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Archive for the tag “SA politics”

The ANC centenary

The African National Congress, which has ruled South Africa for nearly 18 years, is having a big bash in the Free State to celebrate its centenary.

ANC parties in Bloemfontein | News24:

An ANC centenary torch was lit at midnight in Bloemfontein on Saturday, while party leaders, members, heads of state and guests celebrated until early hours on Sunday.

ANC president Jacob Zuma and Archbishop Desmond Tutu lit the torch at the Wesleyan Church in the company of various party elders including former President Thabo Mbeki and guests. The ANC was founded at the church.

Fourteen heads of state, five former heads of state and four heads of governments in Africa and elsewhere were welcomed at the presidential gala dinner at the Vista campus during the night.

Coming home from Vespers last night we heard Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba speaking on the radio. “We didn’t know we were making history, but we were making history,” he said.

And history was what it was all about.

At that meeting 100 years ago, history was made — but who realised it at the time?

Therr or four years before an all-white National Convention was held, which hammered out a racist constitution for South Africa. Those blacks in the Cape Colony who had qualified to vote before Union continued to be able to vote, but the new constitution gave all white males the right to vote. And in 1936 the right of blacks to votes was severely reduced, and in 1960 it was abolished altogether.

When the ANC started, as the then South African Native National Congress, its aim was to reverse that process, and to strive for a society with more equal rights. It was a long, hard and uphill struggle. And it was a struggle in which history was made. And it is good to celebrate it.

For 80 years, from Union in 1910 until 1990, freedoms in South Africa were gradually whittled away, and they weren’t all that great to start with. Though for a long time the ANC only had black membership, it fought for freedom for all of us. And that is something worth remembering, and worth throwing a party for.

But I also feel ambivalent about it.

President Pohamba said “We didn’t know that we were making history, but we were making history.”

And the history is there, though there were bad moments as well as good in it.

But there is also a sense in which history is all it is.

The ANC today is not the ANC of Albert Luthuli, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson Mandela, two of whom won international recognition as Nobel Peace Prize winners. And many people who are involved in the celebrations recognise this, realising that the motives of amy who are joining and seeking office in the ANC today are very different from those who led the organisation before 1994. Back then the dangers were many, and the rewards few.

Well, it is still true today that the dangers are many, but the dangers are different from what they were in the glory days of the treason trial. Today the dangers are of being caught with one’s fingers in the till, and for those who are not, the rewards are great too.

So perhaps one can hope that in recalling the history, the current crop of leaders, especially those at provincial and municipal level, will be inspired with something of the vision of the leaders of yesteryear. But I’m not counting on it.

As Lord Acton said, “All power tends to corrupt…”

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Sunday papers

For a long time now the only newspapers we buy regularly are the Sunday papers, which we get on the way home from church. We’ve usually bought the Sunday Independent, which bills itself on its web site as “South Africa’s quality Sunday newspaper. Coverage of news, opinion, business, marketing and books with a comprehensive sports section and strong focus on …”

But as we drive down Tsamaya Avenue in Mamelodi every lamppost has a newspaper placard, plugging the latest story. Most of them are of the “sex, soccer and celebs” type, but occasionally there is a story that seems interesting in an offbeat kind of way. The Sun, for example, is big on zombies, and one of its best headlines was “Zombie stole my soap”. So sometimes if we see an interesting headline we buy one of the other papers, in addition to the Sunday Independent.

One that we seemed to be buying more and more was City Press.

Finally, yesterday, we just bought the City Press, which from now on will be our default Sunday paper in place of the Sunday Independent. Why? Because City Press seems to have surpassed the Sunday Independent as South Africa’s quality paper. The only paper that was better was The Weekendser, which folded several months ago.

Why the switch? What has changed?

I’m sure that part of the reason is that City Press has improved, and has higher standards of journalism. Its articles are well-written and interesting.

But also, the Sunday Independent has got worse. It’s joined the “sex, soccer and celebs” brigade, though without the soccer (yes, City Press has better sports pages too). So the Sunday Independent is all sex and celebs, though with one difference. In the other papers in the genre the celebs are usually singers or film stars or models, or football players or coaches, or parasites; people like Brenda Fassie and Paris Hilton. In the Sunday Independent, however, they are politicians. The Sunday Independent is full of stories about politicians and especially who is jumping into bed with whom, literally or metaphorically. And also who is divorcing whom, matrimonially or politically.

City Press however, seems to be more focused on issues than on personalities, and that makes more interesting reading.

