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...

    Wednesday, June 18, 2008

    ANC Youth League President puts his foot in it (his mouth)

    Stupid stupid speech!
    Julius Malema (The Sowetan newspaper)Julius Malema, the by now (even more) controversial ANC Youth League President, is said to be on the defence after his inciting remarks in Thaba Nchu (Free State) at a Youth Day rally. The ANC President, Jacob Zuma, was in attendance and did not use his own speech later on to rebuke the young firebrand, but rather stuck to his prepared speech and ignored Malema's inexcusable utterings.

    If you missed the news coverage on Malema's remarks, you can read about it here (The Times), but the following quote sums up the offending speech pretty well :

    “Let us make it clear now: we are prepared to die for Zuma. Not only that, we are prepared to take up arms and kill for Zuma,”

    This thoughtless inciting remark was apparently received with applause from the crowd... I don't think the above statement by Malema really requires any comment, it speaks for itself. Suffice to say that South Africa really needs better quality leaders with more common sense and respect for democracy and the rule of law.

    The journalist and the war monger
    A Times political reporter, Moipone Malefane, recorded an interview with Malema to get clarity on what he may have meant with his ill chosen rants. The audio interview follows at the end of this post. Instead of gracefully distancing him from his moment of foolishness he seems to only dive deeper into the murky waters of shallow, ideological, rhetoric. Malefane, on the other hand needs to be commended for not being thrown, but relentlessly asking piercing questions. She's clearly more of a print than broadcast journalist and is not very smooth in terms of presentation, but she zooms in mercilessly on the target!

    - exactly who does the ANCYL want to kill?
    Malefane pointedly asks him who 'they' are prepared to kill, perhaps the judiciary (in retaliation for the prosecution of Zuma on corruption charges)? Malema tries to skirt the issue vaguely stating that they (the ANCYL?) will kill those who try to undermine black majority rule. Malefane then points out that Zuma is being prosecuted under a black government. He then claims his comments is not related to the legal prosecution of Zuma but against the 'forces of darkness' who wish to portray the ANC leadership as 'the most corrupt people who will never lead any successful government' (cue Darth Vader breathing effect in the background here). Malefane: "Who are these forces?". In not answering her question Malema then uses a term that is fast becoming a pet hate of mine, claiming that he is talking about 'counter-revolutionary forces'. The latter term is becoming the preferred twin to labelling legitimate criticism of the Government or ANC as being racist.

    - are you not inciting violence?
    Interesting, in denying stoking up violence Malema employs another trick often used by politicians finding themselves in difficult corners of their own making. He starts using 'we' rather than 'I' or 'me'. Suddenly it is collective. 'No, no, we are not saying...'. Was Malema conveying official ANCYL policy, I hope not? I doubt it, although the Youth League of late is a strange animal.

    And just as I'm thinking about the above, I press the play button for the rest of the interview and Malefane zooms in again with her next question:

    - the statement that you made... ...did you canvas it within the ANC Youth League... that what the ANC Youth League believe...?
    Then Malema goes back to talking about the 'revolution' and that the ANCYL has always said that it will pay the highest price to defend it. Probably quite true in content, but he's clearly uncomfortable with the question.

    - give me an example of what would cause the Youth League to take up arms?
    Malema tries to avoid answering, he can't really... He mumbles about 'no need'.

    - but you can't put out a statement if there's no need? there a threat?
    Malema is suddenly a little lame. The bravado is somewhat deflated now. In an almost apologetic tone he tries the old line: 'There's no threat... we are just saying to you... so committed to this revolution we can even die... and kill for it (sic)'. Now he's really burying himself, he actually said there is no threat! Why the great hooha?

    - do you think your statement was responsible?
    'Yes, very responsible...'. Sure. 'It's a revolutionary statement'. Oh, off course, now it all makes sense! Thank you comrade Malema, why didn't I see that all along!

