Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Mail & Guardian carries a sage analysis from Mbuyisi Mgibisa of the current Zuma presidential 'campaign' versus Mbeki's 'proxy' campaign.
Mbeki is painstakingly working party structures while Zuma is building constituencies of influence, notably among the left and lately with the Afrikaans community, both of whom the president has alienated over the years. In addition, Zuma is working the religious communities.

Who’s winning? While Zuma’s work may grab the headlines, Mbeki’s strategy is more wily. December’s conference will be run by the delegates, so party work is of the essence. Winning over constituencies will become important in the run-up to 2009, when the next national election is due.

This is an accurate summation in my opinion. Mbeki is driving the party brain, and if he can control influence within the party leadership, he can control the presidential vote. However, the SACP/Cosatu campaign for greater representation within the alliance is the only thing that could potentially upset the proverbial apple cart. Whilst they naturally will not be able make significant representational alterations before the conference, they could force a swing in delegate voting sentiment, should they be able to take advantage of the more fickle delegates. These delegates will vote according to where they feel the future influence may develop and 'back the winning horse'. It is under that scenario that Zuma will benefit.

How likely is that to happen though? The ANC will undoubtedly call the SACP's bluff, but may listen more carefully to Cosatu's concerns. However, the ANC knows that it is the spearhead of the political machine, and it is unlikely to defer too much to the other alliance partners. One may expect to see more high-level indabas between ANC and Cosatu/SACP leadership and some nominal representation concessions, but in pure voting power, I would imagine that little will change.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The pressure mounts...
Cosatu and the SACP are working in a perfect concerto at the moment, with the grand plan of finding a more equal footing for them within the tripartite alliance. A lot of "line in the sand" time comments have been coming from both camps, and the latest round are no different. Blade Nzmande says:
"The days of collective alliance campaigning for elections, but decisions being left exclusively at the hands of the ANC, are now over."

"We need to radically change the manner of operation of the alliance, its protocols, method of deployment, the question of accountability of government to the alliance, the effective role of alliance partners in governance and the possibility of an electoral pact and quotas for alliance partners in the ANC lists."

SACP honcho Zwelinzima Vavi was even more robust, calling for reflection from the ANC leadership:
"If that is not happening we will meet in June to decide on the way forward... to determine our support for the ANC, if there is any. You cannot have a liberation movement without working-class representation... We need to make sure our ANC is our ANC, not their ANC."

It's important to note the difference. Whereas the SACP is still mulling a divorce from the tripartite marriage, Cosatu is firmly committed to changing from within the coattails of the ANC. There is a wave of populism that is knocking on the doors of the hallowed halls of the ANC leadership, from Zuma's supporters to the rumblings from within the alliance. How the ANC reacts in the next year, particularly at the AGM, will most likely define the ANC over the next decade. It's an important time to be watching...

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Current and Future Zimbabwe
Today I'd just like to draw your attention to a fantastic op-ed piece in the Mail & Guardian by Trevor Ncube, who is chief executive and publisher of M&G Media and publisher and executive chairperson of the Zimbabwe Independent and the Standard. Ncube gives great insight into the current Zimbabwean political playing field, most especially within Zanu-PF, and plots a way forward for Zimbabwe out of this current disaster. It's a great read, and I'd encourage you to explore it in its entirety. As a teaser, here are a few paragraphs:

Two powerful factions within the ruling party want Mugabe out of office. These factions take credit for defeating Mugabe’s 2010 project. The more powerful of the two is led by retired general Solomon Mujuru, whose wife, Joyce, is one of Mugabe’s vice-presidents. A year ago, this faction was on the ascendancy, but has clearly fallen out of favour, as evidenced by Mugabe’s attack on the Mujurus’ ambitions.

The flavour of the moment is the Emmerson Mnangagwa-led faction, which suffered a major reversal of fortunes following the Tsolotsho incident in 2004. Now Mugabe, as part of a divide and rule tactic, is making this faction believe it is his preferred heir. It would be political folly for the Mnangagwa camp to derive a false sense of comfort from Mugabe’s political embrace. He will dump them as soon as they become a real threat and once he is secure again. Make no mistake, politics in Zimbabwe is about Mugabe and nothing else.

And Mugabe has his own faction fighting for his survival, in the top echelons of the army, the police and the intelligence services. It must be noted, however, that there are deep divisions within the middle and lower ranks of the uniformed forces which mirror the three factions in the party.

Two things are instructive as Zimbabweans ponder the way forward. The first of these is that the defeat of Mugabe’s 2010 project was delivered by forces for change within Zanu-PF and had little to do with pressure from the opposition or the international community. Secondly, the weakness of the opposition MDC, unfortunate as it is, removed an outside threat for Zanu-PF, focusing the party on internal dynamics and causing deep divisions and the realisation that Mugabe is the problem. This points to the fact that Zanu-PF’s internal dynamics might be key in finding a way out of Zimbabwe’s crisis and that the MDC might not be the place to look for relief. While this is an unpopular view it is a pragmatic one, informed by the current weakness of the MDC and the potential offered by reformers in the ruling party.

Equally important is the evidence that Zimbabwe’s problems are far bigger than Zanu-PF and the MDC put together. We need to disabuse ourselves of the notion that talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF will solve Zimbabwe’s problems. A durable solution requires getting a broad section of Zimbabweans talking to each other about their problems and structuring the future together. This is clearly not a winner-takes-all strategy, but a process of negotiating how Zimbabwe’s future is going to be ordered. For this project to have wider purchase, trade unions, the churches, business and all other civil society players will have to be involved.

What Zimbabwe needs from the region and the international community is an honest broker who commands respect from all players. Zimbabweans have become so polarised that it would be difficult to find anybody internally to play this role. First, there must be an acknowledgement that we need to talk to each other, followed by agreement on the issues to talk about. We need to tear up the Lancaster House constitution and start afresh, fashioning a progressive rights-based founding law.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Zuma positioning himself
Jacob Zuma has officially begun campaigning. And it seems he's following a very Western-democracy commnication methodology.

Over the past week, Zuma has invited prominent media for fireside chats to highlight his personality, made positioning statements on morals, and called for greater 'political tolerance'.

The latter is the most interesting. Zuma is batting off a good wicket (excuse the lame metaphor, 'tis the season after all!) with his allies in Cosatu and the SACP. Over the weekend, SACP leader Blade Nzimande made a speech warning of the "emergence of features in South Africa similar to those that led to repression in Zimbabwe". Now before the Chicken Littles run for the hills, this is a thinly veiled stab at Thabo Mbeki's lack of tolerance for criticism, and a timely entry to the debate over Zuma. Zuma is using his allies to prise open the door of the presidency under the guise of a need for more open debate within the ANC, and within wider society, of the succession debate. It's simply not a coincedence that both Nzimande and Zuma made speeches over the weekend with the exact same message. In his speech, Zuma said the "nurturing of political tolerance" and "open debate and discussion" were essential for the alliance to work.
"A climate in which we resist open engagement on issues of national interest due to political intolerance or fear will never allow the growth of political consciousness," Zuma said.

"It is fatal to the democratic values and culture of debate on which our movement is built, and on which the SACP in particular thrives.

"We are witnessing in the world around us how the lack of political tolerance and debate lead to the disintegration of democratic values and the destruction of nations.

"That should not be allowed to happen in our country and in our broad movement."

Interesting indeed.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Egyptian Warning Lights
It's always strikes me how so often constitutional amendments or law introductions that infringe on individual rights so often come sugar-coated with euphemistic names; think of the Patriot Act, or the current "Democratic Referendum" in Egypt.

Egypt's President, Hosni Mubarrak, yesterday announced such a referendum, with a notice period of just five days, to push through various reforms that he claims will reinforce democratic principles in Egypt. Others are not so sure.

The amendments include:

A system whereby only recognised political parties will be allowed to put up candidates for election.
[This due to the fact that many banned parties in Egypt, including the Muslim Brotherhood, put up candidates as independents, with the consequence that banned party candidates still make up the largest proportion of the opposition in Egypt. In essence, this will mean the banning of all effective opposition in Egypt.]

New anti-terrorism laws that allow for the monitoring of any conversations and allow allow the president to bypass “ordinary courts for people suspected of terrorism", who would instead be tried in military courts.

