Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And now for something completely different...
Most of the time blogging on politics can be a very serious pastime, but every now and then there's something of (usually dark) humour. And so to today, where Western Australian Opposition Leader Tony Buswell has admitted to an allegation that he "sniffed the chair of a female staffer in late 2005"... Not that I'm for a minute dismissing his deeper issues as frivolous, but do read on

Help send one of our sharpest political minds to Harvard
One of our great political minds, Jonathan Faull (IDASA analyst), has been accepted to pursue a Masters in Public Policy at Harvard, and he needs your help to get there. Jonny is looking for interested parties to pledge to assist with the large tuition costs at Harvard. If you're interested in supporting quality political analysis and research in South Africa, help him out here.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Some Great Journalism
These are tough times for South Africa politically, both domestically and internationally, but it's unearthing some great analysis and journalism. Two examples of it are:

Foreign policy begins at home

ANC freed a genie it might not control

Both well worth a read.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Zuma shifting with the wind
Jacob was in Germany yesterday, calling on all the "leftist governments to unite in their lobby for United Nations and World Trade Organisation reform as well as conflict resolution and climate change". Jacob spoke about the need for the governments of India, Brazil and Germany (and seeing as he is visiting France as well, probably them too) to form a more united front on fighting for leftist issues at the WTO and UN.

It will probably be seen as another shifting message from Zuma, as he flatters the capitalists and stokes up the socialists in alternating weeks. However, it may also get some South Africans to investigate the policies of the countries he mentioned to see how successful they are with policies that are further to the left than South Africa's.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Bullard and the Nuance of Racism
Analyst Xolela Mangcu writes a good op-ed piece in the Business Day this morning regarding the creeping racism in South Africa and the dangers of the creeping response from the black population.
y purpose here is indeed to sound the alarm bells about the rise of racial recidivism in the white community, and the response it is generating in the black community. By recidivism I mean the relapse into the mud of backward theories of racial superiority by the likes of Bullard.

The mistake we made was to equate our political transition with a transition in social attitudes in the white community. Yet many white people were indeed socialised in those backward, eugenicist social attitudes. Once we accept that social reality, Bullard stops being extraordinary. He has simply lanced the boil and released the underlying pus of racism into our social life.

Max du Preez responded to this social reality thus: “The Polokwane show and Zuma-mania didn’t upset me, nor did the Selebi/Pikoli/Scorpions debacles. Not even Eskom’s disastrous outages shook my faith in my nation’s future. But the possibility that there is a large section of our nation still producing the likes of the Video of Shame Four, the Skielik killer, the Waterkloof Four, is the most depressing thought I’ve had in decades. Especially because that community is my own.”

Du Preez has shown leadership. But how many will join him in pulling the white community back from the brink? I say this after a depressing conversation with some of my friends this past weekend. For the first time in a long time, I began to ask myself whether I had indeed become the coconut that some of my critics have called me. I was alone in holding to the argument that we need to do more to assure white people, and marginalise the likes of Bullard, in building a new nonracial moral majority.

Under attack that evening was nothing less than the model of racial reconciliation epitomised by Nelson Mandela. My friends insisted it was this model that emboldened the likes of Bullard. I felt guilty for having invited Bullard to be a panellist at the launch of my book earlier this year, and for having defended him against black people calling him a racist in a radio programme. Did I really have to wait for the blatant racism of Bullard’s latest column to get out of my own comfort zone?

It's well worth a read, whether you're white or not...

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Confusing Law with Sentiment
There seems to be a crisis of conscience in South Africa at the moment, where people are incredibly loose with their interpretations of the law, using it or discounting it, depending on which argument they're trying to make. The current situation with this Chinese vessel on its way to deliver an arms shipment to Zimbabwe is a case in point.

There is no arms embargo against Zimbabwe, there are no laws against shipping arms in legal arms procurement deals between sovereign nations. As a nation, South Africa holds no right to essentially kidnap private property (the vessel) and legal product (the arms destined for Zimbabwe) because of their potential use. There is a moral issue yes, but is it ours to make?

We can unfortunately not pick and choose which laws we respect and adhere to. Trade and prosperity internationally depend on the adherence to basics of legal due process and property rights. If we don't respect Zimbabwe's property rights, how can we effectively hold a moral high ground on Mugabe's lack of respect for the property rights of his people?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Zuma to get a new public face
It would be an understatement to say that Jacob is in desperate need of better publicity, and in the lead-up to his August trial date, the ANC is concerned about how well-equipped his current communication staff are. Suffice to say, they will join the ranks of the unemployed fairly soon, replaced by a sparkling new cadre of spokesperson and communications specialists.

Good news for Zuma? Definitely. Chances of them being able to reign in Zuma's penchant for ridiculous statements? Nil.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Few Notes....
Just a few quick notes today:

Firstly, have a read of an interesting op-ed piece in today's Cape Times by Bennie Bunsee, exploring whether black people have the right to exclusivity. Bunsee argues that just as there are societies (and insurace companies!) for women, black people should have the right to form their own societies too.

Secondly, on a more humourous note, the fact that the ANC is still regarded as a "terrorist organisation" by the US Government, and ANC delegates, including Nelson Mandela, have to get a special State Department waiver to enter the US. How long ago was 1994?

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Wrong turn...
Well,I certainly got it wrong on Friday suggesting that I didnt think Bob wouldn't enter a run-off. Apparently after much SADC, EU and UN discussions, Bob decided not to listen to his wife, but instead to listen to his old chums the military, and is now preparing for a battle. Literally, it seems.

Yesterday, police arrested seven electoral officials for "undercounting" votes for Mugabe in the presidential race. Funny that the presidential results have not officially been released yet. Meanwhile, Bob has been discussing the fact that he is preparing for a runoff. Again, funny that the presidential results have not officially been released yet. Bob then went on a diatribe about how the Zimbabwean people must not allow land to "slip back into white hands", whilst at the same time unleashing those fun police, the War Veterans, back onto the last remaining 400 white farmers' lands.

It's important to note that having lost the parliamentary majority, Bob's real hope of holding on to any significant power going forward is in having the ability to steal the run-off election, or failing that, to turn the state into such an ungovernable mess that he can introduce a 'state of emergency' and declare martial law with the military's support, something that the apartheid state was so adept at using back in the late 80's.

Zanu-PF has been staging provincial co-ordinating meetings with the view to crafting their strategies in the upcoming run-off election. Tsvangirai meanwhile, having not managed to get much support from any of the current SADC leadership, spent yesterday with someone with more vested interest in him, ANC president Jacob Zuma. Zuma has previously shown no fear of taking a much tougher stance on Mugabe, and it is from here that Tsvangirai may find his only top level ally in the SADC.

So what next? Reports from the ground in Zim describe an atmosphere pregnant with apprehension and fear, where anything could set off a tinderbox of violence. The court case to decide whether a recount can occur is yet to be heard, but this can be seen as part of a wider attempt by Mugabe to try to ensure that the 21 days in which the constitution states a run-off must occur after the election runs through, so that he can add to the confusion and attempt to seize the initiative.

There seems to be little we can do but wait...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Aftermath of Mugabe
Well, it now seems fact over speculation that Mugabe will haunt Southern Africa no more. With the parliamentary majority moving to the MDC, even if a presidential run-off occurs (the presidential results have not yet been officially released) in three weeks and Mugabe tricked his way into that, he would have little ability to impact policy, besides the use of his veto.

However, the prospect of a Mugabe win is now a distant possiblity anyway. If there was to be the need for a run-off, it is highly unlikely in the first place that Mugabe would contest. For a "fearless leader" such as himself to go through a run-off process in the full knowledge that he would be a lame duck president anyway would be an unbearable embarrassment for him. Secondly, it is much more likely that the people of Zimbabwe would see the change in voter sentiment and be emboldened by the MDC's parliamentary gains and vote overwhelmingly for Morgan Tsvangirai.

There are huge talks going on behind the scenes, apparently mediated by SA, between Zanu-PF and the MDC, and critically, between the MDC and the military. The military have long stated their willingness to keep Mugabe in power, and the threat of a military coup is evident. Much of the work SA has been doing is in convincing the military to step down and support the democratic process.

It is most likely then that Tsvangirai and the MDC will be in control of Zimbabwe very shortly, which despite the flaws of the MDC, is an oerwhelmingly positive result, and the end of an era for Zimbabwe, and for Southern Africa. There are massive aid packages being prepared by the global powers to pour money into Zimbabwe's coffers, all of which is a welcome sight for Southern Africa. It may relieve some of the immigration pressures on South Africa too, as many Zimbabweans return to rebuild their country and their lives.

After watching Mugabe destroy this once proud nation over the last two decades and particularly since 2000, it is an amazing transition to watch, and I can only imagine the joy felt by the majority of the Zimbabwean people.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Barney Berates Zuma
For those who don't know him, Barney Pityana packs some serious punch in terms of his political credibility. Pityana is a theologian and human rights activist, founding member of the South African Students' Organisation, South African Human Rights Commission chairman and an important figure in the Black Consciousness Movement with Steve Biko. So when he criticises, people listen. This is what he had to say about Jacob Zuma yesterday:
"To many of us, Jacob Zuma, popularly elected by the branch delegates at Polokwane in December 2007, remains a flawed character in his moral conduct; he has been indicted for serious crimes that involve corruption and dishonesty.

"So far he does not encourage confidence in his understanding of policy, appearing as he does in the short-term to be making policy pronouncements on the hoof depending on who he wishes to appease at any one moment.

"We have seen the leader flip-flop on crucial matters of policy -- the death penalty; silence when his supporters mount a savage and uninformed attack on the judges, ostensibly with his concurrence; the dance of backstep on the reform of the labour market, and so on."

"Anyone aspiring to become a head of state must understand the obligation that binds one to honour the spirit and the letter of the Constitution, to order their personal conduct as if it is an open constitutional text [and] to internalise its precepts as binding on one's life."

This is true of judges, ministers of state and others who hold public office.

Failure to do so will discredit the Constitution and erode an essential seal binding the nation, holding it together and inspiring confidence.

"That is the reason South Africans should be very concerned when the ANC Youth League confronts the deputy president of the Constitutional Court about remarks he is reported to have made at a private function, and the sentiment about the integrity and independence of judges that is thrown up, the effect of which is clearly to intimidate the judiciary.

"That is the reason that as a people we should be worried, very worried, when the integrity of judges is being put under question without justification."

"We should equally be concerned when sitting judges appear to be behaving in a manner that is calculated to undermine the honour due to and status of judges."

"Malcolm Gladwell, writing about the manner in which New York City turned around the scourge of crime on the streets ... warns against normalising criminal conduct, or mainstreaming deviance such that leaders by their conduct 'give permission' to others to behave likewise."