Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Mbeki got away with skipping question time and ministers routinely evaded censure

Bookmark and Share

24 Feb 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail

YOU couldn‘t make it up. Peering at the world through chic European spectacles, shod in Italian shoes, chauffeured in a German car and the beneficiary of R25-million from a US-listed mining house, National Assembly Speaker Baleka Mbete assailed Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema — and for even worse than being a “cockroach”.

According to a report of her speech in North West last weekend, Mbete — the person mandated by the constitution to ensure his parliamentary rights — said proud anti-imperialist Malema was actually “working with some Western countries in their quest to take over South Africa”.

Malema, who sports an überexpensive Swiss Breitling watch and is hoofed in Gucci loafers, repaid this rhetoric in similarly debased currency in parliament on Tuesday. He accused President Jacob Zuma of referring a bill back to parliament because of pressure from Western companies.

Mbete‘s subsequent and welcome apology for her attack on Malema simply underpins the incompatibility of being, simultaneously, a top gun in the ANC leadership and the presumed protector of members‘ interests, including those in the opposition.

Thabo Mbeki
But in the midst of this inflammation of hypocrisy and rhetoric, spare a thought for the institution that these two polarising figures — and one-time allies — represent.

Before interrogating their roles in debasing parliament, we should in fact thank Malema and Mbete for highlighting two fundamental trends.

 Malema, more than any individual in the past dozen or more years, has reinvented parliament as the centre of the national discourse and attention. Mbete, in turn, has made blatant that which, before last Thursday‘s night of national shame, was done through back-door manoeuvring.

Certain signposts on parliament‘s downward road are illuminating.

First, under Thabo Mbeki the national legislature became, as I once described it, a “forum for non-debates and non-accountability”.

Mbeki got away with skipping question time and ministers routinely evaded censure for not answering questions because the executive amassed power outside of parliament and the opposition regarded itself as bound by the rules of the institution.

Respect for the office of the president was then absolute, and even I, the leader of the opposition to his administration, would stand up before and after Mbeki‘s speeches. He was the fortunate beneficiary of the mantle of his sainted predecessor, Nelson Mandela.

Also, despite his prickly personality, evasion of accountability, inflicting ruinous HIV/Aids policies on his people and green-lighting stolen elections in Zimbabwe, there was no stain on his personal conduct in matters of state.

Mbeki also helped to create, and presided over, a growing economy. Critical elements of civil society, from the press to the business community, therefore simply averted their gaze from the predations under way in parliament.

But it was during these post-Mandela years that parliament‘s rot began. Perhaps the greatest white-anting of the institution was hobbling parliament‘s quest to investigate the arms deal. In late 2001, the executive rewrote the damaging conclusions of the joint investigative task team into the affair, in the hand of the president‘s parliamentary enforcer, Essop Pahad.

This lessened its damning conclusions and protected the cabinet. But it damaged parliament. The infamous arms deal — the hard case that settled into bad parliamentary and political precedent — first detonated most of the institutional damage made plain in more recent times.

The first person who was convicted of corruption in this saga was Schabir Shaik, whose acts of corruption deeply implicated Mbeki‘s successor, Zuma. Zuma‘s escape from the coils of his own corruption charges, which haunt his presidency, hobbled parliament long before he assumed the highest office.

The 2001 strong-arming of parliamentary processes to protect the executive occurred, ironically, under the speakership of Dr Frene Ginwala. She otherwise provided a form of independence from the encroachment of the ruling party on the rights of opposition members and had, in the main, some regard for the rights and privileges of the institution over which she presided.

But even her impartiality and independence — rickety though they proved at that defining moment — were too much for the rampant presidency. After Mbeki‘s emphatic re-election in 2004, she was fired as speaker. Her replacement was Mbete, in her first of two terms as speaker.

By this time, the ANC no longer countenanced robust contestation by the opposition or even the occasional free-wheeling of its own members. During the Mandela era, frontline cabinet minister Joe Slovo had been able to question the necessity of the arms acquisition, and free-spirited ANC backbencher and singer Jennifer Ferguson could abstain on the abortion vote.

Now Mbete was joined in a quest for total control by the deeply militaristic Tony Yengeni, who was installed as the ANC‘s chief whip.

In this combination lay further seeds of decay. Question time was curtailed, follow-ups were limited and the speaker was accorded the right to “vet” questions to the president.

The speaker then defiled her office in 2006 by being at the front of the queue to wave Yengeni off to jail. He was the second political figure to be named, then convicted and imprisoned, for accepting an arms deal bribe. But the real stain on Mbete‘s office was that Yengeni had in fact been convicted of defrauding parliament, the very institution the speaker was entrusted to protect.

