Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Post-election landscape in SA

This is a re-worked version of an article I wrote for the London-based expatriate magazine, SA Promo. (Issue 25, June 2009) See the online version of the magazine here. You can "turn" the pages by clicking on the top right hand corner. This piece appears on pg 8, and another article I wrote on Jacob Zuma follows on. The sub-editing and formatting are really impressive and I think this little mag is a fantastic resource for those of us living abroad.

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The general election of April 22nd has come and gone, and apart from a few administrative glitches, was a free and transparent process. Notwithstanding the continued dominance of the African National Congress, and some heated rhetoric from all parties, the success of the poll was an indication of the vitality of the democratic process. It was also hard-fought, with South Africans turning out to vote in large numbers and with a great deal of enthusiasm.

After a long and controversial path to power, Jacob Zuma is finally President of South Africa. Although winning by a convincing majority, the ANC failed to capture two thirds of the vote, narrowly missing out with 65.9%. This means the ruling party are unable to make constitutional amendments without the support of other parties.


President Zuma


The most interesting developments were in the opposition. Major gains were made by the Democratic Alliance, which retains its status as the official opposition after securing 16,5% of the vote. In addition to winning nearly a million new votes on the national level, the DA was also able to capture the Western Cape outright. This is the first time since 1994 that any party has won the province without the need for a coalition and was largely due to the switching loyalty of Coloured voters away from the ANC.

Helen Zille is now Premier and this gives the party she leads the chance to demonstrate its ability to govern a province. However, the start of Zille's tenure has been undermined by her choice of an all-male cabinet that has caused a rather unfortunate row over the ever-important problem of gender discrimination in the country. This was probably strategically unwise and sent the wrong message (although nothing compared to the hateful bile being spewed forth by the ANCYL). Overall, there is still a long way to go before the DA can challenge the dominance of the ANC at the national level.


Premier Zille


The Congress of the People (COPE), after a promising start, has proved disappointing (but resilient). Although many pundits predicted COPE would score between 20 – 30% of the vote, it only managed 7,42%. I did not speculate openly about how much it would gain, but certainly my thought was that it would at least breach the 10% mark. I held my nose and voted COPE and tried to argue that as a splinter of the ANC, it was the only party that would truly be able to challenge the dominant party in the foreseeable future.

But as the renaissance of the likes of Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa shows, it pays to stay within the ANC and bide your time until the balance of power shifts in your favour. Both were persona non grata during the Mbeki administration and were even accused, along with Cyril Ramaphosa, of plotting a coup to overthrow the President (goodness, what a paranoid leader he was). Now these men are back on top. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and S'bu Ndebele were also big Mbeki acolytes and have since repositioned themselves and are now in the Zuma cabinet.


Yes, we kinda-sorta can!


COPE failed for a number of reasons. It suffered from a nasty leadership tussle as well as a tragic lack of electioneering in the townships and rural areas. It has also struggled to shake its association with the failings of Thabo Mbeki, whose recall as President last September was the catalyst for the formation of the party. That said, COPE succeeded in drawing support from across the racial spectrum and has eclipsed the DA as the official opposition in five of the nine provinces. It is still early days for South Africa’s newest political party, but the drawing board will have to be wiped clean I'm afraid.

  • African National Congress: 65,9% - 264 seats
  • Democratic Alliance: 16,66% - 67seats
  • Congress of the People: 7,42% - 30 seats
  • Inkatha Freedom Party: 4,55% - 18 seats
  • Others: +/- 5% - 21 seats

Another change is that many of the smaller, interest-specific parties suffered significant losses. Patricia de Lille’s Independent Democrats, and Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement have run aground, winning about 1% of the vote each. Although nothing has materialised yet, both leaders have been rumoured to be considering joining either COPE or the DA. The Minority Front, Freedom Front Plus, ACDP, PAC and AZAPO have all badly haemorrhaged support and their future looks increasingly tenuous.

Overall, a successful free election in one of the Continent's most important countries. However, elections are not the only indicator of the vitality of a democracy. The ability of the elected leadership to submit to the independence of the institutions of state and to obey the rule of law will be just as important as a well-run and clean election.

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Thank you to SA Promo for giving me permission to reproduce this work.

Monday, June 1, 2009

South Africa: Which way forward?

I am helping to host this public forum on South Africa after the elections and if you are in London please come along. Entrance is free and the speakers are from interesting and eclectic backgrounds. I will be writing a report on the event for those unable to attend.

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The Commonwealth Journalists Association (UK) invites you to

a discussion on

SOUTH AFRICA: WHICH WAY FORWARD?

Newly-elected President Jacob Zuma has pledged to defend the liberal democratic values of South Africa’s constitution, but his rise to power owes much to the frustrations of the poor and the loyalty of his supporters in the intelligence and security networks. This panel discussion will explore an emerging contest between the traditions of the governing African National Congress and new economic and political forces vying for influence in Africa.

Date: 4 June 2009

Venue: The Hellenic Centre, 16-18 Paddington Street, Marylebone, London W1
Time: 6-8pm
(followed by drinks)
Chair:
  • Kaye Whiteman: Writer, journalist and former editor of West Africa magazine

Speakers:
  • MARK ASHURST: Director, Africa Research Institute.
  • AUDREY BROWN:. Producer/Presenter of Focus on Africa and Network Africa, BBC.
  • JOHN BATTERSBY: UK Country Manager, International Marketing Council of South Africa and former Editor, The Sunday Independent.
  • ONYEKACHI WAMBU: Nigerian journalist and television producer.

Kindly be seated by 5:45

RSVP
Rita Payne
T: 07834 845240
E: ritapayne@hotmail.com

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

De Klerk 'cautiously optimistic' about Zuma

Last week Robert Krause and I published an article in the expatriate newspaper, The South African (19 May 2009). Below is the report we wrote on a speech FW de Klerk gave to the Royal Commonwealth Society (12 May 2009). De Klerk gave a measured analysis of the current state of politics in South Africa following the elections and there was plenty of vigorous discussion afterward. Congratulations to the Commonwealth Club for putting on a successful event.

Read the full edition of The South African in digital format here. (our article is on pg. 5)

AND

Download the full text on the FW de Klerk Foundation Website.

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"The reality is that Mr. Zuma will not be acceding
to the presidency in the happiest of circumstances"



Former President F.W. De Klerk was in London this week, and he expressed cautious optimism about the future of South Africa after the election of President Jacob Zuma. The 1993 Nobel Peace Prize laureate described Zuma as a pragmatic, non-ideological leader, but warned South Africans to be vigilant in protecting the constitution and the integrity of democratic institutions.

Addressing a packed hall at the Commonwealth Society Club on Tuesday 12 May, De Klerk said South Africans today have “much to celebrate”. The April 22nd polls constituted the fourth orderly transfer of power in line with the constitution, he said. “The election showed our young democracy is resilient and adds to the achievement of the past fifteen years,” de Klerk said. He also spoke highly of the long period of economic growth under former Finance Minister Trevor Manuel’s stewardship, which led to the emergence of the black middle class. Over 3 million houses have been built, and state allowances extended to 13 million children, he added.

The emergence of the Congress of the People (COPE) also offered the prospect of a strengthened non-racial opposition to hold government to account, he said. Similarly, the victory of the Democratic Alliance in the Western Cape was important as it “broke the monopoly on power at the provincial level.”

However, de Klerk lamented that South Africa still has serious problems, such as the world’s highest prevalence of HIV/AIDS with much time lost in tackling the crisis due to Thabo Mbeki’s AIDS denialism. The country is also burdened with an incredibly high level of social inequality, which de Klerk ascribed to the high rate of unemployment and poor education.

In his speech De Klerk identified two major trends in the African National Congress that were cause for concern. Firstly there is the tendency of the ruling party to advance its own interests at the expense of state institutions. Second is the desire for the left wing of the Tripartite Alliance to depart from the Washington Consensus orthodoxy, which De Klerk credits for the growth South Africa has enjoyed until recently, when the global economic slowdown began to impact negatively on the domestic economy.

De Klerk feared that the circumstances in which Zuma’s charges were dropped by the National Prosecuting Authority meant that “in the future the ruling party will decide who would be prosecuted”. Equally worrying were the attacks by senior ANC leaders on the courts and the supremacy of the constitution, the most recent example of which was Zuma’s recent statement that the powers of the Constitutional Court should be reviewed and that the justices of the Court were “not God”.

De Klerk also claimed that if the South African Communist Party and COSATU succeeded in getting the ANC to adopt redistributive policies it would be a disaster for South Africa which would “kill the goose that laid the golden egg”. There was no middle path between ‘orthodox’ and statist economic directions, he said, and President Zuma will eventually have to choose which direction is best.

Despite these concerns, De Klerk, said he was optimistic that South Africa would ‘confound the prophets of doom.’ One reason for his optimism was his assessment of Zuma as a good listener and primarily a pragmatist not driven by ideological agendas. Then there was his choice of cabinet which was inclusive. For example conservative Afrikaners’ interests were represented by new deputy minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Pieter Mulder of the Freedom Front + [Ed: see my interview with Mulder before the elections]. Key portfolios such as finance and housing were in the hands of moderates. Trevor Manuel retained his influence on policy through his appointment as head of the National Planning Commission, a position de Klerk likened to almost that of a Prime Minister in the scope of its powers.

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Photo by David Ansara


Monday, May 18, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi - Please call, fax or email the Burmese Embassy

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The message below arrived in my inbox this morning from the Social Justice Coalition and I felt it necessary to give it some more air time. I have blogged and published an article on the injustices in Burma on previous occasions - and particularly South Africa's response to the situation there. This is a small, but meaningful step that we can all take as citizens of democratic nations to resist authoritarianism. Our brothers and sisters in Myanmar do not enjoy the most basic freedoms; let us at least show our solidarity with them, even if the Generals won't necessarily listen.

It also sends a message to the new Jacob Zuma-led government that the era of appeasing dictatorial regimes in the name of some ill-defined 'national interest' must end.


Dear All

Aung San Suu Kyi has been imprisoned without visitors in her home (pictured above) in Burma since 1990 by a military dictatorship. In 1990, the National Democracy League won a general election by a large majority and the military refused to hand over power and instead crushed the National Democracy League and all political dissent.

On 13 May 2009, an American protester (John William Yeattaw) swam across the river that passed her home and despite being ill, she has been put on trial. 61 year old Suu Kyi now faces imprisonment. Please call the Burmese (Myanmar) junta's embassy in Pretoria: Tel: 27-12-341 2556 or 341 2557 Fax: 27-12-341 2553 and to demand freedom for Aung San Suu Kyi and democracy in Burma. or Email: mepta@myanemb-sa.net

Just use your phone or email today. Send the message

“I demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners in Burma as well as the restoration of democracy."

Support a human rights-based International Relations policy. Build Global Solidarity for freedom and social justice.

Zackie Achmat


To get onto the Social Justice Coalition's activist mailing list email:

ACTIVIST@socialjusticecoalition.org

Or to sign up visit:

http://list.socialjusticecoalition.org/mailman/listinfo/activist

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Post Scriptum:

I found it interesting that there is an embassy for the Myanmar junta in SA. I still think it is worth preserving diplomatic ties with these countries, despite their terrible abuses. You need to maintain access and you cannot do that if you force representatives out. For this reason I disagreed with COSATU's call in Jan/Feb of this year for the expulsion of the Israeli diplomatic mission.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Forum: Northern Ireland - what future for peace?



Since arriving in the United Kingdom I've had the privilege of attending an audience participation show called Forum, broadcast weekly on the international news service Press TV. I always try to ask a question as I think it is an excellent opportunity to engage with some leading thinkers and opinion-makers. You can see my question in the clip above or if you are interested in exploring the issue more you can download the full length episode here.

In this broadcast of 24 March 2009 the panel discusses the impact of British involvement in Northern Ireland and Ireland. The debate got pretty heated, with some vicious comments coming from the audience invoking the imperialistic behaviour of the British government stretching back 300 years.

As a South African I am keenly aware of Britain's colonial past and I do not romanticise the expansive Empire one bit. In Northern Ireland, British militarism was in many instances just as oppressive as in faraway Africa. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1972, where 27 civil rights activists were gunned down was one of many atrocities in this region. But the Irish Republican Army also committed some shocking acts of violent terror during the Troubles. It was an awful mess and the cyclical nature of the conflict left both sides morally compromised.

The pannelists seemed to agree that the framework for peace in the region was lasting and sustainable (despite recent sporadic violence by bittereinders calling themselves the 'Real IRA'). My question to the them concerned something greater than merely a cessation of hostilities. I was wondering if any attempts are ever made to reconcile the Protestant and Irish Catholic communities.

The answer I got was that a TRC-type model could never happen, as the wounds are still too raw. I disagree in that this process needs to take place while victims are still alive to tell their stories. So much of people's hurt comes from years of being ignored and you need to give voice to this anger, even if it makes you uncomfortable to hear it out in the open. The attainment of complete 'truth' is not as important here as acknowledging that an injustice was done and compensating victims for their losses.



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Trotting through life

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What I talk about when I talk about running
Haruki Murakami

Harvill Secker, 2008


In parts memoir, meditation on writing and travelogue, but mostly a reflection on the significance of running. Murakami is a powerful creative mind, and where he gets his power is from the road.

The author of Kafka on the Shore and Norweigian Wood started running aged thirty-three to overcome the unhealthy lifestyle he had fallen into before committing himself to being a full-time novelist. Since then he has run an average of six miles a day, six times a week. He has shuffled his way through marathons (one a year, every year), ultra-marathons and triathlons in settings as diverse as Boston, Tokyo and Hawaii.

His transformation from chain-smoking night-owl into this stubborn roadie is remarkable, as suddenly a slightly disorderly life becomes disciplined and rigorous. Early to bed, five am rise, work, then run. This new lifestyle alienated his friends, who no longer saw him at night as he became increasingly stoical, but that was what he had to do in order to be able to stretch his mind and mine the depths of his imagination. The hardship of the long distances gave Murakami the physical awareness which allowed him to flourish as an artist.

Just as meaningless as it is to put one foot in front of the other day after day, no matter how wet the surface or freezing the air, it is also how life is. That is what it takes to produce anything of value in this world - one set of conquests after another - and that is what running taught him.

What makes this so enjoyable is that this isn't a treatise on how to be healthy or even necessarily Murakami insisting that running is great and everyone should give it a whirl. He says this is what I do and it isn't the thing for everyone. But everyone needs their 'thing' the point is not so much running, but what gives you joy and suffering at the same time. We all need that.

We also need escape. People ask Murakami what he thinks about most when he runs. Nothing, he says, "I run in a void".

I have to admit, (despite Mr. Murakami's insistence that it is ungentlemanly for a man to reveal how he keeps fit), I share his passion for the sport (I, like Murakami, have never been much of a gentleman to start off with anyway). I read this book in a day - fittingly on the day of the London Marathon - a spring afternoon of incredible warmth and beauty. So inspired was I while reading it, that I grabbed my running shoes, packed a bag and hit the asphalt, my book packed without its dust jacket to stop it from scuffing. I ran from park to park, pausing, taking my shirt off, and whipping through chapter after chapter of this marvelous, reflective essay. I would force myself to stop reading, then I would run some more.

The connectedness one feels with the surrounds, the inwardness and solitude that runners crave, Murukami understands these things and puts them onto the page. If ever my legs were crippled in an accident I would return to this book again and again to grieve for the beauty of roadrunning and to celebrate it. This is a most fitting tribute to the madness that is running.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Mark Shuttleworth voting in London

QPQ talks to Mark Shuttleworth. Techie, philanthropist, Ubuntu pioneer, Afronaught and expat.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

ACDP Chief Whip on special voting day in London

ACDP Chief Whip and MP Cheryllyn Dudley was in London on Wednesday 15th April 2009 to observe the special voting day. She talks about the state of the opposition in South Africa, and faith-based politics in the country. She also examines the efficacy of the institution of parliament. If you can't view the video below click here.