These amendments may be well hidden under the ruse of strengthened democratic principles, but given Mubarrak - and Egypt's - past with such democratic principles, they are indeed ominous.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I sincerely hope that Government spokesperson Themba Maseko was speaking out of turn yesterday when he laid the blame for the current Zimbabwe situation entirely on the MDC. Maseko commented - in response to a question on the government's analysis of the antecedents of the Zimbabwe crisis - that the conflict was due to the MDC creating a 'perception' that the recent elections in Zimbabwe were not free and fair, whereas the SA government declared them as such.

This is wildly short-sighted and seemingly unseasoned commentary. There has been conflict, violence and serious human rights abuse well before the recent elections. Violence on the part of the Zanu-PF began shortly after the 1999 elections, when Mugabe embarked on his land grabs.

Even if we should consider this to be an oversight on MAseko's part, how can a creation of perception be a justifiable reason for tolerance of such torture, violence and abjuct cruelty we have seen against Zimbabwe's peoples in the past few years. It's a similar argument that allowed many Western governments with mineral or geopolitically strategic interests in the apartheid regime to justify their tolerance of its existence.

I come back again to the same point I've made previously. The people of South Africa fought with blood and lives for freedom and its moral high ground. We are currently squashing the ability for Zimbabwe's peoples to do the same. And that is surely shameful.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Perceptions of Crime
The Business Day reports on a confidential survey conducted by the Bureau of Market Research late last year. The survey polled households and businesses on the greatest concerns they felt they were facing in their domestic and business lives. The results are quite interesting.

Firstly of interest, was the almost negligible difference between crime perceptions in the suburbs and the townships. Many people seem to cling on to the belief that crime only targets white people, which is a dangerous fallacy. But what I found most interesting was just how high crime polls on the list. When you consider a Maslovian needs and wants scenario, the fact that crime polled third in the townships after only unemployment and HIV/AIDS is grave. This means that crime was seen as a greater concern than say, having access to clean water, illustrates the prevalence of crime perceptions and the difficulties Government faces in changing those perceptions.

Strong leadership is required, and certainly a more empathetic approach from Government is requisite. Mbeki's much maligned (and often taken out of context) comments in his ANC Today newsletter may hold some weight, but they do little to throw a comforting arm around the nation (black and white) to say "we hear you, and let's try our best - together - to address this challenge".

Friday, March 16, 2007

Zille in the DA race
So Helen Zille has announced the biggest expected move since Adolf invaded France as she enters the DA leadership race. I must say, I agree with Farrel on this one, I'm not so sure it's a great idea. The Cape is a great foothold for the DA that one would see as critical to future growth, and one wonders whether anyone can handle the parallel focus of both national leadership and the mayoral position. Something has to give, and one would imagine it to be the delivery in the Cape.

Zille would undoubtedly make a great leader for the DA. I would much prefer to see a black leader, but Joe Seremane, as the main contender, is simply too easily painted as Tony Leon's stooge. Zille needs to decide: the mayor of the strategic base, or the leader taking the party in a new direction. It's a tough decision, but one thing's for sure - the ANC Western Cape is waiting like a wolf above a pack of sheep.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Madness begetting madness
Joshua Wanyama, editor for the burgeoning African Path blog and news collective, writes a scathing post on the South African approach to Zimbabwe.
It is shameful when South Africa decides to turn a blind eye to the injustice in Zimbabwe while a lot of countries stood by them during the struggle for independence against the apartheid regime. The government is pursuing what it calls “quiet diplomacy”. That must be the new word for “I stand by you while you oppress your people”.

Is this Thabo Mbeki's reaction to Washington and the perception that George Bush has no right to try and force America's democracy down other nations' throats? If that is so, then it is a weak and ill advised stand. There is a difference between invading a country to oust a dictator and offering public support and asking for better governance and accountability. Or it could be he has learnt from Switzerland. The leadership stood silent and built the Swiss economy on the spoils of war that the Nazis hid deep within their banking system.

South Africa's leadership has stand up and act as a leading light within Africa. Others stood by it during tougher times, it is about time they do the same for their neighbors.

I couldn't have said it better. Whilst many argue that Mugabe was a strong supporter of the ANC during apartheid, one cannot repay that with tolerance of oppression, the very thing Mugabe was supporting the ANC against. Madness should not beget madness.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Can this go on?
I’m hoping against hope that the latest attack on Morgan Tsvangirai will be the straw that breaks the back of Thabo Mbeki’s proverbial quiet diplomacy camel. It’s simply inexplicable that after fighting so hard for human rights in this country, our government applies a head in the sand approach to some of the worst human rights offences Southern Africa has seen.

I used to give Thabo the benefit of the doubt on his quiet diplomacy policies, but things have simply got out of hand. With the first attacks on Tsvangirai two or three years ago, our government should have realised that a new approach was needed, rather than dogmatically sticking to their incumbent policies. All South Africa looks like now is a disinterested “I’m OK Jack” kind of neighbour, with little interest in the suffering of Zim’s peoples, whilst we build up the largest economic powerhouse in Africa.

I’m sure it’s not as cold or simplistic as that, but that is the deserved perception in much of Africa, and the world. Those that enjoyed Mugabe’s “sticking it to the West” attitude have surely hopped off that soapbox under the steady weight of human suffering, absolute poverty and hopelessness that is the current Zimbabwe.

Come on Thabo. Stand up and make us proud again.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

The irony
Sometimes the irony is just too much. Newt Gingrich, hero of the US conservatives, yesterday admitted that during his leading of the impeachment campaign against Clinton for lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky, he himself was involved in an extramarital affair.

Gingrich led the "Contract with America" in the 90's, which swept the Republicans back into power in the Congress and Senate, largely based on conservative family values. He has been married three times and according to CNN:
His first marriage, to his former high school geometry teacher, Jackie Battley, ended in divorce in 1981. Although Gingrich has said he doesn't remember it, Battley has said Gingrich discussed divorce terms with her while she was recuperating in the hospital from cancer surgery.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Cosatu's harder line
A very, very interesting interview in the Mail & Guardian today where Cosatu boss Zwelinzima Vavi outlines Cosatu's 'new strategy' in pushing more leftist policies through the ANC. He doesn't mince his words and makes it clear that Cosatu demands change, with a structured approach to back it up. I take this move more seriously than the recent SACP rumblings, although Vavi concedes that Cosatu will not move outside the alliance, but aims to fix it from within.

Tensions have obviously been simmering for a while now within the tripartite alliance, but this is one of the first real moves of action - as opposed to bluster - from the other parties. Cosatu is calling for a 'pact' between the ANC and Cosatu, to move prominent Cosatu individuals into the 'new' ANC leadership elected in November and so change the policies of government itself. This represents a harder line from Cosatu, but also a fight for greater significance for their place in the tripartite alliance. It must have been incredibly difficult for the Cosatu leadership to pacify their more stalwart leftist members as Government has pushed through a largely capitalist macro-economic approach.

The timing of the move is correct in terms of Cosatu's aims, with the current succession debates raging and much talk of socio-economic failures within the ANC.

Here are some snippets from the interview:
Over many years now, we have said the alliance and ordinary ANC members are not driving government policy processes. We have cautioned that the most important economic policies are coming from government, more so from the presidency; that the people who have influence are drawn from Harvard University and the President’s Investment Council.
Flooding ANC ranks is the only workable strategy. Our members cannot stay outside and choose to complain about the ANC. There is massive anger exploding about the accumulation path and our members have given us the most militant directive to date in the history of Cosatu. We have been given strict dates to engage with the ANC and our affiliates will check what has been achieved and what we need to do.

Vavi ends with a rather significant threat, that is unlikely to occur, but could be the the catalyst for a shaking up of policy within the ANC:
The idea is that workers will not endorse the ANC during the 2009 elections if there are no concrete results for them.
Fighting talk indeed...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Thoughts on Affirmative Action
The DA has recently been on the rampage against affirmative action, commenting yesterday on Cape Talk that the fact that the average age of artisans in South Africa is 54 and that there are so many poor South Africans "was purely the fault of the ANC government". This is absurd.

The antecedents of the distinct skills shortage and huge poverty levels have everything to do with apartheid and little (although some faults can certainly be found) to do with the ANC government's rule. The apartheid government's brutal education policies for the black majority are so oft underestimated in their crushing power, and many South Africans will do better to heed their consequences. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to bring the overwhelming uneducated majority of our population out of poverty in little over a decade. Whilst there have undoubtedly been areas where the ANC can improve, laying the entire blame at the door of the ANC is misguided at best.

The main gripe of the DA stems from Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana's recent comments that there is no 'sunset clause' on AA, and that it may be intensified to redress imbalances in our population due to the past regime. They have supported the FF+ in their attempts to get ILO action against Mdladlana for contravening international labour prejudice guidelines. The FF+ have themselves come out blasting against AA, comparing it to apartheid.

The point is surely, is that if AA within broader BEE codes does its job, creating black entrepreneurs, forcing prejudice out of employment, and lifting skills development across the spectrum, then affirmative action as a law will be redundant, as almost every company will comply out of normal business processes, such will be the levels of skills and economic development throughout the population. But until that time, we unfortunately need these laws to make amends for the past.

Affirmative Action was a concept that started poorly, with little guidance and little control. The new broad-based BEE codes do much to negate this through internal and external skills development, affirmative procurement and management control. Let's give it a chance to succeed. The sooner it does, the sooner our economic profile normalises, and the sooner it will be redundant.

SA Blog Awards
Thanks to all of you who nominated me for the 2007 SA Blog Awards in the Political Blog category, it's much appreciated. I must say it's been difficult this year to keep up the near-to-daily blogging with my work and other commitments, but something like that will undoubtedly keep me going. If you so feel, please vote for me to give me further inspiration, I hope to continue to fuel debates for a long time into the future! Vote for me here.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ann Coulter shows her true colours
I've never had much time for Ann Coulter. In my opinion, she is one of those publicity-hungry firebrands that is always sprouting controversy to have her picture in the dailies. Her writing and commentary usually falls in the 'ridiculous' category, and her one-eyed positions leave her as little more than a court jester for conservative Republicans.

Her latest efforts, in which she called presidential candidate John Edwards a "faggot" at a televised conservative conference, illustrate the dire pedigree of the columnist. [See video here,] Coulter is well-known for this type of attack, having called Bill Clinton gay as well as declaring (at the same conference) in a discussion about black Republicans "our blacks are better than their blacks."

Such is the quality of Coulter, she will not apologise for the comments, stating: "C'mon, it was a joke. I would never insult gays by suggesting that they are like John Edwards. That would be mean." One wonders whether Mel Gibson or Isaiah Washington could have successfully used that humour defence.

Some Republican politicans, most notably those in the 2008 race, have been quick to express their disdain for her comments, but some of the hardened conservative politicians have been less forthcoming. Conservative stalwart Sean Hannity could only muster "It's not a term that I would use" and refused to chide her personally.

The entrenched conservative segment of the Republican Party has been significantly emboldened during George W Bush's two terms and commentators like Coulter have had free reign to deliver their diatribes, largely without rebuke. However, with the waning of both Bush and the Republican Party's fortunes over the last two years, it seems that Pandora's Box has been opened and little can be done to return them to their narrow audience. It may take a reproach - or at the very least a distancing - from George W to put them back in their box. Don't hold your breath...


Coulter last night was back-peddling (or as Fox invariably puts it - "Firing back") from her comments with more hilarity, claiming that the word 'faggot' has nothing to do with gays: "'Faggot isn't offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays," Coulter said on "Hannity and Colmes" Monday night. "It's a schoolyard taunt meaning 'wuss,' and unless you're telling me that John Edwards is gay, it was not applied to a gay person."


Friday, March 02, 2007

Motlanthe the Compromise Candidate
An idea being circulated at present is that ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe takes over the presidency of the ANC at this year's AGM, thus buying time for the Zuma presidential debate and diffusing the impending blowup at the AGM.

Personally, I think this would be a great idea. As far as we can tell, Motlanthe holds few presidential ambitions, but is well respected within the ANC as a fair and judicious leader. He has some solid traction within the left and could be seen as a solid "anybody but Zuma" candidate for the Mbeki-ites. This then would let some much-needed air out of the bursting succession debate and allow for more effective positioning of candidates before 2009.