Wednesday, June 30, 2004

I have to wonder about Mbeki. SABC reports that he has just given a speech arguing that the Palestinian problem should be treated as one of the challenges facing Africa. I have a couple of issues with this.

Firstly, and I admit that I have no real evidence for this, it seems pretty clear to me that Mbeki views Israel/Palestine as roughly analogous to South Africa before 1994. This allows him to both identify with Palestine and to assume that he holds the moral high-ground whenever he pronounces on the issue. But I'm not sure if the analogy really works. I don't want to get dragged into this issue but it seems clear to me that the situation in Israel is far more nuanced than that which prevailed in SA under the Nats. To view the Israeli's as simply a different incarnation of the colonising West is to make some breath-taking historical simplifications. It behooves a man of Mbeki's alleged intellectual capacity to make an effort to understand these differences. If he is really serious about projecting himself as an international statesman then he's going to have to work harder at being impartial and at getting a grip on the subtleties of the issue at hand.

But this is all rather moot, because what I really object to is the fact that Mbeki is ivolved in this issue at all. There is no reason for the leader of a small, developing nation in AFRICA to involve himself in a conflict which has absorbed a considerable amount of attention from the great powers, to little avail. I very much doubt that Mbeki could make one jot of difference to Palestine and that being the case he ought to keep well away. I've been doing a lot of reading recently about countries which have successfully industrialised over the past 50 years or so. Almost to a country one of the things that marks them out is the fact that they refrained from getting involved in international affairs. South Africa (and Africa) face enough challenges as it is. Adding the intractable problem of Israel/Palestine to the list is simply a waste of time and energy.

Wayne Wides draws attention to an extraordinary story. Eskom is apparently looking into the feasibility of building a hydro-electric dam on the Congo River with the ability to generate 40 000 MW of power. South Africa's entire electricity generating capacity at the moment is only 45 000 MW. The mind boggles at the idea of investing vast sums of money in a country which is still embroiled in the world's largest undeclared conflict. Go and read Wayne for speculation on what this all means.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

American lawyer Ed Fagan wants to sue multinational companies that operated in South Africa under apartheid, as well as the new South African government for allegedly siding with those companies and frustrating the lawsuit that he wants to bring.

Via some involvement in public interest law, I've heard a bit about Ed Fagan and frankly he strikes me as an opportunist with all the wrong motives. His interest in pursuing these claims is largely that he stands to benefit immensely by claiming 30% of the damages. I also can't help but wonder who the 'class' of victims is who he claims to represent. All black people who lived under apartheid? Surely not. A select handful of victims? If so, who are these people and how were they chosen?

I'm also not surprised that the South African government hasn't facilitated this lawsuit. Quite clearly their interest, and the interest of all South Africans, is in promoting the country as a safe investment destination. It's largely companies like IBM that are, after all, via employment equity, providing opportunities for young black professionals. It would not be in the best interests of South Africa -- even if it would be in Ed Fagan's -- for the government to facilitate this lawsuit. More fundamentally, I very much doubt that they have a legal duty to do so, which is what Fagan seems to allege.

So, I doubt whether Ed Fagan is a fighter for justice motivated by the best interests of all South Africans. More likely a media-hungry lawyer out to make what he refers to as a 'killing.'

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Last week, I had an angry response to this post and this post about the South African literary canon.

I've just finished exams and so've had a chance to respond. You can see the original post and my response here.

All smokers, please read this article. Fact: smoking cuts an average of ten years off a person's life. And the study is rather difficult to argue with. It was published in the British Medical Journal, represents the culmination of a 50-year study, and involved 34,439 men.

Is ten years of life really worth a habit as unrewarding as smoking? I fail to see how it can be.

Now, if only I could persuade my girlfriend of this point...

Friday, June 18, 2004

On the subject of torture, I see that Steve Sturm remains adamant that some lives are worth more than others and that torture is therefore justified. I'm really rather tired of this debate, and don't imagine that it holds much interest to readers, largely because I doubt whether Steve has any adherents to speak of. Indeed, the only links that I could find to his blog seemed uniformly disapproving. Still, Steve, I don't think that you should have the satisfaction of thinking that you've had the last word or even that you might be right.

Steve asks: would I torture someone if the life of someone close to me was at stake? This rather misses the point. In appropriate circumstances, we might all be tempted to do things that are neither legal or moral. Furthermore, even if I did torture someone to save the life of, say, a family member, I would have to accept that at the end of the day I would face a charge of assault in court, and would have to justify my actions before the law. And the criminal law, as I have argued, assumes that lives are of equal value and that torture can therefore only be justified in very extreme circumstances, if at all. Bleating to the judge about what he would do if his wife was endangered wouldn't get me very far. Of course, it could be that Steve wants to rework the criminal law entirely but then it is he who has a lot of explaining to do, not me.

Steve also analogises torture to the death penalty, saying that it's difficult to disapprove of capital punishment if someone close to you has been killed. Actually, Steve, I'm glad you brought the death penalty up. Let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that the death penalty is administered fairly and consistently in the USA. If so, that has only been achieved through an elaborate system of checks and balances. These recognise that the death penalty is an extreme form of punishment and that, if we are to impose it, we should do our best to ensure that we do not do so arbitrarily. The same, I think, applies in the case of torture. If governments are to use it, as you suggest, then I think it follows that they should do all they can to ensure that it is applied fairly and consistently. The problem is that it's almost impossible to see how this would be achieved in the only circumstances in which torture might theoretically be justified (ie when a bomb is ticking). Invariably, unlike the death penalty -- where one has the luxury of a lengthy trial and appeal process -- these would be spur of the moment decisions that would be almost impossible to regulate, except after the fact which would be highly problematic.

Finally, Steve raises a more slippery point. If all lives are of equal value, why not intervene, and sacrifice one's own nationals, whenever lives are at risk elsewhere? In my original post, I emphasised that the starting-point for discussions about torture should be that all individuals -- regardless of nationality -- share certain basic rights, such as the rights to life and bodily integrity. These, I argued, should form the basis of our discussions about when torture is justified. But what is the content of these rights? Primarily, they are negative guarantees. They prevent government from doing certain things; they do not require it to do anything. The US Constitution, for instance, effectively contains a right to life under the due process clause ("no one may be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law"). This, note, is a right vested in all US citizens, equally. But it isn't a positive duty. It doesn't, for example, require the US government to implement health-care programs ensuring that no-one dies unnecessarily of ill-health. Instead, it requires that, if the government does impinge upon the lives of its citizens, it should do so in a manner that recognises their equal worth. It prohibits, in other words, rather than mandates.

