Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Monday, May 28, 2007

The Irrational Electorate
There was a very interesting article in the New York Times magazine over the weekend which discusses the notion that "voters are worse than ignorant; they are, in a word, irrational — and vote accordingly.” Those quoted words were taken from a new book by economist Bryan Caplan entitled “The Myth of the Rational Voter: Why Democracies Choose Bad Policies”:
In defending democracy, theorists of public choice sometimes invoke what they call “the miracle of aggregation.” It might seem obvious that few voters fully understand the intricacies of, say, single-payer universal health care. But imagine, Caplan writes, that just 1 percent of voters are fully informed and the other 99 percent are so ignorant that they vote at random. In a campaign between two candidates, one of whom has an excellent health care plan and the other a horrible plan, the candidates evenly split the ignorant voters’ ballots. Since all the well-informed voters opt for the candidate with the good health care plan, she wins. Thus, even in a democracy composed almost exclusively of the ignorant, we achieve first-rate health care.

The hitch, as Caplan points out, is that this miracle of aggregation works only if the errors are random. When that’s the case, the thousands of ill-informed votes in favor of the bad health plan are canceled out by thousands of equally ignorant votes in favor of the good plan. But Caplan argues that in the real world, voters make systematic mistakes about economic policy — and probably other policy issues too.
Caplan goes on to argue that modern democracies should have a system of identifying voters with greater economic literacy, and rewarding them with additional votes. This seems to me an even more skewed solution, as it is so easily open to fraud. In addition, it radically shakes up the democratic notion one man, one vote. However, it is a study in economics, and is a very interesting read.

The Zuma 'Coup'
Mmm, who knows what to make of this latest 'report' on Zuma's alleged funding by a variety of supposedly jealous African countries. The report would have us believe that a number of African countries (including Libya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Congo-Brazzavile and Angola), burnt by SA's lead role in the AU and jealous of Mbeki's power and stature on the continent, have been actively meeting to align funding and support for 'a street-level revolution' behind Zuma's campaign.

All of this is not of too much concern, this type of cross-border funding activity takes place all over the globe, but what was of grave concern is that the report states that military support (even using the word 'coup') for Zuma's cause has been discussed.

If this is in fact true, there are people mentioned in the report, such as SACP chief Blade Nzimande, that will undoubtedly face treason charges. It will also be another torpedo into Zuma's listing presidential ship. However, this report is all too easily explained away by those on the left that see this as yet another piece of the 'dirty tricks' campaign against Zuma. Ronnie Kasrils has moved swifly to distance all of his intelligence organs from this report and there seems to be much confusion over its origins.

At present, the report's validity is all conjecture. The intelligence arms of the Government wll undoubtedly have a good look at it, but in line with other intelligence scandals of late, if it proves to be real, the intelligence departments would only be looking for their own scent.

Friday, May 25, 2007

The Difficulties in Road Renaming
The New York Times carries a web front-page story on the socio-political challenges inherent in renaming roads using political figures. It focusses on Durban, where particular public focus has been centred around the lack of transparency of the naming process itself.

In a province with a predominant Zulu tribal group and a strong IFP constituency, Mangosuthu Buthelezi finds no roads named after him, yet a whole raft of ANC members are represented. Even more challenging for the white population is the proposal to name a road after Andrew Zondo, an ANC guerrilla who killed five whites in a bombing in 1985.

The key to roadnaming in my opinion is dialogue. Local government should embark on an advertising campaign asking for submissions from the public, should provide a list of options that receive comments and undergo debate by the constituents, before finalising options.

People feel a great sense of ownership and identity of their cities. Changes to their neighbourhood roadnames may seem a small alteration, but it significantly affects their world view if they feel imposed by a person they find little respect for. You're never going to please all the people all the time, but dialogue is key. So far I would say that Pretoria's process has got it the furthest wrong, and at present, Johannesburg and Cape Town have got it mostly right.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Quote of the Day
“eNatis is one of the most advanced traffic management systems in the world. Similar systems are found in Europe and in the US but none have the sophistication of the eNatis in respect of road transport management capability” - Transport Minister Jeff Radebe.

