Sunday, February 29, 2004

Excerpt from an article written by Roger Southall, of the Human Sciences Research Council, in 1998:

' far the most important development, and the one which could provide the basis for unity, is that the ANC is now disposed to the IFP as a legitimate alternative expression of African nationalism, whilst in contrast 'Africanists' within the IFP are said to be embracing a pro-ANC view based on the parties enjoying shared African values and a division of black electoral spoils... In contrast linking up with the NP, which is viewed as appealing to a decreasing constituency, seems to have ever less to offer.

I know it's not good form to point out these sorts of failures but I just found it amusing that one of South Africa's pre-eminent political scientists got things so spectacularly wrong. I suppose the lesson here is that in the murky game of SA politics only fools or the very brave venture to make predictions about the future

Don't forget your roots
I'm not normally a fan of the oscars, or the acting of Charlize Theron, but I was rather intrigued to see that the National Council of Provinces, South Africa's second house of Parliament, has passed a motion urging the Benoni-born actress to "speak a little Afrikaans" should she win the oscar for best actress.

Will Charlize win, and, if she does, will she "praat die taal"? I have to say that I'm waiting in some anticipation...

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Torture in Zimbabwe
This BBC story, which claims that youths are being taught to torture in the name of Robert Mugabe, so as to keep him in power, is horrifying, but not that surprising, given what we know about the nature of Mugabe's leadership. Apart from more or less ensuring that future elections won't be free and fair, these disclosures pose worrying questions about a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. After all, when Mugabe does go, and the country attempts to make a fresh start, there will be thousands of youths with no skills, and no experience, except the application of violence. In a wrecked economy, their only option will, presumably, be to turn to a life of violent crime, much like the so-called "lost generation" of South Africa. And that in turn will undermine whatever chance Zimbabwe has of making an economic recovery.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Namibia, and South Africa, are to start expropriating farms in order to accelerate the land redistribution process. Thus far, in both countries, land redistribution has been conducted on a "willing seller-willing buyer" basis. Both governments insist that the new powers of expropriation will be exercised in accordance with the law, and that fair compensation will be paid. They also claim that the "willing seller-willing buyer" principle will remain the dominant approach, and that expropriation will only be used in a more limited number of cases.

In my younger days, I'd probably have been suspicious of this policy, which will no doubt prove hard on those farmers targeted. But there are lessons to be learnt from our northern neighbour, Zimbabwe, and one of these is that undue concentration of resources in the hands of an ethnic minority can, in the long-term, prove to be a source of instability, or at least an issue liable to be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. The lesson to be drawn is that it is in the long-term interests of both Namibia and South Africa that the land question be addressed (as noted below, one of Mugabe's chief failings was that he never seriously got to grips with the issue).

For this reason, I'm quite prepared to give this measure the benefit of the doubt, provided that fair compensation is paid, farmers are accorded standard public law guarantees (they should be entitled to a hearing ect), and farms are expropriated, not in order to settle political scores, or enrich party members (as was the case in Zimbabwe), but in order to re-settle people who have a genuine claim to the land. In South Africa, and, I imagine, Namibia, an independent judiciary, and a developed system of administrative law, should ensure that this is the case.

I should also mention that, in the South African context, I find fears about the constitutionality of the policy rather overblown, given that the Bill of Rights (s25.2) expressly allows for expropriation, provided that it is in the public interest (which this clearly is), and fair compensation is paid (which both governments have undertaken to do).

P.S. For an amusing take on this, from the far-right of the US political spectrum, look at this, which our friends at Commentary managed to dig up.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Amoako's African Diary
KY Amoako, head of the UN's Economic Commission for Africa, has started a blog -- Amoako's African Diary -- that might well be worth following. Amoako has strong views about good governance consisting in the "capable state", that is, a state that is able to "guarantee peace and security, provide an enabling political and legal environment for economic growth and promote the equitable distribution of the fruits of that growth." To this end, the Commission he heads up has been surveying the progress of African states towards those goals.

Earlier, I expressed concerns about the peer-review system to be adopted by Nepad. In particular, I worried about how "good governance" will be defined, and in the manner in which the criteria that are settled upon will be interpreted. It occurs to me that, once the peer-review mechanism gets off the ground, the resources offered by Mr Amoako's blog might provide a useful counterpoint.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

I like Abiola Lapite, he's polemical, erudite and not afraid of being controversial. And he has the inestimable habit of backing up his most contentious claims with historical evidence. So I've been following his recent series of posts (see here and here) about the early history of Afrikaners in South Africa with interest. He argues that:

'To talk about the history of South Africa as if it were merely a matter of separate peoples with different customs fighting over land, rather than the constant struggle by one group of white immigrants, little separated in civilizational terms from the blacks they sought to exploit, to use state power to further their own particular ethnic interests, is to perpetuate a travesty of the historical record. Apartheid wasn't about superior "whites" seeking to protect Western civilization in the face of an onslaught of hordes of dark-skinned savages, but about Afrikaners without the skills and resources to flourish in the marketplace using the fact that they could vote, and blacks couldn't, to lever themselves into higher positions than they would have obtained on merit alone.'

As I said, controversial. I don't want to add too much (go and read the posts and make up your own minds) but I would suggest that he overstates the degree to which Afrikaner nationalism emerged in reaction to the economic threat posed by blacks. I would argue that the cornerstone of the political movement which brought Afrikaners to power was dislike of British imperialism. The 1948 election may well have been won over fears about the 'swart gevaar' (black danger) but the fact that Afrikaners where in a position to contest the 1948 election at all was a result of earlier efforts to build up a sense of purpose and unity amongst themselves. And what better way to do that than to latch onto a commonly felt grievance. For all its banality, there is much truth in the assertion that nationalisms usually define themselves in opposition to something. Having said that, although it's clear that antipathy towards British Imperialism provided the means by which Afrikaners where able to organise themselves politically, it is not so clear what they intended that force to be used for. As a means of overcoming the threat posed by cheap black labour possibly?

Rethabile and Richard have been debating whether Lesotho and South Africa should consider unifying.

I'm fairly sanguine about the idea of unification, indeed I suspect there are benefits for both sides, but I rather think that the South Africa Ministry of Finance would balk at the cost and that the Lesotho parliament would be loathe to give up its independence (and access to easy riches?). In any case this issue may be moot if SADC eventually starts to work as advertised.

South Africa and Zimbabwe
Be warned, this is a long post... Ask white South Africans what they fear most for the country's future, and they're likely to reply that it will go the same way as Zimbabwe. They fear, in other words, that, at some stage, the ANC will lose support and, in a bid to prop itself up, will turn on whites as a convenient scapegoat, and expropriate land and other property. The economy will implode and people will see their life savings evaporate. This fear is, I think, widespread and isn't helped by passages such as the following, which I found recently in the M&G:

Many whites ... decided to stay after [Mugabe] promised that "there is a place for you in the sun."

With the help of their commercial farms, Zimbabwe prospered and developed into a regional breadbasket. Mugabe worked to bolster the nation's health and education systems, making them among the best in Africa.

But the economy soured ... [and] Mugabe ordered the seizure of thousands of white-owned farms for redistribution to blacks, touching off more than three years of political violence that has claimed the lives of more than 200 people and hounded tens of thousands of mostly black opposition supporters from their homes.

Quite clearly, this suggests that Zimbabwe was well-governed for some time and then, suddenly, it all went wrong. No one, in other words, saw Zimbabwe's current crisis coming. This makes it all the more plausible that the same events could unfold in South Africa.

But, having done some reading about Mad Bob recently, I'm far from convinced that Zim was ever that well-governed. Indeed, I'm increasingly beginning to think that the land invasions, and all that's gone with them, simply followed a pattern that was established very early in Mugabe's leadership -- a pattern that has, in contrast, not been evident in South Africa's first ten years of democracy. Three elements spring to mind.

