Friday, November 28, 2003

Well, the sky is still drizzly but Durban, unlike the UK, is warm and humid, which makes me feel that my body is coming slowly back to life. I've just been sitting in a steers, absorbing the sights and smells, and watching the first and third worlds jostling against one another.

Unfortunately, it seems that, like Andrew, my blogging might be rather limited for a while. I'm presently sitting in an internet cafe and paying the princely sum of R15 per half-hour, which strikes me as expensive. And I'm don't have much access at home. So, unless I can find somewhere cheaper, or someone who's generous with their modem, there's not much that I can do. To any regular readers, please don't think that southern cross is grinding to a halt -- far from it. Circumstances are just limiting both of us at the moment.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Thanks to Robyn for this: I know I said I wasn't going to be doing much blogging, but I couldn't resist this article about Durex's latest international sex survey. In case any of you Brits were wondering why you aren't getting sex, it's because all your women are having one night stands with South African men. Apparently.

Hmmm, well that's not true in my case, so either I'm not South African or I'm not a man... Still, at least I'm not Singaporean. Err, wait a minute they're also getting more sex than me!

Blogging's going to be rather light for the rest of the week. I've got various term assignments due and job applications to get through.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Just a short note to say that I'm off to South Africa for a month so when next I blog it will be from the warm southern skies of Durban, with the benefit of first-hand experience of the country.

Monday, November 24, 2003

Is it just me, or is this one of the most badly written articles you've ever read?

I expect the SABC to be biased, but, until now, I've never had any complaints about the written quality of it's journalism. It's almost as bad as, well, a blog...

Teflon Zuma
The ANC's provisional list of national candidates is out and, somewhat predictably, Jacob Zuma is in at number 2. Looks like all those accusations and mud flinging have come to nothing. As Murray mentioned a few days ago, South Africans love an underdog.
M&G has more.

Something amusing for a change. British tabloid newspaper 'The News of the World' has warned about the dangers of a new South African drug that is -- I quote -- 'six times stronger than normal cannabis' and leaves 'some victims mentally deranged.' The name of this drug? Dagga. It seems that police in Scotland have yet to realise that cannabis and dagga are the same thing... News 24 covers the story here.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Rule Britannia
Well, I'm ecstatic. England wins the World Cup, beating Australia, the defending champions, in Australia. And they scored a try along the way which should help put paid to some of the those, 'boring' accusations. What a morning!

Friday, November 21, 2003

Mo Shaik is now saying that he made the allegations against Bulelani Ngucka by way of 'defending Jacob Zuma's honour'.

What a pack of lies. It's clear, to me at least, that he made the allegations because his family was being investigated for corruption and he was trying to discredited the man leading the investigations. He also has the gall to say that Ngcuka's National Prosecuting Authority was "undermining the democracy we all hold so dear". The only thing that Ngucka was undermining, Mo, was your family's already tarnished reputation. That process has now been completed by your complete inability to substantiate the scurrilous and baseless accusations that you leveled at Bulelani Ngucka.

Correction: In my previous entry I said that Ngcuka might have a case for defamation against Maharaj and Shaik. But, reaching into the recesses of my memory (I did delict some time ago) I'm less sure. As far as I remember, the aggrieved party must establish harm to his or her reputation. In Ngcuka's case, however, the allegations made against him are threatening to become laughable. Indeed, far from suffering harm to his reputation, it seems to have been enhanced. And this, I think, means that there would be no claim in the South African law of defamation. Intuitively, however, I feel that Maharaj and Shaik have behaved in such a way that they must incur some form of legal liability, whether it be private or criminal. I'm just not sure what it might be. As for the harm suffered to their reputations, I'm not sure how damaging this will prove in the long-term, given the South African predilection for favouring the underdog (see below). Does this mean these guys are going to get away with it?

Astonishingly, the Hefer Commission has degenerated yet further. A tearful Mo Shaik today told the Commission that 'he would be happy to concede he had been wrong about Ngcuka, as long as he could be shown to be wrong' and, crptically, 'if you cannot prove the null hypothesis, then the corollary applies.' But this, as I don't need to tell you, is nonsense. One of the most fundamental principles of the law of evidence is that the person making the allegation bears the burden of proof. In other words, Shaik cannot make an allegation and expect it to be upheld if he isn't proved wrong; he must produce the goods. At least Mac was honest; Shaik's obfuscation is just laughable. My only regret is that, being out of the country, I'm not able to watch this stuff on TV. It must make for good viewing.

There is, however, a more serious point. The Hefer Commission has cost a huge sum of money which, in a cash-strapped country, is no laughing matter. Furthermore, as Andrew has pointed out below, its distracted us from the main issue, namely, whether corruption was perpetrated or not. Intuitively, I feel that Maharaj and Shaik shouldn't be allowed to get away with such irresponsible behaviour, but I'm less sure that anything will be done. I'm pretty sure that Ngcuka would have a case for defamation, but I'm less sure that he'd want to press one. That would appear vindictive and he no doubt has more important things to worry about. In most countries the reputations of Maharaj and Shaik would, of course, be ruined. But South Africa has an odd tendency to take disgraced individuals to heart -- witness the cricket team's defiant fondness of Hansie Cronje, and the invincible, if not enhanced, popularity of Winnie Mandela, Allan Boesak and Jacob Zuma. If anything, being the downtrodden underdog seems to evoke a type of identification on the part of most of the populace. Let's just say that I don't think we've heard the last of this strange duo yet.

The Twits
The Star has a nice summary of Mac Maharaj's major concessions under cross-examination. I think it's safe to say that the man's reputation is now well and truly ruined and since Mo Shaik refused, today, to reveal the source of his information about Ngcuka's alleged spying, it looks like he's going the same way.

If, as seems very likely now, Bulelani Ngcuka comes through this ordeal without any of the mud sticking, he's going to be a formidable figure on the SA stage. Hopefully, he'll use that power to get back to the issue that everyone seems to have forgotten about in the midst of all this, namely: who benefited from the arms deal?

UPDATE: I've just dug out an old but interesting (and amusing in a rather morbid way) Noseweek article about the Shaik brothers. It seems this family has quite a history. Incidentally, I'd recommend Noseweek to all who sometimes get the feeling that more is going on than meets the eye...

Thursday, November 20, 2003

More XPRIZE news
Following on from my blog on the XPRIZE, I've just learnt, via Samizdata that Scaled Composites has completed another successful drop test of Space Ship One.

UPDATE: Team Starchaser have just overhauled their website and now have lots of interesting new stuff. This includes details of their crew emergency escape system, a new rocket to be unveiled in December and news about the development of their life-support systems. Check it out.

Zimbabwe unveiled its 2004 budget today. Needless to say, it makes for depressing news. I thought this sentence in the SABC report was telling:

"Industry welcomed the budget but expressed hope the government would implement it. "

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Democracy and AIDS
One of the biggest news items of the day is that the South African cabinet has, at last, agreed to roll out anti-retroviral drugs. I'm not sure how this gels with Manto Tshabalala-Msimang's comments that we should talk about HIV and AIDS, rather than HIV-AIDS (given that, on my understanding, anti-retrovirals impede the development of HIV into AIDS, thereby acknowledging the link) but most on planet earth are likely to agree that the cabinet plan is a positive development.

The question, of course, is why the government has decided to do this now. The BBC report cites the lower cost of anti-retrovirals as possible factor but I tend to think that the election next year is the chief motivation. After all, COSATU have been grumbling about the government's AIDS plan for some time now and, I'm told, even newspapers such as the Sowetan were becoming critical. I tend to think that the government realised that it was vulnerable on this issue, and needed to shore up its public support.

The next question, of course, is whether this should worry us. If its just an election ploy, isn't the motivation wrong? I think not; in fact, I think we should take it as a sign that democracy is working. In his seminal book Development as Freedom Amartya Sen makes the point that democracies typically don't suffer from famines whereas dictatorships do. Why? Because in a democracy, information reaches the centre (due to freedom of speech and the press) and the government has a strong incentive to deal with the problem (lest they be voted out of office). The fact that the ANC has adopted this policy, despite their long resistance to acknowledging the AIDS crisis, suggests -- I think -- that the message was getting through, and the government realised it was jeopardising its support. In short, its a sign of a functioning democracy.

At least, that's the most positive interpretation. If the program is slashed after the election then I will have to revise my views. (This last point isn't as outlandish as it might sound. While in Ghana I noticed lots of half-finished buildings. When I asked about them I was told that the government habitually builds before an election and stops immediately thereafter -- even in mid-project.) I'm also not cheered by a report that the ANC is likely to win a two-thirds majority despite dragging their heels on this issue -- it suggests that the electorate isn't as critical, and therefore the government doesn't have to be as responsive, as my intepretation suggests. But, still, let's be optimistic.

Fellow Safrican, exonian and rugby demi-god (he plays for the Blues) John Bradshaw sent me the following comment, after I blogged that it seemed that South Africans abroad might be allowed to vote in next year's general election:

"I'd rather comment on the fact that President Mbeki has said that I can vote, even though I am stuck on this minor Island. Though this is great news for me, I can't help feeling that the majority of people that are enfranchised by this move, don't really deserve to vote, being middle class whites who have run away from the realities of South African life, and are refusing to make any contribution to the rainbow nation, other than singing the Afrikaans part of the national anthem at rugby games. If I was in South Africa (as I hope I will be shortly) I don't think that I would want these people having a say in how my country is run. And if that means that the few exceptions who deserve to vote, such as students, ambassadors and military personal, lose the vote while overseas, then that is a sacrifice that we should be prepared to make."

While I understand the sentiment John, I'm afraid I have to disagree. Fundamentally, your comment raises the question of how one determines who should be entitled to rights (such as the right to vote) and who shouldn't. There are sometimes good reasons for not extending a right to certain categories of people. For instance, resource-constraints may, to an extent, legitimately be employed to limit the scope of a right. This, I imagine, is the sort of argument that the ANC would make in defence of its policy on the voting rights of South Africans abroad (presuming that the policy hasn't changed). But, I would venture to say that the type of factors that you cite -- basically, political views that you disagree with, a lack of commitment to the new SA, and a personal distaste for the individuals involved -- should never be employed to limit the scope of rights, especially rights such as the right to vote and the right to freedom of speech. I'm sure you appreciate what a dangerous path that would be. After all, if the argument holds true for citizens outside the country, why not apply it to people inside the country? Why not, for example, disenfranchise all South Africans who aren't deemed sufficiently committed to the new dispensation, regardless of where they live? Clearly, however, that's not a result that any of us would be happy with, largely because we recognise it, intuitively, as a form of tyranny.

Mo Shaik, it seems, postponed his testimony before the Hefer Commission today because he is feeling 'unwell.' I couldn't help but laugh at this and neither, it seems, could the journalist who penned the story for the SABC. If I'd levelled what now appear to be spurious allegations at the Director of Public Prosecutions, and if my own public standing was in serious trouble, I'd also be feeling dodgy.

Andrew, in making my entry I was responding directly to your earlier remarks that, if the US government is encouraging companies to divest from Britain, this 'shows, incontrovertibly, that the Bush administration has only ever had its own interests at heart' and that this would be an 'incredibly selfish move.' My point was that the fact that the US government might be behaving in this manner shouldn't come as a revelation -- its being doing so for some time now.

