Thursday, October 30, 2003

So, it looks like I was wrong about Mugabe. IOL reports that he appeared at Victoria Falls on Wednesday, thus ending speculation that he is seriously ill. Nevertheless, the article goes on to say that:

" has been established that Mugabe has been dogged by ill health over the past few months, after suffering a minor stroke. Sources in his party and his intelligence service say he has regularly shown signs of stress and epileptic fits, which often caused him to collapse. The latest incident, they say, was on Saturday, after the president had attended a relative's wedding in southern Zimbabwe."

Perhaps it is still too soon to dismiss all the speculation about Mugabe's health problems. Thanks to John Elliott for pointing this article out to me.

The Adam Smith Institute Weblog is speculating on the composition of a Howard shadow cabinet.

John Redwood as Chancellor could be an inspired choice. A little know fact about Redwood is that he's a member of All Souls College Oxford. For the uninitiated, All Souls is Oxford's most prestigious College, accepting only one or two members each year. It is said to contain the smartest minds in Britain, for what it's worth.

The Telegraph has an interesting article on Michael Howard.

Apparently, he's the son of Jewish Romanian immigrants who settled in Wales. This would make him the first Jewish leader of the Tories since Benjamin Disraeli, although, as Andrew Sullivan points out Disraeli converted to Anglicanism. A Jewish Welsh immigrant - who says that Britain is not a socially mobile society?

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Duncan-Smith is out. No surprises here, really, although he did better than I was expecting to get 75 votes.

The surprise is that David Davis has chosen not put himself forward as a leadership candidate:

"One possible rival, David Davis, has already said he is backing Mr Howard in the leadership contest, saying he had decided to turn down requests to run himself....Mr Davis said his decision to "step aside" for Mr Howard was designed to prevent more infighting. 'I recently have had a lot of people come to me and suggest I run for the leadership ... enough to make me think I can win. However, a long and protracted leadership contest would worsen these deep divisions and faction fighting and make the sort of problems we have had in recent years even worse in the run up to the next general election."

Given his reputation as a political bruiser and his stated belief that the Tories have gone too far in their efforts to modernise, I find this statement rather odd. I wouldn't be surprised if, inspite of protestations to the contrary, some sort of deal has been done and Davis emerges as a senior figure in Howard's shadow cabinet. Perhaps too, he's concerned that he and Howard might compete for the same vote thus allowing a moderniser, Clarke or Portillo to sneak in. What does seem clear is that with most senior Tories lining up behind Howard this should be a relatively short and painless transition. Unless, of course, it goes to the Conservative party membership in which case anything could happen..

Since my last post, Unlearned Hand has toned down his initially rather visceral attack on my view that human rights are intrinsic, and shouldn't be granted on the basis of whether we happen to like people or not. In fact, to an extent we now converge: we both agree that the situation in Guantanomo Bay can be criticised in terms of the language of rights. Having conceded that point, however, Unlearned Hand makes the following comment:

"Let's take a different line for argument's sake. Let's say you and I think there is an intrinsic right to subsistence. Does that mean you or I can walk into a courtroom and demand the government feed us? It does not, because a claim that 'we all have an intrinsic right not to starve to death' is not currently legally cognizable. Certainly we could work to change that. But we at least need to recognize the current legal regime for what it is ... So where does that leave us? The way I see it, my South African colleague is saying that the Gitmo prisoners have an "intrinsic moral right" to this or that procedural protection, and my response is maybe, maybe not, but either way they don't have a legal right to it."

The point that Unlearned Hand is, I think, trying to make is that I'm entitled to say that the Guantanomo Bay detainees have (moral) rights, that should be crystallised into legal rights, but ultimately this is rather speculative and contentious, and similar to claiming that everyone should enjoy a right to food under US law.

Now the right to food does enjoy some protection under international law (in the form of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights) and under the South African Constitution. But I accept Unlearned Hand's argument that in almost all jurisdictions requesting food from a court, as a matter of right, would not be a legally cognisable claim.

The problem with Unlearned Hand's analogy, however, is that the rights in issue in Guantanomo Bay -- rights such as the right to be presumed innocent, not to be arbitrarily detained, and to be tried within a reasonable time -- enjoy far wider protection in domestic legal systems than the right to food, and are therefore far more well-established and well-defined. In fact, I struggle off-hand to think of a single liberal democracy that does not extend these rights to its citizens. And that, of course, reflects a shared moral conviction that procedural rights such as these are among the most fundamental tenets of decent government, and are owed to individuals as matters of intrinsic right.

Prior to 9/11 most human rights lawyers would have been astounded if they'd been told that one of the world's leading democracies would shortly abandon procedural guarantees that have been centuries in the making. That the US now has -- and that articulate and intelligent people are willing to let it do so -- is what saddens me.

As our manifesto declares, this blog is principally concerned with South African and British issues, with occasional deviations elsewhere. It is therefore with some reluctance that I respond to one Unlearned Hand of En Banc, who takes exception to my discussion of his remarks on the detainees held at Guantanomo Bay.

In essence, Unlearned Hand disagrees with my view that rights are intrinsic, and are owed to individuals regardless of whether we think they deserve them or not. For Unlearned Hand, rights only have meaning if they can be derived from binding documents, wherein they are clearly defined. Talk of 'intrinsic' rights is mere mumbo-jumbo, and is likely to lead only to abuse of power.

The difficulties with Unlearned Hand's position are well-illustrated by the experience of my own country -- South Africa -- under apartheid. Apartheid was perfectly legal under South African law, and South Africa had also not ratified any international conventions dealing with human rights. In this sense, black South Africans, like the detainees in Guantanomo Bay, had no legally binding rights.

Does this mean, however, that apartheid didn't constitute a violation of human rights, or that it shouldn't have been criticised on this basis? Does it also mean that apartheid could have been defended on the grounds that black South Africans had no legally binding rights? These would be odd positions to hold, and should put things in perspective. I agree with Learned Hand that the Guantanomo Bay detainees don't have enforceable rights, but that rather misses the point; the point is that they should.

Learned Hand also thinks that the rights that I invoke are incapable of definition. But I think that this overstates the case. As Learned Hand correctly concedes, the detainees have a right, under the Geneva Conventions, to a preliminary hearing within a reasonable time to determine their status. Those who are found to be POWs would then be entitled to the full range of rights guaranteed under the remainder of the Conventions. As for those detainees who are not POWs, the due process rights to which they should be entitled are well-defined under documents such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

On reflection, it might seem that Unlearned Hand and I are talking at cross-purposes. After all, in his original post he concluded that access to legal process should be granted to the Guantanomo Bay detainees because 'it speaks to our morals.' But, fundamentally, I was making a point about the correct attitude to hold if we want to sign on the human rights agenda -- as a powerful moral ideal -- in good faith. My point was this: if we want to take human rights seriously, then whether or not we think people 'deserve' rights should be irrelevant. This leaves open the possibility that certain people don't deserve rights, which would make nonsense of the very concept of human rights.

Of course, it might be that Unlearned Hand doesn't want to sign on to the idea of human rights. But then he would either have to be indifferent to political systems such as apartheid, or find some way to criticise them that doesn't turn on the notion that humans, everywhere, are owed certain standards of treatment -- regardless of what we think of them personally.

Juli Killian, New National Party (NNP) provincial MP in Gauteng, argues today that Tony Leon and the DA's current stategy to 'build the core of an alternative government' are fatuous in the extreme:

'Only a political fool could believe that a white-led party could become the alternative government in SA,'

This is what fellow South African, and Oxford Economist, Robyn Evans had to say in response:

It is difficult to disagree with this point of view and in my opinion, to take Leon and his political
antics seriously any more. The DP lost all credibility when they joined forces with the Nats to form the DA
in 2002. Furthermore, Tony Leon's aggressive stance towards the Mbeki-led ANC, served only to antagonise
the government and undermine any future constructive initiatives from his own party. Opposition for the sake of
opposition does little to advance political discourse, or indeed social and economic development.

However, it is important in a democratic society that a strong, widely-supported opposition exists to challenge
a majority political powerhouse that is the ANC. Killian makes the case for building a 'moderate, nonracial centre'
to maintain a 'political majority against a future radical, socialist left-wing opposition'. Furthemore, she suggests
the NNP will 'continue to engage the ANC' to ensure that this happens. If the DP-Freedom Alliance alliance was
hard to stomach, the latterly cosiness of the ANC and their former oppressors reminds one that in the end it's all
about politics and votes, votes and politics. That Killian believes so fervently that the NNP will have any real
influence on ANC policy and thinking, is nothing short of amusing. The NNP has broadened the government's
power base and nothing else. All the rest is pie in a very deluded sky.

What then are the alternatives? The IFP? The PAC? The UDM? De Lille's ID? The last two are certainly ideologically
more appealing than the DA and NNP to anyone with left-of-centre inclinations, but not likely to rouse enough
interest amongst the wider electorate.