Lawlessness. Disrespect for the rule of law was a key feature of the land invasions in Zimbabwe. On several occasions the Supreme Court ruled the land invasions illegal but was simply ignored. In response, Mugabe orchestrated the removal of the Chief Justice, Anthony Gubbay, and ensured that more compliant judges were placed on the bench. The police force were also consistently been biased, and refused to come to the aid of the white farmers, their workers and MDC members, while assisting the "war veterans" and Zanu-PF.

Lawlessness, however, is far from a new phenomenon north of the Limpopo. Indeed, Mugabe was regularly ignoring court orders as far back as 1981, barely a year after independence. The government also retained emergency powers, inherited from Ian Smith, and habitually employed methods such as torture, arbitrary arrest and detention without trial. Indeed, its worth reminding ourselves that Mugabe kept Zimbabwe in a constant state of emergency throughout its first ten years of democracy; one six-month period simply followed another. And this is despite the fact that, although there was some dissident activity in the early 80's, it hardly justified the invocation of emergency powers. Bear in mind too that, throughout the 80's, Mugabe manipulated the Constitution, so as to entrench his own power. Indeed, just prior to the 1990 elections, Mugabe increased the number of seats in Parliament to 150 -- only 120 of which were directly elected. The remainder of the MPs were effectively appointed by Mugabe himself.

The contrast with South Africa's first ten years of democracy could not be greater. Not only is the Constitution a general source of pride, but the government has consistently followed court orders, even those that it would rather not (such as the TAC judgment, which ordered the roll-out of nevirapine). Indeed, Justice Minister Maduna went so far as to describe TAC as an illustration of the strength of South Africa's constitutional democracy. It's difficult to imagine Mugabe behaving similarly. There have, of course, been rumours about Mbeki changing the Constitution to stand for a third term, but it is notable that he took care to (implicitly) rule this out in his state of the union address.

Intolerance of opposition. From the beginning, Mugabe aimed to eliminate all opposition to his rule and establish a one-party state. To this end, he undermined the rule of law, the independent media, and opposition parties. This tendency assumed its most sinister manifestation in the Matabeland Massacres of the 1982-83, which were aimed at destroying the support base of Zapu, Zanu-PF's main opposition. With the assistance of North Korea, Mugabe formed the so-called 5th Brigade, which conducted a campaign of terror and repression throughout Matabeland, and which resulted in the deaths of at least 10 000 civilians. The tactic worked; Zapu eventually became part of Zanu-PF, and Zimbabwean voters were robbed of a credible electoral alternative.

Accordingly, when faced with a new political challenge in the late 90's, in the form of the MDC, it is perhaps not surprising that Mugabe resorted to the same tactics. Both Mugabe and Chenjerai "Hitler" Hunzvi were clear that the land invasions were as much about destroying perceived support bases of the MDC as anything else, especially in the wake of Mugabe's unprecedented loss of the constitutional referendum in 1999, and in the run-up to parliamentary and presidential elections.

Anyone with knowledge of the Matabeland Massacres, conducted so early in Mugabe's rule, could not have been under any illusions as to the nature of his leadership. Again, however, the contrast with South Africa is marked. The ANC might appear intolerant of opposition (as Andrew has noted here) but there is a world of difference between its response to the DA and IFP and Zanu-PF's response to Zanu and the MDC. When faced with dissident activity, in the form of the Boeremag, the ANC also did not use it as a pretext to invoke emergency powers and engage in a widespread campaign to crush opposition. Instead, the matter was handled through the police, and the ordinary courts, in accordance with procedural norms.

Failure to address inequality. Mugabe is fond of blaming Zimbabwe's land problem on Britain which, he says, reneged on its Lancaster House promises to fund land redistribution. But the truth is that Mugabe never seriously addressed the land question. Certainly, re-settlement schemes were introduced in the 80's, but they came no-where near addressing the scale of the problem. When Mugabe addressed the problem more seriously, in the early 90's, the program he implemented was chaotic and haphazard, and appeared mainly directed at enriching high-ranking Zanu-PF officials. It was at this point that Britain cut aid -- not to scupper the program, as Mugabe alleges, but in protest about the recipients of land. Thereafter, the problem festered which meant that, when political discontent gained momentum in the late 90's, arable land remained almost exclusively in the hands of whites, and Mugabe was able to play the issue as a political card.

In South Africa, in contrast, a well-managed and orderly land redistribution program, implemented in accordance with the Constitution, has been underway for some time now. Furthermore, as Andrew has pointed out to me, in South Africa the issue is not so much land as business. Here the ANC has taken steps, such as the Employment Equity Act and Black Empowerment, to ensure that blacks gain a stake in the country's companies. Certainly, these steps are controversial. I'm suspicious of the latter and think that the former should have a sunset clause. But, hopefully, these will mean that there will be less temptation for the government to intervene in the business sector at some later stage.

Regular readers of this blog will know that Andrew and I are far from being uncritical admirers of the ANC. And its also clear that South Africa faces a range of problems -- AIDS, crime, unemployment, poverty, a volatile currency, an over-dominant ruling party etc -- that might not bode well for the future. But, in general, I think, these tend to be the problems of developing countries everywhere. Zimbabwe's problem is, and always has been, far worse: an autocratic leader, hell-bent on retaining power at any cost. As always, comments would be appreciated.

Monday, February 23, 2004

Robert Mugabe has found ground glass in his food but seems fairly relaxed about the incident. This is not the work of "Western imperialist agents", he says; they would be far more thorough. Instead he suspects the cook, whom he seems to think he can deal with more easily.

Its also been confirmed that "chest pains" prevented Mugabe from attending a funeral. This is the first time that Mugabe's rumoured health problems have been confirmed. To paraphrase what Andrew said the first time that these stories arose -- dare we hope that health problems will soon force him to step down? Although Mugabe promises to be "boxing" for years yet, my impression is that these incidents are becoming increasingly frequent.

New blogs about South Africa are like hens teeth, very scarce on the ground. This being the case, I'm glad to report the arrival of a new blog written by a couple of 'conservative-libertarian' South Africans. Commentary is both well written and prolific and very much worth a visit.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Since it's a drab day outside (well, it is in Oxford) I thought I'd share a humorous email that someone sent me recently. I don't know who came up with the following anagrams, but they must be deadly at scrabble:

GEORGE BUSH: When you rearrange the letters: HE BUGS GORE

DORMITORY: When you rearrange the letters: DIRTY ROOM

EVANGELIST: When you rearrange the letters: EVIL'S AGENT

PRESBYTERIAN: When you rearrange the letters: BEST IN PRAYER

DESPERATION: When you rearrange the letters: A ROPE ENDS IT

THE MORSE CODE: When you rearrange the letters: HERE COME DOTS

SLOT MACHINES: When you rearrange the letters: CASH LOST IN ME

ANIMOSITY: When you rearrange the letters: IS NO AMITY

MOTHER-IN-LAW: When you rearrange the letters: WOMAN HITLER

SNOOZE ALARMS: When you rearrange the letters: ALAS! NO MORE Z'S

A DECIMAL POINT: When you rearrange the letters: I'M A DOT IN PLACE

THE EARTHQUAKES: When you rearrange the letters: THAT QUEER SHAKE

ELEVEN PLUS TWO: When you rearrange the letters: TWELVE PLUS ONE

And, saving the best for last:

PRESIDENT CLINTON OF THE USA: When you rearrange the letters (With no
letters left over and using each letter only

Anybody, care to submit a few of their own?

