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Forgive the dearth of postings here … I was brought low by some late winter dreaded lurgy and as a result my life came to grinding halt for almost two weeks.

The big story (which I will deal with later today or tomorrow)  is the astonishingly decisively manner in which the ANC and its government is blocking Cosatu on a whole range of policy issues … immediately prior to an election.

Later today I will  attempt to assess whether the medium-term budget policy statement holds the same line, particularly with regard to the public sector wage bill. If it does then I am going to have to start reassessing whether Jacob this-isn’t-some-African-shithole Zuma is quite as soft-in-the-middle on policy as I have previously asserted. The implications of the putatively shifting position are huge and, I suspect, driven by a complex and contradictory set of factors.

Meanwhile here is an excerpt from my weekly news commentary describing the rising decibels and pitch of the moan coming from business and its representatives (and from financial markets in general) around policy, especially policy related to the labour market. The ascending pitch and loudness of the whine are undoubtedly two of the factors pushing Zuma’s showdown with Cosatu – but I think it would be premature to think of the president’s actions as primarily about bowing down to business and the diktats of global capital markets.

South Africa deteriorating investment destination

Complaints about South Africa’s hostile policy environment are getting louder.

Pepkor chairman Christo Wiese added his voice to a chorus complaining about a hostile investment environment in South Africa. In other African countries “infrastructure is improving, border crossings are becoming easier, more property development is taking place and, in some cases, they are offering more opportunities.” But in South Africa government is “certainly not cooperative” and “one is left with the impression that government sees business as the opposition, not as a partner … you can’t have German rules because we can’t administer them,”

The wizened and iconoclastic Christo Wiese held up Angola, Nigeria and, especially, Rwanda as improving business destinations. South Africa’s labour regime, according to Wiese, is becoming one of the greatest inducements to invest in other African countries. (Wiese was quoted in an interesting interview with Chris Barron in the Sunday Times 22/10/2013 – here’s a link to the republished article in Business Day … Barron is always interesting and not to be missed in your weekly news read.)

Wiese’s comments came soon after Moody’s Investor Services said in a credit opinion on 12 October that South Africa’s elevated strike activity continues to affect the investment climate. “BMW’s announcement that South Africa has been removed for consideration for the new car is tangible evidence of the negative impact that the increase in work days lost to strikes in the past two years is likely to pose for the medium-term outlook of the economy … Such decisions are likely to be repeated by other companies when such significant losses are incurred -” Bloomberg and Moody’s Credit Opinion 12/10/2013.

In the same week Amplats CEO Chris Griffith said (after the company was again battered by strikes) that it “is not possible that we can continue with these kinds of strikes, which are having an effect not only on the mining sector but all sectors of the economy. It’s hurting the economy … It is impacting jobs” – Business Day 16/10/2013.

From extensive plans to cut 230,000ozs of achievable platinum as well as 14 000 jobs announced in January this year, Amplats appears to have been steadily successfully bullied back by unions, government and the ANC from doing what it initially intended.

Read against South Africa’s scores in the recent WEF Global Competitiveness Report 2013 – 2014 (click here for a full copy) some of this anxiety seems justified. While South Africa is ranked 53rd this year out of 148 countries, the quality of the educational system is very poor at 146th, as was labour market efficiency at 116th – and ‘hiring and firing practices’ and ‘wage flexibility’ at 147th and 144th respectively. The ability of the employer to respond quickly to changing production needs for skills and size of workforce is called ‘labour market flexibility’- and aggregating our performance in these categories suggests a serious deficit compared with our peers.

Okay, so that sets the background for a follow-on post (today or tomorrow) dealing with the now unavoidable conclusion that Zuma’s government appears to be risking the wrath of its left-wing allies with regard to a range of policy measures. The important question to answer is ‘why’ is the ANC drawing the line? And why now?

 

I am in Serbia on a social visit and I thought I would record here some of my initial observations about stuff we might learn from this country about some aspects of SA politics and culture.

Cultural Betrayal

Firstly, I am in Belgrade – a city of 1.6 million people built on the confluence of the Danube and the Sava – and a peculiar mixture of modern flash, Soviet-era bland and medieval tatty. The scars of the Nato bombings are still dramatically evident in a sort of carefully preserved tableau, a series of monuments to that seminal betrayal, that you can’t miss on your way in from the airport

Serbian/Yugoslav Army HQ? Taken a few minutes ago (thanks Jaimo) – I will double-check what the building’s original function was … before it (and a few of its neighbours) were bombed on May 1 1999, becoming (permanent?) monuments to Western perfidy

Why betrayal? Because everyone my age here has the same (as me)  … memealogy? (okay, I made it up – memes are cultural genes and you can work it backwards from genealogy). The cultural literacy is all Rolling Stones, Sam Peckinpah, Bruce Springsteen, Warren Zevon, The Alien, Bob Dylan, The Beatles and Billy Joel (you dredge up the cultural icon from the 60s, 70’s and 80’s and I bet I share it with Serbians of an appropriate age – except they are more culturally literate. Interestingly, just like in Yugoslavia, in SA we got this stuff a few years late – in SA because of apartheid and National Party awfulness, in Yugoslavia because of a slightly different set of transgressions.)

… and then one day their beloved Americans and English cultural tutors bombed them and killed the firemen trying to save people from the buildings – ostensibly to stop some new, particularly ugly, transgressions. Oh the treachery, the faithlessness …

Ethnic uniformity

The second thing that strikes me is the populace is ethnically identical. They are all white. There are no black people, no Arabic looking people; no any kind of people who are in any way different looking from what I think of as Slavic – which is just a minute variation on your bog standard white person – the men with chiseled features and the women with unusually long legs and everyone with white skin … not olive or dusky or anything, but white – in the old Apartheid conception of the skin colour.

“The city was more cosmopolitan”, my Serbian friend tells me, “before the disaster of Slobodan Milošević – before then you could see more  Croats, Bosnians, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Muslims, Slovaks …”

We are wandering down a medieval street crammed with crowds of handsome young people. I ask him to show me some individual examples of these groups that survived the virtual and literal ethnic cleansing that accompanied the collapse of Yugoslavia.

His attempt seems half-hearted, even dispirited.

“Hmm maybe she is Croat,” he says indicating a woman flicking through some blouses at a street kiosk. She is one of the tall, long-legged, light-brown haired, chiseled cheek-boned and haughty beauties that shoal in these alleys, as ubiquitous as sardines at the right time in Durban.

“Ok, maybe not” he shrugs as I frown at him in confusion.

We finally manage to agree that “those gypsies” selling knock-off Ray-Bans look ethnically dissimilar to the majority. But to me  it’s a margin call – any one of them could have been my old ‘Leb’ Catholic chinas in the Johannesburg of my youth; definitely ‘white’ under apartheid’s racial taxonomy.

Remember it took the terror of ethnic cleansing to create this level of uniformity, but even before that, in the old Yugoslavia, the full range of ethnic diversity could have been encompassed by the differences between, say Rafael Nadel and Charlize Theron …

Let’s compare monstrous barbarisms

Everyone here above a certain age seems haunted by what happened after the collapse of Yugoslavia. You would think that this lot would be immunised to bombs, betrayals, racial and religious purging and radical disjuncture in their social organisation.

It started with the Celts invading  the “Paleo-Balkan tribes” in 50 000 BCE  (okay, I’m exaggerating) who in their turn were replaced by an endless Roman occupation; sacked by Attila the Hun in 442 and then one thousand five hundred years of bloody, impossible to follow conquest, resistance, sacking, rapine, pillage … I could go on and on. It was the Byzantines, the Franks, the Bulgarians, the Kingdom of Hungary, the Crusades, the Serbian Empire (briefly) the Hungarians again, the Ottomans (for five hundred years! … and yes, they did persecute the Christians but not half as badly as the Christians did to almost anyone of any other faith during the Crusades … and there are a whole lot of beautiful and ancient churches that the Ottoman-Turk conquerors and rulers left standing) and the Austrians.

And of course, that is only before the First World War, and as you know all the important stuff happened since then.

I know our African and South African histories are important and it is appropriate that we wrestle as long as it takes – which will be forever, obviously – with the ongoing consequences of slavery, colonialism and apartheid.

