his blunted approach. I'm pretty sure these are the same people that refuse to pay taxes "because it's a waste of my hard-earned money", but will happily give said hard-earned money to some loon-ball on the internet. No tears from me fellas...

So it is with great enjoyment that I direct you to the all-singing, all-dancing to find a shining beacon of hope:

Not Found
The requested URL / was not found on this server.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Syria and Iraq: A Lebanese vision of the future?
Two big things happened in the Middle East yesterday, with interesting visions of a future Middle East. A lot of people have been wondering about a reshaping of the Middle East's power balance since the latest Iraq conflict and Iran nuclear situation commenced, and yesterday's activities only added further fuel to the fire.

Yesterday, it was announced that Iraq and Syria concluded negotiations and commenced diplomatic relations after a period of 24 years. This is a critical step, most notably as although it may have occurred under US approval (or desperation?), the US holds little control over the relationship going forward. Syria has a vast history of trying to exert control over satellite states, and currently finds itself in a power struggle with Iran for dominance in the Middle East.

Yesterday's assassination of Pierre Gemayel, a Lebanese cabinet minister and strong opponent of Syrian influence in Lebanon, was another important event, as it shows Syria's growing confidence to spurn regional diplomatic efforts to contain it and continue with its satellite state dominance. It's the 5th such assassination pegged on Syria in the last 2 years, which is phenomenal in itself.

With Hussein's fall in Iraq, and the subsequent insurgent activities in the country, quite a large power vacuum was left in the region, and Syria and Iran have stepped into the breach. The next few years will be critical in the reshaping of the regional power balance. I would back Iran to become the dominant force in the region, and that is no easy acknowledgment for the US.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Betraying Mbeki's trust
I sincerely hope that Thabo knows what he's doing with this one. In most modern societies, just having friends like he does would make Jackie Selebi persona non grata for a President's endorsement, but here we have Thabo sharing the stage with him and telling religious leaders to "trust him" in his handling of the Selebi matter.

I'm a little wary of commenting directly on Selebi's guilt or innocence, as I feel that there has been much speculation in the media, but little real fact to base an opinion on. Either way, I think it's incredibly dangerous for Mbeki to lay his presidential credibility on the line here, and I sincerely hope that this does not blow up in his face.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Victory in Iraq?
As controversial as he is, there are few shrewder readers of international affairs than Henry Kissinger. So when he make prognoses, people sit up and listen. Kissinger's latest comments made over the weekend cover the situation in Iraq and in his view, the thought that traditional victory in Iraq is "no longer possible":
"If you mean by clear military victory an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he said.

Instead, he recommended an international conference with Iraq's neighbors, the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and countries he said have a "major interest" in the outcome -- such as south Asian nuclear rivals India and Pakistan -- to craft a settlement.

The partition of Iraq on ethnic lines "might be an outcome," he acknowledged, "but it might be better not to organize it that way on a formal basis."

It's difficult not to draw parallels with Vietnam now, with Kissinger indicating a traditional stalemate and a partition of the Iraqi state. This could be a horrible legacy for Bush...

Friday, November 17, 2006

RIP: Milton Friedman
Brilliant in his intellect, broad in his thinking, and often controversial in his approach, Milton Friedman was one of a handful of economists who were considered bigger than their field. Friedman, who died yesterday, was a free-market fundamentalist who used economics to drive social and political change. I was not always in sync with his hardline libertarian views (the legalisation of drugs, opposition to public education etc) and his absolute disdain for government intervention, but the man's influence in pushing the free market is undoubted. Reagan and Thatcher called him an advisor and he was instrumental in laying the platform for modern economic thought. He will be missed.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Increases in Crime: Perception or Fact?
A rather secretive government policy on releasing crime statistics makes it perennially difficult to adjudge whether the recent public perception of increasing crime levels is based in perception or fact.

Perception is an interesting thing - a groundswell of public dialogue about an issue is difficult to stop. It feeds itself and raises media interest, which in turn swells the ranks that believe in that perception. Perception becomes 'fact' very quickly, and is incredibly difficult to refute.

Figures released by government are greeted with howls of disbelief and do little to dampen the flames. The South African Institute of Race Relations, a local NGO, recently released a report on crime in South Africa, which noted that:
  • The number of serious crimes reported to the South African Police Service declined by almost 18% between 2002/03 and 2005/06
  • Which followed an increase of over 30% between 1994 and 2003
  • Aggravated robberies, which had increased by 58% between 1994/95 and 2003/04, had peaked in 2004 before declining by 10% in the past two years
  • The murder rate, which peaked in 1995/96, had subsequently declined by 42%
All of which sounds positive, so where does the truth lie. Unfortunately, without statistics that we can actively trust and uphold, perception rules the day. Stories abound and personal anecdotes travel like wildfire.

It's time government opened its doors to its constituents. The only way to alter perception is to arm positive citizens with facts to challenge it.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Cosatu Brand
Don't have too much time to post today, but just wanted to link through to an interesting article in the Business Day by Terry Behan, about the need for a brand makeover for Cosatu. Worth a read. Get it here.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Absurdity of the Day
We're well used to Jon Qwelane, but this guy takes ridiculous commentary to a whole new level. The columnist, who goes under the moniker Loose Canon, writes for the Sunday Standard in Gaberone, Botswana.

Sunday's effort berated South African whites, saying that they can "count themselves lucky they were not shot on the day of liberation. Perhaps it's not too late to hang a few whites... just to remind them who is in charge". More wisdom from this idiot outlined his Jacob Zuma, with the reasoning:

"The people love Jacob Zuma... but, as part of sorting out ungrateful white people, I want him to embark on a redistribution exercise. I want him to distribute white women among the long-suffering black chaps.

"Zuma can have one or two white women himself and then distribute the rest 'to his loyal supporters' - including Loose Canon himself".

Utterly bizarre...

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Democrats take control; Rummy falls on his sword
So after all, Webb managed the Virginia win and the Dems take control of both the Senate and the House. An incredibly result for the Democrats, which highlights just how far the independents have swung against the Iraq war.

So the first, most obvious casualty? Rumsfeld. It didn't take him long to resign, and after all his belligerence on previous calls for his resignation, it's patently obvious that he was pushed from the top. Many will be celebrating that move, but don't look for to many changes in the Iraq policy until Bush needs to go back to Congress for more Iraq funding - that's when the crunch will come. The Dems have waited 12 long years for this, and it's unlikely they're going to make it easy for Bush. Let's just hope though, that there is a more bipartisan approach than was felt under the Republican rule.

Also watch for Bush to now become firmly entrenched in the 'lame duck presidency'. He will move away from hot-button issues like gay marriage amendments and move onto areas of common ground such as education. This must be especially tough for Bush, given that he has been one of the most inflexible presidents of recent memory.

All in all, a huge turnaround from 2002, in what has been a very tough year for the Republicans. The key question now is, can the Democrats find enough alternative policies to retain power when the elections are not a referendum on Iraq?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

More Mid-term Interest
As we go into the US mid-terms today, more thoughts on why the Republicans may not lose the Senate from Business Day op-ed writer Kenichi Serino, a journalism MA at Wits. Serino explains:
"Democrats talk, Republicans vote. Some statisticians theorise that in any given election, this discrepancy results in a 5%-7% spread that favours Republicans.

At the same time, the senate strongly favours conservative candidates. This is because each state receives two senators regardless of population. Sparsely populated conservative states such as Arkansas or Oklahoma receive the same number as densely populated liberal states such as New York or California. Mathematically, there are simply more conservative states, resulting in a Republican senate majority. The lower house, by contrast, is elected by proportionality. This means that densely populated areas, which tend to be more liberal, have more influence. It also means that more local issues can take precedent. This brings us back to Ohio. Though still nominally conservative, the corruption raindrops which began to fall in 2004 have turned into a deluge. The implicated read like a who’s who of state Republican politics. As a reaction to this, many independent voters are rejecting their local candidates."

Look for the Democrats to win the House, but the Senate may well remain with the Republicans. It all depends on the US bellweather - the Independents. Is there enough anger about Iraq to drive them to the Democrats and belie recent voting patterns? We will know by tomorrow morning. Even if the Senate is retained, losing the House may well doom Bush to the traditional end-of-term lame duck presidency.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The World is Flat
I went away to Bain's Kloof this weekend, and took a book with me that I've been wanting to read for a while - The World is Flat by three-times Pulitzer winner Thomas Friedman.

Friedman outlines the new globalised world, with high-speed communications, outsourced, offshored and insourced jobs, and the rise of the flat company. It's an engaging and insightful book from a man who has the reputation and ability to be able to ask the largest world figures in both business and politics for answers to critical questions. I started it on Saturday and finished it on Sunday - it's that good - and is essential reading for anyone interested in business, culture and politics in the next few decades.

Get it from:

As we head into the US mid-terms tomorrow, I can't help feeling that a lot of commentators are writing the Republicans off too early. They're definitely going to lose a number of seats, both in the House and the Senate, but many are gifting the Democrats the Senate majority, and I feel it's going to be a tougher fight.

The US has been largely split down the middle in the last 8 years, and feet are firmly planted in Republican and Democratic camps. One has to remember two things: firstly, that there are two conservatives to every one liberal in the US, and secondly, that Republicans are making their dissatisfaction known through opinion polls, but when push comes to shove in mid-terms, their wider purposes are not served by the Democrats controlling the Senate. Opinion polls give you an indication of dissatisfaction with their party, but I wouldn't read them as gospel when it comes to actual voting actions.

As I said, they will definitely lose seats - their reckless behaviour over the past three years will take care of that - but losing the Senate is no given. That will be a fight...

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Only Crocodile Tears for the Groot Krokodil
Whilst extending condolences to his family, it's difficult to have sympathy for PW Botha through the later years of his life, given his complete lack of any hint of remorse about the violent excesses he presided over. He refused to take any responsibility for his actions in the oppression of the majority of our population, denied any appearance in front of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and remained a bitter soul until he took his last breath.

Being the last true apartheid president however, it closes a significant door on our history. Farewell Groot Krokodil, but few tears.