I was quite impressed by Ms. Dudley as she was thoughtful and friendly. However, one problem I had with what she said was with her definition of secularism. She claims that "South Africa is not technically a secular state."

It is worth noting what the constitution says about religion at this point. Chapter 2, Section 15 concerning freedom of religion, belief and opinion says that:
  1. Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.

  2. Religious observances may be conducted at state or state-aided institutions, provided that ­
    1. those observances follow rules made by the appropriate public authorities;
    2. they are conducted on an equitable basis; and
    3. attendance at them is free and voluntary.


    1. This section does not prevent legislation recognising ­
      1. marriages concluded under any tradition, or a system of religious, personal or family law; or
      2. systems of personal and family law under any tradition, or adhered to by persons professing a particular religion.
    2. Recognition in terms of paragraph (a) must be consistent with this section and the other provisions of the Constitution.

...as well as Chapter 2, section 31, concerning cultural, religious and linguistic communities:
  1. Persons belonging to a cultural, religious or linguistic community may not be denied the right, with other members of that community ­
    1. to enjoy their culture, practise their religion and use their language; and
    2. to form, join and maintain cultural, religious and linguistic associations and other organs of civil society.

  2. The rights in subsection (1) may not be exercised in a manner inconsistent with any provision of the Bill of Rights.

Here the constitutional order makes generous provisions for the protection of religion but that is altogether different from saying that the country is guided by religious doctrine. This is not total. For instance, the reason we don't sell alcohol on Sundays reflects a sentiment that drinking on the holy day is wrong. Or the fact that Christmas is a public holiday while Ramadan isn't shows the dominance of the Christian tradition. So there is a spectrum, but we are still on the secular end of that spectrum, because religious considerations for the most part do not guide governmental decisions.

Secularism requires that principles of a particular faith should not be the foundation of the institutional or legal apparatus. But it still allows for freedom of religion and association. For example, many Christians feel strongly against abortion, yet it is legal in our society. They might prohibit the practice among their followers but they cannot will that prohibition to be universal merely by referencing scripture. The nature of secular democracy is that you have to balance competing needs and in this case the rights of women to adequate reproductive health outweighs the moral indignation that many people of faith may have against aborting unborn babies.

If, as Dudley says, 80% of South Africans are Christians it also means 20% are not, so a significant minority would choose a different set of spiritual convictions or none whatsoever. Thankfully she does emphasise that the separation of church and state not only protects the state from the church, but also the church from the state (ditto for the mosque and the synagogue).

Dudley says: "...for us it is very important that the institution of the state and the institution of the church are kept separate in that they have very different roles and different functions." She goes on to say that they want to be free to practice their religion without government imposing their own restrictions and rules. Sounds like a ringing endorsement of secularism to me.

Watch the video to see the full context of her statements and judge for yourself.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Pieter Mulder (FF+) on voting abroad



Above is an interview I conducted with Dr. Pieter Mulder, the leader of the Freedom Front Plus (FF+) in Trafalgar Square, London. Here South Africans living in the United Kingdom were casting their votes in the 2009 National Elections. Mulder and his party played a significant role in agitating for the revision of the Electoral Act on the grounds that the legislation was unconstitutional (the original law prevented a broad category of citizens living abroad from voting). I don't support the FF+, but I was very grateful to them - and the many others - who organised around this issue and agitated for the change.

Although the FF+ tends to draw its support from mostly Afrikaans white conservatives, consider what the white right looked like in the early nineties and how different the FF+ is from the Nationalist and Conservative Parties of yesteryear. We all bemoan the proliferation of opposition parties under our Proportional Representation (PR) system, but one of its benefits is that it enabled a wide range of interests to gain representation. This increased the legitimacy of parliamentary democracy for those citizens who may have felt excluded by a first-past-the-post system where they wouldn't have stood a chance in hell of gaining a seat in parliament.

So the next time you find yourself chuckling at the lilly-white election posters of the FF+ remember the moderating effect that fifteen years of democracy have had on the party and its supporters and how it is far better, in the words of Linden Johnson, to have them inside the tent pissing out rather than outside the tent pissing in.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Classic FM News broadcasts on voting abroad



On Wednesday the 15th of April 2009 I had the privilege of reporting for Classic FM from Trafalgar Square, where expat South Africans turned out in their droves to vote in the national elections. This was a significant moment, as the rights of those living temporarily outside of the country would have been severely compromised had they not been allowed to vote, as the Electoral Act then stipulated. Thankfully some public-minded citizens took it upon themselves to take the government to court over the matter and we were allowed to exercise our democratic
citizenship.


Classic FM News - SA Election Coverage - 11am - 15 April 2009.mp3 -





In the reports (two of which are embedded here) I paint a mental picture of the crowds snaking through the square as well as the process of voting. I was in and out in about an hour and fifteen minutes and although the logistics of the event were certainly challenging, this was clearly a bogus excuse not to conduct the overseas voting. It really wasn't that difficult to organise. Below is an image of an orderly and efficient bank of voting desks where officials would scratch out names of those on the voters roll:



I was very impressed by how well the whole process was managed, and I am very thankful to the IEC officials and everyone involved who helped make the process that much easier.

I held my nose and voted COPE, and my ballot paper is depicted below for those who may doubt my 'allegiances' - however flimsy they may be. I hesitated for a while before dropping the envelope into the box and as did so I said to the official, "I can't believe I just voted for those guys."



