You are currently browsing the monthly archive for April 2014.
But anyway … here are the 4 most egregious examples of … of just general political awfulness from the last week’s political news:
1. Chancellor House gets another slice of the Eskom pie – and says: F*%& you, we can do what we like
The Weekend Witness (also City Press 27/04/2014) reports that Chancellor House, an investment arm of the ANC, has begun the purchase of Swiss-owned Pfisterer, a manufacturer of electrification components. Pfisterer is a major Eskom supplier and has a R550 million contract with the state owned power utility. The report alleges that Chancellor House will invest R34 million in a transaction that gives it immediate control of 49% ofPfisterer , and that Chancellor House will buy out the remainder over the next 18 months. Chancellor House’s Mamatho Netsianda told City Press: “If Chancellor House invests, it is not a crime. Why are you bothering me? We didn’t break any law. You don’t have a job to do. I have a job.” Hmm, nice work if you can get it.
2. State nuclear corporation channels public money to the ANC – and is about to adjudicate the biggest public tender in South African history
The Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa (Necsa), a wholly state owned entity recently paid R76 000.00 for seats at an ANC fundraising dinner. This quote from an unidentified board member of Necsa from the Sunday Times’s (26/04/2014) story: “We get money from government. How can we use it to fund the ANC?”
The deadly serious point of the article is that Necsa will soon be adjudicating bids for the R1-trillion nuclear build programme, the biggest public sector contract in the country’s history.
The country is still reeling from the corroding effects of the R30-billion Strategic Defence Acquisition finalised in 1999. Then deputy president Jacob Zuma was charged on various counts of racketeering, money laundering, corruption and fraud in the wake of the successful prosecution of his then financial advisor Shabir Shaik for charges that included the soliciting of a R500 000 (per annum) bribe for Jacob Zuma from a leading defence contractor.
3. No parliamentary scrutiny of Nkandla
The African National Congress yesterday quashed the parliamentary committee established to scrutinise President Jacob Zuma’s responses to the Public Protector’s findings on the R246-million upgrade to the Nkandla homestead. Opposition parties were furious, claiming ANC members of the committee were “submitting to the will of the (ANC) headquarters, Luthuli House, rather than following the oath they made to uphold the constitution, part of which was to keep the executive accountable.” Committee chairman Cedric Frolick said the next Parliament could resurrect the issue, a point non-ANC members of the committee felt was unlikely and certainly not guaranteed – Business Day 29/04/2014
This particular story gets worse: a key ANC member of the now disbanded committee said during a march in support of Jacob Zuma over the weekend that Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, “is not our god”, regardless of being named as one of the world’s top 100 most influential people by Time magazine. “They can praise her good work, which is advancing the political agenda of the DA … We still reserve our right to expose that she is acting more as a politician and that she has brought that office into disrepute.” (City Press 27/04/2014) … which rather explains why the ANC has sunk the committee which was the last opportunity for government and the ruling party to acknowledge mistakes and culpability around the Nkandla upgrade. It is widely reported that the ANC is encountering, along its election trail, significant and harsh criticism from its own electorate about the Nkandla issue in all provinces except Kwazulu-Natal.
4. Sadtu accused of running jobs for cash racket
City Press published an exposé of allegations that the South African Democratic Teachers Union, a key Cosatu affiliate, had run a “promotions and appointments for cash” racket that “led to scores of illegal appointments” across the country – and at least one murder of a principal (City Press 27/04/2014). The article describes several situations in which principals were threatened with death to leave their jobs to make way for someone who has paid the R30 000.00 to occupy the job. The article implicates some Cosatu, Education Department and ANC officials and leaders in the scam. “On Tuesday, Mfundi Sibiya (54) the Kwazulu-Natal education’s department Ugu (lower South Coast) district director, two principals and an ANC ward councillor were granted bail … (after) allegedly ordering the murder of Nyon’emhlope Primary School principal Nkosinathi Zondi (46) … shot five times, allegedly by hitmen Andile Zulu and Lungisani Makhoba …)”.
The failing South African education system is an important constraint to South African economic growth, and a key component of this failure is Sadtu’s success in thwarting attempts by governments to properly assess and grade teachers and to link advancement to performance. The exposé in City Press suggests (but, it needs to be noted, does not prove) how deep and pathological is the impact of Cosatu’s Sadtu union on the failure of the system.
Stories that didn’t make the cut … because this whole exercise was starting to make me nauseous
- Journalist Nickolaus Bauer photographing the handing out of ANC T-shirts from a traffic police vehicle, and then having his pictures forcibly deleted by a member of the SAPS VIP protections services.
