Saturday, January 31, 2004

The question of whether Mbeki intends to ammend the constitution to run for a third term or not has raised its head again. SABC reports that Tony Leon has written a letter to the President asking him to clarify his position, although it has to be said that in the past Mbeki has refused to be drawn on this matter and I doubt that he'll respond this time. Nevertheless, this is slowly turning into a major issue with even Nelson Mandela publicly declaring that he is sure that the President would never do such a thing.

Or would he? I'm sure I'm not the only person who's noticed the dearth of talent at the top levels of the ANC hierarchy. Jacob Zuma, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Patrick Lekota, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, Trevor Manuel, Mbhazima Shilowa. These are some of the big hitters and with the possible exception of Manuel and Shilowa they don't inspire much confidence. Is Mbeki aware of this? Could he be planning to amend the constiution to prevent the possibility that some incompetent (Jacob Zuma springs to mind) ends up running the country? I find it both amazing and troubling that an organisation of the ANCs size is unable to produce any credible successors to Mbeki, but then I'm reminded of the fact that most of the best people have left government and gone into the private sector. Cyril Ramaphosa and Tokyo Sexwale, both respected and both spoken of as possible future presidents at one time, have left and appear to have given up any plans in this direction. And of course it bears pointing out that neither of them was an Mbeki acolyte and both of them were implicated in the bizarre and somewhat unlikely 'Mbeki assassination plot' a few years ago. So has Mbeki been systematically driving out credible successors so that he can then turn around and argue for a third term on the basis that there is nobody else up to the job? We shall see, although, when I put on my sensible hat, I'm afraid that I find this all a bit too much to believe. I'd like to think that this is just Leon stirring.

Friday, January 30, 2004

I must admit that this spoof BBC webpage announcing that Alistair Campbell is to replace Greg Dyke as BBC director general almost had me going.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Via Politics.ZA: This is fun. Trevor Manuel has set up a 'Tips for Trevor' page where you can email him with advice as he draws up the annual budget. He's even offering jobs to those who give him good advice.

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

...and in news of the bizarre.

It is snowing outside and Oxford looks absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately the BBC webcam is down so you won't be able to share in this little moment of bliss...

The Hutton Report is out and Tony Blair's good luck continues as the report exonerates the govt of the charge of 'sexing up' its Iraq dossier. The brunt of the blame falls on Andrew Gilligan, with David Kelly coming in for some criticism too. Contrary to expectations, Geoff Hoon has emerged relatively unscathed and will now probably keep his job as Minister of Defence.

Now, can we please put this issue behind us and move on...

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Rationality prevails
This is excellent news. The House of Commons has just passed Tony Blair's higher education bill proposing top up fees. And by a mere 5 votes!

Now the real fight begins, namely the battle to get the 3000 pound upper limit increased to something approximating the actual cost of educating British undergraduates. On that score, Peter Cuthbertson reminds us why the bill is so watered down as to be of little consequence anyway.

Finally, a commenter at Harry's Place made this, sensible point:

'...the point about increasing income tax to pay for universities, however, never seemed like a reasonable option. I may just have fallen for the useful statistic, but given that the tax-payer already pays for 5/6 of university funding - meaning they contribute more to the HE sector than any other part of the education system, including primary schools and adult education - then perhaps it is fair to generate funds from those that benefit directly, which is to say the students.'


Bravo to that...

UPDATE: Thinking about it, I'm struck by just how small the majority was. Going into the vote the view of several pundits (here & here) seems to have been that, whilst things might be a bit tight, Blair was well advised not to lose any sleep over the vote. The slimness of the majority gives the lie to that however. Despite the efforts of the whips, overwhelming media support for top up fees and the spectre of a re-juvenated Tory party, Blair still only just scraped home. So what does this all mean?