But being here does tempt me to wish my countrymen and women had a slightly less myopic view of our own trials and tribulations.  I read this morning that Belgrade is trying to scrape together the finances to build a memorial to Judenlager Semlin, the largest German-run concentration camp in Southeast Europe where in May 1942 the Nazi’s proudly announced one of their first major European campaign successes: Serbia was “Judenfrei”. The men had been executed earlier, but the last 7000 Jewish women and children were killed in the camp in the first few months of 1942.

By May Serbia was Judenfrei.

And this is not a The Holocaust trumps all kind of statement – I just mention it  in the context of the previous 2000 years of European history. The Germans might have achieved a unique scale with their technological and organisational excellence, but the great rivers of cruelty and tears are old, deep and cold here and they flow through every valley of this geography – and not only to and from the mighty lake that was The Holocaust.

The Economy and the European Debt Crisis

The Serbian economy has hit the wall and the government is trying to decide on a balance between cutting public sector wages and salaries by about 6% and increasing VAT to about 22%. The options are limited and there is an absolute consensus that extremely hard times have arrived. This is the European debt crises writ slightly smaller – because Serbia is not part of the European Union.

But what I see are people eating and drinking in restaurants – and partying as hard and as healthily as it gets.

There are almost no beggars – and those that there are are obviously professionals with studied acts:

  • the near-sighted (with ridiculously cute thick glasses) slightly retarded child playing – very badly – the violin, every item of clothing and scuff on his thick medical black shoes a carefully choreographed act that everyone consents to and ignores.
  • An old hunched-backed crone, her nose not six inches from the floor, tapping along on a short, gnarled staff, an arthritis crippled hand held out blindly above her … I am convinced she is a 22-year-old actress who couldn’t find a waitressing job.

The point is there are none of the streams of dead-eyed, exhausted people searching and researching the refuse; people you will find in any South African city. There is a medieval character to Belgrade, which means there are a million nooks and crannies and little hollows in ancient buildings and monuments everywhere. In South Africa those would all be occupied – where they were fenced, the fences would be broken and tunneled under – there would be evidence that someone was eking out an existence in every hollow, in every gap.

But here, nothing.

Sure, there is an occasional drunk sleeping on a park bench, but that is pretty much as bad as it gets. I have absolutely no doubt that I am not seeing the whole picture and certainly there are large areas of the city with awful Soviet-era council housing-type tenements, covered for 10 metres from street level with graffiti that looks to me just like Cape Town’s gang signs.

In South Africa we feel like we are bursting out of our seams, with the poor competing intensely for the leavings of the rich and thereby driving some kind of desperate but highly energetic economy. Here it feels older and emptier, certainly dowdy in places, but calm and stoic.

Everyone has time for a coffee and a rakia.

Don’t get me wrong. These people descend from women who have thrown their babies onto invader’s spears; their forefathers and mothers have eaten dogs and rats and stones to stave off the inevitable rape and slaughter that awaits the fall of the castle walls; they have catapulted the last live chickens at their enemies who have besieged them for years, and successfully convinced the invaders to just give up and go home.

So I  am not exactly saying that this is tired old Europe with nothing left to do but casually sip a coffee in the shade, sneering at the inevitable heat death that comes with impossible debt, dipping personal income and stagnant growth – of the economy and the population.

I am also not exactly saying that we are fresh and chaotic and ready to burst onto the global stage with the vigour and desperate energy of youth.

But there’s something in there, some little kernel or nugget – maybe a hope that I haven’t quite allowed myself to feel yet …

But it’s mid-afternoon and so hot that it is impossible to process this any further. Time for my first rakia and 4th double espresso – I’ll think about this tomorrow.

The frenzied symphony of incompetence, pomposity, imperiousness and hysteria that the press, the Mandela family, Graça Machel and the Nelson Mandela Trust managed to produce around the mobile sickbed of the former president gives a small hint of things to come. (I personally enjoyed Peter Bruce’s comments – catch those here.)

Clearly when the Old Man finally goes, as he must, this country will initially be bathed in a blinding light and then buried in mountains of obscuring verbiage taller and wider than those that cover the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre, the US invasions of Iraq and Global Warming combined.

It is only the usually skittish financial markets that seemed to take the old man’s health with equanimity.

Here is my Thursday last week’s comment. (This from a piece destined for a paying client but which never made it, but also based on a previous post of mine discussing the “meaning” of the old man’s 91st birthday).

The price of one man’s health

For those who comment on South African financial markets, the national concerns about Nelson Mandela’s health – and his actual health – should be considered “investment neutral”.

But all that shows is that financial markets do not list the price of everything.

Nelson Mandela is the last symbolic link to the full ambit of the struggle of all Africans, but black South Africans in particular, to free themselves from colonialism and Apartheid.

Crucially, he is also the symbolic representative of the compromises and tolerance that characterised the negotiations from 1990 and the election in 1994.

If that was not enough for the symbol to carry, Nelson Mandela’s 27 years in prison and his calm forbearance have come to represent for many throughout the world the manifestation of the human spirit in its best possible form.

With each passing moment Mandela’s death is closer and this gives focus to anxiety about South Africa’s future – but also to anxieties about the world, about the predation of humans on each other and on the planet.

Our feelings about the lives and deaths of “great” men and women allow us an emotional link to the grand scope of the history we live in and through.

The death of Pope John Paul II and of Diana Spencer gave a sense of how, in the age of celebrity, the so-called ‘general public’ becomes emotionally connected to the grand human drama that can usually only be understood a long time afterwards and at many degrees of abstraction.

Nelson Mandela’s death will be such a moment for humanity, because it will represent the drawing together of important threads of the last several hundred years of human history.

The point, however, for the investment specialist in South African financial markets is that little will change in South Africa with the passing of the man. The real running of the country and the dealing in the compromises between the old South Africa and the new, has long moved on from Nelson Mandela.

It has now become a truism that even in his last years as president Nelson Mandela was already more important as a symbol than as a politician and statesman.

When he dies there will be real and visceral grief from comrades, friends and citizens who have participated with him in the struggles for African liberation. I imagine too, that throughout the world there will be an unprecedented outpouring of emotion that will elevate the symbol even higher than the man.

South Africa, for one last time, will be bathed in light and the centre of puzzled global attention – as it often has been since the formal beginnings of Grand Apartheid in the late 40’s and early 50’s.

It is impossible to say whether the current bout of ill-health will lead immediately to the death of Nelson Rolihlahla  Mandela.

But when he does die, which is only a matter of time, the South African financial markets – the currency, the equities, the bonds and products that derive from these – are unlikely to falter.

But that only tells us one thing: that the ticker tape does not list the price of every important thing.

Sunday’s Kampala (capital city of Uganda) bombings during the World Cup finals in a rugby club and a restaurant where people had gathered to watch the match were important for too many reasons to name here – although the tragic human suffering, with the death toll standing at 76,  must rank first.

For those who might have any doubt about the political and other importance of  the attacks, apparently by Somalia’s al Shabaad, look at the map.

The failed Somalian state is the point from which destabilisation cascades any direction; southwards into Africa and northwards and eastwards into the Gulf of Aden and the Middle East.

This blog discussed various security concerns associated with the World Cup, imagining the worst while recalling horrors at the 1974 summer Olympics in Munich and the attacks at the Champions League Twenty20 cricket in Mumbai in 2008.

The point I made then was that a myriad groups – including international terrorists – would try to use the focus on the World Cup to get their cause noticed.

Kampala is probably being punished for its 2700 soldier deployment into the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia (AMISOM). The region’s politics are extraordinarily complicated, but on the face of it the bombings should probably be understood as an attempt to use the World Cup focus to make maximum impact.

I don’t really have time for this, but the moment seems to insist. So:

I awoke this morning to a world framed as if by an immortal hand or eye.

The bludgeoning to death of Eugène Terre’Blanche together with the Zimbabwe public display by Julius Malema feels like a tableau arranged by a naughty god with idle hands.

Here’s the shape of it:

  • Malema, on a Zanu-PF platform, admires the seizure of white owned farmland and sings “kill the boer” – catch his words here. This is on a Zanu-PF platform. That party spent much of the 1980’s ransacking the liberation pantry. Just as the last few goodies were being looted and eaten by the engorged Zanu-PF fat cats popular discontent started to escalate and began focusing itself on the ruling party. With no wealth left to buy off the masses, the Zanu-PF cronies turned to what was left of the productive economy: the commercial farming sector. The land was largely white owned.  Zanu-PF orchestrated the forceful invasion and seizure of the farms and commercial agriculture and foreign earnings collapsed.
  • Terre’Blanche, who infamously, and almost on a whim, beat a black man into permanent brain damage,  is an icon of white supremacy – much diminished now and something of a joke; but undoubtedly sanctified by the manner of his death (it appears he was killed by young black labourers over a dispute about money). Already there is noise of a white backlash – although it is too early to say whether this should be taken seriously or not.

I don’t really need to say anything more. This story tells itself and it has its own energy … except perhaps it should be mentioned that Jacob Zuma has just attempted to mediate between the MDC and Zanu-PF – the history of Zanu-PF’s violent attempts to crush the MDC refers. Julius Malema is the President of the ANC Youth League – and I suspect someone more important and threatening than he first appears, as I argue here. Jacob Zuma is the president of the ANC and of the country and the SADC negotiator between the MDC and Zanu-PF … and Julius Malema refused to see the MDC while he was in Zimbabwe.

The local state – its politicians, agenda and bureaucracy, is under popular attack

It is starting to be whispered that there is a “hidden hand” in the service delivery protests*.

The problem (of the protests) is serious and threatening and government is starting to worry about high-profile violence during the World Cup.

These protest share a strong crossover constituency and architecture with the xenophobic violence that occurred May 2008. At that time, Thabo Mbeki’s spooks argued that a hidden hand was at work – in one bizarre version Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation was fingered as triggering the violence to punish the Mbeki government for some impenetrably Byzantine set of motivations.

This time around the speculation is that the spreading protests have something to do with Alliance tensions i.e. the conflict (endlessly discussed in these columns) is fueling service delivery protests – I suppose that would mean either the ANCYL or Cosatu/SACP using popular discontent against the sitting council dominated by either the leftists of the nationalists respectively.

To argue that Alliance tensions is the (or even a) main driver is a bit of a stretch. The protesters themselves foreground slow delivery of housing and the whole gamut of services (toilets, sewerage, water, refuse , telecommunications, roads) but also have a sharp focus on corruption, maladministration, nepotism – and therefore, indirectly, on cadre deployment.

From M&G – Modderfontein Road in Ivory Park after service delivery protests

The protests appear to be coordinated. They have similar beginnings: “elders” – or the moral equivalent –  meet in a town hall to discuss grievances; they decide to march to the municipal offices in the town centre; they carry placards about Eskom, housing, corrupt council officials; on the way they are joined by youth and the unemployed, and the march swells; somewhere near the edge of the town centre police stop the now more threatening and chaotic march; stones are thrown and rubber bullets fired; the protest breaks into smaller groups and spreads; councilors and council property are targeted and running skirmishes with the police occur over a few days; the ANC sends a SWAT team to the area and this team either moves against the council or stands firm against “anarchic” and “violent” protesters. At any point during this process the attention of the mob can turn to the foreigners – Zimbabweans, Malawians, Somalians , Mozambicans, Angolans, Nigerians and those from the DRC.

It has become something of a legend and commonly accepted “fact” by foreigners living in South African townships that post the World Cup and in the lead-up to the local government elections in 2011 the xenophobic violence will erupt on a scale beyond anything that has happened in the past.

The Davies-J Curve – the real hidden hand behind the violence

One of the reasons the government and the intelligence agencies are suspicious about the violence is that it occurs always in municipalities where there has been a degree of successful service delivery. The violence does not seem to happen in areas that are absolutely poor and unserved and have remained so for some time.

Interestingly this is precisely the situation predicted by US sociologist working in the late 1950’s, James C Davies. His theory is that rising expectations is related to the possibility of armed conflict but only when rising expectations – brought about by, for example, some degree of service delivery – meets a downturn. His theory became known as the Davies J-curve.

What happens is that when material and other conditions are improving, expectations rise faster than the individuals own situation. The system seems to be able to cope with this, except when there is a downturn of some kind – this is the sharply curved “Reality” line in the diagramme above.

This predictive framework (usefully discussed by the Centre for Security Studies here) almost perfectly mirrors what has happened in townships and poor municipalities since 1994. The violence seems to spike in early winter and it seems to be concentrated in areas that have had by-elections. In general it seems to be at its worst after national local government elections.