A selection of recent headlines from Sunday Independent:

  • Zuma’s lapses
  • Gama plans legal bid to keep his job
  • Knight-West shootout row continues
  • Ousted youth league leader Masoga heading for the courts

It’s all about who’s up-and-coming and who’s on their way out, and who’s fighting tooth-and-nail (and legal injunction) to keep their position. What one does not hear is what their policies are, what their vision for the future is, and what will be lost, if anything, if they lose their jobs.

So I concluded that Sunday Independent was playing with my head. It was creating and reinforcing the perception that our political leaders have no policies and no vision at all, and all they are doing is jockeying for position to get in the front row at the feeding trough, and the best seats on the gravy train.

Now that perception may well have some truth in it, quite a lot of truth, even. But that can’t be all there is. Someone must be running the country while they’re fighting. After all, the World Cup stadiums got built in time, and were praised, sometimes lavishly, by foreign journalists. Apart from some glitches at Durban, people got to the matches, and there was less soccer hooliganism than there was in Germany four years ago, and better attendance at the matches. In our big cities (unlike many of those in Europe) you can drink water straight from the tap without fearing that you will catch some nasty disease.

Yes, corruption and greed and incompetence have plagued local government in some places and the water reticulation and sewerage has often not been properly maintained and developed. Two years ago we went to do research in the archives in Pietermaritzburg and the building was all over builders’ rubble. I’ve been told that the renovations are still not done — two contractors have been fired and it has been put out to tender a third time, and the Public Works Department apparently wants the building cleared while the job is done. But at least someone is renovating the archives. I’ve seen university student residences in Kenya and Albania that have been in far more urgent need of renovation, yet nothing seems to be done.

So I’ve got tired of reading all about the jockeying for position; I’d rather read more about the positions themselves.

The media have gone on about the spat between Mbazima Shilowa and Terror Lekota of COPE, and the wooing between Patricia de Lille of the Independent Democrats and Helen Zille of the Democratic Alliance. Very few seem to mention that it was largely due to Shilowa’s initiative, when he was Premier of Gauteng, that we got the Gautrain, now nearing completion. A few years ago it was dubbed by the media the “Shilowa Express”, because Shilowa had the vision of an integrated transport system for Gauteng. Of course we have yet to see whether the Gautrain will do any better than the ill-fated Metroblitz of 25 years ago.

So for the time being I’ll be reading City Press rather than Sunday Independent,. because I’d rather read about policies than personalities; about visions rather than vendettas; about inspiration rather than in-fighting.

PS: Yes, I know Breda Fassie is dead, but she continued to make headlines from the grave for years afterwards, and if it wasn’t her it was her boyfriend Chico (what do you call a widowed boyfriend?)

South Africa – 100 years old

With all the excitement of the football World Cup, which begins next month, something that seems to have been overlooked by many is that South Africa, as a country, will be 100 years old on 31 May 2010. It will be a century since four British colonies — the Cape Colony, Natal, the Orange River Colony and the Transvaal Colony — united to form the Union of South Africa.

One writer, however, has not forgotten, and wrote BusinessDay – MESHACK MABOGOANE: Salute the bravery and vision of SA’s founders:

Former colonies, republics and kingdoms were forged into a unitary and variegated state, the first — and still the only modern state — founded by natives on a continent whose other states were created outside by foreigners.

The founders — Louis Botha, Barry Hertzog, and Jan Smuts — were war-seasoned generals, who had led a genuine anti-imperialist struggle in a true people’s war. These great men laid the foundations and frameworks that have enabled the evolution of a complex and dynamic country with a thriving economy and vibrant society.

The article is a paean of praise to Botha, Smuts and Hertzog, South Africa’s first three prime ministers, and takes some nasty digs at Oliver Tambo, though it does not mentio0n him by name.

Perhaps we should remember, though, that in the negotiations leading up to Union, Botha, Smuts and Hertzog fought to prevent the Cape Colony’s non-racial franchise from being extended to the rest of the country, and in 1936 Hertzog and Smuts conspired to abolish it in the Cape Colony as well. By so doing they entrenched racism in South African society and helped to prepare the way for apartheid.

But yes, the formation of the Union of South Africa is something worth remembering, for good or ill. Before 31 May 1910 the term “South Africa” was simply a geographical expression, and referred to a region, like East Africa, West Africa and North Africa. Once “South Africa” became the name of a country, a new name had to be found for the region, and it became known as Southern Africa. That is something worth remembering if you read books published before 1910.

It was in the 1860s that the British government, which ruled the Cape Colony and Natal, came up with the idea of forming a single country in Southern Africa. The confederation of Canada in 1867 was the model, and the Conservative government, led by Disraeli, tried to apply it in South Africa too. Theophilus Shepstone led a band of filibusters from Natal to take over the South African Republic (Transvaal), and a much larger British army invaded the Kingdom of Zululand in 1879. It was initially repulsed at Isandlwana, but later succeeded in taking the capital, Ondini (Ulundi), and King Cetshwayo went into hiding. The Transvaal, led by Paul Kruger and others, then fought back and sought to regain its independence. The Liberal Party came to power in Britain, under Gladstone, and lacking the imperialist ambitions of the Conservatives, ended the First Anglo-Boer War by recognising the Transvaal’s independence, and left Zululand to fend for itself, split into 13 principalities that fought among themselves. So the first attempt at union left South (ie Southern) Africa more divided than ever.

Eventually Zululand was incorporated into Natal and in the late 1890s, with a Conservative government back in power in Britain, and the New Imperialism and the Scramble for Africa in full swing, Joseph Chamberlain, the British Colonial Secretary, and Alfred Lord Milner, the British High Comissioner at the Cape, sought a casus belli with the South African Republic, and the Second Anglo-Boer War broke out in October 1899. The war was ended by the Peace of Vereeniging, signed on 31 May 1902. The South African Republic became the Transvaal Colony, and the Orange Free State Republic (Oranje-Vrijstaat) became the Orange River Colony.

In 1906, the Liberal Party came to power in Britain again, and, as previously, sought to mitigate the imperialist policies of the Conservatives. The Transvaal and ORC were given self-government, and the governments that came to power were led by the generals who had fought against the British in the Second Anglo-Boer War, Louis Botha, Jan Smuts and Barry Hertzog. And they became prime ministers of the Union of South Africa as well, so that some historians have called the period of South Africa’s history from 1910 to 1948 the Age of the Generals. It was these generals who fought to keep the Cape nonracial franchise from being applied in the rest of South Africa.

The Cape franchise may have been nonracial, but it was sexist and classist. It allowed adult males who owned or occupied property of a certain value to vote in elections. At the time of Union, most of the voters were white, but a growing number of blacks were able to vote. The Cape politicians valued their nonracial franchise, and seeing the threat to it posed by the Generals and others, only consented to join the Union if it was entrenched in the constitution — it could not be taken away by a simple parliamentary majority, but only by a two-thirds majority of both houses of parliament voting together. In 1936 Hertzog and Smuts united their parties in a fusion government, forming the United Party, and they thus commanded a two-thirds majority, which they used to remove black voters in the Cape from the common roll, and gave them three separate (white) representatives in parliament. In 1960 even those were taken away.

Along the way, there were a few other changes that served to entrench white power. There was agitation for women to be given the vote, and eventually they were — but only white women. And in the cape, white women were not subject to the same property qualification that male voters had, so the property qualification was removed for white male voters, but not for black voters. Sad to say, feminism helped to consolidate racism.

So no, I don’t agree with what Mabogoane says in his article. The Age of the Generals was generally a pretty disastrous one for South Africa, as they assiduously cultivated the racism that led to apartheid. It wasn’t an unmitigated disaster, but it was a disaster none the less.

I am old enough to remember the celebrations of 50 years of Union, now 50 years ago (see Tales from Dystopia VI: 1960 was a very bad year | Khanya). A special pennant, with “50” on it was distributed to school children and was as ubiquitous as World Cup logos are now becoming. The actual celebration took place in the middle of the State of Emergency declared after the Sharpeville massacre, and was most appropriately symbolised by a cartoonists drawing of a frightened little man hunkering down in an armoured car, holding the “50” pennant above the rim of the gun turret. That was the path that Botha, Smuts and Hertzog had set us on. It’s only 16 years ago that the armoured cars began to disappear from our streets.

We could still laugh about it, though, as Jeremy Taylor did in his song about Hennie von Saracen, who was somewhat unwillingly conscripted into the army:

In my first weeks of training
I nearly went insane
They marched me all around the square
up and back again
They taught me how to kill a man
They said it was no sin
And soon I was the driver
of a five-ton Saracen.

One day, outside Blikkiesdorp
I got out of control
And I ended up in Bree Street
with my tank stuck up a pole.
A traffic cop came up to me
And said, as he scratched his ear,
“Well did you got a licence
to park that blerrie thing here?”

Well I tried to explain
when I got back to the station
that I wasn’t cut out to fight against
the Army of Liberation.
The Commandant agreed
and as he put me on the train
said, “You can push off home to Joburg
And don’t come back again.”

Politics: style and substance

I spent much of yesterday watching the TV, Sky News, most of it on attempts to form a government in Britain. Hung parliament. David Cameron speaks of the need for a “strong and stable” government, while Nick Clegg speaks of a “stable and good” government.

It’s a pity there Lib Dems didn’t win more seats, so they could negotiate from a position of strength. As it is, whichever way they go will actually be to their long-term detriment. Endless talking heads outside doors, speculating, speculating, speculating. I think of how different the atmosphere is from South Africa, or at least South Africa as it was in the glory days of the 1990s, where there was the African desire for inclusion, not just the Government of National Unity, which was a kind of constitutional mandate, but a real attempt to bring everyone on board, like getting Gatsha Buthelezi as Minister of Home Affairs, even though he made a total cock up of it.

There was a desire for consensus, rather than the British winner-takes-all system, which makes so many Brits uncomfortable with a hung parliament. Here only the Democratic Party refused to come to the party, and insisted on being a British-style opposition, opposing everything the government did, good or bad, as a matter of principle.

It’s all different now, of course — the ANC can’t even extend the politics of inclusion to their own party, and there are no longer any issues of principle, it’s all personalities and jockeying for position, and the media are only ever full of stories about who’s in and who’s out with not a hint of what policies they stand for. It’s all personality clashes.

In the evening it seemed that a deal between the Tories and the Lib-Dems was in sight, and Gordon Brown knew the game was up, and resigned. He made a rather touching speech outside 10 Downing Street before going to hand his resignation to the Queen. He walked off down the street with his wife and children to the car. I don’t recall any other British prime ministers leaving like that. I think most of them left almost surreptitiously, from the back door. But there is another contrast. Five years ago I thought that we in South Africa were fortunate to have Thabo Mbeki as head of government. For all his faults, he seemed preferable to Tony Blair, George Bush, or Robert Mugabe, or most of the other prime ministers or presidents in the world.

But now I think that Gordon Brown was better than Jacob Zuma, and seeing him walk down the road with his family, after saying that he was giving up his second most important job, as prime minister, but would continue the first, as husband and father, seemed to emphasise the contrast. It’s PR, of course, staged for the media, but there is some substance to it as well, and a huge contrast to Jacob Zuma’s family life.

But I only follow British politics sporadically, and from a distance. British bloggers are closer, and perhaps see more clearly. One British blogger, Tony Grist, remarked Eroticdreambattle: A good man?:

If a good man does bad things is he still a good man?

Or- to narrow things down more specifically to the career of Gordon Brown- can a person claim to be in possession of ‘a moral compass’ if he never seems to use it.

The defining characteristics of Brown’s career have been cowardice, lack of principle, corrosive ambition, sulkiness, disloyalty and double-dealing. He tacitly supported the Iraq war, encouraged the banking free for all, created a culture of paranoia around himself, persistently undermined his colleagues- including Tony Blair- and (behind closed doors) sulked and fumed and bullied. In what way are these the actions of a ‘good’ man?

I’m asking because I’ve just been reading this. Gordon Brown has failed in most things, but he’s somehow managed to sell us all on the notion that he’s a moral person- that whole son of the manse thing. Well, I beg to differ.

and a little later he elaborated

Brown comes from a very moral place- from Scottish Presbyterianism and Christian Socialism- and has betrayed almost everything he was taught and once stood for.

The young Brown would, I think, have been disgusted by the things his older self wound up doing in the pursuit and exercise of power.

But another British blogger takes a different view. Neil Clark: Farewell, Gordon Brown. You weren’t that bad:

Neil Clark: Brown should have strung the bankers up from the lamp-posts – it’s what the public wanted

He’s been called the worst Prime Minister ever – and that was by a politician from his own party. But was Gordon Brown, who announced that he was stepping down as Labour leader yesterday, really that bad?

And goes on to say Gordon Brown was not the worst prime minister ever | The First Post:

None of the candidates mooted as replacements for Brown have distinct ideological positions. You certainly couldn’t say the same about Jim Callaghan, Roy Jenkins, Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Tony Crosland and Denis Healey – the six Labour candidates who set out to replace Harold Wilson when he stepped down in 1976. Back then, the policies the politicians espoused – and not their personalities, or their media image – were decisive.

But in today’s neo-liberal, globalist era, where policy parameters are set by international capital and sovereignty-impinging institutions such as the EU and the IMF, politicians have largely been reduced to mere managers. And because the difference between their policies is so small, so the emphasis has shifted on to personality.

That many regard Brown’s premiership so negatively has little to do with the man’s actual record in office, but owes a lot to the fact that ‘Gloomy Gordon’, the man famous for having the ‘worst smile in the world’, was ill-suited to the personality-based politics of today.

True, there were many things he did do wrong: signing the undemocratic Lisbon Treaty, which surrendered even more sovereignty to the EU without a referendum; his failure to renationalise the railways; and his continuation of Britain’s military involvement in Afghanistan.

As Clark points out, politics today is certainly becoming a matter of style rather than substance. But on the positive side

He was certainly a better PM than his warmongering predecessor, who took us into military conflicts which will make us a target for Islamic militants for many years to come, and John Major, who destroyed Britain’s railways. And he also comes out favourably compared to Sir Anthony Eden, who led us into the Suez fiasco and Neville Chamberlain, whose appeasement of Adolf Hitler led to World War 2.

But there is one real issue, which is at the centre of the wheeling and dealing to form a government in Britain, and that is that the Lib-Dems are wedded to the idea of electoral reform, and this determines the extent to which they will support any of the other parties that wish to form a government.

The Liberal-Democrats want a system of proportional representation, which will more fairly represent the wishes of the voters. When South Africa had a constituency system only a minority of the population were allowed to vote, and even some of those who did have the vote were effectively disenfranchised because many constituencies returned unopposed candidates. Now we have proportional representation, and every vote counts.

The disadvantage, however, is that proportional representation with a list system makes members of parliament accountable to their parties rather than to the electorate. If media image counts for a great deal in British politics, it counts for very litte in South African politics. Julius Malema has had a poor media image for some time, but that counts for little. What counts is the party cabal.

As a non-Brit, my main interest in British politics is their foreign policies. The warmongering propensity of the Labour government of the past 13 years has helped to make the world a more dangerous place for all of us. Leftist socialist Brits say that the most important thing was to vote Labour for sake of the British working class, and they care a lot less about the fact that the Labour government has enthusiastically participated in the bombing of the working class in other countries. Working class solidarity and socialism that is no longer internationalist becomes National Socialism. Add to that the denial of civil liberties at home by enthusiasm for such things as 90-day detention manifested by Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, with the bulk of the British media calling that “the moral high ground”, and Labour’s record is not a good one. I’m not sure that the Tories would have been any better on those issues. The Liberal Democrats at least made some effort to oppose those things, and my thought was that a hung parliament would be a good thing if it enabled the Lib-Dems to restrain the worst excesses of Tories and Labour.

But in Britain, as in South Africa, I think it is well to heed G.K. Chesterton’s wise words

Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarrelled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of Carlyle–the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on government at all, its comment must be this — that the man should rule who does NOT think that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it means this–that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t.

Politics is getting interesting again, thanks to two fascist clowns

Easter week of 2010 will be remembered as the week when politics in South Africa became interesting again, thanks to two political clowns and the media.

On the left, Eugene Terre’blanche (known as ET), former leader of the AWB (Afrikanner Resistance Movement), and on the right, Julius Malema, leader of the ANC Youth League.

ET made headlines by the manner of his death, and the rumours that circulated around it, and his political buffoonery lay in the past, though his funeral was a circus, if media accounts are to be believed, and some of his supporters appear to believe that Julius Malema’s racist rhetoric at least contributed to his death, if it was not directly responsible for it.

But, as the front page of City Press shows, they were actually birds of a feather, both dedicated to overblown fascist and racist rhetoric. But a nation divided? I doubt it. Both these demagogues appealed to small but vocal minorities, and they have been boosted by much media attention.

For ten years or more, politics has been excessively boring. Endless stories of graft and corruption, and fat cats jockeying for position. In the apartheid days we were largely protected from such stories because the press was kept on a tight leash by the National Party regime. The best one could say about the corruption stories was that they showed we now have a free press.

But the antics of ET and Malema and their supporters provide entertainment, and the media are determined to give it to us. Not all of the jounalism is responsible, though. One can expect sensationalism from tabloids like The Sun, but even “responsible” papers like the Sunday Independent could not resist a sensation-mongerring headline like

Was ET gay and bonking darkies?

based on the rumour that a used condom had been found in the room where ET was murdered. The police had categorically denied that a condom had been found, but the Sunday Independent was not about to let the facts get in the way of a good story. They did include the police denial — in small print, right at the bottom. So the antics of the media are almost as entertaining as those of the protagonists.

But it also reaches the point where it goes beyond a joke.

The last straw was when Julius Malema kicked a BBC journalist, Jason Fisher, out of a press conference, claiming he had been insulted.

Malema apparently castigated the Movement for Democratic Change, the Zimbabwean opposition group, for speaking from their air-conditioned offices in Sandton. And Fisher pointed out that Malema himself lived in Sandton, and Malema blew his top.

Any politician in a democratic society with a sense of proportion would probably have grinned, said “Touché!” or something similar, and moved on.

The fact that Malema perceived that as an insult and lost his cool over it and kicked the journalist out speaks volumes. It doesn’t matter what Malema said. The words he used are not important. It his actions that show that he is a fascist, with no sense of democracy, and no sense of proportion.

As another journalist in City Press, Xolela Mangcu, put it, “Il Duce step aside: a fascist fire rages in Malema.”

If Malema had any political nous at all he would see that as an insult, and an insult far worse than saying that he lived in Sandton.

As Mangcu says of this incident

Perhaps a little world history could be helpful in opening our eyes to what Malema’s reaction could mean for our young democracy and people.

The historical figure I have in mind is Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini. On the eve of Mussolini’s reign as prime minister a critic asked him about his party’s political programme. Mussolini mocked the critic thus: “The democrats of Il Mondo want to know our programme? It is to break the bones of the democrats of Il Mondo, and the sooner the better.”

Mussolini concluded his tirade thus: “The fist is the synthesis of our theory.”

And that statement is a pretty good summary of the political programme and philosophy of ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, which Malema has just visited, and spoken admiringly of ZANU-PF.

This, is of course, an embarrassment to the leadership of the ANC, which is trying to portray itself as a neutral honest broker between ZANU-PF and the MDC, an image which Malema’s blatant partisanship has shattered. His outburst to the BBC journalist has shown his true colours. It bodes ill for our democracy if his political career goes any further. Xolela Mangcu is hopeful that it won’t

Could Malema be the face of the replacement of politics with violence? I doubt it. Malema will ultimately trip on his own words. Besides, South Africa is too complex and differentiated to fall under the rule of one Il Duce.

I hope he’s right.

But if anyone is getting cold feet about coming to South Africa for the World Cup for fear of a bloodbath, don’t worry about it. Julius Malema is unlikely to become president this year, or next year, or any time for the next nine years. And a lot can happen in nine years. South Africa has plenty of precedents of politicians who appeared to have a meteoric rise, and had a sputtering fall. Tielman Roos, for example. Anyone remember him? With any luck, Julius Malema will go the same way.

Mugabe, Malema and the future of South Africa

The death of Eugene Terre’blanche stole the news over the weekend and drew public attention away from something far more ominous for the future of South Africa — Julius Malema’s visit to Zimbabwe.

Mugabe, Malema on Terreblanche:

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe and ANC Youth League president Julius Malema have discussed the murder of South African white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche during talks in Harare.

Mugabe met Malema — who was concluding a four-day visit to the country as a guest of Zanu PF — at State House for over two hours on Monday.

With reporters present, Mugabe spoke to Malema at length about Zimbabwe’s land reform programme and what he said was Britain’s failure to honour its obligations to white farmers whose properties were seized for resettlement.

Mugabe also praised South Africa as an unstinting ally against what he said was a global crusade by “imperialists” to remove his government through economic sabotage and propaganda.

Former President Thabo Mbeki was frequently criticised for taking a low profile on Zimbabwe, and refraining from public criticism of the fascist Mugabe regime.

Julius Malema has shown no such restraint, and has shown his true colours by praising the Mugabe regime. And this is a clear indication of one scenario for South Africa’s future: Julius Malema becomes president (possibly succeeding Jacob Zuma), and then it’s goodbye to our hard-won democracy. Perhaps in another 15 years time there will be South African refugees sleeping in the Methodist Church in Harare.

Look at what has happened.

Malema is welcomed in Zimbabwe, and praises the leadership of the Zanu-PF and Robert Mugabe. In South Africa he has attacked the trade unions and Cosatu, and just a few years ago, far from meeting Mugabe, a Cosatu delegation was turned away at the Zimbabwe border.

The white, Western and capitalist press has concentrated its criticism of the Mugabe regime on its “land reform” policies, which has entailed the seizure of land from white farmers, and its redistribution among relatives and supporters of high-ups in Zanu-PF.

But long before that, Mugabe attacked the trade unions, which was of less interest to the white, Western and capitalist press.

To understand this one must go back to the 1990s, when Mugabe sent Zimbabwean troops to intervene in civil wars in the Congo. In these foreign military adventures he resembles Tony Blair and George Bush, whom he professes to dislike. In reality, they are birds of a feather.

Foreign military adventures are expensive, and depleted Zimbabwe’s foreign currency reserves. This in turn led to fuel shortages, which in turn led to an economic recession, particularly in the towns. Businesses were closed, workers were laid off, and the Zimbabwean trade unions were up in arms. Opposition to Mugabe’s policies grew, and in a referendum some constitutional amendments that would, among other things, have made Mugabe president for life, were rejected by the electorate.

This was a wake-up call for Mugabe. If he could lose a referendum, he could also lose an election.

But instead of reversing the unpopular economic policies that had caused the problem, he exacerbated it by instituting his land redistribution scheme as an electoral ploy to buy the rural vote. If Mugabe were sincere about land reform, he had had 20 years to do something about it, and had done nothing. It was only the threat of losing an election that made him bring it in hastily, for the purpose of buying votes. And in the way it was implemented exacerbated the economic problems as Zimbabwe’s agricultural productivity plummeted. The foreign exchange problems worsened as tobacco, the main export crop, virtually disappeared. In a couple of years Zimbabwe went from being the bread basket of central Africa to basket case, as hyperinflation took hold.

The opposition grew stronger and reorganised, and coalesced around the trade unions, to form the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). And they have a natural affinity for Cosatu in South Africa, which is why the Cosatu delegation was turned away at the Zimbabwe border.

But who is Malema talking to?

News – Politics: Malema upsets MDC:

ANC Youth League president Julius Malema has upset the Zimbabwean political party, the Movement for Democratic Change, by meeting only Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF on a visit to Harare.

‘Is Mr Malema saying that the ANC does not respect democracy and is willing to ignore the millions of Zimbabweans who sent Zanu-PF packing in the corridors of power?’ asked Austin Moyo, chairman of the MDC in South Africa, at a media briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday.

‘Does Malema understand that there are millions of liberation heroes in the MDC?’

Moyo said Malema made it clear that he would be visiting the Zanu-PF because it was ‘a revolutionary party’.

At the moment Cosatu is still allied to the ANC in the tripartite alliance, but if Malema should ever become president Cosatu will have the choice — become a lapdog, or follow the Zimbabwe trade unions into the political wilderness, and form an equivalent of the MDC.

allAfrica.com: South Africa: Vavi to Tackle ANC Over Malema’s ‘Disdain’:

CONGRESS of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi yesterday said the bilateral meeting with the African National Congress (ANC) next week would be an opportunity to deal with how the ANC’s actions had threatened Cosatu’s functionality within the tripartite alliance.

ANC Youth League (ANCYL) president Julius Malema’s public mudslinging against Cosatu, the ANC’s unilateral decision banning municipal workers from taking up leadership positions in political parties, and a ‘general lack of commitment by the ANC to make the federation one of its political centres’, had left the alliance in a crisis, Vavi said at the National Union of Metalworkers’ National Bargaining Conference yesterday.

‘The oppression and super- exploitation of workers remains widespread – despite government and union efforts.

What South Africa lacks, and probably needs, is a strong and coherent left opposition, preferably before a fascist takeover. Is Zwelinzima Vavi up to it? The tragedy of the assassination of Chris Hani continues to haunt us.

And perhaps Thabo Mbeki kept quiet because he saw how easily what was happening in Zimbabwe could happen in South Africa, and lead to the break-up of the tripartite alliance. He preferred the Ronald Reagan approach of “constructive engagement”.

The death of ET and immaturity of our democracy

In today’s Sunday Independent there is an interesting article by Mcebisi Ndletyana, which which he offers a defence of the song “Kill the Boer”, which a high court judge recently declared was “hate speech”.

Unfortunately I (or Google) could not find a version of Ndletyana’s article on the web that I could link to, which is a pity, because it it worth reading for the historical background.

Ndletyana points out that the song is not racist in the sense of being anti-white, because the late Joe Slovo, who was white, used to sing it with great gusto. The song was not in my political repertoire, but I used to sing one that had similar references:

Mayibuye, mayibuye,
mayibuy’ iAfrika
eyathathwa ngamaBhunu
sisasebumnyameni.

(Let Afrika return, which was taken by the Boers when we were still in darkness)

And, lest I be suspected of “Boerehaat”, there was another verse that referred to “amaNgisi” (the English), in the same context.

But I nevertheless agree with the judge, and disagree with Mcebisi Ndletyana, in that I think that singing such songs now is an anachronism, and a sign of political immaturity. But maturity never was the strong point of the likes of Julius Malema.

Back in the bad old days of apartheid “amaBhunu” referred, pretty clearly, to the National Party government, alias the Apartheid Regime. And such songs were directed at encouraging people in the struggle against a hated and oppressive regime.

There are some paranoid people who believe that there is a deliberate campaign of genocide against white farmers in South Africa. Singing such songs at political rallies now tends to fuel such paranoia, and some appear to believe that the recent murder of the notorious white supremacist Eugene Terreblance (ET) is further proof of the exiatence of such a conspiracy.

Malema’s political idiocy also extends to attempting to hijack the Sharpeville massacre for the ANC, and to downplay the role of the PAC. His public utterances continually remind us that we no longer have people of the political stature of Robert Sobukwe with us.

The fact is that after 16 years of democracy, struggle songs like “Shoot the Boer” no longer mean what they once did.

But there are other, more serious indications of political immaturity.

That can be seen in the tendency to destroy buildings and damage property in protests over lack of “service delivery”. Pretoria station was burnt down by angry commuters because trains were late. In another instance, Soshanguve commuters burnt trains because the trains were late, and then complained that there was no train service, when they themselves had destroyed the trains.