So, no, the recognition that people have rights to life and bodily integrity doesn't require states to get involved in humanitarian catastrophes abroad (any more that it requires the US government to pay for the health-care expenses of its citizens). We might, of course, argue about whether there is a moral obligation to do so but, if and when there is, it doesn't flow from rights such as the right to life. What rights such as this require is that, when states do get involved -- when they do touch our lives -- they should act on the basis that all lives are equally deserving of respect. It is in that sense that lives have equal value, and it is in that sense that torture is problematic.

And that, I hope, is my final word on this subject.

The Economist has a great article about a memo that was leaked from the Bush administration, effectively offering legal advice about how to torture people and get away with it. The memo attempts to do this in three ways, all of which are dubious.

- It defines torture so narrowly that activities such as nearly drowning people would not fall within the definition (a technique that South Africans might remember from the TRC).
- It argues that the President is effectively above the law when acting as commander in chief of the military.
- It attempts to broaden the circumstances in which torture might be justified.

As the article points out, the odd thing about this memo is that it defines its task, not as "what is the law regarding torture?", but as "what can we get away with?" To me this suggests that the lawyer in question was asked the latter question instead of the former by a senior figure in the Administration, which suggests a rather cynical attitude towards human rights in general.

Surprising, really, how quickly our most fundamental moral convictions start to buckle when a society is placed under strain.

Percy Montgomery returns to the Bok team after some time in the wilderness. "Monty", I recall, used to look rather uncoordinated on the pitch, so it doesn't strike me as a good sign that he's nursing an injury that was incurred while slicing a grapefruit. The article goes on to say that Monty is famously thick-skinned, but then notes that it might be more accurate simply to remove the word "skinned" from the equation...

Enough said. I hope that he has a good game against Ireland and that the Boks build on the success of last week.

UPDATE: Whoops, as "anonymous" points out I rather badly misread this article. The author fears that Monty might injure his recently mended hand while slicing a grapefruit, not that he did. My mistake. Still, it goes to show that it was vaguely plausible.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Our Minister of Health on the government's new 'sexed-up' condoms:

You can still enjoy sex with a condom," Tshabalala-Msimang said yesterday at the launch. "Actually, it's much more enjoyable.

"Condoms should not only be a necessity but should be seen as sexy and part of the fun."

Rubbing her fingers, the minister added: "They are lubricated, so it's nice ..."

I'm not quite sure what mental image I'm meant to form as I read this, or if I want to form one at all...

More seriously, though, funkier condoms are probably a very good idea and its nice to see that even the normally wayward Manto is promoting them. It also strikes me as positive that our politicians are personalising AIDS (even if they are doing so in strange ways), and identifying it as a problem for everyone, rather than just a certain sector of society (which obviously creates prejudice). Hopefully the next step will be for the likes of Manto and Mbeki to publicly have AIDS tests, and to be honest when their colleagues die of the disease.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Quote of the day:

Yet rather than standing unchallenged, neoliberalism is in trouble, and it is important to see why. The chief reason is that its two halves -- market fundamentalism and conservatism -- are in tension. Conservatism always meant a cautious, pragmatic approach to social and economic change ... The continuity of tradition is central to the idea of conservatism ... But nothing is more dissolving of tradition than the 'permanent revolution' of market forces.

From Anthony Giddens The Third Way (1998) 15.

I think that Giddens is dead on in this quote. You can't unleash globalisation and the free market -- which bring us such gems as Big Brother, MTV and Britney snogging Madonna -- while also hoping to retain institutions such as the family in their traditional form. You also can't have a dynamic free market -- which brings with it constant and accelerated cultural change -- and hope to credibly enforce a uniform moral and cultural code on issues such as drug use, private sexual behaviour and abortion (George Bush's attempt to promote abstinence before marriage while simultaneously cutting taxes is a case in point).

I will have more to say about the rest of Gidden's book later.

Monday, June 14, 2004

I don't really buy into all those theories that Africa and South Africa suffer from negative stereotyping by the West but, nonetheless, it always pleases me to see stories like this in the major media outlets.

The sharp-eyed amongst you may have noticed some recent changes.

We've removed a number of British blogs from our links section in order to make way for some new South African blogs. That being the case we'd like to welcome Natal Fever, Isangqa, Gauteng Blog and Way South, who returns after a three month absence. We've also joined the Southern Africa Webring which links to a lot of other SA blogs.

Finally, we've changed the little 'blurb' thingy at the top of the page. Why are we catatonic? In my case because I'm under-sexed, over-worked and within easy reach of far too much booze. Not sure about Murray though...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

I was astonished to read in today's SA Sunday Times that Zimbabwe is about to spend $240 million buying fighter planes from the Chinese.

'Military sources in Harare say that Zimbabwe will acquire 12 FC-1s as replacements for the Chengdu F-7s, currently based in Gweru. The FC-1, a lightweight multipurpose fighter based on Russia's MiG-33, will provide a credible answer to the challenge posed by the 28 JAS-39 Gripen multi-role fighters that the SA government has ordered from Saab, the Swedish arms manufacturer.'

I want to avoid, for the moment, discussing the morality of buying weapons when people are dying from starvation and focus instead on the reasons for the purchase. The Sunday Times suggests that the Zimbabweans are responding to South Africa's imminent purchase of Grippen fighters, but I'm afraid I don't buy it. Mugabe may be a tyrant but he's no fool and he's certainly not going to do something that risks an arms race with South Africa. Not that I believe SA would respond to such provocation even if it perceived it to be a direct challenge. However, he may well be responding to the recent arms purchases of neighbouring Botswana.

It's a little commented upon fact, but over the last decade Botswana has invested a fairly substantial sum of money in upgrading its armed forces. The two highest profile purchases were Leopard tanks from Germany and second hand F5 fighter-bombers from Canada. It's never been very clear to me what prompted the Botswanans to do this. At the time I seem to remember people suggesting that it was a veiled warning to Namibia after the spat over Sedudu Island in the Zambezi. Alternatively, the commander of the Botswana Defence Force (BDF), Lieutenant-General Ian Khama suggested, in 1996, that, 'the BDF needed to prepare itself in order to deal with instability that might spill over into Botswana from South Africa.' He was apparently referring to fears that the situation in Kwa Zulu-Natal might have worsened or that township violence might have spiraled out of control. Whatever the reasons the build-up took Botswana from being a relative non-entity in Southern Africa's military affairs to being, along with South Africa, the most capable and technologically sophisticated.

So what does all this have to do with Zimbabwe? I'd like to say that Zimbabwe is responding in the classic manner to what it perceives to be a military threat. I say 'like' because this would corroborate all those Politics 101 theories that I've had to learn about the logic of arms races but I'm not certain that they apply here. For one thing Zimbabwe already possesses a reasonably capable military incl a still serviceable air force. For another, the timing seems a bit off. Waiting almost a decade to respond to Botswana really doesn't strike me as evidence to confirm an arms race theory. The more likely explanation is that Zimbabwe is responding out of a sense of injured pride. I don't think we should underestimate the blow to Mugabe's ego presented by South Africa's re-admittance to the international fold. Since independence Mugabe had assumed the role of chief spokesman for Southern Africa and leader of the front-line states. South Africa's return in 1994 consigned him to a relatively minor role in Southern Africa's affairs. He then had to suffer the additional ignominy of watching energised and highly successful Botswana establish itself as an important military player in the region. So those FC-1's are really Mugabe's attempt to muscle his way back into the boy's club.

But I'm not certain that this is all that is going on here. Despite some claims to the contrary I think it is still true that the Zimbabwean army gives it overwhelming support to Mugabe. And why shouldn't it? Its adventures in the Congo certainly enriched its leaders and amidst all the recent mayhem it's interesting to note that the army is one of the few branches of the state that is still being paid on time. I wouldn't be suprised therefore if the fighter-plane deal is just another smokescreen behind which various of Bob's military cronies enrich themselves. Even at the best of times there is much skullduggery associated with large arms deals and you can bet your bottom dollar that this purchase will escape what remains of parliamentary scrutiny in Zimbabwe. At the same time all those mid-ranking officers are placated with some shiny new toys on the apron and thus go on supporting the insupportable. And finally, the deal certainly won't do any harm to Mugabe's efforts to ally himself with China.

So now Zimbabwe has a squadron of flash new fighter planes to mess around with. The only remaining question is just what on Earth they're going to use them for.

Saturday, June 12, 2004

I enjoy zablogger, but every now and again I find myself taking issue with something that he says. Writing about Ronald Reagan today, he says:

Sure he helped bring about the end of the cold war, but not before rising military spending to unprecedented levels and to suggest that it was he who essentially broke the back of USSR communism is just false. The Soviet UnionÂ’s move towards Perestroika was the result of decades of build up; it just so happened that he and Gorbachev were in place towards the end. Interestingly Gorbachev wrote an article on Reagan this past week suggesting that Reagan was keen to end the cold war more out of concern for his legacy then world peace!

There are a couple of points that I want to make about this. Firstly, American military spending under Reagan was by no means 'unprecedented'. In fact, according to the Centre for Defence Information, military spending during the Reagan years peaked in 1988 at $372.8 billion which might seem high but is in fact less than earlier build-ups in the 1950s and late 1960s. In fact, given that the US economy had expanded significantly since the 1950s and 1960s, relative spending was lower than those figures imply. Off-hand I'd say that Reagan pushed military spending up to roughly 5 percent of GDP which is comparable to that of Great Britain and France during the same period. The reason why people often assume that Reagan was a dramatic aberration is simply that his administration was flanked by Jimmy Carter's on one side (who reduced spending to abnormally low levels) and Bush Snr on the other who was able to reduce spending as a result of the collapse of the USSR.

Now, lets have a look at zabloggers second claim, that Reagan played little or no role in the Soviet Union's demise. This is a difficult position to hold since it suggests that the Soviet Union was immune to external pressure. In fact, given the nature of the regime (much of its internal legitimacy was derived from its claim to be able to defend the Soviet people) it's likely that the Soviet leadership was acutely sensitive to external pressure. And just what kind of pressure might it have been experiencing in the 80s? The major problem for the Soviets was that in deciding to develop an anti-ballistic missile shield (the Strategic Defence Initiative), the American's threatened to unbalance the strategic equilibrium into which the two powers had settled in the late 60s. Mutually Assured Destruction rests on the premise that even if you launch your nukes first, enough of your enemies will survive to ensure that he will be able to strike back and destroy you. Reagan threatened to remove the Soviet's second strike ability by building defensive systems able to prevent the few missiles that would survive a first strike from actually getting through. I want to transgress here a little because this is a point that is often misunderstood. SDI was not intended to make America impregnable from a first strike. Defending against the hundreds, possibly thousands, of missiles that would be launched in a massive first strike would've been impossible. It was designed, rather to prevent those few of the enemies missiles that would have survived a first strike from getting through. Removing this second strike ability would've put the Soviets in an acutely uncomfortable strategic position. In the event of a crisis, the Americans have an incentive to launch first and the Soviets have no means of retaliation. This is the logic of strategic deterence. Once the American's had committed to building SDI, the Soviets had two options, follow them or negotiate. As it happens, the tried to pursue both courses simulataneously. Early efforts to develop a missile shield were expanded (see this Federation of American Scientists' paper for an interesting account) and secondly they sought further arms reductions under the revived Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty process. There was limited scope for further expanding the Soviet military budget and as the 80s progressed it became clear that the American's were not willing to make enough concessions to ensure Soviet security, although Reagan came close during a meeting with Gorbachev in Helsinki. There was little option for them but to try and normalise relations with the West. Once it became clear that their strategic position was being undermined by SDI, they really had no choice.

I'm certainly not advocating the view that Reagan came to power with a clear map for defusing the Soviets but I have no doubt that he and his advisers understood the implications of SDI for the strategic balance and furthermore that once the USSR began to buckle they were wise enough to keep the door to negotiations open. I'm also not trying to suggest that this was the only factor at work. The Soviet Union's internal contradictions would have brought it down eventually anyway, but as yesterday's Economist argues:

A system which believes that a small group of self-selected possessors of the truth knows how to run everything is sooner or later going to run into the wall. But Reagan brought the wall closer.

As for zablogger's final claim, that 'Reagan was keen to end the cold war more out of concern for his legacy then world peace', all I have to say is that I don't really doubt it. Politicians (like most people) are usually motivated by self-interest on one level and the desire to leave a legacy is the most common manifestation of that self-interest. The question really ought to be what sort of legacy is left. In Reagan's case I think it is something for which we can all give thanks.

Torture redux

Steve has taken the time to reply to my objections about his views about the acceptability of torture, and the lesser value of non-American lives.

