You are currently browsing the monthly archive for August 2009.

Bad indicators in the direction of  trends in South African education and health  last week.

Very briefly:

Two recent studies reveal a low and/or deteriorating quality of matriculant entering university.   The national benchmarking test (NBT) tested 13000 first years at major SA universities and found only 43% proficient in academic literacy, 25% in quantitative literacy and, astonishingly, only 8% in maths. More worryingly a major study done yearly for the last ten years at traditionally Afrikaans speaking/teaching universities indicates a clear deterioration in academic readiness. (Note that while the NBT found absolutely poor levels of readiness the test is too new to establish a trend).

Secondly, Lancet, a highly respected international journal on health , published a special series on South Africa that indicated public health and the public health system was in serious trouble:

with the collision of four excessive health burdens: communicable disease (especially HIV/AIDS), noncommunicable disease, maternal, neonatal and child deaths and deaths from injury and violence.

The journal points out that:

Since 1994 life expectancy has reduced by almost 20 years – mainly because of the rise in HIV-related mortality – the average life expectancy at birth is now 50 years for men and 54 years for woman.

Devastatingly, the journal points out that there has been an increase in poverty and hunger as well as in child mortality since 1994.

Good public education and health are the best predictors of a country’s success. Effective investments in public health and public education are probably the most any government can do to change future developmental outcomes. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1989 taught us that the state can do a lot less than we hoped. The debt crisis and market crash we are experiencing is teaching that the state needs to do a lot more than it is doing. The South African state seems to be a special case: in the long term it will have to do more, but for now what it is urgently required is that it does better.

Paul Krugman tilts at the USA citizen’s default hostility to government. He argues that on health care policy and on banking regulation it is more government, not less, that is needed. Does the same apply in the South African case? I think the issues are significantly different, with the first task in South Africa being to fix dysfunctional government. However, in the USA as in South Africa, it is clear that left to its own devices ‘the market’ is  neither going to regulate itself nor solve the problems of inequality and lack of access to health care.

This was published in the New York Times on August 23.

All the President’s Zombies


The debate over the “public option” in health care has been dismaying in many ways. Perhaps the most depressing aspect for progressives, however, has been the extent to which opponents of greater choice in health care have gained traction — in Congress, if not with the broader public — simply by repeating, over and over again, that the public option would be, horrors, a government program.

Washington, it seems, is still ruled by Reaganism — by an ideology that says government intervention is always bad, and leaving the private sector to its own devices is always good.

Call me naïve, but I actually hoped that the failure of Reaganism in practice would kill it. It turns out, however, to be a zombie doctrine: even though it should be dead, it keeps on coming.

Let’s talk for a moment about why the age of Reagan should be over.

First of all, even before the current crisis Reaganomics had failed to deliver what it promised. Remember how lower taxes on high incomes and deregulation that unleashed the “magic of the marketplace” were supposed to lead to dramatically better outcomes for everyone? Well, it didn’t happen.

To be sure, the wealthy benefited enormously: the real incomes of the top .01 percent of Americans rose sevenfold between 1980 and 2007. But the real income of the median family rose only 22 percent, less than a third its growth over the previous 27 years.

Moreover, most of whatever gains ordinary Americans achieved came during the Clinton years. President George W. Bush, who had the distinction of being the first Reaganite president to also have a fully Republican Congress, also had the distinction of presiding over the first administration since Herbert Hoover in which the typical family failed to see any significant income gains.

And then there’s the small matter of the worst recession since the 1930s.

There’s a lot to be said about the financial disaster of the last two years, but the short version is simple: politicians in the thrall of Reaganite ideology dismantled the New Deal regulations that had prevented banking crises for half a century, believing that financial markets could take care of themselves. The effect was to make the financial system vulnerable to a 1930s-style crisis — and the crisis came.

“We have always known that heedless self-interest was bad morals,” said Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1937. “We know now that it is bad economics.” And last year we learned that lesson all over again.

