Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Friday, December 11, 2009

This Blog Has Moved
This blog has moved to my personal domain here. Please adjust bookmarks accordingly!

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lessons on the future of US Conservatism
Great piece in the Wall St Journal on the future of conservatism through the life of Bill Buckley, widely seen as the father of modern US Conservatism.

Buckley's brand of conservatism stood for capitalism and individualistic freedom, to the point where he sometimes took some bizarre positions which often flew in the face of the Republican party. (In the late 70's he called for the abandonment of anti-drugs laws, calling them "capricious and unenforceable" a position very far from that of the GOP.) He stood for a Conservatism that was inherent to a movement, not necessarily a political party, and his support of the strength of action over timidness are hallmarks of the modern GOP's foreign policy.

However, as the WSJ point out, his tenure as father of the movement, also has distinct lessons for a movement so out of touch with the modern America of Obama, lessons the Conservatives will have to heed as they try to re-imagine themselves to find some greater relevance.

For those, have a read of the piece here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

The ANC's election advert
With the DA focusing on a huge outdoor campaign to build their brand, the ANC has launched its television campaign as the pinnacle of their hard electioneering. See the ad below:

The DA has promised its TV ad soon, and I'll put that up as soon as I have it. Let me know your thoughts...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Desperation sets in...
The DA has taken legal action against the ANC in Mpumalanga for allegedly distributing fake DA pamphlets which in essence warn of the 'return of the Swart Gevaar'. The ANC has followed an incredibly successful strategy over the past five years of type-casting the DA as a racist party representing the white elite, so this allegation does have some traction.

Very similar allegations and legal action was taken in Southern US states during the recent US Presidential elections, where the Democrats accused the Republicans of using identical such methods. In South Africa though, if these were borne out as being legitimate allegations, this would reflect an ANC increasingly desperate to retain votes in an intensely bitter election campaign.

The ANC however, has much experience in dealing politically with the DA. The more interesting developments to watch will be the ANC campaign strategy against COPE. Up until present, the ANC's approach has been a mixture of animal metaphors, personal slurs and their denigration as an "angry washed-up elite". The elevation of COPE presidential candidate, Mvume Dandala, may well give them some more ammunition, given his relative obscurity in South African politics. I would imagine that Dandala will have a tough time fighting his corner in the coming two months.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Your country needs you!
When South Africa goes to the polls in the general election on April 22nd, it will be one of the most interesting days in South Africa's political history. In undoubtedly the most highly contested election since '94, the stakes are markedly high, and the election will give a hugely important signal into the next two decades of socio-economic governance.

The electorate of South Africa has the opportunity to be heard, either to support the current path of the country, or to change it. None of this can happen without your vote, and as a nation, we need to attach much greater significance to our individual ballot. Huge tracts of our population suffered greatly to allow you to cast your vote in a free society, and that demands greater respect. As Plato said, the price of apathy towards public affairs is to be ruled by evil men. So, if you're concerned about the current leadership of the country, then step out of your apathy. If you're happy with it, your franchise is equally as important.

So get involved. But, more importantly, get armed with knowledge to make an educated vote. Take an interest in political parties, which could potentially be your new guardians. Read the major parties' 2009 election manifestos here:

The ANC 2009 Manifesto
The COPE 2009 Manifesto
The DA 2009 Manifesto
The IFP 2009 Manifesto

Let no-one complain about the state of the nation, if he or she has not cast his or her vote to have a say in the future. I share less of the worries of many of my peers around the incumbent ANC governance, but I carry much greater concern for the apathetic attitude that is encroaching our electorate.

"The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush," said Robert M. Hutchins, "it will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

COPE Policy Documents
COPE's Mpumalanga office recently released draft policy documents for the party, which make for very interesting reading. COPE calls itself a "progressive party" and espouses a "New Way" - very reminiscent of the Labour Party's similarly named, and very successful, major policy shift under Tony Blair.
Ours is the New Way. We acknowledge that the past has shaped the character of our nation today and we draw inspiration from the proud history of the liberation struggle. We are, however, not be held hostage to the past. The many sacrifices of the past inspire us to selfishly guard the democratic space so that all voices can be heard and that together, as a nation, we can achieve our common goal of building a non-racial, prosperous and democratic country. COPE aims to build a patriotic nation, united in its common goal to achieve democracy and prosperity. We aim to progress beyond past divisions and to give concrete meaning to the ideals enshrined in our Constitution so that a covenant arises between the people and their government.