Firstly, apologies Steve for my use of the word 'idiot.' The blogosphere should be about intelligient discussion, not engaging in cheap shots. Take it as an incandescently angry response to the discovery that my life has less than a third of the value of your's.

The nub of Steve's response is:

I'm perplexed that anybody would take issue with this. Does anybody in the world really believe that Americans don't place ourselves first? That we go to war in order to protect American lives, rather than the world as a whole?

The same, Steve says, goes for other countries; they also place their nationals first.

Sure, accepted. Countries do place the interests of their citizens first. They invest in their health care, education and endeavour to protect their security. That's obvious. My point is that it doesn't follow from this the lives of people from other countries have less value (as Steve has suggested).

We can see this by thinking about it at the level of the individual. Obviously, I care more about my life than I do about the lives of others. I feed myself, educate myself and, apart from quixotic acts of self-sacrifice, am likely to place my life ahead of the lives of others.
But this doesn't mean that, just because I care more about my life, it has greater value than the lives of others from the point of view of law and morality. Assume that I'm attacked (walking home on a Saturday night as drunken Brits spill out of pubs). Obviously I'm entitled to defend myself, and would want to, given that I care about my life. But the means I use must be proportionate; I can't shoot someone just because he's slapped me. The reason? Because, in the eyes of the law and morality, my attacker's life has the same value as mine.

So, if we accept this, we should also be able to accept that it's possible for us to place a higher premium upon our own lives than upon the lives of others, while also accepting that all lives have equal value.

Very much the same thing, I want to suggest, applies between states. Of course states are entitled to defend themselves against threats from abroad. But, in doing so, morality requires that the means they use should be proportionate. That, I think, is a condition of a just war. The harm inflicted by a state in prosecuting a war shouldn't be disproportionate to the threat faced. If America is slapped, so the speak, it can't, or at least shouldn't, start dropping bombs.

So, accept this, and we should be able to accept that states can care primarily about their nationals while also not concluding that some lives are worth more than others.

Finally, lest anyone think that any of this is somehow anti-American, let's remind ourselves why Steve's view is so damaging to American interests. As I understand it, the war on Iraq was fought for two reasons. The main reason was that it was necessary to rid the country of WMD, but there was a subsidiary argument that Saddam was a brutal dicatator who didn't value the lives of his own people. Now, as we all know, the first argument has all but collapsed which leaves the US and Britain with the second. I don't think you have to be a rocket scientist to work out that this -- the moral argument for the war -- is undermined if you take the view that Iraqi lives are not worth all that much. But this, I'm afraid, is very much where you end up if, like Steve, you write stuff like this:

If, as I've also written, the lives of Iraqis, Saudis, the Taliban, the French are not as valuable as the lives of Americans, then why should we draw a line on 'merely' torturing them?

Friday, June 11, 2004

AWB leader Eugene Terre'Blanche has been released from prison. M&G reports:

Right-wing leader Eugene Terre'Blanche took to the streets of Potchefstroom on a black horse on Friday to wild cheers from a mainly black audience who shouted "Welcome out" and tried to shake his hand.

A black audience welcoming the old fool. Incredible.

Via the M&G:

Right-wing leader Eugene Terre'Blanche took to the streets of Potchefstroom on a black horse on Friday to wild cheers from a mainly black audience who shouted "Welcome out" and tried to shake his hand.

There are times when I battle to understand my country...

My best explanation for this is as follows. Nowadays, the AWB, white supremacy and Terreblanche are spent forces. So much so that they've become a joke. Terreblanche himself is virtually a cartoon figure. So, for black people, there's comic value involved in seeing him and shaking his hand. What this illustrates is how little of a threat he, and his organisation, are regarded as posing. And it also illustrates how much the political and cultural landscape has shifted -- I can't imagine this happening ten years ago. If Terre'Blanche calls a public meeting now, to deliver a speech, I wouldn't be surprised if the same crowd pitches up for a laugh.

The best analogy I can draw, and it's not perfect, is that, following the collapse of the USSR, it became hip to wear clothes emblazoned with CCCP -- they acquired a sort of retro-coolnees because everyone knew that the Soviet Union was no longer a real threat.

Idiot watch

Via Oxblog, one Steve Sturm questions opposition to torture:

How will you explain to the families of Americans killed in future terror attacks that their loved ones died because this country did not use all of the tools at its disposal - in large part because of your opposition - to learn of the attack in advance?

The obvious response to this must be: how do you explain to families of people who have been abused, assaulted and generally had the shit kicked out of them -- even if entirely innocent -- that this was justified because they might have known something that jeopardised US lives?

To my surprise, Sturm has an answer. US lives are worth more than the lives of other people. I kid you not. In fact he has a scale. A US life is worth 50 points, a French life (an ally, but not friendly) is only worth 20 points. A life of a nation that the US doesn't know much about is worth only 8 points. Given that I'm South African, and probably fall somewhere between these two categories, I imagine that my life weighs in at about 15 points. That means that the average US citizen has just over three times my value.

Despite this, I imagine that Sturm is one of these people who is bemused by why parts of the world are worried about American hegemony. Of course they are if you propagate the view that their lives are not of equal value! This, I thought, was a founding, absolutely fundamental, tenet of democracy (people have inalienable rights etc) -- the very political system that I thought the US was claiming to promote.

As I said, idiot.

I'd like to think that Sturm is an isolated crank but, to my disappointment, David Adesnik at Oxblog -- a blog that I enjoy -- doesn't take him up on these issues. Instead, he merely concedes that torture might be justified sometimes. I will have more to say about this later, as well as Sturm's purported philosophical justification for his position.

Idiot watch continued

As promised, more on Steve Sturm's purported justification for torture. His argument has two steps: the first is that American lives are worth more than the lives of other nations; the second is that, given this, torturing non-Americans is justified when American lives appear to be at risk.

Let's start with step one. Sturm claims to reach this conclusion by way of a vague family metaphor. I'm more likely to value my mother's life over the life of a stranger or maybe even two or three strangers. I would save her first if I had to. America is like one big family. Therefore American lives are worth more.

The problem with this is that Sturm fails to distinguish between state and citizen. Sure, I might put my Mom's life ahead of that of other people. But I wouldn't expect the state to do so. If a policeman had to choose between saving my Mom and saving three others I'd accept that he acted legitimately by saving the three others, even if I wouldn't have done the same. We can see how flimsy the family notion is as a basis for political organisation if we think through its implications within America for a moment. Catholics are like one big family. Does this mean that, if Catholics are running the White House, they would be justified in treating American Jewish lives as worth less than their own? Of course not.

