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Occasionally our correct and coded political dialogue is enlivened by a less experienced politician whose staff were out to lunch when their boss put pen to paper – or word in mouth, as the case may be.

One such instructive episode has been a piece by Minister of Safety and Security (Police) Nathi Mthethwa in which he attacks Helen Zille for, essentially, challenging the notion that Jacob Zuma is in any way the inheritor of the mantel of Nelson Mandela.

This article (astonishingly I think you will agree) is prominently and proudly carried  in the official ANC journal, ANC Today. You can catch the full text here.

Minister Mthethwa breathlessly and breathtakingly lacerates that “disgusting madam”, … “Helen Zille and her ilk sinking in the foul waters of self-aggrandisement”.

She is the “pitiless lone voice from the gutter” with her “disgusting, shallow and shameful short memory”  she is “obsessed and blinded by her hatred of the ANC” .

She has “unveiled yet again her infamous stripes” by “urinating on the progress being made” and  “(s)he continues to suffocate in her own choking fires of hatred and unrestrained banal rank opportunism” with her “barren infantile political posturing”.


You might well ask what the scary and threatening leader of the Democratic Alliance said that caused the Minister of Police to wax so lyrical.

Helen Zille in her weekly missive (SA Today) took up the occasion of Nelson Mandela’s birthday to make a few sharp points about the blurring  between party and state in celebrations around the old man’s 92nd birthday.

She ends her stern, school headmistress admonition with:

The great irony is that the more the ANC diverges from Nelson Mandela’s vision, the more the ANC seeks to own it … The ANC does not own Mandela. The ANC gave up its claim to Mandela’s legacy when it diverged from the values he cherished. Instead, Mandela’s legacy belongs to all those people in South Africa, from all backgrounds, who still value selflessness, integrity, non-racialism and freedom for all under the law.

This really must have hurt to have sent Minister Mthethwa into such babbling apoplexy.

The minister and his colleagues who allowed the article to be published with such proud prominence have failed to learn the most important thing about politics. Politics is always about winning the middle ground and isolating your most dangerous enemy from his/her potential friends.

The immense value of the symbol of  Nelson Mandela to the ANC is precisely that he is a lifetime leader of the ANC and is venerated across the political spectrum. The political task of the ANC must be to give leadership to “the nation” and to the middle-ground, to be accepted as the legitimate leader of the South African state. Part of achieving this goal surely must be – for the ANC – to welcome its political opponents to venerate Mandela?

It seems obvious to me that through this defensive bullying and bombast Mthethwa achieves the very opposite – and frankly must be making DA strategists wring their hands with glee.

But I am coming to think I expect too much from a political party that advertises the death of its strategic sense by placing this kind of ignorant diatribe by one of its leading members in its leading publication.

If you thought the interminable debates about

  • the laws and institutions that structure our labour market and
  • government subsidies for first time youth workers

were just silly ideological wrangling then take a look at this graph from the OECD economic survey of South Africa. Let the extraordinary relative numbers speak for themselves.

1. Persons aged 15-24 years, 2007 data for Brazil. Source: OECD, Labour Force Statistics Database; ILO, Laborstat Database; and Statistics South Africa, Quarterly Labour Force Survey.

Youth unemployment seems to me predictive of so many societal and personal ills – the high increase of interpersonal crime, especially rape; generally increased mortality figures – especially as a result of HIV infection and non-compliance with treatment regimes and homicide; social unrest, that in our case easily turns into service delivery protests and xenophobic violence; the rise to prominence of politicians in the mould of Julius Malema … I am sure we could all thumb suck a list that could go on and on and on.

The point, confirmed by the OECD study – the executive summary is here and the main findings and recommendations are here – is that GDP and employment growth must be lifted and obstacles placed in the way of our doing this by the vested interests of the trade union movement and the crony capitalists must just be shoved aside.

… politicians and chief executives of all political colours become angry when anonymous markets do not take their assertions at face value. The anonymous market cannot be dictated to or defeated in debate. Leaders cannot shout down, fire or arrest the nonexistent Mr Market.

This from a fine piece of commentary from John Kay in the Financial Times, republished in today’s Business Day.

