Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Border Vigilantes
Under the cosh at work at the moment so not too much time to post, but thought I'd like to comment on this morning's Sky News special report on the border farmers who are rounding up Zimbabwean illegal immigrants. I thought the report gave prominence to an issue which is becoming more and more of a problem.

I'm not a supporter of vigilantism by any means. The public should, in my opinion, not be involved in law-enforcement beyond reporting to authorities. It's an incredibly slippery slope from vigilantism to outright lawlessness and anarchy. However, the Government is showing a remarkably laissez-faire attitude towards illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe.

Our borders are porous at best, and it offers little support for the border populations who bear the brunt of immigrants who in many cases are desperate, and resort to petty theft, poaching and other crimes. If there was a more formal methodology of incorporating these immigrants into society, and Government took responsibility for their feeding and care, it would be a different story. However, the lack of any effort to integrate or support these immigrants, along with Government's wish to push these duties on the public in the region, creates largely adverse conditions for both the immigrants and the border populations.

Illegal immigration needs an immediate solution. It's an issue that's only going to escalate, and with it, so will tensions in the region. There are already large xenophobic attitudes amongst poorer communities in the urban metropolitan areas, and it's not far-fetched to see xenophobia fanned by the flames of immigrant crime lead to conflict between illegal immigrants and well-armed farmers in the border region.

Government needs to focus on providing formalised solutions for integration or repatriation, instead of merely turning a blind eye and letting the local communities sort it out.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

SACP's Policies
I've consistently maintained on this blog that the SACP will never be seen as a viable governing option, and thus as a majority political party, so long as it espouses communism. Rhoda Kadalie, in an op-ed piece in the Business Day, concurs:
Year in and year out, the SACP continues in this vein and, with a declining membership, clings to its alliance partners for its survival . Refusing to become an autonomous political party, it knows instinctively that it may not survive on its own with an ideology that has been discredited the world over.

The African poor and working classes look at China’s embrace of capitalism, the transformation of former east European socialist countries and the economic rise of southeast Asia and many Latin American countries, and they just know that communism is no solution. When the poor in SA see the poor from Zimbabwe, Angola, Ethiopia, Eritrea, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia flooding over our borders, they increasingly question the legacies left by ideologues such as Robert Mugabe, Augustino Neto, Meles Zenawi, Fidel Castro, Erich Honecker, Joseph Stalin, Nicolae Ceausescu, Augusto Pinochet and Mao Zedong.

In the 1990s, financier George Soros took the board of the Open Society, of which I was a member, to some countries in eastern Europe “to see for ourselves”. The last bit of socialist conscience I had dissipated after walking the streets of Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Ukraine and seeing empty shops and listening to stories of rampant corruption, media suppression, inferior health-care systems and ineffectual industries, all made worse by the growing class and gender inequality. This was an eye-opener and broke down all the Marxist claptrap I had imbibed as a young social anthropology and sociology student.

The astounding thing is that while middle-class socialist politicians live bourgeois lives, travel the world, enjoy the benefits of globalisation, the internet and global information technology, they speak a language out of synch with the modern democratic society that allows them their lifestyles.

Why can we not speak of a social democratic form of capitalism geared towards socialist ideals as a viable alternative to address poverty and unemployment? Why can the excessive revenue generated by the government not be used to create employment and fulfil some of the socialist goals that most of us share?

No national democratic revolution or the overthrow of “colonialism of a special type” will provide answers to these problems. They will, I know for sure, make them worse. What political leaders need tons of is common sense.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Al-Qaeda's African Plans
It's become clear that Al-Qaeda has found open arms in North Africa and the African Horn, and it seems as though the largely ungovernable sects of Northern Africa are going to be a fertile base for them.

Yesterday, Al-Qaeda stated that they would launch a fresh escalation of attacks of "enemies of Allah" in North Africa, undoubtedly to try to gain complete control of what will prove an effective launching pad for attacks into Europe.

The US has responded to the growing threat, and in the last few months launched planning for their first African Command (AfriCom), to be commenced September 2008. The US used the Ethiopia-Somalian conflict to launch a number of attacks on Al-Qaeda operatives in Somalia and has upped their intelligence presence in the region.

The challenge however, is similar to their challenges in the Middle East - they are in unknown lands where the US has little history of intelligence capabilities. Everything is being established largely from scratch, which makes it all the more simple for Al-Qaeda groups to defend against. Clearly, much work needs to be done to contain this threat, and the US and European allies will have to work closely to provide a comprehensive intelligence strategy.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Shock Story of the Day
"The state has claimed that the poison used to try to kill Frank Chikane was manufactured by the South African Defence Force in its top-secret chemical and biological warfare project, Project Coast, headed by Dr Wouter Basson." - IOL.

