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: