Wednesday, March 31, 2004

This gem courtesy of Farrel. The New National Party apparently has an election poster that proclaims DP + Right Wing = DA. But hang on ... wasn't the DA formed when the DP and NNP formed an alliance? As Farrel points out, that would make the NNP the right wing element referred to. Or could it be that we are now dealing with the New New National Party, or possibly the New National Party Plus? Please, someone get these people a decent spin doctor.

To all South Africans overseas who are eligible to vote (as Andrew has pointed out there are, sadly, not that many of you) -- special voting day is 7 April 2004. Further information will be posted if and when it becomes available.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Guantanamo Bay tribunals
On Thursday, I was fortunate to hear a talk by two US military lawyers who have been assigned to defend certain of the detainees -- those who have been charged -- held at Guantanamo Bay. What I was unprepared for, given that these were, after all, military lawyers, was how critical of the process they were. Indeed, they went so far as to describe the tribunals as "fundamentally flawed" and insinuated that they would not amount to fair trials. Here are some of the procedural and substantive problems they pointed to:

- There is no attorney-client privilege. Conversations between lawyers and clients may be taped. Furthermore, lawyers must inform their clients of this fact. Clearly, this leads to a problem of trust.
- The individuals sitting on the tribunals are not lawyers or judges but military officers, most of whom have no legal training.
- There is no right of appeal to an independent authority. Instead, there is only a right of appeal to the Department of Defence, the same body that established the tribunals and appointed the officers.
- The defendants will not be tried under US domestic law or international law but under a statute drafted by the Department of Defence which is apparently vague and extends the reach of already vague crimes such as conspiracy (the crime that the first two defendants have been charged with, and which is usually regarded as a charge of last resort by US prosecutors). Incidentally, since the statute was drafted after the alleged crimes were committed, there is clearly an ex post facto problem (its a basic tenet of the rule of law that you shouldn't be charged under a law that didn't exist at the time of your actions).
- Even if the defendants are acquitted, they might not be released and could still be detained indefinitely. They might also be detained beyond any sentences imposed. (If you don't believe me, look here).
- The tribunals may be held in secret and might not be open to the public.
- The standard for the admission of evidence is lower. Instead of "relevance" the standard is "probative value." There are fears that this might lead to evidence being admitted that would normally be excluded on the basis that it can't be tested (such as hearsay).

There are, the defence lawyers argued, alternatives to military tribunals, the most obvious of which are international tribunals, established by the UN, court martials or trials in US domestic courts (the US has a terrorism act, which would be of application). Sadly, none of these options, which would lead to fair trials, have been pursued. Fortunately, the US Supreme Court has agreed to decide the question of whether it has jurisdiction over Guantanamo Bay, which might bring some clarity to these issues.

Farrel has some reservations about Uthingo (the national lottery operator), donating money to political parties.

Although I have no objection in principle to companies donating to political parties, after reading Wayne Wides' investigative piece on Uthingo, I'm inclined to agree with Farrel.

Suicide bombing is usually seen as underlining how different the West and East are. But just how incomprehensible, how foreign, is this practice? Recently, I heard the following rather provocative question asked in a talk: if Claus Von Stauffenberg, the man who unsuccessfully attempted to assassinate Hitler, had been willing to kill himself too, thus ensuring that the job was properly done, would we today regard him as a hero, a martyr? Would there be public holidays for him in Germany?

P.S. To forestall any possible misunderstandings, this post should not be read as endorsing suicide bombing in general, especially when civilians are involved. Rather, the example makes a point about the idea of suicide bombing.

No real surprises here. In the run up to the election the Independent Democrats appear to be imploding. ID spokesman, Charles Golding (not of the Pam Golding Real Estate family, surely?) accused Patricia de Lille of treating the party as a personal fiefdom:

'She treats members in a high-handed and dismissive manner... her leadership style is dictatorial and undemocratic.'

I alluded to these sorts of problems when I briefly discussed the issue of personality driven opposition politics last week. We've seen similar problems with the IFP, most of whose non Zulu support and membership has been driven off by Buthelezi's ego-mania and with the UDM, whose membership appears to have deserted Holomisa for the ANC. Once again, I'm moved to suggest to all you putative ID supporters that if you really want to support opposition politics you'd be better off voting for you know who. Otherwise vote ANC. But for goodness sake stop supporting these political charlatans in their assorted quests for profile and prestige. Vainglory is not a reason to start a political party. As Patricia de Lille ought to know.

The ANC/NNP have ruled out an alliance in the Western Cape with the DA.

Although we should not be surprised by this, it does raise an interesting point. According to a Markinor poll last month (I'm not going to look for it, so just take my word), the combined ANC/NNP vote in the Western Cape was less than 50 percent. If memory serves me correctly, the ANC looked like getting 30 percent, the DA 23 percent and the NNP 18 percent. Now it is likely that if these poll numbers are borne out in the election, the ANC/NNP will be able to rope in one of the smaller parties to make up the 50 percent majority, but there is an outside chance that they will not. The spectre thus raises itself of the three parties being forced to co-operate in order to run the province. Not a bad thing by any means, in my book. It would do both the DA and the ANC good to have to work with each other. Hard to demonise the opposition when you are partners with them in government. Nevertheless, as I say, it is rather unlikely that this will happen.

I was also very amused by the utter hypocrisy of 'Kortbroek' van Schalkwyk who, according to the news report, 'painted the DA as a party of rightwingers who lauded the likes of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd.'

Need I point out, Kortbroek that Verwoerd was the leader of your party. In fact, this gives me the opportunity to endorse the suggestion, made by a friend of mine recently, that Kortbroek by re-named 'Sonderbroek'. A far more apt description of a man who has demonstrated that he has no political principles and is prepared to sell himself to the highest bidder.

Any of our male readers in the market for a girlfriend? May I refer you to these good women.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Noam Chomsky's set up a blog. Consider yourselves warned.

Blade Nzimande is offering us a 'Marxist analysis' of the alliance between the DA and IFP.

Apparently the alliance is a, 'marriage between an IFP elite and sections of a white petite bourgeoisie.' Whilst we should hardly be terribly impressed by the degree of insightfulness demonstrated here, we should at least be entitled to expect that Nzimande gets his basics correct. The IFP is a lot of things, but an elite organisation it is not. To adopt one of those much vaunted 'Marxist tools of analysis' I think it makes a lot more sense to see the IFP as an organisation of the rural proletariat. Its power lies in the cohesiveness of the peasantry and its ability to communicate that strength into a sense of cultural and political unity. Hence the fact that it rallys its support by invoking the monarchy and traditional authority and by looking to an age before the onset of industrialisation when life was simpler and more authentic - pre-capitalist to use a well-worn Marxist phrase.

Does this make sense? Depends on how much credence you give to Marxist analysis. But if you are going to see the world through that lense then it makes a damn sight more sense than Nzimande's assertion that the IFP is an elite organisation. Still, if Nzimande was intent on remaining true to his intellectual beliefs he wouldn't be able to make the political argument that he does. And were would the fun be in that?

The Freedom Front Plus (btw what's the 'plus' all about) protested against Sanlam Bank on Thursday because of its decision to donate money to South Africa's political parties in proportion to the number of votes that they receive. The ANC thus ended up with R700 000 with the FF+ getting a mere R10 000.

I'm not sure what other formula they have in made that could have made things any fairer. Perhaps the truth of the matter is revealed by FF+ leader Piet Mulder's comment that, 'Sanlam was largely built on Afrikaaner sentiment.' Presumably he thinks that this entitles the FF+ to a bigger share of the booty. However, given that the FF+ still appears to be campaigning for the break up of the Republic, Sanlam was perhaps well advised to limit the cash flow.

Some philosophy
Be warned, if philosophy is not your thing, then stop now... Some time ago, I posted some comments endorsing the idea of gay marriage. One of the chief arguments advanced by people who disagreed with me was that allowing gays to marry would amount to a redefinition of the institution. This argument was made by Peter Cuthbertson in our exchange on the issue and also by a friend who asked me what marriage is -- what is entailed by the concept -- if not a certain tradition, a tradition that has always precluded same-sex unions. This, of course, is a rather philosophical point about the nature of concepts. And, originally, I tried to get around it by arguing that marriage had been redefined before (by allowing for inter-racial marriage and equal rights for women) without doing any apparent harm to the institution. Still, I was left with a nagging sense that I hadn't got to the bottom of the problem. What I really wanted to say is that the institution can be redefined without necessarily being undermined or fundamentally changed. But that sounded too much like a paradox.

Recently, as part of my research, I've been re-reading some material by one of my favourite legal philosophers, Ronald Dworkin, which I think holds the key to this issue (see Law's Empire in particular). Dworkin draws a distinction between two types of concept: those that are criterial and those that are interpretive. A concept is criterial if its meaning is exhausted by the rules for its use that are followed by members of our linguistic community. That sounds horribly abstract so let me try to clarify what I mean. Consider, for example, the concept "table." If I want to know what this concept means, the trick is to observe how other people use the term. The way that the majority of people apply the word "table" defines the concept. It would make no sense for me to adopt a minority position regarding what tables are. I couldn't argue that a tennis ball is a table, for instance. People would think that I was talking nonsense.

Dworkin's insight is that certain concepts, which he calls interpretive, seem to be different in that they allow for disagreement. One example is the concept of justice. It goes without saying that we frequently disagree about what is just and unjust, in a way that we don't disagree about what constitutes a table. With interpretive concepts, there's also no problem with holding minority positions -- positions that diverge from the linguistic rules followed by the majority of our community. One can, for example, consistently say that the death penalty or taxation or whatever are unjust despite the fact that a majority of people think otherwise. One can't do the same with tables.

Another example of an interpretive concept is courtesy. Our society has always recognised the concept of courtesy but it goes without saying that, over the years, the rules of courtesy have changed. For example, it was, for a long time, accepted practice that men should open doors for women. Now, at least some feminists object to this practice on the grounds that its sexist. An accepted rule has, in other words, been challenged. The fact that the challengers probably occupy a minority position doesn't matter. There's something about the concept of courtesy that allows for disagreement, that allows us to understand what they're saying, even if we're think they're wrong. Concepts such as "table" don't seem to allow for this.

So, what is this elusive element that distinguishes interpretive concepts from criterial concepts? For Dworkin, the key is that interpretive concepts are perceived as having a value, purpose, or point. The point of courtesy, he suggests, is respect. By agreeing on this, we are able to disagree about whether our current rules of courtesy adequately reflect that value. Some can, for example, argue that opening doors for women is an expression of respect. Others can take the view that this practice is the antithesis of respect. The rules for the use of the concept "courtesy" are, in other words, up for debate, in light of our understanding of the fundamental point or value of the institution.

Now, to get back to the original issue, it occurs to me that marriage is an interpretive concept. We shouldn't be debating whether we will "redefine" the institution by allowing gays to marry. We should, instead, be considering why, fundamentally, we have the institution, and whether the prohibition on gay marriage is consistent with that understanding. It my original post, I suggested that the following understanding of the fundamental point of marriage:

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).

This, I argued, doesn't preclude gay marriage; indeed, it shows us that our current restrictions on the institution are artificial, and that our rules for the use of the word "marriage" should be adjusted accordingly. Others, of course, might want to take the view that marriage is fundamentally about having children, which does preclude same-sex unions. But my point is that this is the debate that we should be having. We shouldn't try to forestall it at the outset by worrying about issues of redefinition. That misunderstands the type of concept that marriage is.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

One of the things that surprised me about Patricia de Lille was her decision to form a new party rather than to join the DA. In fact, if this report is to be believed, the DA made a considerable effort to woo her over but was stymied by her insistence that she be rewarded with either the Premiership of the Western Cape or Mayor of Cape Town.

So, is the formation of the Independent Democrats simply part of an extended courtship? If de Lille manages to win a respectable share of the vote, she'll become even more attractive to the DA (not to mention a considerable threat) and might therefore be in a position to extract major concessions from them. Not a bad strategy, really, but the problem is that after all the rhetorical abuse that has flown between the DA and IDs recently, I'd imagine that there are a number of people, on both sides, who'd be deeply opposed to any putative alliance or amalgamation. The DA may yet live to rue the day that they let de Lille get away.

This points, of course, to the problem with opposition politics in South Africa - it is largely driven be ego and personality. Think of Peter Marais, Buthelezi, Bantu Holomisa, de Lille, Leon etc etc. With the exception of Leon, all of these people are larger than the parties that they lead. Their media profile and presence on the national stage depends upon their independence and ability to be their own person. But if opposition politics is really going to take off in SA, the 'personalities' are going to have to bow to party principle and accept a lower profile role. Is this likely or even possible? On the basis of the emergence of the ID's I'd have to answer in the negative. As long as the Holomisa's and de Lille's of the world are able to float the mirage of an opposition able to take on the ANC and as long as the South African electorate displays the sort of political immaturity that it has by supporting such chimaeras, there will be an incentive for high profile figures to go their own way whenever they feel that they are not getting what they want. And of course the problem really is that none of these people are actually expanding the size of the opposition vote, they're simply competing with each other to carve it up differently.

Tony Leon asks the question that, I think, a lot of us would like to know the answer to, namely, why is Trevor Manuel not being touted as a possible Deputy President and future leader?

"Mr Manuel, as we all know, has been quite competent and he has brought down the national debt."

"On top of that, at the last ANC conference he was elected in the top position to the [ruling party's] national executive. And unlike our current deputy president [Jacob Zuma], there is no Scorpions' investigation in progress against Mr Manuel."

"So why is it that he is rarely ever mentioned as a possible deputy president, indeed as a successor to Thabo Mbeki?"

Leon continued: "Some speculate that it is because "he is only a 'so-called coloured'." I would hope that is not true. But if it is true, it is a disgrace."

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

According to the M&G:

In a hard-hitting address to thousands of African National Congress supporters in Rustenburg, President Thabo Mbeki on Monday told them not to vote for "silly parties" like the New National Party...

Looks like the ANC/NNP alliance is in good shape, and that the NNP is an equal and respected partner!

Monday, March 22, 2004

As Andrew has noted, its become fashionable to express dislike of Tony Leon. Leon, it is said, is too combative, critical, aggressive and opportunistic. He opposes just for the sake of it, and would do better to press his criticisms more constructively, in the spirit of the African tradition of consensus politics. I agree with this up to a point; it would be nice if our politicians were always balanced and fair. But why do we think that Leon alone is guilty of conducting himself in this way? I refer you to recent press statements from the ANC and ANC Youth.

On 24 February 2002, the ANC Youth released a press statement claiming:

The truth is that Leon's is an arch-racist, neo-liberal and pro-imperialist organisation that supports the maiming of the Palestinian as well as the Iraqi people.

Hmmm, that's constructive, balanced and fair. The ANC itself is not much better. The following statement was released on 17 March 2004:

If DA supporters are indoctrinated with Tony Leon's politics of racial intolerance, it is hardly surprising that right wing bigots in DA strongholds would resort to these desperate and uncivilised displays of criminal behaviour to "Keep the ANC out."

An example of African consensus politics? And on 23 February 2004:

The ANC requests the DA Fuhrer to make an unequivocal statement on this [that he should resign].

McIntosh [placed relatively low on the DA list] will remember that during the last DA caucus meeting when the Fuhrer made a joke, McIntosh did not laugh loud enough. Those DA members who laughed their lungs out are on top of the DA national and provincial lists.


Apart from being ad hominem, there's something more sinister going on here. Referring to a Jew as the "Fuhrer" is crass and insensitive. Lest anyone think this is a careless oversight, I remind you that in the past the ANC has referred to Leon's wife as "Israel."

Finally, lest anyone think that the DA has somehow provoked this, and has therefore been singled out for special treatment, I quote Thabo Mbeki's recent, and rather outrageous, statement on the ACDP:

He [Mbeki] said if ever his sister was to arrive home and tell him that she was in love with ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe, he would have to beat her.

Nevertheless, none of this should surprise us (excepting perhaps Mbeki's advice to beat supporters of other parties). This is politics, after all, and politics is a rough and tumble affair, often unfair and frequently personal. What worries me, however, is that the ANC has succeeded in developing the idea of consensus politics in such a way that it applies to its chief opponent but not to itself. And people, very intelligient people, buy this! There might be good reasons not to vote DA and also not to like Leon personally (I'm not going to go into these here). But objecting to his rhetoric, and not to that of the ANC, amounts to a double standard.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Who-Ho, recognition by dead tree media at last. Er, South Africa Computer Monthly has an article on blogging in South Africa that includes a link to us. First SACM, then the world .

Nick's fallen for that old chestnut that Africa is special and therefore needs a special kind of politics. Not for us the bruising encounters characteristic of Western political systems nor the sharply differentiated ideological positions that cause them. We're not special of course, although the rhetoric suggesting that we are trips off the tongues of the kleptocrats, dictators and genocidal maniacs that Africa often endures. The idea is useful when you are oppressing your people and undermining democracy.

I really shouldn't have to point this out, but the reason that in open democracies the political system typically divides along similar lines is not because there is something unique to the West. It is because in normal societies there are usually no more than 3 or 4 major cultural, social and political cleavages. Hell, if you like Marx then there is only one. This holds as much for SA as for Britain. Conservative vs liberal, socialist vs free-market, left vs right. Get the picture? These schisms assuredly exist in South Africa, they just tend to get subsumed by that other major divide in SA, black vs white. We need to keep our eyes on the prize. We need to make sure that we don't fall for this stuff. When people start believing that there is something about their country which makes normal democratic politics difficult they've conceded a major principle to those who have no respect for democracy.

A Long and Winding Road
Yesterday whilst reading Peter C's latest entry I stumbled across a debate in his comments section about the role of tariffs in Britain's industrialisation. I posted a response to this comment which then prompted this, this and this by way of a flurry of rejoinders. I'd intended to post a short response this evening but..well, the short response turned into the longest blog article I've ever written. Far too long for Peter C's comments section, so I've pasted it here. Having spent the better part of the last 4 hours writing this, I'm afraid that I'm in no mood to edit or add links now. So you'll just have to be patient. I accept full responsibility for all errors (factual, grammatical and otherwise) of which I expect there to be many..

A long response addressing Alan's point about the importance of protectionism. Please bear with me.

The first thing that you need to bear in mind is that it doesn't make sense, logically, to argue that Britain used tariffs to aid the industrialisation process. Why? Because at that point (mid 18th century) no other country had experienced an industrial revolution. Using tariffs to protect weak industries and promote growth implies an intentionality predicated upon an understanding of where one is now and where one would like to get to. But if you don't have the example of other industrialised countries to look to (because such examples do not exist), you simply don't know where you are going. The first country to industrialise had to do so 'blind'. Britain bootstrapped itself into an industrial revolution by building, subconsciously, on a whole host of favourable factors. And no, Alan, despite the sources you quote I'm afraid that I remain unconvinced that tariffs played much of a role in this process. So lets say you grant me my argument that the first country to industrialise could not do so consciously, you then have to explain why Britain did in fact industrialise. Other countries have had tariffs at various points and did not industrialise and this suggests that there was something more going on in Britain. So, tariffs seem not to be a sufficient condition, otherwise the first country to industrialise would have been the first to use tariffs to protect its home industries. But it appears that they are not a necessary condition either?

Two questions, which go to the heart of the discipline: Why Britain? Why then? As a first cut I should point out that the notion that Britain only began to exhibit the signs of incipient industrialisation in the late 18th century is, by now, discredited. I point you to MacFarlane's excellent, 'The Origins of English Individualism' for the classic argument suggesting that England possessed functioning, active markets for the trading of land as far back as the 12/13th centuries. This means, of course, that feudalism in England was different to that practised elsewhere. Power was more dispersed, there were greater levels of freedom and, consequently, it was less likely that a parasitic state would emerge. Obviously this is important when looking at the causes of England's industrial revolution. Another important work is Wrigley's 'Continuity, Chance and Change' which suggests that over the 200 years up to 1780, and industrial lift off, England experienced a remarkable rise in agricultural productivity. The consequences of this were to create a pool of surplus (and increasingly urban labour), and to generate surplus capital with which to invest in new methods.

What caused this productivity improvement? The answers are not at all clear, I'm afraid. England at this stage was improving internal transport links and creating bigger domestic markets and it was also undergoing beneficial institutional changes (see North and Thomas 'The Rise of the Western World' for a good summary of the 'institutional' view). But the improvement may have come down to something as esoteric as the fact that England's stock of draft horse per capita of human labour increased substantially over the period. The result: the opportunity cost of agricultural labour went up and it switched out of agriculture into other areas - cottage industry, for example. Horses were not only more productive, but they were also the major source of fertiliser. More horses = more horse dung = higher crop yields. It sounds silly, but when trying to explain why an economy suddenly defies all historical experience and starts to grow, these explanations take on a peculiar weight.

But other countries had experienced gains in agricultural productivity and yet failed to industrialise. China had famously been through more than one such cycle. So what gives? And is the missing variable tariffs? Well, it bears making the obvious point that China had implemented a variety of tariffs of varying degrees of severity. This culminated in the Ming Emperor's issuing of the various decrees that lead to the abandonment of long range trade and the shipping industry that went with it. (An aside: what a wonderful counter-factual raises it's head here viz. could the Chinese have rounded the Cape before Diaz and Magellan et al if not for the Ming inspired turning in?)

The answer of course has nothing to do with tariffs and everything to do with rational individual responses to prevailing incentive structures. As any good neo-classicist will tell you. As Smith, Ricardo, Malthus etc told us whilst laying the ground work for the discipline. To wit: as a country experiences agricultural productivity gains, surpluses are generated which might be thought to be the basis for an industrial revolution. In fact, as Elvin (The Pattern of the Chinese Past) argues, what normally happens is that the increased output is eaten up by increased child birth. In the brutal pre-industrial world, population levels are determined by the amount of available food. Malthus knew this. But Malthus is decried as a doom-monger, a quack, maybe a charlatan, nowadays. He wasn't. When food output increases, population goes up. But of course, without the benefits of industrial technology, there are only so many things that you can do to improve agricultural productivity. Once you've laid down a road, improved the axles of horse-drawn carts and created efficient internal markets, you're pretty much stuck for further improvements. If by this stage you haven't taken off, you're trapped. A very large population, agriculture which is very efficient (it has to be to support the population) and no prospect of further gains. Elvin called this the 'high level equilibrium trap' and it explains China and most of the rest of pre-industrial human history. But it doesn't explain England in the 18th century. Why not?

Perhaps here, at last, we find the place for Alan's tariffs. Or perhaps not. Consider, it is the second half of the 18th century and England is travelling down a path that China has been down already. We have few reasons to believe that our intrepid little island is going to do any better. In fact, if we are betting men, we’re probably going to place our money on those good Dutch burghers across the North Sea. But jolly old England has a few aces which might allow it to escape Malthus and achieve the impossible: sustained economic growth that is rapid enough to outpace population increases.

What are these aces? Well, coal is the first. Both Wrigley and more recently, Pomeranz ('The Great Divergence') have stressed the importance of England's deposits of high quality and fortuitously positioned coal fields. Why are they important? Before coal, the economy depended upon organic fuel power, wood (relatively scarce and thus relatively expensive) and such power as could be gained from water mills, dung etc. This might sustain a small, feudal economy but not one which is preparing to go where no economy has ever been before. If wood is the only source of fuel you need to plant trees. But trees take up land and land is scarce and better devoted to agriculture. Coal allows England to side-step this issue, it is in effect an infinite stock of potential energy as opposed to the limited flow of wood and dung energy that powered the organic economy. Suddenly all those marginal forests can be cut down and the land devoted to other uses and some of those surplus labourers (remember them?) can be sent down the mines to haul up yet more of the stuff. The organic era ends and England is the first to usher in an economy based upon inorganic energy.

But there is more to it than this. You're not going to explain the most important event in economic history with one variable. What else? Well, here the importance of England's access to the Atlantic economy plays a role. By importing food, sugar etc. England was again able to relieve the pressure on her already over-utilised domestic lands. Ever heard the phrase, 'sheep eating men'? Until the development of the Atlantic Economy, the most important of the early integrated trading networks, every additional head of sheep really did impact on the country's ability to feed, house, clothe etc itself. No surprises here, sheep and men compete for much the same resources in order to survive. Once the trade routes had been established, the pressure was relieved and Malthus was fought further back. But the population of the British Isles was still going up and although Atlantic trade and the discovery and systematic exploitation of coal was delaying the onset of a Malthusian population crisis, that increase was going to eliminate surplus. Just as it had done everywhere else. Just as it had always done, in fact. But here is where Britain finally diverged from history and achieved take off to something new and unknown.

The Atlantic economy and coal prolonged the surpluses generated by that earlier improvement in agricultural productivity long enough for a class of men to emerge whose genius would create the frame-work for industrialisation. The tinkerers, the experimenters, the men of science. Thousands of them. Thousands of them who, unlike their ancestors, found that they didn't need to spend their lives in the fields producing food. In the rapidly expanding towns and cities, ideas were generated and exchanged, techniques refined. Britain was open to the outside world. Foreigners and their ideas arrived at the White Cliffs and added spice to an already heady broth. The basis for the steam engine was established, the iron furnace was developed and refined, the looms that powered the textile industry were invented and so on and so forth. The effects were electric. Productivity in the textile industry improved by hundreds and then thousands of percent, the steam engine changed man's ideas about what could be achieved in the field of manufacturing. Indeed it created the idea of manufacturing - large combines of workers and machines as opposed to small family owned cottage industry.

The exact processes that underlie technological innovation (see Mokyr, 'The Lever of Riches' and Landes, 'The Unbound Prometheus' for two of the best efforts to wrestle the beast) are still only imperfectly understood although, at the risk of appearing flippant, it is obvious that the spinning jenny was not invented and perfected as a result of a state lead effort to industrialise. It is obvious too that tariffs played no role in this. How could they? The process of technological break through was small scale, cumulative and accompanied by endless trial and error. This is not Germany in 1860 using tariffs to protect the industries being created by importing British technology. Britain had nobody to import from, Britain didn't have the example of an already existing industrial economy to look to for ideas about how to achieve her own revolution. To see this another way consider that the generations living after the mid 18th century in Britain were only dimly aware of the importance and meaning of the great changes going on around them. The revolution was an unconscious process. Elsewhere and later, change was a conscious process, usually self-directed. In the case of Germany and the US 100 years later, it makes sense to speak of govt policy aimed at industrialisation, it makes sense to argue that governments used tariffs to aid this process. Interestingly at this stage, the first to industrialise was still more circumspect. The first had not needed tariffs and for the most part she saw no reason to change her mind. For more on how technology changed industry I point you to one of the more interesting accounts, that of Mann and Wadsworth, 'The Cotton Trade and Industrial Lancashire'. They discuss the importance of institutional factors (of which more shortly), the effect of imports of raw cotton (replacing linen), the effects of trade with India, transfers of technology from other parts of Europe and the long process of experimentation that eventually lead to mechanised spinning. Incidentally, Patrick W, I'm afraid that I can’t endorse your recommendation of Landes, 'The Wealth of Nations'. I think his earlier 'Unbound Prometheus' is by far the better work and although it draws on cultural explanations is not quite as ham-fisted as 'Wealth' when it does so.

