Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Old-style oppression has new adversaries

Josef Stalin cynically said: “A single death is a tragedy — a million deaths is a statistic.” He prosecuted his tyranny, replete with mass murder, according to this formula.
There is some accuracy in the tyrant’s observation. Perhaps that is why one 12-year-old boy, Hector Pieterson, is the iconic embodiment of the June 16 uprising against apartheid. Although hundreds of lives were lost when the riots spread into intractable national unrest, Sam Nzima’s photograph of the shot boy being carried by his sister and a fellow student was the freeze-frame that catapulted this event into the consciousness of the world.
Two Saturdays ago in Tehran, a 26-year-old woman was shot dead by an Iranian government militiaman. The video clip of music student Neda Agha-Soltan’s dying moments captured on a cellphone was bounced across the globe by satellite and through new media such as YouTube, stamping her instantly as a symbol of the anti-government protests.
The Iranian opposition proclaimed her as a martyr for freedom in a society that, as Nazila Fathi noted in the New York Times, “is infused with the culture of martyrdom”.
Two days after her death, there were already 6860 entries for her on the Persian-language Google search engine. Perhaps the potency of the new media is revealed by the fact that Mirhossein Mousavi, the main opposition candidate in the disputed, probably rigged, presidential election in Iran, has used social network Facebook to mobilise his supporters. Twitter is another new tool of communication against the theocrats in Tehran, who base their authority on a religious tradition that is more than 13 centuries old.
The incompatibility between old-style repression and newfangled media is only one of many contradictions that the tumultuous events in Iran have highlighted.
Another is the fault line which the poll, and the protests against its outcome, revealed between the two plates of the Iranian revolution — one theocratic and the other democratic.
Most power in Iran is wielded by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and various religious bodies such as the Guardian Council.
Lesser authority lies in the hands of the democratic parliament and the popularly elected president.
Under the rule of populist conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, there was little to separate the outlook and approach of the two branches of the Iranian revolution. But reformist challenger Mousavi became a lightning conductor for the young and disaffected, especially marginalised women, who have spearheaded the protests in the firm belief that massive fraud prevented their candidate from winning.
The signs of splits and fissures, even within the previously united religious leadership, are clear, although the direction in which the 30-year old Iranian revolution will head is not. There has been a stirring of a moderate revival elsewhere in this most combustible arena of geopolitics, in Lebanon and in next-door Iraq, for example.
But, of course, the issue in Iran — and one with huge consequences for this troubled neighbourhood — is its nuclear potential.
Although Ayatollah Khamenei has the final word on nuclear and security matters, both Ahmadinejad and Mousavi, and most Iranians, apparently see the development of nuclear power as a totem of their sovereign independence. However, there is obviously a difference in approach between the president, who threatens to “remove Israel from the map of history” and announces that Iran has successfully tested a new solid-fuel missile with a range of 1900km, and a challenger who denounces his opponent’s “foreign policy adventurism”.
This then brings in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Before the Iranian election, Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, in an authoritative article, stated that Netanyahu’s actions are “shaped by a profound conviction that Israel will be in danger of extermination if Iran has nuclear weapons at its disposal”.
It also quoted a recent interview, which the prime minister gave to an American journal under the headline Netanyahu to Obama: Stop Iran or I Will.
Influential Middle East watchers in the US have suggested that Netanyahu far prefers to face the anti-Semitic Ahmadinejad, who has suggested the Holocaust was a hoax, as president than his rival.
As one of them expressed it: “Israelis believe he reflects the true and immutable character of the Iranian regime. If a moderate were to take over, it would not herald any real change in Iran or its nuclear ambitions, but simply disguise it better.”
The repression of the pro-democracy demonstrations on the streets of Tehran suggests that Netanyahu will be granted his wish in the choice of his opponent. After all, bullets are more powerful, in the short term at least, than Twitter. But, over time, the ineradicable human craving for freedom is more difficult to suppress.
We can only guess how much time will lapse between the shooting of Neda Agha-Soltan and the arrival of the freedom she now symbolises.

*Published Sunday Times 6 July 2009


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Meaning of the f-word to be a battle zone over the next year

IN A recent interview, Co-operative Governance Minister Sicelo Shiceka raised the question: “Do we need provinces?” and suggested that a definitive answer would be given by the government next March. I thought it significant that his ministry had once enjoyed the title of “constitutional and provincial affairs”. Perhaps its renaming is a harbinger of things to come.
The minister’s speculation, coupled with his demand that “nobody is expected to be out of tune” with the country and its president, brought to mind how central the provinces were to the Kempton Park negotiations, which led to the inauguration of democracy in SA, and how comprehensively the African National Congress (ANC) out-negotiated its opponents on this issue. This was due to both the balance of forces and the burden of our history.
The f-word during the negotiations was not a vulgar expletive, but the politically loaded idea of federalism. Democratic Party (DP) negotiator Colin Eglin — whose party’s central plank was the promotion of a federal dispersal of authority as an alternative to untrammelled majoritarianism — recalled how the Bantustan policy of the National Party (NP) “had given federalism a bad name”. He therefore, during negotiations, tiptoed around the topic by using code: “I tried to avoid using the word federalism in advancing my arguments, preferring to use the cumbersome but less repellent phrase, ‘constitutional decentralisation’” to advance the case for provincial powers in the new constitutional set-up .
Inkatha’s position at the negotiations was the opposite of the prevailing political wind: it wanted a federal SA to give it more power, given its lock on support in Natal. The ANC wanted a unitary state precisely to prevent that eventuality. The case, however, was never properly prosecuted since Inkatha was boycotting the negotiations in pursuance of an issue — the role and place of the k ing — which today, seems remote and obscure.
The NP, which during the negotiations still held the formal reins of power, made a confused and enfeebled fight for federalism. It understood it was likely to be knocked off its national perch of power in the elections, and reduced to a regional redoubt in the Western Cape. But its strategy was far more focused on dividing the spoils of office at a national level through power-sharing than in according the provinces significant, and original, powers. As the most reliable chronicler of the negotiations’ process, Patti Waldmeir described it: “After 45 years of ruling a highly centralised old South African state, the NP seemed to have little idea of what federalism meant, and only a weak inclination to fight for it.”
With the NP confused, Inkatha absent and the DP speaking in code, it was little wonder that the ANC prevailed. Indeed Waldmeir obtained an accurate assessment of the location of power in the new SA from a key negotiator: “Joe Slovo, speaking freely out of exhaustion and drink on the eve of the deal, insisted that the new state would be ‘not remotely a federation ... we’ve managed to give them devolution, without losing control’, he told me with considerable satisfaction.”
Slovo was to die within a year of the establishment of the new order; the NP received in Hermann Giliomee’s apt phrase a “prostitute’s funeral” after the 2004 elections; the Inkatha Freedom Party has been ousted from power in KwaZulu-Natal and the DP has morphed into the Democratic Alliance, but won control of the Western Cape .
But just how accurate and prescient Slovo’s boast has proven to be was on display in Cape Town this week. Provincial Premier Helen Zille — political boss of the only province in the hands of the opposition — was reduced to taking legal advice and writing a letter to the newspaper to explain that the Provincial Commissioner of the SAPS, Mzwandile Petros, refuses to meet with her and the provincial MEC for policing, Lennit Max. Given the agenda Zille had in mind for the meeting, including the allegation that the police had sexed-up the crime statistics in this crime-ravaged province, the commissioner’s coyness was understandable. But, of course, he is answerable and accountable to Pretoria, not Cape Town.
A glance at the exclusive powers which the constitution grants to the provinces yields a decidedly threadbare list. Schedule 5 grants it sole jurisdiction over such matters as abattoirs, ambulances, and culture and veterinary services. But in the areas of delivery, the provinces currently are the public’s interface with both hospitals and schools. Little wonder, then, that when he was minister of national education, Kader Asmal once remarked to me that, in comparison with his provincial counterparts, he felt “like a eunuch in a harem. I have the desire to act, but not the power.”
Interestingly, as the ANC moves to further centralise power, the DA is moving in the opposite direction. Its key parliamentary staff, including national strategist and MP Ryan Coetzee have taken leave of Parliament and relocated to the provincial government and the Office of the Premier.
The battle of the provinces — and the meaning and extent of the “f” word in our constitutional arrangements — is likely to be a key battleground arena over the next year. It remains to be seen whether the federalists are more successful in the next, perhaps final, round than they were at Kempton Park.

*Published Business Day 4 July 2009


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Monday, June 29, 2009

Those were the days... Scams define end of an era

The sub-prime fiasco was a pyramid scheme of its own, argues Thomas Friedman
Ronald Reagan is dead and Margaret Thatcher is a remote and, through advanced illness, a figure far removed from the world stage.
The revolution they jointly led in the ’80s of ever-advancing markets based on light regulation, easy credit, distrust of the state and unleashing of the “animal spirits” of capitalist accumulation have been discredited as the world faces the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
Perhaps it is no coincidence that the cardiac arrest suffered by world markets, including our own, since the collapse of Lehman Brothers on Wall Street last September has brought to light a series of mega-sized Ponzi schemes in the US and, more recently, in South Africa. The lure of easy, outsize pickings and staggeringly high rates of return explains the existence of pyramid schemes, such as those operated by Bernard Madoff, Allen Stanford and our own alleged Ponzi king, Barry Tannenbaum, now conveniently resident in Australia.
Ponzi schemes — named after the eponymous Italian immigrant to the US in the early 20th century who arbitraged the value of postage stamps — essentially pay back early investors with either the proceeds acquired from later investors or even with their own money. The scheme collapses and the fraud is finally revealed when people stop investing and there is no more loot to pay out the creditors. As author Michael Lewis explains, “something for nothing — it never loses its charm”.
Madoff, who apparently embezzled a staggering 50-billion from the rich and even banks and top charitable institutions, kept his operation going for over 30 years by offering consistently above-market rates of return, but not by such a wide margin as to attract either undue suspicion or to be unsustainable — until the unprecedented credit crunch last year caused a mass of withdrawals, which Madoff could not meet, since he had never invested most of the deposits originally received.
Tannenbaum, in contrast, is alleged to have lured hundreds of South African and overseas investors with the promise of a rate of return of between 90% and 200% per annum. Instead of postage stamps, his investors were invited to help buy active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs), allegedly on behalf of South African drug-makers, and then shared in the proceeds of the profits when the APIs were sold to the drug companies.
The neatness of the scheme is that it fell outside the watch of the Financial Services Board. But when one creditor sought to recoup his investment, plus interest, well, the bird had flown the coop — and the personal cheques which Tannenbaum had issued were dishonoured.
These schemes usually involve high-level fraud, including cooking the books, and financial techniques to make actual losses look like bumper profits, or simply invent non-existent investments or sales. But the detail is less significant than the result. Not only are investors — the greedy, the gullible and innocent third parties — ruined, but the system itself gets discredited.
Last December, when the Madoff scandal broke, I was living temporarily in Washington DC. Two of the city’s most thoughtful commentators saw a much wider implication for the future of free enterprise.
Anne Applebaum described how difficult it was for her to acquire an apartment in Warsaw in the early ’90s — endless form-filling, visits to notaries and the seller requiring to be paid in hard currency and in cash. She described a culture of “low trust”, in which the market and its mechanisms are treated with suspicion.
In contrast, when she bought a car in Washington, she could drive it out of the showroom simply by providing a personal cheque, without any identification. It was this “high trust” culture, which both fuelled American capitalism and allowed its dark underside, in the form of Madoff and the like, to operate. As she put it, “Madoff’s pyramid scheme may have been made possible by our tradition of trust and lawfulness. And now he will bring that tradition down.”
Thomas Friedman was more damning. He saw in Madoff a scheme only slightly more outrageous than the “legal” one Wall Street was running, fuelled by easy credit, low standards and high greed. For him, the sub-prime fiasco was a pyramid scheme of its own: “What do you call giving a worker who makes 14000 a year, a nothing-down and nothing-to-pay-for-two-years mortgage to buy a 750000 home and then bundling that mortgage with hundreds of others into bonds that Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s rate AAA — and then selling them to banks and pension funds the world over. This is what the financial industry was doing. If that isn’t a pyramid scheme, what is?”
Friedman’s fury found an answer last week, when President Barack Obama produced plans for regulatory reform, including an expanded role for government. Clearly, the era of Reagan-Thatcher has ended. The age of exuberance has yielded to an era of control. Let’s just hope that the new medicine doesn’t amount to a treatment that kills the patient.


*Published Sunday Times 28 June 2009


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State religion does not have all the answers to jobs crisis

OUR state religion appears to be the worship of the state. Heaven knows, to sustain the analogy, there now appear to be no shortage of new and unlikely adherents to this belief. Barack Obama’s administration is now effectively the controlling shareholder of General Motors and Gordon Brown’s government owns 70% of the Royal Bank of Scotland. The deep global recession has created some unlikely converts from unfettered market capitalism to more state directed economic leadership.
But, back home in SA, as I surveyed the jobs massacre contained in the figures for the first quarter released this week, which show that 179000 jobs were lost and that the “distressed labour market” could yet shed another 200000 jobs before year-end, it occurred to me that what we need now is a healthy dose of local agnosticism in order to innovate and create new work. In other words, less ideology and more realism.
Last Friday, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel appeared to make an important concession: he said that government’s policy of promoting “decent work” would not exclude “the creation of temporary, low-paid jobs in the short term”. He made the further concession that the 500000 jobs to be created under the expanded public works programme “would not, in themselves, be proper, permanent, well-paid jobs”, but they could create a bridge into the labour market.
This dose of realism seemed to be in line with the candour of Trevor Manuel , who in his previous incarnation as finance minister said, after presenting his last budget in Parliament, that the problem with “decent work” in a time of crisis was that “all jobs are hard to come by, and the more adjectives you add, the harder they will be”. Or, as the old adage expressed it, the only thing worse than being exploited is not being exploited at all.
Whether these statements represent shafts of light or a false dawn on the gloomy debate around job creation is difficult to assess. This becomes even more apparent when the assault launched by Labour Minister Membathisi Mdladlana on labour brokers and the casualisation of work is taken into account. Last month, he told the congress of the National Union of Mineworkers , “the reality is labour broking is a form of human trafficking. These companies sell the labour of workers to the highest bidder and then pay them the lowest wage ... it allows workers to be traded for profit just as if they were meat and vegetables.”
When I visited the headquarters of the largest private employment agency in SA, Adcorp , this week, I expected after the minister’s pronouncement to find a Dickensian pit of human misery. Instead, the ultramodern office block in Bryanston houses a go-ahead company where I had an interesting discussion with the splendidly named Loane Sharp, who serves as the company’s labour market analyst.
He made the point that the much-maligned labour brokers represent a R23bn industry, which since 2000 has introduced about 3,5- million temporary, part-time and contract employees into the labour force, approximately 2- million of whom are first-time jobseekers, 92% of whom are African, and 85% of whom are aged 18-35. Of even more significance was his analysis that a third of these employees secured traditional permanent jobs within a year and 47% did so within three years.
In other words, far from being reprehensible and “human traffickers”, the brokers are, in fact, SA’s principal entry point into the labour market for unemployed African youth.
Sharp’s analysis runs counter to the Congress of South African Trade Unions’ (Cosatu’s) blunt instrument: they are calling for a ban on labour broking, which could lead to the loss of, perhaps, a million jobs. The labour minister is advocating the quasi or de facto nationalisation of private employment agencies. But the agenda behind this agenda is, simply, that the bulk of these temporary or casual workers are nonunionised. They, therefore, compound Cosatu’s crisis of relevance and its shrinking membership and revenue base.
Another voice, which deserves to be heard is the estimably sensible one provided by Ann Bernstein and the Centre for Development and Enterprise/Business Leadership SA’s “5- million jobs initiative”. They offer a welter of practical initiatives to resolve the exquisite Catch 22 in which the vast pool of young, unskilled jobseekers find themselves. As Bernstein put it: “They can’t get a job because they have no work experience and they can’t get work experience because they can’t get a job”.
The most persuasive statistic the centre provides to bolster this assertion is the fact that more than 70% of 15-30 year olds who want a job have never been able to find one.
To quote the vanquished Thabo Mbeki , the crisis on the job front calls for a “business unusual” approach. And that means that adherents to the old gospel of the state religion need to listen to a few agnostic voices.

*Published 26 June 2009 in Business Day


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Monday, June 22, 2009

Goals have little to do with soccer

Before this week’s blood-curdling threats issued against me by the Justice for Hlophe Alliance force me into the obscurity of a witness-protection programme, I thought that, like the nation, now in thrall to the Confederations Cup, I’d switch attention from politics to soccer.

But I’ve discovered that there is more than a stitch or two that threads together two of our nation’s, and the world’s, favourite pastimes.
And I’ve also learnt another of the perils confronting the apprentice weekly columnist: the tyranny of the deadline. This prevents me from knowing whether yesterday’s clash between Bafana Bafana and Spain reclaimed our national honour or not.

But last Sunday’s opening between our boys and Iraq resulted in what that country’s latter-day conqueror, George W Bush, would have called an “underwhelming” performance.
We stuttered to a goalless draw, and our team ignored the advice of the Sunday Times’s soccer maven, Carlos Amato, who had warned them that nothing short of “Zen concentration” would achieve a win.
Presumably, the reason for South Africa not attaining the single-minded concentration demanded by 12th-century Japanese Buddhists was that their attention was elsewhere.

It brought to mind a withering put-down I once heard of the talented, but underperforming Pakistani cricket team: “They are more preoccupied with issues in the change room than with the state of play on the field.”
One of the change room issues apparently occupying the minds of our players was a demand for R34-million from Safa, should they win the eight-team tournament. This led sports writer Mninawa Ntloko to harrumph in Business Day that “Bafana’s shameless greed and blatant opportunism” could prove to be “the team’s undoing.”
Whether their backdown from this “ransom attempt”, or opening-night nerves, or some other malady explained our disappointing loss of mojo is not known.
But, whatever perils await the Iraqi team back home, the advantage of post-Saddam Iraq is that their soccer team does not have to reckon with Saddam Hussein’s psychopathic elder son, Uday.

Apparently, a performance not to his liking could result in torture sessions, which included “ritual head-shavings”, “punching and slapping”, “sessions of kicking a concrete ball”, and “fitness work-outs that lasted 12 hours”.
But the international spotlight now shining on South Africa for the Confederations Cup has encouraged other sectors to ventilate their demands, and use the tournament as leverage to enforce them.

This week, the beleaguered and leaderless SABC was threatened by its unions with a blackout of Confed match coverage unless pay demands in excess of 12% were met.
Quite how the national broadcaster — R800-million in the red and seeking a taxpayer-funded bailout of R2-billion — intends to even pay its proffered 8.5% increase is an accounting mystery, a little like the creative book-keeping of our newly enthroned Ponzi king, Barry Tannenbaum.
A union official put the blackmail in straightforward terms: “No agreement, no Confederations Cup. .. a complete blackout.”
Doubtless, the cash will be stumped up, and the tournament will be televised.
Another no-show at the tournament was the much-anticipated Rea Vaya, the first phase of the bus rapid transport system.
The plug was pulled due to an election promise of President Jacob Zuma. Undoubtedly, its on-time introduction during the cup would have unleashed taxi mayhem on the streets.

Whatever the merits of the so-called Bafana “mercenaries” and other bandwagon climbers, the world of soccer is actually dominated by stupendous amounts of money. Three days before the Confed kickoff, Real Madrid set a world record when it paid £80-million for Manchester United’s Portuguese winger, Cristiano Ronaldo — making Bafana’s pay claim look like peanuts.
And this signing came just days after the club had paid £58-million to acquire Kaka, now on display here for Brazil, from AC Milan.
Those two transfers approximate half of the R4-billion national sports budget of South Africa.