Something to note is that it is Terror Lekota and not Mvume Dandala, the Presidential Candidate, whose picture is on the sheet. I mean really. If in some alternate reality COPE actually won, do you think Terror would allow Dandala to become the national president? Somehow I don't think so. What then is the point of even having a presidential candidate I ask you, if his picture doesn't feature?

My friend Lexi's painted thumb proving she cast her vote:



I also took my video camera along and, time permitting, I will post some of the content on YouTube. Stay tuned for more on the elections as we build up to election day back home.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

QPQ overseas election coverage on Classic FM tomorrow

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I will most likely be reporting from South Africa House tomorrow morning for Classic FM, where I worked as an intern from January to March this year. Apart from the occasional Sarah Brighton song, Classic FM is by far the best listen in Gauteng; mostly because of their excellent news coverage and platform shows.

I have been asked by my former colleagues to provide insight from the SA foreign mission in London about the efficiency of the process and the feeling on the ground. Voting starts at 07h00 GMT and hopefully I can get on the phone back home within about an hour. So listen out for QPQ tomorrow morning on the hourly bulletins on 102.7 FM. If you live outside Joburg you can plug into live streaming by visiting www.classic.co.za.

Classic FM ran this report today, which highlights just how many people are going to vote tomorrow. It's a lot, so get there as early as possible:

Some 16,240 South Africans living abroad are expected to cast their votes tomorrow. Of these, 7427 voters are registered to vote at the South African mission in London. This makes it the largest polling station in the elections. Overseas voters must be registered and produce their ID and passport to be allowed to cast their vote. Voting stations at South African missions abroad will be open from 7am to 7pm. There are 124 South African missions abroad.

SA expats vote tomorrow: NB information

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Tomorrow I will be making my way to the South African High Commission in Trafalgar Square to cast my ballot. The absentee vote was something that had to be pried out of the jaws of the ANC government by our superb Constitutional Court.

I'm sorry it had to take a judicial order and that the government came up with such cynical explanations as to why they couldn't allow the short-term expatriates to chose who would lead their country. But the silver lining was that it showed the durability of the courts and the executive's (reluctant) acceptance of its legitimacy.

The IEC and the SA mission in London have released some important information about tomorrow's voting process. You will have to bring your VEC10 form, passport, identification document. You are also urged to bring along your VEC1 form, which can be downloaded on the IEC website.

If you are away from a printer today you needn't fear, as VEC1 forms will be available on election day. However, I strongly suggest you print out this form to quicken the voting process tomorrow. Lets meet the IEC halfway on this one as they are doing their bit to ensure we exercise our democratic right. Lets also show the nation how much balooney the government was talking when they said the logistics would be too much to manage by ensuring we vote quickly and efficiently.

See you there!

Hold your nose and vote COPE

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It gives me a cold, hollow feeling to say this, but I am going to vote for the Congress of the People in the upcoming national elections. The reasons for this are several, and if you allow me, I will elaborate on why I am taking such a banal course of action this time around.

But first, here are some very valid reasons not to vote for COPE:

  • Their presidential candidate is a religious leader, Mvume Dandala, who has no executive experience, has never even been an MP and who seems to be disconnected from the political mood of the country. What's more, he was placed there by bickering opponents who were unable to assume the principal position for themselves and thus settled on him as a compromise candidate. Why they didn't just use Shilowa, a flawed but pragmatic leader with a governance track record is beyond my understanding.
  • The movement is largely made up of the beneficiaries of the Mbeki era, who are indignant at their loss of power and patronage. They have been discarded by Zuma's ANC and there was no other course of action left for them to take. They have big egos and are associated with a president who manhandled democratic institutions and manipulated the administration of justice, a president who ignored the AIDS epidemic and who racialised the discourse of South Africa and how it confronts its problems.
  • That name. It is every sub-editors dream. Who thought of COPE as an acronym? Honestly! It says, "All we want to do is manage, we don't care too much for dreams of a better future, merely on how to stumble through the present."
  • They've had an incoherent election strategy, with no clear path to power and a seemingly dwindling support base.


Mbhazima Shilowa will not be running for President.
(Photo by David Ansara)

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So why, considering all of the above, should you vote for this muddled party?
  • They are a splinter of the ruling African National Congress, which has dominated the political process since 1994. COPE was born amid the ashes of the factional infighting of the ruling party. They might not pose an immediate electoral challenge to the ANC, but COPE's very existence represents a symbolic threat to an organisation far too comfortable with power.
  • It says to people who fought in the struggle: "Being in opposition is okay" as it makes a legitimate claim on the fight against apartheid. This counts for a lot, as many opposition parties are easily dismissed (sometimes unfairly) as representatives of minority interests (e.g. DA) or as complicit in the administrative apparatus of the ancien rĂ©gime (e.g. Holomisa's UDM, or Buthelezi's IFP). Simply, COPE offers a credible alternative that could potentially undermine ANC hegemony in South Africa in the long term.
  • Although some commentators have smeared the Congress of the People for being a party of elitists, there seems to be a focus in their agenda on the plight of the rural poor. Potential exists here for both organisations to coalesce around an urban/rural axis, which could help to conscientise people about the persistence of the class stratifications that exist in our country. Zuma's base is among urban blacks, and traditional conservatives; maybe COPE could capture another sector of society that is often overlooked.
  • Hopefully this will persuade the electorate to eventually vote according to policy and ideas rather than as an expression of their identity or as part of a nostalgic loyalty for the moral clarity of the anti-apartheid days.