Saturday, February 21, 2004

BBC has a short, but interesting, biographical sketch of Thabo Mbeki today.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Courtesy of economist extraordinaire and fellow Oxonian, Robyn Evans, a response to Wednesday's Budget Speech:

In the ten years since the ANC came to power the South African economy has been substantially reformed. Historically, the ANC's economic stance has been inherently socialist. As the 1955 Freedom Charter states:

The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;
The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;
All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people

Alistair Sparks, in Beyond the Miracle: Inside the New South Africa, describes the moment at which Nelson Mandela realised that in order to generate growth and remove the huge inequalities in South African society, the economy would have to be restructured within a market-driven framework. This moment, if I recall correctly, was at a meeting of the World Economic Forum at Davos in 1993. Mandela was convinced by, amongst others, the head of the Dutch central bank, who effectively told him that the only way South Africa could make it in the tough international economic environment was via the market.

History aside, however, through GEAR, major macroeconomic restructuring emphasised improved industrial competition, reduced inflation, a gradual relaxation of exchange controls, tax incentives to stimulate investment, deficit reduction and budget reform. Ten years later, the macroeconomy is in tip-top shape. Manuel in his speech notes manifestations of this: that consumer inflation halved on average over the last decade, compared to the decade before; that interest on the public debt has fallen by 1.7% since 1996, and that private sector investment growth has averaged 5.4 % per annum over the past ten years. Remarkable achievements and something which Manuel, Mbeki and Mboweni, in my opinion, deserve credit for.

All is not completely rosy, however. Two major factors still need to be addressed: poverty and unemployment, the latter of which has risen by about 10% since 1994, bringing it to close to 42% in 2003. Without addressing the inequalities in our society that are deepened by these two things, no amount of investment or macroeconomic stability will be able to generate the growth that the South African economy is ultimately capable of.So, how does the 2004 budget measure up, bearing these issues in mind?

On the expenditure side of things, it is very encouraging to see an allocation of R3.2 billion for expanding public works programmes and infrastructure development. Job creation in any significant form has been a gaping hole in economic policy since 1994. One hopes that through measures such as this, and through capacity building in provincial and municipal authorities, more people will be absorbed into the labour force. It is also significant that R2.1 billion has been earmarked for the HIV/AIDS treatment programme – something long overdue. Expenditures on health services and social grants have been increased. Most notably, the childcare grant has been raised by the equivalent of R170 per month. The government aims to halve unemployment by 2014 but in the meantime improving public services and accessibility to these services for the poor must be a central focus. The next important initiative is the R700 million allocated to land reform. Given the tragedy that is Zimbabwe, it is clear that land is an area that needs careful and immediate attention. More equitable ownership of land and increased support for land reform are essential both in order to provide resources for small farmers and also to provide incentives for reforming the white-dominated commercial agricultural sector. Finally, an extra R1.9 billion injection into the 'fight against crime' will, one hopes, be channelled constructively by increasing police personnel and infrastructure.

On the revenue side, personal income tax cuts for low-income groups will provide important relief for those on the bottom end of the earnings schedule. The size of the cuts is less than it has been over the past two years, but according to South African economist Magan Mistry at Nedcor, tax cuts were not expected at all. The general fuel levy on petrol has been put up by 10c per litre, which some have argued might serve only to remove from low-income earners what they have gained in tax cuts. Sin taxes will hit hard - smokers and drinkers will again have to tighten their belts or kick their habits. I was interested to read that over the past 7 years, excise duties on cigarette and tobacco products have amounted to 50% of their prices, and will now rise to 52%. All in all this is a socially responsible budget and therefore, I would argue, very satisfying.

Scanning the South African online press, there don't seem to have been any waves caused - the Rand hardly reacted, and most economists thought it was predictable and even boring. Although to quote Dawie Roodt at the Efficient Group, boring is 'not necessarily a bad thing'.

The ANC's promise to create one million jobs through a public works program, that will upgrade South Africa's infrastructure, is at the centre of its election manifesto and will doubtless prove a vote-winner, given the electorate's preoccupation with unemployment. But Tony Leon has a letter in today's Economist saying that the ANC's own documents reveal that most of these "jobs" will be short-term one-off stints lasting four months on average. While investment in infrastructure can't be a bad thing, it goes without saying that these will hardly be real jobs at all, and will do little to alleviate unemployment, poverty, and, for that matter, crime (assuming that Leon is correct).

And therein lies the rub -- sustainable employment, on a large-scale, can only, in today's world, be created through the private sector. Leon's suggestion is to loosen South Africa's restrictive labour laws, a proposal that the Economist itself made in an excellent survey of Sub-Saharan Africa published a few weeks back. But somehow I can't see this happening while the ANC enjoys a close alliance with the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) and the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Archbishop Denis Hurley, a remarkable South African, and former chancellor of the University of Natal (my alma mater), has died. I won't attempt an obituary, because Gerald Shaw of the Guardian does such a good job.

Despite Farrel's calling me an economic whiz kid, I'm afraid that I'm not going to say very much about Trevor Manuel's recent budget. The reason: I'm going slowly delirious, having spent the better part of the last 24 hours trying to finish an essay. At least I'm not alone.

On the whole, Manuel seems to have pulled the proverbial rabbit out again by delivering (small-ish) tax cuts, increases in infrastructure and health spending and a projected deficit of no higher than 3.1 percent of GDP. It looks like fiscal policy is to be loosened slightly over the next few years as govt delivers on its pledge to create more jobs and money is allocated to Black Economic Empowerment. Check the Sunday Times for comprehensive coverage.

Now, back to that pesky essay.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

On Lesotho brings us news of a declaration of a state of emergency in Lesotho as a result of persistent drought in that country.

Two things strike me about this:

1 - The famines that often stalk with droughts are almost invariably avoidable. South Africa is experiencing the same drought as Lesotho but possesses the resources and institutional capacity to deal with it. I mention this because it seems likely that once the inevitable aid mission has been mounted and catastrophe averted, very little will be done to address the underlying causes. Rather than donor states periodically mounting rescues it would make more sense to help build up organisational capacity in the recipient nations themselves. Which brings me to my second point..
2 - Before the process of building up institutional capacity can begin there has to be an admission on the part of recipient nations that changes are needed and a willingness to accept outside assistance. This may seem an obvious point, but it is not always clear that African leaders see such acknowledgment as in their own interests. I recently found the SADC annual report for 2002/2003 in which Zimbabwe's food crisis is blamed on, you guessed it, the ongoing drought. To give another example, this Reuters report suggests that Swaziland's failure to declare a state of emergency as a result of it's drought is largely attributable to King Mswati's fear of close scrutiny of royal expenditure.

Taking these points together it is easy to see a pattern. African states experience a natural calamity which, through administrative incompetence and resource shortages, turns into a human tragedy. Donor states then step in and provide aid until the worst is over, but for various reasons (a lack of real interest, fear of being branded 'colonial' etc) refuse to insist on genuine change. The African leaders themselves are thus spared the full wrath of their people and live to bungle things another day. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that food aid should be denied to countries in need, but I am suggesting that once a countries leaders have proved themselves to be so incompetent as to be unable to avoid mass starvation they give up some of the sovereign rights normally associated with statehood. In such cases donor nations have a right to expect changes and should feel no compunction about acting on that expectation. We are already moving into a world were mere sovereignty is no longer a guarantee of independence when gross human rights violations are involved (think of Kosovo and Sierra Leone). Isn't the sort of incompetence that leads to famine just another type of human rights violation? Is there really a difference between Milosovic and Mugabe or Milosovic and Mswati III. I realise that this is controversial, but I think that it is something that is worth thinking about. As ever, comments would be appreciated.

"The most persistent hallucination that ever haunted the human brain"
Being a child of the Enlightenment, I have long been affronted by the prevalence of astrology in modern society, a condition that is aggravated by my girlfriend's oft-stated, but unelaborated, view that there is "something in it."

For this reason, I was pleased to stumble across an article in the M&G giving three good reasons (many more could be stated) for not believing in astrology. The first is that it is premised upon an astronomically false view of the universe. Given the "procession of the equinoxes", the constellations are not in the same position as they were when the zodiac was established 2500 years ago. This means that the first point of Aries is now really in Pisces, and so on. Secondly, events such as the Holocaust pose an obvious problem. Did everyone who died at the hands of the Nazis share a similar horoscope? This seems unlikely. And, finally, what of free will? What is the interaction between the stars and the choices I make?

Unfortunately, having posed these problems, the article (which reviews a book) reverts to the general wooliness that bedevils astrologers and their craft, by ignoring the first two problems, and making a virtually meaningless statement about the stars "inclining" but not "compelling" our life choices in response to the third. In addition, the reviewer hauls up an obscure event from the middle ages as "proof" that astrology somehow works (if it did, it should be easy to find better evidence than that).

I was going to conclude this post by making some gloomy remarks about South Africa lapsing into a tabloid culture, where ideas such as UFO's and astrology are taken seriously by the mainstream media -- until I noticed that this article was sourced from the British newspaper The Guardian! Oh well, if nothing else this confirms Franz Cumont's view that astrology is "the most persistent hallucination that ever haunted the human brain" (or that The Guardian itself has tabloid tendencies, an issue about which I won't pontificate here...)

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Is the ANC still intent on disenfranchising expat South Africans? Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the first things that we wrote about was the passing of the election bill last year, which prevented overseas South Africans from voting in the election. We, rightly I think, argued that the passing of the bill was evidence of breathtaking cynicism on the part of the ANC, since it was clear that the majority of people living overseas were not likely to be natural ANC supporters. If popular estimates are to be believed there are over half a million South African's living abroad, a number that should account for well over 20 seats in Parliament. Since the ANC is hell-bent on achieving a two-thirds majority in Parliament (thereby allowing it to alter the constitution) eliminating those potential opposition votes must have seemed an enticing prospect.

So, imagine our surprise when the government announced that an amendment to the bill would be passed to allow expats to vote. Whilst not exactly a magnanimous gesture, we shouldn't have had to campaign for our right to vote in the first place, it nonetheless bespoke a genuine commitment to democracy which made our cynicism seem out of place. Nevertheless, there were a few wrinkles that aroused some unease. Those of us living overseas would have to wait until the election day was announced and then register with our nearest embassy before being allowed to vote, and it was not clear who of those living outside SA might be eligible to vote.

My suspicions have been confirmed over the last few days as it has become clear that what had initially seemed a major concession is in fact nothing of the sort. Quoting the IEC's website:

Who can vote:
Category A: South African citizens on government service
Category B: South African citizens temporarily absent from the republic
Are you temporarily absent-
- On a holiday?
- On a business trip?
- Attending a tertiary institution?
- On an educational visit?
- Participating in an international sporting event?

If you are overseas on a work permit or have emigrated, you cannot vote.

But as the government is well aware, the vast majority of expats are those that have come overseas (usually to Britain) on one or two year working-holiday visas. That half a million figure is not made up of embassy officials or university students, it consists largely of young South Africans pursuing the mighty pound who intend, once their visas expire, to return to SA. Of course, even if they aren't planning to return to SA, they should still be allowed to vote since they are citizens of South Africa. The ANC seems to feel that the right to vote is not an absolute right at all, but rather a conditional one which it may be extended or withdrawn at its discretion (see Murray's post here for more on why this is wrong).

But it seems that the ANC is finding it difficult to stomach even the minor concession of allowing students, sportsmen and holiday makers the right to vote. As I have discovered recently, the process of applying to vote is not an easy one. One needs to have already registered in South Africa, be in possession of an SA identity book and a valid passport. The process also involves navigating through a less than clear IEC webpage and then submitting a form, via fax or snailmail to an office in Pretoria. And this has to be done within two weeks of the date of the election being announced. What a rigmarole. There is no doubt in my mind that this process needn't be so complicated. The fact that it is suggests that the ANC is making things deliberately difficult. The icing on the cake comes courtesy of the South African High Commission in London, whose website carries the following blunt message on its front page:

In most cases South Africans abroad are not eligible to vote

I must say, this government is beginning to anger me with its high-handed dismissal of the rights of its citizens. Frankly, I don't care what the difficulties are in allowing expats to vote, the right to vote is guaranteed in the constitution and the government, if it took that document as seriously as it pretends to, would be moving heaven and earth to allow those several hundred thousand of us living overseas to vote. Is the fact that it hasn't evidence of its true nature?

Peer review in Africa
African states signed up to Nepad have agreed to a peer-review mechanism that will allow African countries to judge the behaviour of fellow African states.

So, a positive development, indicative of a new spirit of self-help in Africa, and a genuine commitment to basic principles of good governance, or mere window dressing? The jury will probably be out on this one for a while but I do think that a few factors can be identified as crucial.

Firstly, how will the term "good governance" be defined? The report mentions that "good governance" will be defined in the African context. But what does this mean? To what extent will "Western" notions of good governance be relevant? Recall that the last time the spectre of African solutions to African problems was raised, it culminated in the South African Minister of Health recommending that AIDS sufferers ward off the evil virus by consuming African potatoes, garnished with garlic and olive oil.

Secondly, how will the criteria that are formulated be interpreted and applied? Here too, there is scope for abuse. Regarding Zimbabwe, South Africa has repeatedly argued in international forums, such as the Commonwealth, that the human rights situation in that country is improving, despite the fact that all indications have been to the contrary. If the principles formulated are applied in this manner, then clearly the peer-review system will go nowhere. This will be especially interesting in the case of countries such as Angola -- a new member -- where corruption is endemic.

Third, if these hurdles are cleared, will it matter? The report notes that no punitive measures will be attached to the Nepad standards of good governance that are formulated. The risk is that states will be mildly criticised, make vague promises to improve, and then won't do anything. After all, why should they?

Still, I don't wish to sound unduly pessimistic. These are, it is true, potential stumbling blocks. But, given that the process hasn't even begun to unfold, and does hold exciting promise, Nepad should be accorded the benefit of the doubt. For what its worth, Southern Cross will be watching.

Monday, February 16, 2004

I'm increasingly concerned about the prospects for renewed political violence in KZN in the run up to the election. This BBC report does not augur well.

Farrel has more on this.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

The new Springbok coach is ... Jake White! Who? Yes, that's what I said. But Andy Capostagno of the M&G thinks that he's the right man. Of course, the last time I read an article by Capostagno, he was predicting that the Boks would either beat the All Blacks in the World Cup quarter-final, or give them a good run for their money. The Boks, of course, ended up losing 29-9, in one of the most one-sided matches I'd seen in some time. But, given my limited rugby expertise, I'm prepared to defer to Capostagno's judgment on this matter.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Andrew's post on John Kerry, discussed by me below, has inexplicably vanished... Apologies, Andrew, I have absolutely no idea how that happened. You will have to glean the details from the Times story I link to.

Don't get too excited - yet
I'm afraid that my gut response to the Kerry story (see below) is rather different. Indeed, I tend to view it in the same light as the allegations that Bulelani Ngcuka was an apartheid spy. Firstly, the web-site that broke the story has a decidedly mixed record. Its true that it broke the Monica Lewinsky story, but's its got a number of other things decidedly wrong, and has had to apologise on numerous occasions. Its no coincidence that mainstream US newspapers aren't covering this story, and British newspapers are adopting an extremely cautious tone.

