Monday, April 30, 2007

The Sowetan's (bad) dream

In 1963 Martin Luther King gave his famous 'I have a dream' speech, a stirring vision of a day when freedom and liberation would reign in the then segregated United States.

With the celebration of Freedom Day in South Africa on April 27, The Sowetan, a newspaper mainly serving readers from Soweto, launched an ad campaign borrowing from King's speech. However, it deliberately twists the message into one of despair and black (no pun intended...) humor. Thus instead of dreaming of a day of freedom and liberation, it instead 'dreams' of dark days of murder, rape, racial injustice, crime and grime. The narrator in the ad uses the sermon-like style of Martin Luther King, with a hint of an American accent, but the dialogue and accent remains clearly recognizable as South-African. The punch line challenges the listener with a question:

"What have you done with your freedom South Africa? Don't let it go to waste. Cherish it"

Calling the ad brilliant is perhaps over the top. It's not the most original idea ever 'dreamt' up. But it is brave, a quality that one would like to associate with our news media.

So when the SABC banned the ad it just added to a growing discomfort with the public (state?) broadcaster. Surely the powers that be at the SABC have the brains and insight to understand that the Sowetan's ad does not amount to hate speech (as it implied)? What is the SABC doing to our freedom in South Africa? It seems more and more that for the SABC our freedom does not include the free flow of information?

Oh no, our big broadcasting brother will protect us against unsavory information. It is our good fortune that the SABC has a strong ideological base. It will protect all of us, who are not mature enough to do so for ourselves, against the bad bad bad (anti-revolutionary) ideas out there. Heil the SABC! Heil the ANC! Heil Mbeki! HEIL SNUKI*!

*Ok, I know Snuki wasn't necessarily involved this time round, but heil Snuki anyway...

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Am I in fact FEmale?

Last time I checked I was male, but the Gender Genie seems to think otherwise... I read about the Genie on Pierre de Vos' blog and in a moment of triviality decided to give it a try. First I submitted the text from my most recent post on this blog. The Genie pronounced me to be 'female', but it did indicate that the submitted text fell short of the ideal 500+ word count. I breathed a sigh of relief and promptly copied a longer piece of text (833 words) from a previous post on this blog. Oh dear, I'm still female! Should I be worried?

My female score = 1383 and male score = 1197. My, my...

To white or not to white, whitey?

There are many issues in contemporary South Africa that are discussed, pondered, thought and fought about. As always the topics most heatedly debated are the negative ones - crime & corruption, aids, etc. For white South Africans an issue that is rarely spoken about by name, but which often lurks underneath the surface of discussions by another name, is identity. Being white and living in Africa can cause a bit of an identity crisis. Am I 'European', 'western', 'African', etc.? I do have some strong opinions in this regards, but won't touch on those in this post.

I noticed an opinion piece by Marianne Thamm on News.24 today, dealing with one aspect of the identity issue. My wife buys the Fair Lady from time to time and Marianne has a regular column in the Magazine. Whenever the Fair Lady makes its appearance in our house, I always page to her column first. She is an extremely sharp thinker and excellent writer. Her columns dealing with contemporary matters is always worth a read. She has a way of slaughtering holy cows with wit and sarcasm. I have seldom found myself differing from her opinions and when I did it was with some discomfort... may she be onto something here?

The News.24 column, it may have been published elsewhere first, is titled White Like Me. The title alone may be interpreted as a form of sarcastic social commentary. Black Like Me is a range of beauty care products launched in the 80's (I believe). Back then it was a statement in itself, proudly proclaiming that 'black is beautiful' in a time that Apartheid (white supremacy) was the order of the day. Sarcastically stating 'White Like Me' in present day South Africa packs quite a punch. What does it mean to be 'white like me', should it mean something?

That it is in fact an emotive issue is clear in the amount of comments the relatively short column drew. It represents a small sample of the way in which the identity question is dealt with in the larger (white) society. Read Thamm's article and contribute your 2-cent's worth if you feel like it.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Questions we must start asking to bring SA back from the brink"

A friend's blog, mhambi, mentioned an excellent article recently published in Business Day, 15 March 2007. Mhambi also posts a satirical take on the ANC's logo, have a look - it's really good.

In the article, titled rather ominously "Questions we must start asking to bring SA back from the brink", Xolela Mangcu provides a well reasoned and researched summary of how South Africa's present and past politics may be analyzed. Using a thorough intellectual approach he quotes from socio-political-philosophical works to raise interesting angles on the subject. Mangcu is executive chairman of the Platform for Public Deliberation, and a visiting scholar at the Public Intellectual Life Project at Wits University.

He quotes
Alain Badiou:

"Badiou explains why political parties betray their people by first asking the question that has preoccupied many of us over the past few years: “We must ask the question that, without a doubt, constitutes the great enigma of the century. Why do the most heroic popular uprisings, the most persistent wars of liberation, the most indisputable mobilisations in the name of justice and liberty end in opaque statist constructions, wherein none of the factors that gave meaning and possibility to their historical genesis is decipherable?”

His answer is what he calls “political unbinding”. He says that political representation is a fiction through which politicians pretend to represent the interests of others."

Granted, Badiou's take is rather pessimistic. However, in South Africa we're still suffering a little from the so-called 'honeymoon syndrome'. That is there's still a lingering euphoria about our emergence from Apartheid, making criticism -especially stinging criticism- of the government seem a bit like treason. In the mean while the door is left open for corruption. Mangcu points out that Jean Francois Bayart & Co. refers to corruption as “the privatisation of public resources”. This reminds me of a recent article, mentioned in this blog, in the Financial Mail under the heading "ANC's soul for sale". What the latter article describes, a network of patronage on all levels of government, can very well be referred to as "the privatisation of public resources".

Mangcu also decries the government's stance on Zimbabwe, in which it acts very much in line with Badiou's perplexing question above. Pitched in our contemporary context Badiou could very well have asked how on earth the ANC, that fought (in effect) for human rights for all South Africa's citizens, can be so tame in it's response to Zimbabwe's
atrocious treatment (including torture) of the political opposition? I touched on this in a recent post - "Robert Mugabe - credible partner for quiet diplomacy?".

My only criticism on Mangcu's article is that I would have loved a few more pages of it, it's way too short! If I get the time I'm going to dig around and see if some of his academic papers are available online. It should make for very interesting reading (click on this post's heading to read his article).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

6x6=36 as demonstrated by Gibbs

The Cricket World Cup has started well for South Africa. We didn't impress much in the warm-up games but in our first official game the sparks flew. As far as South Africa's performance was concerned the match was an impressive affair with various individual's contributions worth noting. However, Herschelle Gibbs' six consecutive sixes in one over (six balls) was out of this world. He went from 32 at the start of the over to 68 at the end. Sure, the Netherlands is a minor force in world cricket and the field was relatively small. But six sixes in a row remains an incredible feat. While it is not impossible, I'd like to see any other batsman repeat that. If you haven't seen that incredible six shots, have a look below...

South Africa has been a strong contender leading up to world cups since our re-admission in 1992, after isolation brought about by Apartheid. Since that very first world cup we've been disappointed more times than I care to remember. Despite all this 2007 may just be the year. Yes, we've fizzled out many times before - but South Africans are die-hards. We will get there and this may very well be the year.

Just to emphasize why South Africa should never be underestimated I went on a nostalgic trip and unearthed two more gems from YouTube. The first is Jonty Rhodes' explosion onto the world stage in the 1992 World Cup and the second a snippet from South Africa's incredible feet in scoring 438/9 to eclipse Australia's world record score (they batted first) of 434/4 set just hours before (merely a year ago). That's a total of 872 runs in a single one day game. The video's quality is not great but it does capture the incredible tension towards the end of the game. My brother who very rarely attends games was in the stands at the invitation of a supplier at work. I'll be forever jealous of him for having missed out being there to witness that bit of history. The video starts of with Telemachus getting dismissed with the score at 423. All-rounder Andrew Hall is in the middle but the former's dismissal means that we've virtually run out of batsmen. Boucher walks onto the pitch, the perfect guy in this situation. But if another wicket falls only Ntini is left to bat, an incredible bowler but a true fast-bowler-batsman...

For more on the Wanderers game go to Wikipedia.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Robert Mugabe - credible partner for quiet diplomacy?

South African and global media carried some horrible headlines in relation to Zimbabwe over the last 24-hours. Rumours that the Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and other leaders in the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has not only been detained during a protest meeting but also assaulted and tortured was bad enough. The brute reality of a headline that appeared earlier this morning, "Tsvangirai 'has cracked skull, in ICU'", is nauseating.