Well, at the very least it seems that New Labour's great project to reform the public services by introducing elements of the market has ground to a halt. It is exceedingly hard to imagine Blair risking his neck like this again and even if he did, it's unlikely that he would be able to muster the necessary support in the face of such implacable opposition. For this is the nub of the problem: New Labour never exorcised those radical elements that had made it unelectable during the 80s and early 90s, it merely succeeded in keeping them quiet for a time as a ploy to making Labour electable again. This may have worked initially and indeed it appears that the taste of power kept them quiet for most of Blair's first term but now the old impulses are beginning to show themselves again. The debate about top-up fees has been driven for the most part by a fear of the market and an instinctive disliking of any notion of elitism. Top up fees thus combined, in a unique way, two old Labour bugbears and it is therefore not surprising that the idea generated so much heat. Nor too should it be a surpise that old Labour has returned so soon and that it appeared willing to bring down its own leader. These are, after all, many of the same people who repeatedly sacrificed electability on the altar of principle during the Thatcher years.

Is the Blairite project finished then? Probably yes. I wouldn't be surprised if Blair hands over to Brown shortly after the next election. And I also wouldn't be surprised to find the Tories support starting to creep up. Whilst it is true that the middle classes were the big losers today, most of middle England is sensible enough to realise that Labour back bench opposition to top up fees had nothing to do with sympathy for them and everything to do with a reversion to the traditional Labour obsession with class and the commitment to an extreme egalitarianism. I'm not certain that the middle classes suspicion of Labour ever really died. They may have been temporarily convinced by Blair's promise of a new era in British politics but, as today demonstrates, Blair never suceeded in elimating those aspects of Labour which so frightened the middle classes in the past. As for what Blair will do next, I'm not certain. But as a first guess, I'd say that he'll be keeping his head down for the next while and that Gordon Brown's star will continue to rise.

Oh, and before I forget, don't think for second that today's success will have a major impact on the Universities. They will continue to decline, but with a little more grace now and over a slightly longer period.

UPDATE 2: Josh Chafetz doesn't think this will be a problem for Blair but Merton College's Politics Don appears to come down on my side. Which is comforting

Given all the recent fuss over Thabo Mbeki's refusal to announce the date of the election, I thought it might be fun to see what the positions of the various parties themselves are.

Tony Leon pulls no punches arguing in his weekly letter that:

'The longer the ANC delays, the more it actually runs the risk of disenfranchising South African voters. Many people need to make work plans or travel arrangements that will enable them to be at their polling stations on election day. They cannot do so if they do not know exactly when the elections will be held.'


The ANC itself has nothing to say on the issue, which is, I suppose, an indication of just how little importance it attaches to the official opposition. Nevertheless, the ANC Youth League has issued a press statement arguing, with its usual eloquence, that:

'...this selfish ploy by the DA and its cronies in the form of some mickey-mouse empty parties with a lot of noise is aimed at nothing other than to deprive many South Africans of their right to vote. This is a calculated strategy by the DA to sow confusion before elections, with a false hope that one day in this lifetime, Tony Leon will rule our country. People have a right to be such ambitious, but that cannot be at the expense of the majority especially after many atrocities of the SADF.

These political criminals know very well that once the election date has been proclaimed, the voters' roll will have to be closed which will result in many people who could not register for a variety of reasons being excluded from the elections.'


It's not clear what that sentence about the SADF is doing in there. Still a little over-excited hyperbole and distortion in a press release never hurt anyone. Incidentally, the ANCYL appears to be appending the wonderful phrase, 'Every Youth League Member An Organizer, A Commissar .....' to all its press releases. Inspirational stuff!

The NNP has accused the DA of spreading a "message of fear" by warning that, unless South Africans vote DA, the country will degenerate into a Zimbabwe. Rather, argues Van Schalkwyk, vote NNP because we have real influence within government.

There's a lot wrong with this, which Douglas Gibson sums up rather succintly:

"He tries to argue that his party's path of cooperation with the ANC will prevent South Africa going down the road of Zimbabwe.

Perhaps Mr Van Schalkwyk should get his facts straight on Zimbabwe. [Zimbabwe African People's Union leader, the late] Mr Joshua Nkomo was co-opted from being the leader of the opposition to being the vice-president, which signalled the end to parliamentary democracy.

It is precisely the co-option of the opposition by the ruling party that allowed Zimbabwe to go down the road to one-party rule, with its consequent corruption, maladministration and intolerance of dissent. This is the path the NNP has chosen.