Or did we? The astonishing thing about the current political scene is the extent to which nothing has changed.

The debate over the public option has, as I said, been depressing in its inanity. Opponents of the option — not just Republicans, but Democrats like Senator Kent Conrad and Senator Ben Nelson — have offered no coherent arguments against it. Mr. Nelson has warned ominously that if the option were available, Americans would choose it over private insurance — which he treats as a self-evidently bad thing, rather than as what should happen if the government plan was, in fact, better than what private insurers offer.

But it’s much the same on other fronts. Efforts to strengthen bank regulation appear to be losing steam, as opponents of reform declare that more regulation would lead to less financial innovation — this just months after the wonders of innovation brought our financial system to the edge of collapse, a collapse that was averted only with huge infusions of taxpayer funds.

So why won’t these zombie ideas die?

Part of the answer is that there’s a lot of money behind them. “It is difficult to get a man to understand something,” said Upton Sinclair, “when his salary” — or, I would add, his campaign contributions — “depend upon his not understanding it.” In particular, vast amounts of insurance industry money have been flowing to obstructionist Democrats like Mr. Nelson and Senator Max Baucus, whose Gang of Six negotiations have been a crucial roadblock to legislation.

But some of the blame also must rest with President Obama, who famously praised Reagan during the Democratic primary, and hasn’t used the bully pulpit to confront government-is-bad fundamentalism. That’s ironic, in a way, since a large part of what made Reagan so effective, for better or for worse, was the fact that he sought to change America’s thinking as well as its tax code.

How will this all work out? I don’t know. But it’s hard to avoid the sense that a crucial opportunity is being missed, that we’re at what should be a turning point but are failing to make the turn

Think of

  • the outrage at the Munich Olympics in the summer of  1974;
  • the Champions League Twenty20 cricket in Mumbai last year;
  • the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980;
  • bomb threats at the Grand National in 1997;
  • the Sri Lankan marathon massacre in 2008;
  • the extensive security fears at the Ryder Cup post the September 11 attacks and
  • the 2002  car bomb near Madrid’s main stadium just before the kick-off of Real Madrid’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.

The Fifa World Cup kicks off in 294 days, 14 hours zero minutes and 26 seconds as I begin to write this and it is time to ask: what are the big and scary things that could happen at the soccer?

Public and private fears have included:

  • that we scare the tourists with our crime and grime,
  • that contractors fail to finish the stadiums/hotels/roads on time and,
  • that Bafana Bafana collapses in a heap.

I have dealt with these common-or-garden variety fears and concerns here and Bafana has encouraged with its sterling performance at the Confederations Cup. But what about the really big and really scary stuff?

The Fifa World Cup becomes a focus of big security concerns for three basic reasons:

Firstly, every conceivable form of mass communication is present or focused on the event. Make a noise (grind an axe) in or around the event and all that capacity is at your disposal – to spread your happy ideas to the rest of the waiting world. Talk about ambush marketing ….

Secondly, the event has significant economic consequences as well as prestige and sentimental power over South Africans and their government and businesses. Real threats of disruption will get the South African government, business community and public working towards resolving the matter, including by giving in to/forcing others to give in to, those forces.

Thirdly, the country will be full of citizens and dignitaries from throughout the world. The World Cup is an excellent time for conflicts

  • within other countries,
  • between other countries and/or
  • those involving global powers and ideologies

to bleed all over the host country.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of those who might try and piggy-back the soccer – some entirely legitimately, others with darker and more evil intent.


Organised labour will be tempted to use the Fifa World Cup as leverage to advance its agenda. NUM and others have already used this strategy to force a very tidy settlement of 12% increase for the 70 000 striking workers at 5 of the ten stadium building projects in July. Did someone lean on the employer to settle quickly – and therefore at a higher level than was realistic for the projects and the economy? Probably.