But what of the Corn Laws, a tariff and only repealed at the end of the 1840s. I'm afraid that I give short shrift to those who argue that the Corn Laws somehow amount to a necessary condition for the revolution. They're best explained as the outward manifestation of a political contest between land owners and the newly emerging class of industrialists. The fight for the Corn Law represented a reactionary effort to protect what was, in effect, a dying way of life. Land was once again becoming relatively expensive - massive urbanisation and industrial expansion had seen to that. The only way the under-utilised estates (underproductive in fact) could remain viable was by artificially inflating the price of the goods produced. But note that if this is true then the tariff was a massive drain on the economy (tariffs always are of course) and in this case you can't even argue that they were being used to protect an infant industry. Revolutions always lead to changes in the prevailing social order, this slow incremental one no less. The victims were the landed aristocracy, the winners were the industrialists, the bankers and merchants.

What of the other variables? I've already mentioned institutional factors but it bears mentioning them again in a bit more depth. The important point here is not private property per se (although this becomes an issue as industrialisation really gets under way) but predictability in the distribution of rights relating to property and tax. You are not going to industrialise if you have a state in control which arbitrarily seizes property and which sets tax levels with no reference to the ability of the payee to actually stump up the cash. Likewise, if traders cannot be sure that their goods will not be seized or looted you are going to battle to lay the groundwork for an efficient trade system. Think of the Indian Moghuls plundering their merchants (and see Bayley, 'Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars' for more). These are all simple points and yet in many historical cases, the state was predatory, tax was arbitrary, the rule of law weak. And consequently the prospects for a sustained increase in growth were weak if not non-existent.

But to really explain the genie's emergence we have to go a little deeper and consider the emergence of such institutional agents as the Joint Stock Company which pools risk and facilitates the expansion of foreign trade. Co-incidentally, empire too. The Joint Stock Company really required an efficient financial system and its no accident that as Britain girded herself for the great leap, she found that her financial industry was the most highly developed in Europe. We might note in passing the importance of intellectual property rights (patents) and the role they played in allowing inventors to secure monopoly profits in the short to medium term. This kind of incentive is important. Yeoman farmers will only abandon their fields and invent the steam engine if they think they'll get rich doing so. Why does all this happen? Hard to say. Perhaps we have to rest with Macfarlane's argument about English Individualism. Perhaps geography plays a role. An island has less fear of invasion, its people therefore gear up to enrich themselves and create the institutions required to do so. Without the spectre of Mongol, Moslem, Prussian or French invasion (a real worry on the continent) to threaten its people with, the British state found it harder to justify repression. Geography is an exogenous factor, yes, but it makes people, it shapes them and it directs their energies.

So lets return to the issue which set this folly in train, namely Alan's belief that tariffs were a necessary condition for industrial revolution. In the post that I initially responded to Alan said:

'If there hadn't been that earlier two centuries of protectionism, there wouldn't have been a British industrial revolution in the first place - or, at least, it wouldn't have developed to Britain's advantage in nearly the same way. This is the problem with having too Panglossian a view of free trade. Yes, once a nation's industrial base is established, it can take advantage of free trade conditions: but it has to create that base first.'

I hope I've pointed out the problem with this argument. It ascribes intentionally where none existed, indeed where none could exist. For Alan's argument to work he has to convince us that prior to the industrial revolution, there existed a concept of industrialisation. Only if we accept this can we then take the additional step and buy his argument that the state deliberately set out to industrialise. This is obviously nonsense. The concept didn't exist, indeed the idea of change itself was only very shakily accepted or even understood.

Perhaps though, Alan means that mixed in with all the other random factors that ultimately did lead to industrial growth were tariffs. These tariffs were much the most important of those random factors constituting no less than a 'necessary condition'. I'd be interested to hear why he favours tariffs above the other factors, since my reading of economic history suggests that there are different routes to industrialisation. Some have industrialised without tariffs, some with, some with a strongly interventionist state, some without. Indeed, it is hard to swallow the line that any one variable is a necessary condition for industrialisation. The problem is that if we accept the necessity of tariffs we are left to wonder why industrialisation didn't happen centuries earlier than it did. Why not in some of the early city states? Why not China at various points in its long history? Or India? Or the Romans? The answer of course is that there are many factors, many conditions which need to be fulfilled. But many conditions suggests substitutability. You don't have coal in your country, and we know that coal was a necessary condition of Britain's industrialisation. I suppose this means that your country's not going to industrialise. You see how preposterous this is. There is nothing vital about tariffs. They've played a role in the industrialisation of some countries (although I have my doubts about the efficacy of tariff led industrialisation) but not in others. In Britain they played a negligible role. Industrialisation was the result of a fortuitous combination of institutional change, geographical luck, an emerging international trade system, openness to new ideas etc. I've offered a comprehensive, multiple variable analysis that sets the historical context whilst allowing for the role of accident and contingency. And for all that Alan trumpets the state and tariffs, the very source that he quotes admits that tariffs were seen as a means of raising revenue rather than promoting industrial growth. A through back to that old mercantilist nostrum about the importance of accumulating specie. Remember how it goes, 'trade is a zero sum game, we need to protect ourselves and our stock of specie by making trade difficult for our rivals.' You can see this economic fossil emerging in Alan's comments about the need to 'compete' and to 'protect' etc. And of course if trade really is a zero sum game then his argument makes sense. But it isn't. As most of us know.

Finally, (finally!) I should add that Mathias (whom Alan quotes) is a respected academic and has made a name selling his ideas about Britain (which are not as extreme as they appear when quoted out of context). But he really is trying to slip something big past us if he is suggesting that Britain's textile industry relied on state intervention and tariffs to prosper. It didn't, it relied on the fact that it was several orders of magnitude more productive than the majority of its rivals. So too if we are to belief that the preventing of artisans from emigrating played an important role in Britain's industrialisation. It might have hindered industrialisation elsewhere but it assuredly did not in Britain. I'd like to point out too that if you look hard enough at something as complex as industrialisation you can always find examples to support your contention. But you need to keep things in perspective, you heed to ask yourself how important the variable is. Frankly' the quotes from Mathias don't amount to much. I'm sure the stuff he mentions happened, I'm sure they had an impact. But it was marginal stuff. It doesn't carry explanatory weight. And were it is not, he paints with such broad strokes that one is left to wonder how he sees the processes that he mentions actually happening. So, who do you believe? Did Britain industrialise because of a wise, interventionist state which was an eager proponent of the judicious use of tariffs to foster the development of industry? Or did it industrialise for the reasons I've mentioned? Less clear cut, more haphazard, more contingent on luck and geography? If you think about it, this really is the only way that the very first industrialisation, ever, could have happened.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Farrel has some tips for Tony Leon, including that he should learn a black language instead of giving speeches solely in "Durban accented English." While the advice seems sound, I object to Farrel's characterisation of Tony's accent! As a born and bred Durbanite, I can confirm that Tony definitely speaks in Joburg accented English.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Richard's got some comments on a recent joint DA/IFP rally in Cape Town. Particularly interesting for his observations on Tony Leon's electioneering style. I get the impression that Leon may be a little too sophisticated for the South African voting public. Or a little too cynical. Time will tell, I suppose.

Via the good 'ol boys at Commentary: a piece by one 'Strawdog' at Live Journal about why you shouldn't vote for the Independent Democrats. For those too lazy to follow the link I've copied the main points below.

1. It is a cult of personality party with no depth. Essentially, it's Patricia de Lille and a fax machine.

2. Patricia de Lille has a worse Parliamentary attendance record than Winnie Mandela. So much for her supposed "integrity."

3. Her track record for inconsistency and idiocy makes John Kerry look steadfast (I can provide examples if anyone is interested), which is hardly surprising when you consider that...

4. She is an ex-member of the PAC - South Africa's party of reason - and jumped ship when she was by-passed for leadership. This all smacks greatly of Kortbroek-style political opportunism. Need I remind anyone what the PAC stands for? Perhaps De Lille's views have changed after a road to Damascus experience, but that's certainly not a chance I will take with my vote.

5. Her policies are airy-fairy, populist, and impractical. I read the ID's manifesto and I understand they're against crime, poverty, abuse of women and children and so on, but it's not clear what they plan to do about it. I can understand why her stance on women and children has such resonance for women in particular, but the fact is that the DA's policies also address that issue even though they haven't made it a centrepiece of their campaign.

6. A strong DA/IFP alliance is the best chance of rallying together an opposition that will control the Western Cape and Kwa-Zulu Natal, and have a significant enough voice to be heard in Parliament. (The fact that the DA's MPs occasionally attend Parliament is a bonus).


Having had a look through the party's policies, I can attest to No 5. The ID's present a hodge-podge of ideas culled from the ANC and the DA without offering anything new or startling. Of more interest is that on major issues eg the economy, they don't even go as far as describing specific policy actions. Rather splendidly they commit themselves to, 'integrating the unemployed into sustainable and dignified work to create a virtuous growth cycle that draws on improved demand and consumption, which in turn will stimulate employment.' But, apart from a vaguely worded pledge to implement a public works programme, they offer no real clue as to how this will be achieved.

This problem is apparent throughout the various policy documents that they've issued. Lots of high minded rhetoric and very little substance. Of course the reason for this is because the party is essentially a vehicle for Patricia de Lille, as Strawdog points out. You vote for the ID's because you think parliament will be better for her presence. Personally, I hope that de Lille gets into parliament, she was very effective in attacking the ANC, particularly over the arms issue, but I hope she doesn't get any more than the bare minimum of necessary votes. They would, assuredly, be wasted votes.

To what extent is the DA a centre-right party, comparable to, say, the US Republicans, the British Tories or the German Christian Democrats? This question has been intriguing me ever since I read Laurence's post which characterises it as such, and which cites this as a reason why the DA should embrace the death penalty (it would bring the DA in line with other centre-right parties world-wide). There's no doubt that the DA is business friendly, which of course places it in the same camp as the parties that I've just mentioned. But, like Andrew, my impression of the DA has always been that it draws primarily upon the tradition of classical liberalism which owes a great deal to JS Mill. Mill famously endorsed the "harm principle", the idea that peoples' choices should not be interfered with unless they cause harm to others. This, of course, places a great deal of distance between Mill's descendants and parties such as the Republicans, which are all for a paternalistic attitude in relation to matters such as sex before marriage, homosexuality and drug use. As Andrew puts it, Democrats might interfere in the boardroom, but Republicans interfere in the bedroom. For this reason, I'd tend to compare the DA's intellectual roots with those of, say, the Free Democrats of Germany, who espouse economic and social liberty. This strand of liberalism, while admittedly on the right of the political spectrum, is, I think, less wedded to ideas such as the death penalty, outlawing abortion, curbing homosexuality and pre-marital sex etc. In other words, I don't think that the DA's political orientation requires that it adopt for the death penalty for reasons of consistency.

While on the subject of the DA, there's a further complication. Increasingly, the DA is espousing policies such as the basic income grant, free antiretrovirals and, at least while in government in the Western Cape, free water up to a point. In other words, in addition to fostering a business friendly environment, it seems to me that the DA is increasingly coming round to the view that there is a role for the state in addressing social problems such as poverty and AIDS. It goes without saying that this is an interesting, and rather idiosyncratic, combination (the basic income grant is also advocated by Cosatu). Personally, I welcome this development, which I think shows the limitations of libertarianism in a developing country such as South Africa. But, once again, it should caution us against drawing easy comparisons between the DA and right-wing parties in the US, UK or Germany, which would presumably regard these as matters for the private sector or community self-help.

Tony Leon supporting the death penalty? I wasn't even aware of this until Nick brought it to my attention. But I have to say that its an exceptionally stupid move. I've said this before but it bears repeating that in S v Makwanyane, the case in which the death penalty was declared unconstitutional, the Constitutional Court found that it infringes the right not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment, and hinted very strongly that it also infringes the rights to life and dignity. In other words, for the death penalty to be reintroduced, all of these provisions would have to be amended. This, I'm sure most would agree, would set an exceptionally negative precedent. Its in all of our interests that the Bill of Rights not be tampered with. That Leon should campaign against the ANC in part on the basis that it should not be allowed to get a two-thirds majority, which would allow it to change the Constitution, while also taking a view that he knows would require constitutional change, strikes me as the height of hypocrisy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

And still they come: A warm blogging welcome to our friend and fellow Oxonian Nick Graham. Check him out for what promises to be a regular supply of informed and interesting commentary.

Monday, March 15, 2004

The Importance of Opposition Politics
It probably says a lot about just how out of touch with South Africa I really am that I've been confidently predicting that the upcoming elections will see the ANC receive more than two thirds of the vote and the DA further cement its place as the major opposition party. To be honest, this didn't strike me as rocket science. South Africa's changing demographic profile (which, I'm told, will see minority voting groups total less than 20 percent for the first time) will ensure that the ANC's support doesn't change much, whilst the proliferation of small, inconsequential parties that plagued the last election will have been all but killed off leaving only the DA, IFP and possibly the NNP to fight for the opposition vote.

Well, so much for predictions. Over the last few weeks I've met a number of South African's who've revealed that they will be voting for Patricia de Lille's Independent Democrats. The reasons have varied but in almost every case, the person concerned has ended by saying something like, '...and of course I could never vote DA. Tony Leon's too shrill. He seems to oppose the ANC just for the sake of it and he never suggests any constructive alternatives.' So, leaving aside the policies or lack thereof of the Independent Democrats for the moment, lets consider these arguments a bit further.

Moving from the concrete to the abstract and starting with the suggestion that the DA never proposes constructive alternatives and is driven primarily by a reflexive loathing of the ANC. I don't really think this charge stands up to the evidence. Of all the parties on offer in SA the DA is the only one that habitually offers alternatives to govt. I point you to the Basic Income Grant, the universal provision of anti-retrovirals and the establishing of an HIV/AIDS ministry, the Alternative Budget (now a regular feature of budget day) amongst those that most easily come to mind. In almost every case, where there is an ANC policy on something, the DA will have its own policy. And yes, the DA's policy is usually different to the ANC's, sometimes dramatically so. But is this a bad thing? Is this evidence of opposition simply for the sake of it? No, of course it's not. The DA's policies are different from the ANC for a number of very good reasons. Reasons that, I'm afraid to say, appear to be lost on most people.

Firstly, the DA and the ANC occupy different sections of the political spectrum. Which is to say that each is associated with an identifiable, but different, strand of political philosophy. The DA, I would venture to suggest, draws its intellectual strength from the type of Liberalism associated with, say, John Stuart Mill. It is committed to a small govt and the withdrawal of the state from the private lives of its citizen's amongst others. Certainly, there are elements of Edmund Burke's Conservatism. The notion of the importance of the state in buttressing society against centrifugal forces that would tear it apart plays a discernible role in the DA's thinking, but this is not to say that the DA's political philosophy lacks intellectual coherence. Think about it, the fact that it is usually possible to say in advance of a policy statement what the DA's position on an issue will be attests to this underlying fact. Incidentally, the same cannot be said for the other opposition parties (although a presumption of rank opportunism might explain most of what the NNP comes up with nowadays). The ANC of course also derives its strength from a distinctive set of philosophical beliefs, although, as a broad church movement, it is sometimes, harder to pin down what this is exactly - a general commitment to egalitarianism and a mixture of Black Consciousness/Negritude. These beliefs lie at a vary different point on the political spectrum to Liberalism and thus it ought not to be surprising that the DA and the ANC find each other so irritating. But this is a sign of a functioning democracy, not of a knee-jerk loathing of ANC rule as some have claimed of the DA. To think of this another way, can you imagine anyone accusing the Tories or the Democrats of opposition for oppositions sake? No, you can't. The idea is preposterous because we know that these parties see the world through different eyes to Labour or the Republicans. Yet somehow this basic fact has been missed by a lot of very smart people when assaying the South African situation.

Secondly (and this really is missed a lot), one of the strengths of multi-party democracy is that it creates oppositions which question the government, which ask it the tough questions, which poke holes in its policies, which force it to re-think its initiatives. This is not a bad thing. It makes for better policy and, ultimately, for better democracy. It is this which exposes the vacuousness of the NNP's suggestion that more can be accomplished by working with government than against it. But then the NNP doesn't understand democracy. It never has. Even in cases like ours, where one party dominates, the notion of principled opposition can provide a useful corrective to potential mistakes in policy. As Mill would no doubt have suggested, if the ANC isn't forced to explain and defend its policies, it risks making bad policy.