COPE’s agenda is a progressive programme with a clear ideological, political and social policy programme.

What is COPE’s Progressive Ideology?

COPE’s subscribes to a modern ideological framework of progressivism.
What is Progressivism? Progressivism can be contrasted with conservatism and classical liberalism. It commits to a number of values and principles: human rights, social justice, sustainability, democracy, human development, rule of law at home and abroad, equality, solidarity, partnership, and international rule.
Progressives vehemently reject oppression and violations of human rights and threats to democracy.
Progressives do not support and defend narrow nationalism, but promote solidarity amongst groups, races; nations and states.
Principles and values are complemented through well-thought out policies. Progressives place huge emphasis on non-state actor participation. It is not just state and market, but state, market and civil society. In fact, progressives are committed to engagement.
Progressives believe in strong national, regional, continental, and international institutions.
For a party of such democratic significance in South Africa, these documents are well worth a read.

Huge apologies for the lack of posts recently, it's been a crazy end to the year. Hopefully January will bring more words!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Lighting a fire under the DA
It seems that COPE is doing great things for the DA. Now that their mantle of Official Opposition is under threat, they're finally cleaning house and doing the things that they should have done a decade ago.

My biggest gripe with the DA has been their focus - most acutely under Tony Leon - of sniping at the heels of the ANC at every turn, whilst at the same time offering a bare cupboard of alternative policy proposals. Since COPE has entered the arena, the DA has relaunched the party image, refocused their slogans and proposals, and is finally communicating policy directly to the electorate.

The latest has been their healthcare policies, which they released today:
International experience showed the most effective health care delivery model to be a partnership between the state and private sector, DA spokesperson Mike Waters told a media briefing to launch the party's health policy document.

Under a DA government, a first priority would be to open up a tender process for managing those hospitals not delivering according to required standards.

This tender process would be open to any group of individuals in the public or the private sector able to meet the requirements, including a proven track record in hospital management.

Anyone awarded a tender to manage a public hospital would be funded by the state on a per-patient basis for providing health care, and rigorous performance criteria would be applied to ensure quality.

This would go hand in hand with a more decentralised model of health care administration, which would give hospital managers the powers they currently lacked to manage their hospitals effectively, he said.

Two key responsibilities for the state in terms of the DA's plans would be ensuring the availability of medicines and a supply of enough doctors and nurses to meet demands.

The DA proposed that the state involve pharmacies in a more grass-roots system for distributing medicines, so that patients at state hospitals were able to collect their medicines directly from their local pharmacy rather than waiting days or hours in a queue at a state hospital.

Waters said the critical shortage of medical professionals should be confronted head-on with a dynamic campaign to both increase the number of doctors and nurses available to the health system and make conditions attractive enough to ensure they stayed.

Among other things, the DA proposed a system whereby doctors in the private sector conducted a certain number of hours of pro bono work in the public sector every year, as some lawyers were currently required to do.

"We also propose a SADC [Southern African Development Community] health workers' protocol, to allow for the ethical recruitment of health staff from neighbouring countries, an international recruitment drive, and the classification of health worker skills as scarce skills to increase the number of foreign-qualified doctors and nurses we are able to employ."

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Noami Klein on the bailout
Strap yourself in, you know it's going to be a wild ride!
And the folks at Morgan Stanley? They're planning to pay themselves $10.7 billion this year, much of it in bonuses — almost exactly the amount they are receiving in the first phase of the bailout. "You can imagine the devilish grins on the faces of Morgan Stanley employees," writes Bloomberg columnist Jonathan Weil. "Not only did we, the taxpayers, save their company...we funded their 2008 bonus pool."