Perhaps what is needed is a newly defined and different version of the ANC. A black-led party that is designed to address the social and economic concerns of our generation. Not one based on years of history and suffering, but one motivated specifically by the challenges of today - globalisation, education, employment, economic growth, AIDS, human rights, environmental awareness etc. A party that will capture the imaginations of future generations of South Africans - both those who are constrained by the lack of opportunity and those who have begun to reap the fruits of our ten-year old dispensation. Maybe I am the one with deluded ideals, but it seems to me that what may have a chance of beating the ANC, is in fact the ANC 'reloaded'.

The Telegraph on Iain Duncan-Smith.. Talk about damning with faint praise.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Oh how I weep for the American sense of justice post-September 11. The other day I picked up the following comment on a legal blog entitled En Banc:

"Let me make one thing clear: I have little sympathy for the detainees. If they were to sit in Gitmo for 50 years I wouldn't feel bad for them. I don't think they "deserve" the rights provided by our Constitution, and some of them probably really do not fall under the Geneva Convention rubric.

It's the lack of process which bothers me. Process implicates the captor as much, if not more than, the captive. It speaks to our morals, our capacity for seeing a fair trial given to those we hate the most. I don't think they have a right to it, but I think we should give it to them anyway. We are better than them, and we are better than the alternative which they represent."

Well, at least the author thinks that the detainees should have access to legal process, which is more than the Bush administration is willing to grant them. But, more seriously, firstly, rights are not extended to people on the basis of whether they 'deserve' them or not. Rights are intrinsic; humans have rights by virtue of being human, not by virtue of perceived moral character. One does not give someone a right out of a sense of magnanimity; rights are owed. Secondly, what on earth happened to the presumption of innocence, one of the most fundamental principles of criminal justice? How can the author claim to have 'little sympathy' for the detainees when their guilt or innocence has not been established through the judicial process?

In all fairness, I should point out that many of the entries on En Banc are highly critical of the situation in Guantanomo Bay. What disturbs me, however, is that views such as the one quoted above have gained serious currency in the US in the wake of 9/11 (as has the argument that torture is an acceptable means of interrogation). And this is sad for a country that -- rightly -- has great pride in its democratic traditions, and its commitment to civil liberties.

Great entry Andrew. But if you think that the Conservative Party in Britain is in trouble, its nothing compared to the travails of its counterpart in Canada. Apparently, the mainstream conservative party in that country recently attempted to rejuvenate its flagging fortunes by forming an alliance with like-minded parties, under the name 'Canadian Reform Alliance Party.' This, of course, forms the tragic acronym CRAP...

This Blog is supposed to be concerned with both British and South African issues although, given the welter of interesting stories coming out of South Africa at the moment, the dearth of British related blogging is perhaps not surprising. Nevertheless, its never too late to start and on that score I draw your attention to the BBCs top story of the hour: The challenge to Iain Duncan-Smiths leadership of the Tories..

IDS will probably go down in history as the worst leader of the Conservative party of the last 100 years. Not only did he fail to win an election, he failed even to survive for long enough to face an election (this is assuming he loses the leadership challenge, which I think he will). He possessed all of William Hague's faults and contrived, somehow, to add a few that Hague did not possess: lack of political nous, lack of savvy in Parliament and lack of any discernible intelligence. Nevertheless, Hague must carry some of the can for IDS's presence at the helm of the Tories. If Hague hadn't fiddled with the leadership election process, IDS would not have ended up being leader. Instead, its possible that the Tories would have had Michael Portillo who, to my mind, is still the only man with a real chance of leading the Tories to victory in 7 years time (the Tories will lose the next election regardless of who their leader is). Hague's changes were designed, ironically enough, to make leadership challenges more difficult, but the nett result was to put the question of the leadership to rank and file party members. It bears pointing out that the average Tory party member is in her 60s and so conservative on most issues as to be out of touch with the feelings of the rest of the country. Thus, as my grandmother put it,'...we all voted for IDS because the alternative was that ghastly lager drinking euro-phile Kenneth Clarke.' Portillo was at that stage already out of the running having put himself beyond the pale with the party membership by admitting to a series of homosexual relationships whilst up at Cambridge.

Portillo, to my mind, is still a worthy candidate. He impressed me, when I heard him speak last year, by suggesting that if the Tories were ever to win again they would have to realise that the commitment to liberty and freedom went beyond just encouraging laissez-faire capitalism and included getting out of the bedroom, reducing the power of the state and withdrawing from the whole communitarian enterprise. Surprisingly, this is not something the Tories have been very good at. Even under Thatcher, the Conservatives remained wedded to the idea of a strong, paternalistic state. The Conservatives have always seen the state as the guardian of British values and morals and the protector of Britain's history and heritage. That may have worked in the 1950s, it may even have been tolerated, through gritted teeth in the 80s but it certainly wont hold water in the 21st century. Very few of the Tory leadership seems to realise this, though which is why I say I was impressed with Michael Portillo when I heard him.

Nonetheless, its unlikely that Portillo will make a run for the leadership. Without a shadow cabinet position from which to make his bid it's unlikely that he'd even be able to garner much of the parliamentary party's support. So who else? The name that is being bandied about is Michael Howard, the man of whom Ann Widdecombe, rather unfairly, said she discerned, '...something of the night.' Howard is nevertheless an impressive figure, he has lots of experience (he was Home-Secretary under John Major), he has a sharp and analytical mind (witness the off-the-cuff forensic analysis that he performed on Gordon Brown's budget this year) and, perhaps most importantly, he seems to have a lot of support within the party. The problem with Howard is that he represents the Tory party of yesterday. No doubt he would say he has moved with the times but there is something about him, a certain arrogance perhaps, possibly some of that old style paternalism, which doesn't bode well for the future. And make no mistake the Tories have a monumental task ahead of them if they are to convince the electorate that they've moved on.

Is Howard a capable man, who would make a decent PM? Yes, I think he is. Is he the man to lead a comprehensive rank and file overhaul of the Tories and their image? No, I don't think so. So if Howard is elected leader, the Tories will still go down heavily at the next election and they will fail to make any real headway in the years that follow. Perhaps we can look forward to another leadership challenge in around 4/5 years time as the Tories realise that they are about to lose a record 4th election. If that happens they will have all but consigned themselves to the dustbin of history. The next couple of days will be interesting, they may well mark the point at which the Conservatives finally get there act together. On the other hand, future historians may see this as the point at which their decline became irreversible...

Mugabe: Looks like the rumour had no basis. Mugabe is apparently alive and well and chaired a Cabinet meeting this morning according to unnamed sources.

Or is he? If Mugabe has suddenly fallen ill there would be a number of compelling reasons why his cronies might want to maintain the illusion that he is still performing his duties whilst they decide what to do. Just some idle speculation...

Monday, October 27, 2003

Mugabe is in hospital. Dare I say it, dare we hope?

Way South has some stuff on South Africa's proposed pebble bed nuclear reactor.

I was, initially, rather sceptical of this. South Africa has a history of large and expensive projects which struggle to turn a profit, think of Mossgas, SASOL, the Rooivalk etc, and this just seemed to be more of the same. But, as time's gone by, I've been won over by some of the arguments. Pebble beds are exceptionally safe and, if the experts are to be believed, relatively cheap. Furthermore, compared to coal fired reactors they present far less of an environmental problem. Certainly, there is the problem of waste disposal but, in a country that is largely made up of unpopulated desert, that shouldn't be a problem. Finally, they may even earn us some much needed export dollars, if we can sell a few of them overseas.

Yesterday it was reported that Zimbabwean police had shut down the country's only independent paper, The Daily News. Today we're hearing that the papers directors have all been arrested. Have we heard a squeak from the South African govt? Not one. Viva 'quiet diplomacy'..

Interestingly, the BBC reported a couple of weeks ago that The Daily News was planning to set up a news website in South Africa in the event of the police shutting them down again. If this happens it could create real sparks. Granted, most Zimbabweans don't have access to the net, but it is still possible that Mugabe would take offence and demand that the SA govt do something about it. Would Thabo be prepared to trample on the rights of his own citizens if Bob demanded it? It seems unlikely, but, then, most of the govts response to Zimbabwe has been pretty surreal. I await further developments with interest.

The ANC has dismissed as speculation the story that Cyril Ramaphosa might be contemplating a political comeback. Its true that his name was included on the Western Cape candidates list, but he still has the right to withdraw, which he is -- apparently -- likely to do. Ramaphosa was, it seems, nominated, despite the fact that he didn't want to be.

It is, incidentally, interesting to note that Jacob Zuma garnered the second-most votes in the Western Cape, after Thabo Mbeki. A lot of people, including such esteemed publications as The Economist, have been saying that, following allegations of corruption, Zuma is a spent force. The fact that he has retained this level of support suggests that we shouldn't jump to this conclusion too quickly. Of course, a great deal hinges on the outcome of the Hefer Commission. As Farrel Lifson pointed out via our comments section, the Commission has split the ANC, with an array of ANC heavyweights coming out in support of Bulelani Ngcuka. If Zuma's accusations that Ngcuka was an apartheid-era spy turn out to be ill-founded -- as seems increasingly likely -- then he will almost certainly suffer real damage. If, on the other hand, he is vindicated, then he could receive a massive boost, and do damage to those who have sided with Ngcuka. We shouldn't, in other words, write off Zuma yet, at least not until the Hefer Commission is wrapped up. Sadly, for those intrigued by the ever-thickening plot, this is likely to take some time...

