Thursday, July 31, 2014

Excerpt from Opposite Mandela by Tony Leon: Madiba and De Klerk Wag Fingers at Each Other

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Aerodrome has shared an excerpt from Tony Leon’s new book, Opposite Mandela, in which he remembers the story behind the controversial photographs of two joint Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, “wagging fingers at each other” after an event during the final months of 1995.
“This was a further reminder to the country that the relationship at the summit of political power was neither peaceful nor happy. In fact, De Klerk and the National Party’s presence in government would end, by their own hand, less than a year after the showdown that evening,” writes Leon.

Read the excerpt to find out what led to this altercation:
'Brian Gilbertson, the angular, youthful-looking chief executive of the mining giant Gencor, was an unusual business titan in South Africa in the 1990s. More in desperation than expectation, I had visited him around September 1995, to request funding for my party’s very threadbare municipal election campaign. At the time, other than the Oppenheimer family, most of Johannesburg’s commercial community met such entreaties with big smiles and very small, if any, cheques. Gilbertson, however, completely understood the need for robust opposition and promptly wrote a cheque for R250 000. He also requested my presence at the imminent opening of his company’s corporate headquarters.'

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Absence of evidence does not prove innocence

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29 Jul 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

The phrase ‘the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence’ is a handy guide and frame for a welter of present events contending for attention, writes Tony Leon

SOME decades ago, when articled to a leading firm of Johannesburg attorneys, one of the formidable partners there asked me to research an esoteric point of law for an opinion he was preparing. I came up empty-handed and somewhat uncertainly advised him that there appeared to be no precedent on the issue. The partner looked at me bleakly and asked if I had ever heard of the saying that "the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence"?

I had not back then, but it has remained hard-wired in my consciousness as a warning to look more closely for the evidence needed. More recently — on the website — I discovered that this ringing phrase is often a logical fallacy. This is so because, among other reasons, the "absence of evidence can be evidence of absence if substantial attempts to find the evidence have proven negative". Whatever its limitations, it is a handy guide and frame for a welter of present events contending for attention.

First in the frame was the evidence, or the absence of it, provided last week by Patricia de Lille to the commission of inquiry into the arms deal. In an opinion piece in the Mail & Guardian last week, Richard Calland referred to the 1994 Parliament as a "glorious era". For all its legislative activity and impressive bench of MPs, it was also the forum that nodded through the notorious arms deal. In his evidence before the commission, former president Thabo Mbeki was astute enough to remind it that it was president Nelson Mandela who approved the acquisition. But, equally, it was the response to the welter of corruption allegations that surfaced almost the day after the controversial package was announced, that created De Lille’s reputation as a fearless crusader against corruption.

In our nearby offices, the Democratic Party also received apparent evidence of wrongdoing, largely from people who had unsuccessfully tendered. But perhaps lawyerly caution prevented us, in the absence of any "smoking gun" evidence, to proceed further. De Lille certainly did so back then and announced that she had a "dossier" that would blow the lid off the scandal. She also promised to provide the parliamentary press gallery with the "evidence" within a month. She did not do so then but, finally, had her opportunity to share the contents of this "dossier" with the commission last week.

Far from explosive detail, the "dossier" was, according to reports, a damp and badly written squib. And even if she and certainly the Sunday Times, and the now defanged Scorpions had a hand in the arrest and conviction of Tony Yengeni and Schabir Shaik, they were essential bit players. Their convictions related to tiny amounts of cash or luxury cars dwarfed by the billions spent on the armaments themselves. Let’s hope future witnesses and Judge Willie Seriti do find the absence of evidence that has, 15 years later, eluded everyone else.

Second up in the absence of evidence frame is President Jacob Zuma. In Parliament last week, he gave the presidential seal of approval to the principle that no foreign nationals should own land. On the evidence side, the government’s own records reveal that barely 3% of our land is foreign-owned. Land is simply one form of property ownership, so why stop there? Why not ban foreign ownership of moveable and immovable property? Bonds and equities fall into the former category, the majority of which are owned "by foreign nationals" and are the reason our current account deficit can still be serviced.

But back to the land issue. I was involved, from Argentina, in assisting with a R100m investment by one of the largest South American citrus companies in the Eastern Cape. It has created hundreds of jobs and identified SA, with its excellent market access to the Middle East and Europe, as the global centre for its production of oranges. Here is tangible evidence of the power of foreign direct investment. Where is the counterevidence?