The next milepost on this slippery slope was “Travelgate”. In 2007, five years after the whistle was blown (and the whistle-blower victimised) 32 MPs received criminal convictions and sentences for cheating parliament, but the speaker allowed them to hold on to their parliamentary seats. The institution was now truly discredited.

Little surprise, then, that in 2007, when I vacated my parliamentary and political leadership, my successor, Helen Zille, declined to lead the main opposition party from parliament, choosing to do so from the City of Cape Town and later from the provincial legislature. Her decision both underlined and assisted the sidelining of the national legislature.

Enter Malema and the EFF, stage left, after last year‘s elections. Alongside 399 other MPs, Malema swore to uphold the rules embedded in the functioning of the legislature — but had, from day one, no intention of being bound by them.

No longer dealing with a rule-bound opposition force, the ANC realised that the old approach of back-door manoeuvring and the emollient and inclusive approach of Mbete‘s successor as speaker, Max Sisulu, would not suffice. Time to recall Mbete, now also ANC chairwoman, to fly the party flag and enforce its diktat from the speaker‘s throne.

Then the Nkandla bomb exploded. It was the gift that kept on giving to what was now, on this issue at least, a united opposition.

From his minor perch of just over 20 seats, Malema, aided by a report of the public protector, seized the moment. With just four words — “pay back the money” — he branded Zuma as an unaccountable and self-enriching politician. Untroubled by the mayhem he unleashed, Malema had captured the national spotlight.

Last Thursday night, before the state of the nation chaos unfolded before a now enthralled, possibly horrified, nation, an opposition MP asked a cabinet minister what he expected to happen. This was in the light of Malema‘s threat to demand the missing answers to the question he had attempted to ask of an unresponsive and, later, absent president.

 “Whatever else, the speech will go ahead,” was the reply given.

And so it did. But in the process the naked use of force, the illegal jamming of cellphone signals and the sight of a president suffering an acute form of political autism were made plain. The security state made its unattractive reappearance 25 years after the enforced departure of securocrat-in-chief PW Botha.

But this time the pushback was different, more diverse and much stronger.

No longer could the executive trample constitutional rights underfoot. Two court applications immediately ensued and are ongoing. The press gallery, in an unprecedented display of revulsion, rose in protest. The leader of the official opposition, Mmusi Maimane, found his true voice, perhaps for the first time.

His “a broken man presiding over a broken society” mantra was aimed at Zuma. But it probably resonates way beyond the opposition constituency.

The speaker remains in office but, even post-apology, is bereft of authority and legitimacy.

In a constitutional democracy, might does not equate with right.

Authority has to be coupled with principled persuasion.

In the debate this week, it seemed that all parties had pulled back from the brink. The presiding officers were at pains to make even-handed rulings, and Malema read out a speech of thudding dullness, but left his wrecking ball at home.

And, for the first time in many years, both the nation and the state were entirely focused on parliament. In the wreckage of recent events lie, hopefully, the seeds of renewal.

 * Leon was a member of parliament from 1989 to 2009 and leader of the official opposition from 1999 to 2007

This article first appeared in the Sunday Times


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Zuma should take this oath: 'Above all, do no harm'

Bookmark and Share

Amid the chaos of last week's state of the address, President Zuma rehashed old ideas that will do more harm than good to SA
19 Feb 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail
Look beyond, if you can, the violent distractions on display in Parliament last week. Ignore even the curious head-dress borrowed, it seems, from Hiawatha's cupboard, of Chief Mangosuthu Buthelezi. Even the laugh, or rictus, of our president will fade over time.
Drill down into the content of President Jacob Zuma's speech and you get a glimpse of the future, even though much of its language and imagery came from the past. There are parts of it which create much foreboding and which should cause as much concern about our economic prospects going forward as the din and clamour inside and outside Parliament last Thursday suggested about the failing health of our democracy.
Speaker Baleka Mbete should know that "cockroaches" are well-nigh indestructible, having been recorded as even surviving nuclear fallout. Zuma must equally know that even when regents thought they had divine gifts, King Canute could not turn back the tide. In modern economies in the tough, take-no-prisoners world in which we operate, and where real jobs are created and currencies pummelled, there is no room for wishful thinking or untested or, worse, disproved policies.
Yet buried in the text and the laundry list of measures outlined by Zuma last week we had plenty of what Gabriel García Márquez called "magical realism" on display.
Strangely, Zuma got bashed by the estimable Financial Mail when, in his charm offensive in Pretoria with journalists days before his speech, he was heard to complain that "technology was costing jobs". Never mind the fact that this is part of the parcel of blaming external conditions for the local state of our affairs; there is a profound truth in what Zuma articulated.
We live today in an "Uber on-demand economy". Harvard’s Prof Yochai Benkler described the changing world of work as follows: "They are the people formerly known as employees. In a broad range of service industries, workers who once drew a steady salary are cutting out the employer and plying their services direct to people who used to pay companies, rather than people, to meet their needs."
Or to use a well-cited example: a few years ago when Facebook (which did not exist a decade ago) bought photo-sharing site Instagram, it paid a whopping $1-billion for a company that employed only 13 people.
In the same year, Kodak, which at its height employed 145 000 people, went bankrupt. As The Economist notes, "the new economy is remarkably light on workers".
That's the scary world we live in and to which South Africa, a small economy, dependent on and buffeted by these forces, needs to accommodate itself, and not imagine Canute-like that it can reverse these tides.
But there was no following echo, or even recognition of this reality in the state of the nation speech. Indeed, the very script which Zuma and the South African delegation read with some apparent success to the World Economic Forum seems to have been discarded. In the Swiss Alps we proclaimed to investors that "South Africa was open for business", and cited the investor-certainty in the National Development Plan.
Back home, in the Sona speech, we seem to have slammed the door shut and reheated yesterday's announcement with the day-before-yesterday's ideas.
At the Mining Indaba, leading foreign investors indicated that mining companies were "sitting on their wallets" when it came to investing in our bedrock industry. Mineral Resources Minister Ngoako Ramatlhodi confessed that he had been ambushed by ministerial colleagues into reneging on a closely fought agreement with the local Chamber of Mines on the vexed issue of "gate prices" for local strategic minerals.
Instead, we are to enter the brave and state-imposed world of "development pricing". In effect it is an asset-grab, which even roused the normally shy Chamber of Mines to declare this will "break the back of the South African mining industry".
Zuma said not a word on this controversy. He spoke of mining as the "backbone of the economy" but simply ignored the fire lit by his own government to immolate it.
But he did offer further legislation to "promote worker rights" and to "regulate" the practices of "private employment agencies". All this is intended to "prevent the abuse of unsuspecting workseekers".
It will simply further remove our country from the reality of the world we are in, rather than the socialist utopia the ANC dreams to inhabit.
The speech also gave a half-nod against the madness of the tourist visa regime which threatens to choke the one growth industry which could supplant ageing and uncompetitive mining as a job-creator and nation-saver. It will be recalled that the new visa regulations were announced last year without a single study or pilot project.
Now Zuma tells us "we will prioritise a review" of them. I suppose putting the cart after the horse is better than disposing of the animal completely.
But just before this announcement, he proclaimed — without any evidence to motivate — that the government would ban foreign land ownership entirely and limit farm owners to 12 000ha. Why not 5 000 or 50 000 is not explained; nor is the likely benefit even alluded to at all. I can think of multiple harm in terms of crushing foreign investment and promoting food insecurity; these too are left unaddressed.
Presidents today, no less than divine-right kings of old can, despite their pomp, powers and privileges, in truth not do much to change the economic forces of life. But, as every good doctor knows, they should be bound by the equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath: "Above all, do no harm."
This article was first published by The Times
Follow Tony Leon on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook: facebook.com/TonyLeonSA

Monday, February 16, 2015

Not our darkest moment but an ominous forewarning

Bookmark and Share

16 Feb 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication: Business Day

Julius Malema has chosen to participate in Parliament, yet regards himself unbound by its rules and precedents, writes Tony Leon

THURSDAY night’s debacle in Parliament reminded me of a spectacularly bad football match. Instead of focusing on the man with the ball, the spectators’ attention pivots to the activities away from the centrepiece — the offside players, the deliberate fouls, the baying crowd and the biased referee.

Indeed, even before play commenced for the state of the nation address, the police water-cannoning of opposition supporters outside Parliament and arrest of an opposition MP salted the clues for what was to follow. Never mind the fist in the velvet glove, the country and the world would soon see just the unfurled fist.

Stripped of subtlety, South African Communist Party boss and Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande announced after the melee of storming policemen and injured MPs, his fist apparently hitting his palm: "We had to show them who is in charge." And so you did, Blade, so you did.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema. Picture: PETER MOGAKI

Indeed, the government’s enchantment, or the enthusiastic security cohort within it, for all things Chinese was also on display. "The great firewall of China" — historian Niall Ferguson’s slogan for the communist government’s blocking of unwanted social media — also descended briefly on Parliament.

Persons unknown — but one can hazard a guess — jammed cellphone signals out of the National Assembly. In one of the few clear goals scored by the opposition on Thursday night, and not on offer in China, Democratic Alliance chief whip John Steenhuizen invoked the constitution to persuade the speaker to restore it.