Thanks Steve...

Sunday, October 26, 2003

For interests sake, I'm posting a response to one of Murray's articles by Farrel Lifson at Politics.Za:

"With regards to the lack of successors for Mbeki, I think people are underestimating Trevor Manuel. He is immensely popular among the ANC membership (as witnessed by his #1 election to the ANC NEC), he has a credible track record in his current position as Finance Minister and he is one of the few politicians in this whole Zuma/Ngcuka/Shaik/Maharaj mess who will come out totally clean. I don't think he has yet to make a single statement about the whole debacle. He in fact has probably the most to gain by Zuma losing his standing in the ANC and not taking over after Mbeki.

Of course the question remains will the "Xhosa Nostra" allow a boy from the Cape Flats to lead the country?

Ramaphosa is definitely a contender but I really think that Manuel has his eyes dead set on the prize. If Ramaphosa throws his hat in the ring he will find a tough contender in Manuel."

I agree that Manuel is an impressive character. Along with Tito Mboweni he strikes me as one of the ANCs most credible and intelligent members. Nevertheless, I'll eat my hat if South Africa ends up with a Manuel presidency. A former lecturer of mine at the University of Cape Town once made the point that ANC internal politics is driven by competition between the 'Robben Islanders', the 'Exiles' and the people who made their names in the 80s in either the trade unions or the UDF, call them the 'civics'. That struggle was effectively won by the 'exiles' when Mbeki out manouvered Ramaphosa in the mid 90s. It resurfaces from time to time though, most recently when Ramaphosa, Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa were accused of plotting against the president in 2001. If this theory is correct, it puts Manuel at an immediate disadvantage since he cut his political teeth as a trade unionist in the early 80s and, to the best of my knowledge, has never been close to the exiles. I know that Manuel was elected no1 to the ANC MEC recently but I struggle to believe that the movers and shakers within the ANC will allow him to take the top job. This is before we even look at other theories of ANC internal politics. Its long been said, particularly by Zulus that the movement is dominated by Xhosa's and that a Zulu could never be president. As Farrel points out, Manuel is, 'a boy from the Cape Flats' so whether he would even be considered for the top job is anybodies guess. It's a pity, because I think he'd do a damn good job. He is already the most successful post War Minister of Finance that the country has produced (he'd run rings around anything that the Nats ever came up with) and has shown himself to be a thoughtful and articulate politician. It's hard to imagine Manuel making some of Mbeki's more egregious gaffe's.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Aidan Hartley has an interesting piece in this weeks Spectator about Zimbabwe. He suggests that Mugabe draws most of his pan-African support from a middle class that derives pleasure from watching white Zimbabweans, in particular, and Britain and the US, in general, receive their comeuppance.

I'm usually a bit sceptical of these sorts of articles: old white 'Africa hand' gets together with his black comrade from the struggle and then tells us where the roots of Africa's problems lie. Nevertheless, there may be some truth in what he says. Hartley quotes a statistic from a study by Lawrence Schlemmer which suggests that support for Mugabe amongst black South African's is partly a function of class. He goes on to remind us of how popular Idi Amins expulsion of Ugandan Asians was amongst the middle class of that country. Hartley doesn't mention it, but it bears pointing out that the irony of all this is that the middle classes of Zimbabwe are the ones voting for the MDC. Mugabe's support is almost entirely rural and peasant based and I suspect that even that is more a result of ZANU PFs use of food aid as a tool of political repression than of genuine love of the party.

The Zimbabwean political system is bankrupt (in both senses) from top to bottom. It's sole purpose now is to service the needs of a crony elite who exchange acquiescence to Mugabes mad flights of fancy for material riches. The great bulk of the people, the overwhelming majority of whom are black, are, of course, facing persecution, poverty and starvation. That this state of affairs prompts admiration from certain people is cause for major concern. It suggests that African elites are motivated more by a desire for revenge than by a commitment to the rule of law, respect for human rights and democracy. Again and again African leaders (including Thabo Mbeki) have tolerated the most outrageous excesses simply because the person committing them is a leader of a former liberation movement. If Hartley is to be believed then this attitude is not confined to African rulers but extends to the middle classes too. And that is worrying. The middle classes of Africa have the most to gain from stable, democratic govt, if they, of all people, do not see this, then the outlook for Africa is indeed bleak. The independent Zimbabwean media has been smashed (see my entry further down the page), the opposition is being hounded and the country faces mass starvation and for this Mugabe has won plaudits from an intelligentsia that itself must still have memories of fighting similar oppression.

Will somebody please do something about this!

This is very interesting. The Cape Argus has reported that Cyril Ramaphosa is seriously considering a return to politics, which would make him a strong contender for the presidency in 2009. Apparently, his name has appeared on a provisional list of candidates for the Western Cape, and analysts suspect that he may be using his nomination as a 'kite-flying' exercise to see what kind of support he would be able to muster.

For those unacquainted with South African politics, Mandela favoured Ramaphosa as his successor, but Mbeki managed to out-manouver him for the presidency. Thereafter, Ramaphosa decided to concentrate on business, although he remained on the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC. Given some of Mbeki's stranger policies -- those relating to AIDS and Zimbabwe are most often cited -- many South Africans have been left wondering what might have been. Ramaphosa was the ANC's leading negotiator during the constitution drafting process, has enjoyed a successful career in business, and also seems able to inspire peoples' confidence. He remains extremely popular in the ANC (he garnered the second most votes in elections for the NEC at the ANC's Congress in Stellenbosch, after Trevor Manuel), although this support might well split once he re-enters the political arena.

If Ramaphosa does return to politics, and is seriously contemplating the presidency, this can only be a positive development. At the moment there is a real dearth of serious candidates to succeed Mbeki, which has led to what I hope is ill-informed speculation about Mbeki possibly amending the Constitution so as to allow for a third term. We should follow Mr Rhamaphosa's progress, and the response that it elicits from the ANC, with interest.

I've just discovered what looks like a relatively new blog devoted to British foreign policy. Airstrip One has a number of interesting posts including this one which links to an article about the development of British and French foreign policy since the end of the Cold War.

I've said this before, but I'm amazed at how little discussion there is of British foreign policy by the elites that shape it. In particular, I'm thinking of its direction and strategic aims. Apart from a fuzzy commitment to the 'Special Relationship' and a certain scepticism of Europe there doesn't really seem to be any guiding philosophy. You can say what you like about Bush's foreign policy (I happen to be quite sympathetic to many aspects) but at least the neo-cons claim to be guided by a desire to restore democracy to formerly undemocratic parts of the world. British foreign policy and its practitioners, on the other hand, appear, at times, to be entirely re-active. This would be understandable if Britain were a small country on the periphery somewhere but it is not. It has one of the worlds largest economies and a very capable military and it could quite easily play a more pro-active and independent role on the world stage. In particular I'm thinking of Africa and the possible role that Britain could play in stabilising areas of West and Central Africa that are falling apart. Britain played a major role in bringing peace to Sierra Leone several years ago and there is no reason why it couldn't have done the same in Liberia and the Great Lakes region of the Congo. This is out of the question now, of course. The UKs invovement in Iraq means that it lacks both the troops and the popular will to get involved in more adventures in far off lands. Yet, this bears out my contention. There was no reason why the UK needed to get involved in Uncle Sam's war. The needs of the special relationship would have been satisfied by supporting the US's diplomatic efforts in the UN and by providing financial support in the wars aftermath. The US did not require Britain's assistance to win the war and, if anything, I suspect that US military planners resented having to work with their British counterparts. If Britain had remained aloof of Iraq it would have been in a position to go to the assistance of Liberia as that country imploded and it would probably have been in a position to provide the muscle to back up South Africa's diplomatic efforts in the Congo. There is a presumption in Britain that involvement in Africa will invite accusations of neo-colonialism, as indeed it might, from some quarters. But that is not sufficient reason to refrain from involvement. There is plenty of scope for Britain to work with Africa's more responsible powers and even where there is no local involvement there is usually a compelling moral case for intervention in countries which are being ravaged by civil war and tribalism. But Britain can only do this if it picks its wars carefully. Leave the heavy lifting to the US, it is quite capable, and focus on restoring peace to countries whose importance is perhaps only marginal. If the 'special relationship' was rational as opposed to emotional this is how things would work. And yet, there is so little debate about British foreign policy that the UK has found itself involved in a major campaign which, as recently as, two years ago anyone would scarecly have contemplated. Mr Blair, where is the direction? The 'special relationship' is not a sufficient basis from which to conduct such an important aspect of the nations life.

Richard at Way South has a link to a report by Reporters without Borders on world press freedom. South Africa ranks 21st, ahead of France, the UK and the USA. I haven't delved into the methodology used but these rankings set my spidey sense tingling. Since I'm not actually in South Africa, it's hard to get a feeling for how free the press really is at the moment, but it bears pointing out that when I left SA (about 2 years ago) the press had just come through an official investigation into racism in the media which at times had seemed like a barely concealed effort to muzzle those voices that were critical of the govt. I should also add, and I think this is still very much the case, that the SABC more or less toes the party line in its news coverage, to the extent that it is sometimes little more than a propaganda tool for the state. This being the case, I can't help but wander about the motivations of Reporters without Borders. If the USA is in the same company as Benin, Albania and Nicaragua one can't help but conclude that there is some sort of political axe being ground here.

Having said all that, I suppose this is good news. There is little doubt that South Africa does enjoy relatively high levels of press freedom and if the international community recognises this, we should be pleased.

Looks like I'm not the only one getting nostalgic over the withdrawal, today, of Concorde from regular airline service. I agree with both Matthew O'Keeffe and Johnathan Pearce that, whilst Concorde may have been a waste of taxpayers money, she is so beautiful and so audacious in conception that you can't help but feel a pang of regret with her passing.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Whilst out scouting the high frontier of the blogosphere I came across a number of African affairs blogs. I've linked to them on the sidebar and recommend that you check them out if you've an interest in Africa and South Africa...

The eagle eyed amongst you may also have noticed the word comment at the bottom of each entry. Yes, in response to overwhelming demand (2 people) we've added the ability to comment on each article. I'm hoping that this will increase interest in the site as people respond to some of the more provocative things we say.

Ahh, fame at last....

Last week I wrote an entry about human rights abuses in Zimbabwe and expressed the view that, in light of the South African government's purported commitment to human rights, its silence on events in Zimbabwe is disturbing. One abuse I pointed to is the distribution of food aid on the basis of political allegiance. This is a clear human rights violation because it amounts to discrimination on the basis of political opinion. Lest anyone be in doubt about the veracity of this claim, you are invited to read the 51-page report 'Not Eligible: The Politicization of Food in Zimbabwe' published today by Human Rights Watch.

In essence, the report details how perceived adversaries to the ruling ZANU-PF party experience difficulty in gaining access to food. The category 'perceived adversaries' encompasses, not only members of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), but also teachers, commercial farm workers and urban residents considered sympathetic to the MDC. In effect, without a ZANU-PF party card, a Zimbabwean cannot register for or receive government-subsidized grain. The net result is that 14 million people in Zimbabwe are 'food insecure' (that is, they are unable to obtain sufficient food to meet basic needs).

Given that aid agencies are active in Zimbabwe, and food aid has been poured into the country, how is this happening? One problem is that agencies tend to rely on local authorities to determine beneficiary status, which lends itself to political manipulation. Another factor -- and this is interesting -- is that the aid agencies are themselves politicised. According to the report, many aid agencies are resistant to providing aid to those resettled on former commercial farms under the government's land 'reform' program. This is partly due to political objections, on the part of aid agencies, to the 'reform' program itself. But its also because the government has dragged its heels about providing the needs assessment that would enable the aid agencies to provide assistance. After all, it would reflect very poorly on the government if the farms that have been resettled are unproductive, and the people who occupy them hungry. So there is a resistance to acknowledging the fact that they are.

All of this makes for horrifying reading and should put things in perspective for those interested in South African foreign policy. As noted previously, the factors that motivate Mbeki's 'quiet diplomacy' remain a matter for speculation. I suspect that they are both pragmatic and personal. But, whatever they are, they should easily be outweighed by the brute fact of 14 million needlessly starving people. Years from now, no one, least of all the South African government, can claim that they didn't know what was happening in Zimbabwe. The time has come -- no, the time has long since passed -- for our government to put moral distance between itself and this regime.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Concorde: So she's come to the end of her life and, as every paper in Britain has reported this week, an era has drawn to a close. For those feeling nostalgic, here and here are a few pictures of the most beautiful machine ever created by man...

At last I have stirred a modicum of controversy and interest! Following my entry that it had never seriously been put to me that I should decline the Rhodes on the basis that it is tainted money, fellow South African Rhodes Scholar Trudy Makhaya -- presently pursuing a high-flying and well-deserved career in Johannesburg -- sent me the following e-mail:

'I was very surprised to read that it had never been put to you to decline a
Rhodes scholarship on the basis of the tainted money. People bring it up with me
quite a lot. Not suggesting that I should have declined as such, but people
often ask how I feel about being associated with the scholarship, why I applied
and questions like those. When I got it, two (white) professors in my department
hinted at the same issues, and then one of them said - oh, at least for a change
they gave it to the right person (referring to race). Another time I was
discussing with them the suggestions that had been put to me about how to use
the scholarship (in terms of courses) and they reminded me that the money is the
blood and sweat of black miners - or something along those lines. These two went
out of their way to always remind me about the source of the money. But it got
worse just before I left - a certain publication got in touch with me to ask to
interview me and I said yes. Then someone called me to alert me about a
full-page article the paper had on that very day they called me - and it was
trashing Rhodes the man (I see nothing wrong in that), but there was a swipe at
the scholarship as well. It was clear to me the tainted money issue would come
up so I withdrew from the interview because I was still dealing with these
issues myself. And I thought they were being manipulative in the way they set
the whole thing up. Maybe they thought they could use me to show that the
scholarship had come a long way, to balance their previous article, but I just
wasn't happy with the way they went about it. Plus I am not sure if interviewing
a black, female scholar automatically paints a better picture of the
scholarship. I tell you the details to show how much that question comes up to
me and I wonder why it has never been put to you before. Could it be that given
my background, people think I am more conscious of the issues? It's very
strange. I think the tainted money issue is valid, and I have no problem with
people pointing out the flawed source of the money and the deeply flawed man
behind the money, but I think the scholarship has developed into something else,
something special and that should be celebrated.'

I don't really have anything to add, except that its interesting how race continues to condition our attitudes in South Africa. Should I be less concerned about the origins of Rhodes' money, just because I'm a white male of English origin? It also seems that Trudy and I agree on the fundamental point, namely, that, however Rhodes made his fortune, what the Scholarship has become -- what Scholars have contributed to South Africa, plus the formation of the Mandela-Rhodes Trust -- provides an answer to its critics.

Curiouser and curiouser. It seems that, after Maharaj made the allegations against Ngcuka, he phoned around looking for evidence to substantiate his claim that Ngcuka was an apartheid-era spy. This was the testimony of Letha Jolebe (chief ditrector in housing department) and Ntobeko Maqubela (attorney, and former comrade of Ngcuka) before the Hefer Commission today. The obvious question this raises is why Maharaj felt it necessary to find evidence after he had made his allegations. Surely, if one is to make such inflammatory and far-reaching statements, one ought to have all the evidence beforehand?

I was also interested to see, once again in the M&G, that Maharaj and Shaik weren't present at the Commission today, which deprived them of an opportunity to cross-examine the witnesses who made allegations against them, namely, Jolebe and Maqubela. Maharaj and Shaik will only be able to do so if they make an application at a later stage, which may or may not be successful. Apparently, they were busy preparing their statements and are upset by the fact that the state isn't covering their legal costs.

Now, this is either an indication of great confidence (the case yet to be presented is so strong that they don't need to respond to the allegations made against them) or simple recklessness towards the proceedings. Until all the evidence is in, and the Commission is wrapped up, it will remain rather difficult to pass judgment on this pair.

Your daily Hefer update: SABC news is reporting that former anti-Apartheid activists Letha Jolobe and Glenn Goosen are to testify today. Jolobe was jailed, along with Bulelani Ngucka, for refusing to testify against three fellow activists during a treason trial in the early 80s. Goosen was a member of a group of activists in the Eastern Cape about whom Vanessa Brereton, recently revealed to be Apartheid spy RS452, reported to the authorities.

What really caught my eye, though, was this paragraph:

'George Bizos is also scheduled to make a submission to the commission tomorrow on behalf of the country's intelligence agencies...The commission has requested a wide range of apartheid era intelligence files from the agencies. However, in discussions they reportedly indicated that they could not provide these, as it would compromise their intelligence gathering.'

Let me see if I have this straight... It would 'compromise' the activities of the present intelligence services if they revealed information obtained during the Apartheid era. That can't be right. Surely they should be only too willing to reveal information obtained by the Apartheid intelligence services. It's not as if they still have Apartheid spies on the payroll, right? Nor is it likely that the agencies set up to monitor internal politics and dissent are still active. So, what is the problem? This may be the information that clinches the case...

Meanwhile, Mac Maharaj is adamant that Bulelani Ngcuka was an Apartheid spy. This comes shortly after representives for Maharaj and Mo Shaik advised the Hefer commission that it was not their contention that Ngucka was agent RS452. Murray gave short shrift to Maharaj and Shaik's changing story yesterday. All that I want to add is that, if Ngcuka is cleared, these two should face the high jump for wasting the states time and resources.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

This is from the M&G story 'Maharaj, Shaik drop RS452 spy claim':

'Commission evidence leader Kessie Naidu told former judge Joos Hefer that Mac Maharaj and Mo Shaik denied this week that they believed Ngcuka had been RS452 ... "That is not their contention," their lawyer, Yunis Shaik, told commission secretary John Bacon.'

But that seems to have been their contention all along. I'm not in South Africa, and so don't have the benefit of watching TV news, but I found this on the independent newspapers web-site, in the article 'An open letter to Vanessa Brereton':

'Then came an slot where Mo Shaik presented his documents proving that RS452 was Ngcuka. The white former PE activists couldn't believe it when all they could see on the documents was reference to them and their meetings ... Ngcuka had never been part of their groups at the time.'

So it seems that the claim that Ngcuka was RS452 was the main argument all along. Are Maharaj et al now seriously going to present further evidence that they haven't bothered to tell anyone about yet? And, if they do have such evidence, how convincing is it likely to be, given the flimsiness of their initial case?

It's astonishing, actually, that so much trouble has been caused by what increasingly appear to be ill-founded allegations. The next question, I suppose, is, if Ngcuka is exonerated, whether he decides to sue for defamation.

Some good news - The BBC reports today that a new analysis has revealed that fewer people in SA are becoming infected with HIV than in previous years:

'...the annual rate of new infections has declined substantially, from 4.1% of the population aged 15-49 in 1997 to 1.7% in 2002. . . But BBC science correspondent Richard Black says the epidemic is certainly far from over. In the immediate future, the proportion of the adult population infected with HIV will stay roughly constant, the researchers say; the average life expectancy will continue to fall for around 10 years. The projections made by this research team are considerably lower than previous estimates, and the scientists acknowledge there are uncertainties in their figures. But they emphasise their analysis does not mean that the scale of the AIDS problem has been exaggerated.'

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

About 8 months ago I wrote a short article responding to a fellow South African who'd claimed that Robert Mugabe's theft of the Zimbabwean general election, whilst distasteful, was, ultimately, the best possible outcome. His argument was that given that Mugabe and his cronies had too much to lose from a transition, they would not allow a genuine democracy to emerge. The fear appeared to be that Mugabe might unleash a wave of repression leading to wholesale collapse as he and his henchmen attempted to cling onto power. At least if Mugabe remained in power some sort of stability would obtain. I was reminded of this article today whilst reading a report from, normally pro-Mugabe, SABC news about the emergence of a 'mafia economy' in Zimbabwe. This served to underline the fact that Zimbabwe has now ceased to operate as a normal country and is beginning the descent into anarchy. Further evidence of this was provided by a recent BBC report on the running dry of the state oil company and the disastrous effects this has had on the provision of basic services. Indeed things in Zimbabwe are so bad that they sometimes take a comical turn as occured when, as was widely reported several weeks ago, the Zimbabwean Central Bank ran out of money to print new bank notes. So, Zimbabwe has collapsed in spite of Mugabe's 'victory' and, in doing so, has made a lot of people look rather silly. Zimbabwe is still not democratic and now it doesn't even possess the dubious (if it is at the expense of democracy) virtue of being stable.

For interest's sake I'm posting my original article, unedited, in the hope that it might elicit some response:

In the last newsletter, Gareth Morgan argued that the possibility of Morgan Tsvangirai winning the recent Zimbabwean general election was, '... never an achievable goal', going onto suggest that, 'a transition of power in Zimbabwe through democratic elections was not viable at [that] time' and that, 'Mugabe's use of spoils politics had created too many people with too much to lose from an electoral defeat.' It is a measure of our low expectations that, I expect, many of us found ourselves quietly agreeing with his argument. The outlook for democracy was certainly bleak, indeed it still is, and perhaps, after all, we should take heed of Henry Kissinger's nostrum that stability is more important than justice.

Yet as the months have moved on and Mugabe has tightened his grip, hounded the opposition, threatened the press, enacted one of the largest and swiftest economic collapses on record and moved his country to the brink of mass starvation, it is time to reassess. I should add here that, contrary to the impression created by the Western media, not all of Zimbabwe's current problems are manmade. Drought has certainly played a role, but we should be aware, as history teaches us, that instability and hunger often stalk hand in hand. For this is the irony, the theft of the election was supposed to forestall collapse, instead it has hastened it and it has done so whilst making a mockery of the importance that we attach to democracy.

And so I find myself taking issue with Gareth Morgan. I accept his argument, I'm even prepared to acknowledge that things may not have been much better had Morgan Tsvangirai somehow won the popular vote and then persuaded the ruling regime to give up power. But I do not believe that it is better that he did not win. And let us be clear about this, he lost because the system was rigged, he lost because he was never even in the race. Even the governments of South Africa and Nigeria acknowledged this when they suspended Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth for a year. Mugabe's theft of the election guarantees that things will not get better for the people of Zimbabawe: their economy continues its dramatic contraction, their political system becomes ever more oppressive, their rights are systematically trampled on and worst of all, they have no hope of improvement in the near future. Which they would have if Morgan Tsvangirai had won. Even if his victory had been opposed. Perhaps worst of all though is the fact that Mugabe's actions and the lack of response from his neighbours seem to cast aspersions on the principle of democratic rule itself. If this rare bird is so important, then why was it killed so easily? If the idea of democracy is to have any real substantive value then it must be non-negotiable, no matter what the circumstances. That the will of the people can be so easily and so brazenly disregarded not only speaks badly of Mugabe but it also speaks badly of the esteem in which we in South Africa hold democracy.

The sheer indecency of Robert Mugabe's continued rule should move us to feel some sort of revulsion. This is a man who has wilfully subverted the principles of democracy, who, whilst mouthing the rhetoric of freedom and justice, has massacred his own people, who has secured his continued rule by, in some cases, making use of powers first acquired by the previous white minority government. This is a racist, homophobic, kleptocratic, autocrat, and so I say it is most definitely not a good thing that Morgan Tsvangirai did not win the election.

Last night it was suggested to me, by a Canadian, that one shouldn't accept a Rhodes Scholarship because Rhodes money is tainted. I found myself disconcerted, partly because the argument had never been put to me before. And this in itself is odd - after all, I'm from South Africa, which was the chief subject of Rhodes' imperialism. You'd think that, if one was to encounter this view anywhere, it would be there. But, on the contrary, not only has this argument never been seriously put to me, but our former President Mandela has gone out of his way to associate himself with the Rhodes Trust. What accounts for this discrepancy?

If I think about my own discipline, law, then its obvious that many of South Africa's greatest lawyers - Etienne Murienik, Edwin Cameron, Bram Fischer, Tony Honere, Laurie Ackerman, Kate O'Regan etc - are all products of the Rhodes Scholarship. And the reason for this is obvious - for a relatively isolated country, the Rhodes provides a vital link to the broader world of ideas. For South Africans, there are relatively few ways for us to make our way to the world's great universities. If I hadn't won a Rhodes, I'd probably be clerking in a Durban law firm. And I'm from the wealthiest class of South African society!

Against this background, quibbling about the ethics of accepting Rhodes money seems something of a luxury, best reserved for wealthier countries, where access to first-class universities is less difficult (in the Canadian context, one thinks of McGill and Toronto). If South Africans such as Fischer and Cameron had refused to accept Rhodes Scholarships, they would have done the country a huge disservice. I think that Mandela knows this and realises that for the new, more inclusive, generation of South Africans, the Rhodes continues to provide a unique opportunity that can only do the country good. And this far outweighs any doubts about the money's provenance.

Its too early to know what to make of the revelation that RS452 was one Vanessa Brereton of London and not Bulelani Ngcuka. But my hunch is that this is bad for Ngcuka's accusers. If the allegation is that Ngcuka specifically was RS452 then clearly they are discredited. But if it is that Ngcuka was linked with RS452 then things don't look good either. Brereton says that she has had enough of the 'lies and deceit' and wants to 'set the record straight' about Ngcuka. To me, this suggests that she wants to clear Ngcuka's name - or at least clarify that she had nothing to do with him.

One also has to consider why else she would have come forward. Having been an apartheid spy is nothing to be proud of. If she knew that she would drag Ngcuka down with her then the temptation would probably have been to lie low. But if coming forward allows her to clear his name then that provides some sort of incentive. She might regard this a type of redemption - by shaming herself publicly she extricates the country from a mess, thereby giving something back.

This is all speculative - we will have to see how things unfold. I should add though that I wouldn't be surprised if the Hefer Commission peters out. Bear in mind that Maharaj was in the cabinet when Ngcuka was appointed as Director of Public Prosecutions. If he had knowledge of Ngcuka's allegedly sordid past then, why didn't he speak out? After all, being Director of Public Prosecutions requires integrity and independence, and spying for the apartheid government isn't exactly suggestive of those qualities. At the very least, if Maharaj is proved right, that doesn't reflect well on him either - allowing Ngcuka to be appointed, knowing what he did, was irresponsible.

I know that Andrew thinks Ngcuka won't be in a job in 6 months but I rather hope that he is. I agree that he made a mess of the Zuma investigation but the mere fact that he undertook it - even if it got out of hand - shows admirable independence. Of course, Maharaj's allegations might yet be verified, in which case I will have to revise this assessment, but it doesn't look likely at the moment.

So, that's a wrap: M & G is reporting that the Hefer commission has uncovered the identity of apartheid government agent RS452.

'Vanessa Brereton, who now lives in London, contacted the commission last Sunday through a go-between and has agreed to prepare an affidavit to be submitted to the commission'.

So is this the end of the affair? Don't bet on it.