But there is more to this issue than simply intellectual laziness on the part of South Africans. It's the belief that Tony Leon is an arrogant, out of touch, lightweight, a, '...yapping Chihuahua' as Bad Brad would have it, that concerns. No doubt he is these things, most politicians are usually guilty of whatever charges people hurl at them, but I don't think this is the real reason that people have come to dislike him. The truth, I think, is that Leon has come to be something of a scapegoat for everything that we dislike about SA politics. An over-weening ANC, the failure of a credible opposition to emerge, the lunacy of Mbeki's position on HIV/AIDS. In a certain sense, Leon has come to be blamed for all of this. Let me explain this before you start rolling your eyes. I'm proposing the idea that Leon has become a cipher, a stand in, the parody of everything that we dislike about SA political life. Like Mbeki, he is arrogant and stubborn, but whereas it is difficult, especially for whites, to openly criticise Mbeki, Leon makes for an easy target. I encounter this attitude again and again when I discuss SA politics with people. There is a remarkable degree of unease about criticising the ANC, about being too eager to denigrate their policies and question the capacity of their leaders. That attitude does not hold for the DA though, or for any other opposition party for that matter. And since Leon is the most vocal and visible of the opposition leaders, by some obscure process of psychological transferral, people take their frustration out on him. To return to the amusing, but no less instructive, example of Bad Brad. The man decides to form a political party and as a means to this end he needs to do something to get media attention and to show that he's taken the kid gloves off. So what does he do, he lays into Leon, the leader of another small opposition party. Why? Well, because, calling Mbeki a, 'yapping Chihuahua' is the sort of comment that will not endear you to either black or white voters. But you still need to flex the old rhetorical skills and prove that you're not a politician who's afraid to be tough so you attack Leon.

This kind of short-sighted opportunism is prejudicing our chances of establishing a genuine multiparty democracy in which a plurality of beliefs and ideas is accepted and encouraged. It is about time that South Africans finally grow up and start to treat our democracy with the respect and maturity that it deserves.

Friday, March 12, 2004

I've just stumbled across this story about a recent SACP investigation into Zimbabwe. In a report made after the investigation, the SACP argued that ZANU-PF was prevaricating over talks to resolve the crisis. Admittedly it is a couple of weeks old, but the story more or less flatly contradicts Trevor Manuel's recent claim that ZANU-PF and the MDC are secretly negotiating. So Mr Manuel, what gives?

South Africa's economic dominance of Africa (the country's investments in the continent are valued at $500 million) is, I'm told, a source of some resentment, with much grumbling in parts about "re-colonisation." My scanty knowledge of economics informs me, of course, that such concerns are misplaced. South African businesses are providing jobs in other African states, and providing consumers with greater choice and cheaper goods. But quite apart from that, this article provides a good example of how freer trade between African states isn't only providing opportunities to South African companies. Shoprite Checkers, South Africa's largest supermarket chain, is to begin importing ground coffee from a company based in Uganda. Given that Shoprite Checkers has 700 stores in 15 African countries, the benefits for the company involved, and its employees, should be pretty significant.

Advice to Wayne: buy low, sell high.

On a more serious note, I'm of the view that it's impossible to consistently beat the market over the long term. That being the case, I really don't see the point of handing over transaction fees to fund managers who invariably give me a lower rate of return than I would have obtained by simply investing in an index tracker. People who claim they can usually beat the market are either lying or omniscient.

M&G is speculating about who will lead the provinces after the elections. They claim that rumours within the ANC are suggesting that Jacob Zuma will be deployed to KZN should the ANC win there. Can we presume from this that Zuma is now out of the picture as a possible successor to Mbeki? It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Zuma could spend a term as provincial leader before returning in 2009 to take the reins from Mbeki, but under the circumstances it would represent a peculiar move on the ANC's part. In a similar vein Mbhazima Shilowa is thought likely to remain premier of Gauteng. I have no objection to this, he's been one of the ANC's most successful provincial leaders and is just the sort of dynamic figure that Gauteng needs. That said, I've started to ponder about the desirability of Shilowa succeeding Mbeki and for the most part I think he would be a good thing. Again the move from provincial leader to president is not impossible, but it would not be a good omen for Shilowa if Mbeki intends to keep him Gauteng.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Charges are, apparently, going to be brought against the mercenaries who were apprehended in Zimbabwe, en route to Equatorial Guinea where they planned to stage a coup. According to Foreign Minister Stan Mudenge "[They] are going to face the severest punishment available in our statutes, including capital punishment." But I can't help but wonder what Zimbabwe hopes to charge them with. In Equatorial Guinea, of course, they might be guilty of conspiracy to commit treason, or attempted treason, or something of that sort (presuming that there isn't a problem of jurisdiction, given that they didn't actually enter the state). But in Zimbabwe? As far as I can tell -- and I'm speculating -- they can at most be guilty of crimes such as illegal possession of firearms. Certainly nothing to warrant the death penalty. But, then again, legal niceties are no longer important in Zimbabwe. In Mugabe's ill-fated constitution, rejected in a referendum a few years back, he attempted to create obligations for Britain by including a clause saying that Britain would have to pay for land redistribution! Apparently, he expressed surprise when informed that this would be of no legal effect.

UPDATE: Minister Kembo Mohadi of Zimbabwe has said that the mercenaries will be charged with plotting to "destabilise a sovereign government." I doubt very much whether this is a crime under Zimbabwean statutory or common law. Hopefully this is mere bluster and the Zimbabwean government isn't considering creating a crime to suit their needs.

Don't Mess with Me, Bru
Bad Brad has been embellishing his reputation. IOL reports that Bad is facing assault charges after a confrontation at the Randburg Magistrates Court yesterday.

According to witnesses, Bad screamed, 'I'll kill your son' to the mother of the victim as the assault took place. This poses some difficulties for Bad Brad since his own party advocates the re-introduction of the death penalty for, amongst others:

1.8.3 Any person convicted of aggravated assault or attempted murder.

Of course, South Africa being South Africa, this will probably increase his support. We do love a man who can stand his ground, don't we?

Laurence thinks that the lack of active campaigning by the IFP in Gauteng is evidence of, 'the DA / IFP election strategy at work'. He goes on to say that:

'In the past, the DA have proven to be fairly strong in Gauteng, so it makes sense for the IFP to get out of the way and let the DA rack up as many votes as possible. IFP support in Gauteng is probably transferable to the DA anyway, so they're unlikely to lose any votes as a result.'

I'm not so certain though. I think the simpler, and more likely explanation, is that the IFP has slowly given up on its aspiration of becoming a national party and is now focused, almost exclusively, on KZN. As evidence I cite the increasing levels of political violence in the province and the increasingly chauvinistic rhetoric coming out of IFP headquarters. What this means, of course, is that if they fail to win KZN they're finished. A regional party without a regional support base has no future. Which is why things are so tense now in KZN.

Vote for Me, Bru
The rumours are true. Big Bad Brad, famous for an early eviction during the first series of Big Brother SA has launched a political party, The Organisation Party. The party's website (complete with picture of Bad himself in suit, tie and suitably grave looking frown) contains the following uplifting message:

"Crime is a disease and it will spread faster than we know and we will all suffer in the end. Aids is perpetuated by a lack of education. We need broader education policies to educate our people and free education for our younger generation."

Bad Brad wants us to take him seriously and to that end has wasted no time in launching a scathing attack on, you guessed it, Tony Leon, saying:

"I don't like you. To me you're nothing more than a yapping chihuahua and a prime example of why I don't want to be called a politician."

According to the party's constitution, Bad has a number of vote winning ideas, including:

1.7 The reintroduction of the death penalty

1.10.1 The reintroduction of electrified fencing along the South African border with its neighbours.

1.10.2 The introduction of five year minimum sentences for any person employing an illegal immigrant.

1.10.3 The introduction of five year minimum sentences for any person or individual inclusive of government officials operating syndicates or participating in syndicates which fraudulently circumvent the law regarding immigration, operate marriage scams or encourage South African citizens to marry a foreigner in order to allow the foreigner to obtain residency or nationality status.


Well, I don't know about any of you, but I'm sold. Bad (maybe that should be Mr Bad) for president!

Are you a libertarian? I'm not. But Andrew has such sympathies, as do the boys at Commentary. I therefore point you to the "libertarian purity test", which supposedly tests your libertarian credentials. But be warned, I haven't tried it, and Andrew tells me that its a "little silly." I should also say that it has a very American bias.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Yesterday I wrote, in response to Laurence at Commentary, that the ANC would be unlikely to amend the Constitution in response to, say, a terrorist attack or a civil war in Zimbabwe. Instead, the more likely response would be to declare a state of emergency. In response, Laurence writes:

Is it crazy to wonder whether, in addition to declaring a state of emergency right after the attack, the government would also consider using their two-thirds legislative majority - if they had one - to make some alterations to the constitution? Just asking.

In any case, I think my main point is still solid: that you can take the ANC at their word when they say they have no intention of changing the constitution (which I for one do), and still not want them to get a constitutional majority. Simply because circumstances change, and while they may not want to alter the constitution right now, a situation may come up in the future that makes a constitutional amendment look very attractive.


Regarding the final point, I couldn't agree more. The Constitution should bind the government, not the other way round. And I agree that a situation might arise that could make a constitutional amendment look attractive. But I still don't think that a sudden catastrophe would be a likely trigger. Instead, consider the following scenario: having failed to significantly alleviate poverty and inequality, the ANC's support base begins to erode. This possibly coincides with the emergence of a genuine electoral challenge. The ANC might then wish to accelerate certain programs, such as land redistribution and employment equity, in bid to shore up its support. In such circumstances, the Constitution (esp the property clause), and the relatively powerful role accorded to South African courts, might appear as obstacles. The ANC would be able to claim that these are hindrances to process of transformation or "liberation", which it has a popular mandate to implement.

Go and read Farrel today. He has some interesting points on the differing election strategies adopted by the DA and the ANC and, for good measure, some helpful suggestions for those political lickspittles, the NNP.

Interesting snippet at the end of this M&G story about the election: South Africa has a total of 142 registered political parties. 'Only' 37 of these are actually going to contest the election though. This has to be some kind of record.

South Africa is to offer exile to ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This follows a proclamation on Tuesday by the African Union that Aristide had been removed by 'unconstitutional' means.

I must admit that I haven't really been following this story, but it seems clear that Aristide remained leader of Haiti on the sufferance of the US and that the 'constitutionality' of his rule was dubious at best. That said, quite why South Africa should want to get involved in this little saga is a mystery.

The NUM and the 1984 Strike
The 20th anniversary of one of the more shameful episodes in the history of British trade unionism has just passed. The year long coal miners strike of 1984 represented the last hurrah of a movement which, during the 70s and early 80s, had convinced itself that it alone had the right to govern Britain. Lead by the lunatic Arthur Scargill (whose name is now a by-word for extremism and who, incidentally, is reputed to have received money from Colonel Gaddaffi), the National Union of Mineworkers set out to bring down Margaret Thatcher's government by shutting down the key coal industry. The strike never had more than minority support and were it not for the illegal actions of Scargill himself would never have gone ahead. That it did is testimony to the bone-headedness of British Unions of the period, that Thatcher was prepared to stand up and fight it is testimony to her own personal strength of character and to the desire of the British people to restore order to an economy wracked by industrial unpleasantness.

The failure of the 1984 strike finally put paid to the idea that special interest groups should be allowed to dictate policy to government. It also, indirectly, helped end the class warfare that bedeviled British life. By exposing the Unions for what they were, a bunch of self-seeking, anti-democratic extremists, rather than the legitimate voice of working class Britain, the strike helped to invalidate the class rhetoric so prominent in British public life then. The BBC has a short history of the strike although, be warned, in typical fashion they put a sympathetic gloss on Scargill. The man deserves no sympathy. He tried to destroy British democracy and really ought to be consigned to the same pantheon of villains as Oswald Mosley and Lord Haw-Haw

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

After a slow start, South African blogging is finally starting to take off. The newest addition to the ranks is Jo'burg based Mzansi Afrika. Do have a look when you get a chance.

The vexed question of who is to succeed Mbeki has raised its head again. The Sunday Times is reporting on rumours that Mbeki will appoint two additional Deputy Presidents after the elections to avoid infighting, with the names of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Mosiuoa (Patrick) Lekota surfacing as possible contenders for the new posts.

Laurence at Commentary sketches several scenarios (such as a terrorist attack or civil war in Zimbabwe) which, he fears, might prompt the South African government to amend the Constitution.

As much as I enjoy Commentary I find this rather unpersuasive. In situations such as this, the most obvious response would be not to amend the Constitution, but to declare a state of emergency. Given South Africa's experience with states of emergency in the past, the Constitution makes exceptionally clear provision for declaring future states of emergency (see section 37 of the Bill of Rights). In fact, when I heard Laurence Tribe, the US's foremost constitutional lawyer, speak in Oxford, he referred to the South African Constitution as exemplifying how states of emergency, or the types of scenarios sketched by Laurence, should be dealt with.

Very strange. A plane containing at least some South African mercenaries, heading for God-knows-where, has been impounded in Zimbabwe. Possible destinations include Equatorial Guinea (to stage a coup), the eastern DR Congo (to guard mining operations) and, according to another report, Iraq (to assist with security).

Am I alone in noting that a certain type of South African has an affinity for getting involved in these forms of mayhem? I also find myself musing over just how one ends up in this line of work. Hopefully the bizarre details of this story will unravel in the days to come...

Breaking news, courtesy of Southern Cross
One of the advantages of being in Oxford are the amazing speakers that constantly pass through. Last night, Andrew and I, as well as what appeared to be most of Oxford's South African community, were fortunate to see Trevor Manuel, the Minister of Finance, talk on "Making Globalisation Work for Africa."

I think that Manuel impressed all present as thoughtful, articulate, intelligent and as in complete command of his subject. I'm not going to dwell on the economic issues, which comprised the bulk of the talk, because that's more Andrew's area than mine. But I would like to pick up on some interesting comments (breaking news!) that Manuel made in response to an issue that was inevitably raised - Zimbabwe.

When asked whether South Africa should take a harder line on Zimbabwe, Manuel claimed that South Africa has been facilitating talks between the MDC and Zanu-PF, and the parties are talking, and making progress. For some reason, however, both sides prefer to deny this in public. This echoes, of course, similar claims that Mbeki has made in recent months, most notably when Gerhard Schroder was in town.

In Manuel's view, such an approach, whereby South Africa encourages and facilitates negotiation, is preferable to a more interventionist strategy, which wouldn't, in his view, be conducive to a strong democracy in Zimbabwe in the long-term. The familiar mantra - that this is a problem for Zimbabweans to solve - was repeated. Manuel also stated that the fundamental problem in Zimbabwe is that the country is split 50/50 between the MDC and Zanu-PF and can't get past this. This, he said, has been borne out by the two previous elections, which produced roughly similar results.

All of this left me with a series of nagging questions. If Zanu-PF and the MDC are talking, then why don't they admit it? But, then again, why should Manuel and Mbeki lie? So let's just hope that the parties are talking and that sooner or later they will admit it and make some real progress. More fundamentally, I was concerned about Manuel's reading of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Referring to Zimbabwean election results strikes me as an odd way to gauge public opinion in that country, given the blatant intimidation and rigging that have characterised both parliamentary and presidential elections. Rather than a 50/50 split producing tension and conflict, the situation seems to me to be far simpler, and far more worrying - the ruling party has lost support, is employing whatever means it can to stay in power, and in the process is undermining the rule of law, democracy and human rights. In short, in the absence of a credible election result, Mugabe can no longer claim to be a democratically elected or legitimate head of state, and Zanu-PF is not a legitimate government. What disturbed me was that there was no hint of this in Manuel's response.

I agree with Manuel that "regime change" would be an impractical, inappropriate and rather fanciful approach to Zimbabwe. But I do think that, given the circumstances - rigged elections, torture, enforced starvation, intimidation of the judiciary etc - South Africa could do far more to note its concern and disapproval of developments in its northern neighbour. At the very least, at a rhetorical level, South Africa should draw a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable forms of governance. Perhaps too, if South Africa has initiated negotiations, it should be more open and outspoken about this fact, rather than making apparently inconsistent claims when pressed on the issue. Not only would this enhance South Africa's international standing, but it would do wonders for initiatives such as Nepad and the peer-review mechanism, the credibility of which must have been badly damaged by African states' apparent denial of just how bad things are in Zimbabwe.

Monday, March 08, 2004

Thabo Mbeki has, I'm pleased to see, once again ruled out the possibility of amending the Constitution so as to stand for a third term of office. If he keeps his word, then South Africa would have had three democratically elected rulers within 15 years. I stand to be corrected, but I imagine that that would be some sort of record for an African state. Increasingly, the more pressing question seems to be who the next President will be. Southern Cross has pondered this question before so I'm not going to revisit it here. But I'm hoping that the post-election cabinet will provide some clues.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

M&G reports an amusing incident that occurred during Jacob Zuma's recent campaign visit to Cape Town:

'Amid a phalanx of bodyguards and curious crowds surrounding Zuma, Glenville Tempies (23) of Paarl tried to sell the deputy president a pair of sunglasses, which he said he had just stolen from someone. Somewhat taken aback, Zuma declined the offer and asked why. Tempies said he had spent three years in prison in Grahamstown for robbery, and had attended various rehabilitation programmes and initiatives to gain work skills. He had succeeded and even obtained "diplomas"... Tempies said he had been promised a job on his release, but nothing had happened and he was still out of work. "Now, sometimes I have to rob (to survive)." Looking around, Zuma said: "I think someone must take your details."

Perhaps somebody should have tried to arrest the man, although with chutzpah like that he probably should have been offered a job in government.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

It looks as if the government is going to go through with its threat to prosecute individuals denied amnesty after the TRC hearings. News 24 is reporting that Johann van Zyl, one of three men being charged with the murder of the Pebco 3 in 1985, has just flown back to South Africa to hand himself over to the authorities.

'The Pebco Three were abducted from the Port Elizabeth airport on May 8 1985 and taken to an empty police station in the Cradock district. They were questioned and repeatedly tortured until they died. Their bodies were apparently burnt and the ashes thrown into the Fish River. They were members of the Port Elizabeth Black Civic Organisation (Pebco)'

Bizarrely, van Zyl had been in South-East Asia working on a UN humanitarian campaign at the time that the warrant for his arrest was issued.

I can't remember the exact numbers but I seem to recall that of the six thousand or so people who testified before the TRC only about a thousand were ultimately granted amnesty. It will be interesting to see if the government is serious about prosecuting all five thousand of the remainder.

According to the Beeb, a report by the International Narcotics Control Board says the main producers of cannabis in Africa are South Africa and Malawi. This is hotly disputed by the South African Police Service, whose spokesman added helpfully that, 'South Africa is viewed globally as one of the best quality dagga (cannabis) producers. '

Prince Harry has been in Africa! (More specifically, Lesotho.) His impressions? "They are all very very happy with life, smiling the whole time." Hmmmm. Despite this, he's hoping, perhaps paradoxically, that his visit will inspire Brits to give more aid to the mountain kingdom.

Blogging is a little slow this week due to a heavy work-load. And I think that Andrew's excellent post on the African Renaissance will give most readers a lot to think about. I've been punctuating my long hours in the library by reading a book that I should have picked up years ago: Rian Malan's My Traitor's Heart. This is probably an unwise choice as Malan makes for compelling reading, not least because of his characteristic blend of eloquence and irreverence, which is well-illustrated by the following passage, which I couldn't resist posting:

The jol -- say 'jawl' -- was a very important South African concept, connoting kamikaze debaucheries. It was a Cape coloured street term, but all races used it, making it one of the pathetically few things we had in common. Divided we stood, united we jolled. Blacks jolled to obliterate their dismal present; whites to blot out the uncertain future. The word is essentially untranslatable, but any tattooed gangster from the coloured slums could define its essential ingredients: drank, dagga, dobbel en vok -- 'drink, dope, dice and fucking.' I spent most of my youth jolling...

And so it goes on. Time for me to get back to the books I should be reading.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Understanding Mbeki
I've been thinking recently about the relationship between the, 'African Renaissance' and Mbeki's policies on HIV/AIDS and Zimbabwe. To begin, I think it's helpful to try and understand why the idea of the African Renaissance has come to play such an important role in contemporary South Africa politics. To do that though, we need to take a step back and try to understand what the forces are that legitimise the use of power and authority in South Africa. I think, without question, the major legitimising idea during the Mandela presidency was the notion of reconciliation and forgiveness. Mandela himself went to great efforts to allay the fears of whites, even requesting a meeting with Mrs Betsie Verwoed, wife of Hendrik Verwoed, architect of Grand Apartheid. More generally, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) kept the idea of reconciliation in the forefront of the publics mind and, whether they care to admit it or not, ensured that whites remained important players in the unfolding national drama. The TRC and the rhetoric of reconciliation was a way of keeping all major political groups on board as the country took its first tentative steps as a genuine democracy. It helped forestall white fears that they might be the victims of some sort of revenge seeking pogrom and helped provide blacks with an important sense of moral authority which set the new government apart from its predecessor.

Nevertheless, it was always clear that the commitment to reconciliation could only provide an interim solution to the question of legitimisation. An ongoing commitment to reconciliation would have bespoken an inability or unwillingness to normalise South African politics. I think Mbeki was always aware of this and, although he probably believed that Mandela was right to make reconciliation the central plank of his presidency, there was never any doubt that Mbeki's presidency would be very different. On a practical level he was far more committed to transforming the economic and political spheres of South African society but he was sensible enough to realise that South Africans still required something, a big idea, to legitimise his presidency. Enter right, therefore, the Africa Renaissance'. The African Renaissance is, in a sense, the big news of the last five years. It is at once an attempt to recast the image of Africans generally and an effort to provide new purpose to South Africa itself. It seeks to modernise Africa and to legitimise South African power and the ANC's rule. In fact, as Wits University Political Scientist, Tom Lodge points out, it is possible to discern two distinctive strands of thought running through the rhetoric about the African Renaissance.

The first of these is premised upon the notion of modernity and it sees the African Renaissance as resulting from fibre-optic cables, telecoms, market economics and liberal democracy. It aims to sign Africa up to globalisation and make it an important player in that process. This strand has found its clearest expression in The New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) which seeks to promote good governance in Africa in exchange for assistance from the West. The second, less clearly articulated but perhaps more pervasive vision, looks to heritage and legacy for its inspiration. It seeks to reconstruct African communities around tradition and the values and relationships that characterised pre-colonial institutions. This vision finds expression in the notion of Ubuntu (togetherness) and has led to the belief that Africa must stand together and that consensus politics (which is held up as the model for African politics) trumps the adversarial style of democracy which prevails in the West. Much of the rhetoric of the African Renaissance is concerned with promoting an investor friendly view of South Africa which sees it and the West as natural partners and as working together to overcome Africa's problems. Behind the rhetoric though, we find a far greater degree of ambivalence about the relationship with the West and a much stronger desire to use the notion of the African Renaissance to remake African identity and to seek home grown solutions to Africa's travails. This isn't really anything new and those of you who know something of South African history will see the echo of Steve Biko's Black Consciousness in this aspect of the African Renaissance.

The importance of dichotomising the African Renaissance lies in the light which it sheds on SA's approach to Zimbabwe. It explains why, despite the ANC's official commitment to the promotion of good governance and indeed Mbeki's own promulgation of a 'peer review' process, when faced with Zimbabwe, Mbeki has shied away from making tough decisions. The commitment to rejuvenating and regenerating African identity appears to require resisting efforts by the West and by white South Africans to perpetuate a vision of Africa that is negative and that plays on traditional notions of the inability of African's to govern themselves effectively. To this end, the ANC's diplomatic effort towards Zimbabwe has often seemed more concerned with defending Mugabe and in promoting the view that the West and especially the white Commonwealth is partly responsible for what is happening in that country. What Mbeki really wants to do is uphold the view that Mugabe is a respectable politician beset by troubles not of his making (although I suspect that even Mbeki is finding this to be an untenable position now). If the notion of regenerating African identity and promoting African self-respect is to mean anything then it is important that Mbeki not allow Mugabe to be cast as an incompetent or madman. This attitude is exemplified in one of Mbeki's weekly 'Letters to the People' published shortly after South Africa's failed attempt to get Zimbabwe readmitted to the Commonwealth at last year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting:

'Our poverty and underdevelopment will never serve as reason for us to abandon our dignity as human beings, turning ourselves into grateful and subservient recipients of alms, happy to submit to a dismissive, intolerant and rigid attitude of some in our country and the rest of the world, towards what we believe and know is right, who are richer and more powerful than we are.'

It is with the issue of HIV/AIDS that this attitude has reached its most dramatic and counter-productive conclusion. Under Mbeki, the ANC's response to HIV/AIDS has been erratic, to say the least. The initial indications where that Mbeki appreciated the seriousness of the epidemic. Indeed, in 1999, when a team of pathologists in Gauteng claimed to have discovered a cure for AIDS, Mbeki took steps to override the objections of the Medicines Control Council (who pointed out that the active agent in the 'Virodene' drug was a toxic industrial solvent) and even went so far as to suggest that such objections where the result of racism. Nevertheless, by 2000, Mbeki had begun to voice scepticism about the conventional explanations of the aetiology of AIDS. In that year he and the ANC, presumably following his lead, launched rhetorical attacks on the major drug companies, simultaneously accusing them of profiting from AIDS whilst appearing to deny the link between HIV and AIDS, the acceptance of which underlay the epidemiology of the anti-retroviral drugs themselves. Since then, Mbeki has alternatively questioned the link between HIV and AIDS and denied such questioning. In a sense, the AIDS and Zimbabwe issues stem from the same concerns. In a speech delivered at Fort Hare University in 2001, Mbeki referred to medical schools where black people were 'reminded of their role as germ carriers', going on to say:

'Thus does it happen that others who consider themselves to be our leaders take to the streets carrying their placards, to demand that because we are germ carriers, and human beings of a lower order that cannot subject its passions to reason, we must perforce adopt strange opinions, to save a depraved and diseased people from perishing from self-inflicted diseases... convinced that we are but natural-born, promiscuous carriers of germs, unique in the world, they proclaim that our continent is doomed to an inevitable mortal end because of our unconquerable devotion to the sin of lust.'

In short, Mbeki appeared to promote the view that those who believe Aids is a virologically caused, mostly sexually transmitted disease that can be medically contained, stigmatise and demean black people. And this brings us back to the African Renaissance. To the extent that the African Renaissance is important as a legitimising idea and to the extent that it is predicated upon the need to recast African identity, it makes sense that Mbeki should resist things which appear to denigrate Africans. It bears pointing out too that Mbeki received his political socialisation within the confinements of an exile movement, something which may have predisposed him towards challenging the authority of institutional establishments, scientific or otherwise and to romanticising his homeland in a way which makes accepting unpalatable facts about it difficult. Thus a complex intermeshing of concerns about legitimisation, authority and identity politics has resulted in policies which, when viewed from outside, are irrational and counter-productive.