Finally, in this evidentiary trifecta, is the spectacular entanglement of red tape with which the Department of Home Affairs is determined to throttle our economy-saving tourism industry. Stanlib chief economist Kevin Lings was reported in Moneyweb as saying that tourism receipts in SA have risen at an annual average of about 15% since 1994. But home affairs, in the absence of any verifiable evidence, has decided that child trafficking is a more compelling danger than anything else. So biometric testing and unabridged birth certificates are now to be mandatory for all accompanying children. Watch that percentage shrink.

The evidence from these snapshots might be that of rhetorical and ideological overreach and absence of plain common sense.

This is Leon’s final column in this format. From next month, it will appear monthly in Business Day in longer form and will also be published in The Times and the Sunday Times.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The hard question that goes to heart of a matter

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22 Jul 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

Asking the right question often leads to moral clarity, even if it is not so easily answered, writes Tony Leon

MORAL clarity is rare and provides illumination on those shape-shifting moments in global events that remind us just how easily the world order is shattered by a missile that downs a civilian plane in Ukraine, or when Hamas rockets from Gaza, which largely miss their targets, are matched by Israeli air strikes that more often don’t. Moral myopia is, alas, far more common.

These past few days saw the death toll in Gaza rise as Israel invaded the territory for the second time in five years. One of the few commentators whose views added rather than subtracted from proper analysis was Nicholas Kristof in Sunday’s New York Times. He addressed the rooftop shouters, of whom there is no shortage in SA, where rallying against the perceived inhumanity of Israel’s long occupation is a much safer exercise than more pressing regional concerns such as the recent African Union decision to shield heads of state from being held accountable for their crimes against their own citizens.

Kristof asks whether, amid the renewed dance of death in Gaza, "this is a struggle between good and evil, right and wrong. We can’t relax, can’t compromise."

Moral certainty doubtless led the African National Congress’s (ANC’s) Jessie Duarte to label the Israeli attacks as "barbaric" and then to compare the occupation of the Palestinian territories to the Nazi "death camps". Not to be outdone in their seething outrage, the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the ANC Youth League and sundry others (including a group of 50 Jewish South Africans) marched or called for a welter of sanctions and diplomatic and other punishments against Israel. Interestingly, no dissenting local Muslim voices have been heard against Hamas, but that’s another topic.

Kristof provides an elegant and, I think, unanswerable, rebuttal to the question posed and the moral furies aroused by recent events. Start by removing the binary good-versus-evil narrative, he suggests: "This is a war in which both peoples have a considerable amount of right on their sides. The failure to acknowledge the humanity and legitimate interests of people on the other side has led to cross-demonisation."

This is the primary cause of the military escalation. Placing this need for what the historian Simon Schama called "dual empathy" at the centre of a proper narrative leads to this conclusion: "Israelis are absolutely correct that they have a right not to be hit with rockets by Hamas, not to be kidnapped, not to be subject to terrorist bombings. And Palestinians are absolutely right that they have a right to a state, a right to run businesses and import goods, a right to live in freedom rather than be relegated to second-class citizenship in their own land."

Admittedly such self-evident truths would be difficult to fit on a protest poster. Indeed, such moral even-handedness lacks the fervent sloganeering of the protest marchers who massed last week on the Israeli trade mission in Sandton. But perhaps it illuminates the path forward to peace, not ever-escalating war.

Former US president Jimmy Carter caused no end of fury with the Israel lobby when he published a book in 2006 titled Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid, and then said in an interview that Israeli policy in the territories under its occupation "perpetrates even worse instances of apartness, or apartheid, than we witnessed even in SA".

After I returned from a visit to Ramallah for a meeting with Palestinian President Yasser Arafat more than 10 years ago, I was far less impressed with his self-serving observations than I was by the casual remarks of the Palestinian driver who took me to and from the meeting and described the daily ordeal of living under occupation. When I put them to an Israeli friend, a former cabinet minister, he said: "The only way to occupy a people against their will is with brutality."

But the facts leading to the occupation of the West Bank (Gaza is not occupied but is besieged), and the possibility of ending both peacefully, are also obscured by much of the present outrage.

On the eve of the failed Middle East peace conference in Annapolis in 2007, the acclaimed US orientalist Bernard Lewis asked an existential question: "What is this conflict about? Is it about the size of Israel or about its existence?"