I trust this clarifies why I will be marking my X next to the face of the good reverend. This is certainly going to be an election of great significance and COPE will live or die by these polls.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Are we brainwashed by advertising?

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Since arriving in the UK I've participated regularly in an audience discussion show entitled Off the Cuff. The programme is broadcast weekly on the Iranian international English news service channel, Press TV (channel 515 on Sky on Saturdays from 19h33 - 20h00 GMT). The topics usually concern some item of public contention, such as the war in Iraq, the effects of capitalism or the limits of personal freedom and the role of the state. I am over-complicating it though - it is simply an opportunity for people from all walks of life to engage with one another on issues they feel are important.

My first week on the show was very interesting indeed. Here the audience was asked how deeply they feel the media, and the advertising industry in particular, influences our consumer behaviour and dictates our lifestyles, preferences and needs.

I didn't fully get round to my point (owing to the fast-paced nature of the show and my own bombastic speaking style), but I think my message is clear. Certainly the advertising industry is guilty of a lot of sins. For instance, statements that downplay or ignore the harmful effects of the products they sell, such as greasy food or alcohol are clearly objectionable. Also, advertisers promote a view of the world which says that only through the attainment of vast personal wealth and by purchasing items you don't really need, can you be happy.

These are fairly common objections, and an industry such as this should be subjected to the proper regulation because its influence is great. Content that actively promotes a prejudiced view of a minority group or uses hate speech or which is totally misleading should suffer appropriate sanction. But we also have agency and choice and are not the "blank slates" the ad execs sometimes think we are. Can one teaspoon of detergent really wash a thousand dishes? I don't think so. Most educated and discerning people can come to a conclusion independently of the inputs the media feeds us.

"The medium is the message". Another frequent adage. A swish website, a viral marketing campaign and the use of repetition and catch phrases all help to push a product. The above qualities were all evident in the ground-breaking Obama presidential campaign. They helped to amplify Obama's message, but without the charisma and intellect that underpinned his candidacy he wouldn't have won. Similarly, the sloganeering and fear mongering of McCain (and especially his vice presidential nominee) weren't enough to hide the inherent contradictions of a moderate trying to pass himself off as a conservative right-winger.

To put it colloquially: if your product is shite, it won't sell, because word gets around and people see through transparent rubbish.

At the top of this post you will see an abridged version of this episode which I edited to show the salient points (with my own comment at the end). Click here to download the full episode onto your computer from Press TV's website (Original broadcast on the 28th of March 2009).

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Thanks to Pete Engelbrecht for editing the clip and to Press TV for the original material.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Slices of guilt

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Chronicle of a Death Foretold
Gabriel Garcia Marquez
(Penguin, 1981) 122 p.

A small, anonymous Latin American town. Innocence lost or squandered. An accused who knows not what he has done nor the reason he is being hunted.

The woman is a new bride, Angela Vicario, who is discovered to have lost her virginity - shock! - before committing to marriage. To avoid humiliation she accuses Santiago Nasser, of stealing her most sacred gift. The narrative draws inevitably towards Nasser's death, at the hands of Angela's butchering twin brothers; and the reader is but a powerless spectator.

This is a story so revolting it is difficult to look away. So silly in its violence. How could a town be swept up in this meaningless witch hunt? The townsfolk try to explain from each of their perspectives, and each seeks to rationalise the death in their own way. They are bystanders but just as culpable as the murderers themselves. As they received adequate warning but did nothing, theirs is a moral omission.

I don't know if Marquez if culpable either. I want to blame him for his depictions, but I can't, he is hiding behind the protective veil of 'the author'. C'mon Gabriel man, this dying is a serious business, and you make light of it at every turn!

[For an excellent exposition of the changes in style from Marquez's earlier to later works and the similarities to Kafka, see this post at (Mis)readings.]

Thursday, April 9, 2009

QPQ now broadcasting from London

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As some of you may know, I have moved to the United Kingdom. I am now based in London in a little suburb called Kilburn in the north-west of the city. I was one of the last batch to be issued the two-year working holiday visa, an opportunity that could not be bypassed.

Some things I have noticed about England, which I really enjoy:
  • Public transport is excellent. I feel a part of the city, rather than just passing through, as I do when I am in Joburg. The glum disposition of the passengers on the tube may be notorious, but the sense of public ownership of the trains is very high and the undergound is like the circulatory system of the city. SA would be a substantively better place to live if it could secure a safe and efficient transport system.
  • A relative lack of crime concerns. In the UK feel freed up from the nagging insecurity which is so much a part of daily life back home. It is really quite unfortunate that we have to live that way, as our country is such a beautiful and dynamic place. I cannot say I have been directly affected by violent crime (I have however been burgled before), but the knowledge that the institutions of the state are losing their ability to maintain law and order profoundly affects your own sense of civic responsibility and undermines your trust in strangers. Not good for a divided society trying to heal the wounds of the past.
  • True multiculturalism. Although there are some genuine barriers to freedom for people of minority groups, this is a country (or should I say a city) at ease with its plural character. I live in a neighbourhood filled with Poles, Indians, Jamaicans, Nigerians, Muslims and Jews and the melting pot of cultures is a fascinating spectacle to observe.
  • The proliferation of fine museums. They're the best in the world and they're free!