It didn't have to be this way. Five days before Paulson struck his deal with the banks, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown negotiated a similar bailout — only he extracted meaningful guarantees for taxpayers: voting rights at the banks, seats on their boards, 12 percent in annual dividend payments to the government, a suspension of dividend payments to shareholders, restrictions on executive bonuses, and a legal requirement that the banks lend money to homeowners and small businesses.

In sharp contrast, this is what U.S. taxpayers received: no controlling interest, no voting rights, no seats on the bank boards and just five percent in dividend payouts to the government, while shareholders continue to collect billions in dividends every quarter. What's more, golden parachutes and bonuses already promised by the banks will still be paid out to executives — all before taxpayers are paid back.

No wonder it took just one hour for Paulson to convince all nine CEOs to accept his offer — less than seven minutes per bank. Not even the firms' own lawyers could have drafted a sweeter deal.

Read the entire piece here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

DA sees the light...
This day has been a long long time coming and I can honestly say that I am really interested in this step that the DA has taken to open up the party. I have long bemoaned both the fact that the DA has remained a "white privilege" party and the lost chances that availed themselves after Tony Leon's departure. The DA though, seemingly only at the threat of losing their official opposition status to the COP, have finally decided to undertake some introspection and to review the position and future of the party with relation to the electorate that it targets.

The DA has failed in the past decade to be a true opposition, merely falling into the all-to-easily dismissible trap of biting at the ANC's heels and reacting to ANC decisions rather than setting a true alternative for policy development. The ANC has communicated policy so poorly to the South African electorate, but the DA chose not to take advantage of this, rather diving into petty squabbles and rhetorical debates at any opportunity.

This weekend, according to Helen Zille, the party will 'relaunch' itself, after "an internal process of self-examination... an assessment of how the DA presented itself and how it was perceived by voters, given the effects of a divided past":
The DA had long been aware that wooing black voters was the only way to increase its share of the vote, but had struggled to get its message heard.

"The DA has significant potential among voters who share our values but who have not historically supported us," Zille said.

New research commissioned by the party showed voters of all races were looking for a political re-alignment, where parties and people sharing the same values came together to forge an open society with equal opportunities, "as opposed to a closed, patronage-driven society under the ANC".

"We are determined to do whatever possible to overcome these barriers, transcend race and enable all South Africans who share our values to give us their support," Zille said.

The party will fight elections next year with an important trump card: its track record in governing Cape Town since the 2006 local government elections saw the ANC forced to make way for a DA-led multi-party coalition.

The DA aims to rule the country by 2014, which may be a decade or two too soon for the electorate, but I applaud their review nonetheless. Not to see what this re-imagined DA looks like...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Palin thought South Africa was a province of the country, Africa

Hmmmm, a heartbeat away from the Presidency?

Read here...

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

ANC will remain centrist
Whilst I posted previously that a concern with the formation of the new Shikota party is that it may push the ANC further left, the Business Day has an opposing view, which does make a lot of sense:
Economists say the founding of a viable new opposition party by ANC dissidents is likely to put pressure on the ruling party to deliver on its pledges.

However, it may also prompt the ANC to do more to keep the support of business leaders and an expanding black middle class, which its market-friendly economic policies helped create.

“The key concern — ahead of the formation of this political party — was whether it would lead to an exodus of centrists from the ruling ANC,” said Razia Khan, regional Africa research head at Standard Chartered.

“While that is certainly a possibility ... we do not yet see it as the main risk”. Leading “centrists” who remain in the ANC include Mathews Phosa, its treasurer, and prominent businessmen such as Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, Khan says. By the same token, Willie Madisha, the former president of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), has joined the new party.

Cosatu and the South African Communist Party (SACP) are the left-wing allies of the ANC, so Madisha is not an ideological “centrist” even though he lost his post over his support for former president Thabo Mbeki.

When Mbeki was axed in September, the initial perception in financial markets was that if a new political party was formed, it would drain supporters who had backed prudent economic policies.