It's a little confusing to me why this is being treated as such a bombshell story. The only people who believed the apartheid state's leadership when they said that there were no state-sanctioned political assassinations, and that these work of "rogue elements", were naive at best.

What will be interesting though, is to see how Vlok and the others, who have undoubtedly entered a plea bargain agreement, will implicate former State President FW De Klerk. De Klerk has always denied knowledge of apartheid-era crimes, and did so again over the weekend,, but it is increasingly difficult to believe that he had absolutely no knowledge of these events. There have been rumblings over the years from apartheid security operatives, especially during the TRC, that they were being 'hung out to dry' by De Klerk, and this trial may well open the proverbial can of worms.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Mandela's Legacy
Xolela Mangcu, a commentator whose viewpoint I always enjoy, whether agreeing or disagreeing, writes a great op-ed piece in the Business Day. He primarily is concerned with defining why Mandela is so important, and what his legacy of leadership was, but begins with a commentary which is close to my heart. He talks about the double-standards so often applied by our white population around prosecution:
"I sometimes find the hypocrisy in the white community quite astounding on these matters. The very same people calling for Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted for the sake of the rule of law or for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to be taken to The Hague turn around, without batting an eyelid, and plead forgiveness for Adriaan Vlok and Johann van der Merwe.

But where is the sense of justice for the families of Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and his comrades? Does this not reveal a certain callousness about black life if consideration is given only to the perpetrators.

I am not big on punishment, but if we are to have it then we must be evenhanded in its application.

Thirteen years into our democracy, FW de Klerk argues that the prosecution of people such as Vlok will set back the goals of reconciliation."
This sense of double-standard is seen so often in the community. Yengeni, who took a discount on a Mercedes-Benz to influence a decision is a wanton criminal and 'yet another example' of widespread corruption, yet white, white-collar criminals who steal millions - in some cases billions - of Rands are incessantly given the benefit of the doubt and spoken of in empathetic terms. There are few things that make me more irritated.

As Xolela Mangcu did, I digress. He goes on to write about the strength of Mandela being seen in his absence, on how we have come to define our nation in racial terms:
"Sometimes the significance of leaders is felt through their absence.

By leaving the political stage timeously, he forced us to learn how to govern ourselves and to face our demons head on. And demons we found in abundance — mainly in our own consciousness.

Instead of speaking of citizens, we came to speak of natives and liberals and racists and colonialists and imperialists and foot-lickers and sell-outs and coconuts. There is very little sense that those we disagree with may simply have different ideas from our own, and nothing beyond that.

I sometimes get the sense that we have not reconciled with our own achievements, many of which are in our constitution.

Absent such a consciousness of ourselves and our history, we follow whichever con man comes along, including one Robert Mugabe.

However, Nelson Mandela stands there as a reminder of some of the great achievements of progressive people all around the world. In the midst of all the intolerance and the cynicism, Mandela reminds those people of their best selves.

But he also reminds those who erred that there is always another way.

What a wonderful gift to bequeath to humanity."
Read the rest here.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Seeing the Wood for the Trees
A friend of mine, Muammil Sattar, recently moved to Munich to do a stint of work over there. We spoke earlier today about the German perceptions of South Africa, and I asked him to put what he told me down on email. Here it is:
"Munich is a wonderful city. It’s often been described as the most Northern city of Italy as a result of its vibrant café and outdoor culture, the pervasiveness of chicly dressed and proud inhabitants as well as inimitable surroundings that include some superb mountains and lakes.

These aspects of the city are enjoyed by all its inhabitants all the time. The city is incredibly welcoming and safe. The underground is the best I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I’m so impressed with the ability to be completely mobile, in fact, that I have refused to buy a car. Further, when the weather is good, I get around by bike. And when I am feeling particularly healthy, I simply walk. In fact just last weekend I walked home from nightclub at 4 in the morning, on my own, lost in my thoughts of the night that had been, the only care I had being that I didn’t lose my bearing and get lost.

And this sort of lifestyle is in fact the norm in every Northern European city, and certainly for most of Europe in general. It’s a lifestyle I was initially exposed to in Holland, and partly in England. As wonderful as this lifestyle may be, South Africa, and Cape Town in particular, is by far the better pace to live. Most people I have spoken with, who are non-South African, agree with my sentiments. We have some problems, like all countries do, but these problems are manageable. At least I believe they are. And so did most Europeans.