But why not? Well, because in the public domain we accept that people have rights, or that their lives are of equal value. This should be the starting-point of these sorts of discussions. If we instead make the idea of family, or the bonds of solidarity, central, we end up undermining the very ideas upon which the US was founded. We put notions such as ethnicity and religion ahead of ideas of equality. (As an aside, Sturm's position resembles that of the philosopher Richard Rorty who wants to substitute the idea of solidarity for rights -- the problems are the same.)

So much for that. Let's turn to the question of torture. Is is ever justified? As mentioned, the starting-point for this should be that torture violates a fundamental right (the right not to be tortured) and also constitutes a crime (assault). Now, violations of rights and assault may be justified in certain extreme cases. In criminal law, we're entitled to kill and assault in circumstances of necessity -- to save our own lives or the lives of others for example. Rights may also be outweighed by countervailing factors of appropriate weight. This means that, at the level of theory, torturing someone might be justifiable in certain hypothetical cases. There's a judgment by the Israeli Supreme Court to this effect.

But what sort of cases would these be? Given the fundamental nature of the right not to be tortured, the circumstances would have to be extreme. At the very least, the torturer would have to absolutely certain that the risk is imminent (not merely probable), that a large number of lives are involved, that the suspect has the information, and that there is no other way of obtaining the information.

Given this, I tend to think that such cases exist largely at the level of theory. I also think that, if the US military did attempt to institute torture as a technique, it would very rapidly spill over into other, inappropriate cases. This is why Alan Dershowitz takes the view that, if the US is to do this, 'torture warrants' should be issued in advance. There're other -- in my view insurmountable -- problems with this approach but I'm not going to go into them here.

Still, Sturm might claim victory in that I've conceded that in certain extreme -- probably entirely hypothetical -- cases torture might be justified. But we should note that, in the framework I've sketched, the starting-point is that everyone has the same rights and that these may be compromised in certain extreme cases. The starting-point isn't that the lives of Iraqis, or, for that matter, South Africans, are worth less than those of Americans. What's more, we need to accept the converse. Swallow hard Steve but, if an American held information in the circumstances that I've outlined above, and the lives of, say, Nigerians (8 points on your scale) were at stake, then it would also be justified to extract the information from the American (in our extreme theoretical case).

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Thank goodness I've got an old cell-phone.

Via Fodder: SABC3 has apparently launched a competition to find the greatest ever South African. They've specifically asked that people don't vote for Nelson Mandela since it's clear that he'd win by a country mile. That being the case, who's in contention?

I'm pretty certain that most of the nominees will hail from a political background. South Africa's history is, overwhelmingly, the history of a political battle amongst various groups for control of the state. That being the case I would expect names like Luthuli, Sisulu, Tambo and, possibly, Mbeki to feature prominently. I wouldn't be surprised if de Klerk or Smuts make a strong showing either. Nevertheless, once you move beyond the political sphere the possibilities dry up very quickly. Desmond Tutu is an obvious candidate although even he made his name in political activism. Who else? A writer, possibly Gordimer or Coetzee, although I have to concede that the majority of South African's have probably never heard of these two let alone read anything by them. A Sportsmen, names like Hezekiel Sepeng, Bruce Fordyce, Naas Botha, Gary Player and Josia Thugwane spring to mind. With the exception of Gary Player, though, it isn't clear whether any of these ever achieved worldwide fame and recognition. Certainly, nobody has come close to being a South African equivalent of say, David Beckham or Michael Jordan. The only other person that I can think of off-hand is Chris Barnard. Indeed shortly after I came to Oxford a foreign friend claimed that the only things he could associate with South Africa were apartheid, Nelson Mandela and Chris Barnard. Is Barnard really South Africa's greatest non-politician? I'd like to think not. For a start he hardly led an exemplary private life and furthermore, questions have been raised about the extent to which the first heart-transplant was based on his own work as opposed to that which he cribbed from American colleagues.

It seems incredible that a country the size of South Africa should have produced so few people who could genuinely claim to have international recognition. Not surprising really, the smartest and bravest people have spent the last century fighting oppression when, under normal circumstances, they would have been pursuing careers as sportsmen, artists or scientists.

Following on from Murray's comments about Zimbabwe's decision to abolish private ownership of land, I feel moved to post this excerpt from a recent SkyNews interview with Bob Mugabe:

STUART RAMSAY: When we first arrived here a couple of weeks ago, government ministers estimated crop production at 1.5 million, many thought that that was a little high. In two weeks it went up to 2.3, now how did that happen? You didn't suddenly have a bumper harvest and they'd got their figures wrong. The fact is, and the view from the outside is that you will get 2.3 million tons but you will do it by buying it from outside, probably from Zambia.

ROBERT MUGABE: Do you want to wait here until the harvest is over and then you will see....

STUART RAMSAY: I'd like to come back and see it and I'd like to see'.

ROBERT MUGABE: Well come back, you'll be free, you are invited to come back.

STUART RAMSAY: Are you going to be buying food from outside?

ROBERT MUGABE: No. Definitely no, never. Not this year.

STUART RAMSAY: So why are all these estimates wrong Mr President?

ROBERT MUGABE: From agriculture. We have an agricultural system which is second to none in Africa.

STUART RAMSAY: Had is the argument, not has. It is no longer producing the...

ROBERT MUGABE: Have, we have.

STUART RAMSAY: So why are these estimates so wrong?

ROBERT MUGABE: The whites who were here were mere actor farmers, ill educated and we brought in a system which is much more enlightened than the system they had, you see. Go everywhere and you will see agronomists, you will see our agritects, exchanging officers who are well educated and they give us these estimates across the country.

If Mugabe really believes that 'agronomists' and 'agritects' are moving out across the country he's either deluding himself or engaging in deception on a vast scale. I'm forced to wonder whether the problem might be that he actually does believe all this stuff. They say that in the most blood-thirsty regimes, Stalinist Russia, Saddam Hussein's Iraq etc, govt officials and bureaucrats were often so scared of the leader that they would tell him whatever they thought it was that he wanted to hear. Could it be that Zimbabwe has now reached a similar phase? Is the Zimbabwean cabinet simply feeding Mugabe a line? Zimbabwe is still a de jure democracy with a working parliament, so it's hard to imagine that Mugabe hasn't heard criticism of the disastrous land reform programme. Still, he appears convinced that the MDC is a mouth-piece for Britain and that criticism of his rule is based on racism and outright lies so perhaps he feels able to disregard all the negative reports about the state of Zimbabwean agriculture. What a joke!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

England never ceases to amuse me. The BBC reports on a recent competition to find the greatest English icon. And just what might the greatest icon be? The Queen? The Houses of Parliament and Big Ben? The Spitfire? The red double-decker bus? Cricket? In a moment of hubris, perhaps Oxford University? Well, it seems that the answer is none of these things. The greatest English icon is in fact, ta-da, the cup of tea. I'm moved to point out that tea comes from China but I wouldn't want that minor quibble to get in the way of the celebrations.