All of this may be true, but implementing a nationwide system without any pilot sites and beta testing makes this the most unsopisticated system in the world.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The AU in Darfur
Some of its men have not been paid for four months, over 100 vehicles have been stolen, and 19 of its soldiers have been killed. With a mandate that only allows them to react to violence with diplomacy, many have wondered why the 7000-strong AU force bothered to arrive. Their presence does not seem to have halted the violence, but seems to have wrapped the rest of the world in a warm blanket of complacency, safe in the knowledge that 'at least someone is there'.

Lessons that were painfully learnt in Rwanda are not being headed here; if you task a 'peace force' to halt violence, you have to allow them to take real preventative measures. In saying this I am fully cognisant if the difficulties; governments unwilling to send their sons and daughters into humanitarian battles that fall outside strategic spheres; unwlling to commit the additional budgets required to protect their forces in full battle mode. However, I believe if the objectives of these missions are to be met, and Rwanda-like consequences are to be avoided in Dafur, a greater commitment must be made.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Laying the platform
Not too much time to post this morning, but just wanted to draw your attention to a very interesting op-ed piece in the Mail & Guardian over the weekend. In it, ANC NEC member Saki Macozoma lay a platforms for the ANC conference in Polokwane, warning the ANC against following an ideological line. Saki warns that the ANC leadership must "not be sectarian and [must] not represent any narrow self, class, regional, tribal or provincial interests, however they may be dressed up." He goes on following this line, which essentially stands as a warning against forces of the far left within the ANC. Well worth a read...

Friday, May 18, 2007

Khutsong Explained
I must admit that I hadn't been following the unrest in Khutsong very closely over the past few years, and when I thought about it, had little knowledge of what the antecedents of the violence were. So I did a little bit of catch-up, and for those of you who, like me, were a little behind, here's a study guide.

Essentially, the town of Khutsong near Carltonville has been part of the Gauteng province until recently, when Government took the decision to rezone the town into the poorer North West Province in early 2006. What this means for the people of Khutsong, is a potential lack of access to the much wealthier Gauteng local goverment, with its resultant support in terms of schooling and other public services.

Studies have shown that 90% of Khutsong residents do not support a move from Gauteng to the North West Province. Of particular concern has been in terms of schooling, where residents believe the Gauteng schooling system (including a Gauteng government-funded Gauteng Online system) is far more advanced than that of the North West. Teachers have gone on a go-slow, students have rioted, and general lawlessness has taken over. Local and national government has not seemingly handled the situation very well (sending letters of suspension to protesting teachers, for one example), which has further fanned the flames of unrest.

Residents have felt disenchanted with the fact that there was no consultation with them on a decision which fundamentally affects their daily lives. Such was this disenchantment that only 123 votes were cast in the March 2006 municipal elections. At present the town leaders are taking the issue to the Constitutional Court, where the matter will be heard in the coming months.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Quote of the Day

"If they f**k with me or Shaha, I have enough on them to f**k them too."

World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz, sounding every bit like a world leader as he threatens senior World Bank staff, according to the Guardian.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Big Men Roll In
As we near the ANC AGM, the big guns are starting to roll into town. Tokyo Sexwale has officially "announced" his arrival on the presidential nominations board. As only you do in the ANC, he has stated that he would "consider" nomination and would take any "instruction" the ANC gave him, which is basically as good as flying a jumbo jet over the Union Buildings with "Sexwale 2009" painted on the side. Expect more to follow... Cyril Ramaphosa, paging Cyril Ramaphosa.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Quote of the Day

It seems as if Matthias Rath is rapidly degenerating into outright madness, and not a moment too soon for this man. Can we all just forget about this idiot now? His latest theory states that the apartheid regime was part of a global plot by the pharmaceutical industry:
"This regime was the political arm to turn South Africa into a bridgehead of the pharmaceutical interests with the goal to conquer and control the entire African continent.

Together with their ongoing economic interests -- namely chemical/pharmaceutical business interests -- they brought their extensive 'know how' in building and 'managing' a totalitarian regime to South Africa.

Much the same as previously in Europe, their goal was to establish a dictatorship serving these corporate interests while keeping the majority of the population 'under control'.

The chemical and pharmaceutical industry became the economic pillar of the apartheid regime, and South Africa became a stronghold for pharmaceutical companies."

He also goes on to call the TAC "almost a copy" of Hitler's Brown Shirts. Oh what wonderful friends Manto keeps...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Parliament Rethinking Media Bill?
Let's hope this does come to full fruition, but the Parliament's home affairs committee is reportedly looking at alterations to the ominous Film and Publications Amendment Bill after the rightful flood of criticism from media, free speech NGO's and just about everyone else.