We must assume that in the lead up to such elections the ruling party and its councils push service delivery and the promise of service delivery. After the elections delivery collapses.

Thus the expectations are on an ascending path as the reality of delivery veers sharply downwards.

Violence results and often the weakest and poorest are both the victims and perpetrators of that violence.

* Orange Farm, Sedibeng, Siyathemba township in Balfour, Leandra, Lesilie, Oogies, Accornhoek near Bushbuckridge, Chochocho near White River in Mpumalanga, Protea-Glen, Dobsonville-Gardens in Soweto, Ennerdale in Fine Town, Reiger Park in the East Rand, Parys, Diepsloot, Attridgeville and Mamelodi – all names of service delivery protest hotspots culled from recent press reports. While I cannot place all these towns on a map (and am not even sure that some are not colloquial names for the same place) it seems clear that there is an unfolding crisis of governance in many of South Africa’s 283 municipalities , especially in the poorest, semi-rural communities.

Could IBM, Fujitsu, Ford, General Motors , Rheinmetall and Daimler be guilty of “knowing participation in and/or aiding and abetting of the crimes of apartheid; extrajudicial killing; torture; prolonged unlawful detention; and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”?

Should they be tried for this crime in a US federal court?

If they are found guilty should they jointly pay billions of dollars to a group of black South Africans who have brought the class action suit under the peculiarly named Alien Tort Claims Act in the New York federal court?

Here is a copy of the ‘Second Amended Complaint’ including a list of plaintiffs and defendants that is available on the Khulumani Support Group (an Apartheid victims support organisation) website. It spells out all the ways in which the plaintiffs believe each company or category of company became guilty of a crime by  bolstering, arming or funding the Apartheid regime. Note that since this time the list of defendants has been narrowed to those mentioned in the first paragraph of this post.

An interesting aspect of this fascinating drama is that Thabo Mbeki’s government openly opposed this case on the grounds:

  1. it threatened South Africa’s sovereignty to try such a matter in a  US court, especially because the much praised domestic negotiation  had agreed that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the binding forum and chosen process;
  2. it would discourage foreign investment.

Jacob Zuma, on the other hand, has removed government’s objections to the process and last year had Justice Minister Jeff Radebe write to the American court and tell it the South African government believed the US court to be “the appropriate” place in which to resolve the matter.

The Zuma regime was surprisingly joined by the Obama regime in endorsing the US court as the appropriate place for the motion to proceed. The amicus curiae brief the US government sent to the court is a useful summary of the facts of an extremely complicated matter and can be read in full here - I found the link on Simon Barber’s excellent “American Notes”  blog.

The go-ahead for the US court to hear the matter from both the US and the South African government is based primarily on the fact that while amnesty would have been the result of full participation in the TRC process, the defendants – and, in fact, most businesses operating in Apartheid South Africa – never participated in the process. Thus there was relatively minimal disclosure (at the TRC anyway) of business’ dealings with the Apartheid regime and hence no amnesty.

The founding myth of the Rainbow Nation is that we have dealt with the past and go into the future with knowledge and forgiveness. The case in the US federal court challenges this assumption and asks some extremely difficult questions that have consequences way beyond South Africa.

Here are some of the questions as I see them:

  1. The TRC process failed in a number of ways; will cases like this one help redress the failure, or will they undo the few successes – with regard to reconciliation and forgiveness – the TRC did have?
  2. The TRC process created a collective victim group and a collective perpetrator group in a way that allowed single people (including legal persons) to avoid carrying the can or receiving any significant compensation for Apartheid human rights abuses. Won’t legal processes with more clearly defined defendants and plaintiffs redress this?
  3. Won’t raking the muck of the past continue to cause conflict and division, especially between black and white South Africans in the present and the future?
  4. How does a publicly owned company that has operations across the globe assess risk associated with politics in the countries in which it operates – especially when oppressive governments are its direct clients and customers? Recent examples might include Nestle in Zimbabwe and Google in China.
  5. If the domestic government is not a customer, it still sets a regulatory environment that might make the company guilty of an offence if it complies with the law. Yes?
  6. Is disengagement from a particular country dominated by an oppressive government always the right approach?
  7. What does this say for domestic businesses?
  8. Should aspirant black business men and women have refused to accumulate capital in Apartheid South Africa – except as criminals?