Read the entire piece here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

New dawn or false dawn?
Lekota's moves over the past week have been very interesting to follow, but his future remains very much a murky mist. While it would be fantastic for our longer term democratic foundation, there are two key issues that dampen my optimism about Lekota's new party.

The first is that this is a party very much formed out of anger. Whilst many people are championing Lekota's cause publicly, South African elections are not won in October, and there is a long way to go before Lekota can claim a true electoral following. Initially there will be much interest, but Lekota and his leadership will need to prove that they can present policies that reflect the needs and wants of his new voting constituency. There is not much time for him to present his case, and he will have to work incredibly hard with his leadership to form this policy platform.

The second carries a more ominous short-term warning. What many people don't extrapolate in their hope for Lekota's party being a true opposition, is that if successful, it will remove a largely moderating force from within the ANC's leadership in the labour-business battle for the party's soul. If this split is as pronounced as the media is purporting it to be, then many of those on the right of the ANC, including many of the pro-business NEC members, will make moves across. Whilst one would imagine that you will still have Ramaphosa and Sexwale in that upper echelon, the loss of many of these pro-business leaders may well leave a vacuum within the NEC that can very easily be exploited by the left.

It will take much longer for Lekota to build his constituency within the wider electorate than it will for him to gain disgruntled or pro-Mbeki leaders from the ANC. In this interim period, while much of the electorate will remain faithful to the ANC whilst it assesses Lekota's party, we may see a gap exploited by the left. Whilst Lekota's party may well take away the two thirds majority for the ANC,the ruling party will remain in power in April, and policy shifts may occur.

As I've said, any moves to reduce the single-party dominance of our democracy and to negate the current hubris of the party is a great thing for our democracy. It just seems to me that some people are getting ahead of themselves about the prospects. Time will tell, but anger alone doesn't win elections. Just ask Thabo Mbeki...

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Irony of SA's Financial Regulations
While South Africa is experiencing markedly less turmoil than the rest of the international markets, it seems almost ironic that many commentators and business luminaries are crediting (no pun intended!) our rather constrictive financial regulations as the antecedent.

Most of these commentators have spent their last few years deriding these same regulations and wishing for a more open financial market. But in this current collapse, exchange control regulations and the National Credit Act have gone a long way to insulating our economy from the worst of it.

Johan Rupert gave a speech yesterday in which he said that "South Africa can be thankful that foreign exchange controls precluded local investment institutions from participating in the kind of investments that caused major international financial institutions to buckle in recent months."

Earlier in the week, David Shapiro attributed some of the self-same protection from sub-prime lending instruments to the National Credit Act. Even though the Act only came into being in June, just before the sub-prime crisis hit, it was in the works for years, and mortgage companies particularly had heeded its imminent passing. The Act holds us in good stead during this crisis and beyond.

Monday, October 06, 2008

New York Times not loving SA
The NY Times carried a none too positive article on SA on the front page of its site this morning. The article notes all of the negativity surrounding the socio-political environment of our homeland, from both a non-white and white perspective. It's sobering reading and does us no favours at a time when we're all looking for positive reinforcement.

I remain optimistic. Politically the Motlanthe appointment over Mbete has taken much heat out of the situation. Motlanthe is the best man for the job right now, (and after April), and should calm the storm. Government is also very aware of 2010 and what a moment it is for South Africa, and behind closed doors, many politicans have been expressing the need to bring immediate calm to the socio-political landscape and start to bring more positivity to South Africa. The poor and marginalised should benefit from this position in the short to medium term, and there should be a much more focussed effort post-Mbeki to keep negativity out of the SA consciousness. Hopefully this should translate in more action, better service delivery and more political maturity.

I'll throw something out there too, there is still much water to flow between now and April, and Zuma, in my view, is still not a dead lock for the Presidency. That may be contrary to everything that one sees and hears in the media, but I'm still not convinced that he has the full support of the entire party. Should a split happen (I remain doubtful), then his chances go significantly up, but should the party remain intact, there may be a compromise - and that would be Motlanthe.