A friend of mine has just spent the last 2 weeks in Nigeria as part of a satellite uplink unit covering the All Africa games. He reports that:

'SA was leading in the medals count, but was strangely overtaken by Nigeria and Egypt. And yes, there has been some controversy over just how many Golds, Silvers and Bronze have been awarded. I don't know any more about the whole fiasco, but it doesn't really surprise me. In this last week there has been such an "Anti South African" feeling amongst the locals, they're almost going out of their way to make our lives difficult. Our Hockey Girls were in the Semi's and somehow they weren't able to give us any live pictures from that stadium.'

I've heard it said before that the rest of Africa takes a pretty dim view of South Africans but I've always assumed that this was a wild exaggeration or if it existed that it was limited to a small minority of people. Of course my friend's letter doesn't disprove this thesis but it does suggest that, at the very least, resentment of South Africans can no longer be simply dismissed. An issue that bears watching, I think..

Iain Murray has an interesting summary of a new report into the linkages between urban design and crime rates. Apparently all that stuff about needing to create 'common spaces' in order to encourage communities to 'reclaim' their neighbourhoods is misinformed, it does not lead to lower crime rates. Might be something in this for urban planners in South Africa, particularly with respect to low cost housing areas...

Monday, October 20, 2003

The Heffer Commission Round 1: The Sunday Times is reporting that Thabo Mbeki has refused to extend the Heffer commission's mandate to include an investigation of Deputy President Jacob Zuma.

This is depressing but not suprising. The govt is going to try and stage manage this entire process so that as little mud is flung as possible. Of course, in a sense, Mbeki is correct, the commission was established to determine the truth or otherwise of the claim that Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid spy and there is no reason why its mandate should be extended to include an entirely different matter. Nevertheless, a number of very damaging allegations have been made and Zuma himself has demanded the right to have his side of the story heard. That being the case, it would seem reasonable to expect that the President would use this opportunity to get to the bottom of all this. In theory, all the allegations and counter-allegations that have been thrown should be damaging the govts credibilty thus providing a very good reason to investigate and, presumably, establish innocence. The suicide of David Kelly and the investigation that it prompted in Britain spring to mind as an example of how to deal with this sort of problem correctly. I suppose it is too much to hope that the ANC would act with a similar level of accountability. As I've said before, I suspect that too many people in too high position are implicated in this to risk a comprehensive and independent investigation. The intention now seems to be to discredit Ngcuka before he can do any more damage. I'll wager a beer that, come what may of the commissions investigation and its findings, Ngcuka will no longer be Director of Public Prosecutions in 6 months time.

Dan Urman atOxBlog has links to two excellent articles about China written by fellow Oxford Political Scientist, Jackie Newmyer.

The first, which appeared in Policy Review in June analyses the reasons for the relative weakness of the Chinese airforce whilst the second appeared recently in the New York Times and looks at the future of Chinese space power. Both are excellent articles which I'd recommend you read if you have an interest in China.

Foot in mouth disease strikes again: This is amusing. A case of a man who disliked the product so much, that he brought the company..

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Tyler Cowen at the Volokh Conspiracy has a short, but favourable, review of JM Coetzee's new novel, Elizabeth Costello.

It always makes me happy to hear about foreigners taking an interest in South African writers and South African literature, (although Elizabeth Costello is in no sense a 'South African' novel, even the protagonist is Australian). South Africans have such little interest in literature that there is a tendency to bemusement ("our writers are so boring, all they do is write about Apartheid and its effects") or jingoism ("we've got 2 Nobel prize winners, you know") when, on the rare occasions that it does, our literature becomes a topic of discussion with foreigners. I think this bespeaks an inferiority complex of a sort, a feeling that we don't match up to the rest of the world so we should either ignore South African writers or eulogise them by means of overcompensation. Perhaps too, we still labour under the yoke of the Apartheid mindset viz intellectuals should be viewed with suspicion, they're likely to be consorting with the bad guys or conspiring to topple the state, in short they're up to no good. All of this is both unfounded, and a shame. South Africa has a small, but respectable, literature which we should feel able to take seriously without resorting to flights of patriotic fancy. So, as I say, I'm glad when foreigners comment favourably upon SA writers, perhaps its only when we realise that the rest of the world takes our literature seriously that we'll take it seriously ourselves.

Saturday, October 18, 2003

What explains South Africa's policy of quiet diplomacy towards its imploding neighbour Zimbabwe? I've heard many theories - that South Africa is attempting to maintain stability in the region, that the ANC cannot bear to criticise a fellow veteran of the liberation struggle, and that Mbeki has no faith in the MDC as an alternative government. Truth be told, no one knows. All that we can do is speculate. And this suggests that, at the very least, the ANC has failed in one of the most fundamental duties of democratic government, which is to justify policy to the electorate. The proliferation of theories about Mbeki's true motives reflects poorly, to say the least, upon his ability to communicate policy to the very people whom he leads.

This week, a further speculative - and particularly interesting - interpretation of South Africa's stance was suggested by a fellow South African, Ntsiki Dinga, in an e-mail debate. Ntsiki's view is that South Africa is rapidly emerging as a continental hegemon, comparable to America in the rest of the world. Other African states resent this and feel threatened. If South Africa is to maintain its leading role in organisations such as Nepad and the African Union, then Mbeki cannot afford to alienate other African leaders. But he would if he played 'Big Brother' by attempting 'regime change' in Zimbabwe. Ultimately, if South Africa is to pursue its progressive agenda for Africa, it cannot afford to marginalise itself by acting unilaterally.

How convincing is Ntsiki's argument? Let's start by putting things in perspective. Zimbabwe is a country in which - as we speak - Africans are being tortured, food aid is being distributed along party lines so that many are starving, rape is being used as a tool of political oppression, the independence of the judiciary is being compromised, and freedom of speech destroyed. And so the list goes on. We don't need reminding of these facts. Dispossession of white farms is but one aspect of a broader pattern.

It goes without saying that these are appalling human rights abuses. Now, South African has one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. Furthermore, Nepad - Africa's great hope at the moment - is founded squarely upon adherence to democratic principles. These values are fundamental; they should never be compromised, and supposedly, in terms of our Constitution, represent the 'deepest aspirations' of the South African people.

In light of this, South Africa's complete silence on Zimbabwe's human rights record is astonishing. Note, I said silence. In her e-mail, Ntsiki writes that other African leaders would be alarmed 'if SA charged into Zimbabwe and dethroned Bob.' I agree; that is unrealistic. But this overstates the alternatives to 'regime change' that are available. Is it too much to ask for, at the very least, an indication from the South African government that there are certain lines that no civilised nation should cross, and which Zimbabwe has? I refuse to accept that simply stating that South Africa condemns, say, torture, or closure of independent newspapers, would alienate South Africa to such an extent that its role in Nepad and the AU would be undermined.

Furthermore, the South African stance fosters the impression that the ANC is, fundamentally, not that committed to human rights and democracy. No other nation in Africa has declined as spectacularly, and with such publicity, as Zimbabwe in recent years. Ntsiki's argument is premised on the view that South Africa is attempting to pursue a progressive agenda for Africa as a whole. But how much credibility will organisations such as Nepad have when its members refuse to offer even token condemnation of transgressions of the principles that they purport to uphold? How can Mbeki 'sell' Nepad to the West as long as he remains silent about the situation unfolding over his border?

For these reasons, Ntiski's argument fails, I think, as a defence of ANC policy. But it also fails as an explanation. South Africa has gone beyond simply adopting a 'hands off' approach towards the Mugabe regime - which would be consistent with Ntsiki's view. Instead, the South African government is actively propping Mugabe up. Its no secret that South Africa is assisting Zimbabwe with food aid (distributed only to Mugabe's ZANU-PF cronies while others starve) and fuel needs. Furthermore, our foreign minister has stated that the ANC will 'never' condemn the Mugabe government. Never? No matter what? Such commitment bespeaks far more than a cautious pragmatism; it suggests that the ANC regards its relationship with Mugabe, the individual, as all important, despite the human suffering for which he's accountable.

That the ANC is willing to privilege a friendship over the most fundamental principles of civilised government does not bode well. It's something about which all of us - white and black - should be concerned.

I almost had heart palpitations when I saw this headline on News24: NG church welcomes gays. Was it possible, I wondered, that the NG Kerk was going to ordain gay priests and thus steal a march on the Anglican Church? In fact all that's happened is that they've agreed that, 'God asks us to reach out to homosexuals....' Presumably this means that gay people will now be allowed into the Church to attend services unhindered rather than being lynched by pious members of the congregation after the service ends.

Whew, the natural order of the world is restored, the NG Kerk is still living in the distant past..

On the reversion to the original template: I've decided that there is elegance in simplicity, thus the decision to go back to the white on blue template. More pertinently, I figured out how to put a links section onto the page, so we no longer have a need for the rather horrible template of the past 3 days.

The links section (on the right) is going to grow and change slowly over the next few weeks but for the moment I've linked to the blogs that we read on a regular basis. A brief word on each of them:

The Oxbloggers are 2 of our fellow Rhodes Scholars, from America. These guys have been very successful since getting going and are usually the first blog that I read each day. They tend to be right of centre, particularly on foreign policy issues, but they're on the ball and Oxblog is always worth reading. They achieved something of a coup earlier this year when they got a mention in the Washington Post and they've also been spoken of by Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek magazine.