Zimbabwe is one of South Africa's neighbours to the north, but it could barely feel farther removed from our everyday reality. To be sure, we have some very serious challenges on our side of the 'fence'. However, democracy is firmly entrenched. Amongst other things we're a constitutional state where the constitution -as protected and interpreted by the Constitutional Court- is the highest authority in the land. While the government's often visible irritation with the news media is somewhat worrying, freedom of speech and the free flow of information is constitutionally guaranteed. We can struggle with real problems within the framework of a democracy.

In contrast it has long seemed that Zimbabwe is a democracy only in name. It goes through the motions of democratic processes, elections and the like - but in the final analysis it has a 'president for life' and supporting institutions. The latter includes the police and army. All the ingredients of a basket case dictatorial state. When the official opposition's leader is detained AND beaten for engaging in political protest -not criminal activities- one has to shake your head in disbelief.

I have limited sympathy for the South African Government's stance on 'the Zimbabwe problem'. Yes, I agree, we can't invade the country and topple the ruling Zanu-PF by military means. For such kind of action even more gruesome transgressions need to be committed or be imminent, let's pray it doesn't come to that, and international sanction needs to be obtained through a (relatively) credible organ such as the UN. Even then the chances of lasting success, barring a real groundswell in support among the broader Zimbabwean population, is remote. Iraq is a case in point, regardless of the demographic differences (societal/economic/religious).

If you can't go the military route, which should always be the absolute last option -to be avoided at all cost-, the only option left is resorting to various diplomatic strategies. Logic dictates that diplomacy that relies on incentives and support rather than threats should in the long term lead to the most sustainable results. Ridiculing the target of your diplomatic efforts can at best only lead to limited concessions, grudgingly conceded. If you can somehow manage to have the illusion of 'working with' the other party and actually achieve results, all should be well.

All of the above make sense and could be used in support of the South African Government's preference for 'quiet' (read non-offending) diplomacy. Also keep in mind that South Africa's ruling ANC was supported by Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF during the former (then) liberation movement's long and arduous struggle against Apartheid and quiet diplomacy makes all the more sense.

But what if, after years of quiet diplomacy and various broken promises, you do not achieve meaningful results? What if, in your effort not to offend or ridicule your target for diplomacy, you end up being ridiculed as your well meant efforts are repeatedly nullified by new power abuses in Zimbabwe? What if your international credibility starts suffering from your negotiating partner's flabbergasting actions? What if the leader of the official opposition of that country is beaten up by Zimbabwean Police to the point of suffering a cracked skull? What if your negotiating partner, Robert Mugabe, is an 83-year old despot who seems incapable of changing his ways?

Sure, military action is still not an option. How about much harsher public rebukes? How about non-military options, e.g. freezing bank accounts, demanding time lines for reforms, sanctions against members of the oppressive government, material support for the opposition?

Moving to all of these immediately will off-course be foolish. Shutting the door on Zimbabwe won't help anyone. But perhaps a public rebuke and an insinuation that action may follow on words is at the order of the day? I think such a rebuke could be delivered by our ambassador on the front steps of the relevant hospital, after a 'courtesy' visit to Tsvangirai. If there is any Zimbabwe police around, I'm sure there will be, he may want to wear a helmet - just in case...

In my opinion, the South African Government needs to seriously consider whether its departure point for dealing with Robert Mugabe is based on respect for an admired (now corrupted) former freedom fighter or on respect for human rights and democracy. If it is the former, then perpetual quiet diplomacy, 'staying the course', is indeed the best approach. If its the latter, then it is clearly time to confront the old man more decisively...

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

'From Voëlvry to De La Rey: Popular music, Afrikaner Nationalism and lost irony'

The De la Rey 'saga' (for background go here) has now reached the point where intellectuals are writing academic papers on it... Oh my! What's next?

I've expressed my irritation with the surprising momentum this whole circus is enjoying on this blog in the recent past. Yet, here I am mentioning it again. Guilty by association.

A 'draft' paper by Andries (Roof) Bezuidenhout has been published on LitNet - an Afrikaans socio-literary web space. "From Voëlvry to De La Rey: Popular music, Afrikaner Nationalism and lost irony" has apparently been presented at a seminar at the University of Pretoria's Sociology Department (Roof's alma mater). It does make for very interesting reading. For one thing I enjoy the fact that it puts the song (De la Rey) in perspective, within the context of a much larger body of work going back about two decades.