Fortunately for South Africa, it [the NNP] has become an insignificant party, and the opposition will not be much poorer for its demise.

Mr Van Schalkwyk chose the route of co-option because he could not do without the perks and privileges of office. Neither could he conceive of an independent alternative challenging the ANC."


Ouch.

Heather links to an interesting proposal in Wired magazine about ways to get the US to drop the agricultural subsidies that are doing so much harm to Africa. The idea: boycott Holywood until subsidies are abandoned.

I dunno if this will work, what with such *eagerly* awaited new releases as Star Wars episode 3 to look forward to.

Cry God for England
Two weeks ago, Theodore Dalrymple, one of my favourite British commentators, announced that he was leaving Britain to move to France citing Britain's ugliness and emptiness as his reasons for moving.

This week he explains how things can be rectified. All that is required is that the UK's long suffering taxi drivers be allowed to take over.

Mars update
NASA reckons it has found the fault that has crippled Spirit. Whether it can be fixed or not is less clear. Meanwhile, Opportunity has safely landed and is returning some interesting pictures of the Martian surface. Check out NASA's excellent website for more.

And, sadly, the final effort to contact Beagle 2 appears to have failed.

Monday, January 26, 2004

The guys at AfricaBlog reckon that Zimbabwe's recently announced 21 per cent drop in inflation is proof of Zim having hired a jobless ex-Enron accountant.

If so, it was money badly spent if all said accountant could do was 'massage' the figures from 620 per cent to 599.

Farell asks some tough questions, today, about Brett Kebble's recent donation of R500 000 to the ANC as a 'patriot and an ardent supporter of our new democracy'.

My memory is a little hazy but I seem to remember that Brett Kebble was the guy who, along with Mzi Khumalo, bankrupted JCI (which, until they got their hands on, it had been a profitable gold mine) a few years ago.

I don't normally bother commenting on anything to do with US politics because there are too many others doing it already and most of them do it so much better than I could. Nevertheless, I couldn't resist responding to something Jackie said today. She suggests that the reason she will be voting Republican is because the democrats are:

'...way too big on governmental interference in the lives of individuals and in cumbersome, anti-investment business regulations.'

But from where I stand it seems that the Republicans are pretty damn keen to interfere in the lives of the citizenry too and I suspect that even such a Republican stalwart as Andrew Sullivan would agree with me. Whether you like it or not, on personal matters, especially sex, the Republicans can be just as interfering as the Democrats. The difference between the two is that where Democrats like to interefere in the boardroom, Republicans like to interefere in the bedroom. I think that this is a serious charge, but even if you disagree, you would still have to concede that your Libertarian credentials are offended by a party which involves itself explicitly in the private lives of its people.

As for being anti-business, I'd draw your attention to Bush's steel tariffs, a piece of legislation which must stand as amongst the most cynical, hypocritical and yes, anti-business, of the last decade.

That said, I'm not particularly enamoured of any of the Democrat hopefuls either. Lucky I'm not stuck on the horns of this particular dilemna, I suppose.

Voting info for expats
I suspect that many of you will already know this, but according to an article on the SA High Commission's website (www.southafricahouse.com):

"In so far as overseas voting is concerned, section 33 of the Act provides for the two categories, viz. absence from the RSA on government service or membership of the household of a person being so absent. This covers embassy staff and their households.

The second category, which has been included in terms of the Act, is made up of those who are temporarily absent from the RSA for purposes of a holiday, a business trip, attendance of a tertiary institution or an educational visit or participation in an international sports event.

Persons in the second category must however inform the Commission within 15 days after the proclamation of the date of the election of their intended absence including their intention to vote as well as the place where they will cast their vote. Persons who wish to vote overseas must be registered in the voting district where they are ordinarily resident in South Africa, and present their green barded ID and their passport. In collaboration with the department of Foreign
Affairs, work has already begun to give effect to this provision."


Thanks to Robyn for the heads up.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Well, the Beagle may have done a runner, but its parent, Mars Express is returning some stunning pictures of Mars. Meanwhile it looks like the Mars gremlin may have struck again. NASA has reportesdly lost contact with its Spirit rover just days after it landed.

More mind-boggling corruption, this time from Kenya.