He then suggested that if the issue was about the size or borders of Israel, then "it is not easy but is possible to solve in the long run, and to live with in the meantime".

"But", he said, "if the issue is the existence of Israel, then clearly it is insoluble by negotiation. There is no compromise between existing and not existing. And no conceivable government of Israel is going to negotiate on whether the country should or should not exist."

Asking the right question often leads to moral clarity, even if it is not so easily answered.

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

India might buck the Brics’ downward trend

15 Jul 2014 | Tony Leon  | Original Publication:  BDlive

In contrast to other members of the Brics club, India has promised to revive business and investor confidence through less reliance on the state and more liberalisation of labour laws, writes Tony Leon

LEO TOLSTOY wrote: "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." This could be the working description for the Brics summit as its member states — Brazil, Russia, India, China and SA — gather on Tuesday at a summit in the northeastern Brazilian resort town of Fortaleza. Each of the one-time developing world darlings is contemplating the challenges of low or slowing economic growth and social dislocation and their own unique political problems.

Not that the rest of the world is doing much better. The eurozone has ageing populations and unfunded entitlements for its seniors; London’s future as the centre of the financial world has two question marks against it — one from homegrown antiEuropeanism and the other from Scotland. The US, whose economy is showing some signs of recovery, is in political gridlock as the Republican Party blocks the president’s agenda, forcing him to use executive orders of doubtful constitutional validity. Its armed forces are set to be reduced to their lowest levels since the 1930s at the very moment that Iran is going nuclear, Japan is militarising and the Middle East is imploding.

If the subtext for Brics is a desire to reset the global world order, it is worth looking at one of the outliers in this unhappy snapshot — Poland. If the Brics nations have a collective sense of victimhood at the cards history dealt them, Poland has some aces of its own. Joseph Stalin and Adolf Hitler first divided Poland between their dictatorships and then fought over it and Eastern Europe.

Poland, which accounted for 4-million of the 6-million Jews who perished in the ensuing Holocaust, was then placed under the dead hand of socialist economics for nearly 50 years after 1945. It seemed an unlikely place to mount an economic renaissance. Yet, as the Economist recently wrote, it is "Europe’s unlikely star". Its economy has grown since the collapse of communism by more than any other in the European Union (EU) and it is the only member state of the European club to have avoided a recession during the global financial crisis.

As Brics is strictly a non-European venture, Poland will not be represented at Fortaleza. Doubtless, the venue was chosen by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff because it was one of the showpiece venues for the just concluded Soccer World Cup. She could not have contemplated that her storied soccer team would be ingloriously bundled out of the tournament. But if her side didn’t win, neither has her economy done anything except move downward. In 2010, Brazil was careering along at 7% growth in gross domestic product. Today, that figure has fallen to about 1%. The cost of doing business in bureaucratic Brazil has risen just as its current account deficit has widened, inflation has risen and business confidence has fallen.

But even its growth rate sparkles in comparison to Russia’s, which, according to a recent International Monetary Fund forecast, will be about zero this year. That is the cost of invading neighbouring Ukraine and the bite of sanctions imposed by the US and EU.

If Russia simply drove a tank through public international law, SA’s jousting with the rule of law has a more local context, equally unsettling for investor confidence at home and abroad. The constitution here favours the public protector with significant powers to interdict maladministration. Yet another arm of the state, the public broadcaster, simply rides a coach and horses through her report on the unfitness for office of its chief operations officer, Hlaudi Motsoeneng. The board’s chairwoman is subsequently revealed to have misrepresented her own qualifications. The North Gauteng High Court recently ordered the arrest of the three top generals and officials of the South African National Defence Force for contempt of court for defying a previous court judgment. And so it goes.

In 1928, US Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis warned of the consequences of governments not leading by example: "If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy." Amen to that.

China, the objective economic giant of the club, is also the least democratically credentialed of the Brics quintet. But when it offered Hong Kong a "special status" 17 years ago with rule of law and quasi-democratic processes unknown in the mainland, it appeared to reaffirm that the rule of law — the cornerstone of its business-friendly environment — would be preserved. Recent events suggest this could be in peril.