For those who followed or partook in the phenomenon that was the Voëlvry Toer and who experienced the 'alternative' Afrikaans rock scene in the early nineties, the paper will make for a nostalgic walk down memory lane. It is not intended to be nostalgic, everything but. However, it brought back good memories and a new appreciation for the substance of the movement. Bezuidenhout does dish out a fair amount of criticism regarding that particular era as well.

The more academic approach to the De la Rey saga, and placing it in a bigger context - thus removing the over emphasis placed on the song in recent times -, is a very welcome fresh breeze. I hope this is a first step towards a more considered thoughtful discussion around the underlying issues and a shift away from De la Rey...

Friday, March 02, 2007

Perlman rides off into a glorious sunset

John Perlman, in the news the last few months in connection with the SABC blacklist saga, has tipped his hat and rode off into the proverbial sunset this morning (OK, it was a bit early in the day for the sunset image...)

I must say he played out his last month or so at the SABC with admirable grace. He must have been tempted to abuse his microphone to get a stab in at the national broadcaster. Instead he stood by his principles at the beginning of the whole saga, when he must have known it could be to his own detriment. He stood up to be counted by confronting the SABC (his employer) spokesperson with the fact that he himself has been instructed to avoid a number of commentators. He managed separating personal interest from public interest.

Defending and fighting for his position in the SABC would have elicited a lot of public sympathy, but was secondary to the principle of freedom of expression and the free flow of information. Thus he has sacrificed his position for the greater good. What a pity that the giant SABC seems not to have learned anything out of the whole saga. I can understand that Perlman decided 'to hang up his mike'. He's done everything that could be expected of him in standing up to the SABC's arrogant attitude as it ignores it's duty to inform the public with balanced and critical reporting.

I had the privilege of one or two brief encounters, never in person, with John Perlman in my past position as spokesperson for the University of Pretoria. I have experienced him as a courteous, knowledgeable and fair journalist. A journalist who could be tough, but not in a rude John Robbie sort of way.

Apparently he signed of by thanking listeners 'for having him', no last-minute stings. What does he plan to do next? ( "What I am going to do this weekend is go to the Drakensberg, then I am going to go to the Pilanesberg and then I am going to go to the Kruger National Park and I am going to think very carefully about what I do next,". How come I'm jealous?

I do hope he ends up in some kind of similar role, just with a different media entity. That's probably hoping for too much. I suspect that he'll end up in the private sector. I wait in suspense. In the mean while the SABC has an excellent replacement for Perlman in the person of veteran anchor Jeremy Maggs. The latter must feel slightly ill at easy in filling the shoes of a great media personality who was basically pushed out of the SABC for doing what is right. But one can off-course not put the blame on Maggs. It lies with the higher ups at the Corporation, and a certain Mr. Zikalala.

For previous coverage in this blog on this sorry saga, go here.

For some coverage of John Perlman, the former (damn!) SABC radio anchor, and his departure have a look at:

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

'De la Rey, De la Rey' featured in Big Apple and UK

South African newspapers and blogs have been buzzing lately ad nauseum on the topic of Afrikaner identity and -nationalism (God forbid). All of this because of the incredible success of an Afrikaans rock ballad recalling the Anglo-Boer War and one General De la Rey. Personally I feel the song simply features a cool tune and catchy lyrics. All the other hocus pocus that came to the fore is in fact unrelated to the song. The latter is simply a convenient hook on which to 'hang' the more important issue.

I'll spend some time on addressing my imperfect views on Afrikaner identity soon.

For now I'm intrigued by the coverage the song has spawned. Initially within South Africa and now even globally. I picked up on a friend's blog (Mhambi) this morning that the Guardian (UK paper) covered the strange De la Rey phenomenon. On taking a peek at one of my favourite online sources, the New York Times, I was surprised to see De la Rey jumping off the 'front' page at me (online version). What the hell is going on!? Anyways, both papers deal very responsibly with the topic. Thankfully. I'm glad that global journalists, thus far, aren't predicting an up-rise by Afrikaners - a ridiculous notion.

I do believe an ongoing discussion on the identity and role of Afrikaans / Afrikaners is important. Especially in the context of the position of minorities within diverse societies. However, I think an ongoing debate on the role of the De la Rey song is ludicrous. It's a debate that ends up going in circles. I hope people will move on to a more meaningful discussion of the underlying issues.

