Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Crime and Communication
The more stories of high-profile and localised crime that roll in, the more I can't help reinforcing that Government is making some grave errors in its relationship with the populace. Government's lack of communication over the issue of crime only engenders uncertainty and confusion amongst the people of South Africa, and even worse, gives the perception of a government unconcerned about the wants and concerns of its constituents. The fact may be that crime is not as bad as is the public perception, but the perception remains, and Governments lacklustre communication is of grave concern.

Messages out of Government on crime have been mixed at best, with Mbeki hiding his head in the sand on the same day as other high-ranking spokespeople acknowledged the issue and suggesting solutions. Recently, there seems to be a deafening silence, followed by Government pointing in the last day or two to NGO studies showing that crime has come down markedly since 1994. Unfortunately, with all the political violence in 1994, especially in the Gauteng townships, and in the rural areas of KZN and the Eastern Cape, this comes off a very high base. We should ideally be looking at 1997 or 1998 as a base year, from whence the picture will possibly look noticeably darker.

Government is distancing itself from its people. Unfortunately, perception rules over fact with a fear-inducing issue such as crime. Government should be communicating plans and structures almost daily, and be seen to be concerned about the problem. Those within the Union Buildings may argue that this amplifies the problem to the international commerce and social audience, but there are enough rogues within our borders who are spreading that message anyway. The time has come to stop the bleeding, and Government must take the lead. Start by communication more regularly and more effectively. Open the crime statistics to the public and set some accountable targets. Bring a national policing and training strategy to bear, and outline what's required on specific issues (drugs, gangsterism, unlicensed weapons etc). Overoptimistic? Probably... But on present form, crime may overshadow Mbeki's legacy, and will join Zimbabwe and AIDS as the key drawbacks of his time at Tuynhius.

What also surprises me is the concurrent lack of commitment from opposition parties in exploiting this weakness of the party in government. The DA has called for change, but has done little in entering alternative solutions and suggestions into the public debate. The DA, as the official opposition, should be championing this issue, delivering policy papers, being seen to be more empathetic with victims of crime (without being seen as disingenuous - a tough prospect for many within the DA) and taking the public's cause to Government.

This issue of crime is probably the key future threat to our democracy, and Government needs to heed the call of its people.

Friday, January 26, 2007

ANC Youth League: Too good to be true?
I haven't been well endeared to the ANC Youth League of late, and especially of their president, Fikile Mbalula. Their vehement positions on a number of issues, as well as the underhanded tactics employed by their president and spokespeople engender little respect. So it is not without some solace that I read this morning an internal report leaked to the Mail & Guardian that details the horrendous state the ANCYL finds itself in.

The report, written by the ANCYL national working committee, states that seven of its provincial structures are either collapsing or in deep crisis, being replaced by "task teams", and outlines a panorama of "leadership squabbles, political infighting and internal rebellion."

According to the Mail & Guardian, the following extracts from the internal report of the ANC Youth League’s national working committee highlight the league’s provincial collapse:

# On KwaZulu-Natal, it says: “It [the provincial executive committee (PEC)] has paid less attention on sustaining organisational structures, hence most of the RECs [regional executive committees] have collapsed. The failure of the PEC to sustain structures erodes the base of the organisation and poses a danger of an organisation that will remain visible only at the provincial and national level.”
# In the Western Cape, “the province has been affected by the lack of leadership at all levels”.
# In Gauteng, “the PEC has failed dismally to provide political and organisational support to regions and branches, hence all structures have collapsed. The mandates of all regions have lapsed and most of them are led by regional task teams.”
# The report says that in the Eastern Cape, “we have witnessed an unprecedented decline in the state of the organisation. The Nelson Mandela REC has collapsed with almost all of its branches. There has been no intention of building the organisation in Cacadu, Chris Hani and Ukhahlamba regions.”
# Mpumalanga is “characterised by a challenge of leadership with [no] capacity to implement the organisational programme, which resulted from the lack of commitment and collective responsibility amongst PEC members.”
# The North West PEC “has failed to provide political support to both regions and branches. This was further compounded by the election of the ANC Youth League leadership, specifically the provincial chairperson and deputy chairperson into the ANC PEC, which shifted their focus into the ANC programmes.”
# On Free State, it says: “The weak centre of coordination has resulted in the failure of the provincial executive committee to provide political support to regions and branches, resulting in the failure of these structures to discharge their mandates.”

The ANCYL has been given an elevated status of full provincial voting powers at this year's AGM, which gives them increased power in the succession debates, but with 'insiders' saying that "the unwavering support of the league’s national leaders for Jacob Zuma is a significant factor in this decline", this tough spot they find themselves in could finally be the pin that pops the balloon of irrational hubris the league employs in its political and social commentary.

I, for one, would welcome it.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

African Path
I've recently been chatting to the editor of a fantastic new resource for African political and social commentary - African Path. African Path hosts news and commentary from a number of writers and bloggers around Africa, and is well worth your visit.

"Where did they go?"
Just so we're under no illusions about the tough task the US forces in Iraq have in handing over to Iraqi troops, have a read of this account in the NY Times of yesterday's raids in Baghdad. A join US-Iraqi (but supposedly Iraqi-led) force raided the deadly Haifa Street (known as Sniper Alley) to try to clear the street once and for all of insurgents. First the Iraqi troops pitched up late, meaning that the Americans had to begin the dangerous house-to-house search themselves, then instead of clearing the houses of insurgents, they were rifling through CD collections and cracking jokes, before some troops disappeared altogether!

Well worth a read, even if it is just for dark humour.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Question of Culture
There's been a lot of talk recently about the South African front page pictures of Tony Yengeni slaughtering a cow as part of a cleansing ceremony subsequent to his release from jail. The SPCA is investigating a criminal case against Yengeni, and many people wrote letters to newspapers expressing their dismay. It must be said that the majority of these dismayed people are white.

This is a simple question of culture. We have a number of divergent cultural groups within the melting pot of South Africa, each with distinct customs, beliefs and identities. These cultures should be expressed and celebrated in the new South Africa, and at the very least, tolerated.

Ceremonial slaughtering of livestock has common roots in most cultures going back to agrarian times, where the culling of livestock was seen as the ultimate sacrifice of one's wealth and livelihood. Where European society has moved away from this, livestock still plays a huge part in the wealth and the culture of most African societies.

We need to understand where we are. We live in an African country, with African customs and traditions, and we - as white people - are the minority. Whatever we believe should be "European customs" are irrelevant. If we want European customs, we must choose to live in Europe. In Africa, you will find African customs, and we must be respectful and tolerant of those, however divergent some people see them from their own.

The treatment of certain animals is a common point of divergence in cultural matters. It's a similar gripe I have with the SPCA when they were calling for boycotts of the World Cup football in Japan and South Korea because some official functions served dog meat. We eat chickens, we eat cows, why should the South Koreans not eat dogs because we keep them as pets and they do not.

If South Africa is to succeed as a country with true national unity, we have to respect the cultural identity of all of its peoples.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bob's losing it (even more than usual)
Mugabe really can't seem to make up his mind about the relative merits of having white farmers in Zimbabwe. After brutalising them for 5 years, Bob recently called them back to bolster his crumbling agricultural output, with an "all is forgiven" speech. Most farmers knew this to be the ruse it was, and Bob this week kicked another 15 farmers off their land.

It's more suicidal stuff from the Zimbabwean leadership. The most vexing question remains around Mbeki's failed policy of quiet diplomacy in Zimbabwe, and the lack of insight to alter it. Mugabe is on his last legs, and Mbeki's focus should be on providing the platform for a successful challenge of his current leadership by a more stable successor. Simply waiting out Mugabe is patently not a viable strategy, and does no service to millions of desperate Zimbabweans. It almost seems hopeless to wish for though, such is Thabo's dogmatism on the issue.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Zille rides again
I have to admit, I'm quite enjoying the bravado that Helen Zille is bringing to the Cape Town mayoral post. Her expunging of the AMP from the coalition showed real confidence and class in punishing an errant partner, and her expedient and successful move to bring the ID back into the fold highlights her political nous.

Whilst the ANC this morning turns on the ID, callig them "a desperate party", the DA remains in power, in a much stronger position with the ID than it was with the AMP. The saviour of the day (if you'll excuse the pun) seems to be the deputy mayor Andrew Arnolds of the African Christian Democratic Party, who stepped down as deputy mayor to allow the ID's Simon Grindrod to take the position, thus cementing the ID's entry into the coalition.

With all the local government shenanigans of the ANC Western Cape, I can't say I'm displeased with this result. The ANC has been played at it's own game, and it has lost substantially. However, it will be interesting to see whether the political chaff of Patricia de Lille can stick her head in for a while and maintain this coalition. On past antics, one can not be too hopeful.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

SA Army 'too overstretched' to commit to Somalia
One of the things that really surprised me on my return from holiday was just how easily the Ethiopian forces, together with forces loyal to the previous Somalian government (a misnomer if ever), were able to largely defeat the Islamists that had recently overrun most of Somalia. There was undoubtedly some US special forces assistance in the operation, given both the US's financial assistance for the warlords last year, as well as the 'Al-Qaeda operations' last week.

As sad a statement as this is, I am relieved that the battle was a short as it was, given what could have occurred. With the Islamists calling for Jihad against Ethiopia, a more protracted and costly battle could have easily been envisaged. I suppose the Iraq marketing brochure is just too tough to beat for any young Islamic fanatic.

South Africa has been asked to contribute to the peace-keeping force in Somalia, and Thabo's response doesn't warrant much respect for the size and readiness of our armed forces. Thabo inferred that it is unlikely that SA could commit many, given that "we've got people deployed in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), we've got people deployed in Burundi, we've got people deployed in the Sudan". Given that there are 1400 troops in the DRC, 850 in Burundi and about 370 in Darfur (a total of about 2620 troops), it does seem that we are fairly short in fighting men and women. This probably isn't any surprise to most, given the poor state of our military leadership structures.

Whatever the case, the military in SA has to be sorted out. As Africa's leading nation, we need to be involved in resolving conflicts and maintaining peace in our continent. A war-free, more prosperous Africa means a safer, more prosperous South Africa.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blogger Back
Well, I'm back from an epic holiday in Brazil - a beautiful country not largely dissimilar from our own. Brazil faces very similar challenges to us, both in terms of social issues such as poverty and crime and in terms of economic challenges as a burgeoning emerging market. Left-leaning president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (more simply known as "Lula" which rather bizarrely means 'squid' in the native Portuguese) has just been reelected on his mandate of social change and a focus on education and the knowledge economy.

The people are also very similar, friendly and open, and the country itself is beautiful. We were staying in an old colonial gold town called Paraty north of Sao Paulo, and then had a couple of days in Rio, staying in the old Santa Teresa suburb. A fantastic trip.