- Journalist Max du Preez’s accusation that Jacob Zuma “is using every trick he used while being head of intelligence for the ANC in exile in Angola and Zambia”. That he has “plunged the ANC back into its darkest era when commanders in exile issued the orders and cadres even remotely suspected of being hesitant or questioning were victimised, even jailed, tortured and executed.” Further that “the criminal justice system was perverted and abused and the powerful State Security Agency employed to make sure Zuma and his inner circle stay in power.” Catch the article here.
- The allegation that emergency parcels (food, toiletries and blankets from the SA Social Security Agency) are being dished out at a certain political party’s rallies – no guesses, this is getting ridiculous. The allegations have been made to the Public Protector. Hmm what is it that MP Buti Manemela said? Oh yes: the Public Protector is “advancing the political agenda of the DA”.
This from my 22nd of April 2014 news update:
The Sunday Times 20/04/2014 released a second “fully representative” survey conducted by Ipsos using a sample of 2219 registered voters. Here are the results as published in the Sunday Times tracked against both the 2009 election and the earlier Sunday Times commissioned poll of March 11, 2014 that used the identical methodology:
The City Press the same week led with the claim that bespoke polling data commissioned by the ANC is predicting the ANC will get 48% of the vote in Gauteng and that bespoke polling data commissioned by the DA is predicting that the DA will get 37% of the vote in Gauteng. The City Press claims are untestable and none of the parties has confirmed that these figures are, in fact, their estimates..
The Ipsos survey puts the ANC safe in Gauteng and the DA safe in the Western Cape:
A few comments
Firstly, and most obviously, be cautious of these figures – they are contradictory – and the ones in City Press are undoubtedly leaked by the parties for their own ends.
Secondly, there are few surprises in the latest Ipsos poll. The ANC is trending downwards from its 2009 share of the vote, but not as steeply as I expected. This is probably because damage done by the “Jacob Zuma and Nkandla factor” is balanced against the boon the ruling party has enjoyed from the presence in the public mind of long-time ANC leader Nelson Mandela as well as the “20 Years of Freedom” celebrations this year. The EFF found quick and significant traction but the obvious unworkability of the new party’s economic policy is being quickly – and earlier than I expected – exposed in the cut and thrust of election debate.
Thirdly, the possibility of coalition governments in some provinces, especially Gauteng, raises interesting tactical questions. If alliances with the smallest parties are unable to bring a coalition led by either the DA or the ANC above 50% then both the major parties must consider an alliance with the EFF. Of course an alliance with each other is also conceivable, but from the ANC perspective (in my opinion) an alliance with the EFF would be the better tactical choice. The DA is shaping up to be the main challenger to the ANC by 2019 and the ANC should be loath to give the DA the legitimacy that might come with a governing coalition in an important province. Also a pact with the EFF would allow the ANC to co-opt EFF members and leaders. The point might be moot, because it is myimpression that the ANC is close to the 50% mark in the most populous province.
Fourthly, if the ANC does get above 64% of the vote in this election (which is looking possible) the incumbent leadership of the party will comfortably dismiss the various urgent criticisms of corruption and mismanagement it has faced. The Nkandla scandal is just one of a myriad improprieties that have characterised Jacob Zuma’s leadership of the ANC and it cannot be good for South Africa if the electorate gave him the go ahead to continue in the same vein.
(Note: please read Jonny Steinberg’s comments on my miscasting of the implications of the recent HSRC’s South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012. Jonny argues that I have taken “a story of resounding success and twisted it into a tale of alarm”. Jonny Steinberg is correct on all counts and I hope to redress my error at some time in the near future. Catch his brief criticism and my initial mea culpa in the comments section here.)
Before it gets too out of date, herewith my last week’s (Monday 14 April) news update … it’s worth it just for Ronnie Kasrils’s comments about Zuma.
- Employment equity in South Africa is glacially slow and will continue to help drive regulatory and political uncertainty
- A spoilt ballot campaign and some unusually forthright statements from ANC leaders about corruption in their party and government
- Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters on
Employment equity – dead slow ahead
Last week the Commission for Employment Equity released its 14th Annual report (available here) indicating glacial progress in making workplaces more representative of the demographic profile of the South African Economically Active Population (EAP).
Below is an indicator of race and gender breakdown of the working population as a whole:
In the report’s ‘Top Management’ category, the trend between 2003 and 2013 is strikingly poor:
(The report uses categories: Top Management, Senior Management, Professionally Qualified and Skilled. The Department of Labour begun collecting data on ‘foreign natlonals’ as a distinct fraction of the EAP from only 2006.)
The performance is best in the government sector, but this only slightly improves the overall picture:
There have been some improvements at the lower end (Skilled Technical):
However, not unsurprisingly, the Employment Equity Commission believes this is not good enough in itself, nor is it adequate compensation for failures elsewhere.
(The Commission is a statutory body that reports to the Department of Labour and operates within the aegis of Employment Equity Act, 1998 – amended by Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013.)
Poor performance by the private sector in reaching employment equity targets is a constant irritant to government and to the ‘designated groups’ (Africans, Coloureds, Indians, women and people with disabilities). Employers might argue that the administrative burden of the act is counter-productive and that the top employment categories require skills that are relatively scarce amongst the ‘designated groups’. However, the political consequence of the failure gradually adds to the risks in the operating environment.
Employment equity legislation in South Africa has, since 1998, tended not to concentrate on sanctions to enforce compliance. However it is apparent that government is gradually increasing the pressure. The Employment Equity Amendment Act of 2013 increases fines for non-compliance – both with regard to reporting requirements and with regard to targets.
The African National Congress is increasingly challenged by radical populists (e.g., the EFF) and a militant left-wing (e.g., the incipient Numsa breakaway from Cosatu) which together argue that black South Africans have failed to adequately benefit from ‘liberation’. Part of the answer to this challenge from the ruling party is likely to be a rapid escalation of pressure around employment equity and Broad-Based Black Economic Empowerment.
There will be an increasing burden on all companies operating in the country and increased government hostility to defaulters. The ANC will not be tempted towards the nationalisation policy platforms of the emerging populist and leftist groups, but must find an answer that satisfies its constituency in the rapidly growing black middle class.
Spoiled ballot campaign
Ronnie Kasrils, a former intelligence minister, and long-time leader of the African National Congress, has embarked on a campaign with some other disaffected ANC members to call for a spoiled ballot in the May 7 election.
Nothing much, except that this is probably the tip of an iceberg of discontent in the African National Congress. Perhaps what is significant is that despite the emergence of the EFF and Numsa breakaways, and the apparent success of the DA campaign, many dissidents in the ANC still find themselves unable to follow a party other than the ANC.
Kasrils’s main problem with the ANC is what he perceives as a spread of serious corruption and abuse of public funds at a senior level in government and the party.
Obviously the strategic or tactical value of a spoiled ballot will be a matter of deep controversy.
(My own view is that Kasrils and his colleagues are well within their rights to propagate this option – it is, however, not an option I will be pursuing.)
What is most interesting is to read Kasrils’s comments about Jacob Zuma and other ANC leaders in the interview with published in the City Press yesterday. I quote him here in-depth, because of how unusually explicit his mode of expression is and because I believe this view is representative of a significant group of ANC insiders, deeply unhappy with their party, but not yet ready to leave it:
People will tell you and it has been stated from people in exile and I can confirm – (that) he (Zuma) was a pretty simple guy. He wasn’t a person who was looking for fancy clothes and flash cars. He was pretty down to earth … I did see a certain ambition there by acquiring so many feminine relationships and wives and then children … (But Zuma has) changed very dramatically. Here is a man who comes back to South Africa and you can imagine how worried he must have been, how he was going to take care of this kind of menagerie … And then there are the people, capitalists, with money in their back pockets, who were looking at the new political power and pounced like vultures … There were some who were only too happy in the embrace because they did not have to worry about the wolf at the door, how they would have to pay the bills, how they were going to educate their kids, where they find a way to house their women … from then on, what happens to your fine principles of serving the people first and thinking of the key things that are necessary when you are now in league, and in bed, with people who become your sponsors? From that point of view, you change.
My view is that the people who now run the ANC, not every one of them, but there is an elite that has become incredibly corrupt that managed to take over – take power from Mbeki and kick him out and it’s just been downhill ever since with this system just rolling on like a snowball becoming larger and larger.
Ronnie Kasrils, City Press 13/04/2014
(Again, my personal views on whether Mbeki, Zuma or none-of-the-above are the root of all evil might differ somewhat from Kasrils’s but I think his plain speaking here is useful anyway.)
Ramapohosa brokers a truce, Vavi’s reinstatement holds and Cosatu totters briefly on
Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday last week was widely expected to be the close-to-final act in the trade union federation’s unravelling. However an ANC delegation led by Cyril Ramaphosa persuaded the Zuma loyalists as well the Zwelinzima Vavi-led faction to postpone a final showdown till after the elections. (Such a ‘final showdown’ is ostensibly about the suitability and prudence of the Vavi, but is actually about loyalty to Jacob Zuma to the ANC’s policy positions.)
Again, it is interesting to note the interaction between fragmentation and momentum in the ruling alliance. The ideas and history (mythological or otherwise) that bind the members and supporters to the ANC make the split that is happening bizarrely protracted. However, there is no question that several splits in the ruling alliance are, in fact, in process. It is tactically important for Vavi and Numsa to hold on within Cosatu for as long as possible. Cosatu remains terrain which neither contestant feels ready to abandon to the other.
(Part of this is from a news update I published for the clients of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities on Monday – 07/04/2014. Thanks as always to them for allowing me to republish here a few days later. None of opinions expressed here are those of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities.)
- Nigeria’s GDP rebasing is normal and welcome – for South Africans as well as foreign investors. Reading some of the media coverage, however, one might have thought a grave threat to South Africa’s sovereign interests had suddenly arisen somewhere in the north on Sunday morning
- HIV infection rates are up and caution and prevention are down in South Africa – a more serious matter than how Nigeria estimates the size of its economy
- Cosatu and Vavi’s brief reprise will both be threatened at this week’s Central Executive Committee meeting. The quicker and more fundamental the impending split, the better
- Noisy nation – Nkandla is actually most relevant for the “screaming and shouting at the powers that be” and is a sign of rude health – John Carlin in City Press (06/04/2014)
- South African’s irritating sense of ‘exceptionalism’
Nigeria’s rebased GDP sets off anxious (and defensive) flutters and finger wagging at SA from global and domestic media outfits
The issue that made the biggest media impact on the weekend happened on Sunday, too late for the main weeklies. Nigeria’s Bureau of Statistics announced that the country’s GDP for 2013 was 80.22 trillion naira (between $509.9 billion and $477.98 billion depending on what value you give to the naira) and not the 42.3 trillion naira previously estimated. Nigeria had last assessed the size of its economy in1990 and has long realised it needed to add previously uncounted industries like telecommunications, IT, banking, insurance, music, airlines, online retail and the vibrant Nollywood film industry.
Not unexpectedly the announcement set off a flood of global media commentary (and local hand-wringing and defensiveness) about the sad state of the South African economy, which prior to the announcement ‘had’ Africa’s largest GDP at about $353 billion.
The Wall Street Journal Online (06/04/2014) probably had the most representative coverage:
“Nigeria’s ascendance marks a validation for foreign companies diving into Africa’s riskier markets, where populations are young and growing fast.”
“For South Africa, losing its status as Africa’s top economy is more than a symbolic blow. Pretoria has used its position on the continent to argue for inclusion at the table of the world’s most powerful nations. It joined the G-20 in 1999 and the “Brics”—Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa—in 2010. It has also campaigned for a U.N. Security Council seat.”
The article discusses Nkandla and South Africa’s anaemic growth (and Eskom’s wet coal) but also points out that South Africa has the continent’s best infrastructure and that it produces 10 times more electricity than Nigeria for a population one third the size.
A more salient point came from several Al-Jazeera interviews with Nigerians, best summarised by Bismarck Rewane, CEO of Lagos-based consultancy Financial Derivatives: “Is the money in your bank account more on Sunday than it was on Saturday? If you had no job yesterday, are you going to have a job today? If the answer … is ‘no’, then this is an exercise in vanity.”
Equally, the myriad problems in the South African economy were no worse on Sunday than they were on Saturday. Will Nigeria’s rebasing create more urgency amongst South African policy makers? I doubt it.
HSRC update on HIV/AIDS in South Africa is concerning
The Human Sciences Research Council has released research that indicates that the proportion of South Africans infected with HIV has increased from 10.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2012 and that the total number of infected South Africans now stands at 6.4 million, 1.2 million more than in 2008.
The table below indicates HIV prevalence in females (a) and males (b) by age in South Africa in 2008 and in 2012 (South African National HIV Prevalence, Incidence and Behaviour Survey, 2012 – xxvi of the Executive Summary):
Provincially, KwaZulu-Natal has the highest HIV prevalence (16.9%) and the Western Cape the lowest (5%). There were 469 000 new infections in the country in 2012.
HIV/AIDS was a significant area of risk associated with investing in South Africa in the late 90’s and early 2000’s and the disease radically lowered life expectancy in the country (from 62 years in 1990 to 50 years in 2007 – StatsSA). The impacts on consumption, the price of labour and pressures on social infrastructure were endlessly explored in research reports, also by this analyst.
There have been admirable increases in treatment levels (especially by government, but supported by non-governmental organisations) but significant declines in condom use and knowledge about the disease (particularly amongst young people) and recent increases in infection rates imply that the availability of treatment might be leading to complacency and a reversal of some of those gains. Watch this space.
Cosatu has a week of the long knives ahead – which is mostly a good thing
As it happens there was a considerable amount of drawing-back-from-the-edge this week raising interesting questions about the role of Ramaphosa and of Vavi … but I will explore that next week. Meanwhile here is the Monday comment, without retractions:
On Friday the South Gauteng High Court set aside Cosatu suspension of its general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi on technical grounds. “While the CEC of Cosatu was authorised to suspend Vavi” said Deputy Judge President Phineas Mojapelo, “it failed to comply with the constitution of Cosatu in that they did not vote whereas the constitution expressly called for a vote.”
This is obviously not a crushing victory in Vavi’s favour, but it does lay the grounds for some sort of final showdown at Cosatu’s Central Executive Committee meeting that starts tomorrow morning. (It would be a relatively simple matter for the CEC to vote to suspend Vavi … and it might do this and add suspending or expelling Numsa into the bargain.)
Cosatu is fundamentally split between two broad factions.
One faction, centred around Vavi, Irvin Jim and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa, oppose key elements of ANC economic policy on the grounds that the policy (particularly the NDP) is ‘pro-business’ and fails to adequately address the needs of workers and the poor. Further, this faction has expressed itself in very clear language against what it sees as the abuse of public resources for personal gain by key ANC and government leaders, including Jacob Zuma. This faction wants a formal Cosatu break with the ruling alliance and has hinted at its intention to establish a socialist workers party at some time in the future.
The other faction – essentially the incumbent Cosatu leadership including its president S’dumo Dlamini – is attempting to keep as much of Cosatu as possible within the alliance with the ANC and is, essentially, loyal to the incumbent leadership of the ANC.
The tensions that are expressed in this split have been present since Cosatu’s formation in Durban in 1986. The fact that the underlying political and ideological divisions are coming to a head now is not primarily because the ANC or government leadership is more corrupt that previously and certainly not because ANC economic policy is more pro-business than previously. The ANC and government’s adoption of the National Development Plan (as well as government’s promulgation of both the youth wage subsidy and Gauteng e-tolling, against Cosatu’s explicit and bitter opposition) has forced the underlying division into the light but the division was eventually going to be exposed anyway, as the sentimental glue of ‘the struggle’ gradually dissolved through exposure to the (famous) ‘ravages of time’ and the accumulation of normal, difficult, choices all governments must make between ‘national’ as opposed to ‘sectional’ interests.
(Gosh, that is a long sentence – Ed)
The bright light that Vavi and Numsa shine on corruption is welcome (but not untainted by other political considerations) and a healthy part of our democracy. This faction heading into the wilderness to set up a ‘left’ or socialist party would also be an expression of maturity – as well as a welcome release of the ANC from the tiresome shackles of its increasing anachronistic alliance with a trade union federation.
Nkandla in perspective
The Sunday papers are invariably a tiresome chore to read with only a handful of articles making it worth the effort. This week John Carlin (best known for his excellent writing about politics and soccer) dealt with the Nkandla scandal in a manner that brought some blessed relief.
In an article entitled “Noisy Nation” he delightfully describes the health of the South African democracy thusly: “The amount of screaming, shouting and booing at the powers that be, the furious debates between political parties and old and new trade unions, the daily revelations in the press, the hyperventilating opinion columns: it is all music to the ears, a sign of political health – just as a new born baby’s screaming is a sign of physical health.”
Among the welcome reminders he brings is that South Africa is a new democracy with regard to peer comparisons and that freedom of expression and levels of public debate compare very favourably:
“At 20 years old, it (South Africa) has barely emerged from adolescence and is still seeking its identity, finding its bearings in the world. The parents, by which I mean (stretching the metaphor a bit) successive ANC governments, are not a model of maturity themselves, but they have had the wisdom and moral coherence not to do as governments have done in other countries that arrived at democracy at roughly the same time, such as Russia. They have not locked up political opponents or murdered overinquisitive members of the press.”
Well, not yet and not that we know of, but the point is well made and well taken.
An aside on our irritating exceptionalism
(Not published as part of the original note.)
In addition to the wonderful ‘noisy, healthy nation’ point, Carlin takes a carefully balanced and nuanced shot at South Africans’s tendency to believe both that we are uniquely victimised by a history and that we were miraculously saved by rare and unusually heroic individuals.
I would much prefer you to read the whole of Carlin’s article as it appears on City Press’s website – here is a link – but for those who are unable to do this I am going to take the liberty of publishing the introductory paragraphs to the article – so that some of Carlin’s nuances are preserved:
A South African lawyer was in New York in the late 1980s to deliver a paper on apartheid’s crimes.
Before his turn came, he heard speakers from Latin America tell their tales of horror and realised, with a sinking feeling, that he could not compete.
The man from Argentina spoke about the torture and disappearance of 15 000 people, most of them grabbed from their homes.
The one from El Salvador spoke about the 30 000 killed by the state death squads at the rate of 1 000 a month.
Worst of all, the one from Guatemala shared similarly prolific rates of assassination, plus army units that routinely burnt entire villages to the ground.
Yes, in South Africa you had death squads killings, but not on an industrial scale.
Yes, when I arrived in South Africa in 1989 you had some 30 000 activists detained without charge.
But as I pointed out to the lawyer, in El Salvador those 30 000 would have been dead.
As for Nelson Mandela, the notion that his equivalent in Guatemala would have been tried in court and then spared the hangman’s noose was, in a grim sort of way, laughable.
I knew about these things. I had spent from 1979 to 1989 in South and Central America.
By contrast, South Africa’s political climate struck me as mild; the space for political expression, relatively free.
From the day I arrived in South Africa, I never came across a black person afraid to express his or her view.
I am not being frivolous about the suffering black South Africans endured under apartheid.
It was, as Mandela once said, “a moral genocide”, an attempt to systematically exterminate an entire people’s self-respect.
It was also a brazen affirmative action programme for white people, the inevitable downside of which was that those born with darker skins were condemned to lives deprived of economic opportunity.
It was uniquely evil. Well, almost.
In Guatemala, the 75% of the population who were of Mayan origin, were treated with at least equal contempt by the rich and powerful, who then dispatched battalions of Eugene de Kocks to terrorise them into submission.
I was struck in a similar way when I visit Serbia some time ago. This is what I said, also about South African ‘exeptionalism’, at the time (here for the original post)
It (the suffering in the region) started with the Celts invading the “Paleo-Balkan tribes” … 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 … (and you do – Ed.)
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.
At an earlier time I discussed our (equally irritating) ‘leadership exceptionalism’ (here for original post) where I said:
… this country has developed a habit, possibly a mythology, of what I term “leadership exceptionalism”. In short this refers to the belief, erroneous or otherwise, that South Africa has achieved an unlikely stability primarily through the exceptional quality of leaders throughout the society – including on both sides of the Apartheid fence and in the churches, trade unions and business.
Perhaps you are a journalist covering the May 7 elections or the Oscar Pistorius trial – and will soon be immersed in Shrien Dewani’s adventures in our specialist niche of the honeymoon-tourism market.
You might be a TV continuity announcer-cum-journalist, circling endlessly between serious discussion about bone fragments, Nkandla’s fire retarding swimming pool, Numsa’s endless exit from Cosatu – and then back to Oscar standing up, Oscar sitting down, Oscar making gagging noises, Oscar weeping about how horrible and sad this whole business is for him.
If you’re very lucky you might get to do a colour piece on Zuma’s ‘shorty and the machine gun’ routine:
But after the 10th showing of that, between the traffic, Oscar Pistorius, the sport, Oscar Pistorius and the economy … and Oscar Pistorius, even you must be having to fight to keep your food in your stomach.
I understand the private honour in doing something deeply distasteful and humiliating when this is the price of earning a living. So, in an attempt to provide us all with some light relief, I hereby republish and rework some ‘cynical quotations’ I have posted on a few occasions previously. Apologies to those long time readers who have seen these more than once … but this is a public service I feel compelled to render.
These are from the excellent Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.
As we listen to politicians as we head towards May 7
People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.
Otto von Bismarck
There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.
George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694
An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.
Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923
An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.
Simon Cameron, 1860
In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.
Terry M. Townsend, speech 1940
That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.
Woodrow Wilson, 1917
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
When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.
– P. J. O’Rourke
Should you bother voting at all?
Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.
George Jean Nathan
… yes, but (and forgive the emphasis here on the over-cynical … and slightly fascist):
Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.
Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912
A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.
V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917
Parliaments are the great lie of our times.
Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896
Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.
George Bernard Shaw
Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.
H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916
Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.
P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991
The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.
Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941
Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.
H.L. Mencken, 1916
On the ANC and the (infamous) liberal media
Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14
It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.
Edmund Burke – 1769
What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.
Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665
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
Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.
Thomas Fuller 1732
The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.
H.L. Mencken 1956
A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.
What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.
An arbitrary comment about families
Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.
August Strindberg 1886
On love – and the current state of the ruling alliance:
The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.
Henry Haskins 1940
On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?
What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?
Bertolt Brecht 1928
A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.
Bloggers (as a sort of author-lite) – in an attempt to be even-handed in my sneering
An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His over-powering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized nations, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.
H.L. Mencken, Prejudices 1919-27
It’s the 1st of April and I have already seen that Helen Zille has accepted an ‘elecnomination‘ to spend two weeks living in Khayelitsha, surviving on the minimum wage and using a bucket toilet. Good for her, I say.
In other news the DA has announced that the Western Cape government it is going to upgrade Zille’s private residence in Cape Town. They plan to spend R20 million, but have wisely put aside R246 million in case of overruns. Nothing wrong with that … as we have seen elsewhere.
In entirely unrelated news the Sunday Independent carried a story about some polling apparently undertaken by the legendary Stan Greenberg on behalf of the DA.
Just as an aside: the headline in the Sunday Indepent calls Greenberg the “De Niro of politics”.
This is a picture of Stan Greenberg:
This is a picture of Robert De Niro:
Oh yes, now I get it. They are both white men, over a certain age …. (oh leave it alone! It’s not important, why don’t you just let it go? And anyway maybe there is a joke here you just don’t get – Ed)
Hmm, okay, sorry …
The DA polling was something of an antidote to an Ipsos poll commissioned by the Sunday Times and published a week earlier.
First the antidote from Stan, the DA and their various minions:
Then the Sunday Times Ipsos poll published March 22:
I am not, actually, saying treat this sort of thing with the same caution as you would treat an April Fool’s story. Both the pollsters have defensible and explicable methodologies … but clearly they can’t both be right.
In general I treat the polling with a degree of caution. Results are often leaked or announced with the intention of impacting on the final outcomes (by, for example, scaring voters and supporters into getting out to the voting booths or by bolstering the flagging energies of party workers).
I have used, as a sort of deductive shorthand, a ‘below 60 percent’ versus an ‘above 60 percent’ for the ANC as an indicator of a ‘danger zone’ for Jacob Zuma.
Instinctively I think the ANC will lose votes because of the leader’s breathtakingly cavalier attitude to public money and resources. The alternative would be for me to believe things about the average South African voter that I would feel uncomfortable about admitting in public. The average ANC member voted for Jacob Zuma as president of the party at both Polokwane and Mangaung … so there is nothing I need to say about that.
So … as part of my weekly review of SA politics yesterday morning I tried to collate some of the responses to the Nkandla Report with the specific intention of using these as an heuristic tool to gain some deeper insight into what is going on.
That’s just a fancy way of saying that when I am unsure of what is going on then I look around at the responses of people I suspect do know what is happening and try and extrapolate from that a greater level of insight i.e. I am using the responses as a heuristic tool … although as you will see in the link ‘heuristic’ means more than just an investigative short cut. It didn’t achieve what I hoped, but here are my truncated efforts anyway:
Responses to the Public Protector’s Nkandla Report reveal much, but not enough
Responses to Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela, ruling that President Jacob Zuma and his family directly benefited from the improper use of state funds in the (approximately R230m) upgrade to his (Jacob Zuma’s) Nkandla homestead and that he “failed to act in protection of state resources” are flooding in from all directions.
Obviously all the major opposition parties are using the report to attack the ANC and Zuma – and are generally deifying the Public Protector. However, the diverging responses from within the broad membership and leadership of the ruling African National Congress are the most relevant and interesting.
The party itself (and the SACP and the formal structures of the divided Cosatu) are essentially defending the President and/or attacking Madonsela (or the manner in which her report was delivered).
Several news media have attempted to list the number of ANC leaders and widely respected ‘liberation heroes’ who have in some way expressed both support for the integrity of the Public Protector and support for her findings. The list has included previous President Thabo Mbeki, Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe, Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula (although her problems were primarily with the sexist language of some of the criticism … and up till now I have seen her as something of a Zuma loyalist, so I will have to do some homework on this one), ex-minister Pallo Jordan, ex-minister Ronnie Kasrils and a host of other individuals (e.g. Ben Turok and Marion Sparg) and particular branches of the party and parts of individual unions of trade union federation ally Cosatu which have in some way defended the Public Protector and supported her findings.
‘Nkandla’ is, on the face of it, small change compared to myriad similar scandals surrounding the President. The difference in this case is a ‘Chapter 9 institution’ (an institution established in terms of Chapter 9 of the South African Constitution to “strengthen constitutional democracy in the Republic”) has made findings that essentially allege that Jacob Zuma has improperly benefited from state spending and that while there is no proof that he engineered this outcome, he had a responsibility, according to the Public Protector, to be aware that it was happening. These might be ugly, but not exactly impeachable offences – unless you believe they are purely the tip of a much larger iceberg hidden through luck, trickery and a good legal strategy.
There are so many issues that this raises, but I will mention only 3:
Firstly, does the ANC lose votes because of this? More precisely: does the release of the report just over a month before the election lose the ANC more votes than it would have lost anyway as a result of its president’s … how should I put this … now very widespread reputation for poor judgement with regard to his private financial affairs? I would guess ‘yes’.
I have no doubt that there are vast groups of voters who see Madonsela’s report as just another attack on their candidate and who will be completely unmoved by the details. I also suspect that there is a large group that despise the ANC leadership choices but will stick with the party in the belief that it will self-correct sometime soon. However, there are obviously those for whom Madonsela’s report is the proverbial straw – but I suspect this is a marginal group. If the margin is between 60% and 59% then Madonsela’s report could make an important difference. If it is between 63% and 64% then, voting wise on May 7, it is not going to make much difference.
Secondly, the ANC has benefited from occupying the high-ground of moral authority. Whatever its failings it was always the party of national liberation, the party of Nelson Mandela, the party that embodied the majority of black South Africans’ struggle for self-determination and against apartheid – unimpeachable and morally irresistibly aspirations and goals. The voices of disquiet from within the party are beginning to suggest that this objective or record has been redeployed in a baser struggle.
Listen carefully to the coded and heavily portentous words of Thabo Mbeki talking at the 20th anniversary of Wiphold at Sun City on March 22 2014:
“Regrettably, today, a mere 20 years after our liberation, it is obvious that many in our society have forgotten or are oblivious of the human cost our freedom entailed. Accordingly, these abuse the gift of our liberation to abuse our precious freedom to do things for themselves whose only objective is personal aggrandisement – thus to use their access to state, corporate and social power radically and systemically to subvert the required sustained and speedy advance we need towards the realisation of the objective of a better life for all our people.”
The Public Protector’s report is reverberating through the ANC (see key ANC intellectual and former cabinet minister Pallo Jordan’s column in the Business Day for another example) and forcing many of the ‘old guard’ to take a public stand. In almost all cases the criticism is unspecific and is being made by people who no longer occupy key positions in the party or state. However, there is a cumulative loss by those who hold central power in the ANC of moral authority. Without moral authority, hegemony must be won with patronage, manipulation, blackmail and force. The ANC is still close enough to its ‘liberation roots’ for such a changing of the guard to cause serious, even dramatic, ructions amongst the party faithful.
Finally, Jacob Zuma has been (significantly) responsible for growing ANC electoral support in Kwazulu-Natal from 33.33% in 1994 to 63.97% in 2009. The province has a population of 10 456 900 people (second to Gauteng which has 12 728 400 according to the 2011 census). Kwazulu-Natal is now a key ANC stronghold and the only province where the party’s electoral support grew during the 2011 municipal elections. More than a quarter of the party’s total membership comes from the province. “On Friday, thousands of ANC supporters wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Hands off Zuma’ marched in Port Shepstone on the south coast … after eThekwini did so earlier this month” – (City Press 30/03/2014). If, as we suspect, Jacob Zuma’s lifestyle and probity issues are losing the ANC a degree of support in many, especially urban, areas of the country but that his personal support is continuing to grow amongst isiZulu speakers in rural Kwazulu-Natal, the party will face the further corroding influences of regionalisation and tribalism. My suspicion is Zuma’s vote pulling power in Kwazulu-Natal peaked in 2011, but only May 7 will put that to rest one way or another.
Jacob Zuma’s financial advisor Shabir Shaik was sentenced to two 15 year terms in prison after he was found ‘guilty of corruption for paying Zuma 1.2 million Rand (US$185,000) to further their relationship and for soliciting a bribe from the French arms company Thomson-CSF, as well as guilty of fraud for writing off more than R1 million (US$154,000) of Zuma’s unpaid debts” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schabir_Shaik_trial accessed on 30/03/2014 at 21h17 CAT