The downsides are of course:

  • The heightened sense of individualism and an atomised culture. At times the city can feel cold and impersonal.
  • The state is far more involved in your life here. There are a proliferation of CCTV cameras and one is constantly aware of being scrutinised. So the freedom to do and act as you please is limited by an administrative apparatus that won't so much as let you pee on a tree.
  • Credit crunch, financial crisis, recession, depression. Call it what you will, it's biting hard and people's livelihoods are at risk.

So QPQ is will continue to be a feature on the blogosphere, but with less of a parochial focus on South Africa. I love the place, but the off the cuff responses to the next crisis of the day can get repetitive and somewhat exhausting. So I am going to write when I feel like it and not be dictated by the caprices of the news agenda. I will also venture out of the strict boundaries of the blog's original subject mandate.

Friday, March 20, 2009

QPQ on YouTube


I have been using YouTube to post interviews with politicians, authors and social commentators over the last few months. Unfortunately I no longer have a dictaphone so I won't be doing any more of these for the foreseeable future. However, I thought it fitting to direct readers to Quid Pro Quo's YouTube account for the sake of posterity.

Click here to see my account. Its called QuidProQuoZA.

Here you can listen to interviews with Blade Nzimande, Helen Zille, Jeremy Gordin, Mo Shaik, Philip Dexter, Smuts Ngonyama, Dennis Davis, Mamphela Ramphele, Pippa Green and Jeremy Gordin. There are also a few video clips I took of politicians singing and dancing at various events, like the relaunch of the Democratic Aliance and the SA National Convention, the genesis of what is now known as the Congress of the People.

I initially started using YouTube as a way of bypassing the rather silly absence of an audio function on Blogger. Who would have thought that it would be so difficult to upload a simple mp3 on one's blog? I got around this little problem in five steps:

  1. Convert the audio file of the interview from .wav to .mp3
  2. Create a PowerPoint presentation with an image of the interviewee and implant the sound file in the presentation.
  3. Convert the Powerpoint presentation into a MPEG4 video.
  4. Upload this file to YouTube.
  5. Embed the code from the YouTube video into the html of my blogpost.
It sounds easy enough but it was actually a rather tedious thing to perform. But for anybody who was wondering how I did it, there it is. Another benefit of this method is that it increased the exposure of the material to YouTube users who would search for, say, "Mo Shaik", would see the 'video' then go to my site to read the interview transcript. Hopefully they would stick around and explore.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Robert Krause - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This article is in response to Anthony Posner's 'Freedom of Expression? Legitimate Criticism?' (9 March 2009). Both pieces form part of QPQ's ongoing dialogue that draws on the perspective of South Africans concerned with the conflict in the Middle East. For more in the series see here.




To crit is legit

By Robert Krause

In suggesting that the bulk of public criticism of Israel in South Africa falls outside the bounds of legitimate criticism, Anthony Posner relies on a number of premises. These can be divided into two groups: contentions of principle (what constitutes legitimate criticism) and factual claims (how the media covers the Israeli-Palestinian issue).

The first issue of principle is whether criticism of Zionism is legitimate. While Posner does not offer an account of what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel, it is fair to surmise that he does not regard criticism of Israel that includes criticism of its official ideology to be legitimate. It is understandable that partisans of an ideology might want to shield their views from criticism. However in a democratic society no viewpoint should be shielded from criticism. Zionism is no exception.

Furthermore there is a clear tension between Zionism (at least in its present-day varieties) and contemporary ideals of an inclusive democracy (exemplified by the South African constitution). Whereas contemporary democracies identify themselves as belonging to all who reside in them (or at least all citizens) irrespective of ethnicity or religion, Israel defines itself as a state for a particular ethic/religious group, the Jews.

Thus while any Jew, no matter how tenuous their link to Israel, can become a citizen Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war many of whom still posses the keys to their home are still not allowed to return.

Secondly, Posner argues that it is unfair to ‘single out’ Israel when there are other states that have a track record of human rights violations. It should be a truism that regimes are to be held to the same human rights standard. Those, for example, who criticise Israeli abuses while excusing state repression by Zimbabwe or Iran are clearly hypocritical and prejudiced (though not necessarily anti-Semitic).

However the amount of oppression in the world (on the basis of gender, race, nationality etc) is so vast that demanding that one invest an equal amount of energy in opposing each injustice leads to paralysis and inaction (which suits violators of human rights rather than the oppressed).

The intensity and duration of Israeli oppression (its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is in its 42nd year) and the tensions it is fuelling between Islamic societies and the West warrant significant attention being paid to the conflict.

Posner paints a picture of a virulently anti-Zionist South African media, in which human rights concerns are mere covers for an attack on the legitimacy of Israel. The reality, I would suggest, is more nuanced. I agree with Posner that coverage of Israel in South Africa’s printed press is often critical. However criticism of Israeli policy does not automatically equate to criticism of Zionism let alone an endorsement of Israel’s destruction.

As a habitual reader of the mass circulation Cape Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and Mail & Guardian, I’ve found the editorial lines to be critical of Israel’s settlement building and frequent excessive use of force (while also condemning Palestinian attacks on civilians) and supportive of a negotiated, 2-state, solution to the conflict. Of course there are many opinion pieces taking an anti-Zionist position. However, the Cape Times, for example has frequently published opinion pieces by pro-Zionist writers such as Joel Pollak and Milton Shain.