    At this point the interview meanders off into other topics. But Malefane is as sharp as before. When Malema claims they've put together a legal team that will approach the courts she wants to know if they have met with the team yet (they will be doing so on Thursday and will then announce the names). Further questions on the composition of the 'legal team' by Malefane leads to answers that leads a strong impression that the existence of such a team is somewhat questionable. The legal team will among other things try and convince the court that the case should be dropped because it may divide the country. That sounds like a strange legal argument to me, if enough people disapprove do we set aside the law for an individual?

    And then, just as one thinks Melefane is going to say 'thank you and good bye' she pitches the clincher to a worn-down Malema:

    - but Julius what happens in case this case is not dropped?
    So what does 'Julius' say. We will attack the 'forces of the dark' and kill them? No, he says: "If the case is not dropped... will go through the court, the president will appear...".

    Well done Moipone Malefane! The audio file follows below:

    Tuesday, June 17, 2008

    Anton Harber on xenophobia coverage: The Star vs. The Daily Sun

    Anton Harber, click here to visit his blogFor those readers who don't know this, Anton Harber is a former editor of the Mail & Guardian. Presently he is a professor at Wits University (Johannesburg) and directs the Journalism and Media Studies Programme.

    Harber has a very insightful blog, The Harbinger, dealing mostly with current events in relation to how different media houses and outlets approach these issues. On June 13th he posted on the contrasts in media coverage of the 'recent' xenophobic attacks in South Africa, as evident in comparing The Star and The Daily Sun's coverage. These are off course two very different publications, the former a broadsheet aimed primarily at the middle & upper classes and the latter a typical working class, sensationalist, tabloid.

    ...It is easy to say which of these newspaper treatments makes us feel better about ourselves. The Star holds out hope that those who respond to humanitiarian needs outnumber those who partook of the violence or stood aside as it happened. It is tougher to say which newspaper offers the more accurate depiction of our society. More likely, the contrast between these two highlights the different worlds occupied by South Africans of different classes, with very different understandings of what happened in those few days in May. The Star’s is the view from the suburbs, from those only indirectly affected; the Daily Sun’s is the view from the townships and often from the perpetrators themselves...

    The article makes for very interesting reading, you'll find it here.

    Thursday, June 12, 2008

    'SADC election observers should go to Zimbabwe immediately'

    Herewith, in full, a statement released on June 10 (2008) by the University of Pretoria Law Faculty's Centre for Human Rights.

    Thanks to Pierre at Constitutionally Speaking from whom I picked up the story. It is encouraging that civil society is becoming more and more vocal in South Africa.

    In all honesty, even if scores of observers are sent to Zimbabwe immediately it will be too late to provide the MDC with a reasonable chance to rally their supporters ahead of the presidential election scheduled for June 27, which is now only 15 days away. It may help to expose power abuses during the actual election and thereafter. But the bottom line is that South Africa and SADC have failed the people of Zimbabwe once again. One can only hope for a miracle come June 27...

    SADC election observers should go to Zimbabwe immediately

    Release date: 10 June 2008

    The Centre for Human Rights, at the Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria, calls on President Mwanawasa, in his capacity as Chairperson of SADC, and on President Mbeki, in his capacity as SADC mediator on Zimbabwe, to take all possible measures to ensure the immediate and extensive deployment of SADC observers in Zimbabwe.

    It is encouraging that President Mbeki has already voiced his support for the deployment of SADC observers, and that he reminded member states to make the necessary resources available for this purpose. However, these observers should not focus primarily on monitoring the polls on voting day, but should be put in place as soon as possible to cover the period leading up to the elections and a reasonable period thereafter. These observers should also be representative of SADC as a whole.

    An election is a process, consisting of three main phases: (1) the pre-election period; (2) the voting day itself; and (3) the period between voting and the release of results. If election observers focus on what happens on voting day only, the important determinants of a free and fair election prior to and after voting day would not be taken into account. At the moment, there are clear indications that the pre-election conditions are not only making a free and fair election impossible, but are skewed in favour of the candidacy of President Mugabe. Even if people are allowed to go to the polls on voting day, free and fair elections are impossible due to the harassment, arrest, detention and even disappearance of activists and leaders; restrictions on the media; and fear and intimidation of the population and non-governmental organisations.