That said, I accept, as you point out, that this measure would not be in the long-term interests of the US. But nor is imposing steel tariffs on the EU as well as many of the other issues I cited. I realise this is more controversial but my own view is that its not in the long-term interests of the US (or anyone else) to undermine international law and multilateral frameworks such as the UN. By doing so the US burns up what Joseph Nye calls 'soft power' -- the capacity to persuade others to adhere to its ideals through example. And it also means that the US is less able to invoke these norms when it is in its own interests to do so. If anything, the aftermath of Iraq has demonstrated the difficulty of the US 'going it alone' -- even if doing so is in its short-term interests. Finally, refusing to put the brakes on environmental degradation might benefit the US economy in the short term but clearly isn't in anyone's interests, least of the US's, in the long-term. For these reasons, I tend to have less sympathy for the Bush government than you; I think that its pursuit of its own (short-term) goals is not only not in its (long term) interests, but is also not in those of anyone else.

I am, however, willing to concede the point to this extent: in the story you linked to, the short-term benefits for the US would be so slight, and the long-term detriment so significant, that surprise is warranted. That sort of behaviour would be out of character.

Finally, to Richard at Way South, no, I'm not attending the marches to protest against Bush's arrival, largely because I think that there are governments, like Zimbabwe, that we should be far more concerned about, and which, for this reason, I blog on more frequently.

Manto wades in again
Manto Tshabalala-Msimang is urging South Africans to stop using the forward stroke when referring to HIV/AIDS and to use the word 'and' instead. This, presumably, on the basis that HIV is not connected to AIDS and so, when we talk about the diseases, we should refer to HIV and AIDS and thereby communicate the fact that they are different diseases.

She also makes what can only be described as an unintended plug for the Cape wine industry. As reported by News24:

'There were many things HIV-positive people could do to prolong their lives, according to Tshabalala-Msimang.

These included nutrition, stress management, changing their lifestyle, "preferably not smoke - I think we have encouraged people not to smoke - while I understand you can have a glass of wine now and again."'

I haven't got time to give an in depth response to Murray's challenge (see below), so this will have to do for the moment.

Leaving aside all the other arguments for why the Bush administration's call for US companies to relocate from Britain is surprising, there is one very good reason, and it is a reason which should appeal to the logic that you impute to the Bushies. The reason is that if US companies were to heed this call, the outcome would be bad for America. When two nations trade and invest in each other both sides benefit. When one withdraws, they both suffer. Simple as that.

Andrew professes astonishment at a report which says that the Bush Administration is encouraging companies to leave the UK and take jobs back to the US. The story itself is not that well-sourced but, assuming that it's true, I don't see why -- with respect Andrew -- it would be so surprising.

On a range of issues the US government has behaved unilaterally, claiming to be both above, and yet the enforcer of, international protocol. In Guantanomo Bay, the Bush Administration is flagrantly breaching the Geneva Conventions -- the same conventions that, we should remember, Donald Rumsfeld invoked during the Iraq war in defence of captured US soldiers shown on television. The war itself was, of course, justified by reference to international law and security council resolutions, despite the fact that the Administration generally showed impatience with the UN process and questioned whether it was worth going to the UN in the first place. The US has refused to sign up to the Rome Statute for an International Criminal Court and is employing strong-armed tactics to ensure that countries who have signed up (including South Africa) agree to exempt US citizens from the ICC's jurisdiction. The US is also currently engaged in a global campaign against dictators, except those whom it is fond of (such as the leaders of Pakistan and Uzbekistan). And US exceptionalism on environmental issues is famous.

What, then, is so surprising about adding trade to this list? To me, its simply the logical extension of a well-established pattern.

At the Hefer Commission Mac Maharaj has admitted that he doesn't know whether Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid spy, and that he based his accusation entirely upon a report compiled by Mo Shaik in the late 80s, the factual foundations of which he didn't bother to investigate.

Once again, I'm flabbergasted that anyone could behave this recklessly. Its not only a question of Maharaj unfairly smearing Ngcuka, but he's effectively ruining his own public standing in the process. I can only surmise that Maharaj didn't anticipate that a full-blown commission would be convened, and that he was hoping that his comments would 'stick' to Ngcuka, in much the same way that Ngcuka's comments about Zuma 'probably' being guily of corruption threaten to stick to the vice-president. If so, he's badly miscalculated.

Look here for telling cross-examination by Marumo Moerane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Via Samizdata: Some astonishing news has just come to light. According to a news report the Bush administration has called upon US companies to relocate jobs from Britain to the US, saying that those that do so will receive compensation.

If this is true, then I'm absolutely speechless. It is a specific repudiation of 50 years of increasing trade and spreading globalisation, not to mention a considerable slap in the face for the US's closest ally (and this on the eve of Bush's arrival in Britain). I've been quite sympathetic to the Bush administration over the past few years, but if this is true then I may have to start re-thinking that position. Say what you will of the war in Iraq, at least the Bushies believe that they are acting in the long term interests of the world by spreading democracy, free markets etc, even if others disagree. But if this latest news is true then it shows, incontrovertibly, that the Bush administration has only ever had it's own interests at heart. A move like this would be without parallel in recent history. Actually, that's not quite true, it would be a step down the road to Smoot-Hawley like tariffs and a full blown collapse of world trade. And we know what that did for world peace and stability. So not only would it be an incredibly selfish move, it would also be a pretty stupid one. Which is why I'm inclined to believe that this story is not what it seems. I simply can't believe that Bush would be that stupid.

I remember when Bush implemented his steel tariffs two years ago, The Economist said that no good would come of them. Perhaps, we are beginning to find out how prescient those words were.

Something different
Every now and again we'll be blogging on issues that go beyond our mandate of political, economic and cultural affairs. For my first such blog I intend to write about recent developments in Space.

I think it's true to say that for most people the mention of space conjures up images of NASA and the moon landings, Soyuz's, Mir's and the space shuttle and that to the extent that they think about it at all they assume that space is a matter that is best left in the hands of govt sponsored space agencies. This has certainly been true for most of the space age, the big programmes have all been funded by govts and even where private firms have built rockets with a view to making money they have usually done so on the back of govt funding. It's no surprise therefore that most space programmes are bloated, expensive and (in the case of NASA's shuttle) dangerous. More to the point, they have also been incredibly slow to make use of the many opportunities which space exploration presents. It is now 34 years since the Americans went to the moon and, I'm willing to bet, it will be at least another 20 before anybody goes back. And a return to the moon is a prerequisite for any mission to Mars.

Frustrated by this lack of progress, and convinced that the private sector could do better, a number of enthusiasts and interested parties have emerged over the last decade or so with the goal of trying to drive the process of space exploration forward. Foremost amongst these must be the XPRIZE Foundation. Founded about 10 years ago by Peter Diamandis the Foundation hopes to kick-start a new golden age of space activity by offering a prize of 10 million dollars to the first privately funded organisation able to send 3 people on a sub-orbital flight (around 100 km altitude), safely recover them and then repeat the whole process within a week. The prize is modelled on the Orteig Prize sponsored by the Washington Post for the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic. That competition (won by Charles Lindbergh in the 'Spirit of St Louis') is credited with boosting the prospects for regular passenger carrying trans-Atlantic flights by helping to prove the viability of the idea and, crucially, by firing up the publics imagination.

It's important to note that the XPRIZE Foundation stipulates that the winner must not have received any govt funding. Obviously NASA or the Russians could win the prize without raising a sweat, but as I have mentioned, the prize was born out of disillusionment with state-funded space programmes and their lack of innovation and daring. The prize, of 10 million dollars, is also sufficiently low as not to attract the attention of the big aerospace companies such as Boeing, Lockheed and BAE. Again, the idea is to encourage small firms, start ups and other enthusiasts who, through lack of access to large sources of development funds, will be forced to innovate and think outside the box. The XPRIZE has been running for about 9 years now and it seems likely that it will be won sometime in the next 12 months or so. Although there are over 20 registered teams, hailing from all over the globe there are now really only 4 teams in with a chance.

The first of these, and the team favoured to win, is Scaled Composites. SC, as they are referred to, came to prominence in the 1980s when they built, and successfully operated, Voyager, the first plane to fly non-stop and non-refuelled around the world. Their XPRIZE entry consists of two parts. The first operates as a conventional, if rather odd looking, aeroplane with the second being a small rocket ship which hitches a ride with the first before blasting off to the edges of space. SC is currently flight testing both elements of their entry and, regulatory issues permitting, hopes to win the prize sometime next year.

The second serious entry is that of Armadillo Aerospace based in Mesquite, Texas. Armadillo was founded and is funded by a man that many will be familiar with, John Carmack, creator of the Doom and Quake series of computer games. Armadillo's entry is a conventional three person rocket powered by Hydrogen Peroxide (the stuff that you clean contact lenses with) and their first flight is also planned for next year some time.

The third hopeful is the Canadian Arrow team from, yes, Canada. These guys have taken a rather novel approach to the prize by, essentially, scratch-building a World War 2 era V2 rocket. Instead of carrying an explosive warhead destined for London though, they'll be carrying 3 people to outer space. They've yet to fly a rocket, but they have an impressive looking demonstrator and they recently announced the names of their astronaut candidates to the public.

Finally, is Manchester, UK based Starchaser Industries. Starchaser has been around since the early 90s and has test flown a number of rockets including the largest ever launched in Britain and the largest privately funded rocket in Europe. They've just finished drop testing a one-man scale model of their XPRIZE entry capsule and are testing a 3 tonne rocket engine of their own design.

The financial incentives of the XPRIZE are, of course, a major incentive for would-be rocketeers, but they are not the only or even the most important. The real prize here is to build and operate a safe and, most importantly, cheap rocket, thus to be in a position to win a share of the burgeoning market for space tourists. A recent, and widely quoted, NASA study suggested that there are over 10 000 people in America alone prepared to pay 100 000 dollars for a 20 minute ride into space. That translates into a 10 billion dollar business and it is this new business opportunity that has really got people worked up. We've already had some glimpse of the market for this sort of thing with Mark Shuttleworth's 20 million dollar Soyuz flight and I think it's fair to say that there are a lot of people who'd pay a lot of money for the opportunity to go into space.

It is with these people in mind that a number of other, non-XPRIZE, firms have appeared over the past few years. Many of them are funded by dot-com millionaires who, as a group, have lots of money and, seemingly, lots of imagination. Jeff Bezos of Amazon.Com fame is rumoured to have founded a company called Blue Origin with the intention of winning control of the market for Space Tourism. Another is former South Africa, Elon Musk who made his millions founding PayPal and has used some of that money to found SpaceX a company dedicated to lowering, "by an order of magnitude" the costs of launching satellites into space. Rumours also abound that Paul Allen of Microsoft is involved in a secret project to launch people into space. What's important about these individuals is that they've all demonstrated the ability to achieve great things in business once and there is no reason to think that they won't do it again. It also can't harm matters that they all have millions lying around waiting to be used.

The next decade promises to be an exciting time for those of us with an interest in space. By 2014 it seems likely that sub-orbital space flights will be the thing on every little boy's (and a few men) wish list. And before we discount those old state sponsored dinosaurs, the net abounds with rumours that George Bush is going to use the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers first flight to announce that the US will return to the moon. You heard it here first...

Your daily Hefer
You couldn't write this stuff. Now it seems that Mac Maharaj may have been a spy M&G reports that at today's round of the Hefer Commission, Maharaj was

"...was asked... to react to an allegation that he himself had been an apartheid agent.

The former transport minister was shown a book during his cross-examination before the Hefer commission, in which he is accused of having been an apartheid government agent.

Advocate Norman Arendse, for Justice Minister Penuell Maduna, produced the book titled Sellout! by one Pieter Jacobus Pretorius. It was published in 1997. Pretorius claimed to be an advocate and former agent of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA)."

We've argued before but it's worth repeating that the need to resolve this imbroglio satisfactorily is such that the govt may need to contemplate doing things that it finds unpalatable. Such as letting Hefer have access to NIA files and subpoenaing former spies.

It may be part of the democratic process to let commissions like this run their course but unless they offer satisfactory explanations of what actually happened they have the potential to cast a shadow over the govt and our confidence in its integrity. Mr President, your party appears to be tearing itself to pieces. It is time to pull out the stops and let the truth out.

More on Zimbabwe
COSATU has come out in support of the ZCTU's national day of protest. Since the ANC's official position is to "never condemn" Zimbabwe this has potential for some rather intriguing conflicts of interest. If the Zimbabwean police come down heavily on the protestors will COSATU continue to support them and will the ANC continue to avoid criticising Mugabe.

Changing the subject slightly, I remember after the last major protest, a Zimbawean at Oxford told me that it marked the last time that the police and armed forces would be able to contain the protestors anger. His theory was that, since Zim's fuel reserves had been all but depleted, the security services would not be able to mount a major operation again. There would simply not be enough fuel to power the helicopters, armoured cars, police vans etc needed for a country wide crack down. If that theory is correct then this next protest, if it is large enough, may mark the tipping point. Even if it doesn't, it might be worth it for the various opposition groups to try a series of "rolling mass actions" and test the states capacity to enforce order.

Of course, this may also mark the point at which the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, who claim to have members in the various branches of the security services, make their entry.

Update: I've just purchased The Economist's 'The Year in 2004' and according to them Zimbabwe was one of only two countries, worldwide, which experienced negative economic growth last year. Mozambique, on the other hand, grew at 8 percent. The Sunday Times's website is reporting that inflation in Zim has increased to 525 percent. A few more signs of the great success of Mugabenomics

And before I forget, I recently discovered the website for New Zimbabwe, a group of journalists dedicated to countering the state owned media in Zim. If you don't already know about them, do have a look, they have some very interesting articles.

Camp Staldraad
I was chatting to Murray yesterday and he made the point that it speaks volumes about the way in which the Springbok management thinks that when they decided to have a team building exercise they turned to a former policeman (and as Dave F points out one decorated for "anti-terrorism" action) rather than a trained sports psychologist.

I think it might be time to accept that Springbok rugby has failed to make any real effort to adapt to the realities of South Africa and of professional sport and to start considering ways in which to impose change upon it.

Monday, November 17, 2003

The Hefer Commission
Mac Maharaj now says that Bulelani Ngcuka had, "in all probability" been an apartheid spy. But that's not what he was saying in September. Then he unequivocally backed a report in City Press which suggested that Ngcuka was an Apartheid spy.

It now seems fairly certain that neither Maharaj nor Schaik ever had clear evidence to back up their claims. So, either they panicked when rumours started circulating that Ngcuka was investigating them or (as BBC analyst Carolyn Dempster has argued) this is part of a bigger internal struggle in the ANC. If this later theory is true then the fallout from the investigation could have some very far reaching consequences..

Sunday, November 16, 2003

The Hefer Commission is due to resume this week with Mac Maharaj and Mo Schaik taking the stand. I really don't have high expectations, I'm afraid. This will be a week of obfuscation and prevarication with no real substance added to the claims made. Given the paucity of evidence to support their case (and I don't think their testimony is going to change that very much) I suppose the question now is what prompted them to make the claims against Ngcuka in the first place?

Murray has already blogged quite extensively on the various problems facing the Springbok rugby team, but I don't think that even he realised how bizarre some of the causes of their recent dismal performance may have been. Today's SA Sunday Times reveals details of a very peculiar pre-tournament training session in which players were made to, amongst other things, swim naked in freezing water (those who resisted being forced in at gunpoint) and leopard crawl, naked, across a gravel patch. This is pretty shocking but, to be honest, it should come as no surprise. Former Springbok communications manager, Mark Keohane's recent dossier on the Springbok squad revealed similar bizarre practices. For instance, Keohane says that it was common practice to give ill-disciplined players 'physical punishment', which usually involved making them exercise until they were sick. I should add, that this was not for players who were ill-disciplined on the field (this sort of behavior was apparently officially encouraged) but rather for those who failed to abide by what's best described as an 'honour code'.

I have a couple of thoughts on all this:

Firstly, it is absolutely amazing that professional sportsmen are still being treated like naughty children. I cannot even begin to imagine what would happen if somebody like David Beckham was ordered to undergo 'physical punishment' and there is no reason why the Springbok rugby squad should be any less professional than the England football team. These are grown up men playing in a professional sport not teenagers undergoing military training. They are entitled to be treated with the respect that accords their position and their adulthood.

Secondly, the fact that this sort of thing is condoned by senior management bespeaks volumes about the attitudes that still permeate the highest echelons of SA rugby. This crass, brutal method of training is part of an atmosphere and indeed an attitude which makes light of suffering and humiliation and, I dare say, racism. Yes, I don't think we can separate the two. I think that the person who feels that forcing people, at gunpoint, into freezing water makes for good training is probably also the sort of person who quietly condones racism in the squad. They both stem from the same archaic view of what constitutes acceptable adult behaviour.

Finally, I'm afraid that SA rugby still has leagues to go before it becomes truly professional. This is not high school (or the army), this is, frankly, a business and it doesn't surprise me in the least, therefore, that so many of our good players are leaving. That is what happens to business that are badly run, they lose their best staff.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

This BBC report on the reluctance of many South African men to use condoms makes for depressing reading.

Friday, November 14, 2003

More on the ZFM
Do they really exist or not? After reading this report on News24, Richard has some doubts (see his comment). I'm not so sure though. Peter Tatchell has a pretty good pedigree as an opponent of Mugabe's and so perhaps it's not pushing the bounds of credibility to suggest that he would be an obvious choice to break the news of the existence of the ZFM to the world. And then there's the fact that a British Junior Foreign Minister is claiming that the ZFM made an informal approach to the British High Commission in Harare.

Something that doesn't add up though, is the claim, reported in the M&G, that the group has
"...a network of cells throughout the country and thousands of members, primarily soldiers, police and members of the security services"
This would be the same police force and army that has been ruthlessly loyal to Mugabe over the past few years and, to the best of my knowledge, has never failed to carry out its orders to harry, supress and repress his political opponents. I could understand a few hundred malcontents, but thousands?

If you're insatiable, Jonathan Edelstein has more

Thursday, November 13, 2003

I've been a little remiss in blogging on Michael Howard's new Shadow Cabinet, but if your're interested Iain Murray has a few things to say about it.

The only thing I'd like to add is my unhappiness at Michael Portillo's decision to stand down as an MP. I've already stated my admiration for Portillo and I think the Tories will be the weaker for his absence. Still, he's been a divisive figure over the last few years so perhaps this is a blessing in disguise.

SABC has a short article on the escalating costs of the Heffer commission.

We've said it before, but it bears repeating, if Ngcuka is exonerated (as seems likely) then the book should be thrown at Mac Maharaj and Mo Shaik, upon whose flimsy allegations the whole process got started. Seems fair that they should have to pay Heffer's costs.

Resistance in Zim
If this report about the emergence of an armed resistance movement in Zimbabwe is true it marks a serious, if not wholly unexpected, turn of events. Once the struggle against Mugabe's tyranny moves from the lawful to the unlawful the possibility of a peaceful transition will disappear.

The report also mentions that

"...on Wednesday, new South African-based newspaper, This Day, released a special edition in Harare urging Mr Mugabe to step down. It also condemned the South African Government for its "shameful silence" on the crisis in Zimbabwe."

For those of you who don't know, This Day is apparently owned by a group of Nigerian businessmen, so this development should put paid to that old saw that it's only the Western (for which read White) media that criticises Mugabe.

UPDATE: Okay, this is interesting. I've just been given the link to the resistance movement (Zimbabwe Freedom Movement). Their website only carries a 'communique' listing their demands and a couple of photos of what is described as an 'arms dump'. They claim to be comprised of, mostly, serving members of the Zim armed forces and to be non-political. They also hold Mugabe wholly responsible for Zimbabwe's problems and are threatening to remove him by, '...judicious use of appropriate force' should he fail to step down willingly.

At this stage it is too early to say if this is all some elaborate hoax or, if it is true, whether ZFMs 'will of steel' is strong enough to drive it to some sort of armed insurrection or not. Either way, it's a sign of how bad things are in Zimbabwe that this sort of stuff is being openly spoken of.

UPDATE 2: I've just done a quick check of most of South Africa's major news sites to try and get more on this story but none of them have any details. The BBC story that I linked to is timed at 3:30pm so it looks like Southern Cross has beaten all of South Africa's news agencies to the punch. And since the BBC doesn't have ZFMs link, you could say we beat them too. Sorry, just a bit of shameless breast beating!

Interesting BBC article on the state of black economic empowerment in SA. When you've finished, read this report on the creation of South Africa's largest black owned mining company. A positive development, I think.

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

More Good News:
The SA govt is to quadruple spending on AIDS. All we need now is some positive action on Zimbabwe to round off what has, thus far, been a very positive week.

UPDATE: I've just realised that Murray beat me to the punch on this story. Still, that's blogging for you.

Let the Games Begin:
BBC has some favourable coverage of Michael Howard's first Parliamentary performance since becoming leader of the opposition. Blair beware..

Wow! More good news! The South African government is going to quadruple its spending on HIV/AIDS, and, as part of this, roll out anti-retroviral drugs. As Tom Lodge notes in the article I've linked to, this seems to signal that the government is at last beginning to treat HIV/AIDS as a genuine priority. To my mind, this is the best news from South Africa for a long time.

Great news -- I think. South African nationals overseas will, apparently, be allowed to vote in next year's general election. According to the M&G, Mbeki is of the view that the concerns of opposition parties are 'reasonable', and the Electoral Act will accordingly be amended.

We have, of course, yet to see what this means. A narrow exception could be made, allowing people who've already registered within South Africa to vote if they happen to be outside the country on election day. But if a broader approach is followed -- if people such as myself are allowed to register and vote in the UK -- the question that this raises is what has prompted this change of heart, especially given that allowing expats to vote is so clearly against the political interests of the ANC. (For the benefit of non-South African readers, most South African expats are white, and most -- although not all -- are likely to vote for opposition parties.)

It could be that the ANC fears embarrassment in the Constitutional Court. After all, the DA and FF have threatened legal action. But this is unlikely. In the cases heard before the previous election, concerning possession of bar-coded ID documents, the Court adopted a deferential approach to the right to vote and applied 'low intensity' rational connection review. If the matter were taken to court, the government would, I think, fancy its chances. Furthermore, the government has been quite prepared to embarrass itself in the courts in the past (in the Treatment Action Campaign case for example).

So possibly, just possibly, this is a gesture of genuine good will. I really hope that it is, but my experience of political organisations -- all such organisations, not just the ANC -- leads me to suspect that there is more to this than meets the eye. Let's wait and see what the amended law looks like.

Monday, November 10, 2003

To any regular readers (namely you Andrew) my apologies for a week of silence. I had a lot of work last week and wasn't able to set aside time to blog. But I'm back and thought I'd start off with some reflections on South Africa's abysmal exit to the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup. To any non-South African readers, discussing sport might seem odd in a blog primarily devoted to politics and culture. For better or for worse, however, sport is an integral part of the South African national psyche. When South Africa won the World Cup in 1995, and Nelson Mandela presented the trophy, it was seen as a seminal moment in the process of building a new South African nation, akin to a united Germany winning the football world cup in 1990. Hell, even JM Coetzee has written on rugby; I can too. And, to any South African readers, I'm no expert on rugby so what I'm about to say is liable to be fairly impressionistic. Any feedback would, therefore, be much appreciated.

So, whence the dramatic decline of the Springboks? After all, the team won in 1995, narrowly lost a semi-final to Australia (the eventual winners) in 1999, and, this year, was humiliated in the quarter-finals. If the team continues to follow this trajectory, they won't make the last eight in 2007. What explains this?

Firstly, an obvious problem is the number of players leaving the country. Increasingly, talented players are choosing the move overseas and play their rugby for clubs in England, France and Italy. I'm even told -- and I hope this isn't true -- that half the current team are liable to leave now that the World Cup is wrapped up. Their reasons are, apparently, the reasons given by so many white South Africans who've chosen to leave since 1994 -- better security, financial and otherwise. Added to this, SARFU (the South African Rugby Football Union) has a policy of not selecting players based outside South Africa. Their aim, they say, is to foster the game domestically. The result, of course, is a constantly shrinking pool of talent from which to choose.

Why, for the benefit of non South Africans, should this be seen as an issue of national importance? Largely, because of its symbolic value. Decline in a national sports team is taken to reflect a broader cultural mailaise -- it suggests that many would rather opt out of the inclusive dynamic South Africa embodied by Mandela and the world cup victory in 1995. It suggests that South Africa is a place where many would rather not be.

Secondly, there's no doubt that many of the famous South African teams of the past were primarily motivated by Afrikaner nationalism, which was itself a reflection of apartheid. Afrikaners had a point to prove to the world, and one place to do so was on the rugby field. Now that apartheid is over, and a new South African nation is in the process of formation, many (white) players seem to lack the impetus that they once had. To me, most of the team simply looked demotivated and listless on Saturday. Again, this seems to reflect an unpleasant truth; many whites don't identify themselves as part of the new South Africa. Given the choice, they'd rather play for London Irish. There's no new sense of nationhood to replace the one of old.

Thirdly, there's no doubt that there are fundamental racial problems in South African rugby. Here, once again, I must rely on my 'sources' (ie people I've chatted to around Oxford). I'm told, for instance, that the most important quality in a South African rugby captain is that he should be able to mediate between the English and Afrikaans factions in the team. When I heard this my first thought was, if these guys are still dealing with the Boer War (over 100 years ago), how on earth are they going to adjust to inclusion of players of colour in the team? Probably, not at all. I'm also told by fellow South African Quentin Williams, who plays rugby in the Western Cape, and who happens to be of mixed-race descent, that discrimination is a real problem at all levels. For instance, he cited practices such as white teams colluding to ensure that mixed-race teams are relegated.

So, if all of this is correct, the selectors are choosing the national team from an ever-dwindling pool of demotivated white players; hence, the decline of the Springboks. The more difficult question, of course, is what's to be done. Regarding the issue of players moving overseas, my own view is that SARFU should simply regard them as eligible for selection. Rugby is a professional sport in a globalised world. National football sides have selected players based overseas for years now (I'm sure that teams such as Brazil and Argentina would be shadows of their normal selves if they relied solely upon players based internally). Similar developments are inevitable in rugby. I can appreciate that SARFU wants to foster the game internally, but South African rugby is unlikely to flourish if the national team continues to perform as poorly as they have. As for the question of racism, this raises more difficult questions, not only regarding the extent of the problem, but also what's to be done about it. A Commission has been established under Judge Edwin King to investigate this issue, and it would perhaps be wise to await his findings.

In the meantime, for the remainder of the World Cup, I've decided to switch my allegiance to France (largely to annoy the assorted anglophiles and embittered post-Gulf War Americans who surround me...)

The Beeb is reporting on the make-up of Michael Howard's shadow cabinet. Iain Murray provides some analysis.

Via Politics.ZA: ThePretoria News is reporting that the FF and DA are preparing to challenge the govt on the issue of overseas voters. The DA is planning to table a private members bill in parliament with the FF going the court route.

As one of the several hundred thousand South African's living overseas, this makes me very happy. What makes me less happy is that they are apparently bickering amongst themselves about their respective strategies. The FF has dismissed the DA plan as a 'political gimmick' with the DA suggesting that the FF will be put off going to the courts by the prohibitive costs..

LSSA urges action on ZIM: I must admit that I've never heard of the Law society of South Africa, but every little bit of pressure helps. Check the SABC for the full story

More astute commentary by Farrel at Politics.ZA. This time about the DA/IFP alliance:

Just a quick comment by myself. There is NO way the DA and IFP are going to ever amalgamate for a variety of reasons.

#1 Tony Leon got burned by the NNP and I'm sure he's not keen to repeat that again. I'm sure their alliance will be close but they will definitely remain seperate.

#2 Their respective constituents are just too different. The IFP still relies on the tribal structure of Zulu's in Natal for the majority of their support. I somehow can't see Ton y rocking up at a IFP rally in full royal Zulu regalia.

#3 Their are still some fundamental political differences between the two, especially when it comes to traditional leaders having increased political power. The IFP is all for it because through their tight binds with the Zulu royal household it would help them, while for the DA traditional leaders are probably not their cup of tea.

The DA might be able to help the IFP in Natal by getting votes for them from the white/indian populations in the urban areas. How the IFP is going to help the DA get back the Western Cape I'm not so sure.

I've heard it said before that sex aids can be a pretty explosive topic but this really takes the, errr, crumpet..

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Hard luck chaps but a valiant effort none the less.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

The Matrix Revolutions is out and the Beeb ain't happy. I'm gonna reserve judgement until I've seen it but since I actually enjoyed Reloaded I'll be seeing Revolutions with reasonably high expectaations.

The Ngcuka case redux. Jacob Zuma has lodged a complaint with the Public Protector against Bulelani Ngcuka. So, is this the white flag? Can we presume that those in the know have concluded that the Nguka spy allegations aren't going to stick or is this latest twist simply another front in the battle to depose Nguka?

Change of subject.
CNN has an interesting story on the fate of Voyager 1. For those who dont' know (or have forgotten) Voyager 1 is one of the two Voyager probes that NASA launched in 1977. According to the report, it has just arrived at the edge of the solar system, know as the terminal shock. It is the first probe to reach the terminal shock and, at a distance of 13.5 billion kilometres, the furthest man made object from Earth. In about 40 000 light years time, it'll reach one of the Sun's neighbouring stars.

Wednesday, November 05, 2003

By now everyone must be familiar with the 419 scam. It usually takes the form of an apparently confidential email from an important somebody (banker, politician etc) in a West African country who desperately needs your help to get a large sum of money out of the country. In exchange for your help you'll receive a percentage of the money. The scam works by getting gullible people to deposit money into a Nigerian bank account to 'activate it' prior to the big transfer taking place. Amazingly, it seems that people still fall for it.

Anyway, some enterprising individuals decided to get their own back on the scammers by pretending to be Harry Potter.The results are very funny.

The next Zimbabwe? This is interesting. The BBC is reporting that farmers in Namibia are planning to occupy white-owned farms next week. The Namibian govt said, ' would not tolerate any land invasions and urged landless people to be patient.'

I thought it might be interesting to see what the SA media has to say about the alliance between the DA and the IFP.

The SABC makes a gallant attempt at impartiality in its story but then, in the final paragraph, it can't resist a cheap shot:

"The IFP/DA alliance is an interesting marriage that many supporters think will work beyond the honeymoon."

It may be 'interesting' chaps, but I'm afraid that you're going to have to provide us with some analysis if you want us to believe such a broad assertion. And what precisely do you mean by 'interesting' anyway? On most of the important issues, the DA and the IFP share similar policies: a commitment to a liberal, capitalist economy, devolution of power to the provinces, and the gradual withdrawal of the state from areas of our national life in which it currently chooses to involve itself. Perhaps what the SABC means is that it is worrying for the ANC that a credible opposition party seems to be emerging and therefore it feels the need to cast aspersions on the coalition. No surprises here, really, the SABC has never made much of an attempt to be impartial in it's coverage of political news. How could it, it's effectively a parastatal and most of it's board members are also members of the ANC.

IOL news goes into more depth and includes this, very interesting, paragraph:

"The IFP leader publicly expressed his wish to become the next president of South Africa. This he said was possible only if the coalition defeated the ANC in the election.

He said that if he became president, his cabinet would include not only members of the coalition, but also members of the ANC who would be willing to participate. "

Buthelezi as president? It seems inconceivable, but perhaps this is an indication of what is going on behind the scenes. Later on I'm going to write a piece speculating on the bargains and compromises that underlie the coalition but for the moment it suffices to say that it appears that Buthelezi will emerge as the senior figure. The parties will campaign as separate entities during the elections but on the basis of this story, Buthelezi will be the de facto leader. Should they decide to go the course of a full-blown merger, then presumably he will be the top dog. This is interesting, because the DA is the larger of the two parties and, on the face of, should have been in a position to assert the rights of their man to be in charge. Of course, having a guy like Tony Leon as president wouldn't really fly, and I'm sure Tony knows that but one wonders what kind of sweetners he's extracted from the IFP in exchange for letting Buthelezi take the reigns. Could we possibly see IFP policy positions becoming more DA-like over the next few months?

The Sunday Times does a fair job of covering the news and makes the point that the IFP hopes to hold onto KZN as a result of the alliance. This, I think, is a reasonably realistic prospect but the second hope, that the DA might take back the Western Cape, is a bit far-fetched, to say the least. I suspect that the DAs idea might be that by demonstrating it's 'new South African' credentials to floating voters in the Western Cape it will convince them to switch support from the NNP. I doubt this will work, to be honest, and I suspect that the DA's hopes in the Western Cape lie more in their ability to convince the Cape Flats that they are the real heirs to the Nats rather than the anaemic NNP.

A new South African blog, Wildsouth has just come to my attention. Check them out for a variety of Cape Town themed blogging.

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

Right, firstly, apologies for the lack of news recently - family matters necessitated my leaving Oxford for the weekend. The good news is that as a result I now have my very own car, a white Renault Clio provisionally named 'Buttercup the screaming demon mobile'. Somebody has pointed out that buttercups are yellow though, so I may re-christen it.

Secondly, here is the biggest story in South African Politics of the last few months. Expect several lengthy blogs on this as soon as I have some time.

Saturday, November 01, 2003

The Head Heeb has a short but interesting article (with lots of links) on the World Economic Forums latest Global Competititive Rankings report. Botswana, at 36, beats South Africa, at 42, for highest ranking by an African country.

Now this is a hard man. And intelligent too, his latest book, on Scott of the Antarctic, has just been released.