At the emergence of our democracy certain risks were a great concern to Europeans. Political risk was the root of greatest concern, second only to economic risk. South Africa has certainly overcome these concerns with aplomb. Europeans became more eager to visit, invest in, produce from, trade with and generally consider South Africa when they realised that it politically and economically safe. Evidence of the ramping up of foreign investment in South Africa is ubiquitous. More Europeans visit South Africa year-on-year. Europe remains our most important trading partner. And many Europeans firms have set up shop in South Africa in recent years.

Europeans, however, are fast changing their tune about South Africa and one of its problems. And herein lies the crux of the matter. South Africa is no longer perceived as physically safe by Europeans. Granted, Europeans always understood that South Africa was not as safe as Europe, but it has not been an impossible impediment for them to overcome. I dare say, however, that it is on the brink of becoming a very real impediment to tourism in particular, but also investment. Most alarming to me has been the extent of the press on South Africa’s crime problem, and in particular, crime problems in Cape Town, our previously feted sanctuary of safety from a South African perspective. Spain and Morocco are seen as a much better alternative to South Africa. Travel Agents are following suit. One can now buy a 10 day excursion to South Africa, including flights, accommodation and breakfast at a 3 star hotel, for Euro 699. In January. Peak season. Whereas trips to Morocco and Spain, which is a tenth of the journey from Germany, by the way, during season can cost in the region of Euro 500.

And this simple point about holidaying ties in very closely with investment. Executives don’t like travelling to places they don’t enjoy, and particularly don’t like travelling to places that are not safe. I’ve yet to come across an executive who has been chomping at the bit recently to fly out to South Africa to ‘check up on things’. A colleague has just (today) cancelled a booked holiday to Cape Town and will be heading to Morocco with his family. He points out that when the wife of a possible future president can be hijacked when dropping her kids off at school, it’s time to consider other places as better recreational destinations.

I tried to make the point that Johannesburg is miles from Cape Town, but he’d have none of it. Great weather and beaches, coupled with great value for money count for nought when compared to peace of mind. And given the lifestyle of Europeans, this is an important component of their decision-making process. We as Capetonians need to understand it. It's the one thing that we must get right. As soon as possible. Especially as the world is slowly focusing on us more readily as the world cup approaches.

I’m uncertain what we should do, as South Africans, and particularly as Capetonians. I’d love to hear your thoughts."

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vlok: The Rebuttal of Forgiveness
After the much publicised feet-washing of Rev. Frank Chikane last year, Adriaan Vlok will face prosecution for an alleged plot to kill Chikane in 1989. There was much debate about the concept of forgiveness at the time, but the basic premise remains, forgiveness is an intrinsic process of personal redemption, and does not exempt one from facing the consequences of the original actions. In fact, true forgiveness is an open request, with the acceptance of the possible retribution.

Vlok finds himself in this position today, as the NPA announced that they would prosecute him, along with other Apartheid police chiefs. Whilst it is odd that the decision was taken now, a full 13 years after freedom, it's important to note that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's work only concluded 4 years ago. It does smack of a timeous rebuttal to Vlok's request for forgiveness, but one has to say, it is about time Vlok was prosecuted. This was a man who oversaw the police during some of the worst stages of Apartheid; he should have his day in court. He was given amnesty under the TRC for his role in the bombings of Khotso House and the Cosatu headquarters amongst others, but he did not previously admit to the poisoning of Rev. Chikane, until last year.

There should be no time limit for the prosecution of oppressors, and as Rev Chikane states, "there is a difference between forgiveness and the legal process."

Happy Birthday Grandfather of the Nation!

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Empathy in Zim
As a lot of us are heading off on holidays during this period, I though it poignant to reflect on what's currently going on in Zimbabwe. Mugabe's latest reign of terror in the form of these squads shutting down businesses that don't slash prices (mostly below cost prices) is having a devastating effect on a failed economy. It's phenomenal that things can actually get worse there. Cathy Buckle, author of "African Tears", gives this letter on the situation on the ground:
Dear Family and Friends,

Zimbabwe has been engulfed in a macabre and tragic frenzy this week and frankly, it beggars belief. Across the country what has been called a "Taskforce" has been unleashed by the government to force shop owners and businesses to cut their prices by 50%. The price cut enforcers are army men in camouflage clothes, police in uniform and large numbers of youth militia. They go from shop to shop and simply pick on items they want reduced:

Slash that price, is the phrase we are hearing again and again and then products have to be sold for less than they were purchased for. Shop owners who refuse to cut the prices face arrest and having their goods seized. Some have been assaulted, others had their premises trashed and windows smashed.

The result of it all, inevitably, is rapid collapse and many goods and foods have now become completely unavailable including all the staples which were already difficult to find such as flour, oil, sugar, salt and maize meal. Joining the list now are most other normal household products in daily use such as soap, candles, matches, milk, eggs, margarine, rice, bread and the list grows longer by the hour and day. As the prices are ordered down hordes of people with bagfuls of money swarm behind and buy up all the stocks. Shops are displaying signs announcing that only one of each item may be purchased but entire gangs are moving around in dozens and just cleaning everything out.

This week in my home town, all types of meat have become completely unavailable as butchers were ordered to sell for less than half the price they had paid to abattoirs. One supermarket in the centre of the town was empty of all goods by mid week, another two were not far behind - both saying they expected to be out of business in the next few days - a week at most. In both of these outlets there were aisle after aisle of completely empty shelves. It was heartbreaking to see pensioners and desperately poor people looking for bargains but finding none and then looking for basics and finding none of those either.

Outside a major wholesaler, groups of young men stood around waiting for the "militia taskforce" to arrive so that they could buy up everything as the prices were slashed. The car park was nearly full of luxury vehicles - pajero's, twin cabs, SUVs. even a Lexus - all filled with men talking incessantly on cellphones and women in tight jeans and artificial hair - their vehicles already bulging with “slashed price” goods, many pulling trailers also stuffed to overflowing.

I went to one almost empty supermarket and stopped near a young policeman in a pick up truck without number plates that was loaded to the hilt with “slashed price” goods. It was a bitterly cold morning and a barefoot and slightly retarded man was sitting on the tar shaking and shivering with cold. He stretched his hands up to the policeman and said: "Chingwa" (Bread). The policeman ignored him and turned away, calling out cheerfully to another young policeman, also in uniform, who was staggering out with more booty. Again the shivering and barefoot man asked for bread but they both ignored him. I could not stop tears filling my eyes and although I had virtually nothing left I bent down and folded a note into his hand; he clapped his hands in thanks and as I stood up I caught the eye of the young policeman. There was no compassion or empathy there, just arrogance. For a moment I remembered how it felt after the farmers and their workers had been thrown off and someone had helped me when I was utterly desperate. He had said to me: There but for the grace of God go I.

Now there are so many more in that place of need.

All week as the situation has deteriorated people have been comparing what is happening now to shops and businesses with what happened to farms. A huge crisis seems just a few days or perhaps a couple of weeks away, as stocks dwindle, warehouses empty and we simply run out of food. As I write this letter the government are continuing to applaud the price cuts and say they will take over the businesses that close down.

*Cathy Buckle is author of "African Tears" and "Beyond Tears". Her website is

Let's be thankful for what we have in this country, even with its challenges...

Monday, July 09, 2007

The McBride Cover-up
Let's just hope something comes of this. The Star carried a great piece yesterday on the covering up of McBride's drunken accident late last year.

For those that missed it last year, a raft of witnesses came forward to assert that McBride was 'blind drunk' at the scene of the festive season crash, many even stating that they were assaulted by police trying to whisk McBride away from the scene. McBride and other cronies in the police force vociferously denied the claims, but suspiciously could give no further detail about McBride's whereabouts after the accident.

However, a number of affidavits made by those officers that aided his escape have come into the Star's possession, and they make for interesting reading, according to the article:
"Mr McBride was drinking whisky. When he arrived, there was half a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black left. After this was finished, Mr McBride asked me to arrange for more whisky," Segathevan wrote.

"I gave some money to one of the members. They returned with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Mr McBride remarked that this was not his favourite whisky but he will make do.

'The doctor was confident there were no serious injuries or damage'
"I shared a drink with Mr McBride, (after which) he said the rest of the bottle was his."

When McBride was leaving the year-end function, at the Oberon resort, near Hartbeespoort Dam, Segathevan noticed "He did not look sober enough to drive".

The officers say they left minutes later and came across McBride's smashed Chevrolet on the R511.

Koko and Johnston arrived first.

"Koko informed me he was going to transport Mr McBride from the scene on Mr McBride's instruction," Segathevan said.

The three officers later met on the side of the road and the metro chief got into Segathevan's car. He was taken to Segathevan's cousin, a doctor with a practice in Boksburg.

"I took McBride to Dr Segathevan, where he was examined and cleaned up. The doctor was confident there were no serious injuries or damage," Segathevan said.

At a press conference after the incident, McBride swore he was rushed to a hospital - the name of which he could not disclose - and that he had suffered a head injury, which gave him amnesia.

The affidavits claim McBride asked his officers to get Segathevan's cousin to make a medical report to say his blood sugar levels were low and that he sustained serious injuries. However, Dr Segathevan refused.

The officers then describe how, together with their boss, they visited various doctors - in Ga-Rankuwa, Vosloorus, Katlehong and Reiger Park - to seek a fake medical certificate. After various referrals, and McBride's overseas visit, they took a trip to Durban to visit a lawyer and a pathologist.
It's things like this that I wish got wider press, and led to charges against McBride and his cronies. Will it happen? I doubt it...

The Africa Reporting Challenge
The LA Times last week carried an op-ed piece on the recent Vanity Fair "Africa Edition", and the conundrums that it presented. Primarily the author, William Easterly, was concerned with the presentation of Africa's as the basket-case continent in need of aid and little else, as opposed to creating an awareness of Africa's economic successes, and Africa's commercial products, in order to drive commercial awareness and thus increased trade.

It's an age-old challenge, the proverbial "giving fish will feed for a day, teaching how to fish will feed for a lifetime." It does however, make for interesting reading for a Western public so used to seeing images of AIDS-ridden child soldiers.
"It's a dark and scary picture of a helpless, backward continent that's being offered up to TV watchers and coffee drinkers. But in fact, the real Africa is quite a bit different. And the problem with all this Western stereotyping is that it manages to snatch defeat from the jaws of some current victories, fueling support for patronizing Western policies designed to rescue the allegedly helpless African people while often discouraging those policies that might actually help.

Let's begin with those rampaging Four Horsemen. Do they really explain Africa today? What percentage of the African population would you say dies in war every year? What share of male children, age 10 to 17, are child soldiers? How many Africans are afflicted by famine or died of AIDS last year or are living as refugees?

In each case, the answer is one-half of 1% of the population or less. In some cases it's much less; for example, annual war deaths have averaged 1 out of every 10,800 Africans for the last four decades. That doesn't lessen the tragedy, of course, of those who are such victims, and maybe there are things the West can do to help them. But the typical African is a long way from being a starving, AIDS-stricken refugee at the mercy of child soldiers. The reality is that many more Africans need latrines than need Western peacekeepers — but that doesn't play so well on TV."

Well worth a read for a sage perspective. Get it here

Thursday, July 05, 2007

United States of Africa
The concept of a United States of Africa has been raised before, without ever being a serious consideration. However, the latest attempt, fastidiously driven by Gaddafi's Libya seems to have gained some inertia. Bizarrely, Gaddafi was pushing at the recently concluded African Heads of State Summit in Accra for the immediate establishment of such an entity.

Just how he thought this would be possible is well beyond me. Such a scenario, with common monetary units, common regulatory environments etc would take decades, vis-a-vis the European Union. But, Gaddafi's never proved his patience, and is clearly cognisant of his legacy, on which he's pegging the United States of Africa.

The opposition to the move fortunately, is robust. The motion for immediate unity was denied by all of Africa's power-house states, including South Africa and Nigeria. Unity in this form is a boon to Africa's smaller, more troubled states, but is hardly has Africa's largest economies rushing to sign up. Economics in Africa is delicate at best, and trying to aggregate Africa's economies at this stage only means aggregating Africa's problems.

I sit on the opposite side of the fence to former Zambian president Kenneth Kaunda who stated last week "This is a very beautiful idea. It can’t fail." Kaunda sees no difference between the USA, the EU and the proposed United States of Africa, stating “Europe brought two world wars in 1914 to 1918 and from 1939 to 1945. It is that same Europe which is now with a common currency called the euro." Yes, Kenneth, that took half a century and powerful, stable democracies. Africa's cup does not run over with the same.

In any event, having two USA's in global politics would just be confusing...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Mbeki's Play: Paranoia or Power?
Mbeki's insistence that he will stand for a third term as ANC party president raises some interesting debate. The majority of the party leaders want the ANC president to be the state president, and with the status quo of Zuma's bid, Mbeki should not currently be overly concerned about maintaining decision-making control. So, is Mbeki really interested in hanging on for purely power-hungry reasons? Or is it something else?

Well, if there's one thing that we know about our Thabo, it's that he is inhumanly paranoid. Paranoia about Zuma's chances, and about his lack of control thereof, would explain this move more with more cognisance than Mbeki's hunger for power. Mbeki has always signalled that he wants a hand in the succession decision, and this is his chosen methodology of doing so.

That being said, I do hope that he doesn't succeed in his third term bid, and can rather gain his desired control another way. The possibilities of two such powerful centres concerns me greatly, especially if the state president should fall foul of Mbeki's legendary stubbornness.