    According to SADC’s own ‘Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections’, the SADC election observation mission should be deployed ‘at least two weeks before the voting day’ (para 4.1.10). Under the specific circumstances prevailing in Zimbabwe, the ‘normal’ period of two weeks should be increased as much as possible. It is imperative that all efforts should be made to get as many observers into place, covering as extensive an area as possible, as soon as possible. The elections, scheduled to take place on 27 June, is just 16 days away. Observers should be on the ground now, and should stay at least until election results are announced.

    Observers should insist on the full compliance with the SADC Principles and Guidelines, which includes the following:

    • The government must safeguard the human rights and adequate security of all stakeholders and parties (para 7.4; 7.5).
    • The observers must have unimpeded and unrestricted access to all polling stations and counting centres (para 7.19).

    Once deployed, SADC observers must submit regular reports, so that matters requiring urgent attention may be dealt with by the appropriate SADC organ.

    To ensure a credible election, as many observers as possible should be allowed into the country. Presidents Mwanawasa and Mbeki should insist that Zimbabwe allows other observers, in line with the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights’ ‘Resolution on the Forthcoming Run-off Election in Zimbabwe’, adopted in May at its 43rd ordinary session. In this resolution, the African Commission requests that the Zimbabwean government allows ‘both national and international election observers to observe the entire electoral process, so as to enhance the credibility of the electoral process, and acceptance of the results of the elections by all contesting parties’.

    The Centre for Human Rights further urges Presidents Mwanawasa and Mbeki to exert all possible pressure on President Mugabe to halt violence, intimidation, and selective use of to law stifle opposition, and to abide by the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections and the Zimbabwean Constitution and Electoral Act.

    For more detail, please contact: Frans Viljoen, Director of the Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria,; tel: 012 4203228; cell: 073 393 4181

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    NY Times Blogging Heads: Is Racism Over?

    I love the New York Times, although lately I've had very little time to indulge in it. On occasion I've noted a link to 'Bloggingheads', but 'till today never followed it. The Bloggingheads topic featured on the NY Times online edition today caught my attention and I took the leap. The format of Bloggingheads is mostly that of two participants, seen in a split video screen, discussing a topic via an internet video feed. It is non-moderated and free flowing.

    (The Bloggingheads video follows lower down. The video may not be visible if you're reading this post outside of my blog).

    Is Racism Over (in US Politics)?
    In this 'edition' of Bloggingheads two (black) academics discuss the Obama-Clinton primary race, which has since concluded. In one or two of the states that Hillary Clinton took, race seemingly played a decisive issue in voters' minds. Simply put white voters voted for the white candidate. Does this support the notion that racism is still very much active in American politics or is there a more complex explanation? This kind of discussion can off-course be very gloomy and dark. However, the two academics paint a very interesting and nuanced picture. One which gives hope that non-racialism may have taken a few steps forward in the States.

    Their discussion is also one which in my view looks at racism from different angles, not simply white on black. A very refreshing aspect, which is sorely lacking - although not totally absent - in South African deliberation on this very important matter. Their analysis goes where few discussions tend to, that is to a place where you also take a critical look at the validity of ideas which would normally be used to defend your own 'position'. I'm going to be keeping an eye out for these two guys, it's worth the trouble!

    By the way, the 'two guys' are John McWhorter of the Manhattan Institute and Glenn Loury of Brown University.

    Will the presidential election results reflect on racism in the US?
    If Barack Obama gets elected as the next US President there will off-course be a very strong argument that America has indeed come a very long way in how it views race. His winning of the Democratic ticket is that already, although we are dealing with the more progressive of the two dominating political parties. One can also argue that in the popular vote, i.e. even more so than in the delegate count, things turned out very evenly for the two Democrats. Thus, for argument's sake, if virtually all Republicans and independents voted for McCain and a large portion of Clinton's supports did the same Obama will end up short by a country mile. That will off-course not automatically signal racist convictions amongst voters. It may be a genuine conviction amongst voters that McCain stands for better policy and is a better leader (not my conviction). A better explanation will probably be that America is still in the hold of politics of fear. But should Obama win the presidential race, and at this stage it seems there is no reason why he couldn't, surely it has to say something about a changing America - at least in as far as racism is concerned?

    Obama on racism
    It was unavoidable that the topic of race would surface somewhere in the primary race, as it did. Obama handled the issue, I believe, with exceptional well phrased candour and grace. If you missed THE speech on racism, by Obama, during the primaries read the post I wrote on it here (YouTube video of full speech included).

    The Bloggingheads video
    The very interesting section of the McWhorter & Loury discussion (approx. 6-min) featured on the NY Times' website follows directly below (you'll need a broadband link to watch this).

    To view the full discussion, which I recommend, click here (It intro's with a bit of personal banter before diving into deep water - running time = approx. 45-min).

    Thursday, May 29, 2008

    Slideshow: Soetwater 'refugee camp' ( posted an online slideshow (with audio commentary) on their website today. It features Soetwater 'refugee camp', a tent compound set up on Kommetjie's Soetwater Recreation Area (Cape Peninsula / Greater Cape Town). The camp currently houses 3000 refugees with more arriving. Most of the services at the camp are currently being provided by volunteers, with donations from the public being the main source of supplies. This may change as reports suggest Government may be gearing up to establish official refugee camps.

    Click on the image to view the slideshow on's website.

    Govt prepares for 14 camps: South Africa: Xenophobia: News24, an online news portal in the Naspers group of companies, posted the article below an hour ago (produced by Beeld). To read it in its original context, click on the article heading below.

    This is a first for South Africa and has been called for by various groups since well before the current wave of xenophobia. In my opinion this is a major development, if it is confirmed officially off-course. I'll comment on it lower down...

    Govt prepares for 14 camps
    29/05/2008 08:24 - (SA)

    Staff Reporters, Beeld

    Cape Town - The government was to announce on Thursday that camps would be set up countrywide for the victims of xenophobic attacks.

    However, the camps would not be referred to as refugee camps because of the negative connotations of such a name worldwide.

    From what Beeld was able to gather, the Cabinet met until about 17:00 on Wednesday to discuss the proposed camps, among other things.

    This came after a meeting on Monday between President Thabo Mbeki, the Cabinet committee which was established to deal with the matter, and provincial premiers.

    Mbeki was to meet UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres in Japan on Thursday where the crisis would be discussed.

    Exact details of the plan could not be confirmed officially on Wednesday, but Beeld was able to determine the following:

  • "Shelter camps" (perhaps with a more-acceptable name) would be announced which temporarily would provide foreigners with shelter and food in the interests of their safety, health and sanitation;
  • There would be up to 14 of these camps countrywide - seven large and seven small ones;
  • Foreigners would stay in the camps "for as long as necessary" - no timeframe was given;
  • It looked as if metro councils would be approached by provinces to cordon off areas for the camps.
  • Metro councils in Gauteng and the Western Cape - where the xenophobic attacks were the most widespread - would get camps, but not the metro councils in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal;
  • The number of foreigners in the country was estimated at about 51 000 on Wednesday night, of which about 28 000 were in Gauteng and 20 000 in the Western Cape; (((I assume this refers to the number of people displaced by the xenophobic violence as there are obviously many more foreigners in the country!)))
  • It seemed as if the national government was not in favour of the UN openly helping because it considered the country to be in a position to resolve the matter itself;
  • The Ekurhuleni metro would erect tented camps on the outskirts of Springs and Germiston, and possibly in the Kempton Park area too; and
  • The greater Johannesburg city council already was working on plans for camps, together with the national and provincial government.

    At the time of going to press no comment could be obtained from the Tshwane metro council in Pretoria.

  • Years ago, as a student journalist, I was part of a church drama group that went to sing for FW & Marike de Klerk... :-). At the time he was still the president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela had been released from prison and negotiations for a new dispensation was well under way. We got to drink tea and enjoy snacks with the first couple in their official residence afterwards. A very strange experience! Being a young idealistic, aspiring, journalist I asked FW for his thoughts on the role of the media. He answered that he saw it as a necessary evil. I was slightly taken aback...

    In the years since I've used the phrase quite often myself. It comes to mind again with the above breaking news. To spell it out: Setting up refugee camps (or whatever you elect to call them) in South Africa is a necessary evil at best. It is too late to avoid it. It is not good news.

    I actually value the Government's stance up to now, i.e. that it is best for immigrants to integrate with society in general. However, it seems as if this policy was also an excuse to ignore the problem of illegal immigration. Best also not to create camps for Zimbabwe immigrants, how do you explain then some of the mind boggling claims by Thabo Mbeki that there's no crisis in Zimbabwe? For immigrants to integrate successfully into society they should have been officially recognised as immigrants or refugees. They should have been processed, i.e. given documents. This should have been done in a way that ensured local communities that foreigners living among them where there legally. And so one can go on. The list of shortcomings, policy failures, mismanagement, incompetence, corruption and neglect in regard to immigration by Government at all levels is a very very long one.

    Where to from here? I fear incredible damage has been done in the last few weeks. While the occurrence of xenophobia is not entirely new in South Africa, the scale of the the recent events is such that it complicates the issue tremendously. In an ideal world politicians would talk to the relevant local communities and lay their fears to rest so that they can welcome back immigrants and they would live together happily ever after. Dream on...

    We now have a bizarre new kind of Apartheid in South Africa. Us equals South Africans and them the 'illegal ones' or 'refugees'. In the short term pure humanitarian considerations dictate that camps be set up. But would you like to live in such a camp? Do you want your children to live in such a camp!? How much better would it be for these people to get out into society again and earn their keep through productive means. I suspect that the refugee-camps-by-another-name will also function as a first stop in the deportation chain ending somewhere north of our borders. While some of the deported will have doubts about returning to South Africa they will find exactly the same circumstances they fled in the first place - virtual dictatorship in Zimbabwe, anarchy in Somalia, etc. As before most of them will probably come back through the revolving door that is our borders. Deportation is not a viable long-term solution. They only kind of deportation that works is the kind that basically assists the limited amount of immigrants who want to return to their home countries in doing so.

    I'm very curious to see how these camps will be managed. Will the inhabitants thereof have freedom of movement in and out of the camps? Will they be documented? Will they be assisted in finding alternative housing? Will permanent structures be built in the camps? Only time will tell, but what is sure is that South Africans cannot be critical enough in following future developments around this - it goes to the core of the values entrenched in our constitution.

    Thursday, May 22, 2008

    BBC News (online) exposure for this blog - the good & 'the bad'

    I received a message from Mhambi yesterday informing me that comments by both of us on the xenophobia currently raging in parts of South Africa featured on BBC News' website. The BBC piece, headlined 'SA bloggers want end to violence', quoted from ten blogs by South Africans. Inside South Africa (Xenophobia - images of shocking hatred) and Mhambi were included in the pool.

    For a list of all the blogs, and links to all of them, go to the article and you'll find it under the heading 'Related links' in the right-hand menu (you'll need to scroll down a bit).

    I'm delighted! However, this elation is somewhat tempered and needs some qualification.

    South Africa's "bad publicity"
    Most people with any knowledge of public relations or journalism will be able to quote the mantra: "There's no such thing as bad publicity". While this is undoubtedly true in most respects, it certainly does not mean that anyone would crave such 'bad publicity'. In this particular case it saddens me that South Africa is, deservedly, getting a lot of bad publicity. While it is vital that the current events, and its underlying causes, get exposed and debated it is also true that it will result in lost investment and economic damage - in short diminished trust in South Africa. Yes, it may be a wake up call for Government and the ANC which may lead to concerted efforts to solve various pressing socio-economic and human rights issues. But should those gains materialise it comes at a cost. How much better would it have been if these issues received priority before this all blew up in our faces?

    Article not that good
    The second reason for my tempered enthusiasm at being included in the article is quite strange, considering what an impressive news organisation the BBC boasts. To be frank, I didn't find the quality of the particular article that good...

    BBC's human angle
    But let me rather focus on the good for a moment! I love the fact that the BBC goes to great lengths to get the human angle on stories in addition to their more 'hard-news', removed, 'objective', political and analytic reporting. Their stories very often end with an invite to people affected by a specific news story to relate their own experience of events. In the case of their coverage of the xenophobia incidents the standard invite resulted in a very insightful piece 'S African violence: Your stories'. A dimension of reality is added to a story when someone relates, in first person narrative, how a mob knocked on his door and the frantic scramble to get out of harm's way. It is because I appreciate that kind of angle that I included the aforementioned link in my post that was thereafter featured by the BBC.

    BBC's sampling of bloggers' comments
    Sampling bloggers' comments is another way to relate a more 'localised' and 'local' angle on a story. The strategy definitely has value. I put the two words in inverted commas because many of the writers are quite far removed from events. The 'local' or 'localised' element to sampling their views lies in their nationality (South African in this case), rather than their location. While nine of the bloggers seem to live in South Africa -it's difficult to be sure- I suspect that none of them has been affected directly by the violence at the time they posted their opinions (one is actually of English nationality, but living in Cape Town - as pointed out in the article). I believe, for instance, that none of them actually saw burning barricades, mobs roaming the streets and so on. That is, all of them provided opinions based on what they saw or read in the media (no different from anyone else). Furthermore labelling their opinions as representing 'local' opinion is obviously dangerous - as a sample of ten is by no means representative. But it is quite clear that they do indeed represent different 'local' schools of thought and as such relating their opinions have value.

    Poor selection of blogs?
    So where's the 'bad' in all of this? I'm disappointed with the quality of the BBC's selection (read 'the BBC employee's' / 'journalist's '...). Some of the blogs, such as 'Mhambi', 'Reggie' and 'In the news' seem to be of a good to excellent quality. However, a mere casual check of quality should, in my mind, have disqualified more than one of the selected blogs from inclusion in the article. I'm thinking of 'South Africa Sucks' and 'I love South Africa... but I hate my Government'. Both of these blogs feature explicit racism and clearly operate at the level of highly prejudiced propaganda.

    I'm all for freedom of speech, in fact I'm passionate about it. But surely, when one seeks comments on developments in a country you look for people who at least represent a somewhat critical analysis of events? None of the ten blogs included in the article where dismissive of the extremely negative turn of events - rightly so. Thus I'm not arguing that the BBC should have looked for bloggers who sing the government's praises. In fact I don't believe any of the included blogs do that. However, the two mentioned blogs interpret virtually anything that happens in the country through thick racist lenses. As such any new development is not analysed or explained on merit and within a complex context. It is simply rolled out as 'evidence' to support a preconceived notion that 'everything is going down the drain in South Africa' because 'they (blacks) can only mess things up'.

    To drive my point home, surely the BBC would not include 'The UK Sucks' or 'Keep the UK white' (fictional blog names) when sampling English bloggers' opinions on developments in the UK? Unless they're doing an expose on supremacist groups or the like, that is. At the very least they will probably qualify that these (fictionary) blogs represent an ultra-conservative viewpoint?

    While the excerpts from the two blogs pointed out by me on their own don't necessarily relay overtly the racism prevalent on the blogs, they do include questionable statements. For example a quote in the BBC's article, attributed to Doberman on 'I luv South Africa... but I Hate my Government', reads:

    "...for allowing millions of foreigners to invade our country illegally, to steal jobs, resources, to commit crime...".

    I can't help but think that the mobs who are engaging in the sickening xenophobic violence will love this quote... It smacks of the prejudice that seems to be driving them. Note the use of the words 'invade' (not flee from economic hardship or oppressive governments), 'steal jobs' (sure) and 'commit crime'. Are we to believe that in our overflowing prisons foreigners vastly outnumber South Africans? Get real! I don't think this kind of rubbish should feature on a reputable news service's site, unless meant to illustrate prejudice.

    On balance, the misgivings expressed above doesn't change the fact that I'm chuffed at the inclusion of this blog in the BBC's article. I'm thrilled! Hopefully, if in future the BBC is more circumspect about who's ramblings they quote this blog will still make the grade...