Secondly, aspects of the story strike me as suspicious. Apparently the intern is in "Africa", that vast undifferentiated land-mass. No particular country is named. For the West, and the US in particular, "Africa" tends to stand in for the most remote and inaccessible part of the Earth, bar Antarctica. This is just a little too neat and, to me, smacks of a poorly fabricated rumour, designed for a particular market. There's also the fact that the scandal was supposedly alluded to by Wesley Clark a few weeks back, when he predicted that the Kerry campaign would "implode." But, if Clark had prior knowledge, why has he dropped out of the race? If he saw this coming, shouldn't he have kept going and emerged as front-runner with John Edwards? Finally, that the story involves a tryst with an intern strikes me as just a little too reminiscent of the Clinton-Lewinsky affair. This, too, smacks of fabrication.

I might, of course, be proved wrong, just as Ngcuka might have been proved to be an apartheid spy. But too much about this story strikes me as doubtful and inconsistent.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

AIDS dissidents
Anthony Cox of Black Triangle has referred me to a fascinating article on AIDS dissidents, penned by Udo Schuklenk, formerly a dissident himself, and now a firm supporter of mainstream views on the causes of AIDS. The article is worth reading, not only for its account of the history of the dissident movement (I couldn't, by the way, help but notice how many of the early dissidents are now deceased on account of AIDS-related diseases) but for Schuklenk's discussion of the ethics of the dissident movement. Schuklenk makes the argument that the dissident movement acted unethically by taking views to the mass media that had been thoroughly discredited in peer-reviewed journals. This, he says, created the impression that a debate existed where there was in fact none at all, which was particularly irresponsible in a country such as South Africa where many are ill-educated. He concludes by arguing that holders of minority positions in science should voluntarily refrain from expressing their views through the media, and proposes that a set of guidelines should be drafted to this effect.

As I said, an interesting article. But I don't think that we should lose sight of the fact that, on this issue, the buck stops firmly with the South African government, and Mbeki in particular (which is not to say that Schuklenk exempts the government from his criticism). If Mbeki hadn't entertained the views of the dissidents, then they wouldn't have been accorded a platform by the press in the first place, and the ethical questions that Schuklenk discusses wouldn't have arisen. Instead, the dissidents would have remained where they belong -- in remote corners of the internet, frequented largely by cranks and conspiracy theorists.

Every now and again, I read something about South Africa which just moves me to despair. Today was such a day, with first this and then this coming to light.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Islington Man Goes Down
A few days ago a colleague related the following highly amusing story to me:

Apparently, shortly after being elected, Hartlepool MP and former cabinet member extraordinaire, Peter Mandelson, was moved to do a tour of his constituency. Now, for those who don't know, Mandelson is the archetypal 'Islington man'. A smooth talking, Italian suit wearing, cappucino sipping dilettante, more accustomed to the arcane world of Westminster than the tough, gritty world of post-industrial Hartlepool. Cue Mandelson wandering down the Hartlepool High Street in one of his impeccable suits and with a gaggle of press behind him. The tour involved stopping off at a renowned local Fish 'n Chip shop where Mandelson was supposed to sample the local product whilst demonstrating his 'popular touch' to the press. After standing around awkwardly for a couple of minutes the shops proprietor produced a plate of fish, chips and a large helping of mushy pees (an English speciality, apparently). The story goes that on seeing the mushy pees, Mandelson's face lit up and he exclaimed, 'Ooh, I do love guacamole!'

Priceless, if true.

Are white South Africans unrepentant about Apartheid injustices? Foreign Dispatches links to a paper which suggests that well over 40 per cent either felt that Apartheid was not unjust or weren't sure. Further investigation reveals that the paper was written sometime around 1996 and I dare say that attitudes have changed a lot since then. Still, almost half the population unsure about the injustice of Apartheid is astonishingly high.

I have my doubts about the BBC's Barnaby Phillips, his comments on South Africa have been less than astute in the past. But, for its worth, it appears that he will be maintaining an 'election diary' in the run up to the April election which may be worth the occasional visit.

Farrel pokes fun at Mongesuthu Buthelezi who, now that the Inkatha Freedom Party has formed an alliance with the Democratic Alliance, will have to resign his ministerial post: "Oh well Gatsha, those brief tastes of Presidency you experienced whenever both the President and Vice-President were out the country have come to an end." Actually, I seem to recall Buthelezi saying (I don't have a link) that he entered into an alliance with the DA because it was the only way that he might become -- wait for it -- President. This, of course, is breathtakingly delusional, although it does suggest that Buthelezi and Tony Leon -- who also, I think, harbours such fantasies -- are birds of a feather.

Mbeki's denial
Its not difficult to do the right thing on AIDS, as Malawi's President Bakili Muluzi has demonstrated by publicly stating that his brother died of AIDS, in a bid to reduce the disease's stigma. It goes without saying that this contrasts rather sharply with Thabo Mbeki's public statements on AIDS, which have recently included the claim -- made in an interview with the Washington Post -- that he doesn't know anyone who has, or has died of, the disease. This is despite the fact that it is reasonably well-known that Parks Mankahlana, once Mbeki's spokesman, died of an AIDS-related illness, as did Steve Tswete, once Minister of Safety and Security. Mbeki also approved the appointment of Judge Edwin Cameron, who is openly HIV-positive, to the Supreme Court of Appeal. More to the point, given the scale of South Africa's AIDS problem, even if Mbeki wasn't acquainted with these individuals, he should presumably regard himself as duty-bound to meet people infected with the disease.

It's difficult to fathom this level of denial. The most plausible explanation I've heard is that Mbeki resents the stereotype that Africans are disease-ridden, promiscuous, and can't control their libidos, and doesn't wish to perpetuate it. His statement that he doesn't know anyone who is HIV-positive, made in an interview with a major Western newspaper, should then be read in this light -- some Africans might have this disease, but not all. By extension, not all Africans conform to your stereotypes.

But it goes without saying that this rather misses the point. AIDS is already a problem that can't be wished away. Unfortunate stereotypes about the licentious nature of Africans may abound but, as the gay community has demonstrated elsewhere, the way to deal with such prejudice is not to allow the disease to flourish, but to address it. Perhaps most sadly, Mbeki's stance seems premised on the view that being HIV-positive is co-extensive with having an amoral character. Being HIV-positive, after all, doesn't necessarily mean that one can't control one's sex drive. Mbeki would do better to acknowledge the AIDS problem, but disentangle it from the stereotype, by openly meeting people with the disease, and by emphasising the role of factors such as poverty, and a lack of education, in spreading AIDS. By not doing so, he's simply perpetuating the stigma surrounding the disease, and the very stereotypes that he wishes to do away with. I might also add that he's given creedence to yet another stereotype that will, in the long-run, do incalculable damage to South Africa's prospects -- namely, that blacks can't govern, and are prone to irrational ideas.

What depresses me is that these points are so easily made, and won't hold many new insights for most readers of this blog. In a more robust democracy, Mbeki's incompetence on this issue would, by now, have done serious damage to the ruling party's support. It's a sad indictment of the strength of South Africa's democracy that the ANC's support seems not to have suffered at all.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

Peter Cuthbertson has kindly responded to my post on gay marriage, and has made several remarks in the comments section. I don't want to get too mired in this issue, given that South Africa is fast approaching an election. But I would like to offer responses to some of Peter's points. First, Peter writes that:

I think the analogy with race is daft and somewhat America-centric. The meaning of the institution was not changed by removing a law that artificially limited marriage on racial grounds -- it was ultimately about providing the most stable background for the next generation.

Personally, I think that more can be said for this analogy than Peter suggests. Marriage was legally defined, at least in the US, as a union between a man and woman of the same race, in much the same way that it is now defined as a union between two people who are not of the same sex. In doing away with the racial stipulation, the legal definition of marriage had to be changed, although this did not detract from marriage as an institution. In the same way, I think that the present definition of marriage can be altered so as to accommodate gay unions, without compromising our basic understanding of what marriage is about -- a loving partnership between two people. For the record, I think that limiting marriage on racial grounds is as artificial as limiting it on the basis of sexual orientation.