The Bill, created to provide Government with ways to clamp down child pornography publications, had the potential dual role of clamping down on free speech and a free press, by forcing the press to "go for prepublication clearance for reports and pictures that deal with matters of sex and possible hate speech". This is a fairly broad definition. Could criticisim of a future Government be construed as "hate speech"?

As an op-ed piece in the Business Day by Anton Harber quite correctly points out, a very similar law was used by the apartheid government to slowly increase its strangle-hold on the South African press.

Let's hope that the Parliamentary committee can find the correct line on this. I think the mainstream press has mobilised quite well to provide intelligent and constructuve feedback to the committee, now it's their turn.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Zille's In
As widely expected, Helen Zille was voted in as leader of the DA, replacing a politically ageing but tireless servant in Tony Leon. Zille dominated the vote, and has since made all the right noises about seeking the black vote and providing real alternatives in policy.

As for Leon, one can say that he led with DA with an unrivalled passion and committment, and he will be remembered as a politician that fought for the defence of democracy with every breath. For this, South Africa should thank him.

With a combative style not always suited to the more subtle rigours of South African politics, he was perhaps too often painted into a racist picture. This tainted his legacy of success as opposition leader, and where he oft needed to work with the ruling party to influence and achieve change, he was too easily dismissed as prejudiced when his voice needed most to be heard. Personally, my most common criticism of Leon was his lack of achievable policy alternatives to back up his oft vitriolic criticism of Governmental policies.

He remains though, one of the most notable and influential polticians of our time, and South Africa owes him a debt for speaking up when the fair winds of democratic complacency or the harsher winds of one party dominance blew. I wish him well in his well-earned retirement.

Friday, May 04, 2007

US shift on Syria
Condoleeza Rice's meeting with Syrian Secretary of State Walid al-Moallem signals a shift in White House policy and is reflective of the changes the Bush administration is having to make in the face of a stronger Democratic Congress and Senate.

The Democrats have been calling for the inclusion of Syria in a "mediation strategy" for the resolving of the Iraq conflict, but this has been repeatedly and disdainfully repudiated by Bush. Less than a month ago, the White House labelled "bad behaviour" a trip by Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to visit Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus. Rice's meeting is the first such contact in a few years, and given Bush's recent veto of the Iraq war funding bill, shows that Bush is having to toe the line on certain issues.

One would suggest that this would be more symbolic than anything else, but at least the White House seems to be understanding that the neocon strategy of complete isolation in foreign affairs is frought with dangers.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

AfricanPath Roundup
Not much to comment on today, so here's a roundup of the best of's recent contributions:

Kimberly Ba gives her local insight into the Nigerian elections, and ponders its implications for African democracy. Read here.

The Association of Zimbabwean Journalists reports on the death of Edward Chikomba, his only crime allegedly being providing video evidence of Morgan Tsvangari after his vicious assault recently. Read here.

Abukar Arman argues that the prospects of a partnership between Meles Zenawi's Ethiopia and the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) solving Somalia's conflict is wishful thinking. Read here.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Using "racism" as a threat
I'm getting a bit tired of people, both ordinary people and politicians, using "racism" as a threat to shut down legitimate public debate or accountability. Too often if a person knows that he or she is o the wrong side of an issue, bringing out the racist term is the easy defence which immediately overshadows the accuser. There are many, many examples of scenarios where the use of the "racist" term is warranted and supported, but I feel there are also too many examples of those where it is not. Take for example, an issue currently in the news.

KwaZulu-Natal's transport minister, Bheki Cele, has found himself in hot water after rushing to a meeting using his calvalcade's blue lights to speed through traffic. By law, the use of blue lights is supposed to be used only in terms of an "emergency", which Cele is claiming it was. The issue came to light when a motorist used his cellphone to record the scene of Cele rampaging through traffic. Cele has launched a which hunt for the said motorist, and has even gone as far as stating the following:
"He is a self-made, arrogant, non-accountable individual who purports to be a good citizen and I will dare to argue that he is also a racist."
Now on what possible grounds can Cele call the motorist a racist? Because he filmed a politician in a potentially embarrassing situation? Because he asked the politician to be accountable?

It's a flagrant attempt to deflect accountability in a situation where he is most likely in the wrong, and personally, I think it's pathetic.