In seeking to present the South African media landscape as grotesquely anti-Israel the author launches a savage attack on the Freedom of Expression Institute (which is not the sole South African organisation committed to defending freedom of expression).

The past position of its Director of Operations in the Palestine Solidarity Committee (PSC) together with its executive directors pro-Palestinian activism in her personal capacity is used, without further evidence, to call the institute ‘simply an adjunct to the Palestine Solidarity Committee).

A browse through their publications and press statements reveals that the institute is currently supporting the campaign against the Film and Publications board’s censorship of a film about an intersexed youth and has published books on topics such as the state of the SABC, media in the SADC region, hate speech and pornography. All in all the output of an organisation concerned with freedom of expression not a front for a pro-Palestine group.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Anthony Posner - Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans

This article is a guest appearance in line with the Israel/Palestine: Reflections of South Africans series. To read more articles and contributor guidelines see here and here. The views expressed below are not shared by the author of QPQ but are published in the interest of debate.


Freedom of Expression? Legitimate Criticism?

by Anthony Posner (aka The Blacklisted Dictator)

Let me lay my cards on the Quid Pro Quo blog table. I am an anti-anti-zionist. Not quite the same as a Zionist. If I was, I'd be living in Israel and not in South Africa.

Over the past couple of years, I have in one way or another, been discussing mainly on the internet two important issues in relation to the conflict in the Middle East. The first has been how freedom of expression impinges on the debate. The second is what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel. With regard to them both, I have been discussing it within the South African context.

My eyes were first opened when I found out that The Freedom of Expression Institute (FXI) was really just an adjunct to The Palestinian Solidarity Committee (PSC). Up until recently, its Director of Operations, Na'eem Jeenah, was also the spokesperson for The PSC.

I also found out that Jane Duncan (exec director of The FXI) had signed South African Academics Supporting the PACBI Call for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions.

http://www.sue.be/pal/academic/SA_boycott_sigs.html

When I wrote to Jane Duncan asking whether she thought that boycotting Israeli academics furthered freedom of expression, I received no reply. I also asked her which other academics the FXI believed should be boycotted. Zimbabwean? Burmese? Chinese? Iranian? Sudanese? Saudi Arabian? Syrian? etc. And, of course, this was also met by silence.

Interesting to ponder that virtually nobody in South Africa makes any fuss about The FXI's position regarding Israel and the wider Middle East. Of course if The FXI was run by The South African Zionist Federation there would be uproar from the editor of the Mail & Guardian and virtually every other main stream South African newspaper. But that is how the world works and even more so in SA.

So there is no level playing field when Israel pops up in The SA press. The framework proscribing how freedom of expression relates to the complex debate is clearly biased. Propaganda, and not proper analysis rules the day.

The South African Human Rights Delegation (SAHRD), fronted by Doron Isaacs and Nathan Geffen, has more recently forced me to consider what constitutes legitimate criticism of Israel.

Firstly , it is important to realize that the main stream media is so anti-zionist that critiques of their SAHRD views rarely see the light of day. As a result, one of the biggest obstacles confronting us is to actually debate the issues. Israel’s accusers are carte blanching 24/7 in the SA media; they can quite literally write what they like and get away with it.

Secondly, is it legitimate criticism to single Israel out for criticism and to keep silent about various Islamic regimes?

Thirdly, is it legitimate criticsm when the complex history and political dynamics in the Middle East are ignored?

Fourthly, is it legitimate criticsm when the terms “human rights”, “anti-racism”, “anti colonialist” etc are fashionably used as weapons to attack Israel’s legitimacy?

Fifthly, is it legitimate criticsm when Jews who write such criticsm know that their views will gain wider currency, because it is much harder to allege that Jewish “legitimate criticsm” of Israel may be unfair or antisemitic?

And finally, is it “legitimate criticism” when people who “legtitimately criticize” Israel are unwilling to publicly debate precisely what consitutes “legitimate criticsm” in the South African context?

With regard to my last question, I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong and that my article will provoke a detailed and interesting debate on Quid Pro Quo!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Where has the time gone?

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I've been a stranger to the blogosphere for a while now. Appy-polly-logies for the muteness but I have been working as an intern in the news department at Classic FM in Joburg for about two months. I have been involved in almost the entire spectrum of radio broadcasting and news production and it has been a incredible priviledge. My duties included:

  • Writing radio news stories
  • Editing print (wire) stories for radio usage
  • Diary formulation and lead generation
  • Researching and interviewing for lead stories
  • Audio editing of sound bites.
  • Sports news writing and reading.
  • Field reporting.
  • Transferring news copy and audio to web.

Working at Classic has been an amazing experience but it has left me utterly exhausted at the end of the day (especially after hours of sitting in traffic). It is difficult to appreciate the speed with which news is produced and the effort required to present contemporary events in a fair and accurate manner until you are required to do so yourself.

So forgive me if the last thing I wanted to see upon my return home is a back-lit LCD screen.

Good news for bloggers out there is that all your ceaseless typing can pay off sometimes. Quid Pro Quo helped to get me noticed in the media world and was also a dry-run for the type of work I ended up doing in my formal journalism.

I am still working at the station as a part-time sports reader (my nerd credentials have taken a major knock). You can listen to me on 102.7 fm in the Joburg Metropolitan area or online at http://www.classicfm.co.za/

I'm on at 16h30 and 17h30 tomorrow and Friday.