So sad. The Economist reports that the leaders of oil-rich Angola have filched or misspent $4.2 million in five years. To put things in perspective, that's one-tenth of Angola's GDP every year, in one of the poorest countries in the world. Apparently half of Angola's children are malnourished, but there are 20 Angolans worth $100m or more. This verges upon the surreal.

The contrast with a country such as Norway could not be greater. Norway also has heaps of oil, but the government has sensibly ploughed the revenue into an offshore investment account, which, I'm told, will generate sufficient interest to more or less run Norway's welfare state indefinitely.

Two countries, two entirely different trajectories. What explains the difference? I'm not sure. The fact that Norway is a well-functioning democracy clearly has a lot to do with it. That lends itself to a culture in which decisions are made for the benefit of the country as a whole. I'm not sure when last Angola had an election but it was evidently some time ago. Jose Eduardo dos Santos has been in power since 1979 and, constitutionally, elections were meant to be held seven years ago but weren't. That Angola has been at war for some time also doesn't help. As the article points out, the government made use of the conflict to justify secrecy about its spending.

So, is there any hope for a country that, on the basis of its natural resources, could, and should, be one of the region's giants? Well, the conflict is over but so far that doesn't seem to have made much difference. The government has, by way of example, undertaken to repair the country's court system -- by 2051. And its still secretive about its spending. There is an election scheduled to be held next year and much, I think, turns on that. Of course, if the same gang are voted back in then don't expect any changes. But, if Angolans look around, realise that life should be better, and express that at the polls, things might just look up. That's assuming, of course, that there are politicians in the opposition who aren't simply bent on getting their hands on the loot and enriching themselves. Given Angola's track record, I'm naturally inclined towards pessimism.

Thursday, January 22, 2004

More bizarre news from Swaziland, this time courtesy of the BBC.

King Mswati III recently postponed the beginning of the school term by a week because he wanted the schoolboys to weed the royal fields. I kid you not. 30 000 children were affected by the order, but not the King's own children who are in private school.

The world seems to ignore the antics of Mswati III, perhaps because Swaziland is of so little importance, but you can rest assured that we at Southern Cross will be keeping an eye on his activities.

New Links
Just finished updating the blogroll. Welcome to Anne Cunningham of the very cool One-Sided Wonder, Books of Note, a blog devoted to all things literary (makes a change from politics), politX(but then too much politics is never enough) and the irrepressible, Natalie Solent

Oh well, it seems that both Zanu-PF and the MDC deny that formal talks have been agreed to as a means of resolving Zimbabwe's crisis. (Earlier I blogged an article in which Mbeki was reported as saying that they had, at a press conference with Gerhard Schroder, who is visiting South Africa.)

Why would Mbeki have made this claim if talks are not going ahead? Either they are, in private, or Mbeki thought that this is what Schroder wanted to hear. Recall that, when George Bush visited South Africa, Mbeki made the same claim, which was subsequently vehemently denied by both parties.

Still, I find it difficult to believe that Mbeki would state what could so easily be exposed as a falsehood. How would that endear him to anyone? On the other hand, if the parties are talking in private, but not formally, how could Mbeki have got the situation so wrong? What, in short, is going on? I find myself becoming more and more confused.

The BBC has an interesting piece on South Africa's often overlooked neighbour, Namibia, which has been independent for 14 years, and is currently casting around for a successor for Sam Nujoma.

I find Nujoma somewhat of an enigma. As the article states, when asked why he is building a presidential palace at a time when drought relief should be a priority, he snapped back angrily "Have you come all the way from London to ask me silly questions like that?" I remember reading an interview with Nujoma by a German journalist in which he responded in exactly the same manner to questions about his lavish spending on pet projects. He's also a notorious homophobe and an admirer of Robert Mugabe.

But, on the other hand, Namibia is by all accounts a well-run country and Nujoma is, apparently, determined that land reform should be handled with the law. Certainly, when Zim-style land invasions were threatened in Namibia, the government quickly intervened. Does this mean that, despite the rhetoric in support of Mugabe, Southern African leaders -- or at least some -- have, privately, observed Zimbabwe's implosion and learnt what not to do? Here's hoping.