Interestingly, Real Madrid was described by soccer writer Simon Kuper as “a populist democracy”. Its recently returned president, Florentino Perez, was elected by the club’s 70000 members.

The club, rather like a country, has no shareholders, only members. As Kuper explained, “he bought Ronaldo to please them”.
As I was totting up the revenue figures of Real and the other nine richest soccer clubs, all European (I arrived at the total of € 2.5 -billion), I came across a report stating that the world’s leading hunger fighter, the United Nations World Food Programme, had less than € 1.1-billion in its budget, and was obliged to slash its programmes and, among other cuts, suspend food distribution to 600000 seriously hungry people in northern Uganda.
As the old banking advert used to say, “It makes you think, doesn’t it?”

*Published Sunday Times 21 June 2009


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Case for serious reflection in a dangerous season for justice

AFTER last Saturday’s M-Net-Via Africa literary prize I found myself in the unexpected position of participating in a post-award interview.
Trying to match the occasion with some book knowledge, I did no better than invoke the character of Robert Jordan in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. He spoke of things “which are worth the fighting for”.

In the dying hours of the constitutional negotiations, back in November 1993 at Kempton Park, I led the fight-back against a National Party-African National Congress deal that would have empowered the president and his cabinet to have effectively hand-picked their own Constitutional Court. The minuscule Democratic Party, sidelined on many other key issues, managed to win this battle.
My efforts to provide a Judicial Service Commission to act as a filter between the executive and appointments to the highest court in the land drew both cynicism and praise.

Both the cynicism and excessive praise were overblown. I just reckoned then, as now, that without an independent constitutional court which owed fealty to the constitution, not to the government, SA’s brave new democratic world would be stillborn.

Reading the criticism and concern which greeted the unprecedented adjournment of the first meeting of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) since the election, I thought perhaps another of Hemingway’s aphorisms applied to the body on whose establishment I had expended so much energy all those years ago. He used the phrase “beautiful fatalism” to describe people “who stay loyal to a doomed cause”. Are the causes of judicial independence, and the JSC as a vehicle to ensure it, doomed?
Certainly the JSC has been knocked all over the legal ballpark recently. It has made a meal and, the South Gauteng High Court suggests, a hash of investigating complaints of misconduct against Cape Judge President John Hlophe.
On the appointments front, new Justice Minister Jeff Radebe prevailed, on a majority vote, to postpone proceedings, in part, he said, to allow him meaningful input on the question of the transformation of the judiciary, “with regard to race and gender representivity”.

Actually, inside one of the documents that members, including Radebe, received for the meeting, was an appendix baldly entitled “Demographics”. Here, in detailed racial arithmetic, was the result of the JSC’s handiwork on the transformation front over the past 15 years. At the commencement of the new constitutional order, 97% of all judges were white men. According to the JSC document, today 54% of the country’s judiciary are black, and 27,2% are female. To widen the pool of women appointees, the JSC has inaugurated a special training programme targeting women practitioners. In terms of race, the JSC has ensured that 87% of the nominees it proposed for high court positions in the past year were black.

But such progress, impelled in part by the constitutional requirement that the judiciary “reflect broadly the racial and gender composition of SA”, is quite insufficient for the taste of the Black Lawyers Association. According to their document, which was attached in support of one of the candidates up for consideration, nothing short of full-scale proportional representation will suffice: “The judiciary, and therefore the JSC, cannot pretend that it is proper that justice should be meted out to the majority black population by a majority white judiciary, or a marginally black majority bench.”

Strangely , there was no document before the JSC that dealt with any of the violations we have witnessed over the past few months of section 165(3) of the constitution, which provides that “no person or organ of state may interfere with the functioning of the courts”. No doubt a vast file could be filled with threats made against the judiciary in recent times .

Last weekend, Democratic Alliance leader Helen Zille warned against reducing the judiciary to puppets of the ruling party. Doubtless, Radebe will have regard for this concern. He should also use the period of reflection he has arranged to consider how best to balance the sometimes competing claims of diversity and competence. Supreme Court of Appeal Judge Carole Lewis last year drew attention to inexperienced high court judges meting out “horrifying convictions and acquittals where judges had simply not understood the fundamental rules of evidence or criminal law”.
I suspect most South Africans, of all stripes, would rather appear before a judge, of any colour, who could competently apply the rule of law, without prejudice, and hold the ring for them against the mightiest forces in the land.
That is, indeed, “worth the fighting for”.

*Published 19 June in Business Day


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lesson to be learnt is that humility trumps hubris

Last week provided a study in contrasts between the use and exercise of power, at home and abroad.
In President Jacob Zuma’s rural redoubt of Nkandla, it was easy to be blind-sided by reports of black economic empowerment bling, relating to the helicopters and flashy cars that transported the ascendant elite to the head of state’s home village thanksgiving.
But Zuma’s speech was not aimed at the ostentatious. It suggested a sense of someone, who, whatever his past and future failings, remains absolutely rooted and secure in his identity and mindful of the communal ladders which lifted him to prominence.
Zuma assured his audience: “I will never forget my origins ... even as president, I will not change. I will still listen to you and do whatever you tell me to do ... Even if I live in a big house. You will tell me if I do wrong.”
Nkandla, in other words, will provide Zuma with the moral compass for his presidency.
My wife, Michal, who practises as an executive coach, drew my attention to a vast range of literature which differentiates between “external” or “hard” power and emotional intelligence, conveyed by “internal” or “soft” power. Most political leaders follow the first route, believing that the externalities of power, detached from emotion, are the ticket to leadership.
Yet, the more effective form of leadership often originates from your internal power: your own sense of identity based on the strength derived from your personal relationships and your ability to recognise, and manage, your emotions — and to empathise with others.
That’s a pretty tall order. But someone else whose soft power was on conspicuous display last week, in the cauldron of the Middle East, was US President Barack Obama. His masterful speech at Cairo University resulted in a standing ovation — no mean feat given that his immediate predecessor, George W Bush, on his last visit to the Middle East, had a pair of shoes thrown at him.
In place of the Bush rhetoric, made vivid with the formula “you’re either for us or with the terrorists”, Obama managed to draw on his own multicultural background, and his middle name “Hussein”, to navigate through the multiple minefields of Middle East politics.
The usually staid Financial Times exalted Obama for reaffirming his country’s “unbreakable” bond with Israel and for recognising the “intolerable” plight of the Palestinians. Obama “dodged the ambushes, without evading the issues”.
But it was another paragraph in the superpower leader’s speech, which caught my attention. He reached back to the words of President Thomas Jefferson: “I hope our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power, the greater it will be.”
Of course, as one critic noted, the eloquence of action is more powerful than the eloquence of rhetoric. But the speech did provide a refreshing start to what is hopefully a new chapter in US-Middle East relations.
However, across the oceans, in London, Gordon Brown’s premiership appeared to be in a political death spiral.
Last weekend, as Zuma celebrated and Obama basked in his warm Egyptian reception, Brown faced up to the loss of six senior cabinet colleagues, and the slump of the governing Labour Party to third place in the European elections.
Compounding Brown’s misfortunes was the leaking, last weekend, of e-mails penned 18 months ago by the past master of the dark arts of political intrigue, Lord Peter Mandelson. In the hasty reshuffle of the cabinet, he effectively became Brown’s deputy prime minister.
Yet, when marooned behind the front line of British politics, Mandelson had cast doubts on his leader’s mental hygiene, describing him as “insecure”, “complex”, “self-conscious” and “angry”.
In Mandelson’s view, Brown “tries too hard to be a normal person”. But perhaps Brown is onto something.
Former British politician, and one-time neurological registrar, David Owen, has diagnosed a condition to which too many political leaders are prone.
In a recent book The Hubris of Power, he suggests — drawing on his observations of Bush and Blair, and framing them around the invasion of Iraq — that something happens to the mental stability of some leaders while in power.
He suggests that hubristic behaviour is an occupational hazard of high office. Exacerbated by isolation and deference, it can lead to patterns of reckless behaviour, bad judgment calls and a tendency to see the world as an arena in which the leader can exercise power, based on “a delusional sense of personal infallibility and divine exemption from political accountability.”
Let’s hope, for our sake (and the world’s), that Zuma and Obama remain grounded.
They could do worse than to follow, with the necessary updates, the Roman example.
Wise emperors apparently placed a slave behind them on their chariots. His purpose was to whisper: “Remember, you are only human.”

*Published in Sunday Times 14 June 2009

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Circling back to Tiananmen Square in a failing western light

A VOGUE word now in play is “decoupling”. It is shorthand for the view that China, and other emerging markets, will be the economic locomotives to pull the world through the global economic recession — the worst on record since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The markets certainly reflect this sentiment: last month, for example the FTSE emerging markets index outperformed the developed markets index by 48,8%. Hard statistics support the disposition of the bourses. For example, China’s aggressive domestic stimulus saw its purchasing managers index surge above 50 , suggesting that almost alone, of the significant economies, it was enjoying growth while the world, especially the west, contracts. The equivalent index in the US measured 42,8 , while SA posted just 37,3 . Little wonder Goldman Sachs is predicting more than 8% gross domestic product (GDP) growth for China. Its extraordinarily low levels of household spending (less than 33% of GDP, about half SA’s, and a third of the US ), and its accumulation of more than 200bn in foreign reserves, suggest it has room for manoeuvre and expansion, denied to the overborrowed, underperforming developed economies.
Last week saw another instance of decoupling. Last Saturday, the Allied leaders of the US, Britain, France and Russia gathered in Normandy to mark the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings in nearby Colville-Sur-Mer. History records this event as the decisive moment of Europe’s liberation from the Nazis. Two days before that, last Thursday, another anniversary was commemorated, or more accurately smothered at the site of its occurrence, the marking of 20 years since the Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing.
While the events and outcome of the Second World War are beyond contestation, the import and consequence of Tiananmen Square remain contested. No figures have ever been released of the number of protesters shot and killed by Chinese soldiers on June 4 1989 — the figures range from hundreds to over 2500. In any event, the square itself was closed last Thursday — and Chinese officials erected what one wag called “the Great Firewall of China”, blocking internet sites, the BBC, and even the anodyne CNN, alongside Twitter, from informing the Chinese of the epic events of two decades ago, when student protestors confronted the fist of Chinese authoritarianism.
However, decoupling applies within China as well: the enclave of Hong Kong, which under its basic law enjoys civil liberties denied to the mainland, allowed hundreds of thousands of protesters to hold a candlelit vigil.
But 1989, the year of Tiananmen Square, was reckoned at the time to be a unique moment, the arrival of unipolarity, not decoupling. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of the Cold War and, here at home, the ascendancy of FW de Klerk and his reform agenda were famously — or fatuously — described by Francis Fukuyama as “the end of history”. The liberal, or Washington, economic and political consensus appeared ascendant and unchallengeable.
But China, and far less successfully Russia, challenged that consensus by adopting what Israeli academic Azar Gat describes as “authoritarian capitalism”. By shifting their economies from communism to capitalism, they switched to a “far more efficient brand of authoritarianism”. Ironically, the two defeated powers of the Second World War, Japan and Germany, with far smaller economies and with incomparably worse predations of human rights, had attempted something similar, and failed. But the ability of the west, in the wake of the current financial crisis, to continue to define and influence the course of economic and democratic events has been damaged. Globalisation guru Martin Wolf suggests that “the collapse of the western financial system, while China flourishes, marks a humiliating end to the unipolar moment”.
Last week, the New York Times thundered: “Beijing may be able to repress the memory of Tiananmen, but the yearning for freedom remains.” But, in fact, a number of influential commentators, who acknowledge the suppression of freedom, question this assumption. And it’s not simply the fact that, according to the World Bank, Chinese economic growth and planning have seen the fastest reduction of people living in absolute poverty in recent economic history, accounting for over 75% of the developing world’s total. James Kunge, who witnessed the events of 20 years ago, wrote in the Financial Times last week: “In a world of moral fluidity, Tiananmen is a gratifyingly fixed reference for our judgment of others... (but) I question the western assumption that the demonstrators were ‘pro-democracy’. The reality was less coherent.”
Perhaps in 20 years’ time, on the 40th anniversary of Tiananmen and the 85th commemoration of D-Day, we will know just how ascendant the Chinese alternative to liberal democratic capitalism has become.

*Published Friday 2 June 2009 in Business Day


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Sunday, June 7, 2009


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Judge Hlophe seeks to destroy from within

During the Spanish Civil War, General Emilio Mola was asked which of his four army columns would capture Madrid. He replied: “The Fifth Column.” This was a reference to citizens inside the capital loyal to Franco. Thus the term “fifth columnist” entered the political lexicon — a reference to members of the community with a loyalty to the state, or a constitutional body, but determined to strike a blow, perhaps a crippling one, against it.
I’m beginning to get the feeling that Western Cape Judge President John Hlophe and his outriders have become home-grown vandalisers of our constitution. If I’m wrong, then the imputation is even more serious. Because according to Judge Hlophe, the entire Constitutional Court, the president of the Supreme Court of Appeal (SCA) and the leadership of the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) are, variously, “liars”, “biased” and serial violators of the fundamental rights they have sworn to uphold.
Since May 2008, Judge Hlophe and his supporters have used whatever weaponry available — from legal bazookas to rhetorical flame-throwers — to avoid or delay facing charges of gross misconduct levelled by 13 permanent and acting Constitutional Court judges. The court said he had approached two of them in an attempt to influence a pending judgment relating to the Jacob Zuma search-and-seizure warrants case.
They referred the complaint to the JSC — the constitutional body that deals with judicial misconduct. Judge Hlophe’s lawyer claimed the Constitutional Court, by issuing a media release about its planned action without advising him first, had “acted with unseemly haste ... to crucify him in public”. Ironically, in a recent interview, Judge Hlophe indicated a wish to serve on the same court.
And that was just the start — the latest round was a split-court decision on Monday in South Gauteng which found that by starting proceedings while Judge Hlophe was ill in April, the JSC had violated his rights. While Judge Hlophe and the JSC search for a date on which the proceedings can recommence, perhaps we should pause to consider the damage.
According to Anthea Jeffery of the Institute of Race Relations, at various stages over the past year Judge Hlophe has accused Chief Justice Pius Langa and his deputy, Dikgang Moseneke, of lying and urged the JSC to investigate them for gross misconduct, since both might have been politically motivated to back “a trumped-up complaint”.
In a recent attack, two members of the JSC — its acting chairman and president of the SCA, Judge Lex Mpati, and veteran human rights lawyer George Bizos — were accused by the “Justice for Hlophe Alliance” of “the most nefarious and despicable acts their minds could conjure up”.
And if that was not serious enough, Judge Hlophe complained in a case he ultimately lost before the SCA in March that basically every one of his constitutional rights — from dignity to equality, right down to the presumption of innocence — had been violated by the Constitutional Court. The ordinary citizen must wonder: if Judge Hlophe is correct, and if this is how the highest court of the land treats a member of the judiciary, what hope do I have of a fair trial?
Alongside all the other taxpayer-funded trials and applications Judge Hlophe has embarked upon, his attempt to appeal this judgment to the Constitutional Court, the very body that launched the complaint against him in the first place, is bizarre.
Since the bulk of the court would have to recuse itself, Judge Hlophe simply suggests that its members be replaced by a sort of tribunal constituted by the minister of justice. This has been dismissed by constitutional law expert, Professor Pierre de Vos, as “daft and dangerous” in terms of the separation of powers doctrine and the principle of judicial independence.
Judge Hlophe has his rights and they are obviously entitled to protection. But Justice Louis Brandeis once observed that the “lawyer has a duty to the case as well as to the client”. When you take a wrecking ball to every carefully constructed constitutional edifice, with the scorched earth tactics employed by the Judge Hlophe camp, compromise becomes much harder. If the courts and their disciplinary body climb down now, then the stain of Judge Hlophe’s charges against them and the administration of justice will remain.
Last July, the ANC warned judges not to “undermine the integrity of the courts”. The new government needs to remember that warning when, later this year, it considers replacements for the Constitutional Court. It would do well to remove from consideration one of the chief underminers.

*published in the Sunday Times 7 June 2009

Zuma will have to disappoint allies to create prosperous SA

After all, it was as recently as January that then president Kgalema Motlanthe told the World Economic Forum SA would be able to grow at 4% on the back of strong infrastructure spend.
The expenditure remains — it was front and centre of Zuma’s maiden state of the nation address. But since then SA entered a deep recession — the first an African National Congress (ANC) government has had to confront. Now we will do well, even heroically, if we achieve zero growth by year end.
As I pondered the import of Zuma’s prescriptions for our economic ills — which seemed to be drawn largely from the casebook of John Maynard Keynes, now enjoying a global surge in popularity — I thought of previous presidential debuts I had witnessed.
In February 1990, FW de Klerk made a speech of thermonuclear intensity — the effects of which are still with us today. He overturned the 350-year-old racial order of SA. In May 1994, Nelson Mandela set the tone for his inclusive rainbow presidency — although in his case “the medium” (or his persona) was the message. In June 1999, Thabo Mbeki also set the seal of his presidency with a root-and- branch attack on his opponents, describing the official opposition Democratic Party as no less than the “pedlars of a soulless theology ... who define some races as subhuman”.
Zuma’s speech detonated no bombs of change, but equally his constant referrals to the frail Mandela, seated and smiling above him in the gallery, perhaps signalled a decisive break from the isolationism which characterised the Mbeki era. Zuma explicitly reached out to the broad spectrum of SA — from rural dwellers, to Afrikaners and explicitly to the opposition, “in the spirit of putting SA first”, he explained.
Zuma’s promise remains hugely ambitious given the cramped fiscal space in which his presidency commences: an expansive developmental state, without rollovers, purged of corruption and premised on performance targets centred on the creation of 4-million “job opportunities” within five years, over 10% of which will be rolled out by year end.
While the president took a swipe at under- performing teachers and honestly faced glaring deficiencies in the culture, management and performance of public services, he offered little of comfort to the private sector, or the hard-pressed tax-payer. Obviously, Zuma’s core constituency is the 11-million, largely poor, South Africans who gave him his mandate. But as Anthony Altbeker reminded an Institute of Race Relations conference only last week, just 400000 South Africans, most of them far from rich, provide half the personal taxes in the country. And the taxpayers, overall, fund the 13-million South Africans who receive government welfare grants.
The only sustainable path is obviously to increase the number of taxpayers, not widen the pool of beneficiaries.
In the 10 priority areas touched on in the speech there was scant recognition for the role of enterprise as the driver of growth. In New York recently, Prof Niall Ferguson sounded an important warning: “It is very easy to forget, in your iron indignation at the failure of the market, where the true mainsprings of economic growth lie. The lesson of economic history is very clear. Economic growth does not come from state-led infrastructure investment. It comes from technological innovation, and gains in productivity and these come from the private sector, not the state.”
Indeed SA’s private sector remains, in key areas, globally competitive. Our much-admired banking sector, for example, ranked 15th in the latest World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Survey. In studied contrast has been our slide down the Human Development Index, on the measurement of “living a long and healthy life”. We have dropped a vertiginous 36 places in just 10 years. It remains a moot point whether improvements in life chances can be delivered on the back of a state machine which, in key areas, is broken. Perhaps this means that private sector solutions are required for public sector problems, not the reverse.
Zuma did not enter the snakebite territory of demanding restraint from the public sector unions — either in terms of lowering the inflationary wage demands, or in the arena of relaxing the rigidities of the labour law, especially for first-time job seekers. The government is sitting on a welter of reports which all point precisely in this direction.
At the conclusion of the speech, Congress of South African Trade Unions chief Zwelinzima Vavi took time off from threatening a season of strikes to describe Zuma’s effort as “bold and brilliant”. Yet if Zuma is to create “the prosperous nation” he promised he will need to disappoint, not enthrall, some of his key allies.

*published in the Business Day 5 June 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Holding on to your crown even when you’ve lost*

Monday’s celebration of Africa day — the 45th commemoration of the founding of the Organisation of African Unity — caused me to ponder the link between President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and last month’s co-winner of Idols, Sasha-Lee Davids of Atlantis.
They have more in common than you might imagine. I now she looks sweet and youthful, and neighbouring Bob is neither, but read on.
In a world first, Davids held onto her Idols crown (or half of it, at least) even after it was revealed that, because of botched technology, she had received 200,000 fewer SMS votes than Jason Hartman of KwaZulu-Natal. Competition organiser M-Net decided to split the difference and enthrone them as joint winners: a neat solution, though it did some violence to the concept of popular participation.
Something similar, but seriously violent, happened in Zimbabwe last year. In the March first-round presidential poll, despite energetic electoral malpractices and his vast powers of incumbency, Mugabe actually lost to the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai.
But Mugabe didn’t rely on faulty SMSes to achieve final victory. For the next round, he unleashed a wave of violence and intimidation. Amnesty International estimated that 180 people were killed and 9000 injured. Tsvangirai was forced out of the subsequent runoff and, voil€, Bob was installed for his sixth presidential term.
The ever-accommodating leadership of the African Union and the regional honchos in the Southern African Development Community faced a far more serious problem than M-Net did. But, essentially, they arrived at the same conclusion.
They declined to call a fresh contest and used the flawed result to broker an unwieldy power-sharing compromise. Like a Montessori school, everyone would get a gold star. Mugabe would continue as president and Tsvangirai would become prime minister. It was rather like placing a python and a gazelle together, and expecting them to co-exist peacefully. The stalled progress on implementation, more than a year later, points to the limitations of this approach.
Africa has made much democratic progress since the formation of the OAU in 1963. For its first 30 years of freedom, the spectre of one-party states, presidents for life and violent usurpations of power were a continental reality. Extraordinarily, Africa scholar Larry Diamond notes, only one African president was defeated at the polls between 1960 and 1990.The unfortunate incumbent, Aden Abdullah Osman of Somalia, was hardly an advertisement for regime change. His country today is the most failed of states.
A recent study by Daniel Posner and Daniel Young shows that, today, an incumbent president has a 14% chance of losing office — happy odds for him, but at least suggesting the prospect of occasional change.
If you want to know why the odds are so long for the challenger, Kenya in December 2007, like Zimbabwe a few months later, provided an instructive example.
Prior to the presidential vote there, challenger Raila Odinga led the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, in all opinion polls — some placed him 15 points ahead.
With half of the constituencies reporting, Odinga had a commanding lead. The electoral commission of Kenya, stacked with the president’s loyalists, abruptly stopped the count. When it resumed, Kibaki surged to a disputed lead. Within hours, he was installed as president. Predictable outrage and violence followed — 1000 people died and 600000 were displaced.
The solution? Ignore the flawed process and result, the subversion of democratic process and outcome, and give the probable winner, Odinga, the consolation post of prime minister.
The AU blessed the outcome; indeed, it had helped to arrange it. And the West, grateful for an end to violence, quickly resumed its aid payments to Kenya. It chose to ignore the report of chief European Union monitor Alexander Lambsdoff, who said the tallying process “lacked credibility”.
I suppose the same label could be applied to the infamous Florida recount in 2000, which swept George Bush to power, assisted by a craven US Supreme Court. But no one there suggested or entertained “power sharing” as a solution.
Our continent, notwithstanding multiple virtues, suffers from big blights of bad governance. These usually can be traced to the misuses and abuses of incumbent power. Reining in those powers is a key step to improving and deepening democracy.
Before we “do an Idols” when the next disputed election occurs, the AU, and the world, should move in the opposite direction.
Our common law does not allow a person to profit from his own crime. We should apply the same standard to stolen elections and cease building rickety compromises on the back of them.
True democracy goes way beyond credible elections. But they are the essential precondition for its existence. At the next major milepost celebrating African unity, let’s aspire to celebrating the power of real democracy, not the triumph and weary continuation of “incumbentocracy”.


*On the Contrary column, Published Sunday Times May 30, 2009

Lesson for SA textiles sector in the fate of an American icon*

TWO features of power and affluence stand out from my Durban boyhood. The one was textile mogul Philip Frame, and the other was the swanky American car, the Pontiac.
Frame’s Waverley brand literally blanketed the country — protected from competition by the high tariff walls and the policy of import substitution, which was the apartheid state’s quid for Frame’s quo of locating his factories in border areas designed to keep black labour far from the white heartland. In those times, there was little talk of trade liberalisation.
The Pontiac, a far more exotic sighting than a Frame blanket, fed schoolboy fantasies of American excess . The reality of SA was more accurately located in the satanic mills of the Frame Textile group, where in 1973 ultra-exploited black workers defied the law and organised a strike. Frame was unmoved. But the protest galvanised the formation, and ultimate legalisation, of modern trade unions in SA.
There are no end of ironies in the fact that today the South African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (Sactwu) has, via its investment arm (nogal) a significant stake in Frame parent company Seardel , and thus in Frametex, as the fast-fading textile empire is today called. Philip Frame had access to the National Party government via his long-standing membership of the prime minister’s economic advisory council. Sactwu’s influence with today’s government is even more direct. Its outgoing secretary-general, Ebrahim Patel, is now the minister for economic development.
He and Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies appear eager to use Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) funds to bail out Frame, which is bleeding R30m a month, and will be closed unless it receives government life-support.
This is where the Pontiac comes in. This uncompetitive icon will cease to exist. It’s part of the price the US government has extracted for its infinitely larger (perhaps ultimately R500bn) bail-out of the US car industries. At General Motors, CE Rick Wagoner was replaced; 13 factories will close by next year ; 21000 jobs will be lost, and the powerful United Auto Workers Union has had to accept restrictions on employee entitlements. This stringent package was described by Michigan governor Jennifer Grenholm as “tough love”.
Actually, “tough love” was the exact formula Trevor Manuel prescribed for the South African textile industry in 2004. He later told Parliament “the country cannot protect uncompetitive industries from destruction through global exposure”. Reserve Bank governor Tito Mboweni was even more hawkish. He opposed the three-year quota on cheap Chinese imports when it commenced in 2006. He told MPs there was not “a dog’s chance” that the industry would become more competitive in the period, having failed to modernise or globalise in the preceding 12 years. Protection through quotas would simply raise consumer prices and fuel inflation.
Well, despite our government obliging the Chinese on the Dalai Lama, their government was decidedly disobliging last December when it declined to renew the quota restrictions on textile imports. The jobs massacre that followed and Frame’s proposed closure proved the point made in a study on, of all things, a 3- pack of women’s panties. The Chinese version retails in SA for 10 times less than the South African equivalent. But now Davies, a softer touch than Manuel, says there is “a strategic importance” in preventing local clothing manufacturers from being dependent on imports.
He did not elaborate on this curious proposition, and fed the impression of a policy being made on the hoof, in response to insider pressure. Leaving aside the glaring conflict of interest between Patel and Sactwu, the government is sitting with the Harvard report. It warns against an industrial policy which seeks to pick and predetermine “ winners”. But if the government bails out Frame, despite the IDC finding no “economic merit” for doing so, it will be backing a loser. Of course, there are 1700 jobs to be considered and the retention of plant and capacity. But, as industry experts point out, there are 600 companies in the sector — all exhibiting the stress fractures and ailments consequent to the recession and the cheap imports. There has been a 46,7% rise in all corporate bankruptcies in the first quarter of this year, compared with last year. How will Davies and Patel determine which is “of strategic importance”, which are “too big to fail” and when does the government apply the laws of moral hazard? What about the most vexed issue of a bail-out: “privatising profit (for the company) and socialising losses (for the taxpayer)?”
A bail-out policy requires transparency, thought, and fairness. It needs to account for, and answer to, the whole of society — from workers, to consumers, to competitors and to our global commitments. It’s a tall and difficult order. And some Pontiacs will get ditched in the process.

* Column in Business Day, Friday 29 May 2009

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Migrant Crisis, Suspect Passports, Corruption ... Welcome home to nasty affairs, Minister!

A forest’s worth of comment has been devoted to the new cabinet unveiled by President Jacob Zuma.
My eye caught one of the less politically sexy transfers announced last Sunday: the decision to move Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma from dealing with the affairs of the world to the smaller but, arguably, even more anarchic, universe of home affairs, where the long-serving former foreign minister will now preside. She will need less quiet diplomacy and more shouting and shoving, if she is to succeed.
The announcement coincided with my own transition from parliamentarian to private citizen. In between writing and speaking engagements, I find myself reflecting on gains and losses.
I will certainly not miss the often dreary non-debates about non-issues which, over the past decade, often passed as the staple of parliamentary engagement. Nor will I mourn, too deeply, the dark arts of political in-fighting and intrigue with which political leadership is associated.
But it will be a challenge and a welcome reality check to experience the daily tribulations of ordinary citizens.
Part of the compensation for listening to all those dreary speeches and enduring the rituals of endless protocols is that MPs are spared from the hassles of, for example, dealing with home affairs. An MP has to threaten neither homicide nor suicide to obtain an ID book or renew a passport. I had the advantage, along with the rest of parliament, of an ultra-efficient and courteous home affairs official who would visit either my office with the necessary forms, or arrange an appointment to process the required document speedily.
This is not the experience and expectation of the rest of South Africa, to put matters at their mildest.
I am not outing my former colleagues about some unearned advantage. But it goes to the point so brilliantly underlined by Professor Paul Collier, director of the Centre for African Economics at Oxford University and author of a recent and riveting work, The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries Are Failing and What can be Done About It.
South Africa’s position in the middle ranks of world economies does not qualify us for automatic inclusion in the author’s diagnosis. But Collier’s point on the difference between successful and failing departments of state could have been drawn directly from our experience.
He notes that many governments in the developing world, such as South Africa, have removed the revenue-raising function from the traditional civil service. His explanation is both accurate and uncomfortable: “Why did governments go for the radical option on revenue but not on service delivery? The answer is depressingly obvious. Governments benefit from the revenue, whereas ordinary people benefit from basic services. Governments were not prepared to let the traditional civil service continue to sabotage tax revenues because governments themselves were the victims. They were prepared to leave basic service delivery unreformed because the governing elite got its services elsewhere.”
The new minister of finance, Pravin Gordhan, is much admired for his achievements as our chief tax collector. In 2007, on the 10th anniversary of the establishment of the SA Revenue Service, it was recorded that the outfit had topped the half-a-trillion rand mark in revenue collection for the decade. That year alone, it had exceeded, by some 16%, the original printed estimate for taxes.
No doubt, Gordhan is a sharp manager. But the decision back in 1977 to create SARS as “an administratively autonomous revenue agency functioning independently from the public service administration”, to use the full glory of government-speak, was a decisive factor in improving, nay, radically transforming, the coffers of the state.
When Dlamini-Zuma studies her new in-tray, she will see that our local problems with home affairs have now been universalised. Hot on the heels of the British government’s decision to require South Africans to obtain visas for the UK is a new US Department of State Country Report on Terrorism. With just more than a year to go before our showpiece World Cup, it makes gloomy reading. It cites “poor administration”, “lack of institutional capacity” and “corruption” in home affairs as hampering our government’s ability to “pursue and intervene in counterterrorism initiatives”.
Today’s depiction of home affairs could have been, a decade or so ago, an accurate working description of the old Receiver of Revenue, as SARS was known pre-transformation.
The decision to yank revenue collection outside the stifling embrace of the public service was decisive. No quotas, no inappropriate wage and occupational bands, coupled with the importation of skills and technology and Gordhan’s management, turned a dysfunctional department into the brightest star in a fairly bleak universe of service delivery.
The former minister of finance, now enthroned as our planning czar, became famous for requesting tips for his budget. Perhaps the man who has now taken his place, and filled the coffers, could pass along some of his own. Home affairs would be a good place to start.

*Published Sunday Times 17 May 2009

New Government in SA: We will know soon if changes to Cabinet are improvements

LAST Saturday, at his inauguration, President Jacob Zuma put away his machine gun. Instead, he spoke, rather than sang, a hymn of reconciliation. Leaving aside the jarring applause which greeted the arrival of the superannuated tyrants Robert Mugabe and Muammar Gaddafi (the latter increasingly resembling an ageing Michael Jackson), the event was a symphony of inclusivity.
The new president reached out to the nation he now leads in the rainbow language of Nelson Mandela. He called for the rediscovery of the country’s founding partnership, “in which there is place for all South Africans, black and white”. He proclaimed that his version of national unity did not require “the wisdom of a single vision for SA,” as the now-vanquished Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi triumphalised after the 2004 elections. Instead, Zuma called for “a democratic debate that values diverse views and accommodates dissent”.
It is easy to dismiss these grace notes as the rhetoric of ritual. But, at a minimum, Zuma’s declaration, along with his pledge to purge “laziness and incompetence” from society and government, provides a useful yardstick for future accountability. It also hands a rod for the opposition to beat on the back of an underperforming government. But the apparent honeymoon between the government and opposition lasted all of three days, when a bilious war of words broke out between Helen Zille and the African National Congress Youth League, which I will address next week.
Anyway, the next day the president appeared to live up to his promise, when he unveiled his new executive. He has inspanned his own “team of rivals”, in terms of viewpoints and personality. With inflation targeting now apparently up for debate, there was something decidedly expansionary about Cabinet size. It has increased by over 20%.
The markets reacted well to the retention of Trevor Manuel in a new post, although his future role and powers remain unclear. Business was enthusiastic about the insertion of Pravin Gordhan as finance minister, noting his success in broadening our tax base from 24% to 28% of gross domestic product since 1997.
Abroad, the influential Financial Times changed its tune on the perils of moving Manuel. The newspaper had previously warned Zuma, on April 24, that keeping Manuel at the Treasury would “be a good start” in easing market anxiety. But after the new line-up was announced, it editorialised on May 12 that the new Cabinet, specifically Gordhan’s new post, “seemed to have calmed business fears that (Zuma) might lurch to the left”.
However, the business sector, at home and abroad, will no doubt greet the arrival of arch-unionist and ultra-protectionist Ebrahim Patel, at the newly conceived Ministry of Economic Development, with “about as much enthusiasm as the Romans greeted the arrival of the Visigoths” — to quote Gideon Rachman’s description of journalists’ reaction to Rupert Murdoch’s takeover of the Wall Street Journal.
The proclamation by Congress of South African Trade Unions heavyweight Tony Ehrenreich that Patel will “confront the old business ideologies ” will doubtless cause some boardroom anxiety. But Patel will soon confront the key fact that the private sector still contributes two-thirds of the country’s fixed investment. Spells in government sometimes convert poachers to gamekeepers.
If some of the personnel selected gave the appearance of a “Cabinet of curiosities”, then the complexity and location of the new decision-making process was the other stand-out feature.
One of the reasons for Manuel’s star turn at the Treasury was that economic policy and execution were tightly held. In form, although decidedly not in substance, the old ministry of finance closely imaged the governing ideology of centralisation. Now it has been truly federalised. In Hilary Joffe’s estimation, economic policy is now balkanised into the remit of seven or eight ministers and their deputies, several of them highly ideological. Whether this will lead to a joined-up government of improved service delivery, as promised, or to a bureaucratic traffic jam of stalled decision-making and populist concessions, should be soon apparent.
The National Planning Commission is at the heart of the new administration. It is more radical than anything previously unveiled. But it is worth remembering that the Mandela government commenced with the ministry of reconstruction and development at its centre. Jay Naidoo lasted but two years in that job before he was bowler-hatted to run the Post Office, and the ministry closed. Thabo Mbeki’s term began with a new “policy co-ordination and advisory services unit”, located in the Presidency. The end result was mixed.
Will the new president succeed where others have stalled or faltered on the delivery front? In a recent response as to whether Zuma had the makings of a good president, De Beers chairman Nicky Oppenheimer deadpanned: “Ask me at the end of his term of office.’’

Wise words.

*Published: Busienss Day 15 May 2009

Polokwane’s aftershocks felt across political landscape: Opposition politics in SA

POLOKWANE in December 2007 — and the palace revolution that toppled Thabo Mbeki — registered a full-scale 10 on the Richter scale of political earthquakes. Its final tremor was felt on Saturday, when Jacob Zuma was inaugurated as SA’s fourth democratic president.
In the smaller universe of South African opposition politics, there have been some recent seismic events of a lesser magnitude, which could also indicate a shift in the tectonic plates of our politics.
Last Wednesday, when Parliament assembled for the first time since the election, it was the third party in the house, the Congress of the People (COPE), rather than the government’s traditional bĂȘte noire, the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), which attracted the ire of the African National Congress (ANC).
COPE’s parliamentary debut — and specifically its decision to oppose Zuma’s presidential candidacy — was greeted with jeers and catcalls. And no doubt there is something either from the story of Don Quixote, or the annals of chutzpah, for a party with just over a million votes to oppose the leader of a governing party, which recently received a mandate from more than 11-million South Africans. Ironically, the DA, whose improved electoral performance was purchased, in part, on the back of a “Stop Zuma” campaign, chose not to do so when the crunch parliamentary vote was recorded. Its abstention drew appreciative applause from the governing party.
The DA reasoned, correctly in my view, that the parliamentary vote was simply a post-election ritual, and that the ANC’s victory was both emphatic and legitimate. However, in the world of perceptions and headlines, COPE’s gambit appeared to fulfil Winston Churchill’s judgment that “I have always felt that a politician is to be judged by the animosities he excites among his opponents”.
And, no doubt, by taking the fight to the ANC, and drawing in some 17 MPs from the minnows on the opposition benches, the leaders of COPE could stop, for a moment, fighting each other. When the DA was formed in July 2000, our success in the December municipal elections, where we drew 23% of the national vote, kept at bay, and out of the newspapers, the leadership tensions between my deputy, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, and me. It took about 15 months for these power plays to metastasise into full-blown civil war.
COPE’s infighting, fuelled no doubt by dashed electoral expectations — it recorded just over 7% of the national vote in last month’s poll — has commenced much earlier and in plain sight. Both on-the-record briefings and insidious media leaks around the role of party leader Mosiuoa Lekota and his unceremonious dumping out of Parliament into the bowels of party head office suggest a serious drift atop the fledgling party.
The voting public soon tires of leadership splits and schisms; the Pan Africanist Congress, now reduced to a one-man spectral presence in the new Parliament, its heroic liberation biography notwithstanding, should provide an instructive example.
COPE might be incoherent on the question of leadership, but last week it took a tactically decisive step on the vexed question of opposition realignment and future strategy. But the two issues are, in fact, closely related. Lekota, by all accounts, was an enthusiastic support of the invitation from DA leader and premier Helen Zille to join her coalition government in the Western Cape. Zille hoped to use the provincial government as a template for closer opposition realignment and coalition-building elsewhere. However, the COPE leadership again rebuffed Lekota, and now Zille, and declined. The fast-fading Independent Democrats (ID), which polled barely over half the COPE total in the province (4,65% and 7,74% respectively), joined the Western Cape government. While the ID participation in the province cements the coalition between the parties in Cape Town, it has no national significance.
COPE, by contrast, is the second party and official opposition in five provinces. It must have reasoned that a closer union with the DA could hinder its quest to make further inroads into the ANC vote across the country. That poses a challenge for the DA, and its realignment strategy, going forward. But, equally for COPE, the go-it-alone tactic, without the patronage of power or governance, could prove hard going. When Frederik Van Zyl Slabbert led the opposition, he once ruefully observed, “My gravytrein is so kort” (My gravy train is so short). With control of one provincial administration and most Western Cape municipalities, Zille does not suffer from the dilemma of having no gravy on her ladle.
But then Zille is not the leader of the opposition in Parliament. The result of the contest for this title last Thursday, when the newly elected DA parliamentary caucus assembled, detonated the biggest bang on the opposition terrain. Against expectation, and with the weight of the party establishment against him, freshman MP (although a veteran of Eastern Cape provincial politics) Athol Trollip knocked out meister strategist and leadership insider Ryan Coetzee.
I am friendly with both contestants and sad one had to lose. But as Coetzee once observed to me in another context, “no good deed in politics ever goes unpunished”. After designing and executing such a successful recent election campaign, Coetzee probably believes he’s now living proof of his own maxim. The very centralisation of power and decision-making, which Coetzee engineered, proved a winner in turning out the DA vote. But it did not endear him to all sections of the party, and helps explain his defeat.
Trollip won, in part, because of his obvious gifts — for example, trilingual fluency, a leadership record and streak of independence. With national leader Zille preoccupied with running a province, which is already under siege from the ANC, the DA parliamentary caucus perhaps signalled that it wanted to assert itself, and not be simply a national tide pulled along by a provincial moon.
In his first press conference, Trollip promised to improve the opposition’s relationship with government — echoing Zuma’s earlier undertaking to open a new chapter on the generally dreary and, at times, dreadful antagonisms between the two. A refreshed leadership on both sides should help. But the dilemma in this “soft power” approach was underscored just a few hours later. Trollip was dispatched by Zille to read out a speech on her behalf to delegates at the World Justice Project in Cape Town. In the address, Zille stated that the “legitimate” ANC poll win was tainted by the manner in “which it was prepared to undermine the spirit and letter of our constitution”. That very afternoon, in the National Council of Provinces, Zille was roundly heckled by ANC members when she reminded the house that its higher duty was to the constitution, not the party.
But if there appears to be a duality in the approach of COPE and the DA towards the governing party, and each other, evidence of an unlikely rapprochement elsewhere was also on display last week.
Siren calls between the ANC and its one-time provincial nemesis, the now considerably reduced Inkatha Freedom Party , were heard inside and outside Parliament. But there was no deal. Instead it was the minuscule Freedom Front Plus (which has four MPs) that accepted a deputy ministry in the Zuma administration.
The waves of change that washed over the governing party less than two years ago are far from spent. They are now lapping over the opposition as well.
* published 28 April 2009 Business Day

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Operatic Politics

LAST week’s election was the grand opera of our democracy. It was dramatic and sung through: outcast-turned-folk hero Jacob Zuma hit the high notes with Awulethu Mshini Wam. It was received with acclaim from most parts of the auditorium, especially the poorer seats.
Meanwhile, democratic diva Helen Zille’s aria, Koekie Loekie, delighted a growing minority in the gallery. Several reputations — such as that of fading prima donna Patricia de Lille, died a thousand deaths. Even the toppled regent, King Thabo, made a brief — and typically elusive — appearance in the grand finale: the breakaway jig of his camp following drew less audience support than expected.
On a 77% poll, it was a near sellout at the box office. But if the election was one of high drama and soaring scores, let’s hope that, when the action shifts next week to parliament, it doesn’t descend to the low farce and disappointing reviews the national assembly has generated since the end of the Mandela era in 1999.
Since then, parliament has, in many areas — from stifling the arms deal inquiry, to feather-bedding ethically-challenged MPs and drowning out opposing voices — “never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity”, to borrow the famous phrase of Abba Eban.
When parliament convenes on Tuesday, it will be almost 13 years to the day since it enacted our new constitution which, in its majestic reach and detailed prose, promised accountable government and legislative oversight, and formalised the role of the opposition.
A North Korean-like veneration of the presidency, ritualised name-calling and defanging the bite of question time were not part of the package — but, in essence, under Thabo Mbeki’s baton this is a fair working description of the previous two parliaments.
His soaring and inclusive “I am an African” invocation of a humane tolerance as deputy president was never followed through as president. On the contrary, his sneering indifference to opponents — both external and internal — became in the end almost a parody. He brought to mind Linus, the Peanuts cartoon character, expostulating: “Humanity? I love humanity — it’s people I can’t stand.”
The relationship between government and opposition is crucial to our democratic health. But it’s not about love or mutual admiration — it’s about respect for institutions and choice. Under Mandela it was a little like Fatal Attraction. He enjoyed and revered parliament and its institutions, and would, countless times, phone me for a chat or, flatteringly, “to seek advice”. He even once, during a particularly brutal spat with Mangosuthu Buthelezi, asked me to forego my speaking turn in a debate so he could explain his position in private. When I declined the suggestion (as I did his offer of a cabinet seat), it didn’t affect the relationship one jot.
I also led the opposition for nine-tenths of the Mbeki presidency. Like the derivative assets of a bad bank, the relationship was — to put it mildly — fairly toxic.
However, after the 2004 election, which Mbeki won decisively I, literally, reached across the aisle, stepping down from the podium to shake Mbeki’s hand and pledging to behave as an “opponent, not an enemy”. My attempt at glasnost proved unsuccessful; he seemed warm enough, but a few days later his confidant, Sydney Mufamadi, repaid the compliment in a swaggering currency: “The contract between us and the masses cannot be supplanted by a handshake. Thank you very much, Mr Leon, your hand must not cross the floor,” he told parliament.
This parliament is likely to be very different.
For example, Jacob Zuma appears already to “have reached across the aisle”. His post-election remarks at the Independent Electoral Commission suggested respect for non-ANC voters and their choices. He also faces a somewhat larger opposition force, with 30 former comrades in the COPE ranks.
The front-running candidate to lead the DA, and the official opposition in parliament, Ryan Coetzee, has a quick brain and sharp elbows. He is impatient with the flummery of ritual, which has often substituted for real debate. Athol Trollip, the other major contender, speaks perfect Xhosa (when he assisted my housekeeper with a problem, telephonically, she refused to believe he was a “white man”).
Crucially, however, the tenor of government/opposition relations is set by the president. And as for the “Big Man” (as The Economist dubbed Zuma), he has a track record as a conciliator. But I also recall the words of a senior official in George W Bush’s administration, intimately involved with Zuma in his peace-broking efforts in Burundi. He told my study group at Harvard how he had witnessed first-hand the brutal (and in his view entirely necessary) manner in which Zuma threatened the recalcitrant parties there. “There’s nothing sweet and cuddly about him when the chips are down,” he said.
Perhaps, then, the spark of engaging debate — less of a danse macabre between the government and its opponents — and some lively drama will return to the stage. It’s past time for the long-suffering South African audience.

* Published 3 May in the Sunday Times.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Before Elections 2009 *

In 2004, the last occasion the country went to the polls in a general election, the ANC dwarfed its opponents by hauling in 69.69% of the votes and netting 266 of the parliamentary seats in the National Assembly. The election also consolidated the Democratic Alliance (DA) which I then led as the dominant opposition force in South Africa with over 1.9 million votes (12.37% of the total and 50 MPs). This was an increase of just under half a million over its performance in 1999.

One of the noteworthy features of the last election was the more than 50 point gap which separated the governing party from its principal opponent. Another, less obvious feature of the last election was that in terms of actual votes cast, the ANC had shed some two million supporters since the first democratic election in 1994, although very few had migrated to the opposition. Most of the dissenters had no doubt stayed at home; but on a reduced overall percentage poll little of the size, detail and electoral arithmetic mattered. The ANC was overwhelmingly dominant; master of all it surveyed.

In the two provinces, KwaZulu Natal and the Western Cape which had in 1994 returned opposition governments, the ruling party managed to form coalitions and take over all nine of South Africa’s provinces. Since democracy’s separate centres of power are designed to check and balance each other, these results – plus the ANC’s capture, through its cadre redeployment programme of the constitutional citadels outside the legislatures, suggested that the majority’s power would be virtually untrammelled.

I noted after the 2004 election that racial cleavages endured. According to my party’s analysis, 81.8% of the ANC’s vote was from black people and 74.9% of the DA’s from whites. Racial nationalism had triumphed again in South Africa and appeared to live on in the new nation as emphatically as it held the old country in its thrall.

The ANC, in constructing and maintaining its “Big Tent” ranging from BEE millionaires to rural peasants had found in racial solidarity and the invocation of struggle, a potent and durable tarpaulin to keep its increasingly disparate constituency under one roof. Just how rampant and triumphant the ANC was became clear shortly after the 2004 parliament gathered.

For example Thabo Mbeki’s shrill praise singer, Minister Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi trumpeted: “The voters have seen the wisdom of a single vision for South Africa.” Outside parliament, Professor Malegapuru Makgoba felt emboldened to proclaim: “The electorate has declared loudly and clearly that it does not want a country characterised by opposition politics.”

If Harold Wilson was correct that “a week was a long time in politics”, the intervening passage of five years has turned a number of these arrogant assumptions on their head. One of the most decisive breaks in the hegemony of African national politics, second only to the 1982 split in the National Party, occurred on Tuesday 14 June 2005 when President Thabo Mbeki “discharged” Jacob Zuma from his post as deputy president of South Africa. Mbeki’s action against Zuma created a tidal wave of resentment and recrimination which eventually washed over both his party and the country and which, barely two years later, drowned Mbeki’s own presidency.

The most noteworthy feature and unknown element which prefigures our next poll rendezvous was the formalised break in the ANC which occurred on December 16 2008 with the launch of the Congress of the People (COPE). In 1990, when Nelson Mandela was released after 27 years imprisonment in South Africa, he noted in his first speech to a waiting world: “I am a loyal and disciplined member of the African National Congress. I am therefore in full agreement with all of its objectives, strategies and tactics.” This formula and his iconic status helped sustain the ANC over the next decade and a half as it transformed itself from a liberation movement into an electorally unassailable democratic government. The arrival of COPE has unravelled that unity. This dramatic rupture in South Africa’s ruling behemoth creates hope that the somewhat sclerotic political system will be rejuvenated at least as far as head-counting ethnic politics is concerned.