Glenn Reynolds, at Instapundit, is one of the 'big boys' in the bloggosphere and when they come to write the history of blogging he'll get a whole chapter to himself. He can be pretty esoteric at times and his blog tends to jump around a bit but everbody reads him because he's damn good.

Andrew Sullivan is another big name in blogging, and is probably something of an enigma to a lot of people: a gay man with (I believe) HIV who is a self-described neo-con and supporter of the Republicans. Sullivan sometimes goes off on rants, at which stage he's best avoided for a day or two, but he usually makes for thought provoking reading.

Iain Murray (at The edge of England's Sword) is a Brit living in the US. His blog is worth reading if only to counter the American bias of the blog world. That said he's a good read although his postings are a little infrequent.

The Volokh Conspiracy are a whole bunch of US academics writing from a loosely libertarian, free-market, individual rights perspective. I don't read them now as much as I used to but I still stop by an hour each week.

Matt Yglesias, is a usefull corrective to all the right of centre blogs out there. He's sceptical of the US's presence in Iraq and the Bush administration in general. Read him after the Oxbloggers to get a different perspective on things.

Amitai Etzioni is an academic and well-known communitarian philosopher. Another one who's worth reading to counter the heavy right-wing bias of the blogosphere.

I hardly ever read, Sasha Castel but she's got a very extensive blogroll (links section) for when you feel like branching out into the rest of the blog world.

Have fun with this....

The BBC on illegal Zimbabwean immigrants in South Africa. This make for depressing reading. This particular sentence stands out:

'But the [train] guards can't stop dramatic getaways, such as the men prepared to leap from a moving train, risking their lives not to go back to Zimbabwe.'

What kind of desperation drives people to do something like this?

I confess to something of an ambivalence over this issue. Given that South Africa is now a contributing factor in the decline of Zimbabwe, through the moral and other forms of suasion it offers Mugabe, I think we have an obligation to those people who've chosen to flee the repression and the chaos in order to make new lives. Besides, deporting them, in addition to being expensive, is unlikely to work. The numbers are too great and the border is too porous.

The BBC is also reporting that the Zimbabwean govt has admitted that the land reform process is in chaos, with less than half the number of supposed beneficiaries receiving land. The report doesn't mention (or the Beeb hasn't reported) who the half are that have been given land, but you can bet your bottom dollar that they aren't from the poverty stricken classes. My bet is that the choicest bits of land have gone to Bob's cronies with the rest being parceled out to political supporters. Given that Bob was trying to use UN food aid as a political weapon a few months ago (those who supported the MDC found it much harder to receive food), I think its a pretty safe bet to say that MDC members haven't benefited from land reform either.

Reading about Zimbabwe makes my blood boil whilst Mbeki's unwillingness to do a damn thing about it makes me embarrassed to be a South African!

China in Space: Well, they did it, and they get my congratulations for it, but the BBC is right to ask what benefits accrue to China as a result of a manned space programme. The Beeb also points out that China has just:

'invested about $200m in the Galilleo satellite navigation system which is planned as an alternative to the United States' Global Positioning System.'

In addition to being useful for working out where airliners/ships etc are, GPS has a military function, which is to guide smart bombs and fighter jets to their targets. The Europeans (especially the French) have long been uncomfortable with their reliance on the US for this important function and hence the decision to go ahead with the Galilleo project. There's not much that Uncle Sam can do to stop the Europeans from acquiring their own satellite navigation system but I suspect that military planners in Washington are more than a little perturbed at the prospect of China acquiring such a capability too. And from America's erstwhile NATO allies to boot.

Meanwhile the Economist has a story chronicling the origins and potential future of the Chinese space programme. The most interesting sentence in the article, however, is the final one:

'Already, questions are being asked about why a developing country such as China needs international aid when it is financing a $2 billion human space programme.'

China receives considerable foreign development aid each year from, in particular, Japan. So one way of looking at the launch this week is to say that the Japanese have paid for their old rivals the Chinese to put a man into space, something which, although good for national pride, is of dubious economic value. It remains to be seen what comes of this...

Friday, October 17, 2003

I'm increasingly becoming a fan of the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Winston Njongonkulu Ndungane. In the row currently embroiling the Anglican church about the appointment of an openly gay bishop, Gene Robinson, in the United States, he seems to be one of the few voices of reason.

While some provinces have been threatening to declare that they are no longer in communion with the American Church, Ndungane has urged respect for diversity within the Church itself. He's noted that the issues of women priests and divorce are handled differently in different parts of the Church, and has urged that homosexuality should be no different. He's also cautioned against the selective use of biblical passages, pointing out that the bible has been used to defend practices such as slavery and apartheid.

In so doing, Ndungane has completely undercut the claim made by some African archbishops that homosexuality is intrinsically 'un-African' (Peter Akinola, Archbishop of Nigeria, has derided homosexuals as 'lower than beasts', and declared that the appointment of Gene Robinson is the 'work of Satan'). Implicitly, he's demonstrated that, like the Anglican Church, Africa is a diverse place with diverse values and cultural practices. You can read an outline of his views here.

Given that Ndungane's position was previously held by Desmond Tutu, it seems that the Anglican Church in Southern Africa is developing a habit of producing men who talk with moral authority.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Things are going to change around a bit over the next few days. Don't be alarmed, I'm just trying to establish the groundwork now so that future changes will be seamless and unoticeable - feedback, links etc. Stay tuned.

The South African Constitutional Court handed down an astonishing judgment this morning. In Alexkor Ltd v Richtersveld Community it found that a community removed from diamond-rich land in the twenties is entitled to compensation. The land has been mined for years now and is currently owned by Alexkor, a state company. According to the BBC, the decision might require the South African government to pay the tribe R10 billion. The community's lawyer is quoted as saying that one has to look at what the community would have earned had they retained ownership for the past 75 years. It goes without saying that this is an astronomical figure. So, is this justice at last, the law running its course, or simply irresponsible in a country where resources are so scarce? Let me know what you think. You can read the full judgment here. I'm going to refrain from commenting until I've read the decision properly; newspapers tend to be unreliable on things legal.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Iain Murray (Blogger in Chief at The edge of England's sword) takes up the question of why the number of people turning out to vote in Britain has declined so precipitously over the last decade or so. I agree, partly, that as govt has withdrawn from the commanding heights of the economy so too do people have less of a reason to worry about who is in control but I suspect that the major reason may be that for most of the 1960s and 1970s, British politics was very finely balanced between Labour and Tory and this, combined with the very different policies the parties were offering at the time, created a huge incentive for voters to turn out for elections. I also suspect that in this post-modern era, the idea of identifying with parties or even with politicians no longer holds much water. People who feel strongly about issues are far more likely to take to the streets, join movements (or set up blogs). It's not that people no longer have an incentive to vote (because govt no longer pays their wages), but rather that most people have realised the limitations of traditional party politics or, at least, they think they have.

I'm gonna think about this a bit more, it's an interesting question..

On Friday I saw a very good play by South African playwright Greg Coetzee (of 'White Men with Weapons' fame) called 'Happy Natives.' The play starred an old friend of mine - Ben Voss - and the excellent Sello Sebotsane, whom I'd previously seen in Brett Bailey's 'Big Dada' at the Grahamstown Festival. Given that this blog also covers cultural matters, I thought I'd attempt a review.

'Happy Natives' was apparently written in response to the narratives that typically emerge from, or are written about, South Africa - tales of adversity, of good versus evil, that culminate in happy, dancing indigenous people. Instead, Coetzee aims to show us the complexities of the real South Africa, being played out between ordinary people in the suburbs of Durban.

Kenneth, an actor, has been in London for two years. If you're a white English-speaking South African, you'll recognise him, if you're not him yourself. He claims that London is 'lapping him up' because 'South Africans know how to work hard - no safety net for us.' Mysteriously, despite his alleged success, he's living with his parents. All his money, he explains, is 'wrapped up off-shore.' Kenneth also claims to be 'African' - whatever that means. In Kenneth's case, it involves a sprinkling of Zulu, an awkward political correctness and a vague yearning for Durban's waves.

Back in Durban, Kenneth meets an old friend of his, Mto, from university (where Kenneth produced a dialectic between Marx and the bushmen - the world's 'only true socialists'). He invites Mto to participate in a production with him - a government project, intended to attract foreign investment to South Africa - and Mto agrees. The process of their collaboration gives rise to the central events of the play, which are juxtaposed against the narrative they produce - a tale of adversity, replete with wildlife and Nelson Mandela, that culminates in happy, dancing natives. The juxtaposition is deliberate; the world of Kenneth and Mto, it quickly becomes obvious, is far more morally complex than their representations of South Africa, which are intended to 'sell' the country to a foreign audience.

Apart from Kenneth and Mto, Ben and Sello play several other characters - Mto's racist neighbour Jimmy; Jimmy's domestic servant Prudence; an Indian storekeeper; a government minister; and a policeman. Their ability to switch between roles is impressive, and the picture of South Africa, and especially Durban, that emerges is familiar, convinving, and - for those overseas - nostalgic.