The list of questions could probably go on ad-infinitum, but that will do as a start.

One thing you may have noticed I left off was the Mbeki government’s first objection based on the fact that such cases might deter foreign investment. Such cases might place more onerous due diligence requirements on any company that operates across borders and in countries where governments might become guilty of human rights abuses. No company is specifically going to punish an ANC led, democratic South Africa if a US court finds it culpable of bolstering the previous NP led Apartheid South Africa. It’s not logical and it is not in the company’s interests.

Having  just returned from an idyllic holiday, I am forced to take stock of what I missed …

The Communists versus the TenderCapitalists

A “TenderCapitalist” is not an over-sensitive entrepreneur. It is a South African person, much loathed by the communists,  who uses his or her  race and/or political connection to win tenders from the state or from private companies hoping to fulfil their BBBEE requirements or just hoping to suck up to the ANC. The South African Communist Party has made it clear it thinks the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is the ring-leader of this faction in the South African political economy.

The SACP conference and the booing of Julius Malema brought things to a head and throughout December and early January there has been something of a toing and froing between Julius Malema and Blade Nzimande.

The spat continued at the Slovo memorial in Soweto on Wednesday 6th of January when Nzimande said that “narrow African chauvinism” threatened Slovo’s non-racial vision and that the slogan: “liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular” should not be “corrupted into a narrow anti-white African chauvinism” – quoted in Independent Online.

A few days later at the ANC 98th birthday rally in Kimberley Julius Malema suggested that there were “super-revolutionaries” that wanted to “co-govern” with the ANC. On Sunday, in a statement apparently coordinated with Malema, Jacob Zuma said in an SABC interview that the ANC does not “co-govern” with any other party. In response Blade Nzimande, quoted in The Times, said:

I don’t know who coined the term. It’s people’s figment of their imagination. This issue is manufactured by people who are anti-communists.”

The stage is set; let the theatre commence.

The death of Tshabalala Msimang

Manto Tshabalala Msimang died on December 16 of complications from a liver transplant. Msimang was minister of health from 1999-2008 and presided over a period of health policy uncertainty that began with Thabo Mbeki’s insistence that there was no evidence that HIV causes AIDS. A committed revolutionary who went into exile in 1962 under orders from the then banned ANC, Manto Tshabalala Msimang died as government policy and practice around the HIV/AIDS epidemic finally started to achieve traction.

Matric pass rate drops – again

On Thursday last week education minister Angie Motshekga announced the matric results which showed a two percentage point decline in the already dismal pass rate to 60.6. This is the sixth successive year of drops. The figures are, on closer examination, even worse than they first appear. The science pass rate (those who got above 30%)  dropped about 15 percentage points to 36.8 and the maths pass rate remained unchanged at 46 percent. Nothing is better predictive of future prosperity than improving education outcomes. Nothing (obvious) is more predictive of future troubles, on a number of fronts, than the converse.

Attack on Togo soccer team at CAF in Angola

On Friday January 8th the bus carrying the Togo soccer squad to CAF fixtures into the Kabina enclave in the extreme north of Angola. Several officials and players were injured. Rebels in the Kabinda enclave have been at war since the early 60’s (firstly against the Portuguese and later against independent Angola which has insisted that the oil rich territory stay incorporated as part of the country).

The South Africans have insisted that any suggestion that the security situation in northern Angola is in any way similar to that expected to obtain at the World Cup in South Africa later in the year is ludicrous and possibly racist. However all national security officials will have been reminded how easy it is to target an international sporting event to get maximum coverage for your cause, as I argued here. Watch this space …

President Zuma moves (way) up in the popularity stakes

Sapa reports (on South Africa – The Good News – and in many other places) that Jacob Zuma has increased in popularity amongst all groups but most notably amongst Indians, Coloureds and Whites since last April’s election. It’s a surprise, but mostly a good one.

Well, here it comes.

The waves of terror and paranoia about deepest, darkest Africa are about to break on our shores.

And not just any kind of fear – more the  scaremongered kind generated by those whose job it is to sell protection.