If you somehow missed out on the De la Rey mania, I gladly include a Carte Blanche piece (source: YouTube) on the song and the hysteria around it. Amongst others, it features an old friend from my university days - Andries Bezuidenhout, better known as Roof Bezuidenhout. I very rarely get to see Andries these days, but I'm always interested to hear his views. He has played a big role in my own intellectual and political development as student. As can be expected a TV piece will always cut and edit interviews - thus resulting in excerpts which does not reflect the full complexity of arguments / views expressed in the original interview. I tried to include the actual music video as well but it would not show - I'll try and fix it when I have time...

Monday, February 05, 2007

Google Reader - quite a nifty blogaholic tool

I followed a prompt in Blogger's Dashboard (central console in Blogger for bloggers) to find out more about Google's new 'Reader'. When I read that it was a new way to view all the blogs that you subscribe to in one place I wasn't too excited. A short introductory video clip explained that the idea was to be able to read blog postings, from blogs that you subscribe to, in a similar way that you would your e-mail. That is instead of going to check on Peter, Sue and Dick's blog sites to see whether they've posted, or on each blog's newsfeed, you can slimpy open your Google Reader.

My skepticism aside, I decided to give it a try. It works pretty well. You have account folders similar to those in your favourite e-mail client, i.e. one for each of the blogs that you follow. You can also move blog folders into subdirectories. In similar fashion to an e-mail reading client a blog folder that contains a new posting will appear in bold with inverted commas showing the number of new unread postings. Thus you can pick up on new posts, literarally with a single glance The default setting is for postings within folders to be sorted from the most recent to the oldest, which makes sense to me.

You can read the full post in your Reader, which once again makes sense, or you can go to the posts' original web page with a single click. The only exception is where a blog only provides a introductory paragraph with a 'read more' link for the rest of the post. In such a case you have to read the 'more' (rest of the post) in its original location. Perhaps something to remember for bloggers who want to force readers to read posts in their original context...

Posts within a blog folder can be viewed in either 'list view' or 'expanded view'. In list view you can expand a selected post with a single click and collapse it likewise.

In keeping with the community and sharing nature of the contemporary internet, you have the ability to 'share' selected posts with friends or netizens in general. A further extension of this feature is that bloggers can create an object on their blog sites to show a pre-selected number of posts from their shared folder in their own Google Reader account. This feature being just another inovative way to emply news feeder technology. I've added such an object to the menu on this blog (see 'Favourite recent posts by others' below 'Blog archive' on the right). You don't have much control over how it is presented but can at least select font type, font colour and the number of items to show.

In certain respects Google Reader still has a 'beta' feel to it. I don't know exactly how Google classifies it's projects but the full name for the new product is "Google Reader Labs", perhaps an indication that it is still under pre-release development. I've also had a look on Google's main site under 'more' and could not find Google Reader listed there before. However, after writing this paragraph I went back to Google > more > Labs and then found Google Reader as a new project close to the top... It is indeed a pre-release product not listed in its own right in the root menu of Google/more.

I'm mostly impressed by the product, even though I do have one or two gripes with it. For one thing the 'shared items' folder and news feed is automatically sorted according to when you added an item to the shared folder, rather than the date on which the post was originally published. As you move through a favourite blog's posts, beginning with the most recent at the top you may decide to activate 'share' on some postings as you go along. However, in the shared folder the selected posts appear in the exact opposite order as per your sequence of activating share and not the publish dates of the posts. A result of this is that some of the oldest posts I decided to share are now listed in my Google Reader object in this blog, even though there are much, much, more recent ones that I would prefer to show. A visitor to your blog has the option to view all of your shared posts by clicking the 'Read more' link, once again to find the posts listed in the order that you activated share on each - not by publish date.

My other main gripe is that I do like to read posts within the context of the feel of the particular blog, i.e. with layout, colour schemes, etc. in place. In Google Reader basic formatting is retained, but everything appears against a white background and devoid of any of the other links that may appear on the post's web page (links within the post, as well as embedded objects in the post -such as video clips- are retained). I'm afraid this will probably stay as is. It will interfere with Reader's functionality to do it in any other way.

