Monday, November 03, 2008

'Comrade' Mbeki's letter out in the open

I've been away for two days, taking a break in nearby Alexandria Forest. Arriving back in cell phone coverage, and reconnected to my internet access, I discover that a couple of things have happened since my departure. Apparently Barack Obama has an 'illegal alien' connection in the US, oh my, and the ANC splinter group will probably call their new political party -to be launched in December- the South African Democratic Congress.

But the tidbit that most got my attention relates to the publishing of a 'private' letter former president Thabo Mbeki wrote to the president of the ANC, Jacob Zuma (see letter below). This is after the same ANC NEC that removed Mbeki as South African President, suddenly announced that Mbeki would be campaigning for them in the run up to next year's elections! The timing of that announcement is obviously tied to the above mentioned break-away movement by Terror Lekota and other present-former-suspended-stealth members of the ANC disillusioned by the manner of Mbeki's sacking and the perceived purge of his loyalists after 'Polokwane". While on one hand members of the ANC's NEC have been dismissive, in their typical arrogant manner, of the bad bad bad dissidents they, on the other hand, found no problem in suddenly brandishing Mbeki as trump card in dealing with what they claim to be a splinter group of no significance.

Make no mistake, Comrade Mbeki is not happy about this. Thus he fires of a stinging letter to Comrade Zuma. The letter is not published, initially, and is sent as a private communique. It shows Mbeki's discipline and in content once again displays his intellectual prowess (although in my opinion diluted by dated political ideology).

What is not clear, but which I can't help but suspect, is whether Mbeki knew what would happen next? Is this a case of 'give them enough rope and they will hang themselves'? The ink on his letter was barely dry when, with great arrogance, his letter was quoted in public -once again without his permission- to indicate that Mbeki would not run off with Lekota into a new political party. But the stinging criticism that made up a large part of the letter was conveniently left out of these public pronouncements. What happens next follows the script of political power play to the letter (no pun intended...). The poisonous letter is leaked to the press...

The letter makes for interesting reading. What I find of particular interest is Mbeki's attack on the 'cult of personality' and how this has become a feature of the Jacob Zuma brigade. He clearly infers that he will have no part in it - no surprise there off course. He is however very much involved with the 'cult of personality' in his dealings with the Zimbabwe crisis and its super cult-of-personality-characther Robert Mugabe...

The use of exclusive and polarising terms such as 'comrade' and 'national democratic revolution' are still alive and well amongst 'intellectuals' in the ANC . The latter term implies some positive values, such as the alleviation of poverty but is very worrisome in many other respects. For one thing it has become a trend to brand anyone who differs from the ruling party as an 'anti-revolutionary'. While Mbeki has not resorted to the latter, if memory serves me correctly, his tendency to think within the Africanist ideological box has probably had a lot to do with the polarisation which featured so strongly in his presidency.

The letter also leaves me with some sadness for Thabo Mbeki, the human being. How the mighty has fallen. It would have been so much better if he actually delivered on the promises he made and the lofty ideals he strived for. I posted on 'what could have been' in May of this year and I'm afraid what I wrote there represents what will probably be my lasting impression of Mbeki years from today.

Herewith then the much spoken about letter, as sourced from

Comrade President, I imagine that these must be especially trying times for you as president of our movement, the ANC, as they are for many of us as ordinary members of our beloved movement, which we have strived to serve loyally for many decades.

I say this to apologise that I impose an additional burden on you by sending you this long letter.

I decided to write this letter after I was informed that two days ago, on October 7, the president of the ANC Youth League and you the following day, October 8, told the country, through the media, that you would require me to campaign for the ANC during the 2009 election campaign.

As you know, neither of you had discussed this with me prior to your announcements. Nobody in the ANC leadership - including you, the presidents of the ANC and ANCYL - has raised this matter with me since then.

To avoid controversy, I have declined all invitations publicly to indicate whether I intended to act as you indicated or otherwise.

In truth your announcements took me by surprise.

This is because earlier you had sent Comrades Kgalema Motlanthe and Gwede Mantashe to inform me that the ANC NEC and our movement in general had lost confidence in me as a cadre of our movement.

They informed me that for this reason you suggested that I should resign my position as president of the Republic, which I did.

I therefore could not understand how the same ANC which was so disenchanted with me could, within a fortnight, consider me such a dependable cadre as could be relied upon to promote the political fortunes of the very same movement, the ANC, which I had betrayed in such a grave and grevious manner as to require that I should be removed from the presidency of the Republic a mere six or seven months before the end of our term, as mandated by the masses of our people!

Your public announcements I have mentioned came exactly at the moment when Comrade Mosiuoa "Terror" Lekota and other ANC comrades publicly raised various matters about our movement of concern to them.

I have noted that some in our broad democratic movement have spoken publicly, unfortunately, and wrongly saying that Comrade Terror has acted as they have, driven by their loyalty to me as an individual.

During the decades we have worked together in the ANC, we have had the great fortune that our movement has consistently repudiated the highly noxious phenomenon of the "cult of personality", which we saw manifested in other countries.

It therefore came as a surprise to me that anybody within our revolutionary democratic movement could so much as suggest, and therefore insult somebody like Terror Lekota that he could act as he has, whether rightly or wrongly, driven by attachment to a personal cult!

In this context, given that I have worked longer with you than I have worked with Terror, I would be interested to know your view of any instance in our movement during which it fell victim to the noxious phenomenon of the personality cult, as a result of which it ceased to think, content to act in the manner of the "anointed personality", such as the late Kim Il-Sung determined to the people of North Korea!

Personally, I've been privileged to interact with such varied titans of our struggle such as Oliver Tambo, Moses Kotane, JB Marks, ZK Matthews, Yusuf Dadoo, Mark Shope, Leslie Massina, Duma Nokwe, Moses Mabhida, Frances Baard, Steve Dlamini, Lilian Ngoyi, Walter Sisulu, Gertrude Shope, Govan Mbeki, Julius Nyerere, Raymond Mhlaba, Kenneth Kaunda, Helen Joseph, Trevor Huddleston, Agostinho Neto, Robert Resha, Jack Simons, Seretse Khama, Ray Alexander, Ruth Matseoane, Sam Nujoma, Fish Keitsing, Kate Molale, Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Joshua Nkomo, Samora Machel, MB Yengwa, Ruth and Joe Slovo, Robert Mugabe, Mpho Motsamai, Bram and Molly Fischer, Mike Harmel, Brian and Sonia Bunting, Andrew Mlangeni, Liz Abrahams, Joe Modise, Florence Mophosho, Alfred Nzo, Beyers Naude, Albertina Sisulu, Thomas Nkobi, Sophie de Bruyn, Ellen Khuzwayo, Nomzamo Madikizela-Mandela, Wilton Mkwayi, Alfred Hutchinson, Rusty and Hilda Bernstein, Jack and Rita Hodgson, Cedric Mayson, Thomas Nkobi, Tiny Nokwe, Albert Nolan and many others.

All these, and many others I have not mentioned, were and are true heroines and heroes of our struggle.

I have omitted to mention others among these such as Albert Luthuli because I cannot claim truthfully that I have interacted with them in the context of the struggle.

I have mentioned the people I have to make essential and crucial points, central to the value system of our movement and struggle, that none of these heroes or heroines ever sought adulation in any manner that would turn them into cult figures.

They never did anything, nor did we act in any way as we grew up in the liberation movement, which would result in our movement being enslaved in the cult of the individual.

In this regard there were exceptional circumstances attached to Comrade Nelson Mandela, which were not of his making or will.

In the context of the global struggle for the release of political prisoners in our country, our movement took a deliberate decision to profile Nelson Mandela as the representative personality of these prisoners, and therefore to use his personal political biography, including the persecution of his then wife, Winnie Mandela, dramatically to present to the world and the South African community the brutality of the apartheid system.

The beginning and the end of this particular discourse is that both of us have grown up in a political atmosphere that we fully respected and honoured our leaders, heroes and heroines without reservation.

However, for me personally, at no point did this translate into "hero worship" and therefore the progression to the phenomenon of the "cult of personality".