Last night the global sporting media (BBC, SPC and AP) were awash with the following quote from Gunter Schnelle talking about 2010 in South Africa. Gunter is an operations director of BaySecur, the security company responsible for players and fans of the German Football Federation (DFB) for away games:

The possibility of the players going off-camp should be kept to an absolute minimum. In that case they should take the precaution of taking armed protection and wearing bullet-proof vests.

Hmm, perhaps the DFB can investigate technology for tainting the flesh and bones of German fans and players to make them less appetising to the lions and hyenas – to say nothing of the feral bands of cannibal children.

One shouldn’t sneer, but I cannot get down to my local supermarket without wading through throngs of delightful and happy Germans – and I have never seen one being gnawed on by the cannibals.

Jokes aside, South Africa’s crime rate – all kinds of crime, but especially crimes that entail significant violence – is the highest, or close to the highest,  in the world.

South Africa does not have the immediate terrorist threats that have done so much harm to international cricket in India and Pakistan, but being “the crime capital of the world”  we stand out in ways we wish we didn’t.

All this means is that those who sell protection and crime intelligence have a licence to print money when they are selling to foreigners who must travel to South Africa. It also means that those companies and “experts” are going to do everything they can to talk “up” the problem – because their bread and butter is linked to the punters being fearful.

I suppose the point is that the reality makes the security expert’s scaremongering an easy exercise.

Let’s see how that plays…

The Voice of America says US Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton, will, in her meeting with “senior South African officials” in Pretoria today:

  push South Africa to do more to counter embattled President Robert Mugabe’s negative effect on the Zimbabwe reform process.

South Africa under Thabo Mbeki would have bridled and gritted its teeth at the implied imperialist bullying. Word might have gone out that the USA was seeking regime change in South Africa through a delicate and implacable process of  setting Thabo Mbeki up for failure, by isolating the South Africans from the African fraternity, by undermining sovereignty …. oh, whatever! It was always impossible to understand Mbeki’s coded warnings about the shenanigans of the imperialists.

The point is, I suppose, Thabo Mbeki’s administration was deeply suspicious of the USA, the UK and of European intentions and actions in Southern Africa. The Movement for Democratic Change in Zimbabwe was constantly hinted to be a front for various combinations of imperialists interests, as were the Kroll trained Scorpions of the National Prosecuting Authority.

It would be naive to imagine that the CIA and MI5 do not have significant interests and intentions in Southern Africa – and some capacity to work towards their objectives. The subject of a later post will be the rise of intelligence services in the post 9/11 world in which the cyberuniverse contains endless information lodes that are both deposited and mined by these intelligence agencies.

But seriously, are we to think of whatever Hilary Clinton says today about South Africa and Zimbabwe and the role of Mad Bob and the MDC as part of a grand imperialist plan for our region?

The first answer is “no” because the USA and their intelligence services have demonstrated that 1.) they have bigger problems to worry about and Southern Africa without oil and without Muslim fundamentalists does not warrant that kind of attention; 2.) their intelligence capacity and ability to manipulate world affairs has been shown to be less formidable than one might have expected –  as revealed by that country’s endless bungling in the Middle-East.

The second answer is “yes’ (to the question: does the USA have a plan for this region?). As the world’s policeman the USA is obliged to have an opinion and a strategy about everything. Zimbabwe, while not very high on the list of concerns and objectives of US foreign policy does touch on several strands of US concern in the sub-continent. South Africa represents a major chunk of Africa’s GDP, Angola, with significant US oil interests, has the potential to be drawn into Zimbabwean affairs, Zimbabwe itself sits on the greatest unexploited Platinum reserves and China has a significant and growing interest in, and relationship with, the region. US foreign policy must ultimately focus on the long term and the long term is all about the containment of China.

But at another level it can be unproductive to comb everything that Clinton says today or fails to say for evidence of, and guides to, the deep strategic thinking of the Great Dragon. In diplomacy and the world of the spook the search for hidden meaning and intentions can become self-fulfilling. Clinton is settling into her office and Obama is still carving his role in the world and in Africa. These are not simple or obvious matters and there is undoubtedly a degree of exploration that still needs to take place before “grand strategies” can be unfurled.

I await further reports of her meeting with interest.

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities (Pty) Ltd.

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