India is the other big anchor of Brics and the world’s largest democracy. In contrast to other members of the club, new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised to revive business and investor confidence through less reliance on the state and more liberalisation of labour laws, less protectionism and greater competitiveness. Contrary to Tolstoy, perhaps this giant will yet prove to be "happy in its own way".

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Policy makers’ lack of imagination can be costly

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08 Jul 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

When confronted with the harsh realities of the world policy makers too often try to cling to old certainties, writes Tony Leon

ARGENTINA’s win over Belgium at the weekend has, for the first time in nearly 25 years, secured it a place in the Fifa World Cup’s semifinals. If Lionel Messi continues to be the gift that keeps on giving to his team and country, Argentina could just win the tournament.

If they can overcome the Netherlands, which ironically now has an Argentinian queen, they will face either archrival and neighbour Brazil, the tournament host, or Germany, of whom English football great Gary Lineker once said: "Football is a simple game: 22 men chase a ball for 90 minutes and Germany always wins."

Readers might recall the extraordinary onfield antics, replete with cartwheels on the sidelines of the pitch and kissing and hugging the players, of the maladroit Argentinian coach during the team’s calamitous World Cup campaign in 2010 in SA. Diego Maradona — quite correctly judged by Fifa, alongside Pele of Brazil, as the "footballer of the 20th century" — never managed to transfer his brilliance as a player to the more technical rigours of being a coach. He bears responsibility for his team being bundled out of the World Cup quarterfinals in Cape Town 4-1 by the methodical Germans. But he was equally responsible, as the key player in the 1986 tournament, for the country’s victory when Argentina last won the World Cup.

One of the more engaging conversations I had during my time in Argentina was with one of its foremost political analysts, Rosenda Fraga, who always found a witty metaphor to describe his country’s condition. He once explained the country to me rather memorably. "Argentina is a perplexing combination of two of its most famous sons, the literary giant Jorge Luis Borges, who walked with a limp, and the football legend, but decidedly nonintellectual Maradona. But all too often, it is the foot of the former and the head of the latter."

We know just how ephemeral a win in the World Cup proves to be. Spain won the cup four years ago in SA and ignominiously exited this year’s tournament in its early stages. As for hosting the global football fest, don’t even go there. SA managed a flawless world event in 2010, with genuine outpourings of fervent patriotism and national pride, despite the indifferent performance of our team, and even without a deputy minister suggesting the obligatory playing of our national anthem twice a day.

But within two years of managing such an event, we were catapulted into the global headlines when Marikana revealed our darker side. The pain has continued almost uninterrupted since then: from weak economic growth, declining investor confidence, continuing strike actions and two red cards from the credit rating agencies.

This year’s host, Brazil, did things the other way around. While the mostly violent service delivery protests here — more than 3,000 since January this year alone — in their intensity and frequency have been a more recent development, the streets of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo were rocked by demonstrations before the World Cup as Brazilians seethed with anger at the cost of the tournament.

While SA’s relegation to a BBB-credit rating happened only last month, four years after hosting the World Cup, for Brazil, once acclaimed as an economic powerhouse, its downgrading to just one notch above junk status happened in March.

Argentina’s cresting of the World Cup wave has mirrored its slide downward on the economic front into far more dangerous territory than any occupied by either Brazil or SA. While its football fans were celebrating at the weekend, events in and around the courthouses of New York suggested that, for the second time in 13 years, Argentina is staring at the prospect of a sovereign debt default. The country has entered a 30-day grace period that expires at the end of the month, by which time it will either have to reach agreement with its holdout creditors or fork out an unaffordable $15bn to meet its obligations to its sovereign bond holders.

For the past 10 years or so, it has adamantly refused to negotiate with the so-called "vulture funds" that refused the "haircut" imposed on all bondholders by the government following its previous national default and economic crisis in 2001. Argentina’s attempts to defy the economic laws of gravity are coming to an end.

In the Financial Times, Philip Stephens recently borrowed an aphorism from someone in Moscow trying to explain President Vladimir Putin’s aggressive and self-defeating behaviour: "When you do not know what to do, you do what you know."

Too often, policy makers in Buenos Aires or Moscow, or even Pretoria, come to think of it, when confronted with the harsh realities of the world as it is, not as they wish it to be, try to cling to old certainties, even demonstrably failed ones. Such a failure of imagination can be very costly for a country, far more than winning or losing a football tournament.