Organised labour does not have a completely free hand (in a strategic sense) to hold the World Cup hostage in support of its various demands and interests. Cosatu is in an alliance with the governing ANC and its own members are as enamoured of (with) the World Cup as the rest of  South Africa. For Cosatu the trick is going to be making as much out of the opportunity as possible without alienating government or the public.


The same is not true for taxi operators and owners. There are 150 000 minibus taxi’s in South Africa and these account for most public transport in the country (an astonishingly high 65% ). Drivers and owners are a powerful political and economic force who have demonstrated themselves able to decisively disrupt (I say split the danged infinitive!) the normal functioning of the country – through blockades and other forms of physical force and intimidation. The government is attempting to regulate and recapitalise the industry and implement the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) – and impose the traffic code on the famously unlawful drivers and taxis. The industry is preparing to fight government on a range of issues – making this threat scenario more likely.

This is a Wild West industry – and also happens to be the true heart of  entrepreneurship, creativity and drive of the emerging business classes (not those sharp and useless Slick Willies taking turns on equity through political connectivity and BEE charters). But the industry players are hard core: armed and dangerous and bristling against attempts to control or sideline them or their belligerent organisations. They will hold the World Cup hostage if they can.

International Terrorism

The functionaries of conflicts involving various African causes and groups but also Al Qaeda, Basque separatism, Afghanistan, Israel, Iran, India/Pakistan, the USA/a-host-of-little-enemies, the Balkans, Russian separatism and many others must all be looking at the Word Cup through a “threats and opportunities” prism.

Those responsible for security at the tournament are likely to be sourcing every bit of intelligence they can; trying to catch plans at an early stage and forestall attacks. They are obviously being supported (and second-guessed and bossed around) by the major intelligence agencies from around the world in this regard.

They will also be wondering about possible targets and how to protect them. A high profile attack à la September 11 is no longer as easy for those who might wish to carry it out, but smaller, more loosely affiliated attacks are still a real possibility.

International Criminality

South Africa is already an important investment destination for both organised and the more chaotic forms of criminality. We’ve got the drug/people/wildlife/plant/arms/toxic waste smugglers, the extortion rackets, the robbers, internet scammers, the Ponzi artists, the assassins,  the industrial spies and identity theft rings ….. the list could go on for megabytes – and we have their representative organisations and corporations.

The World Cup is an important time and place for them. Lots of people travelling from different countries and then gathered in one place provide various kinds of logistic and market opportunities for organised criminality. The understandable obsession with protecting tourists from visible crime will divert resources from other areas (like intelligence and financial monitoring). The also understandable obsession with international terrorism will take the heat off the organised criminals and give them more space to operate.

The Hangover

This is not so much a “threat” issue as an inevitable anxiety. A whole range of political and economic risk fears are focusing on the “post-2010 hangover” period:

  • the capex programme will slow,
  • the bills will come due,
  • there will be nothing to look forward to …

These fears are essentially sentimental and, frankly:


I hold it true, whate’er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
‘Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

( From Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem In Memoriam:27, 1850)
I wrote this entry in response to an interesting discussion I had with my friend Jenni – Thanks Jen, keep the ideas coming.

Is Julius Malema  the only person prepared to tell the truth around here?

Julius bemoaning the under-representation of “Africans” and/or “black people” in the economic cluster:

We [black people] cannot just be reduced to security and the very important issue of economy is given to minorities…. Minister of police, minister of intelligence, minister of justice — [they are] all Africans. But in the economics cluster, it’s minorities. We welcome that (the appointment of Gill Marcus to the SARB) … but we would have expected once again an African child to occupy that strategic position …We need to build confidence in the markets that Africans are also capable of handling strategic positions in the economic sector. As quoted in the Mail & Guardian

Now Julius Malema is the court jester and his words have been repudiated by the king in clear and unambiguous terms:

“We have never looked at things in terms of race and ethnicity but, rather, in terms of people being South Africans” – Jacob Zuma, a few days later.

But it is clear that the clown is not just a clown. His function is to reflect the rump of ANC – or South African – thinking, especially when that thinking is out of line with the constitution or unacceptable in the sort of liberal democratic traditions the ANC has come to prefer to espouse. Thus, the contention is that many in the ANC (and in the intelligentsia the party consists of and represents) are as unhappy as clown Julius is with the fact that the profile economic ministries are in the hands of “whites”, “Indians” and “coloureds”.

I can imagine someone who has known South Africa primarily as the post-Apartheid miracle-with-cool-game-reserves flabbergasted by this stuff.

Whites, Coloureds, Indians and Africans – WHAT ARE YOU SAYING? I thought you were all Africans! Those are defunct Apartheid categories; made up scientific nonsense.

Well sorry to disappoint you, but every South African above a certain age, no matter the colour of their skin or the kink in their hair knows exactly what “race” they are and EXACTLY what “race” every other South African they meet is.

GIll Marcus slaved away in the depths of the ANC’s exile in Lusaka and Trevor Manuel fought policeman in the streets of Cape Town and Pravin Gordhan moved the cadres of operation Vula from place to place and Mac Maharaj was a master of disguise in the great war against the Apartheid beast, but they are not “black people” or, as Julius Malema would have it, they are not even African children.

And it is true. They are not. And only Julius Malema is prepared to say aloud the thing that everyone knows.

All these people derive from groups rigidly defined by the Apartheid state (and the colonial state that it evolved from). All those groups were significantly favoured in comparison to the group defined as “African” by that state and its predecessors. The ongoing consequences of this definition and favouring/retarding survives in the the cultural and economic structure of this world and in the heads of our citizens.

Julius Malema is a politician, obliged to talk in political generalities and abstractions. There is no room here for individuals escaping the categories and weight of their past. Each one of these people, and a myriad others, are seen as representatives; and for Julius and for millions of other South Africans, what they represent is their “race” as defined by Apartheid.

It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t struggle against this, assert non-racialism and the constitution, berate those who claim status as “victims” or those who claim superiority. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t shield our children from the corroding effects of this “knowledge of sin” which burdens every South African above the age of about 30.

It just means we all understand the awful court jester. We wish we didn’t, but we do.

Is wealth the cause of poverty? Is everything in development a zero sum game?

Listening to how the ANC and the SACP motivate their proposed national health insurance scheme gives a disconcerting inkling of how they think about development.

Their proposal is for a compulsory national health insurance (NHI) to be the main solution to a number of  problems that beset the provision of health services. The main problem to be addressed by NHI is the low standard of care provided for the poor and the generally low standard of health indicators for the populace, especially in comparison to countries that are similar to South Africa in other ways (GDP, gini-coefficient, health expenditure). For example: South Africa’s life expectancy for men is 50 years  – compared to Brazil’s 68, Chile’s 75 and Mexico’s 72 and  South Africa’s infant mortality rate is 69, per 1000 live births compared to 20 in Brazil, 9 in Chile and 35 in Mexico.  

The assumption is that the main problem is one of funding. A compulsory system of health  insurance with a comprehensive benefits package and the public sector as the main provider of those benefits would allow government to get the rich to subsidise the provision for the poor – and divert rejuvenating funding from the private sector to the public.

But what if the problem is not primarily one of funding, but rather of, for example,  mismanagement of public funds and hospitals, failure of private health regulation and failure to compensate and motivate public sector health professionals? Then the problem is government failure. Proposing an NHI in this context might do something worse than creating a confusing diversion; it might exacerbate the problems precisely by giving government more money to waste and a bigger mandate to waste it.

Examining the terms in which the ruling alliance is motivating the NHI is instructive. The one leg of the argument is represented by Blade Nzimande (carrying his Secretary General of the SACP meat-cleaver, not wearing his Minister of Higher Education and Training mortarboard.)