Now, after all this blogging I think I'll indulge my Anglo-philia and abandon you all for a cuppa.

I'm a child at heart and so have been following the news of the Cassini-Huygens spaceprobe's arrival at Saturn with an increasing mixture of wonder and excitement. The first probe dedicated to the study of Saturn and its moons, Cassini-Huygens promises to greatly increase our knowledge of this most beautiful and mysterious of solar system planets. In a few days time Cassini-Huygens will begin its Saturn Orbit Insertion by firing its rockets and decelerating out of Trans-Saturn orbit. And then the fun begins. Over the next few years the probe will investigate Saturn in unparalled detail and, via the Huygens probe which is piggy-backing on the main probe, will aim to discover more about Titan, the only moon in the solar system to have its own atmosphere. After the disappointment of Beagle 2, there is much here for Britain to be proud of. Many of the instruments onboard Cassini and Huygens were designed with British input and astronomers across the country have played important roles in the project. Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory has an excellent website for those wanting to know more.

Britain and the EU

Tomorrow, as those of you living in Britain will know, is 'Super Thursday', the joint local and European elections day. One of the quirky (and few) advantages of being a Commonwealth citizen living in Britain is that I am allowed to vote in the elections. So, who will I be voting for?

At the local level I'm ambivalent. My political philosophical leanings suggest that I should vote Tory, but I voted Green in the last local election and will probably do so again tomorrow. I have no real affinity for the Greens but local politics is about practical and pragmatic matters and the Greens have a couple of ideas about the future of Oxford that I find compelling. These number, inter alia, the introduction of trams and natural gas powered buses, and a strategy for coping with Oxford's chronic housing shortage. They're also committed to introducing some sort of congestion charging scheme to reduce the amount of traffic in central Oxford; an idea which is, frankly, long overdue.

Nevertheless, it is not the local elections that are interesting but the European elections. And here I've known for some time (as my suffering friends who've been the recipients of various sermons on the subject will attest) who I expect to vote for. My vote will be going to the UK Independence Party.

On the face of it this may seem a strange decision. Why vote for a small, single-issue party that can't hope to have any real impact on local politics. In part my reasoning is strategic, I hope that if the UKIP can garner a significant share of the vote (recent polls are suggesting around 20 percent) then the centre of gravity on this issue will shift in favour of UK withdrawal from the EU. The other point is that a vote for the UKIP is a way of registering disgust with the failure of the major parties to offer a clear and constructive debate on this issue. Polls since the early 1970s have repeatedly shown that over 40 percent of UK citizens are in favour of withdrawing from the EU with only 20-something percent in favour of remaining in. That the UK is still a member is testament to the ambitions of the UK's elite (both left and right) and the fact that they see the EU as a way of furthering their own interests. And what might those ambitions be? Why might the governing elite be prepapred to sell UK sovereignty down the river so readily?

The answer to this will depend upon which side of the political spectrum you hail from. Left wingers (who tend to be more sympathetic to the EU) see the project as a way of building a counter-weight to the power of the US. People of this ilk identify readily with Jacque Chirac's talk of establishing a multi-polar world order. A strong federalist EU state, it is suggested, will offer a centre-left example to the world to counter the rampant right wingers from across the Atlantic. Secondly, the EU is seen as a way of smuggling socialism into Britian through the backdoor. The Thatcher reforms of the 80s effectively killed socialism in Britain and, more importantly, demonstrated that the average Brit was against the whole socialist project. No openly socialist party could hope to win an election in 21st century Britain but if the electorate could be persuaded to support further integration with Europe (a winnable battle, apparently) then there might yet be a chance for socialism, or at least the watered down version that prevails on the continent, to re-establish itself in the UK.

So much for the left, what about the right? Here the debate mainly turns on economic arguments. The UK needs to be part of the EU in order to derive the economic benefits of a single currency and access to a major market. Right-wingers, particularly the nostalgic sort, sometimes also see the EU as a way for Britain to once again play a dominant role on the world stage. Britain, perhaps in consort with France, and backed by the full might of Europe could be a major world player for the first time since 1956.

What are we to make of these arguments? I'd like to point out, again, that polls conducted on this issue have consistently shown that a plurality of voters are against EU membership. Are we to conclude that they are mis-informed? Hardly. The truth of the matter is that on this issue, as on most others, the public knows what's good for it. As far as Britain and the EU being a counter-weight to America goes, I think that the average Brit finds this both laughable, hubristic and offensive. This is an idea beloved of the French and the Islingtonian Left but it is not something that most Brits want. The UK and the US have been partners since 1941 and agree on almost all important issues. On trade, foreign policy, economics, the legal system and the conception of the role of the state there is much agreement between the two. The idea that Britain should seek to ally itself with a project which is openly anti-American and which indulges all kinds of strange paranoia's about the maliciousness of America is laughable. And in any case the average Brit is sensible enough to realise that even with further integration the EU will never be strong enough to act as a counter-weight to the US. US military spending vastly exceeds the combined spending of all of Europe. The US economy is larger than Europe's, even after the recent accession of the Eastern European members.

As for sneaking socialism back into Britain, most Brit's cringe at the thought. Margaret Thatcher was hardly a widely liked politician but she won again and again because the alternative was a party espousing values that, really, have never found much favour in Britain. This is a country of pragmatic individualists, the people acknowledge that the state plays a vital role in certain areas but, unless I'm very much mistaken, they certainly don't regard the state in the same light as say the French, Germans or Scandinavians do. And as it happens, Britain appears to be moving ever further away from Europe on many issues, the recent introduction of top-up fees being a prime example.