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook:


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

No Gupta-style reception for Clinton on SA visit

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01 Jul 2014 | Tony Leon | Original Publication:  BDlive

Giving the green light to the Guptas is apparently more easily accomplished than accommodating Clinton, who has an even-money chance of being the next leader of the free world, writes Tony Leon

HARRY Truman, the essentially self-educated, plain-spoken and hugely significant US president at the end of the Second World War and beginning of the Cold War, observed: "Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers."

He certainly practised what he preached and in his spare time, besides playing competitive poker, he read ferociously, both biographies and history. His opposite number at the Kremlin, Joseph Stalin, in between murderous purges and directing (or interfering) in the military defence of the Soviet Union was an autodidact of note. Even on the eve of the German invasion of his country, he was apparently reading military history, with his notes recorded in bold crayon.

Today’s leadership is cut from a different cloth and has to surf the age of instant communication, where blogging, Facebooking and tweeting, not to mention the "selfie", crowd out more contemplative pursuits.

And, in the words of another intellectual leader of note, Francois Mitterrand of France: "If you want history to remember you well, make sure that you write it yourself."

Recently retired US secretary of state Hillary Clinton practises both pursuits and, while her reading list is formidable, her autobiographies are driven by two impulses: money (she received more than $22m in advances for both her memoirs) and to advance her political career. She is today the favourite for the Democratic Party nomination for the presidency in 2016. Her book Living History did not help secure her the nomination in 2008, but it certainly added to her bank balance. Her latest offering, Hard Choices, hit the shelves last month, to a less than ecstatic critical reception. The Financial Times, for example, sniffed: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that presidential hopefuls must show their earnestness by writing crushingly dull books. Anything interesting would jeopardise their prospects. Hillary Clinton’s memoir is no exception."

The Economist was equally crushing in its review: "Earnest, dull and self-serving all at the same time … The memoir has the cautious, poll-tested feel of a campaign speech."

But there are some singular exceptions in this 656-page doorstopper and one of them relates to SA. To be sure, Clinton spends a few pages paying exemplary acknowledgement to her encounters with Nelson Mandela, not a difficult or diplomatic feat. But she opens up with far more candour when it comes to SA’s contemporary leadership.

Clinton, who has an even-money chance of being the next leader of the free world, writes: "In some instances, SA could be a frustrating partner … Presidents (Thabo) Mbeki and (Jacob) Zuma wanted to be taken seriously on the world stage. That’s what we wanted too … But respect comes from taking responsibility and sometimes it was difficult to interpret the reasons behind government actions."

She then relates an extraordinary and hitherto unrevealed back story of her last visit to SA in August 2012. Bear in mind that this was nine months before the Gupta wedding saga unfolded on the apron of Air Force Base Waterkloof — the difference in the reception for the wedding party and the then US secretary of state’s party is very telling.

In an incident which clearly still rankles, Clinton notes: "In August 2012, the South Africans refused at the last minute on my final visit to allow my diplomatic security team to bring the weapons and vehicles they needed into the country. My plane sat on the tarmac in Malawi, waiting to hear how the negotiations unfolded … the matter was resolved, and we were finally able to take off."

Clinton then, perhaps archly, notes: "I was leading a delegation of American business leaders from FedEx, Chevron, Boeing, General Electric and other companies, who were looking to expand their investments in SA." Indeed, at the time of the Clinton visit, trade between the two countries was valued at about R220bn, and while China had by then overtaken other countries as SA’s largest trading partner, the US was by far SA’s largest export destination.

It is unclear from her narrative how far up or down the chain of local diplomatic command the decision to keep Clinton grounded in Malawi went. In my own lesser diplomatic experience, these matters are often more cock-up than conspiracy. Still, I can imagine some official or group of them delighting in the idea of cocking a snook at the emblematic leader of the world’s remaining hyperpower, heedless of the reputational damage caused to our sovereign. Giving the green light to the Gupta wedding party’s unorthodox landing arrangements, at the same air force base, is apparently more easily accomplished.

Less than two weeks ago, Zuma advised Parliament and the nation that the government will "embark on various measures and interventions to jump-start the economy" and particularly render SA more attractive to investors. Perhaps it might be worth taking a leaf out of Clinton’s book, so to speak.

Leon is the author of Opposite Mandela (Jonathan Ball) Follow him on Twitter: @TonyLeonSA OR on Facebook: