Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, August 31, 2007

Manto vs Sunday Times
Manto can crow all she wants about the Pyrrhic Victory of the judge ordering the Sunday Times to delete all her medical records off their hard drives, I'm just incredibly happy that the judge upheld freedom of speech and media rights in adjudicating that publishing the story was "overwhelmingly" in the public interest. There still is nothing to refute the Sunday Times' allegations around the medical records...

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Condom Bribery Scandal - The Final Straw or...?
Another day, another scandal in the Health Ministry (front page of CNN nogal). This time the heat is off Manto on a personal level, bit she's very much in the spotlight from a governance level. It turns out the the Health Department has recalled 20 million, (yes that's 20 million) potentially defective condoms approved by an official accused of taking bribes from the condom manufacturer. This falls under Manto's reporting structures, and one wonders what else is going to emerge from this error-ridden department.

Is it enough to be the final straw for Manto's job? Doubtful. Mbeki has shown an unshakeable trust in Manto, employing his trademark character flaw of digging his heels in when challenged and showing stubborn loyalty to those that support him. As the taxi windscreen says "when days are dark and friends are few..."

Monday, August 27, 2007

Thought Leader
I was asked a week or two ago to contribute to the Mail & Guardian's new site, Thought Leader, which went live last week. It's a great site which I'm sure is going to go from strength to strength. My first post covered the issue of responsibility for the crisis in Zimbabwe. Have a read here.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Quote of the Day

"The overall assessment ... was that the talks were indeed progressing and that an agreement or a settlement will be reached soon to make sure that there will be free and fair elections in Zimbabwe"

- SA government spokesperson Themba Maseko

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Plot Thickens...
So the SACP fraudgate is getting murkier and murkier. Blade was on the offensive last week when he said that he never took the R500 000:
"I wish to place it on record that I have never received the alleged R500 000 from any person, as is alleged. As the SACP has said, this is part of a concerted smear campaign primarily directed at discrediting the image and reputation of the SACP and tarnishing my image and integrity," Nzimande said in a statement.
Now Cosatu president Willie Madisha yesterday stated:
"I wish to emphasise the point that yes, I received the R500 000 and handed the same to Nzimande. I am willing to stand in front of a court and the Communist Party and prove what happened."
This was alleged to have happened a few years ago, a point picked up by SACP chairperson Gwede Mantashe, who rebutted:
"Madisha sat on the information for more than five years and did not disclose to the party that it had not received intended funds. He didn't come to the structures in his own party, but went public -- I think that is bordering on hypocrisy."
It's notable though that Mantashe is just having a crack at Madisha for being hypocritical, there's no flat denial on Nzimande's guilt there. So where does that leave us? Well, now the real investigation begins, but the stakes are high. The two labour parties of the tri-partite alliance pitted against each other in a battle for credibility at the highest level. Cosatu has much to gain by a demotion of the SACP in the tri-partite ranks; the SACP has a fight for redemption. Conspiracy hangs in the air, but there's a real outcome that this is just simple criminality. I'll keep you up to date...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Foul winds brewing
The ANC caucus yesterday issued a statement saying that it was "concerned" about the SA National Editors' Forum (SANEF) viewpoint on the Sunday Times vs Manto drama. SANEF had previously taken the stance that whilst the individual's right to privacy should be respected, there are times when public interest outweighs these rights.

In response, the ANC caucus stated that:
"We are concerned at the endorsement of the newspaper's crusade against the health minister by the country's forum of media leaders, as it sets worrying precedent. Essentially, the precedent that is set is that on the whims of this press principle, members of the public surrender all their rights to the mighty media."
The caucus went on to affirm media freedom was a central component of a democratic society and should be defended against those who sought to abuse it in pursuit of an agenda against individual members of the public.

It's a very fine line on both sides, and this represents a seminal moment in the media freedom landscape in South Africa. Thus far, Government has not overstepped the mark against an oft hostile media, but the coming weeks will be a stern test.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Paranoia and Desperation...
The latest proposal from ANC secretary-general Kgalema Motlanthe shows an unnerving insight into the paranoia currently gripping the ANC about their internal battles. Motlanthe's proposal is to completely do away with the traditional power of the Presidency, and replace it with a Prime Ministership, with the President being largely a ceremonial figure. The patent target of this proposal? Both Jacob Zuma and Thabo Mbeki.

Motlanthe's proposal suggests that in 2009, conveniently when Mbeki's term ends, an office of prime minister would be introduced, whereby the president would be concerned with meeting heads of state, moulding the nation's citizens, and driving the vision of the country. The prime minister would be concerned with the nuts and bolts of leadership. He or she would be "a managerial specialist", who would drive regional government, service delivery, and civil service performance.

The proposal would seek to remove Zuma, should he be successful in his quest for the Presidency, from the day-to-day operations of the country. It would also seek to decentralise the power of the Presidency, such have been the lessons learnt for the ANC from Mbeki's terms. As such, it would limit Zuma's power to shape domestic policy - economic, social or otherwise. It also would dissuade the party from the internal battles that currently threaten to split the party in two. Mothlanthe desperation is to thwart the power battles that will begin in earnest in December at the ANC AGM and continue until 2009. We have seen the threats to the ANC's unity in the past 18 months; it's understandable that Mothlanthe has the old show tune in his head - "You ain't seen nothin' yet!"

Besides the tension it would inevitably create between the two offices, the proposal illuminates and increased fear from within the party of what the immediate future holds. Mothlanthe is well respected within the party as an ultimate ANC loyalist. He has served his party well, and it is clear that he has major concerns. This is a proposal that in my view, should never come to fruition, but it is a palpable bellwether of where the party's mindset currently stands.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Pissing in the wind
In what must be one of the most ambitious projects yet, the Zimbabwean Tourism Authority has announced an international marketing program on CNN, SKY News and other international news channels, in order to "counter negative reports from our detractors".

ZTA's CEO, Karikoga Kaseke, helpfully stated that "we will pay for" the advertisements, which he felt was an important aside. So, I guess Bob needs to fire up the money printing presses again...

Monday, August 13, 2007

What to do?
Too much to write about today, so thought I'd touch on a few things that caught my eye:

Firstly, we may have our first answer in the Blade Nzimande scandal. Businessman Charles Modise says he did not lay a charge of theft against Nzimande, as the police claimed. According to his spokesperson, he "complained to the police about the abuse of accountability. He is not asking for the return of the money. He is not saying they stole the money. He hoped the police would investigate and he hoped the investigation would trigger more action as far as accountability was concerned. He did not go there in the hope of charging anyone and having anyone investigated." Conspiracy anyone?

Secondly, the big news out of Washington is the long-expected resignation of Republican king-maker and emperor Karl Rove. Rove, known as "The Architect", resigned under the guise of spending more time with his family, but in reality, resigned under potential indictment in the Libby case and as a fall guy for the Bush administration he largely crafted.

Then the news that Mugabe has used South Africa and the US as comparisons in explaining away his new eavesdropping laws. Interesting how little (relative) consternation there was about the local law's introduction in South Africa, but it is largely seen as ripping the last vestiges of civil liberties in Zimbabwe.

Finally, an interesting piece on Brand Channel about the need to rebrand Africa away from poverty and hopelessness, something that is very close to my heart.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mbeki losing face on Zimbabwe... again.
You know you're in trouble as a negotiator when the opposition party turns on you. President Mbeki, with his Zim Chief Negotiator hat on, has been accused by MDC MP's of being "outflanked by Mugabe, who has never had any intention of relinquishing power or even a portion of it."

Personally, I think this is stating the obvious. Mbeki has backed himself into a corner with his continued tacit support for dealing with Mugabe's only through negotiated settlements, which makes it very easy for Zanu-PF to continually string him along. Settlements need consequences, and thus far, Mbeki has shown that he will enforce few consequences on Zanu-PF and Mugabe.

Thabo even seems to have bought the Zanu-PF party line on the UKs involvement in Zimbabwe's demise, which is incredibly worrying and perhaps symptomatic of his proverbial "between a rock and hard place" position.

According to leaked documents outlining what Mbeki will be presenting at the regional SADC summit this week, he will state that "the most worrisome thing is that the UK continues to deny its role as the principal protagonist in the Zimbabwean issue and is persisting with its activities to isolate Zimbabwe. None of the Western countries that have imposed the sanctions that are strangling Zimbabwe's economy have shown any willingness to lift them."

This is the exact line that Mugabe has been peddling for years as to the "real reasons" behind Zimbabwe's economic collapse. Mbeki, and astute economics scholar, clearly knows better, and his insistence on supporting such fabrication is indicative of how far removed his position on Zimbabwe is from reason.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Small Victories and Big Losses
When Manto was ill earlier this year, her deputy, Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, blew in like a fresh summer breeze, saying all the right things on AIDS, taking all the right steps, and giving many of us hope that Government was in fact, changing its spots with respect to its AIDS policies. With her sudden and unexplained dismissal yesterday, we see that her presence was a mere anomaly.

Her presence though, was exactly what Government needed, a softer, more empathetic voice in the fight against AIDS in our nation, a person who was clearly passionate about making a real difference, and someone significantly more in touch with the sentiment of the nation. However, she in amongst this passion, she found herself having to disagree with the President's (and Manto's) lines on HIV-AIDS, something that no deputy cabinet member can do. This clearly, is the reason for her dismissal, although Mbeki once again showed his cold breath, with the insistence - through his spokesperson naturally - that he "was not obliged to give reasons for cabinet appointments and dismissals".

The only question at the time of her make dissenting assertions was, are these reflected in a new policy change from Government, of which she was the sounding board? We now have our answer.

It is undoubtedly a sad day for AIDS sufferers in this country, and for the nation at large. One can only expect to see a return to the darker days of Manto's insistence on alternative remedies in lieu of successful medical treatment.

Madlala-Routledge is holding a press conference in Cape Town today, let's hope she goes down swinging.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Australia treads on thin ice
Whilst this bill was mooted a while back, the fact that it has actually been introduced into Australian Parliament represents quite a turning point in Australia's history with the Aboriginal peoples. The bill introduces legislation to ban alcohol and pornography from Aboriginal communities whilst also forcing them to spend a portion of their welfare cheques on certain items.

The bill has been introduced to try to stem the criminality into the Aboriginal communities, which have been described by the Indigenous Affairs Minister, Mel Brough, as "a failed society where law and order and behaviour have broken down and where women and children are unsafe". Whatever the reality on the ground, which is beyond my first-hand experience to comment on, introducing legislation which treats a certain cultural group entirely differently, restricts their economic freedom, enforces purchasing decisions for them and entrenches a perception of them as being 'dependents' of society, is a very dangerous move.

Watch this space for more response to the Bill.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

McBride back in the headlines
What will this man do next?

I think Zapiro needs to get involved...

Monday, August 06, 2007

A World of Conspiracies
It seems that South African politics is constantly moving from one shady conspiracy to the next. Whether real or imagined, it seems our papers are constantly filled with allegations of shady operators 'trying to discredit' the organisation or individuals currently in focus. From the Zuma files to the more recent Blade Nzimande fraud investigations, it seems our political landscape is controlled by 'agent provocateurs'.

Nzimande is being accused of fraud by businessman Charles Kasinja Modise who accused Nzimande of embezzling R500 000 that he donated to the SACP in March 2002. Naturally, Nzimande and other SACP leaders have stated that this was a "campaign was being conducted by elements, including agent provocateurs who were hell-bent on destroying the party".

The investigation has just begun, but watch this space for more details. Let's see if its conspiracy theories, or just plain criminality.

Friday, August 03, 2007

The Zuma Files
The Mail & Guardian has a very interesting investigative journalism piece on the supposed Zuma 'coup' plots. It essentially states that the sources of the intelligence, that were so hastily discredited as "information peddlers", are actually solid 'moles' that South African intelligence communities have readily used in intelligence gathering before.
They include:

* A former military intelligence (MI) officer who worked closely with Unita leader Jonas Savimbi and has maintained excellent contacts in Angola. His reports on the Angolan business environment and security establishment circulate quite widely within the intelligence community where they are considered credible. They are the basis of some of the allegations about Angolan interference in the ANC succession battle explored in the Browse. Far from being automatically dismissed by the South African Secret Service (SASS) and National Intelligence Agency (NIA) as a peddler of disinformation, the source provided the initial warning that sparked South African moves to prevent the coup in Equatorial Guinea.

* A private intelligence consultant with a background in the British security services. This person, who has worked closely with the Angola expert, helped South African intelligence and the Scorpions arrest the Equatorial Guinea plotters. He has also helped the presidential support unit on African security issues.

* A veteran ANC intelligence operative who now works privately, but maintains strong links with the ANC and government.

* A private investigator who cut his teeth in apartheid intelligence, but quickly forged links with ANC intelligence post-1994, and has worked closely with police National Commissioner Jackie Selebi. The Browse does not rely unreservedly on him, noting that while his information has been corroborated, he was not directly approached because he poses a “security risk”.

* A senior ANC official with detailed insight into the political and financial sources of Zuma’s support.

Well worth a read.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Zille Singing From The Same Hymn Sheet
I must admit to being a little disappointed in Zille's first few months as head of the DA. I was hoping for an alteration in approach, whereas all we seem to have is a continuance of the status quo of the previous one-dimensional combativeness. In attracting Black votes, the DA is a leopard that must change its spots, but this opportunity to do so is rapidly being missed.

It can be seen repeatedly, even this week. The DA attacking the DTI saying that "millions" are being lost with the lottery shut-down, and then, when challenged on CapeTalk about the source of the figures, resorting to an ideological side-step of "the figures aren't important, it's the principle". Their rabid drum-beating about the lottery is a mystery to me, it seems a strange battle to pick.

More illustrative this week has been Zille's call for a a multi-party task team to “advise” government on the post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission process because it "runs the risk of undoing the process of reconciliation". How can ordinary voters, and most especially non-white ones, read anything else into this that the DA is attempting to restrict the prosecution of apartheid leaders that did not come clean under the TRC. I don't believe that this is the truth, I simply don't believe that the DA is made up that way, but it aggressively reinforces the voter perception of the DA as a White people's party. In doing so, the DA walks into the same wall it has done under Leon.

The DA's reasoning is that the precedent could lead to a witch-hunt. The TRC offered clear amnesty to apartheid leaders and apartheid criminals that gave full disclosure of their crimes. Those such as Vlok, who did not, fully deserve to be prosecuted, I don't see why they should be given second chances. The DA has no feasible right to be in this fight, and they are only conspicuous by their presence.