SABC Watch
As Murray pointed out a few days ago, the Independant Communications Authority of South Africa has not been living up to its name recently. It threw out a complaint, brought last week by the DA, about the SABC's election coverage citing what can only be described as a narrowly legalistic argument about the formal beginning of the election period. That prompted the DA to seek a meeting with the SABC itself to discuss its apparent bias. The SABC, predictably, refused to meet anyone from the DA, claiming that its request was an 'attack' that 'brings into disrepute the integrity of the SABC'. That little piece of nonsense has in turn prompted the IFP to ask whether SABC spokesperson Paul Setsetse, '...has received training from Zimbabwe's Information Minister, Jonathan Moyo?' Ouch!

If this is how things are before the President has even announced the date of the election then things are going to get really interesting when the campaiging gets underway for real.

Good News: The Zimbabe Daily News is, today, publishing its first edition since being shut down by the government in September. M&G has more on the story.

BTW, in case you aren't yet aware the Daily News set up a website, based in South Africa, several months ago. One of the few remaining sources of untainted news about Zim.

Thabo Mbeki has announced that Robert Mugabe is prepared to enter into formal talks with the MDC about ending Zimbabwe's crisis. Good news? Perhaps. But what puzzles me is why the solution to Zimbabwe's problems is always seen, at least in Southern Africa, as a process of negotiation culminating in some sort of government of national unity, or power-sharing, between Zanu-PF and the MDC. Surely what's really needed is a free and fair election, as soon as possible, that would put a legitimate leader in place. If Zanu-PF lose out, and are relegated to the opposition, then so be it. That's democracy. Zanu-PF has no inherent right to be in government. Could it be that many, not least the ANC, are reluctant to accept the idea that the party that liberated Zimbabwe from white rule might one day lose power -- completely? That would, of course, not be a good omen for the ANC. At times, that seems, at least to me, to be the sub-text.

I mentioned Bjorn Lomborg yesterday in a post about Rian Malan's stance on AIDS and so I was pleased to see that Dr Eamon Butler of the Adam Smith Institute has invited him to London.

I should have mentioned yesterday that Lomborg is a statistician by training whose problems with the environmental movement initially rose when he realised that many of the numbers that are routinely quoted at the public were of dubious statistical value. Funny how we are so naturally sceptical of numbers emerging from business or political studies but accept, without question, anything which can be presented as 'science' or 'scientific'. I've gotten into trouble in the past for suggesting to friends that 'science' is as political as any other aspect of society but there is no doubt, to my mind at any rate, that it is.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Mac: I accept Hefer, er, actually I don't
SABC is reporting that Mac Maharaj says he respects and accepts Judge Hefer's finding that Bulelani Ngcuka was probably not an Apartheid spy. Unfortunately he then managed to taint what might otherwise have been a gentlemanly gesture by saying that he believed that many people did not co-operate with the commission. So Mac, what's it going to be? Are you going to accept Hefer's ruling or does the insinuation of a cover-up in your last remark convey your true feelings?

I've refrained, thus far, from commenting on next weeks House of Commons vote on Top-Up fees mainly because I'm not certain that I can contain my anger. I hasten to add though, that my anger is aimed full-square at the legions of whinging, whining, hand-wringing students bemoaning the fact that they might be expected to *gasp* contribute a token amount towards their educations. The sight, last year, of Oxford Uninversity's Student Union, a body that seems to exist solely to provide a platform for middle-class types to advance their political ambitions, protesting the proposal to introduce top-up fees nearly moved me to apoplexy.

I was similarly moved when reading, in yesterday's papers, about a certain Julia Prague (A medic student from London) who attacked Tony Blair on television the previous night over his plans. Ms Prague had the gall to suggest that unless students receive free education the country might soon find itself facing a shortage of doctors. In fact, at one point she was apparently so crass as to suggest that a dustman suffering from a heart attack would be glad to know that his taxes had been used to subsidise her medical training. I was thus very happy to see Stephen Pollard administering the eviscerating she and her ilk so richly deserve.

Rian Malan on AIDS
One of the very first links that was put up by this blog was to a controversial, but interesting, article by Rian Malan questioning the extent of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Malan was dubious about the efficacy of the modeling techniques used to determine how many people are infected with the disease and suggested that such models habitually over-estimate the numbers. For his efforts he was excoriated by the local press and became in his own words, '...something of a social leper.' Well, it seems that you can't keep a good journalist down and so it was with interest that I read this recent Spectator cover story in which Malan returns to the issue of AIDS in Africa and the problems with those pesky models.

As I said in that earlier post, Malan writes so well that it is hard not to find yourself agreeing with him, hard not to nod your head when he tells us about the worlds propensity for seeing Africa as a source of bad news stories, hard not to feel a twinge of recognition when he discusses the politicisation of AIDS. Malan's stance on AIDS (and the worlds reaction to him) put me in mind of Bjorn Lomborg, another maverick dissident questioning the established shibboleths of, this time, the environmental movement. Lomborg argued, in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist, that environmental alarmism has reached a level which is out of all proportion to the threat that we actually face and that this alarmism is driven by the fact that bad news sells and that the environmental movement is, like all such movements, a self interested beast which inflates risks and stokes up fears as a means to securing funding, increasing exposure, making careers etc. These are very much the type of factors which Malan invokes when trying to explain why it is that AIDS has become such a big issue in Africa even though it appears not to be on the verge of de-populating large swathes of the continent and, in fact, is probably not even the leading cause of death. Whether you find him convincing or not depends largely, I suspect, on whether you are able to turn the same jaundiced eye traditionally reserved for politicians and businessmen on science and scientists.

I find Malan to be both a disturbingly rational and refreshingly dissenting voice in the AIDS debate. But I'd suggest that anybody who's inclined to take his bait keep this paragraph from his recent article in mind:

When the virus first emerged, I was living in America, where HIV incidence was estimated to be doubling every year or so. Every time I turned on the TV, Madonna popped up to warn me that 'Aids is an equal-opportunity killer', poised to break out of the drug and gay subcultures and slaughter heterosexuals. In 1985, a science journal estimated that 1.7 million Americans were already infected, with 'three to five million' soon likely to follow suit. Oprah Winfrey told the nation that by 1990 'one in five heterosexuals will be dead of Aids'.

We now know that these estimates were vastly and indeed deliberately exaggerated, but they achieved the desired end: Aids was catapulted to the top of the West's spending agenda


The West's success in preventing AIDS from becoming a problem was premised upon the fact that it took the threat seriously and acted upon it. This is a lesson that has yet to be learned by Thabo Mbeki and others of his ilk. Malan is right to question the numbers but we shouldn't allow ourselves to be convinced that AIDS is not a problem. It is, as even he is at pains to point out.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

I find this very disappointing. The Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) has not lived up to its name. Its dismissed a complaint brought against the SABC by opposition parties that it afforded the ANC an unfair advantage in the forthcoming election by broadcasting Thabo Mbeki's launch of the ANC manifesto, without doing the same for opposition parties. ICASA found that broadcasting Mbeki's address was not an electioneering opportunity for the ANC because it fell outside the 'election period', which is defined as the time from the announcement of the date of the election to the election itself.

I'm not familiar with the 'Elections Regulations and Guidelines' but this strikes me as what one would term an overly legalistic decision. In other words, ICASA has focused narrowly on the literal meaning of a particular provision while ignoring the broader purpose of the regulations -- there's no doubt that the ANC has gained an unfair advantage, regardless of the precise definition of the 'election period.'

A overly literal approach to legal interpretation is something that the South Africa legal system is meant to have abandoned. Nowadays the courts, at least, are meant to look more to the purpose of legislation and the guiding values of the Constitution (without, of course, compromising the integrity of the text). Perhaps one of the opposition parties will take this on judicial review, which would be interesting, but probably unlikely, given the expense involved.

Incidentally, this strikes me as typical of the problems that emerge when one party dominates the political system of a country and, by extension, gains influence in institutions -- like ICASA and the courts -- that are meant to act independently. The playing field becomes skewed.

Is this the end?
First we hear that the ANC has plans to win the Western Cape outright ie. without assistance from the NNP. Then a day or so later, the ANC is moved to issue a statement affirming its commitment to the NNP. I'm sure that Marthinus van Schalkwyk is feeling much better now. Still, its about time that such rank opportunism as has been demonstrated by the NNP over the past few years receives its comeuppance. If the ANC succeeds in the Western Cape then it's goodbye to the NNP. And good riddance. This bunch of political has-beens have clung on to life for too long now.

Ngcuka Cleared
No surprises here. Judge Joos Hefer has ruled that there is no evidence to support the allegations that Bulelani Ngcuka was a spy. So what next? Ngcuka to sue Maharaj and Schaik for defamation? A continuation of the arms deal investigations? Or was Ngcuka being serious when he said, late last year, that he was going to resign.

Monday, January 19, 2004

More strange legislation
Thabo Mbeki is set to sign amendments to the Restitution of Land Rights Bill that will allow the Minister of Agriculture to expropriate land without a court order, thereby circumventing the willing-seller-willing-buyer basis upon which land reform has thus far been conducted. Farmers are, understandably, concerned and fears that this is the first step towards a Zim-style land grab are -- while obviously overstated -- apparently part of the reason why the rand has lost value over the last week.

Leaving aside the wisdom of the legislation, however, the property clause in the Bill of Rights states the following:

s25(2) Property may be expropriated only in terms of law of general application:
a. for a public purpose or in the public interest; and
b. subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.

I don't think that you have to be a lawyer to see that there's a problem here. Either the land-owner must agree, or the government has to go to court. Changing the legislation to allow the government to circumvent the courts isn't going to allow the Minister to set the price.

Its true that the Constitution also says:

s25(8) No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provisions of this section is in accordance with the provisions of section 36(1).

But this provision makes clear that any departures from the letter of s25 have to be justified under the limitation clause -- a fairly onerous task. I'm surprised that, amid all the fuss, no one has picked up on this. Am I missing something?

This is wrong
Apparently the new national health bill plans to dictate to doctors and health care workers, in the private sector, where they should practice. The point is to shift resources from affluent to poor areas. But there is no way that this can be good for health care in South Africa in the long run. For better or for worse, people go into a profession because they want to take control of their own lives, which includes deciding where one wants to reside and work. If this bill becomes an act it will simply deter people from entering the medical profession and accelerate the already significant exodus of doctors and nurses from the country. (They're already leaving in droves because of community service.) The end result? Worse health care for everyone. It also strikes me as an astonishing admission of failure. In effect, the legislation concedes that public health care isn't getting the job done, and that the private sector has to be coerced into making up for the government's shortcomings. Sigh.

Friday, January 16, 2004

The Mysterious Mr B
Heather, I can confirm that I am neither a horse nor an old man with false teeth, and given the recent furore over Matt Ygelsias' height I think I'll continue to refrain from putting my picture up for the world to see.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

A reason not to vote ANC
One of the most important news items in recent weeks is that the ANC has launched its election manifesto, which is conveniently summarised by the BBC in this article. Much of it sounds rather good. I'm glad that they've now decided to combine their sound management of the economy with proactive steps to address social problems such as HIV/AIDS, crime and unemployment. The roll-out of antiretroviral drugs is a welcome step, more policemen are desperately needed, and I think that a public works program to invest in infrastructure and create jobs is a fine idea.

Nevertheless, a political party that has been in office for 10 years should, I think, be judged less by what it promises to do than what it has done. In other words, the ANC, and Thabo Mbeki, have had ample opportunity to earn our vote already, and the question is whether they've done enough.

What's concerned me most about the ANC in this regard is their complacency, or rather laxadasical attitude towards addressing the problems that are tearing South African society apart. With the possible exception of water provision, the ANC has moved slowly on all of the problems that they now claim they want to address.

The roll-out of antiretroviral drugs is, as I've said, welcome but -- to be frank -- scandalously overdue. Crime has been a problem of such magnitude, for so long, that additional policemen should have been on the streets years ago. And, until now, the ANC has shown rather little concern about unemployment with the result that, throughout much of their present term of office, the DA, of all parties, has actually been to the left of government on issues such as the basic income grant.

My fear is that if the ANC does maintain or increase their share of the vote, they will simply become more complacent, and the promises that they've made will be implemented slowly or in a half-hearted fashion, if at all. This is why I want support for the ANC to decrease, preferably to roughly 60% (I think that's realistic -- there's no question that they will win). I want them to feel that they have to work to stay in office, and that they can't take their jobs for granted. On their track record, that won't happen if they end up with 67% of the electorate's support.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Both the M&G and the SA Sunday Times are running a SAPA article about the positive effects that Zimbabwean farmers who've moved to Mozambique have had on that country. Apparently 100 or so Zim farmers have moved to the Manica province of Mozambique, creating over 4000 jobs in the process.

Interestingly, the article claims that all land in Mozambique belongs to the state and thus the farmers are having to lease the land. This seems a rather precarious basis upon which to establish a commercial farm although, given the vagaries of 'private' property in Zimbabwe, perhaps not a bad thing.

In case you are unaware, the Zimbabwe Independent -- which seems to be one of the few genuinely independent voices in the Zimbabwean media -- has a website that is well worth reading. The lead story, that Mugabe commandeered a state plane for a christmas jaunt around the Far East, has landed the editor, Iden Wetherell, in prison on a charge of criminal defamation. The M&G is covering the story here. For a taste of the bizarre, take a look at the story about a Zimbabwean Church raising a $30 million christmas gift -- yes, gift -- for the dear leader, on the basis of the biblical injunction that one should 'honour one's leaders' even if they 'despise you.'

Monday, January 12, 2004

So, after months of speculation George Bush has announced that NASA is not only going to return to the moon but will undertake a mission to Mars too. This is exciting news indeed but we should remember that Bush the elder also promised a mission to Mars which was abandoned amidst budget wrangles in the early 90s. BBC has more.

In other space news, the first of NASA's Mars rovers has landed and is returning some excellent pictures of the Martian surface. Meanwhile, hopes appear to have faded for Beagle 2 now that Mars Express has failed to detect its signal. BBC also has an interesting article on the history of Britain's abortive space programme.

A timely reminder that Zimbabwe isn't the only autocratic non-democratic state on South African borders. The absolute monarch of Swaziland wants to build eleven palaces (one for each wife) at a cost of $15m while much of his country is battling with food insecurity and an HIV epidemic. Certainly Swaziland hasn't collapsed as spectacularly as Zim, and events there often seem laughable instead of just tragic, but its about time that we started paying more attention to the antics of King Mswati III.

Well, its been a while since I've blogged, largely because I was holidaying in South Africa over Christmas and New Year and didn't have the sort of internet access that's necessary to do this sort of thing well. Before getting back into current affairs, I thought I'd make a brief plug for South African tourism by describing the truly awesome road-trip that I undertook during December with some friends.

Basically, we started in my home-city, Durban, and drove through the old Transkei to the idyllic, fairy-like spot, Hogsback, in the Eastern Cape. From there we travelled to a lodge in the Tsitsikamma forest, just outside the enchanting town of Knysna. After that, our next stop was Hermanus, famous for its whale-watching, where we also found time to taste the excellent wines of Hamilton-Russell. These, of course, are all towns on the Garden Route. In Cape Town itself, surely one of the most beautiful cities in the world, we climbed Table Mountain, starting from Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens, and found time to sample more wine, most notably that from Rust en Vrede (the estate which produced the first South African wine to be rated amongst the top 100 in the world by the Wine Spectator).

On the return leg, we took the national road through the Karoo, and watched the mountains of the Western Cape slowly flatten out into the arid plains of the desert. We spent a night in Nieu Bethesda, a tiny remote town of only 900 people, with no petrol stations and no ATMs, which is also home to the fascinating owl-house, which features sculptures created by Helen Martins, a woman who lived a hermit-like and secluded existence. From there, we returned home through the Eastern Free-State, surely one of the most underrated tourist destinations in the country, not least because of the Golden Gate National Park and the Maluti Mountains.

Most importantly, for those overseas, we encountered no problems with crime and the facilities and infrastructure were all excellent. Personally, it made me realise how much South Africa has to offer those who enjoy travelling.