Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, February 29, 2008

Zuma's Bad Day
President elect Jacob Zuma has had a very rough week. Firstly, the state accuses him of massive tax fraud, then the Mauritian courts reportedly have denied his request to hold the original documents in the country, and finally, he has been brow-beaten by Cosatu.

Odds on State President Kgalema Mothlanthe anyone?

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Shaik admits to bribing Zuma
When someone's back is against the wall, the truth usually outs. Shaik is a case in point. With the state going after his assets gained through corrupt practices, his defence team have had to use the only gambit they have left, to admit that Shaik bribed Zuma, but to quibble on whether this was the ultimate decision-maker in the arms deal selections. It's a pathetically well-worn strand, but it is the only card they have left to play.

Unfortunately for Zuma, it only adds to the rising tide around him. With my scant knowledge of the legal process, I'm not sure whether this is admissable in Zuma's graft case, but one would imagine that it will weigh heavily on any decision within the NEC as to Zuma's presidential hopes with Motlanthe waiting in the wings.

Monday, February 25, 2008

ANC "not neccessarily moving left"
The universally respected Dr Steven Friedman writes an op-ed piece in the Business Report around the misunderstanding of the political and economic realities in the new ANC leadership.
But Friedman said the alliance that elected Zuma was a very disparate group and there was no certainty about the role the Left would play in decision making. He pointed out that last March Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi said he would flood the ANC membership with people prepared to push the party in Cosatu's direction.

"But that hasn't happened," said Friedman. "The new leadership is not a working-class group. Most of them have stakes in the companies Vavi wants to nationalise."

Friedman identified a number of different elements within the national executive committee (NEC).

"There are the SACP and Cosatu, representing the Left; the ANC Youth League; the old ANC intelligence network - people like [former director-general of the National Intelligence Agency] Billy Masetla; the KwaZulu-Natal base, like finance MEC Zweli Mkhize; and there are people in it for their own material growth."

He also identified two other groups of considerable importance. "One is a diverse collection of people, marginalised by Mbeki, like ANC treasurer-general Mathew Phosa. They are a very big group, significantly bigger than the Left.".

And there was an influential group calling for a "third way", which hoped to find an alternative to both Zuma and Mbeki. Friedman said it included cabinet ministers Pallo Jordan and Zola Skweyiya, as well as ex-cabinet minister Vali Moosa.

Friedman urged business to engage with the new leadership and discuss concerns with the people in the NEC.

The article summarises what I have been trying to push for some time. We keep trying to look at the ANC through Western prisms, when the leader of the ANC party is not usually the decision-maker. Mbeki was the ultimate decision-maker in his cabinet, but it is this type of leadership that has sparked the current "revolution" in voter sentiment. There are many players in the NEC and the NWC who hold vast business interests, the it is much more likely that a third way scenarion will occur. Read the whole op-ed piece here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

All business
Yesterday was a brave performance by Trevor Manuel, announcing a "business as usual" pro-business budget in the face of huge populist pressure. He certainly gave increased expenditure to social causes, but probably not nearly enough to satisfy the thirst of the far left. There were few crumbs for embattled consumers either.

All in all, more of what we have come to expect from Manuel and his office. Disciplined, fiscally conservative budgets defined within a tight macro-economic structure. But this time it was delivered under new pressures. The key question now is; is there a place for Manuel post-2009?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Nqakula brought back into line
In another view into the state president versus ANC president power struggle, Safety and Security Minister Charles Nqakula has stepped down his rhetoric on the Scorpions, going from statements that they "will be dissolved" to a more reasoned line that "the disbanding of the Scorpions is still only a 'proposal' and will go to Parliament and include public participation".

The new ANC power under Zuma has been rabidly hunting the Scorpions, but Mbeki has handled the matter correctly in terms of the Constitution, handing it back to Parliament for debate and decision. Ngakula has been brought back into line by Mbeki, in what is a ratehr embarrassing climb-down for him.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The SA dream post-Polokwane
Late notice: I’ll be attending a discussion this evening at UCT entitled “The Dream Deferred, Shattered or Redeemed?”: Reflections on Thabo Mbeki post-Polokwane”. It features journalist Mark Gevisser, Adam Habib and the SACP’s Jeremy Cronin. Should make for interesting debate, and it's free. Starts at 6PM at the Kramer Law Building, Middle Campus, UCT.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Actions of an innocent man?
Zuma has spent the last few days in sunny Mauritius trying to bar the "damning" evidence against him from being released by authorities there. Funnily enough, lawyers for Thint were also there on the same mission. All very reasonable when you're an innocent man...

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Pandor(a)'s pledge
The current reaction to Naledi Pandor’s youth pledge is another in a long line of negativity that seems to be infesting the white population at present. There seems to be this constant knee-jerk reaction of intense negativity that should not continue unchecked. Rational thought has to prevail in the face of seemingly mindless Pavlovian response.

First of all, let’s have a look at it. The pledge as it stands currently is as such:

“We the youth of South Africa, recognising the injustices of our past, honour those who suffered and sacrificed for justice and freedom.

“We will respect and protect the dignity of each person, and stand up for justice.

“We sincerely declare that we shall uphold the rights and values of our Constitution and promise to act in accordance with the duties and responsibilities that flow from these rights.”

Read it again, and perhaps again, and once more for luck. Please tell me what is in there that is so horrendously controversial. So far, the overwhelming number of arguments have centred on the first line, the fact that there is a call to recognise the injustices of the past, and to honour those that fought for freedom. In a plethora of written and oral arguments over our newsprint and airwaves, hundreds of almost exclusively middle-aged white respondents have deplored this line. How so, because there were no injustices in our past? Because apartheid was just? Or is it because those that fought for freedom were “terrorists” that should not be celebrated?

Many have argued that this first line “drags up the past”. I’m sorry, but if people think it’s logical to sweep 50 years of oppression under the carpet after just more than a decade, they are sadly naive. Sorting out the problems caused by apartheid is a double generational challenge, not a project completed in a few years. It is a challenge that we have to face as a country, together.

To pretend that rebuilding 80% of the country’s population that was physically, mentally and legally oppressed for half a century is something that “should have been sorted out by now” is so disingenuous it’s laughable. It constantly amazes me how this is not more obvious to many previously advantaged people. To them, apartheid was something that “they did not support”, that they “did not benefit from” and that should just be forgotten now that everyone’s free, and we should all carry on regardless as if nothing had happened.

Personally, I think most of the youth of South Africa, from every racial group, need much more respect for the battle that more than three-quarters of our population fought for freedom. It provides a significantly more empathetic view of the country that we live in than the “let’s just forget about the past and pretend like nothing happened” camp.

It seems to me that the very people who stand on soapboxes and decry the “slide into depravity” and the “destruction of morality” in our country are the same people who are now finding such adjectives as “insipid” and “racist” to describe this call to morals that the pledge represents.

In announcing the antecedents of the pledge, Naledi Pandor explained that the purpose was to try to align the youth’s vision to the values inherent in the Constitution. Our Constitution has been described as the freest in the world, and perhaps the most liberal. It strives to protects rights in a way that few other countries’ can pretend to match, and seeks to uphold values that are universal. Surely our country, and perhaps more importantly our youth, could use more of a commitment to these ideals right now?

I would be completely unfazed if the majority of the concerns over the pledge were about the fact that it is something that the government is considering making compulsory. The decision on whether your child should be taking a pledge — any pledge — is something in which I should hope parents would want a say. However, this seems to be the concern only of a vast minority of the comments carried in call-in shows and letters pages across our media. (As an aside, this pledge is not something being forced on to the public in its current form; it is something that is being presented by our education minister for 30 days of debate and comment, after which a decision will be taken on it.)

What does faze me, however, is the fact that in my experience over the past few days there has been an outcry from one section of the public, centred on one line that, in my mind, should be a given. The sooner the white population understands that this country’s population endured 50 years of racist oppression, and that this isn’t something that’s going to be forgotten with a pat on the head and a box of chocolates, the better.

[Note: This post originally appeared on Thought Leader]

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Let's not all freak out here...
Without information, perceptions generally turn to worst case scenarios, most especially when it comes to government policy. I have noted this and fought this on this platform many times before. However, the ANC must shoulder much of the responsibility for this in their complete incompetence in presenting policy to its public. The ANC done little to effectively engage the public on policy decsions, except for the constant prodding at the press for not paying enough attention to policies and instead focusing on personalities. If ever the ANC needed to get some good PR consultants in, it's now.

Anyway, enough ranting. The M&G offers up a revealing interview with ANC Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, in which he discusses various policy shifts. It's probably reassuring reading for many 'non-believers' and backs up a lot of what I've been saying about the largely hysterical and uninformed posturing around the Zuma faction's "revolution".
Can we expect a big increase in government spending this year, as there seems to be a more pro-poor and radical stance within the ANC?
Well, the social grants take a big chunk of the budget. What you are likely to see in the future is an attack on poverty, which also deals with rural development and food security. It’s better to get the poor out of poverty than for them to always rely on state grants, which is not sustainable over the long term. Job creation is therefore a top priority, but decent jobs and not irregular and unstable jobs.

Two of the areas the ANC has decided to focus on in poverty alleviation are education and health. In education, we want to reopen teacher training colleges to produce a new calibre of teacher. We also need more skills training because at the moment there is a mismatch; we are not sufficiently providing the skills required by the economy. Health and education are now so important that they are standalone committees, unlike in the past when it was part of the social transformation sub-committee. There will therefore absolutely be substantial fiscal increases to deal with these priorities.

Do you think Trevor Manuel will continue as finance minister in a new ANC government after the 2009 elections?
Yes, I think so. Trevor is one of the most upright members of the NEC and also in terms of ANC policies. I say so without prevarication.

If so, will this be with the blessing of Cosatu and the SACP, who have heavily criticised the policies he has pursued over the years?
This time, you will have components of the alliance meeting as activists of the same movement and collectively discussing and arriving at positions which then get effected through government.

But there is also some serious work that is required to bridge the policy divide that has existed between Cosatu-SACP and the ANC. Manuel is just the minister. You see, Trevor moves around with bankers and others, so he will bring insights from there. We also have in the alliance people who bring lived experience of policies and others from a labour perspective and so on. So none of them should hold back their views or positions, and hopefully out of that we get a synthesis that will take us forward.

Friday, February 08, 2008

All eyes on Mbeki
All eyes (and ears) will be on Thabo Mbeki this morning in the annual State of the Nation Address. Follow it here from 11AM.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Super Tuesday update...
All voting seems to be going swimmingly in the US, and the picture right now is as follows:

Clinton - 760 delegate counts
Obama - 692

McCain - 570 delegate counts
Romney - 251
Huckabee - 175

Still a way to go though, the Republican winner requires 1191 delegates, and the Democrat winner reqauires 2025. The Democrat race looks like its going down to the wire.

Keep an eye on the NY Times for updates...

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Super Tuesday
It's Super Tuesday in the US today, which is the most important date in the leadup to the party presidential elections, with a mutitude of states voting for their preferred candidates. 24 states will vote during today with 52 percent of all pledged Democratic Party delegates and 41 percent of the total Republican Party delegates at stake.

To read up on who's who, click to have a look at the following front-runners:

Barack Obama, Democrat
Hillary Clinton, Democrat

John McCain, Republican
Mike Huckabee, Republican
Mitt Romney, Republican

You can have a look at where candidates stand on issues here, and get to know each candidate here. Follow the day's progress here.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Whispering in the corridors...
Jacob Zuma used a speech over the weekend to lambaste those who he saw as working against his position as party president, which has been taken by many to mean an attack on Mbeki supporters within the ANC"
"As we worked (towards) Polokwane, because we had differences we had the right to meet, lobby, caucus, do whatever. But once a decision has been taken at conference, we cannot continue to meet," he said, suggesting that those meetings "could not be healthy".

He said the only times those meetings could be excused was when those who held them gathered together to acknowledge that "man, they had a preference but failed".

"It's over. Those meetings have been going on since December and I would say those meetings are meetings to end meetings," he said to loud applause.

He said the ANC delegates had made their decision and it should be accepted.

Those who failed to do so were "working against the ANC" and "harsher action should be taken against those".
However, it may also be a swipe at Mathews Phosa and others closer to him, whom Zuma has accused of working behind his back to concost a plan to take over leadership should he (Zuma) be convicted in his graft case later this year. Zuma is known to be livid about this whispering behind his back, most especially between Phosa and Motlanthe. It brings to bear concern about the ultimate leadership of Zuma, and his ability to control those immediately under him.

Interesting times indeed.