Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, June 29, 2007

ANC Policy conference roundup
Right, so by all accounts yesterday was a very heated day at the conference with discussions centering around two contentious areas - the economy and the party presidential candidacy.

The first point saw the Mbeki-ites placating the left with a statement outlining the need for a more "developmental" economy. ANC delegates are calling for more government intervention in the economy, to assist in poverty alleviation primarily. They went to great lengths though to state that this was not a major move away from the market-led economy, and was more a 'tweak'. As I've said before, there are many Western governments have have more left-leaning economies than ours, and I believe that the majority of the ANC delegates understand that our current economic platform has been built solely off the back of a market-led economy. What they are looking for is greater emphasis on poverty alleviation and the pulling back of the Gini coefficient.

The second area of conflict was the one we would expect; the decision on whether the party president should automatically become the state presidential candidate. From reports of this discussion, it seems that this was a very heated debate with plenty of disagreement all round. It seems as though there is more support for the continuation of the status quo - that being that the party president automatically becomes state president - but I would imagine there may be some way to go in this debate.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Mbeki's Control
A day into the ANC policy conference, and as expected, it seems that Mbeki is holding a tight rein on things so far. From stage managing his and Zuma's entrance, to leading off with veiled threats to alliance partners and playing down the succession debates, it is clear that Mbeki sees this conference as very much working to his agenda.

It also gave an insight into Mbeki's personal viewpoint on the tri-partite alliance, clearly illustrating his view that the ANC is the political wing of the alliance, whilst the SACP and Cosatu are there to fulfil operational duties in the alleviation of poverty and worker's rights. Mbeki clearly sees the SACP and Cosatu as not being political parties, and not ever being political rivals to the ANC. Rather, he sees them as conduits for the implementation of their own worker policies, and of policies conducted on behalf of the alliance. This is as much a put-down to their political aspirations, as in my opinion, a fair reflection of the current and foreseeable future status quo.

The other important development so far is the death of the Eastern Cape ANC branch's Mbeki third term proposal. With the election of Zuma men to the key KZN branch, and their outright rejection of the proposal, it seems this will never get off the ground. As I've stated before, I don't think Mbeki will be too stressed about that, given Zuma's current predicaments.

So far, as expected...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Pushing the Envelope's of Presidential Power
Just a quick note to point you to a fantastic feature article in the Washington Post today, which outlines the play by play process of how the White House, and Dick Cheney in particular, moved the definition of torture to meet their interrogation needs. Written by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker, it's well worth a read.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Survey reinforces what we all know...
So, according to a study by Markinor, the ANC will survive a split in the tripartite alliance by Cosatu and the SACP. The study was conducted between ANC voters around the country. The study found that 60% of these voters would continue to vote for the ANC regardless of whether Cosatu or the SACP left the alliance.

This is what we've known for a while, at least in theory. The SACP and Cosatu hold few realistic policies for government, a fact the ANC knows full well. All the bluster coming out of SACP and Cosatu camps in the past two years has come to naught, and rightly so. There is no governing future for the worker parties without the ANC. Simple.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

State still funding Zuma's legal costs
Now I know a lot of people are going to be up in arms about this, but it's important to know the facts. Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka yesterday confirmed that the state will probably continue to fund Zuma's legal defence against the graft charges.

It's important to note that this is a courtesy extended to most employees of the state in higher office. Wouter Basson and Magnus Malan's legal costs were paid by the state, and I can assure you, if Mbeki thought he could get away with not paying Zuma's costs, he would. It's also important to know that the state claims back the costs should the employee lose the case.

This last point gives an idea of the end-game Zuma is playing here. We know from the Shaik trial that Zuma is a largely bankrupt man who cannot take care of the money he earns, and he has already run up lawyers bills of more than R8 million. Expect this to double should he be re-prosecuted by the NPA, which would leave him probably R20 million in the red.

Game. Over.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Zuma needs Mbeki to be Party President
Political analyst Xolela Mangcu yesterday laid out his thoughts on Zuma's presidential hopes, stating that the only way Zuma could gain the presidency was if Mbeki clung to the ANC party presidency.