Stripping the blog of its original packaging does beg the question: "What about Google's AdSense?". One of Google's myriad of strategies to increase add revenue is by offering bloggers the option of including a Google advertisement feed, AdSense, in their blogs (rewarding such bloggers for click-throughs). These are (presently) not included in the Google Reader posts... I think the programme's approach is in line with an age old media adage, which very simply states that 'content is king'. But I suspect Google will be dishing up ads with posts in the Reader as well. Reading your favourite posts in Google's own GUI may very well be a very effective strategy to open a backdoor for the company to slip in its ad feeds with blogs which wouldn't otherwise include such feeds... Exactly the same strategy by which ads are displayed together with your friends' e-mails in Gmail. I suspect some bloggers may very well view this as an infringement on intellectual property or freedom of expression (adding to and thus possibly altering their intent with a particular posting or their blog as a whole). Once again, if Google could conquer such sentiments regarding Gmail up to now, they will surely be able to do so in this case as well.

In my opinion Google Reader is going to be one of Google's success stories. It's an innovation that can save you a hell of a lot of time. It centralises content from potentially a vast collection of different sources (news feeds / blogs). As stated above I'm sure it will also include ad feeds, thus making it a sustainable service. Give it a try and let me know what your verdict is.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Snuki rides again

In an opinion piece posted yesterday (excerpts and link below) Anton Harber addresses the newest twist in the SABC News blacklist saga on which I posted before (July & Oct 2006). The news media has reported in the last few days that John Perlman has resigned from the SABC. This morning I listened to John Perlman as he retorted to an on-air pest caller that he will indeed be leaving on March 2nd. It is a big blow to any hopes that the national broadcaster may be changing its ways in the near future. It must be said that Perlman has up to now refrained from making any statements on why he is resigning. However, the blacklist saga and the SABC's failure to act on it seems to be the obvious cause.

Anton Harber is a former editor of the excellent Mail & Guardian (South Africa) newspaper. He's a media expert of note. Anton currently serves as Professor at Wits University in Johannesburg where he directs the Journalism and Media Studies Programme. I've added his blog to my 'Other South African blogs' menu. I'm confident that his blog should make for very interesting reading, especially if you have an interest in the news media and the South African news media in particular.

Heads are rolling at the SABC … the wrong ones
January 31st, 2007

SABC chief executive Dali Mpofu said in the middle of last year’s SABC “blacklist” saga that “heads would roll” if an independent inquiry found that there had been wrongdoing...What we didn’t expect, however, was that these heads would belong to those who came out best in the inquiry report. Those found in the report to have breached the SABC charter repeatedly...still have their heads firmly attached to their shoulders...

...The most striking thing is that no-one has criticised the report...on the blacklisting affair. Nobody has given any substantial reason to question the evidence...or...conclusions.

They said Perlman had behaved professionally. They said that SABC and its representatives had been dishonest by omission in their response...They confirmed that there were indeed a number of people blocked from the airwaves...They described serious management problems in the SABC newsroom...

Mpofu was energetic in his response...In other words, he did everything except pursue the findings and recommendations of the report. And he did it with drive and passion...

The person who emerges strongest from all of this is the head of news, Dr Snuki Zikalala. He has shown twice now that he is more powerful than the CEO...Zikalala’s critics are leaving the building.

One can only look upon this with an overwhelming sense of sadness. The notion of a national broadcaster as a home for the highest quality, independent, public service journalism is being denigrated...

(Read the full piece here)

* This column first appeared in
Business Day, January 31, 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Dick Cheney meets Darth Vader

My sister, who works at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), recently told me about an excellent blog, constitutionally speaking. The guy behind it is a professor of law at UWC, Pierre de Vos. I've read a few of his posts and have found them most informative, well thought through and intellectually stimulating. His law expertise makes for intriguing angles on contemporary socio-political issues, especially from a constitutional viewpoint - from there the name of his blog, I suppose... His legal expertise, 'progressive' outlook (dangerous label...) and willingness to call a spade a spade makes his blog a must read in my opinion. I've added him to my list of 'other South African blogs' and subscribed to his news feed. Give his blog a look, I'm sure you may want to do the same...

In a rather trivial posting, relative to his average thought provoking entries, he yesterday featured a YouTube video that I found most entertaining (see below). One remark Pierre made in his latest posting does pack a lot of punch though. It deals with the fact that the political satire of the kind featured in the video below would be highly unusual in the current South African context. You may very well walk into a political minefield in South Africa if you did a similar piece of satire featuring a government minister, never mind the president or his deputy.