A decade or so ago, the opposition which I then led and the government of Zuma’s predecessor actually had a debate of sorts, without assistance from the police. I used the reversible raincoat rhetoric which seemed apt for such sonorous events as the state of the nation debate. "There’s nothing wrong with the nation," I declaimed. "It’s the state that’s the problem." Both before, and especially after, last Thursday both seem to be in crisis. But how deep is the crisis and what does it tell us, to borrow Will Hutton’s title of a book of his, "the state that we’re in"?

The day after the address I received a call from former newspaper editor Tim du Plessis, a thoughtful veteran of our tumultuous past 30 years of history-in-the-making. After agreeing that the last rites being read by some for our fledgling democracy were a mite premature, he reminded me of a brutal page from our recent past. It was in that most fateful of years, 1993, between the assassination of Chris Hani in April and the finalisation of the interim constitution in November. One June morning at the World Trade Centre in Kempton Park, the buffoonish but sinister Eugene Terre’Blanche and his Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) right-wing forces invaded the talks venue with an armoured car and men on horseback. The latter-day burghers succeeded in smashing part of the glazed façade of the conference centre, and, for a while, took charge as delegates scurried to safety.

Du Plessis noted that, on that afternoon, everything seemed far more at risk than it did after last Thursday night. I then remembered that my late predecessor, Zach de Beer, told our delegates’ group that he doubted "whether even the Archangel Gabriel, were he to descend among us, could reason and restore peace between the government and its right-wing foes".

In far more earthly and recent form than the archangel, the country noted the failure of Pastor Ray McCauley to repair relations between the African National Congress and the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), whose tactics bear more than a passing resemblance to the fascists of the AWB.

Of course, history now records that, as with other right-wing ruses of that time, the sound and fury and the real fear invoked by them did little to retard the momentum of the process they tried in vain to stop.

But there are other big differences between then and now, which offer a less reassuring prospect for the future. First, there is the biggest disrupter of all, Julius Malema and his EFF. Business thought leader Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School has written an entire book, The Innovator’s Dilemma, on the power of disruption. Or, how bad and cheap products can usurp long-settled brands and market leaders. One example he cites is how in the 1950s, the cheap and tinny and initially bad-quality Japanese transistor radio in short time overwhelmed the established radiograms of my grandmother’s era, which would soon disappear entirely from the shelves.

In some ways, the EFF is a classic disrupter. But unlike the AWB, Malema has chosen to participate in Parliament, yet appears to regard himself unbound by its rules, conventions and precedents. Strip away, for a moment, Zuma’s ducking and diving on the Nkandla questions and the shield offered to him by speaker Baleka Mbete and the way she puts the opposition to the sword. How should Malema’s disruptions be dealt with in a parliamentary democracy, where the rules of robust engagement are not a licence to pillage parliamentary privilege and bring down the House?

Presumably, and perhaps fatefully, the speaker and her party colleagues decided to confuse means and ends. Parliament and the people who elect it are indeed entitled to demand proper debate and not the one-trick-pony antics of serial disrupters. But when armed heavies, signal jamming and the full apparatus of the PW Botha iron fist are unleashed, then it may be said that they "destroy better than they know".

Or perhaps they — the current rulers — know only too well and simply do not care, which brings us to the second fork in the road set out at Kempton Park in 1993. Although the parliamentary building, even the Tuynhuys presidential office next door, were designed to the architectural specifications of PW Botha, the democratic furniture of our new order was cut from new and radically different cloth. We were meant, among other things, to replace the culture of authority with that of persuasion; democracy in place of brute force. Yet what was unveiled on Thursday night was far too reminiscent of the old era and seemed to bury the new.

But one group of people who have powers in the new era they never possessed in the old is the judiciary. Conspicuously, as armed police entered the chamber, Chief Justice Mogoeng Mogoeng exited it. One of the judges president present was also reported as shouting at a policeman: "If you’re armed you had better get out of here." The chastened policeman duly left. In such small events we can derive some comfort.

Perhaps even more extraordinary was the very public demand of Malema that he be treated as a liberal. He demanded of the speaker that she judge his MPs and their behaviour as "individuals and not as a collective". Hugo Chavez, his late inspiration, must be spinning in his grave.

Finally, what of the player at the centre of it all? When Zuma finally rose to speak, he faced an open goal, after so many on his side had netted own goals. Doctors are confronted with a trick question during training: "What treatment is offered by ear in an emergency?" The correct answer is, "words of comfort".

Zuma’s nation had watched the spectacle before he spoke, dismayed and appalled. He would have scored big had he even alluded to it and, as the man at the apex of our now damaged democracy, offered words of comfort, reassurance and repaired the breach. But he laughed and said not a word about it.



Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Why F W de Klerk should be honoured

Bookmark and Share

What might have happened had PW Botha not succumbed to a stroke and handed power to his successor?
4 Feb 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail

CHAOS, in local politics anyway, apparently spirals downward. Channelling their "inner EFF", ANC Cape Town city councillors last week decided to mimic their national foes by imitating the disruptive tactics of Julius Malema's opposition fighters and applying them in one of the few places where the party finds itself in opposition.

DA mayor Patricia de Lille, with a leaf from the book of parliamentary Speaker Baleka Mbete, obliged them by calling in the police to lock them out.

The clichés "when the shoe is on the other foot" and "imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" hardly seem to do justice to this latest act in the theatre of the absurd, which seems to substitute for real debate in our national melodrama.

One of the items on the council agenda that inspired the EEF-like tactics of the local ANC was the decision to rename a portion of Table Bay Boulevard in honour of former president FW de Klerk.

Strangely enough, for a party that believes the majority is always right, it opposed a decision that obtained more than 75% public support and had been endorsed by local luminaries such as Desmond Tutu.

Elsewhere in South Africa, street renaming has some ANC provenance.

Since Table Bay Boulevard is a motorway rather than a residential road, it should also be less inconvenient than matters doubtless were for, let us say, residents of Cowey Road in Durban.

They woke up one day a few years ago in the city of my birth to discover, courtesy of the local ANC council, that they now resided in "Problem Mkhize Road''. Mkhize was a big figure in the local MK structures but not perhaps a person of world renown. And, just maybe, reselling your home in a street beginning with the name "Problem'' might be, well, problematic.

No matter. The objection to De Klerk was not that he did not make history, with his epoch-changing speech in Parliament 25 years ago this week but that, for the national majority, or at least their leaders, he was on the wrong side of it.

Of course, for the majority of residents in Cape Town, De Klerk was their political leader of choice in the two elections he contested at the helm of his party.

In the first democratic poll in 1994 and the local government election which followed it in 1996, they voted in large numbers for him. So if street names, in part, should reflect the preferences of local residents, this small matter should be both uncontroversial and democratically appropriate.

But the big controversy around this was captured by ANC council leader Tony Ehrenreich, who also moonlights as Cosatu's Western Cape secretary, or perhaps the other way around. He said De Klerk was "an architect of apartheid and responsible for implementing a system that brutally oppressed the majority".

Actually, it would be more accurate to say that De Klerk's party and even his family (his uncle was the hard-line prime minister JG Strijdom) were the architects. But I quibble. The crux of the Ehrenreich objection appears in the next line: "[De Klerk] was an accident of history who just happened to be the leader of the National Party and was forced to negotiate with the ANC."

As British journalist Andrew Rawnsley wrote in another context: "That's post-hoc analysis from Professor Harry Hindsight at the Faculty of Wise After the Fact."

While South Africa seems to have many graduates from Professor Hindsight's faculty these days, it is perhaps worth reframing the question and the day on which De Klerk turned his back on 350 years of history and started a process that would see him ejected from supreme power in just four years.

Of all the "what if?" questions, let us entertain the Ehrenreich theory at its root.

What might have been or might not have happened had PW Botha not succumbed to a severe stroke the year before and reluctantly handed the reins of power to his successor, or had them forced from his hand to be perfectly accurate?

Strangely enough, one person far more significant than the latter-day re-writers of history who believed it made little difference was none other than the mighty Nelson Mandela. He once told me, to my surprise, that he "far preferred dealing with Botha than with De Klerk".

Last week, I discovered I was hardly alone in being startled by this observation.

Former British Ambassador to South Africa Robin Renwick has produced his own account of the dramatic transition from apartheid to democracy entitled Mission to South Africa — Diary of a Revolution.

In some ways the book is a mixed bag. The prose is lumpy and it doesn't drop names so much as carpet-bomb the reader with them. It also covers a lot of already very well-trodden turf.

But Renwick was certainly a star in the diplomatic firmament and, as a top-ranking ambassador, a very accurate recorder of intimate encounters with the good and the great.

He recounts, after his retirement from his post here and Mandela's election as president, that he went to visit the icon in Pretoria to discuss the trashing of De Klerk.

He writes: "Whatever [Mandela's and De Klerk's] disagreements, I reminded him he should please bear in mind that, but for De Klerk, he would not have been elected president and might still be in jail.

"Mandela characteristically informed his assistant that the 'ambassador is right' (though I had ceased to be one), adding that De Klerk had richly deserved his Nobel Peace Prize, 'for he had made peace possible'."

Case closed.



What Mandela and Mbeki can teach Zuma

Bookmark and Share

Can the president use the tricks of his predecessors to tame opposition?

2 Feb 2015 | Mpumelelo Mkhabela | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail

It is abundantly clear that President Jacob Zuma faces a tough time in parliament for the remainder of his term in office.

Opposition parties, especially the red irritants, as some governing party MPs disparagingly describe the EFF, are there to make sure he giggles as little as possible.

It is not clear though what Zuma’s strategy will be in response to the increasingly sharper arguments, finger-wagging and general rowdiness directed at him.

Zuma’s predecessors had their own strategies and personalities to contain a vocal opposition. Nelson Mandela used his aura, or what the political scientist John Kane calls “moral capital” to command respect across political parties.

Tony Leon, the ambitious leader of a tiny Democratic Party at the time, had the unpopular task of challenging Mandela on a range of policy matters. But whatever the challenge from opposition benches, Mandela had one important defence that no politician could master ... just being Mandela.

So respectful of him, MPs volunteered to reduce the number of question time sessions on account of his frailty.

The manner in which parliament interacted with him also gave the institution a huge quantum of what businessman Reuel Khoza calls the “moral quotient”.

However, even with the high moral ground on which he walked, Mandela could still feel the blows coming from the likes of Leon.

To counter this he employed appeasement and wooing tactics.

He offered Leon a cabinet post on the basis that opposition views would best be articulated within government where they stood a chance of being translated to policy.

Although the offer was packaged as a typical Mandela reconciliation move, it was carefully designed to weaken the opposition.

The IFP, the largest black opposition at the time and which had its leader enjoying the perks in government, would later learn the difficulty of singing with two voices.

Mandela’s strategy was an attempt to rid the opposition of its sharp teeth. Leon rejected the offer and went on to gain more votes for his party using all manner of divisive campaign tricks in subsequent elections.

But Mandela however succeeded in crafting a culture of mutual respect between the executive and opposition during the early years of democratic state building. 

Enter Thabo Mbeki. Except for those he co-opted into his cabinet Mbeki had a generally frosty relationship with the opposition, made worse by his views on HIV-Aids and his policy on Zimbabwe.

But it was hardly personal. Only once was an opposition member sanctioned for violating Mbeki’s privacy after Douglas Gibson visited Mbeki’s retirement home and questioned how it was funded.

Mbeki’s agenda rhetorically and in practice was to fast-track state institution building and transformation initiated under Mandela. He was attacked mainly for his policy choices and decisions.

He had a defence different from Mandela’s. His main strategy was to intellectually bludgeon the opposition. They would complain that he was very cold. They missed Mandela’s warmth. But they couldn’t take away Mbeki’s bravery and his intellect.

Quite often he would turn the sharper edge of the knife against Leon and the rest of the highly critical opposition MPs. If Mandela’s strength was his moral standing, Mbeki’s was his intellectual and scholarly approach.

Who will forget the exchange between Leon and Mbeki on the global economy? In one of the last sessions before his infamous recall, it was Mbeki who came to Speaker Baleka Mbete’s defence and not the other way around when Leon demanded answers from the president during a question session.

Leon had asked a question about the development round of trade negotiations and the implications for South Africa. It was a very technical question and Mbete felt the president would need more time to prepare to answer.

After a brief exchange between Mbete and Leon, Mbeki eventually offered to “try to answer” the question. The “try” turned out to be a long lecture on the global political economy for which he got a standing ovation. It must have been a humbling moment for Leon, who must have felt he had cornered the president.

Also in Mbeki’s arsenal of defence were MPs who ate of out of his palm. It is no secret that during Mbeki’s tenure Exclusive Books had more clients from among the parliamentary benches of the governing party.

 Despite the unbearable sycophancy Mbeki’s presidency bred — the mimicking and empty questions from ANC benches — parliament was largely in sound standing.

It was demeaning of ANC MPs to ask: “Honourable president can you reiterate what you said...” Or some question like that. 

Zuma is neither Mandela nor Mbeki. His elevation was fractious from the start when opposition MPs tried to block his election.

He was the first to draw on his party’s strength to defend him against a motion of no confidence and when he had to deal with the Nkandla scandal.

He was the first to be heckled by junior opposition MPs. How he plans to deals with these is ongoing highly personalised, though not entirely devoid of principle, attacks on him will contribute a lot to his legacy.

So far he has continued to open more avenues for opposition MPs to unleash punches on him. Can he use the tricks he deploys on state organs to tame the opposition?


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What AB and Hash teach South Africa about hope

27 Jan 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail

AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla are great examples of the rainbow dream that South Africans have been letting go of recent.

I won't offer an opinion on whether President Jacob Zuma or Zelda la Grange is right on whether South Africa's troubles began with the arrival on these shores of Jan van Riebeeck.

I also don't know the exact genealogy of the Pretoria-based De Villiers family. But I suppose that if it weren't for that consequential landing in the Cape on April 6 1652, South Africa might never have laid claim to the cricketing genius and force of nature Wanderers and the world saw last Sunday when AB de Villiers smashed his way into the history books.

There are, for once, too few superlatives to describe such an instinctively brilliant player, in any sporting realm. Dr Ali Bacher, no slouch at the crease himself and someone who knows a thing or two about high-pressure test captaincies, is not normally given to exaggeration.

His take on De Villiers scoring the fastest one-day international century hardly seems over the top, given that De Villiers scored 104 off just 31 balls, including 10 sixes. "In my opinion, AB is the most brilliant, innovative batsman the world has ever seen," Bacher enthused after watching De Villiers's demolition of the West Indian bowling at the Bullring.

With so few, if any, political role models to inspire South Africa these days, perhaps focusing on sporting heroes will lift the national spirit and light the load-shedding darkness soon to be thrust upon us, courtesy of either Eskom or apartheid, but probably not to be blamed on Van Riebeeck. He was a candles-only man.

Our great cricketing rivals, Australia, spend far more time and money incubating prodigies like De Villiers by fast-tracking them to state-funded academies and training camps at an early age.

Perhaps in the case of AB de Villiers it's just as well he was not spotted for one sport early on, because then he might never have taken up international cricket. His embarrassment of sporting riches includes junior records and national selection in practically everything else: rugby, tennis, swimming, athletics and badminton.

But the Aussies also have the order of things in life right - they revere sports stars and disparage their politicians. I witnessed this phenomenon at a Bledisloe Cup rugby test against New Zealand on a starry night in Sydney in September 2001.

One of the most successful captains of Australian rugby, John Eales, was to lead his team onto the field against New Zealand for the last time. The capacity crowd cheered him to the rafters when the stadium announcer reeled off his superb achievements.

The same disembodied voice then announced the arrival of "the prime minister of Australia, Mr John Howard". And the same capacity crowd lustily booed the man they had voted into office three times and would do so twice more.

De Villiers, of course, didn't write his name in the history books because someone appointed him to the position or because he fitted some or other sociological or demographic profile. He did it on sheer merit and the "10000 hour rule," which, journalist and researcher Malcolm Gladwell reminds us, is the backbreaking effort and temperament needed to supplement even outsized talent.

This point was underlined last year by none other than Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula. At the costly 2014 SA Sports Awards he proclaimed: "I have never made an excuse for mediocrity. I will never shy away from pulling an extravaganza to celebrate the winning spirit of South Africa."

Alas, any of his ministerial colleagues, while not shy of extravaganzas, would have a problem with Mbalula's denunciation of mediocrity.

For a range of reasons, despite their celebrity status, few sports stars - no matter where in the world - do well in politics. Temperament and money might provide some clues here. But even when they take the plunge, few succeed unreservedly. Another sporting great named De Villiers, Springbok captain Dawie, managed to lose his marginal parliamentary seat in 1981. He found another one, but his winning aura was dented. The same thing happened to British Olympic hero Sebastian Coe. His global fame was no protection against the Tony Blair electoral tide which swept him out of the once-safe Tory seat of Falmouth and Camborne in 1997.

In Pakistan, cricketing legend-turned-politician Imran Khan has tried in vain since 1996 to translate his popularity into presidential power.

One MP here who has some sporting form from way back is the president of the almost lifeless COPE, Mosiuoa Lekota. It is from his soccer-playing days that he derived his nickname, "Terror".

Whatever his failures of political leadership, he is a certifiably non-racial player and a man of unusual eloquence and thoughtful insights.

In a letter to The Times this week he borrowed the powerful imagery of the Wanderers partnership of De Villiers and his other record-breaking teammate, Hashim Amla, to revive the all-but-buried nation-building of Nelson Mandela.

"Let's set aside victimhood and build bridges," Lekota wrote. "Like Hashim Amla, we can look to compile our societal gains incrementally, or like AB de Villiers we can seek to get over the confines of racism in a hurry by hitting it out of the ground so it disappears forever."

There's another point of light which the Amla-De Villiers partnership offers to a world dimmed by the fundamentalist violence witnessed in Paris and Nigeria just days before the match.

Amla is a devout Muslim and De Villiers a practising Christian. Their partnership inspires and builds hope. Which seems a better vision to celebrate than debating Van Riebeeck.



Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Why does Africa not incur our wrath?

Bookmark and Share

Something is far from kosher in Equatorial Guinea, but the ‘moralists’ are turning a blind eye to it

20 Jan 2015 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  Rand Daily Mail

There’s a question, coupled with a riddle, designed to shake off the back-to-work blues: Which is the richest country, per head of population, in Africa? Theoretically at least, each citizen there should be more than three times richer than the average South African.

Clue: If you have not paid much attention to it before Monday this week, you should now know the country, as its city of Mongomo, home town of its president, was the site of Bafana's defeat by Algeria in the African Cup of Nations.

 Answer: Equatorial Guinea, the continent's third-largest producer of oil after Nigeria and Angola. Its population of just 650 000 people in this tiny country should enjoy a standard of living approximating that of the average citizen of Portugal, which it closely matched in terms of GDP per capita, at more than $20 000 (R232 000). South Africa's GDP per capita is just over $6 600.

The riddle: Why does 80% of Equatorial Guinea's population live in abject poverty? According to the UN, fewer than half its population has access to clean drinking water. About 15% of Equatorial Guinea's children die before reaching the age of five.

According to a recent article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal, it is "one of the deadliest places on the planet to be young".
The simple reason for the wealth gap was explained in the same article.

"Energy revenues, derived from pumping around 346 000 barrels per day, have flowed into the pockets of the country's elite, but virtually none has trickled down to the poor majority."

Of course, given the collapsing price of crude oil, the country's ruling elite might be soon be less rich than they are currently. But they've done pretty well since Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo seized power in 1979 in a bloody coup against his uncle.

Today he enjoys, along with his great riches, the awkward title of being "Africa's longest-serving dictator”.

That award, conferred on him last year by the left-leaning Guardian newspaper, jostles along with others awarded to the great man and his regime.

"Worst of the worst" was Freedom House's description of the state of the country's political and civil rights. Reporters Without Borders, which monitors the state of media freedom in the world, described Obiang as a "predator of press freedom'', and Transparency International places Equatorial Guinea in the top 12 of its list of the "most corrupt states in the world".

But if you think the father is bad, the son is apparently even worse.

Teodoro Jr, recently installed by his dad as the country's vice-president, is also a prodigious collector of real estate across the world. This includes a home, recently condemned as rat-infested, in Cape Town's Clifton Beach. But this pales in comparison to his Paris mansion, estimated to be worth more than R1.35-billion.

The headline-catcher for "Junior" was his pile in Malibu Beach, California. It was seized, along with a Gulfstream jet, Michael Jackson memorabilia and eight Ferraris by US Justice Department officials. In court papers, the prosecution averred that his riches were a consequence of corruption and were "inconsistent with his state salary of less than $100 000 per year". Last year, to settle the criminal indictment, Obiang forfeited some $34-million of these assets to the US government.

Needless to say, back here in the more modest (even Nkandla seems a shack by comparison) South Africa, there is no "boycott, disinvest and sanction" campaign against Equatorial Guinea and its ruling family. Standard Bank, the sole African sponsor of the CAF — which is highlighting this benighted country — is not having any of its branches picketed or boycotted.

No, we reserve our ire and concern for human rights for one country, and just one chain store that stocks its products: Israel and Woolworths.

Strangely enough, Obiang and his dictatorship was once described by George W Bush's Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice as "our good friend". Hardly surprising since, pre-fracking at least, most of that country's oil exports went to the US. But Bush had a more arresting phrase as the educational-reforming governor of Texas, before he became president. He said that accepting poor results in black and Latino schools was the consequence of "the soft bigotry of low expectations".

With all the current swirl and tweeting around racism, real and imagined here, one can only assume that holding Israel, for example, to the highest standard of human rights behaviour and expecting nothing of the sort in, say, Equatorial Guinea is the current and local equivalent of the soft, or loud, bigotry of low expectations. The local BDS crowd expect every human rights box to be ticked by Israel, and hold no mirror up at all to a slew of states far closer to us.

On the Woolworths issue, matters become even more interesting. It was with a sense of macabre fascination that last year we watched Cosas, going one better than the usual suspects in the anti-Israel brigades, deposit pigs' heads in the Sea Point branch of Woolworths. The basis for this act was to discomfort local Jewish shoppers using the kosher section of the store. The stand-out problem here was that there is no specific kosher section in the shop.

Yet just across the road, a gleaming new Checkers store has an aisle of kosher and Israeli products. But Checkers has been untouched by the boycott or any pigs' heads.

That's another riddle in a maze of inconsistencies in this selective targeting. Is Israel the only country worthy of protest action? And is it the fact that the chairman of Woolworths is Jewish, or is it that it is seen to be the place where the elite shop that makes it alone the target? As they say in the classics: "I think we should be told."