The article is premised on US and UK politics where “the political left” and “the political right” take opposite views of the market – a state of affairs that does not have an exact corollary in South Africa:

The anonymity of markets delights the political right, which welcomes it as a check on state authority, just as it infuriates the political left, which deplores the freedom of the market from democratic control.

Monetary policy — a market-based policy favoured by the right — restricts spending by price through the discipline of higher interest rates.

Fiscal policy, favoured by the left, requires political choices about levels of taxation and public spending.

In South Africa “the political right” and “the political left” would not be defined in these terms except if you understood the Democratic Alliance to represent “the right” and the ANC “the left” – a set of definitions that is not entirely helpful.

The article neatly summarises why politicians in power tend to hate the judgement of the markets. Who can forget Trevor Manuel’s 1996 comment? “I insist on the right to govern …. I insist on the right not to be stampeded into a panic decision by some amorphous entity … called the market.”

“The market” punished him profoundly for the comment and he seemed to have learned something important from that lesson that came in his first few months of what was to be the longest term of any minister of finance in the world.

Kay’ is no libertarian extremist – he cautions that “all extremists seem to believe that their brand of authoritarianism represents true democracy”.

But he pulls no punches against the politicians who futilely attack “the gnomes of Zurich” and the “teenage scribblers” when markets declare, with magisterial equanimity, their lack of confidence in those politicians.

Catch the full article here.

I can’t help but think of the Selebi corruption trial and conviction as a proxy for the big one that never happened.

There’s a story about Glenn Agliotti wandering around Shell House in the early 90’s, undoubtedly looking to meet and great the returning leaders of the ANC.

Somewhere in those chaotic corridors where incompetence was already a watchword he bumped into Jackie Selebi who was then the ANC Youth League president and member of the ANC National Executive Committee.

Too many versions of this story exist – some putting the meeting much later when Selebi was already a member of parliament, to which he was elected in 1994.

But the version I have is Selebi was part of the “advanced guard” of ANC cadres who had been sent to prepare the way for returning leaders, and that the first casual, supportive meeting took place as early as 1990.

Now the Jackie Selebi story has been exhuastingly, if not exhaustively, rehashed during the trial during which our previous Commissioner of Police and head of Interpol has now been found guilty of corruption – with Glenn Agliotti being the corrupter.

Similar story to Jacob Zuma’s

It reminds me of a similar set of stories about our erstwhile president Jacob Zuma. He was also part of an advanced guard and his version of Glenn Agliotti was none other than Schabir Shaik – who looked after him, gave him pocket-money and places to stay and, ultimately, traded on his name and access and went to prison for the crime of corruption.

The whole edifice of the organisation that became the sum total of our political and governing leadership was uniquely vulnerable during that brief moment of return.

They had nothing: no money, nowhere to stay, no transport and no infrastructure.

They were like innocents arriving off the boat in the new world; a whole legion of sharp and dangerous types were waiting to sidle up to them offering comfort and succour and help and support.

It doesn’t excuse Jackie Selebi just like it doesn’t excuse Jacob Zuma (who through political shenanigans remains untried and unpunished) but it is important to remind ourselves how vulnerable these men and women were and how easily they fell.

There is a moment when the frog in the pot on the stove is in cool comfortable water. As we watch, with horror and disgust, the frog stew boiling furiously and the green scum frothing into the flames we should keep that in mind.

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.

Jacob Zuma said at a press conference in Sandton yesterday:

I’m not certain whether there have been threats of xenophobia. I know that there have been rumours that have been reported. (Reported in The Star)

As I drove towards Cape Town on the N1 on Sunday people were already streaming north, belongings in those huge carrier bags – they lined the side of the highway on the Paarl end of the tunnel. At that time spaza shops belonging to Somalians were already being burned in townships around Paarl and Franschhoek.

Outside of the Western Cape it might be true, as the president says, that the xenophobic threats are “a rumour”. But ethnic cleansing does not require current violence; it requires a history of violence and a promise of the same. The history is clear (here for previous post on this issue, here for a devastating M&G photo gallery of the May 2008 riots) and the promise of further violence has been reported constantly since late 2009.

It seems to deepen the injustice  that the current round of ethnic cleansing is taking place just as South Africa and its citizens are being hailed for their hospitality and general warmth during the Fifa World Cup.

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

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