Still, given that I don't know whether there were ever such laws in Britain, I'm prepared to accept that this example might be of more relevance to the debate in the US. In that case, however, a more serious problem is posed by the second example that I gave, namely, that, from the inception of marriage in the West, it was conceptualised in terms of female subordination. Our modern understanding of marriage -- namely, as an equal partnership, as opposed to a partnership in which the woman has no more rights than a child -- is less than 100 years old in the UK.

The point I'm trying to make is this: over time, our definition of institutions such as marriage inevitably changes, in light of evolving social norms. Simply saying that a proposed change should be ruled out of court because it would amount to a "redefinition" cannot count as an objection, because we've changed the legal definition of marriage before. Instead, we need to have a debate about why we have marriage, and what marriage is about, and then consider whether our current definition is appropriate in light of the conclusions that we reach.

To my mind, marriage is, fundamentally, a loving partnership that is formally, and publicly, entered into, and which also has a range of legal consequences that facilitate a life-long relationship (such as qualifying for a spouse's passport). Having children is incidental, but not integral, to this partnership. If this concept of marriage is accepted, then clearly gay marriage does not threaten the institution. Indeed, if it is accepted that gays are also capable of loving relationships, then the prohibition on gay marriage can instead be seen as an artificial limitation, that is not necessary to maintain marriage as an institution. Allowing gay marriage does not undermine the institution; on the contrary, it furthers our understanding of why we have it.

Next Peter writes that:

Existing marriage laws do not forbid marriage on grounds of sexual preference. They simply assert that you can have only one partner, and that this partner must be of the opposite sex. Homosexual activists are not merely asking for equal marriage rights - they have them already.

I find this argument a little more difficult to follow. It seems clear to me that, by specifying that one's partner must be of the opposite sex, marriage laws express a preference for heterosexual unions. Gays cannot marry someone of their own sex, and therefore cannot marry in accordance with their sexual preference. In this sense, gays certainly do not have equal marriage rights already.


They (gays) are asking for marriage to be redefined to meet their wishes. That may or may not be a reasonable demand, but it is one of redefinition, not equality. After all, three polygamists could make the same charge. No one would claim they individually do not have equal right to marry or that they are asking for anything but a redefinition of the institution.

Contrary to Peter, I think that this is an issue of equality, rather than redefinition. If it is accepted that sexual orientation is a ground of discrimination, like race or sex, then gays can legitimately argue that the current definition of marriage discriminates against them, in a manner that offends their right to equality. Reasons can, of course, be advanced as to why the discrimination is lawful (the European Convention of Human Rights, for instance, allows for limitation of rights on the grounds of "public morals") but that does not detract from the fact that this is an issue that falls squarely within the remit of equality law. Limiting marriage to heterosexual couples quite clearly implies that gay relationships are less worthy, or that gays are somehow incapable of loving eachother with the same depth and commitment as heterosexuals.

For this same reason, polygamists won't get anywhere in asking that they be allowed to marry. Apart from the fact that I find this example rather fanciful (has anyone heard of polygamy activists?), polygamists can't point to a ground of discrimination, and therefore can't argue that they are being discriminated against. No issue of equality arises.

Finally, Peter responds to my suggestion that the right should embrace economic and social liberalism, and do away with their tradition of authority. The gist of his argument is that:

The crime and welfare that results from family breakdown is a problem that anyone who loathes big government needs to deal with. For the right to retreat into social liberalism just secures a firm basis for tax and spend welfarism for ever more.

At this point, I'm tempted to hand the torch to Andrew, given that, unlike me, he's a natural conservative, and given that he has some strong views on this matter. Nevertheless, I would like to make one point: its a grave error to equate gay marriage with the breakdown of the family, given that gays are just as capable of forming family units. The fact is that many people are gay and will enter long-term relationships. If one is worried about social decay, surely its best to recognise gay partnerships as a normal part of society, and allow gays to establish long-term partnerships in the same manner as heterosexuals? To me, that seems far more conducive to social stability than pretending that gays don't exist.

PS Peter has been nominated for the Guardian's best political web-log awards so you might want to check him out at Conservative Commentary.

A Public Service Announcement
Yesterday, Thabo Mbeki announced the date of the next election. The nation will go to the polls on April 14. As reported last week, those of you living oversees now have 15 days to get to your nearest high commission or embassy to register. I urge as many of you as possible to do so. The ANC very nearly decided not to allow expats to vote and so, having been forced down on this issue, we now need to make it clear how important this is to us.

Given that there are anything up to a quarter of a million South Africans in Britain at the moment, I expect Trafalgar Square to be a busy place on April 14. Now if someone will just bring a skottle along and a rugby ball we could make a day of it..

Monday, February 09, 2004

The Character of the Party
Interesting discussion at my South Africa Seminar today centering on the idea that the ANC may be a 'Leninist' party. The following put forward as evidence:

1 - The notion of deploying cadre's to fill important positions. The ANC has certainly made no bones about its desire to install party members in key bureaucratic positions. This is perhaps understandable (the Nats did the same thing) but what sets the spidey-sense tingling is the fact that they now appear to be trying to do the same thing in the private sector.
2 - A disdain for the opposition which at times appears to border on the belief that opposition politics is actually illegitimate. Recall Mbeki's frequent derogatory references to the DA and *that* speech three years ago in which he unleashed a torrent of abuse at the 'white' party and the 'white' politician.
3 - Evidence, admittedly scanty, suggesting that the party has been ruthlessly suppressing or removing dissenting voices. How long did it take the ANC to respond to calls for changes to its AIDS policy? Why are there so few dissenting voices over Zimbabwe. And what was the 'Mbeki assassination plot' of a few years ago really about? Very conveniently it sidelined a number of voices that might have become openly critical of aspects of govt policy.
4 - A general tendency to confuse or conflate the interests of the party with the interests of the state.

Evidence against:
1 - A strongly independent judiciary which, even though it is arguably more progressive than the good people of South Africa themselves, has nonetheless been allowed to continue about it's business unhindered.
2 - A free press which jealously guards its freedom and is frequently very critical of govt. It's possible that the ANC just doesn't care about a print media which is both largely urban based and not particularly widely read, but I like to think that, the commission into racism in the media notwithstanding, it has a genuine desire to promote a free press.
3 - The toleration of the activities of the SACP and COSATU which are both highly critical of the ANC and exercise a direct influence on government as members of the tri-partite alliance.

So, is the ANC 'Leninist'? On balance I'm inclined to think not, although I have some doubts about Mbeki himself - an elusive character, to say the least. I'll leave the conclusion up to you. Comments if you please...

More on gay marriage
Young firebrand Peter Cuthbertson of Conservative Commentary has taken to declaring his opposition to gay marriage. He had a post dealing solely with this issue but he has, unfortunately, deleted it, which possibly amounts to an admission that his arguments are not as watertight as he would like. Nevertheless, from what remains, I gather that Peter is opposed to gay marriage because it would, firstly, "redefine" marriage; secondly, amount to "social engineering"; and, thirdly, usher in an "anything goes" era of social decay in which threesomes and even fivesomes might present themselves at the alter to be joined in unholy matrimony. So, does Peter convince? I think not.

The "redefinition" argument is especially tenuous. Over the years, the specific legal definition of marriage has been repeatedly altered without society judging, in retrospect, that the institution has been fatally undermined. For example, for many years marriage was defined so as to exclude unions between people of different races. In the US, laws prohibiting inter-racial marriages were only declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1967, in Loving v Virginia, at a time when 16 states still had such statutes on their books. For many years too, marriage effectively obliterated a woman's legal identity. She became a perpetual minor, with her husband exercising control over her person and property. In the UK, it was only in 1935 that the legal definition of marriage was altered so as to recognise equality between the sexes.

Nowadays, does anyone (I'm looking at you Peter) judge these to have been negative developments, that somehow damaged the institution of marriage? Of course not. If anything, we regard these changes as better expressing our evolving understanding of what marriage is about. The mere fact that a change to the legal definition of marriage is proposed -- in this instance, to allow for same-sex unions -- should not automatically lead us to think that we are fundamentally altering, or demeaning, the institution.

Peter also worries that allowing gays to marry would amount to "social engineering." If so, this objection should also apply to the examples given above. Allowing people of different races to marry was wrong because it amounted to social engineering; the same goes for granting women equal rights in marriage. Clearly, these would not be serious arguments. More fundamentally, Peter's argument misses the point that society is already engineered, in this instance, in favour of heterosexuals, just as it was, for a long time, engineered in favour of men. The fact is that we have to make decisions about how social institutions such as marriage are organised; we can't escape this just by leaving things as they are; that in itself amounts to a form of engineering.

Finally, Peter paints grim scenarios of marriage coming to mean anything, of marriages involving seven men, for instance. Fortunately, several other jurisdictions are ahead of the UK on this matter. Canada has recently legalised gay marriage, as has the Supreme Court of Massachusetts. In Scandinavian countries, gay marriage has been legal for some time. So let's wait and see whether Peter's apocalyptic visions come to pass.

More seriously, this particular argument could be advanced against any move to recognise same-sex partnerships. Should same-sex relationships be recognised for purposes of employment benefits? No, because then we would have to give them to threesomes. Should same-sex relationships be recognised for purposes of immigration? No, because then we'd have to let fivesomes in. Of course, Peter might be of the view that society should not recognise same-sex relationships for any purpose whatsoever. But that would put him so far to the right that I cannot believe that he would seriously hold such a view.

Peter's final argument also misses the point that, when it comes to this issue, we're dealing with discrimination. Gays can plausibly argue that the legal definition of marriage is discriminatory because, by virtue of excluding same-sex relationships, it discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation -- a recognised ground of discrimination, analogous to race and sex. But, in the case of individuals wishing to engage in polygamous unions, there is no ground of discrimination that can be pointed to, and so the argument cannot be made in the first place.

I'm no Tory, but I'd rather hoped that the new generation of Conservatives would take Michael Portillo's advice to heart and emphasise the Party's tradition of liberty (social and economic), rather than authority. This, to me, would be a far more attractive and consistent approach, and one more likely to endear them to 21st century Britain. Sadly, if Peter Cuthbertson is anything to go by, him and his ilk are cast firmly in the Thatcherite mould.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

I'd intended to spend this evening writing about Mbeki's State of the Nation address but, frankly, I'm a little bit frazzled after a week-end of drunken debauchery and so I point you to Zombyboy at AfricaBlog whose comments I mostly concur with.

For the record, I don't really agree with those who've suggested that the speech was a disappointment. Yes, it would have been nice if he'd said a bit about AIDS and Zimbabwe but I think that we should grant Mbeki a bit of latitude on this one. It was, after all, really an occasion to mark 10 years of democracy in SA so a bit of navel gazing is probably the order of the day.

The full text of the speech is here

And yet more links to recently discovered blogs. In an effort to counter what appears to be a right wing bias in our links section, I've rooted out two interesting Liberal Democrat oriented blogs. Jade Farrington's Random Ramblings and Miscellaneous are both worth a visit.

Friday, February 06, 2004

I had the good fortune to have breakfast with Patrick Belton of OxBlog this morning and, I'm pleased to say, he's just as charming and engaging as his numerous posts suggest.

Gay marriage?
Here's a story that, I'm surprised to see, neither the BBC or CNN have covered prominently. The Supreme Court of Massachusetts has ruled that gay and lesbian couples are entitled to full, equal marriage rights. In doing so, it has explictly found that options falling short of marriage -- such as civil unions -- are unconstitutional. Why? Because these "would have the effect of maintaining and fostering a stigma of exclusion that the Constitution prohibits." The ruling means that, starting on May 17, same-sex couples will be able to marry in Massachusetts, making it the only state in the US to allow gay marriage.

Needless to say, George Bush has reacted angrily and stated that "marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. If activist judges insist on redefining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process." In other words, the Constitution may have to be amended to prohibit gay marriage.

I'm no expert in US constitutional law, or the Constitution of Massachusetts for that matter, so I'm not about to make any technical pronouncements. But it does seem clear that, in liberal democracies, especially those that have justiciable bill of rights, gay rights are steadily, and inexorably, gaining ground. Canada has now recognised the legality of gay marriage (pursuant to a court order), civil unions have been mooted in the UK, and its only a matter of time before other European countries, and South Africa, follow suit.

I'm not sure if Bush's threat to change the US Constitution is simply populist grandstanding before the elections, but it does strike me as a particularly ill-advised idea. Firstly, there are simply the practical difficulties. By the most common route, the US Constitution can only be amended by 2/3 of both houses of the legislature, and 3/4 of the state legislatures. This would obviously be an exceptionally tortuous process that might well not result in success. Secondly, if the Constitution was amended, the odds are that the provision would simply become anachronistic -- as other jurisdictions move towards gay marriage -- and, frankly, embarrassing for the US and many of its more enlightened citizens. It would, in effect, be like Bowers v Hardwick -- the US Supreme Court decision that allowed for criminalisation of sodomy, contrary to international trends, and which was only recently overturned by Lawrence v Texas -- but worse, because it would be far more intractable.

Better, by far, simply to allow state legislatures, and state courts, to legalise gay marriage organically. The odds are that this would only occur in states where most people support the move. In states where people are against it, neither the courts nor the legislatures are likely to act. Certainly, the US Supreme Court isn't going to touch this one with a barge-pole for some time.

The judgment, or rather, the opinion of the Supreme Court of Massachusetts, is available here.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

More fun from the blogosphere. Brandon Hamber is a South African living in Northern Ireland blogging on a variety of Eurocentric topics, whilst the good gents at Mental Acrobatics and Foreign Dispatches are of indeterminate origin but blog on African issues. All are worth a visit.

Manuel for President?
Farrel at PoliticsZA makes the point (30 Jan) that fears about Mbeki changing the Constitution to run for a third term are probably misplaced because there are too many ambitious ANC members with an eye on the presidency who wouldn't want to wait another five years. He mentions Trevor Manuel in particular.

Personally, I'd be thrilled if Manuel became the next president, largely because he's always struck me as very competent. But I do have some doubts. Firstly, as we know, Mbeki can be a determined (stubborn?) man, as evidenced by his stances on AIDS and Zimbabwe. And when he has taken views on matters such as this, there does seem to have been a lack of will from other ANC members to challenge him, or hold him to account. Certainly, no other member of the cabinet has been particularly outspoken about AIDS. Of course, this is only speculative, as we don't know what happens behind closed doors, and by convention members of the cabinet don't dissent in public. But still, I wonder, if Mbeki did form the idea that he should stay on, and convinced others close to him that it was the best course, would he get away with it? I'm not sure.

Secondly, I know that Manuel is immensely popular within the ANC (I seem to recall that he got the second most votes for the ANC's National Executive Committee), but I can't help but wonder, racial politics being what it is in South Africa, whether he's maybe too, well, white. I don't know enough about the internal workings of the ANC to know if this is a factor, but I suspect that it might be. Perhaps someone out there who knows more about this subject can enlighten me.

This is hair-brained, but comic. Apparently the Boeremag, the right-wing terrorist group that planted several bombs in South Africa last year, planned to finance their scheme to take over the country, seize control of the SABC, and drive all the blacks up the national road to Zimbabwe, by selling -- wait for it -- 200 sheep and a crop of sunflowers. Well, there's a little more to it than that. They also wanted to stage several hijackings, but these apparently came to nought. Not surprisingly, the M&G writes that police spy Johan Smit testified that he was unsure "how the Boeremag had planned to finance an ambitious countrywide take-over plan with so little money, and admitted there had just been 'a lot of talking' at the meetings he attended in 2001 and 2002."

Blogging from the Roof of Africa
The paucity of decent Southern Africa related blogs is one of those depressing features of the blogosphere that make one realise just how far we still have to go. I was thus pleasantly surprised to discover a blog devoted to Lesotho. And a great blog it is too. Do have a look.

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

All Bogged Down
I'm sure there is something very amusing to be said about this, a 'superloo' that spontaneously exploded, but I'm not sure what it might be.

On de Klerk's endorsement
F W de Klerk has come out in support of the ANC/NNP partnership saying, get this, that, at the moment, the prospect of a truly competitive opposition party is bleak. I find this a little hard to swallow. Without stating the obvious, one of the reasons that the opposition is facing such a bleak future is that it has failed to unite. And one of the major reasons that it has failed to unite is because the NNP is run by a bunch of unprincipled opportunists who fled to the ANC as soon as it dangled the prospect of jobs in government in front of them.

The only consolation is that de Klerk's endorsement will make no difference, the NNP are still going to to get slaughtered at the polls. I expect the DA to receive the bulk of what remains of the NNPs support with the ANC taking the rest. I also wouldn't be surprised if the ANC win the Western Cape without the NNPs help, in which case Kortbroek can kiss his precious partnership goodbye. There is no way he or anybody else in the NNP will be Western Cape Premier in 6 months time and I'm willing to bet that they won't even hold any important provincial cabinet posts either.

I was amused to read van Schalkwyk's response to Tony Leon's criticism of de Klerk:

"Mr de Klerk is an icon to many people in this country because he provided the opportunity for white, coloured and Indian South Africans to take the hand of our fellow black South African brothers and sisters and for that we will always honour him. Mr Leon is fighting way outside his weight class"

van Schalkwyk went on to add that Leon's utterances were causing racial tensions in the country and that cooperation between black and white leaders in the country would prevent the repeat of the Zimbabwean situation.

He's deluding himself if he thinks that de Klerk is an 'icon'. de Klerk's reputation is shot through in the eyes of the left because of his knowledge of and possible sanctioning of 'third force' activities in the early 90s whilst most on the right regard him as, at best, a weak negotiator and, at worst, a sell out. The only place where he may still have some influence is the Western Cape but even there I doubt that it will be enough to make a difference to the outcome of the election. As for van Schalkwyk's reference to Zimbabwe, it bears re-iterating Murray's point that Zimbabwe made a turn for the worst only after Mugabe succeeded in co-opting Joshua Nkomo into the ruling party. As long as Nkomo presented a realistic opposition, Mugabe was constrained in what he could do. One might have thought that the NNP, realising this would have been a little less eager to get into bed with the ANC. Which is to say that if van Schalkwyk can't even get his history correct he would be well advised to refrain from making such inflammatory remarks.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

I've never come across Freddie Sayers before but he makes such a lot of sense in this article about top up fees that I'll be sure to look out for him in the future.

More madness north of the Limpopo
Robert Mugabe now wants to confiscate the country's largest sugar-producer, Hippo Valley, which, incidentally, employs 6000 full-time workers and 4000 seasonal workers. Hippo Valley is so productive that it produces all of Zim's sugar and exports to neighbouring countries. Interestingly, Anglo-American, South Africa's largest company, owns a controlling share in Hippo Valley. I've always been led to believe that companies such as Anglo, De Beers and SAB have some clout in the South African government. Does this mean that Anglo will lean on Mbeki to do something about this? And how will he respond? This should also be an interesting litmus test for Mbeki. What, after all, does he value more? His relationship with the companies that power South Africa's economy? Or his relationship with a despot who's systematically running his country into the ground? I'd like to believe the former but, on Mbeki's track-record, I incline towards the latter.

Monday, February 02, 2004

Marthinus van Schalkwyk has called for the return of the death penalty. That should endear him to his new-found ANC comrades.

More seriously, what people miss when they make this argument is that, for the death penalty to be returned, the Constitution would have to be susbstantially altered. After all, in S v Makwanyane, the Constitutional Court found the death penalty to be inconsistent with the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and hinted strongly that it might also be inconsistent with the rights to life and dignity, without deciding the issue. In other words, for the death penalty to be reintroduced, all of these provisions would have to be amended -- either individually, all through some sort of general clause.

Would the New National Party really want that? After all, if certain rights are eroded, why not others, such as the right of whites to retain their property? I think a strong argument can be made that, regardless of what one thinks of the death penalty -- I happen to be against it -- it is in all of our interests, including the NNP's, not to start fiddling with the Bill of Rights.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

This is rather intriguing. A sixteen year old South African who emigrated to the US with his parents six years ago has been suspended from school, and labelled a "neo-nazi", for nominating himself for the "Distinguished African-American Student of the Year" prize. As the article points out, he was, in fact, the only person in the school who had actually lived in Africa. Yet, it was argued that he could more sensitively, and appropriately, have described himself as a "First Generation White (or European) South African American."

I don't know much about the racial politics of the US but the reaction to this strikes me as rather bizarre. Leaving this case aside -- it does seem that the youngster's motivations were largely mischievous -- I think that most South Africans would feel rather uneasy about reserving the term "African" solely for black people. What about the Afrikaners, who are white, but have lived in Africa for centuries and speak a language not found elsewhere? Conversely, what about black South Africans who grew up in exile and feel more culturally attuned to countries such as the UK? More worryingly, once the term "African" is reserved solely for blacks doesn't a Zimbabwean scenario -- in which part of the population is turned upon as, in some sense, not belonging -- become all the more possible?

In truth, in a globalising world, I tend to be rather suspicious of labels such as "African" and "European." I have English roots but have been powerfully shaped by growing up in South Africa. Likewise, even Thabo Mbeki, who espouses the African Rennaissance, and hails from the rural Transkei, owes much to his time in the UK. Besides, isn't Africa such a huge and diverse place that the label "African" becomes rather meaningless? What do Zimbabweans have in common with Algerians, or Nigerians with Namibians?

Fundamentally, I think, our identities are far more specific and detailed than terms such as "African" and "European" can hope to capture. I accept that Black Americans have a shared history and wish to settle upon a term to indicate that. But, at the risk of courting controversy, it does seem to me that the way in which the term "African" is employed in this article is not only unfortunate, but also rather dangerous.

As Andrew rightly predicted, Mbeki has refused to be drawn on the question of whether he might change the Constitution to run for a third term, with his spokesman saying that the President is not in the habit of taking instructions from the likes of Leon. Fair enough, I think that most politicians would respond in the same way. But it would be nice to have some clarity on this issue. I have heard, via a rather protracted grapevine, that Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma is being groomed by Mbeki for the top job. I don't know enough about Zuma to comment but I'm not altogether sure that the ANC would be willing to accept a woman as its leader. Regardless, if the rumour is true it does suggest that Mbeki isn't looking to change the Constitution. Perhaps the make-up of Mbeki's post-election cabinet will give us some clues. Will Jacob Zuma still be Vice-President, for instance? Or will he be shunted into some sort of minor ministry? (P.S. I read this story yesterday and unfortunately can't find a link for it today.)

Andrew has long urged me to read Rian Malan so, at last, I'm beginning to. He has a great piece in today's Sunday Times reflecting on his personal journey through ten years of South Africa's democracy. I don't have much to add to it except to say that its beautifully written, refreshingly honest and rather touching.

Adult Content Alert
Better make sure you know the difference between G and B. The nice people are Google are not happy.

And the merry game goes on. Robert Mugabe now appears to be targeting land owned by large corporations for re-distribution. That should help put the Zimbabwean economy back on its feet!