Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

2008 US Presidential Elections
Did you know that:

- The 2008 US Presidential election will be the first without incumbents in 80 years

- Howard Stern is actively seeking candidacy

- The 2008 US Presidential election will be the most expensive election in history

Check out Wikipedia's growing overview of the 2008 race here.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The SACP's bluster
The SACP is once-again making waves about divorcing itself from the tripartite marriage, and many people are getting excited about the consequences. They shouuldn't be. It is incredibly unlikely that the SACP will go it alone in the next elections.

The SACP is a party that exists with influence only through the power of its more high-brow partners. The ANC's electoral strength shields the SACP from the country's voting blocs and hides the lack of governing policies that could attract a wide proportion of the electorate. Blade and the rest of the SACP leadership is not stupid, and it knows this inherently. That's why this sabre-rattling from the SACP is nothing more than a call for more attention and more influence in the tripartite alliance. This is supported by other comments made by the SACP out of their conference.

There is a notion that the SACP controls much of the workers' voting bloc in South Africa, which is a fallacy. According to studies, only 14 percent of Cosatu-affiliated union members are SACP members. If the SACP went on its own, I would bet that at least half of that 14% would change their vote to the ANC.

The cold tundras of South African politics are simply too difficult to bear for a lone wolf like the SACP, and one would imagine that if they decided to split, they would join the rush to insignificance that seems to have befallen many other smaller opposition parties. But I think that the SACP knows this all too well.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Race and Crime
Not too much time to post today, so I just wanted to point you to an interesting op-ed piece in the Business Day on the question of race and crime. Read it here.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The ANC's view on SA's future
This week saw the release of the ANC's latest draft Tactics and Strategy document, a seminal publication outlining how the ANC's views the future of SA, and the party's role in shaping it. It's a fascinating insight into the inner mind of the oft-cagey ruling party, and is well worth a read in its entirety, especially since the last version was published ten years ago in 1997. More than any other speech, statement or document delivered in the past months or years, it is a statement of intent.

Of interest is the ANC's view of the white minority:
Virtually all South Africans pay allegiance to the Constitution. Increasing numbers, including among the whites, entertain a sense of collective belonging to South Africa. It can be argued that most in the white community have come to realise that, indeed, non-racial democracy is in their immediate and long-term interest. This, combined with the social dynamics within the middle strata and acculturation referred to earlier, brings to the fore the question whether merely by dint of being white, this community still can be defined as antagonists of NDR [National Democratic Revolution]!

In terms of practical experiences especially in the private sector, public discourse and voting patterns, it seems that many in the white community still have to realise that the poverty and inequality spawned by apartheid are not in their long-term interest, and that black people are as capable as anyone else to lead and exercise authority in all spheres of life.

But, unlike before, when antagonists across the apartheid divide were locked in mortal combat, engagement around issues of transformation in a democracy forms part of legitimate discourse and electoral politics. Those who continue to resist change within the constitutional framework are opponents in a democratic order. Their political and other organisations are legitimate expressions of a school of thought that should be challenged, but at the same time accepted as part of democratic engagement.

It behoves the liberation movement to persist in clarifying the long-term self-interest that the white community shares in ridding our society of the legacy of apartheid. Indeed, formal political democracy including the new human rights regime would be imperilled if conditions of abject poverty and massive inequality persist.

In this regard, the liberation movement must lead each of the classes and strata within the Black community in narrowing the racial chasm. This applies moreso to the working class which, by reaching out across the racial divide within this class, should be the lightning rod to the emergence of inclusive nationhood. But it also does apply in large measure to the middle strata especially the intelligentsia, and the capitalist class.

I have to agree with the sentiment. I do see that the white community as a whole is more positive than it was, with all the 'Chicken Littles' and 'Zimbabweites' having been proved wrong. In this document, the ANC accepts that most white citizens are supportive of change, but still reserves a space for the need for the working class to make a larger effort to build 'inclusive nationhood'. I think this is also a fair comment.

The policy document goes further in describing the racial overtones of the country. One of the most positive sentences (in my opinion) is this:
Across these circles the intertwining of Black and white interests is taking shape, with the definitions of the past starting to fade. As these circles intertwine and the currents across them flow into one another, so will the objectives of the NDR be reaching maturity. Common interests will increasingly be forged across the racial divide within the various social classes and strata. And so, other defining issues in pursuit of other strategic objectives may become the paramount driving forces for continuing change.

This hints at the white community's role in the future South Africa being one of a true South African, and a true African, as opposed to the limbo we find ourselves placed in at present.

However, there are also ominous expressions:
In essence, the ANC is faced with two options: either to act as a party of the present, an electoral machine blinded by short-term interest, satisfied with current social reality and merely giving stewardship to its sustenance. Or it can become a party of the future, using political power and harnessing the organisational and intellectual resources of society to attain the vision of a national democratic society.

Clearly the policy document is driving toward the latter, which hints at a more electorally aloof ANC, driven by their picture of the future of the country, rather than the electorate's.

