Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, December 22, 2006

Blogger on Leave
I'll be on leave for the next two weeks, so there'll be no more posts until then. I've got Christmas with my family, and then we're off to Brazil for ten days. I hope you all have a fantastic festive season and I'll catch you in the new year!

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Cabinet Report Card 2006
The Mail & Guardian have just released their annual report cards for the cabinet, with mostly expected results. The traditional favourites like Trevor Manuel and Ronnie Kasrils receive well-deserved A ratings, whilst the usual suspects like Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and Balfour receive terrible ratings.

Being a bit of a Mbeki fan, I'm disappointed with the D rating, but concede its antecedents. Personally I would give him a C in what has been a tough year for him. I also feel that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma's B- is a little generous. Overall though, it is disheartening to see so many low ratings for what should be the most effective, most efficient minds in our nation. One can only hope for improvements next year...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Quote of the Day

"[The ANC government's] top heavy concentration of power at the centre, paradoxically, sits astride a weak delivery state. The numbers of people in deep, entrenched poverty -- those at the bottom of the pile -- has grown since 1994. The central challenge for opposition in a democracy dominated by one party, like ours, is to influence policy whilst remaining a counterbalance to the dangers of corruption inherent in such a system."

- IFP leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi on the ANC becoming 'unstuck'

Monday, December 18, 2006

Zuma supporters in the EC hit back
After recent moves in the Eastern Cape's ANC branch in support of Mbeki, it seems that Zuma supporters in the region have hit back, alleging voting irregularities in the provincial elections. Given how long this is after the elections, one can only surmise that this is the move of Zuma supporters unhappy at the branch's endorsement of a Mbeki third term as ANC party president.

This latest move will most likely not affect any election outcomes, but signals again what a scrappy, divisive dog-fight the succession battle will be. This only infers further division for the ANC, and will require a very special leader to reunite the party faithful. It seems also that any discussions of breakaways from the ANC mother party in the past will be nothing compared to what will be suggested next year. Interesting times indeed...

Time Person of the Year
I think that Time Magazine's decision to turn the tables on the prestigious Person of the Year award and award it to "us" (read: You and I and everyone else in the world), is a very interesting piece of social and technological commentary. I think it is timeous and significant, and also very brave to break from a decades-old tradition.

Although taken much further in the First World economies, the last few years have seen a complete change in how content is generated and how consumer decisions are made . Think about it; you balance your reading of the news by reading this blog for more analysis; you check Amazon user reviews before you buy a book or CD; you forgo Encyclopedia's in favour of Wikipedia; you read user sections on travel sites to learn secrets of the places you're visiting; you watch video of your favourite band playing live on YouTube. All content made by "us". You and me.

The whole Web 2.0 style of collaboration and content generation has huge implications for companies and marketers the world over, and heralds a new dawn in user democracy. It's an insightful move on Time's part, and I applaud them for giving the shift the significance it deserves.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The Next African War
I'm amazed how some people's appetite for war and violence, and this time I'm directed to the war-ravaged "state" of Somalia. Islamic militants, who have recently taken control of Mogadishu, and now large tracts of Somalia itself, have now turned their attention to Ethiopia, and it seems certain that another proxy war will erupt in Somalia shortly.

In this case, the proxies are the Islamic militia, who are being armed and supported by Syria, Iran and others, and the Ethiopian government, which is being supported diplomatically (and who knows how else) by the Western governments. Emboldened by their success, the Islamists are endeavouring to defeat the Ethiopian forces within Somalia as a rallying call to perhaps attempt to overthrow the Ethiopian government, which it sees as too moderate and too meddlesome. Somalis and Ethiopians have fought many wars in the annals of history, and it seems there is little to circumvent another conflict here. Whoever the victor, the only loser is Africa.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Not that simple, Smuts
In what could be fairly ascribed to a fair bit of economic jealousy, the African Peer Review Mechanism report on South Africa have pointed to unemployment, poverty and crime as being destabilising forces for our nation. Smuts Ngonyama has taken offence at this, and has turned the tables in blaming crime on foreigners, especially from Africa.

If ever old Smuts could be convicted of political spin, this is it. It is largely irrelevant where the crime in South Africa comes from, the issue is that it exists, and that there has been a failure on the part of the Government to resolve it. That he actually had to state “I know for a fact that the government is working on the crime issue," is testament to the problems Government faces. There simply seems to be few new ideas and strategies to tackle crime.

I'm afraid passing the buck won't work here, Smuts, we need solutions.

Monday, December 11, 2006

There was a great piece in the Tribune this weekend around the ANC's Mbeki cabal plans to thwart Zuma's presidential bid. Christelle Terreblanche writes:
A strategy prominent in ANC thinking is to build wide support for Mbeki to take a third term as ANC president, while the search for a compromise candidate is instead focused on a new party deputy president, who in 2009 would take the reins of government as president.

Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has emerged here as a front-runner.

The former wife of the incumbent, Jacob Zuma, stands the best chance of being anointed by him should he face corruption charges and have to abandon the succession race.

Zuma has apparently indicated that he will not stand against her for the top job, tacitly approving her. It is widely expected that he would remain a prime kingmaker even if charged and convicted.

I was unaware of this admission by Jacob Zuma, but feel if Zuma beat the corruption rap and that if the presidency was at stake, that Zuma will renege on this. However, it offers an interesting angle on the debate. Dlamini-Zuma is not very well known to many in the ANC rank-and-file, despite being the Foreign Minister, as Mbeki usually takes the lead in most foreign affairs discussions. [Look for this to change should this strategy be implemented]. One also wonders whether the rank-and-file are ready for a female president, given the social conservatism of the lower LSM groups. However, this voting bloc is not very well represented at the ANC's AGM, and should Zuma not beat the corruption charge, then Dlamini-Zuma may easiest candidate for the re-unification of a divided ANC, given Zuma's role as 'king-maker'.

Terreblanche also writes that "Two recent developments - the outcomes of the Cosatu presidential elections, and the Eastern Cape's new pro-Mbeki leadership - indicate that Mbeki has gained control over the succession processes." This I'm not so sure about. I think it's still very shaky, and difficult to call either way. Zuma has been laying quite low of late, perhaps in preparation for his upcoming legal battles, and this may offer a false sense of security for Mbeki, but Mbeki's recent troubles (booing, walkouts) a various speaking engagements in KZN also offer a serious warning to him of Zuma's populist strength.

Anyway, there's much to be watching at present, and it will be interesting to see other developments that will indicate that this strategy has taken root. However, the bellweather of Zuma's trial remains. A successful defence of the corruption allegations will make him very difficult to stop.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Mbeki and Bush: Best of Friends
T-Bone was in the oval office yesterday, and had by all accounts, a very positive discussion with Dubya. Besides referring not once but twice to the Doha Round of WTO negotiations as the 'Darfur Round' (as Freudian a slip as you can make), Bush seemed to be very respectful of Thabo and it seems as though Thabo's focus on Somalia and Darfur, as well as coverage of the AIDS program, was well received. The full transcript of the post-discussion press conference is here.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Eskom: A Proudly South African Case Study
International Strategy Consulting firm, Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., recently ran a story in their highly respected business journal, Strategy+Business, on Eskom. The story, entitled "The Company That Anticipated History", chronicles Eskom's efforts in the time pre- and post-apartheid to bring electricity to the South African masses, who had been cruelly denied the 'luxury' of electricity under the old status quo.

Have a read and feel some pride!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Iranian Angle
I wrote recently about Syria and Iran's battle for the dominant role in Middle East politics, and an op-ed piece in the Washington Post by David Ignatius sheds some light on Iran's growing confidence. This has recently been further spurred by the need for the US to use Iran and Syria as intermediaries in discussion on the future of Iraq.

Ignatius visited the Arab Strategy Forum, in which Iran's national security adviser, Ali Larijani, laid out his view of the current situation:
"When we face a strategic stalemate, we can break it only by changing the strategy itself," Larijani said in his speech. He explained that America's choice was to stick with a failing strategy of unilateralism, tinker with it to "retard the process" of defeat, or replace it altogether with a new strategy of "interdependence" that recognized Iran's primacy as a regional power. By embracing a new strategy, he said, the United States "would bring psychological calm to the region and help America to behave in a more rational way."

When I asked Larijani later at a news conference what Iran would regard as evidence that the Bush administration was indeed changing its strategy, he said, "The clearest sign would be the exit or evacuation of U.S. forces," adding: "Should there be a timetable presented, that would serve as a positive sign."

Iran is clearly enjoying this newfound position of power over the US in the Iraq process, albeit not with any constructive view of what to do with the power vacuum that will patently result from a US withdrawal. The Iranians will undoubtedly be backing a Shi'ite victory in what will no doubt become Iraq's full-blown (as opposed to currently inferred) civil war, as Iran is the spiritual home to the Shi'ites. This furthers their regional power, and it seems that Iran holds most of the cards at the table at present. Syria's influence is naturally also a key role-player, but with Shi'ite dominance in Iraq, will come Iranian dominance.