What about the right? As far as I'm concerned the economic arguments simply don't hold water. The theory that Britain needs to be part of the single currency area has already been dealt a major blow by the fact that since the introduction of the Euro, British growth has been almost double the rate achieved in Europe. This should hardly surprise. The idea that a single interest rate can be good for everyone is simply bad economics. As Germany is finding to its great cost, it is all well and good to be part of a stable currency area but if that comes at the cost of interest rates that are too high (or too low as would be the case for Britain if it joined) then your economy will suffer. Secondly, it is not clear that the Euro will be significantly more stable than Sterling. Certainly if the last 4 years are anything to go by then the Pound need not feel embarrased when compared to the Euro. Finally, given that the Bank of England is an independent body, currency movements in Britain should be seen as a good thing. When Sterling moves, that movement represents an adjustment to some economic shock, it is simply the market responding and as such is hardly something to be feared. Currency movements can be a worry when the primary drivers are political sentiment but in Britian politics really doesn't play the major role in determining the value of the currency anymore. As for being part of the free-trade area, Britain can still have access to the common market without having to sign on to the whole EU project.

Should Britain be seeking to join as a way of re-establishing itself as a great power? I think this argument is mis-placed because it assumes that if Britian throws its weight in with Europe, Germany and France will happily accept it as a third member of the axis and that it will be able to exert influence accordingly. The reality of course is that France has no intention of cedeing power and influence to Britain. As Britain is finding, on major foreign policy matters it is usually at odds with its continental counter-parts. Hardly a sound basis upon which to assert world-wide influence.

This is the reality of Britain's relationship with the EU and, but for the fact that the British elite has repeatedly ducked the issue and prevented real debate from taking place, it seems likely that Britain would either never have joined in the first place or would have withdrawn by now. So this is why I'll be voting UKIP tomorrow. It is time that the country's leaders face up to their responsibility to the people. No more obfuscation, no more lying. The average Brit is deeply sceptical of Europe and, but for various elite projects, would probably have said goodbye years ago.

I'm pleased to see that my post on JM Coetzee's Disgrace has been stirring some controversy.

Have you ever wondered why the South African newspaper This Day hasn't been online? It seems a South African -- Donald Waldron -- resident in London snatched the domain name -- -- and has been running an escourt agency from it (sensitive viewers be warned). When asked if he'd relinquish the name, he demanded money, and apparently claims that it's a 'coincidence' that his escourt agency has the same name as a major newspaper. Yip, I don't know about you, but the phrase 'this day' definitely makes me think of sex for money. Regardless, I'm pleased to say that the real This Day now has a website at Full story in the M&G.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

Anyone familiar with my home province, KwaZulu-Natal, will know that relations between Zulus and Indians are not exactly rosy. Indeed, while involved in student governance at the University of Natal in Durban it often struck me that there was more antagonism between these two groups than there was between whites and either blacks or Indians. I often found Indian students to be far more overtly racist than their white colleagues and, during protests in the 90s, Indians were usually one of the prime targets of 'rolling mass action', SASCO's (a student off-shoot of the ANC) preferred term for general mayhem. When South African playwright Mbongeni Ngema released a song entitled 'AmaNdiya' (the Indians) -- which accused them of 'not having changed', and stated that 'I have never seen Dlamini emigrating to Bombay, India. Yet, Indians, arrive everyday in Durban, they are packing the airport full' -- it was widely seen as expressing commonly held sentiments.

For all of these reasons I was heartened to read this story about a Zulu man, Patrick Ngcobo, from Durban who has devoted himself to learning Southern Indian classical music. He even raised the money to travel to India and train there. Sadly, it seems, not everyone has Mr Ngcobo's open-minded attitude. The story concludes by noting that he is now working as a gardener and taxi-driver because no-one in Durban wants to listen to him. It seems that Zulus aren't interested because he's singing Indian music, and Indians aren't interested because he's black.

According to Zimbabwean Land Minister John Nkomo, private ownership of land is to be abolished in that country. Instead, all land will be vested in the state and individuals will be able to lease it. So that's what Mugabe meant by giving the land back to the people. What a joke. The idea that, in a country as corrupt as Zimbabwe, this will somehow convert the country's land into a public asset is laughable. The real question to my mind is who will be collecting the rent. I suspect that Mr Nkomo will be a prime beneficiary.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Pursuant to Wayne's disappointment about South Africa not being represented at the D-Day commemorations, Graham at Natal Fever has some pithy comments about the South African tendency to make selective use of our history.

Big news of the day is that Bulelani Ngcuka, national director of public prosecutions, may soon be out of a job. According to City Press, the key problem is that he defied an order by the ANC leadership to apologise to Public Protector Lawrence Mushwana, who found, we should recall, that Ngcuka had infringed Jacob Zuma's dignity by saying that there was a prima facie case of corruption against him, but by declining to prosecute. (Penuell Maduna also lambasted Mushwana but did apologise, by means of an SMS -- a strange method!) City Press apparently have inside information that an exit deal is being arranged for Ngcuka and this strikes me as plausible.

Quite a lot follows from this. Firstly, who has the right to fire Ngcuka and on what grounds? We should recall that he is, after all, in some sense 'independent.' The reason given by the article for his imminent dismissal -- failure to follow an order from the ANC -- can't possibly be the reason for him leaving. That would make nonsense of his independence. Rather, it must be that he can be removed on certain extreme grounds and that insulting the Public Protector is thought to fall into this category. (I should note that the article also says that Ngcuka is 'under pressure to resign', which would mean that he is not actually being fired. If that is the case then I have to say that it would set a very poor precedent.)

The second question is why this is happening. Cynics are likely to argue that Ngcuka has demonstrated too much independence and is being removed to make way for a more pliable replacement. But, as much as I've admired Ngcuka's independence, we should recall that he has also made some appalling lapses of judgment. The most obvious was saying that there was evidence of Zuma's guilt but that he wasn't going to prosecute. That, as Andrew noted, was outrageous. If you have evidence then prosecute. But if you don't, then don't smear the man's reputation without giving him an opportunity to clear his name. Attacking the Public Protector was also singularly misguided. The Public Protector is, after all, an independent office created by the Constitution, and whoever holds it can't be expected to perform his job if his work is maligned as 'garbage' and he is described as 'the saddest case that I have seen, intellectually' -- Maduna's terms, I think -- by ministers and other public officials. That suggests a contempt for constitutional structures and a certain level of arrogance (possibly engendered by having seen off Mac Maharaj's allegations at the Hefer Commission).

So, for opponents of Ngcuka, there's plenty to point to, although the question remains whether any of this constitutes grounds for dismissal. Let's just hope that his successor -- thought to be Ngoako Ramatlhodi -- will be willing to take on the big names of the ANC as well as demonstrating more political nous than his predecessor.