As expected his main argument is to attack the capitalists:

The current system of funding health care in South Africa is a two-tier system which grossly discriminates against the working class and the poor in favour of the rich and propertied classes. From Politicsweb June 17 2009


The capitalist classes in the health sector, together with their lackeys and the media have already started a campaign to oppose the introduction of the NHI. The NHI aims to ensure universal access to affordable and quality health care for all, with the rich subsidizing the poor, and no up-front payment for health services. As part of this campaign to defend the NHI, the SACP further calls and will campaign for an end to the outsourcing of services in the public health system and for the return of all outsourced services into the hands of public health institutions. – Speech delivered by SACP General Secretary, Cde Blade Nzimande, on the occasion of the celebration of the 88th Anniversary of the SACP on 2 August 2009, Harmony Stadium, Virginia

Nzimande says:

the capitalist vultures in the private health care sector would leave no stone unturned to oppose the introduction of a National Health Insurance Scheme (NHI) for the benefit of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor of our country… Indeed in recent weeks, reels and reels of columns – written largely by beneficiaries, ideologues and parasites to the highly exploitative private health care and medical aid systems – are regularly appearing in some of the major newspapers of our country.

So instead of saying anything serious about how the NHI would work for the benefit of the poor, Nzimande asserts over and over again that the reason the poor get such poor health care is that the rich hog the limited resource. Further, that any criticism of the NHI is actually a defence of this obscenity and injustice.

Nzimande’s arguments are best compared to similar arguments from history by political elites blaming the suffering of the citizenary on a small and identifiable group and promising relief from that suffering by various forms of confiscation from and suppression of the identifiable group. We all know where that leads.

A better critique and a more carefully motivated argument for NHI – allthough still one that fails to convince me – comes from a less powerful player, Dr Olive Shisana (CEO of the HSRC, head of the ANC’s task team on the NHI and an ex-DG in Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s department of health).

She says:

A National Health Insurance is a system of mandatory health insurance contributions, in which those who can afford contribute according to their ability and those who cannot afford are paid for through subsidies from government. The funds are pooled into one fund from which resources are drawn as people use services according to their need.

Her main issue is, again, inequality:

 The medical schemes expends more than 45% of resources to cater for a stagnant 7.4 million people whilst the public sector expends 40% on the rest of the population, … This cannot be right and needs to be corrected through transformative health policies such as National Health Insurance.

One might wonder what she means by the phrase “stagnant 7.4 million people” but that’s for some other time. Dr Shisana raises what for me would be one of the main objections to her own argument:

Concerns have been raised about the status of the public health system. It is true that the public sector has been facing major challenges in terms of both the quantity and quality of services it provides. Clearly, that cannot be explained by under-funding alone but by other health systems constraints such as shortages of human resources, management capacity constraints, sometimes cumbersome procurement processes and the ever increasing disease burden.

Frankly, this is an understatement. It is widely acknowledged that state capacity to provide public health care and its capacity to effectively regulate the bloated private sector has stumbled from disaster to disaster since 1994. The current situation is little less than a severe crisis.

So Nzimande, speaking from the central platform of the Zuma government is extending the call for “an activist developmental state” to the specific area of health provision. An active and assertive developmental state is CLEARLY what is needed, but not one that runs the assets and the capacity into the ground – by a combination and arrogance, incompetence and corruption. Incompetence and bullying arrogance is what has characterised much of public health policy in the past 10 years. One has to ask if the content and tone of Blade Nzimande proposals are a break with this past?

I will have to leave to another post a strong criticism of the private sector – hospitals, medical aids and professional organisations – for having failed to engage the government and the ANC in a realistic discussion about health care funding and instead behaved like pirates, taking every last cent of profit out of the system and then bleating for protection – in a country with one of the highest gini-coefficients in the world.

But for now, let it just be said that it is deeply unconvincing that the health care failure is primarily a question of skewed distribution of resources and public sector underfunding. From where I sit the problems appears to lie primarily with incompetence and capacity constraints and only secondarily with underfunding. We should not throw more money at the problem until we are sure that that money can be raised reasonably and spent effectively and honestly.