I know this as a matter of fact that all the heroes and heroines I have mentioned would have opposed the emergence of such a cult with every fibre in their revolutionary bones!

For this reason I find it strange in the extreme that today cadres of our movement attach the label of a "cult of personality" to me, and indeed publicly declare a determination "to kill" to defend your own cause, the personal interests of "the personality", Jacob Zuma!

When we last met, on September 19 2008, at the Denel buildings adjacent to the Oliver Tambo International Airport, I restated to you the incontrovertible fact that you knew that our engagement in the struggle for the liberation of our people had never been informed by a striving for personal power, status or benefit.

In this context I told you that should the ANC NEC, which was meeting from that day, decide that I should no longer serve as president of the Republic, having been the ANC presidential candidate presented to the Second and Third democratic parliament in 2004, I would respect this decision and therefore resign.

I have been informed informally that you reported this to the ANC NEC at the conclusion of the discussion about this particular matter. I take this opportunity sincerely to thank you for communicating my views to the NEC in this regard.

I mention all this in the light of what I cited earlier - the statements made first by the president of the ANC Youth League and later yourself, concerning the role I would play in the forthcoming 2009 election campaign, which has not been discussed with me.

For some years now our movement has had to manage an immensely challenging and unprecedented situation, occasioned by the criminal charges preferred against you by the National Prosecuting Authority, and related matters.

I state this as a matter of fact with no comment about the merits or demerits of what may have been said and done by anybody or institution in this regard.

I also mention this fact in this letter because, despite our best efforts, many in our movement and our population at large have refused to believe the sincere message both of us strived to communicate, that there were and are no divisions between us, and that nobody should use our names to incite or perpetuate division in the ANC and the country.

When the December 2007 Polokwane ANC National Conference elected you president of the ANC, and responding to Comrade Kgalema Motlanthe's suggestion, I walked with you to the platform, publicly to demonstrate my acceptance of that outcome, as did other Comrades who had been defeated in the electoral process.

When, more recently, the ANC NEC decided that it no longer had confidence in me to serve as its preferred cadre to occupy the position of president of the Republic, I made it a point not to contest this decision, and therefore resigned.

When I addressed the nation on September 21 2008, announcing that I had tendered my resignation as president of the Republic, to the National Assembly as the elective body, I said that I have been a member of the ANC for 52 years.

There is absolutely nothing I have done through this half-a-century of struggle of which I am ashamed. Above all, I know of nothing I have done which, to my knowledge, constitutes a betrayal of the interests of the masses of our people and their confidence in the ANC.

Despite all this, I have taken note of the campaign that some in our ranks, supported by some in our media, have waged for many years focused on discrediting me in particular, given the senior positions I have occupied in the ANC, and the ANC in general.

I have constantly been acutely aware of the fact that this campaign has been based on outright lies and deliberate and malicious distortions.

For many years I have refused to stoop to a public debate driven by these fabrications, which would demean and destroy the dignity of the ANC, its leadership and me personally.

I must admit that this posture might have produced results we never intended, specifically as it might have suggested that we could not contest the lies that have been told.

I know that now there are some in our country and elsewhere in the world who appear on television programmes or contribute newspaper opinion columns as "experts" or "analysts", simply on the basis of their readiness to abandon all ethical considerations and self-respect, to propagate entirely fabricated and negative notions about what our national democratic revolution means to our country and people.

Because of the services some of these have rendered to the opponents of the national democratic revolution, the "experts" and "analysts" and others who market themselves as "intellectuals/academics" have been handsomely rewarded with material possessions as embedded opponents of the national democratic revolution.

Yet such is the malaise that has entrenched itself in our democracy, including our movement, that we do not ask the obvious question - how can such "intellectuals/academics" have come to accumulate such wealth?

Bearing in mind everything I have said, let me then address the immediate matters on the national agenda, which relate directly to me.

(1) Comrade Lekota and others have not engaged me in any of the actions they have taken, to secure my approval or otherwise.

(2) The ANC leadership has not engaged me in any of the responses it has taken in this regard, to secure my approval or otherwise.

(3) Informally, I have communicated my view to both these contending groups, members of the ANC, that they should address all matters that might be in contention.

(4) In my President's Political Report to the Polokwane 52nd National Conference of the ANC, presented as prescribed by the ANC constitution, I warned of the grave challenges our movement was facing. I suggested that the conference should discuss these. This was not done. Ten months after this report was presented, I still stand by what it said.

Following the developments of December 2007 and September 2008, relating to tasks I had been given by the ANC, I have considered carefully what I should do as a private South African and African citizen.

Currently I am working as speedily as I can to elaborate the substance of this work, which will ensure that whatever I do in no way involves me in the internal politics of the ANC or the functioning of the government of South Africa.

As the saying goes, I refuse absolutely to rule from the grave. History will judge whether what I did during my political life, until September 25 2008, is worth anything.

Given the December 2007 and September 2008 outcomes to which I have referred, I trust that you will take the necessary measures to:

  • Remind all comrades that everything we have done since 1994, to advance the national democratic revolution, has been based on collective decisions of our movement, without exceptions;
  • Encourage all Comrades honestly to confront the real problems, challenges and opportunities that the ANC, the broad democratic movement and our country face; and,
  • Convince these Comrades to desist from abandoning their revolutionary democratic obligations by falsely and dishonestly pretending that the goals of the national democratic revolution have been frustrated, if they have been, through the actions of one individual - Thabo Mbeki.

    I would like to believe that you and I have devoted out adult lives to the victory of the national democratic revolution, and nothing else.

    Similarly, I would like to believe that we have always understood that this revolution has as its principal focus the upliftment and empowerment of the millions of our working people, including women, who constitute the overwhelming majority of our people.

    Accordingly, we have understood that this revolution has absolutely nothing to do with the personal fortunes of those who might, by virtue of historical accident, be its leaders at any particular moment.

    I would like to believe that in this context we agree that the strategic and historic task facing the tried-and-tested leaders and cadres of our movement is to determine what needs to be done, next, to advance the goals of the national democratic revolution, focused on advancing the interests of the millions of the working masses.

    In my view, with which you are free to disagree, the revolutionary tasks we confront are to:

  • Recognise the various factors that have militated against the achievement of the unity and cohesion of the ANC in the recent past;
  • Defeat the actions prevalent in our governance system, especially the provinces and municipalities, to remove from their positions Comrades who are perceived as belonging to factions different from those which currently serve as elected leaders in the current elected ANC structures;
  • Renew the democratic movement on the basis of:
  • opposition to the cult of personality
  • the defeat of careerism and opportunism;
  • the defeat of the use of violence in the ANC and the rest of the democratic movement to impose particular leadership cliques interested in winning government tenders for themselves and their friends;
  • the defeat of bureaucratic parasitic tendency leading to the abuse of state power for self-enrichment;
  • the rejection of the phenomenon of the emergence of a black compradore bourgeosie which, in the context of BBBEE, is ready to front both for the domestic white and international capitalists;
  • commitment to the implementation of a socio-economic programme focused on economic growth and development, the restructuring and development of our economy, reducing unemployment and poverty, and sharing the wealth of our country in terms of our national, class and gender categories.

    Nobody, and I believe the leadership of the ANC above all others, can ignore the conclusion that today our country stands at a particular crossroad.

    This means that the decisions we take today will impact on our country and the masses of our people for a considerable number of years.

    I am confident that the decisions the leadership of the ANC will take in this regard, with you at its head, will indeed advance the goals of the national democratic revolution to which so many of us, led by the veterans of our movement, have dedicated our lives.

    As a small plea in this regard, I appeal that nobody should abuse or cite my name falsely to promote their partisan cause, including how the 2009 ANC election campaign will be conducted.

    Amandla! Matla!

    Thabo Mbeki

    - News24

  • Monday, July 07, 2008

    Two excellent online Mandela & Apartheid multimedia resources

    I'm a great believer in the power of the internet. Yet, I'm often still surprised at the jewels it offers when I bump into some new resource - freely available to anyone with a (preferably broadband) internet connection. The latest are two excellent resources on Nelson Mandela and Apartheid. I'm sure there are many more.