This naturally serves to further embolden Iran in its quest for nuclear materials. Larijani stated at the conference that the U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution would not stop Iran's uranium-enrichment efforts, saying bluntly "I announce: This is not effective".

It's amazing how much influence the US has lost in the region from the Iraq war. Any hopes of US mediation in Middle Eastern affairs has largely gone out the window, mirroring its fallen credibility. Much work will be needed by the next administration to regain that confidence and trust.

ANC Power Play II
For better or for worse, 2007 is going to be a seminal year in South African politics. From the recent rumblings in the Eastern Cape, to news today that the NPA is requesting documents from Mauritius, most likely related to Jacob Zuma's meetings with Thint executives there in the leadup to the infamous Arms Deal. The NPA will definitely charge Zuma next year, at a time no doubt, of their choosing. One would wonder if these two incidents are part of a wider, more concerted campaign to start the new year discrediting Zuma as a serious presidential choice.

The NPA would probably charge Zuma again in the first quarter of 2007, which would undoubtedly mean that he would still be busy with the trial during the ANC AGM conference and would thus enter the succession debate's final straight with graft allegations hanging over him. It is difficult to believe that this doesn't have an element of politics behind it, notwithstanding that fact that Zuma must have his day in court to respond to the charges.

Either way, it's clear that the Mbeki-ites are doing what they do best - avoiding public protests and mass rallies in favour of large behind-the-scenes power moves that will quietly deal with obstacles in their way. Look for more of these such moves in the next few months. 2007 is going to be a cracker!

Monday, December 04, 2006

ANC Power Play in EC
In what is a very significant development, one of the ANC's key 'home' provinces, the Eastern Cape, has backed Mbeki for a third term as ANC President (note: This is the party president, not SA President). This is a huge power play against Zuma, and the reactions from Zuma supporters will be very interesting to monitor.

Zuma is hoping to gain the ANC party presidency at the upcoming ANC AGM, as a natural stepping stone to the presidency of the country. If Mbeki did make himself available for ANC presidency next year, which he has not ruled out, and he could get the requisite support, this could prove to be a significant obstacle for Zuma's SA presidency bid. Mbeki could thus control the party line, place key allies around him, and build the credence of other presidential candidates within the party. He could easily run interference on a Zuma campaign, and could make it very difficult for Zuma to control party support.

This is the opening salvo in the real campaigning in the succession battle, and just goes to show how interesting this battle is going to be.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Bigot Bill
If anyone was still unsure whether Bill O'Reilly was in fact an ignorant, pompous, bigot, consider his view on the debate about the "civil war" in Iraq:

"It has to do with a lot of bad guys going into an area and seizing the opportunity to create death and mayhem. And they're all Muslims, and they're doing what they do. They're killing each other. And they're killing Americans."

See link for video.

Friday, December 01, 2006

The Pope's visit
I'm finding it tough to decide on whether the Pope's current trip to Turkey is a good thing or not. On the one hand, he is making a brave move to embrace and nurture dialogue between the two great faiths, but on the other hand he is inflaming radical Islamic sentiment so soon after his rather abrasive comments on Islam in October.

His statements then were aimed at doing just that - opening a debate and challenging the current politically ideological Islam that seems to be dominating the religion at present. At the time, I thought it was an incredibly courageous thing for the Pope to do, at great risk to Catholics around the world. It has since done much in terms of opening dialogue for more moderate Muslims, who needed such a hook to be able to freely debate the meaning of violence in religion. One hopes that it gives these Muslims the opportunity to reclaim their faith which seems to have been largely hijacked by the more radical elements in the community.

However, I can't help feel that the Pope's current Turkey tour may be giving the radical Islamic elements the methodology to close that opportunity, by further whipping up Muslim communities against what they claim is a religion hell-bent (if you'll excuse the rather obvious pun) on the destruction of Islam. In emotive debate, he who shouts loudest often wins, and so it seems here, that Al Qaeda and other radical fringe elements have been able to use the Pope's visit to shut down any debate by castigating the Catholic faith and the Pope through the use of blunt statements and propagandist positions. This serves them well.

I would postulate that the Pope should probably have given the debate some time to air and develop in the moderate Muslim communities, not just in the West. When this gained some momentum and knee-jerk (over)reactions to the Pope's comments gave way to real discussion and introspection, then would perhaps have been a better time to visit a Muslim nation. As always, history will be the judge...