Back in the 1980s the apartheid regime erected the showpiece township of Ekangala, north of Bronkhorstspruit. Half of it was run by the KwaNdebele government, and half by the East Rand Administration Board, and which half one lived in made a big difference to one’s right to live and work in urban areas. Residents burnt down the administration offices, which destroyed the records of who lived where. It was a direct attack on the system, and made political sense at the time, because the people concerned had no vote.

But now people do have a vote, and so it makes no sense to burn trains and public libraries and other public or private property. Local government elections are coming up, and if people are dissatisfied with service delivery, or with the performance of their municipal councillors, they now have a democratic remedy — to organise people to vote them out. That is the way democracy works — not by burning down libraries and stations.

Burning buildings and singing provocative songs made sense when there was a government did not have to listen because most of those it was oppressing had no vote. In fact part of the struggle was to ensure that everyone had the vote, and the political freedom to organise to toss self-serving politicians out. We’ve had that freedom for 16 years now, and it’s time we began to use it.

Stop selling military aircraft to South Africa, Anglican archbishops urge

Thabo Makgoba, the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, and Desmond Tutu, his Nobel Peace Prize winning predecessor, have urged that Sweden stop selling military aircraft to South Africa.

In a move reminiscent of the days when he was vilified by the government-supporting press for proposing economic sanctions and an arms embargo against the apartheid regime, former Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu signed a document asking that Swedish Gripen miliary aircraft not be sold to South Africa.

“Stop the sell of military aircrafs to South Africa” – Stockholm News:

KG Hammar, former Swedish archbishop, Karin Wiborn, chairman of the Swedish Christian Council, Desmond Tutu and Thabo Makgoba, South African archbishops have signed the article. They claim that the deal has released a wave of corruption that threatens the transition from Apartheid to democracy in South Africa.

The authors write that the cost for South Africa’s deal with several European countries to buy military equipment is around SEK 42 billion (about 4.2 billion euro). Half of that sum is spent on JAS 39 Gripen. They write that it is hard to gain acceptance in the South African society for the fact that resources are being allocated to military investments instead of fighting the legacy from the Apartheid era.

The four authors demand that the South African and Swedish governments investigate the accusations about corruption and put the whole deal on hold until the investigation is finished.

Julius Malema — South Africa’s answer to Shane Warne?

It seems that at last South Africa has a fat buffoon to match, and even surpass Australia’s Shane Warne: Julius Malema, the president of the ANC Youth League.

The media love him; he gives them soundbites galore. Every time he opens his mouth he seems to put his foot in it. He seems as arrogant as Shane Warne, and like Warne, he is revered by many.

But, as someone once said, the trouble with most political jokes is that they get elected.

Professor Tinyiko Maluleke of Unisa warns that it would be a mistake to dismiss Malema as a lightweight political clown. If there is a joke involved, the joke is on us, and on the poor.

Tinyiko Sam Maluleke’s Blog: The Julius Malema Strategy of Distraction and Diversion:

What Chumani Maxwele, the jogger arrested and detained for allegedly showing the middle finger to Zuma’s blue-light brigade, is said to have done, is done daily by Malemaists. They do it to the poor. In their arrogant press conferences, in VIP events for celebrities and through the fat parties they host in their tall houses, as they drink, chatter and clutter; they stick their middle finger to the poor. As they wheel and deal in the air-conditioned corridors of public and private sector offices, it is the poor they are offending. As their luxury ministerial cars speed through the squatter camps; as their 4x4s spray the playing children with the sewage that is flowing in the streets, the Malemaists are saying voetsek! to the poor.

Political honeymoon is over for Jacob Zuma

Letter from Africa: Political honeymoon is over for Jacob Zuma | World news | guardian.co.uk:

Whereas the former president Thabo Mbeki was an aloof, out-of-touch philosopher king, we were told, Zuma was a massive presence in every sense, a Zulu warrior king so in touch with the people he had already married four of them.

Well, that’s a nice pithy summing up.

But the article goes on to say:

But the political honeymoon has rapidly slipped into a winter of discontent. Doctors, miners, train drivers and workers in the chemical, construction, energy, paper, printing, retail and state broadcasting sectors have downed tools. More than half a million working days were lost due to strikes in the first half of this year, more than twice that in the same period in 2008. Residents have been warned to expect power cuts at home, no buses or trains to get to work and streets piled high with rubbish.

That really makes it sound as though we’re getting more like Europe every day. Last time I visited Greece hardly a day went by without some or other group of striking workers marching to or from Syntagma Square in Athens.

I wondered what Cosatu thought they were doing, throwing their support behind Jacob Zuma in the general election three months ago. I wonder if they are beginning to wonder themselves.

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