Whilst I agree with the sentiment, I'm not sure Mbeki's standing is a guarantor of Zuma's success. Zuma largely represents that disenchanted masses who have fallen outside of the riches gained by a market-led economy. These voters see Mbeki's macro- and microeconomic policies as the reasons for their poverty, and the seeming indifference of Mbeki's leadership style only fuels their anger. They have clung to Zuma as the antithesis of Mbeki; a populist leader 'with their best interests at heart'. Whilst I've stated before that I believe that this is just clever stump work by Zuma, which would probably not materialise in his presidency, it is a powerful driver of the voting power behind Zuma.

According to Mangcu's thinking, Zuma needs Mbeki to remain party president to focus and crystallise this discontent behind him. Mangcu believes that if Zuma were to come up against Ramaphosa or Sexwale in an open race, he would be defeated with ease. I would imagine that Zuma would find much more focussed support behind him should Mbeki remain party president, but I can't discount the voter's viewpoint. Zuma currently faces a lot of problems, even beside his legal issues. I think a lot will need to happen between now and December for him to be a shoo-in for the candidacy. I don't believe that Mbeki retaining the post will be enough. Remember that much of the decision-making for the candidacy takes place behind closed doors, and even with Zuma's shrewd political nous, I think he will be outdone in this kind of game by Mbeki and Sexwale (and/or Ramaphosa). Mbeki would undoubtedly assist these two in a foot race against Zuma, and with their pure halos of success, one would think that these candidates would easily find the 'boardroom' trades of power to secure either one of them the state president candidacy come December.

Mangcu also stated that he believed Sexwale to be the leading for the presidency.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I think I would have to share some of the DA's 'reservations' about Government's proposal to place NIA operatives into state departments to "protect state secrets and combat corruption".

Whilst I see and applaud its reasoning in cutting corruption from state departments, the process of "protecting state secrets" has always been of nebulous and open interpretation, and is easy vehicle for abuse. All it takes is one overbearing official to turn a seemingly harmless and positive move into a powerful tool for subverting democratic ideals and open debate.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Open Warfare
Yesterday was a very busy day if you're following the ANC succession battle, with blows being traded across the candidate field, and new candidates being mooted.

First we had Zuma having a crack at Sexwale for "announcing" his presidential bid. This unfortunately, is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black, as Zuma framed his response in exactly the same way when confronted about his presidential aspirations.

Later in the day, Zuma had a go at Mbeki's attempts at controlling the succession battle by standing for a third party president term. Zuma stated his opposition to the two centres of power that would exist with Mbeki as party president after he steps down as state president. Zuma also used the opportunity to outline some policy sympathies, stating that the 'market' was undoubtedly the key factor in economic growth, but that the state's role was to take care of its citizens, as opposed to relying on the private sector. What this means is entirely up to the individual's interpretation. Zuma could be merely positioning a US Democratic Party style 'big government' policy, or it could be further to the socialist left. My thoughts would be that it's the former. You'll notice how careful Zuma is not to fully outline policy. I still think that Zuma is being very clever about pandering to the left of the tripartite alliance, but not completely buying into their policies. Either way, this is in stark contrast to Sexwale's position outlined this week, which sees him firmly behind a private sector-led solution.

Finally, Mbeki was out touting what is probably to be his preferred successor, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. Two things of note here. Firstly, that he seems to have dropped Dlamini-Zuma, who was widely seen to be his preferred choice. Secondly, Phumzile's chances themselves, where personally, I think Phumzile's going to struggle. She was picked as Deputy President by Mbeki after Zuma's sacking over a number of more fancied candidates, and thus has great difficulty shaking the Mbeki stooge perception. Secondly, she is largely unknown to vast tracts of the voting electorate. Zuma and Sexwale are light years ahead in terms of name recognition and electorate respect. With the AGM in December, she will have a significant amount of work to do in a very short time to become a viable alternative. I just can't see this happening.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Strike finds its international media mark
Front page of New York Times... check
Front page of CNN... check

It's interesting how much insight the New York Times is giving to the story, using the strike as a 'mirror' of the political battle going on for the soul of the ANC. Very interesting as well, how Zuma and Sexwale have positioned themselves almost on opposing ends of the spectrum in their level of tacit support of the strike.

Monday, June 11, 2007

ANC Policy Checklist
If you had to look at a few issues in ANC and electoral policy that you would like to change, or like to see unchanged, would the following be included?

- The scrapping of floor-crossing legislation
- Not changing the current layout of provinces
- Not making changes to the ANC or state constitution

Well, if you did, you may be surprised that Jacob Zuma agrees with you. Zuma addressed ANC delegates at the Durban City Hall on Sunday during the ANC policy conference, and took the chance to have a few swipes at Mbeki. However, it's interesting to note how similar his thoughts on ANC policy are than many of those that despise him so vociferously.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Good Friday?
The ANC today debates an issue critical to the presidency; whether or not to change the policy that the ANC party president must be either the incumbent state president or the next state presidential candidate. With all the talk of Mbeki taking a third ANC party presidency so as to alleviate the pressure on the December ANC succession battle, today's decision could have far-reaching consequences.

As I've stated before, I'm against the creation of two centres of power, such which would exist post-2009 if Mbeki was party president and another leader was state president. Thankfully though, media reports confirm that the ANC regional structures will likely vote against such a change.

One would also think that Mbeki is less concerned about Zuma's chances for state presidency now than he was when the 3rd term was mooted a few months ago, so he will probably not be whipping up support as dramatically.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Pyrrhic Victory
Those unenamoured with Jacob Zuma will celebrate the decision to allow the request to Mauritian authorities for documents pertaining to the Zuma graft case, including the widely sought diary of former French arms official Alain Thetard. But before celebrating too much, one must understand that the 'victory' (whilst not being Pyrrhic in a classic sense), has a significant caveat. This being that both Zuma and the French arms company Thint have appealed against the judgement, and the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) will hear the case on September 21, still a way away.

What this means is that firstly, the decision by the NPA to resume its prosecution of Zuma is still months away, and secondly, that the case will still be very much up in the air over the ANC AGM in December. The latter could be positive or negative for Zuma, depending on which side of the fence you sit, but for all but the hardiest of Zuma supporters (read: those burning effigies and calling his rape accuser "whore" outside the courthouse), this must be a retarding factor for his presidential ambitions.

In politics,uncertainty is never a good thing. Whilst many within the ANC vote blindly, there are large tracts of moderates within the ANC electorate that do want to see a leader of high moral integrity in power. This is naturally largely ineffectual if Zuma is voted in as party president in December, but those tracts of the electorate will undoubtedly make their feelings known to their regional representatives before this stage, and I see this as increasingly unlikely. There have already been growing rumblings of discontent - not limited to Mbeki-ites only - from within the ANC around Zuma's bid, and this will only serve to further amplify these concerns.

It also gives greater weight to a counter-balance candidate such as Tokyo Sexwale, who has the moral stature to be a "Camelot" type leader for the masses. It's going to be a great run-in to December...

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Mbeki's Strategy
It's always humourous to me when presidents start to worry about their legacy towards the end of their terms, and begin a crazed effort to right any perceived wrongs. Thabo yesterday outlined his two year strategy until the end of his term, where his two main focal points, the criminal justice system and resolving the Zimbabwean situation, are the two issues that he has been most stubborn and belligerent about in his last 7 years.

Good luck to you Mr. President, I sincerely hope you can achieve those two goals.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Media Victory
It's an encouraging development to see that Government has decided to accede to pressure from the media and free speech NGO's on the ominous Film and Publications Bill. Encouraging in that we hear so much of Government 'not caring' about the will of its publics, yet hear we see it listening and adapting.

You'll remember that the Film and Publications Bill was drafted to clamp down on child pornography, but had draconian possibilities in clamping down on the media's freedom of speech. There was a large outcry from media houses and from NGO's and the portfolio committee on home affairs announced yesterday that it is exempting print and broadcast media from provisions of the bill.

Committee chairperson Patrick Chauke said that he hoped this would provide "evidence that this Parliament of South Africa is not a rubber stamp, but a Parliament that takes people's views very seriously".

One wonders if this wasn't a very shrewd effort by Government to make a big statement to the media that it needs to self-regulate itself when it comes to images of children in publications. The bill was brought into fruition after complaints were made about certain newspapers tabloid printing pictures of young children in its pages. Perhaps this was just an elephant's mock charge...