    Mandela: An Audio History

    "A five-part radio series documenting the struggle against apartheid through rare sound recordings, the voice of Nelson Mandela himself, as well as those who fought with him, and against him.... An Audio History was originally broadcast on National Public Radio in the U.S. and SAfm in South Africa."

    The Stories
    I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the five episodes sorted under the heading "The Stories". It is a grand narrative, well organised and told through recordings of radio broadcasts, interviews with anti-apartheid activists / politicians and liberation songs - amongst others. If you're familiar with South African historical and contemporary figures, you'll recognise many of them. Speakers and/or broadcasts are not introduced but rather flow seamlessly into each other. The listener is taken on a 50-year journey from 1994-1994. As with all attempts to convey history, not all perspectives are catered for throughout. But be that as it may, this is an impressive effort.

    The People
    Here you will find short biographies on the persons interviewed in The Stories section above.

    Audio Timeline
    This section provides a graphical time line of the events covered in the five audio episodes of The Stories. Very helpful if you are unfamiliar with South Africa's apartheid history and that of Nelson Mandela. A great refresher course if you think you know the history!

    Nelson Mandela Media Centre (

    This is a very slick, well packaged collection of information on Nelson Mandela. It is hosted on's site and I assume they put it together. It is in fact a work in progress as there seem to be more content on the way.

    The speeches section provides transcripts for speeches by Mandela starting with an address to the ANC Youth League in 1951 up to an address by Mandela at the funeral of Adelaide Tambo in 2007. A very impressive collection indeed.

    The video section mainly feature prominent South Africans sharing the impressions Mandela made on them through his life and personal encounters. Amongst others, it features Helen Suzman, George Bizos, Jay Naidoo, Ahmed Kathrada, Francois Pienaar and Penny Heyns. It also includes a couple of clips highlighting different aspects of Mandela's life and person.

    As with the first site featured above, this one also features a very informative timeline of events in Mandela's life. The Biography section provides a summary of important fazes in his life. Finally a collection of audio slide shows rounds of News24's presentation. I hope that the current presentation is but a starting point for an even more comprehensive future library of information.

    Wednesday, June 25, 2008

    Stories that got my attention - 25 June 2008

    Here are a couple of interesting and/or noteworthy stories that caught my attention this morning:

    Mhambi: Is Nelson Mandela's silence on Zimbabwe OK?

    Much is currently being made in the British Press of Nelson Mandela's visit to the UK for the concert celebration of his 90th birthday.

    Not because of the planned star studded line up mind you. But because Mandela has not condemned Robert Mugabe's government of late...

    Constitutionally Speaking: What happens when 5 judges retire?

    Next year five judges of the Constitutional Court will come to the end of their 15 year term and will have to retire. These are Chief Justice Pius Langa and Justices Kate O’Regan, Albie Sachs, Yvonne Mgoro and Tollie Madala. Justices O’Regan, Sachs and Mokgoro have been consistently the most progressive voices on the court and it is difficult not to worry about the direction the court will take with five fresh faces on its benches.

    Although there are some safeguards built into the Constitution regarding the appointment of judges, the process of appointing Constitutional Court judges are potentially open to political manipulation...

    south africa THE GOOD NEWS: SA ad agency wins Grand Prix at Cannes

    South African advertising agency DDB (SA) won the Grand Prix award in the Press category at the 55th Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival held in Cannes, France this week.

    From more than 7 400 global entries in the press category, DDB (SA) scooped the coveted premier award for their Energizer campaign...

    south africa THE GOOD NEWS: SA documentary wins World TV Award

    A South African film has won the best documentary award in the 2008 World TV Awards.

    The documentary, entitled "The Letter", deals with the personal stories emerging from the ongoing conflict between Israel and Palestine. Through the story of a mother, who in search of closure and reconciliation, writes a letter to her son's killers, the film aims to increase public awareness around issues of diversity, tolerance and peace...

    BBC News: US to ignore Zimbabwe poll result

    The US will not recognise the outcome of Friday's presidential election run-off in Zimbabwe, a senior state department official has said.

    Jendayi Frazer told the BBC Robert Mugabe could not claim a legitimate victory amid the current campaign of violence against the opposition...

    My comments: Will South Africa follow a similar approach? I wish, but I don't see any chance of that happening. It will probably also not achieve much. It's a little like putting your hands in front of your eyes and saying - you're not there, I won't acknowledge you. Who do you talk to in order to end the charade? But at least the US is indicating that it doesn't approve of the current madness. Could South Africa's Government at least convey that message in public - 'Bob, you're a naughty boy and we don't like it'?. Once again I don't see this happening. I'm still depressed about Zim.

    BBC News: Landmark Florida Everglades deal

    US conservationists are hailing a landmark agreement under which the state of Florida will buy a huge tract of land from a major sugar company.

    The US Sugar Corp has tentatively agreed to close down and sell the 800sq km of land it owns in the Everglades to Florida for $1.75bn (£890m).

    Florida's governor said the agreement was as important as the creation of America's first national park.

    The swampy Everglades is one of America's most unusual ecosystems...

    BBC News: Biofuel use 'increasing poverty'

    The replacement of traditional fuels with biofuels has dragged more than 30 million people worldwide into poverty, an aid agency report says.

    Oxfam says so-called green policies in developed countries are contributing to the world's soaring food prices, which hit the poor hardest.

    The group also says biofuels will do nothing to combat climate change.

    Its report urges the EU to scrap a target of making 10% of all transport run on renewable resources by 2020.

    Oxfam estimates the EU's target could multiply carbon emissions 70-fold by 2020 by changing the use of land...

    BBC News: Bill Clinton endorses Obama bid

    Former US President Bill Clinton has announced for the first time his support of fellow Democrat Barack Obama's bid for the White House.

    Mr Clinton's wife Hillary was Mr Obama's biggest rival for the party nomination, and he was often critical of Mr Obama on the campaign trail.

    Mr Clinton's spokesman said he was committed to working for an Obama win.

    Mr Obama and Mrs Clinton are to hold a joint rally on Friday, but Mr Clinton will be in Europe and will not attend...

    BBC News: Record sale for Monet masterpiece

    A Claude Monet painting, Le Bassin Aux Nympheas, has fetched a record £40.9m for the artist's work at auction.

    The identity of the victorious bidder at Christie's, London, has not been made public. The painting had been expected to fetch £24m.

    Painted in 1919 in Giverny in France it has been seen in public just once in the past 80 years.

    Monet's 1873 Le Pont du chemin de fer a Argenteuil, which sold in May, had held the previous record of £20.9m...

    BBC News: Children terrified by SA xenophobia

    Ten-year-old Fortune watched a man being shot dead in front of him as he accompanied his mother to the grocer's store.

    Another 10-year-old saw men armed with clubs and guns preparing for an attack.

    "I was scared," he says, "so I prayed."

    Both children have been receiving counselling after a wave of anti-immigrant attacks in South Africa last month.

    Their school called in art therapist Michelle Booth when teachers realised that many pupils had been traumatised by violence - which they had either suffered directly or witnessed...

    TIMESONLINE: Outrage over £200m UK investment in Zimbabwe

    Anglo American, the London-based mining giant, is to make what is believed to be the largest foreign investment in Zimbabwe to date, just as the British Government puts pressure on companies to withdraw from the country.

    Anglo will invest $400 million (£200 million) to build a platinum mine in Zimbabwe — a move that has raised concern among some of the company’s shareholders and been condemned by politicians.

    The Foreign Office was investigating tonight whether the company’s investment breached sanctions against Zimbabwe. Anglo insisted that its involvement in the country did not break the law.

    The decision, which was criticised roundly as likely to give succour — and possibly money — to the Mugabe regime, is in stark contrast to the policy of nearly all other main British corporations in Zimbabwe. They are either withdrawing from the country or waiting for Mr Mugabe to be deposed before expanding their businesses...

    Tuesday, June 24, 2008

    To BEE or not to BEE...

    Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) is regarded as either holy or evil by South Africans, depending from which vantage point it's looked at. For non-South Africans who may not be in the know - BEE refers to affirmative action policies, which are driven first and foremost by Government through legislation, as well as through so-called BEE Charters agreed to between Government and Business (mostly by specific industry's, e.g. Tourism).

    While race plays a major role in how BEE is perceived in South Africa, it would be a mistake to believe that all whites are against it and all blacks for it. BEE was always going to be a necessary evil at best and at worse reverse* discrimination (*against whites as opposed to previous discrimination against blacks). It can probably be argued that it will always be both... My own preference has been towards labelling it a 'necessary evil'. That is, BEE should be seen against the country's history of colonisation (±300 years) and formal Apartheid (±40 years), which robbed the black majority of opportunities for education and development. To address these past injustices, a degree of discrimination is needed in the present day (affirmative action).

    However, about a decade of BEE has caused many to re-evaluate their stance on this thorny issue. To be fair many, myself included, had a lot of caveats regarding support for BEE / affirmative action to begin with. These now strongly come into play, given the history of BEE thus far. In short a smallish group of the (mostly) political well-connected have benefited hugely from BEE. Some black labourers benefit indirectly through union participation in BEE deals, although the empowerment effect thereof at ground roots level is questionable. The vast majority of black South Africans are not really in a stronger position to advance up the economic ladder - some even argue that most are in a worse position today.

    There are a few aspects of the current BEE experience that troubles me greatly. These include:

    • The small number of people actually (disproportionally) empowered by BEE, as referred to above.

    • It seems that the main focus is on filling top, influential, highly paid positions, with black faces - i.e. following a top-down approach.

    • The previous point suggests that the only way to empower blacks is by getting rid of whites... That is, whites can't be trusted in playing a part in the great empowerment project. It has to be driven by blacks in high positions, by extension by driving out whites currently filling those positions. This is gross generalisation on my part, but it represents at the very least a worrying perception.

    • BEE in South Africa, in my view, is based too much on the redistribution of wealth rather than the creation of wealth. In other words cutting the proverbial economic pie in smaller pieces, so that everyone can get a bite - rather than baking a bigger pie. (Obviously the 'shareholding' in a bigger pie can remain in the same lily white hands, which won't help either.)

    • An experience which is bothering me more and more is listening to black commentators matter-of-factly stating that black South Africans must eventually dominate business, because of the demographics of our population. There is a culture of entitlement in these pronouncements that bugs me. If I as a white person build up a family business from scratch with years of blood and tears, am I required to simply hand over a majority stake to someone else, because of his black skin colour? Why can't a family business remain exactly that, irrespective of the family's race?
    It would be naïve to expect that after 350 years of discrimination against blacks in this country an ANC Government would not opt for fast track empowerment, as they've done. But one would hope that this will be coupled with a similarly aggressive drive to empower blacks to compete on merit, not to be mere recipients of what virtually amounts to hand-outs? I fear this has generally not been the case.

    The main failing of the ANC Government in my view has been the complete failure to deliver, or at least begin to deliver, quality education at (primary and secondary) school level. The fortunate black students that make it into universities (these days a very sizable portion of university populations) are either those who were able to get into historically white schools or the exceptional few who managed to reach the bar despite attending the average black township school (the average black township school being poor to useless).

    At present universities attain their high percentage of black students not because of population demographics naturally leading to it. Rather, it is manipulated by setting different standards for different race groups. The bottom line is, if you're white you have to outperform black students by a clear margin in order to make it to university. Worse, if you're black a mediocre school performance will often do. The reason for this is not that black kids are lazy or have a lower intellectual capacity. It is rather that Government fails them - mostly in the poor execution of education policy -; school principals who are either unable to manage or don't care fail them; and ill qualified, poorly motivated and often totally uncommitted teachers fail them.

    The baggage of school boycotts in the Apartheid era is also haunting us today. I'm amazed at how (black) school children still feature as cannon fodder in political struggles. Whether it be protests against poor service delivery by municipalities, provincial demarcation disputes or micro issues with particular education representatives the fact is that school children should be in classrooms being equipped for their futures - not out on the streets protesting. Parents and community leaders should ensure that children don't get dragged into these matters.

    Yet, businesses are pressed continuously to promote black employees, often in preference of better qualified and experienced white co-workers. How can this be, if black schools are continuously allowed to sink further and further into the gutter? It all smacks of political expediency rather than a true commitment to empowering black South Africans. If you're serious about 'BEE' you need to empower black South Africans, first and foremost through dramatically improved school education, to compete.

    The litmus test for BEE lies in abolishing affirmative action and then seeing whether you're doing enough for black school education to enable black children to naturally progress in big numbers into university and careers beyond. Blacks have the ability, as do any other race, to compete. They should be allowed to do so!

    I didn't really have the stomach to wander into the above topic, but a talk by Moeletsi Mbeki (the brother of our infamous President...) got me fired up. While I've read about some of M Mbeki's opinions lately, I'm not able to vouch for his general positions, as they are mostly unknown to me. However, on this issue I think he's spot on. We need more (black) commentators who come out and address this important issue. I'm just hoping that enough do so to bring real change in BEE policies before my eldest child, born a decade after 1994 'democratic revolution', matriculates in about 2023... I'm not too hopeful though.

    Below follows a report on Moeletsi Mbeki's talk as featured on

    'BEE no solution to poverty'
    Johannesburg - Wealth redistribution is no solution to poverty, political analyst Moeletsi Mbeki told a conference on the world economy in Johannesburg on Tuesday.

    "Redistribution can actually accentuate poverty and create social conflict," he said.

    "I was one of the first to oppose Black Economic Empowerment (BEE), because if they're going to redistribute wealth, who is going to get what? Where are you going to get that wealth from?"

    Broad Based BEE had only benefited top ANC leaders, Mbeki said.

    "It benefits the people in power, but what about the poor? BEE is more of a problem than a solution."

    He suggested that the government look at wealth creation rather than "fight the ghosts of the past. The ANC expends a lot of energy with BEE in an attempt to correct the past".

    The only way to go bridge the gap between rich and poor was to sort out the education system and concentrate more on the development of small and medium businesses.

    "BEE stops black from becoming entrepreneurs," Mbeki said.

    "Black people are not necessarily against capitalism," he said, adding that it was only the model of capitalism that the apartheid National Party had promoted that blacks did not like.

    He was however unsure if the ANC could market capitalism to the electorate.

    "The ANC leaders are afraid of the unions - groups like Cosatu and the SACP - they think these groups deliver a huge constituency but they don't."

    He said that the ANC had been "very good" at establishing a political system and the Constitution, but had not done well in economics.

    "I never expected them to because they have never run a business."

    He said that at least he and his brother, President Thabo Mbeki, had worked in the family's spaza shop as children.

    "But when my brother gets kicked out as head of government, you won't have anyone there who has actually managed even a spaza shop."

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    A Monday morning Zim headache

    Oh my, oh my, oh my... Just when you think things in Zimbabwe can't possibly turn out any worse. they do.

    Morgan Tsvangirai, is this the last we're going to see of him?I caught the news of MDC opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai's withdrawal from the Zimbabwe presidential race on my cell last night. How depressing, utterly depressing. Apparently the MDC is keeping open a back door - but I can't see anything happening that will allow them to use it. I don't believe this is brinkmanship, this is simply the end of the road.

    While I understand the MDC's utter desperateness, considering the 'orgy of violence' (to quote Tsvangirai) that has been unleashed against them, I cannot help but think that withdrawing is a huge mistake. What about the scores of MDC activists and regular supporters who paid with their lives in the recent past, hoping that this was the death throes of the Mugabe regime? Were their deaths in vain? Why pull out now, less than a week before the runoff? Yes, the election would not be free and fair - there's no chance of it being, considering the events of the last month and Mugabe's tyrannical history. But what does this achieve? Does it not snuff out any hope for normal Zimbabweans to get rid of the tyrant?

    This is probably it. Robert Mugabe gets a free ticket to continue his thievery and power abuse. Will the region stop him? Dream on. Oh my, oh my, how depressing, how utterly depressing...