 A tall woman carrying a heavy load being being led by a little man - perhaps 6000 year old rock painting at Kwagga Kamma - August 10 2009
  A tall woman carrying a heavy load being led by a little man – perhaps 6000 year old rock painting at Kwagga Kamma – August 10 2009


Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi and Sophie Williams - the women who started all the trouble

Helen Joseph, Lilian Ngoyi and Sophie Williams - the women who started all the trouble


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.

The unfortunate way of the independent political analyst is to scoff and sneer at everything government says and does. It’s usually a good bet. Government seldom disappoints.

But right now, as Tokoyo Sexwale brushes off the grime of his night in Diepsloot and yet another gangster look-alike takes over as national police commissioner, it is perhaps time to take a cursory glance at what appears better about the Polokwane revolution compared to the  Ancien Régime it dumped on the infamous scrapheap of history.

Firstly, it must be said that our politics is both more interesting and easier to understand than the whisky soured diktats that used to drift across from the digital wastelands of Thabo Mbeki’s dark knight-errancy. There are real characters and contests in the new management and Bheki Cele and Tokoyo Sexwale are not exceptional.  What ministers and bureaucrats do and think is important again now that the dead hand of Thabo Mbeki has been removed from their collective shoulder.

Secondly, we have a chance to clear our name and wipe the filthy policy slate clean as regards HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe – and we have made the first tentative moves in this regard. I am of the opinion that Mbeki’s policy on Zimbabwe was less flawed than his policy on provision of anti-retrovirals , but that is only a matter of degree. It is true that a change can feel as good as a holiday. Zuma has not said anything significantly different on Zimbabwe – although he has on HIV/AIDS – but history and timing conspire to attach to him the sense that he leads change on both these fronts. This is strengthened by the fact that his key backers in the form of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have historically lined up on the side of the angels as far as both policy around HIV/AIDS and opposition to Mad Bob are concerned.

Thirdly, the cabinet, in its diversity and in its structure, was something of a coup. You may protest that the cabinet ministers have not yet proved themselves in their jobs and the structure has not yet been demonstrated to be effective – and this is true. But the point is that Zuma made sure he got all the factions and traditions in there together and they all had to deliver up their most technically skilled people to the jobs concerned. This is the opposite to Mbeki appointing and holding on to incompetents purely because they were loyal. So the cabinet’s large size, ideological diversity and unclear division of policy tasks may yet prove its undoing, but it’s a risk worth taking.

Finally, the new administration thinks of itself as promoting the interests of the poor and to this end they propose themselves as the architects of the Activist Developmental State. In this they have arrived on stage with good timing. The global recession has unleashed a major global reappraisal of the role of the state in the economy and the Zuma administration should be on the cutting edge of defining this role for the South African state. It has taken them some time to announce their immediate response to the crisis of unemployment brought about by the recession, but they have finally done so – yesterday – and while their plans are unambitious they’re a good start.

I hoped to favourably compare Jacob Zuma’s backgound (old-school/hard-school of economic marginalisation, prison and the ANC’s military and intelligence) with  Mbeki’s (ANC aristocracy, Sussex and years plodding through the diplomatic world of the exile mission). But I cannot, in good conscience, suggest that having the previous boss of the dreaded Mbokodo as our president is preferable, per se, to having a slightly fusty and scholarly policy-wonk in charge.

Our Democracy?

 Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.

James Russel Lowell


Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14


Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

H.L. Mencken, 1916


Jacob Zuma?

An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.

Simon Cameron, 1860



It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

Edmund Burke – 1769



A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.



Steve Tswete?

A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.




Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.

David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973



Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911



Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955


The DA?

What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.

Stokeley Carmichael


(From the Cassel Dictionary of Cynical Quotations – Jonathan Green; Cassel, 1994)



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

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 6,323 other followers

My twitter tweets