I have to admit that I felt uneasy at times watching the often hilarious clip. Some remnant of my Christian-nationalist upbringing protested at the fact that a vice-president could be ridiculed in this manner. My emotional gut reaction aside, I believe in the modern world of media spin by ruling parties the world over, this kind of satire may in fact be very necessary. The Apartheid Government got away with murder partly because of a blind respect for authority from Christian-nationalist supporters. Sadly the present government are often treated with kid gloves for the fear of being labeled unpatriotic, ant-revolutionary or -if you happen to be white- racist. We urgently need a mind shift in South Africa to realise that being outspoken in one's criticism of government is potentially more patriotic than keeping your mouth shut. In time the substance of your convictions will determine the value or otherwise of your utterances, not politically correct knee jerk reactions thereto.

Back to the video. To appreciate the video you need to be relatively up to date with American politics and more so regarding President Bush's neo-conservative ex-Halliburton-CEO Vice-President, Dick Cheney. If you're a bit ignorant on these matters have a look at the background below the video before watching it, without it you'll miss most of the humor.

UPDATE - OOPS - Comedy central pulled this clip from YouTube after my initial post. The content owners to Comedy Central's programming has forced YouTube through court action to remove all its content from the latter's servers. Thus, for the time being, this clip is inaccessible. I've tried unsuccessfully to locate the clip on Comedy Central's own website. Their site is terrible to navigate. I believe they actually got more exposure for their product on YouTube, granted minus the irritating ads... I'll try to sort this out soon!

Brief background on Dick Cheney
Dick Cheney, together with other hawkish neocons such as Donald Rumsfeld, was the main proponents of the 'case' to declare a pre-emptive war on Iraq. That is to attack Iraq, in the absence of an act of aggression from the later, based on their believe that it represented a 'clear and present danger' to American interests and lives - at least that is how they pitched it. Many of their non-American critics summed up their motives in one word: 'oil'. Others state that their model for spreading democracy through the barrel of a gun is naive and short sighted. Off-course conservative commentators hold a different view. As the war becomes ever more unpopular with the American public President George Bush relies heavily on his conservative deputy to talk up the 'progress' being made in the war. Cheney is the perfect candidate for this as he has no qualms in earnestly stating that the 'insurgency' is about to be defeated, while the majority of commentators believe that a de facto civil war is in fact raging out of control.

Cheney was involved in a hunting accident some time ago when he and some friends went duck hunting on one of the party's property. In what could only have been an 'honest to God' freak accident he managed to shoot his beloved friend in the face... Luckily the wound was not fatal or too damaging. However the American press had a field day after the White House Press Core did a very amateurish job of trying to keep the incident out of the national headlines. Accusations was made left and right - did the hunting party have the necessary hunting permits, did Cheney follow general hunting safety precautions, etc.

Cheney's daughter is a lesbian. Mary Cheney actively partakes in the organisation of her father's campaign work for the Republican Party leading up to elections. The Republican Party's take on homosexuality could probably be described as something between homophobia and intolerance. In the last two national election campaigns (presidential and mid-term) the status of especially homosexual unions ('same-sex marriages') was a big issue. One state in America, Massachusetts, recently started recognizing same-sex marriages. For a limited time gay couples streamed there to get legally married. The Party took a very strong view on the matter and President Bush even threatened to seek a constitutional amendment to bar the practice. I'm under the impression that for the time being same-sex marriages has been suspended in the state although I'm stand to be corrected on this. It is in this context that Cheney has been challenged on his daughter's sexual preference. The idea of challenging him on it makes my hair stand on end, as it smacks of homophobia. However in the above context, and in the absence of Cheney distancing himself from the Party line, I grudgingly concede that it probably a necessary action. John Stewart follows a very unapologetic approach to the matter and does so very effectively.

Cheney has a heart condition. Exactly what his heart ailment is I don't know. Suffice to say that it is a definite health issue. I honestly can't find a justification for satire on that specific topic. I suppose Jon Stewart has decided that anything goes...

President Bush introduced the phrase "axis of evil" in talking up war against Iraq, with Cheney's unconditional approval. Within the context of the current Administration's love affair with Christian-conservatives describing your target for occupation as 'evil' goes a long way to motivating your base for war. I suspect this is where Darth Vader enters the picture, a messenger from 'the dark side' (evil). If you're StarWars knowledge is slightly rusted, or non-existent, you can have a look at DV's bio here.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Financial Mail - (ANC's) SOUL FOR SALE

The 19 January edition of the Financial Mail had an excellent feature dealing with the corruptive influence of relations between the African National Congress (ANC) and ANC-aligned business people (see link below). I'm afraid it's just another case of 'power corrupts', in this case it deals with the power to award state / municipal contracts.