It is an open question, however, whether Mosiuoa Lekota and Mbhazima Shilowa and other ANC former grandees such as Smuts Ngonyama are the people to lead the charge given the fact that they were in the seats of power when many of the missteps and democratic predations of the Mbeki regime were at their height.

Unlike previous schisms in the ruling party’s nearly 100 year history, the ANC-COPE split is neither purely ideological nor tribal and much of it is of course deeply personal and relates to the politics of resentment and exclusion. But whatever its origins and prospects, it is less susceptible to race-card politics.

Therefore the game-changers in this election will be determined by the following questions:

· How deep will be the cut in the ANC support?
The first fact to watch for is whether COPE’s inroads can result in the ANC’s loss of power in key provinces such as the Free State and the Eastern Cape. This is a tall order. But if the recent by-election results (in late January 2009) are anything of a guide it is clear that COPE in those two provinces at least, can muster somewhere between 20% and 30% of the vote. Combined with opposition support, for example, specifically if the DA holds onto its traditional base, it is conceivable that the ANC will be given a run for its money in those provinces.

· Will the DA win the Western Cape?
It is clear that the DA has consolidated its position in the Western Cape with electoral support of probably 40% and rising. (This too can be extrapolated from the December by-election results which indicated a collapse of ANC support among the majority coloured voting group in the province and a migration of former Independent Democrat supporters to the official opposition). Clearly the DA will be the largest opposition party in the Western Cape and could quite conceivably form a governing coalition in that province.

· Who will be the official opposition?
The third factor is going to be the battle to be official opposition in parliament. Here it will depend on the quality and depth of the election campaign. The Democratic Alliance has a clear edge in terms of organization, financing and grass roots branch structures. COPE has none of those advantages, but has the potential edge in recruiting black voters.

· What about the rest of the opposition forces?
A fourth outcome will be the rout of other opposition parties. The Inkatha Freedom Party (again based on recent by-election results) is being pushed back very hard in its traditional areas in KwaZulu Natal. The fact that the ANC managed to snatch an IFP seat in late January in a municipal by-election in Dannhauser, a traditional IFP bellwether seat, is perhaps an early indication of the fact that under Jacob Zuma the ANC will manage to further strengthen its hold in the province of KwaZulu Natal, the only electoral area where the IFP has any significant following. A similar fate is likely to await the UDM which has drawn previous support in the Eastern Cape but where the COPE/ANC fight is most intense. The portent for Bantu Holomisa must be grim.

So much for the election arithmetic, fascinating though it is; the more consequential issue is where will South Africa be after the election? Three areas of concern are key.

First, it appears that the ANC will continue to govern South Africa, nationally at least, but from a somewhat reduced position. It is likely that the huge gap which separates the government from the opposition, in whatever configuration it emerges in the national assembly, will be less than it was after 2004 and preceding elections. This can only be a very good thing for our democracy.

Going forward we can at least say that a template for future democratic competitiveness and an uptick of parliamentary accountability is very likely.

Second, South Africa faces a potentially dismal economic prospectus. Although our financial architecture is in reasonable shape, certainly compared to much of the developing world, we cannot ignore the fact that the looming global recession is going to have a very constraining and crimping effect on “the macro populism of the left”.

Whatever economic posture the next government adopts, the financial terms of trade have worsened. We have plunging commodity prices, a ballooning current account deficit and a shrinking revenue base. This will make the current equation of 10% of the population (the total individual tax base) supporting 25% of the country on welfare grants difficult to sustain, let alone expand.

The economic outlook is mixed at best: on the negative side of the ledger, the bad news is that South Africa is heading towards a recession of two consecutive quarters of declining growth. The good news is that this slow down has reduced inflationary pressures that were mounting, especially in respect of energy and food prices, suggesting future monetary easing. But it is going to be a very tight fiscal space which government has to manoeuvre.

Changes in legislative majorities are what elections are all about. But it is the judicial branch which the constitution designed as the most crucial barrier to prevent political overreach and empower citizens’ rights. This is the third, arguably, most important test for our democracy.

Although the judiciary has in key and controversial cases held the ring against the government, it has, over the past decade, been subject to all manner of attacks when its judgments went against the grain of the majority party interest. However, various attacks by the ANC and specific legislative proposals which encroached on judicial independence were rebuffed by Thabo Mbeki. But there has been a step change in both the vehemence and seriousness of these attacks since Jacob Zuma became the president of the ANC. For example, early last year, the Secretary General of the ruling party, Gwede Mantashe, attacked the constitutional court in a bare-knuckled fashion as “counter revolutionary”. This salvo against the judicial branch was intended to soften it up in view of the forthcoming possible trial of Jacob Zuma on corruption charges. The case itself is currently in a state of legal suspension due to various rulings and appeals which the courts are resolving. The acid test of this branch is, therefore, whether or not charges against South Africa’s most powerful politician can be processed without let or hindrance.

The government-sponsored attack on the judicial branch has mirrored incendiary rhetoric by key figures in the ruling party, such as the President of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema and Zwelinzima Vavi, Secretary General of the Trade Union federation Cosatu, that they were “prepared to kill” in their efforts to support Jacob Zuma.

After the election, South Africa’s much admired constitution, and the spirit of inclusivity which informed it, will be subject to its severest test. How it survives and responds will tell us more about the durability of our democracy, than the contest, and outcome, of the 2009 election.


* This artice was written for Leadership Magazine, 3 February 2009

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mugabe's Election Theft and Illegitimacy*

The cholera outbreak that has killed some 1,600 people and infected thousands of others has renewed the world's attention on Zimbabwe and its tyrannous ruler Robert Mugabe.
Mr. Mugabe's economic policies and repression are responsible for widespread poverty
, sickness and violence that have gripped Zimbabwe, and while his rule appears to be coming to an end, Zimbabwe's story provides a somber lesson for the rest of the world. For too long, world leaders and international institutions have temporized with African dictators and accepted flawed elections as sources of incumbents' legitimacy.

In the March 2008 poll, despite what was widely seen as a flawed electoral process, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change gained a majority of the parliamentary seats in Zimbabwe. Mr. Mugabe refused to relinquish power, however.

The African Union and the Southern African Development Community did not call for him to go. Instead, they pushed for a power-sharing compromise between Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF and the MDC. Mr. Mugabe was to stay on as president and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was to become the new prime minister. The Cabinet seats were to be shared on an equitable basis.
However, even those generous terms were not enough for Mr. Mugabe, who demanded that the MDC relinquish its claim for sole control of the powerful Home Affairs Ministry, which supervises Zimbabwe's police force and electoral machinery. Mr. Tsvangirai has rightly rejected this new demand. Over the years, the highly politicized police force has emerged as Mr. Mugabe's favorite tool against opponents, while Mr. Mugabe's control over the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has enabled him to rig successive elections.

Unfortunately, Africa's democratic awakening, which has seen the demise of many one-party dictatorships and military regimes since 1990, is, in many ways, only skin deep. In many countries, elections are either rigged in favor of the incumbents or ignored if their outcomes are unfavorable to the ruling regimes.

Take Kenya's presidential elections in December 2007. Prior to the vote, the opposition candidate Raila Odinga led the incumbent, Mwai Kibaki, in all opinion polls. Some had him 15 to 19 percentage points ahead. With half of the 210 constituencies reporting, Mr. Odinga had a commanding lead. The Electoral Commission of Kenya abruptly stopped the count. When the counting resumed, Mr. Kibaki surged past Mr.Odinga. An hour later he was sworn in to his second term at a hastily arranged State House ceremony.

According to the chief European Union monitor Alexander Lambsdorff, the tallying process "lacked credibility." In the ensuing violence, as enraged Kenyans took to the streets 1,000 people died and 600,000 were displaced.

In a compromise through a combined diplomatic effort of Kofi Annan, Condoleezza Rice and others, a new position of the prime minister was created for Mr. Odinga, leaving Mr. Kibaki as president. Mr. Kibaki and his henchmen subverted democracy, but Western countries, grateful for an end to violence, quickly resumed their aid payments to Kenya.
Umaru Yar'Adua, the chosen successor of Olusegun Obasanjo, won the Nigerian presidency in an election marred by fraud. Mr. Obasanjo himself came to power in a poll where, according to the EU observers, the "minimum standards for democratic elections [had] not been met." After losing the 2005 election, Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia, ordered his troops to shoot anti-government protesters in Addis Ababa, killing 200. Yet, the West rewarded Nigeria with debt forgiveness and Ethiopia with large amounts of foreign aid.

Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has so far benefited from an analogous situation. He unleashed a wave of violence after losing the first round of presidential elections in March 2008 to Mr. Tsvangirai. Amnesty International estimates 180 people were killed and 9,000 injured, forcing Mr. Tsvangirai out of the subsequent runoff, and ensuring that Mr. Mugabe was installed in his sixth term as president of Zimbabwe.

It is perhaps understandable that many of Mr. Mugabe's fellow African leaders who came to power in similarly nefarious ways refrained from criticizing him and called for a power-sharing compromise instead. Unfortunately that does not explain why the South African government, which has the democratic credentials to speak out and act, has cosseted Mr. Mugabe behind the veil of so-called "quiet diplomacy."

True democracy is about more than periodic elections. It is about freedom to hold and promote different opinions unmolested by the agents of the state. It is about vibrant civil society, free media and independent courts. It is about having every vote counted in a transparent and credible way. It is about a government resigning when the voters say so. Unfortunately, in many parts of Africa, we seem to be witnessing not a triumph of true democracy, but the triumph of incumbentocracy.

*This article was published on 12 January 2009 in the Washington Post and was co written with Marian Tupy, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity where I served as visiting fellow until the end of the year.