Give the entire document a read. It's your country, and this is your ruling party.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Thabo's Poise
If there's one thing I've always enjoyed about T-Bone, it's his rhetoric. The man takes eloquence to a new level, and there's no ambiguity about who he was talking to yesterday in his comments on crime.
"This I must say: for 64 years I have never had either the ability or the courage or the need to resort to grand theatrical gestures.

"I know this, as a matter of fact, that the overwhelming majority of the masses of our people would be gravely offended if tomorrow, to respond to the demands of the Pharisees, I should take to the stage to weep tears meant for the camera, to convince them of what they know, that the African National Congress, of which I am a proud member, now, for the first time in 95 years, has at last understood their pain, and is at one with them in lamenting their individual tragedies.

"There will be no empty theatrical gestures, no prancing on the stage and no flagellation, but we will continue to act against crime, as decisively as we have sought to do throughout the years of our liberation.

"From us, from the government, will issue no words that are lightly spoken," he said.

What Thabo is basically saying is "Shut up, and we'll get on with it. You have your admission oif guilt, now we're getting down to business". Cold? Fairly. Bitter? Definitely.

Thabo believes that the ANC resides in a world unlike usual Western politiking, where the government has been given a mandate by the people, and does not need to bend and cow to societial demands. This is both his strength and his weakness. Unfortunately, on a hot-button issue like crime, it just falls short. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Thabo's legacy is at stake here.

Credit for Everyone!
I can't help but agree with Tito Mboweni in his statements yesterday that the current status quo of banks, retailers, cellphone companies, airlines and just about everyone else throwing credit at the masses is "madness". We have a country with large segments that are not experienced in the use of credit, and many of these people are getting caught in crippling debt-traps that are incredibly difficult for them to emerge from.

I've witnessed it first-hand, and when you're dealing with someone's livelihood, it's just not a game. I'd like to see much stronger responsibility from lenders as to whom they're lending to, commencing at the very least, with educational steps.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Zuma pushes the boat out
Jacob Zuma yesterday challenged the state to commit as to whether it will prosecute him on corruption charges, and if so, to conveniently give him a date. Zuma said in court papers that he is "entitled to know this".

The antecedents of this move are fairly obvious. 2007 holds Jacob Zuma's shot at the presidency, and he knows full well that the corruption case hanging over him is the one key issue that can derail his bid. With the ANC AGM approaching very rapidly, Zuma needs to force the state's hand. Charge me now, so that I can get a decision either way, or drop the corruption case altogether so that I'm 'clean' when I hit the AGM, is what he's saying.

Unfortunately for Zuma though, the state has little legal obligation to tell Zuma exactly when or if he will be charged. All eyes on March 22, when the argument hits the courts.

Monday, February 12, 2007

SA Blog Awards
It's that time of year again, the 2007 SA Blog Awards are open. Please support The Fishbowl and vote for this site in the Best SA Blog about Politics category. Simply hit the "Nominate Me" button on the right of this page, or click here and vote manually. Nominations in the SA Blog Awards can bring me more blog traffic, which can only liven the debates that we've been having here on the blog! Thanks in advance...

Thabo steps up
Well, Thabo Mbeki did what everyone wanted him to on Friday, acknowledging failures in dealing with crime and promising new strategies and tactics. According to the Sunday Times, Mbeki devoted 27 paragraphs out of 158 to crime and mentioned the word “crime” 16 times in his 18-page speech, compared with two in last year’s State of the Nation address.

We should see what these "new strategies" are in the coming weeks, but the same age-old challenge remains; how to ensure effective implementation. Government has had many good ideas in the last decade, but few have been effectively delivered through the civil service. Crime is of national importance that the initial focus of Government's efforts should find focus on the delivery of policing and prosecution methods, as opposed to the overarching strategies themselves.

In terms of commitments, Mbeki pledged that the ANC would:

- Increase the number of policemen to 180000 over the next three years;
- Bring operations of the Department of Home Affairs to full capacity;
- Implement the recommendations of the Khampepe Commission on the mandate and operations of the Scorpions;
- Intensify intelligence operations against organised crime; and
- Improve the analysis of crime trends to improve performance.

I think the Home Affairs capacity improvements are critical here, and I'm glad that Government sees it.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

A Cowardly Lion
DA leader Tony Leon really is showing that it's time for him to go. His latest tirade is attacking big business for ‘lacking courage’ in the crime issue. I've had a go at the DA and other opposition parties recently for their lack of commitment in attacking Government on the crime issue, and not championing the cause. Tiger Tony's comments only illustrate his apparent hypocrisy. Talk about throwing stones in a greenhouse.

If the DA wants to make judgments on others segments of society about the fight against crime, perhaps it should first look within to determine what it has done to further the cause, and what it has done to take Government to task.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

FNB stirs a hornet's nest
Well, it seems no one can make heads or tails of how and why FNB pulled their anti-government campaign about crime. All and sundry have been decrying government's 'interference' in 'forcing' FNB to pull the campaign. Others have blamed other large corporates for telling FNB to stop operating outside of the joint business/government anti-crime initiative. Probably the most detailed account of what happened comes from Alec Hogg at Moneyweb, who writes a well-researched piece on the internal developments within FNB that led to the campaign being dropped.

From his piece, it seems as though some internal conflicts were to blame:
The first sign of trouble came from an unlikely source. Harris's predecessor as FirstRand CEO and long-time business partner, Laurie Dippenaar, is intimately involved in the joint business/government initiative aimed at addressing structural issues within the entire justice system. While FNB was briefing editors about the campaign, Dippenaar was engaged in a high-level meeting with the anti-crime task team, including Safety & Security Minister Charles Nqakula, at which insiders say "great progress was made".

Dippenaar, having been told earlier in the day about FNB's proposed campaign, was obliged to disclose to the meeting what was about to hit the media on Sunday. The news was not warmly welcomed.

FNB head Paul Harris's final say on the matter is as such:
"We spoke to a wide range of our stakeholders and realised there were too many different interpretations of what we were trying to achieve. Perhaps we didn't consult widely enough beforehand.

"The decision to pull was ours and ours alone. But if all this has helped people who never realised before that fighting crime should be South Africa's number one objective then something good might come out of it after all."

To further exacerbate the issue, PSG wrote an open letter to Thabo today expressing support for FNB's campaign and challenging government to "show us you care, that you are serious about eradicating crime".

Whatever the reasoning behind FNB's decision to pull the campaign, the publicity surrounding it has gone a large way to meeting their initial objectives in the first place. South African business, and the public, are talking about it, and one would imagine that many letters will be posted Thabo's way over the next few weeks.

It's encouraging though, that big business is taking the lead here for the public to follow. Crime is a dampening factor in South Africa's success, and it should be on everyone's lips, most notably Thabo Mbeki's.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Iraq imploding
It's a headline I could have written a hundred times since the US invaded Iraq in 2003, but the scale of destruction and death at the present time is simply brutal. Sectarian violence has claimed more than 1000 lives in the past 7 days. Sunni-Shia battles, culminating in the truck bomb in a Shiite market this weekend that claimed 135 lives, are nothing less than all-out civil war.

This has come about from a classic power-vacuum after the fall of Saddam Hussein, piqued by a bitter insurgency into the country from Islamic fighters. It's a nightmare situation for all yIraqi's - except those power-hungry thugs who benefit from it.

Assigning blame is a catch-22. Saddam Hussein was brutal, make no doubt. He ran an oppressive and reprehensible regime that used brutality as a hallmark, torturing, maiming and killing at will. As an individual, it is undoubtedly better that he has been dealt with. However, the act is defined by the consequence. Would the same have happened if Saddam was deposed from within, or by another power? Most likely there would still have been power struggles, but probably not with the same scale and breadth than as it is now, stirred by a deep hatred of the invading US forces. But would other countries have acted against Saddam alone, and was there anyone within that could defeat his brutality? It is doubtful.

So it leads us to the question; With all that we know now, which is the worse scenario - living with Saddam, or deposing him with the current consequence? As much as I despised Saddam Hussein, it's difficult to reconcile the impact he had on the Iraqi people with the outright internal destruction of the Iraqi population that is currently taking place. What do you think?

Friday, February 02, 2007

Mbeki's Legacy
There's a very well-wrtten article by Vicki Robinson and Rapule Tabane in the Mail & Guardian today. It covers Mbeki's legacy, and how some of his current positions (particularly on crime) are in danger of being an overshadowing factor in the positives of his legacy. It's well worth a good Friday read.

It does seem strange. A president so strong on foreign policy, making strange decisions like the human rights vote at the UN Security Council. A president so worried about the growth of Africa, but silent on Mugabe's abuses in Zimbabwe. A president so geared to delivery and action, who is adopting head-in-the-sand approaches to crime. What's happened to Thabo?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Floor crossing
Despite the ANC and power-hungry opposition politicians, there are few that are in support of parliamentary floor crossing. For the ruling party, promises of weighty (and lucrative) positions are an easy sweetener to plunder opposition parties and reinforce their balance of power. Personally, I see floor crossing in a proportional representation parliament as an affront to democracy, and would like nothing more than to see the back of it.

Parliament is currently 'investigating' floor crossing, and early signs are good. ANC chairwoman of the committee Vytjie Mentor stated that after going on a national radio roadshow, “I received responses from across all political parties, and none of those who wrote to us were in favour of floor-crossing.” She also noted that their research had shown that the "research showed that floor-crossing was destabilising in developing democracies".

Of more interest though, is that she hinted that Parliament would be looking at the electoral system itself, especially with respect to proportional representation. In my view, South Africa needs constituency voting to force more accountability amongst our politicians as proportional representation offers nothing for delivery. I'll be an interested observer.