I've previously referred to the encouraging rise of a black middle class in South Africa, helped along by Black Economic Empowerment (BEE). A corner stone of the latter is affirmative action. It is a necessary evil, which if managed poorly -as it often is- allows for the appointment of unqualified and inexperienced candidates. The pressure on companies to transform in a hurry, as well as dramatic staff changes (i.t.o. racial composition) in the civil service, have led to many such poor appointments. At its worst the incredible economic upward mobility of many affirmative action candidates has led to a culture of entitlement and crass materialism.

This culture of entitlement and materialism features strongly in the article below, although not necessarily described in those terms. Too many officials at national, provincial and municipal level seem to have adopted an ideology of the maximum-accumulation-of-wealth-at-any-cost. In its eagerness to advance BEE the top brass of both the government (cabinet and parliament) and the ANC seem to be reluctant to implement aggressive counter-corruption measures. In fact, most individuals on the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC), cabinet ministers and their deputies have substantial business interests (personally or through their spouses), often in companies that deal with the state.

The article mentions instances where business people aligned to certain ANC officials have repeatedly won government contracts, with competing tender bids apparently locked out. Where municipalities have instituted 'independent' tender boards it has proven all too easy for politicians and officials to simply manipulate decisions by using proxies within those bodies.

In order to tackle our very serious crime problem in South Africa we need bold intervention on various levels. To my mind corruption in the civil service must be a top priority. Where financial benefit from political connections is not strictly illegal it should become so or be blocked by policy. However, many decision makers in government and the ANC probably has too much to lose.

One can only hope that the ANC's support base will in time become fed up with corruption and nepotism. In the long term I suspect that election shifts will be the most effective measure against corruption. That is, something similar to the recent US midterm election where voters punished the Republican Party not only for its conduct of the Iraq War, but also for corruption.

I'm not necessarily hoping that the ANC should be voted out of government, just sufficiently challenged for it to realise that it does not have carte blanche. As a government you ultimately have to answer to the citizens of your country - not your business buddies.

(Also see a recent posting by Mhambi: BAE and South African government corruption cuts deep)

Financial Mail - SOUL FOR SALE:

By Carol Paton

The African National Congress has traded ideals for influence as the party is corrupted by its members' lust for financial gain. The FM tracks the rot at the heart of SA's most powerful organisation.

It was a cool spring evening when an ambulance screeched to a halt outside the ANC's provincial office in Dutoitspan Road, Kimberley. Paramedics were rushing to the aid of the city's first citizen, mayor Patrick Lenyibi, who had been hit by flying teacups thrown during a brawl in the ANC offices. The first cup hit him on the head. The handle of a second lodged itself deep behind the ear after being smashed onto his head with greater force by a senior ANC member.

From several accounts, the fight, which took place in late 2005, was over a tender to supply coupons for pre paid electricity meters. The mayor is said to have implied that it would go to a group of ANC women, the member's mother included, who had already arranged to be trained to run the enterprise. But instead the tender was advertised, as it should have been, with conditions that cut his mother out of the running.

The blows were exchanged in the office of provincial secretary Neville Mompati, who strenuously denies that the argument was over a tender. Decisions over tenders should be made by neither the mayor nor the ANC but, according to the Municipal Finance Management Act, by officials in the city's tender committee. However, theory and practice are far apart.

Fights over who should get what contract are happening with growing frequency countrywide. It is a matter of embarrassment to the ANC, a party many members proudly think of in terms of its struggle legacy. That legacy is now being severely undermined, and the party seems paralysed.

The ANC, as the party in government, is centrally involved in dishing out tenders and contracts. The introduction of commercial interests is one factor that is undermining its proud political footing. Another is the "deployment" of ANC comrades to business.

This commercialisation has driven a profound change in the nature of the ANC. Once local ANC meetings were all about policies and strategies - the transformation of SA society according to the ideals the party championed for decades. Now these gatherings are frequently preoccupied with business opportunities and who should have access to them.

It's a transformation that wasn't expected. Rather than "transforming the state", as the party describes its goals in official rhetoric, the economy has transformed the ANC.

How did it begin? Trouble started for the ANC almost as soon as it took power, with squabbles over control of provincial structures. But it was only when politicians moved into the world of business that the competition for commercial opportunities began to dominate ANC dynamics. (For the complete article follow link above...)