UPDATE: Kgalema Motlanthe has denied that is putting pressure on Ngcuka to apologise, stressing that he is not answerable to the ANC. Well and good. But let's wait and see. If Ngcuka does suddenly depart in a few months time then the de facto situation will be that the Director of Public Prosecutions is answerable to the ANC.

Saturday, June 05, 2004

The SA press doesn't seem to be devoting much space to it, but tomorrow is the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings.

Nowadays it seems common to portray the landings as a largely American affair or even, as one colleague put it to me recently, the beginning of America's liberation of Europe. This is regrettable however both because it minimises the efforts of the other nations present and because it is factually inaccurate. As I discovered whilst reading the BBC's excellent coverage this morning, the British Army (consisting of Brits and Canadians) was significantly larger than its American counterpart. Perhaps the lesson is not to look to Hollywood for history lessons.

I was in equal measures moved and amused whilst listening to a BBC Radio interview with a certain British brigadier who'd taken part in the assault. Whilst leading a group of 18 young men on an attack against a German gun emplacement, the brigadier had come under heavy fire resulting in the death of all but two of his soldiers. In a masterpiece of British understatement the brigadier described this as, '...a rather inauspicious start to one's day.'

Friday, June 04, 2004

Recently, I've spoken to a number of people who've expressed excitement, even glee, at the prospect of the US being challenged, and eventually humbled, by China. At last, an end to US hegemony! Of course, there is a juvenile part of me that understands this. There is, after all, something appealing about the hyperpower's arrogance being dented. But, let's be honest, would we really want to live under Chinese hegemony? I quote from a recent Human Rights Watch report:

Fifteen years after the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Chinese authorities are harassing activists to discourage them from publicly discussing the events of June 4, 1989, Human Rights Watch said today.

In the days leading up to the anniversary, Chinese security forces have warned,harassed, and intrusively monitored dissidents, writers, academics, and long-time pro-democracy activists. Over the past week, police have ordered some of its critics to leave Beijing. At least one critic was beaten when he tried to leave his home.

One solution, of course, might be to die not long after US hegemony crumbles, thereby having the satisfaction of that experience while not having to deal with the consequences of Chinese dominance. On balance, though, and more seriously, I think we should concede that, however much we might be out of sympathy with the current US govenrment, we're far better off living in a world dominated by them than the Chinese. Hell, at least Bush can be voted out of power.

The leader of the Libertarian Party in the US has promised, if elected as President, to wear a handgun during state of the union addresses, to blow up empty UN buildings, and to make violent criminals lie in bed for a month once incarcerated. Another candidate for leadership of the party distributed literature advising people on how to ensure that their children would not receive social security numbers (presumably so that the government won't be able to track them). The Economist rightly quotes one observer as noting that the Libertarian Party's lack of draw might have something to do with its message (unfortunately, I can't link to the article as it's premium content).

Apparently, there's also a plan to encourage libertarians to move to New Hampshire en masse, thereby creating a libertarian state. It seems to me, however, that this assumes that the children of said libertarians will think the same way, which is unlikely, given how often children rebel against their parents. In other words, the libertarian utopia, if achieved, would, in all likelihood, last no more than a generation.

To all of you with libertarian sympathies, are you sure that you want to be associated with these guys? Alternatively, they need your help!

Thursday, June 03, 2004

Depressed about high unemployment and sluggish economic growth? Rudolf Gouws, Chief Economist of Rand Merchant Bank, thinks that there're plenty of reasons for optimism:

What I am certain about, is that the big shake-out in the South African labour market has already taken place. It may sound cruel, but much of this was necessary if we were to make it possible for our economy to complete internationally and to be able to create real and sustainable jobs in the long run. I think we have now reached that point. The necessary rationalisation lies behind us. What beckons in the future is a better economic performance than we became used to in the struggle decades of the 1970s and 1980s and the transition decade of the 1990s.

This is an extract from a speech delivered at the Wits graduation ceremony. Of course, these tend to be occasions for people to feel good about things and Gouws' comments should be read in that light. Still, here's hoping.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Good blogs on Africa just keep on coming. And when we started, Andrew and I thought that we were such trail blazers! No more... check out Chris Smith's blog Isangqa for quality bloggage on Africa, Arabia and politics, as well as photography.

Blogging has, I know, been a little thin on the ground of late. Andrew has exams coming up and I have, in fits and starts, been trying to gain some real momentum on my research. But, fear not, Southern Cross is not dying...

Malegapuru -- better known as William -- Makgoba, who became a household name for allegedly fabricating aspects of his CV while at Wits, and who was also one of the sole dissenting voices on Mbeki's AIDS policies, is now VC of my alma mater, the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

I was thus a little disappointed to read this article in the Sunday Times, in which Makgoba discusses the significance of the election results. The overwhelming victory of the ANC shows, he says, that "South Africa belongs to and should be enjoyed by all of us who live in it." But what does this mean? That by voting for an opposition party one is, by definition, fostering division? The undertone, as far as I can see, is that only the ANC embodies the true spirit, or future, of the country -- that by voting for anyone else one is somehow betraying what it means to be South African. Quite evidently, we need look no further than Zimbabwe to see what a dangerous idea this is.

Makgoba also argues that opposition parties are unnecessary to preserve a strong democracy. His reasons?

To answer whether democracy is stronger in countries where keen competition between political parties is the norm, we need look no further than the US, Italy and the UK.

Is freedom in these countries greater than here? The answer is no. Is governance and ethical conduct better? The answer is no.

In short, the existence of opposition parties itself does not guarantee or protect a healthy democracy.

But this, it seems to me, misses the point. Those who are concerned about the dominance of the ANC are worried about the future of South Africa, not its present state. And the experience of other countries does seem to suggest that, in the long-run, one-party systems are not conducive to a healthy democracy. One cannot rebut this argument by pointing to the state of South Africa now.

Makgoba, in fact, seems to recognise this when he proposes that, instead of opposition parties, South Africa should establish an independent institution to ensure that the ruling party implements its election promises.

Unfortunately, this simply doesn't strike me as a workable idea. As I've argued on previous occasions, one of the key problems with one-party systems is that so-called independent institutions -- such as the judiciary -- become beholden to the ruling party. In other words, they eventually become staffed with individuals who owe allegiance to those in power, and are therefore independent in name only. Makgoba's "independent institution" would, I fear, quickly go the same way.

More to the point, what powers would this body have? No, I'm afraid that this simply isn't a viable option.