I won't delve too deeply into the events of the play. That would be boring and, besides, you might want to see it yourself. Suffice it to say that 'Happy Natives' culminates in Kenneth being excluded from the production. He assumes that this is because he is white and immediately undertakes to return to London on an ancestral visa. He tells Mto that is 'tired of apologising for the colour of his skin.' He says this with no hint of the dreadful irony involved. Compared with what black people such as Mto have been through, he has nothing to complain about. Given what he would have been through had he been black, he should count himself as fortunate. His African-ness - his few Zulu phrases, his little Zulu shield that he carries around, his determination to learn black peoples' 'real' names - crumbles as a mere affectation.

The other whites in the play don't come off much better. Jimmy is an unreconstructed racist - an ex-soldier still traumatised from doing border patrol in Mozambique. Chanaye, on the other hand, is what we South Africans call a 'kugel.' Vain, wealthy and shallow. She is learning Zulu, and carefully cultivates black clients, but only for commercial advantage. The heroine of the play turns out to be Prudence, who is revealed as caring, generous and morally steadfast. As for Mto, his integrity briefly lapses when he becomes complicit in Kenneth's exclusion from the production, but, other than that, he seems decent, level-headed and fair.

All of this left me wondering: what role for white people in South Africa? 'Happy Natives' criticises whites who, in the face of the enormous cultural changes being wrought around them, retreat into the dead-end of fearful prejudice (like Jimmy), keep one foot firmly in England while claiming African-ness (like Kenneth) or who adjust for all the wrong reasons (like Chanaye). This shouldn't be seen as a criticism; this is how many - most? - whites have adjusted to their new society. But I found myself wondering about the alternatives. How can whites, as a cultural minority, feel themselves to be rooted in South African society? How can they feel themselves to be 'African', if you will? And how can whites live positively and confidently, projecting a genuine future for themselves on the Southern tip of Africa? These, to my mind, are the more interesting questions. I'd like to see art that takes them up.

The Chinese are about to put a man into space! In itself this is not particularly momentus, it comes 40 years after the Soviets sent Yuri Gagarin into space and will be achieved using technology purchased from the cash-strapped Russian programme. However it does give some indication of the determination of the Chinese to be seen as the equal of the West and especially of the US. If great powers have space programmes, then China must have a space programme and, if the reports are to be believed, they are deadly serious. Rumours abound on the net that they're going to send someone to the moon within the next decade! In any event, rocketry is not exactly a safe science and at the moment my thoughts are with Yang Liwei, thought to be the man destined to become the first 'taikonaut'.

It will be interesting to see whether China's efforts provide a much needed spur to NASA's moribund manned space programme. Another space race is out of the question but the prospect of red China establishing a moon base or getting to Mars first might give Uncle Sam a kick in the rear. Something for the next generation of rocket scientists to think about.

Speaking of space, Nigeria kicked off its space programme 2 weeks ago by launching a British-made satelite into orbit. I'm not quite sure what the Nigerians are up to with this one. The Economist speculates that this may be another 'prestige' project, of the type that have plagued Nigeria in the past. Nevertheless, for the paltry sum of $13 million dollars it could probably be considered good advertising for the country and, if it all works as advertised, could even earn its keep.

Is it just me or does this smack of Dr Frankenstein?

Trying to make sense of the Bulelani Ngcuka spy saga...

There is something rotten about this whole affair. As near as I can understand it, this is what has happened. A few months ago allegations surfaced that Deputy President Jacob Zuma had profited from the arms deal through his connections to Chippy Schaik - Schaik himself appears to have used his involvement in the arms deal to further his own interests, to say the least. Bulelani Ngcuka, the National Director of Public Prosecutions investigated and after some time (during which much mud was thrown) concluded that there was a prima facie case to be made against Zuma but that he lacked sufficient evidence to make the charges stick. To my mind, this was outrageous. Either he had evidence against Zuma, in which case he should have taken him to court or he didn't in which case he ought to have kept quiet. Making a claim against the Deputy President is a serious affair. Making a claim but then adding that you can't prove it is either evidence of Ngcuka's extreme naivete or of something much bigger, a conspiracy to oust Zuma possibly. Zuma himself was, understandably, upset and wasted no time telling everyone who would listen that he wanted his day in court so as to establish his innocence.

Meanwhile reports had begun to surface that high ranking members of the ANC where becoming uncomfortable with Ngcuka's apparent tenaciousness in pursuing Zuma. The Sunday Times suggested that Thabo Mbeki himself might be about to pull in Ngcuka's reigns a bit. It was not surprising therefore that shortly after Ngcuka made his claim against Zuma, stories began to circulate that Ngcuka had in fact been a spy for the Apartheid govt. Strictly speaking, I don't think that he is accused of having done anything illegal, but the allegations, if true, would certainly make it inappropriate for him to continue in his present position and indeed to remain a member of the ANC. So, the Heffer Commission was set up to investigate the claim against Ngcuka. Then, suddenly, last week Penuell Maduna, Minister of Justice and therefore Ngcuka's political head announced that he and Ngcuka were both the subjects of a smear campaign and that he wanted the Heffer commissions mandate to be widened to include him, presumably on the basis that it would find him not guilty of any wrong doings (a deputy general in the justice dept had accused him of favouritism). The DA meanwhile has launched a campaign to have Zuma investigated by the Heffer commission, making the argument (quite reasonably I suppose) that since most of the allegations against Ngcuka emanate from the 'Zuma Camp' it is right that Zuma himself have to answer some questions. Presumably, Zuma should have no problem with this since he claims to want the opportunity to air his case and clear his name. Still with me? Today, News24 is reporting that Maduna wants out of parliament although his spokesman carefully added that he is, 'not trying to run away' from allegations against himself and Ngcuka. We have not heard the last of this...

A few thoughts on all this. Clearly something big is going on within the ANC. The timing of the Ngcuka spy story leak is just too fortuitous to be anything other than a deliberate effort to impugn the name of a man who appeared to be doing a pretty good job of destroying the reputation of the second most important politician in the country. Who benefits from all this? One theory is that this is all groundwork for the next leadership contest. Either Mbeki intends to amend the constitution and run for a 3rd term in which case his camp has been playing the part of puppeteer quite masterfully, destroying the reputation of a man who might oppose such a change (Zuma) and then that of the servant who knowingly or unknowingly had done his bidding (Ngcuka). Or, and this seems more likely, everybody believes that Mbeki will stand down and thus this is the sort of jostling for position that one would expect. Zuma, it is said, is (perhaps that should now be was) a front runner to be Mbeki's replacement and thus a lot of people might have an interest in seeing him taken down. Another theory (and this is the one that I favour) is that Ngcuka diligently set about investigating the claims against Zuma and was both way more independent than people had supposed him to be and pretty successful at uncovering the dirt. If some of the stories about the arms deal are to be believed (that several high ranking members of the ANC have benefited from it) then Ngcuka's tenaciousness and independence posed a real threat. Thus he had to be taken down before he was able to do more damage. In this version of events, Ngcuka is basically the good guy, although he was naive to make those unsubstantiated claims against Zuma and Zuma, or some murky cabal of wrong doers are the bad guys. Quite what Maduna has to do with all this is a mystery. It seems implausible to suggest that he is standing down because a claim of favouritism was made against him. He's an experienced politician with a thick skin and he's sat out controversies in the past that seemed far more serious than a simple allegation of favouritism. Hopefully, the Heffer commissions remit will be widened to include Zuma (as the DA has demanded) and Maduna (as he appears to want), at this stage it appears to be the only hope of getting to the bottom of all this..

Leaving aside for the moment the reasons why people might want to implicate Bulelani Ngcuka in an apartheid era spy ring something else interests me about the Ranjeni Munusamy case. In an era when potentially anyone with access to a computer is a journalist (witness Southern Cross) what right do 'real' i.e. print and TV journalists have to smear the name of an individual and then plead 'journalistic ethics' as a reason not to reveal the source of their information. Of course, I understand the need to protect sources in order to encourage whistleblowers to come forward but as the internet de-centralises journalism, these types of questions become more and more pertinent. Lets assume that Southern Cross achieves a daily readership in the thousands (this is small beer in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of daily hits that the big American bloggers get) we could destroy an individuals reputation by implying something about their past or their character and then claim that our journalistic integrity prevents us from revealing our sources. At the very least in cases where the only evidence is a single unnamed source and the allegation has potentially serious consequences, the journalist should either have to reveal the source or be prepared to suffer the consequences. Or corroborate the allegations through other sources.

Returning to the big question though, who has an interest in smearing the good name of Bulelani Ngcuka? Ahem, step forward Mr Deputy President...

Monday, October 13, 2003

Now that we're up and running a few people have been in touch to find out how they can respond to posts. At the moment there is no plan to include a feedback option, although that may change if either of us learns how to use HTML (any experts are invited to get in touch). For the moment however, you're welcome to leave messages in the guestbook commenting on posts (it's at the bottom of the page) or email either of us. If the email adds something interesting/is controversial/you are a pretty, single woman, we'll post it on the page and you'll achieve instant fame ;-)

Our addresses are:
andrew[dot]black[at]exeter[dot]ox[dot]ac[dot]uk or

Go to it, we've been controversial, I'm sure we've rubbed a few people up the wrong way..