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Der Mann spinnt

If anyone was still unsure, now there can be no more doubt: The man has lost it. "Er spinnt", as the Germans say. Here is the next chapter in the Mbeki-falls-apart saga. It was first published by The Argus on 29 May 2008:

Mbeki tells Bush to "butt off"

President Thabo Mbeki has allegedly sent a four-page letter to President George Bush criticising the US for its stance on Zimbabwe.

According to a US official quoted by Washington Post columnist Michael Gerson, Mbeki slammed the US, "in a text packed with exclamation points", for taking sides against President Robert Mugabe and disrespecting the views of the Zimbabwean people.

"He said it was not our business," Gerson quotes the unnamed official as saying, and "to butt out, that Africa belongs to him". He quotes another official as saying: "Mbeki lost it; it was outrageous."

In his column, titled The Despot's Democracy, Gerson said Mbeki had written the letter to Bush in April, after the March 29 elections in which Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF lost its parliamentary majority to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe came second to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai in the presidential poll.

Because Tsvangirai did not get more than 50 percent of the vote, he must face Mugabe again in a run-off presidential election on June 27.

On Wednesday night Mbeki's spokesperson, Mukoni Ratshitanga, said he had no knowledge of Mbeki's letter to Bush.

However, an official of the US embassy in Pretoria confirmed that Bush had received the letter.

"He disagreed with some of the points in the letter. We feel we have an important role to play in bringing peace and security to the region and in helping to ensure free and transparent elections in Zimbabwe.

"The White House is working on a response" to the letter, the embassy official added.

Last week Mugabe threatened to kick out US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee for "interfering" after he told a journalist that Tsvangirai should return home to start campaigning for the run-off.

McGee also ran into trouble with authorities earlier this month when he and several other ambassadors were detained at the side of the road for an hour after visiting an alleged Zanu-PF torture camp.

Gerson labelled South Africa as a "rogue democracy", citing Mbeki's letter, plus a string of decisions in the UN Security Council where South Africa opposed action against human rights offenders, as evidence that "South Africa, of all places, sides with the despots".

end of article

Comment: The man is pulling South Africa down. He must be replaced as soon as possible. With someone strong. Cyril Ramaphosa comes to mind.
1.6.08 11:31


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(Something good) Out of Africa

What an article! It's so nice to see something like this coming out of Africa.

It was published on AllAfrica.com on 31 May and I republish it here in full. I'll research a bit about the journalist who wrote the article while you read, then publish the results of my Google search below the article. Enjoy!

South Africa: Coffee Break is Over
The Monitor (Kampala)
OPINION
31 May 2008

Gawaya Tegulle

We have always known South African black people to be even more discriminatory than the whites who rode roughshod over them during apartheid. We just didn't think they'd go this far - beating and killing fellow blacks from other countries, blaming them for their economic woes.

You are tempted to think the calm they have enjoyed between 1990-2008 was simply a coffee break which is now over, and normal service has resumed: discrimination and violence.

Clearly, the pain they suffered during the apartheid era didn't teach them that it is primitive to discriminate against others, not to mention killing them. It's odd and outrageous that the people we sympathised and identified with and helped in so many ways during their time of tribulation are now turning against us just because they now have the whip hand.

It shows their weakness as a people - never willing to take responsibility for their problems, constantly cutting themselves out as the kings of excuses. First they blamed apartheid, now they blame foreigners. Soon they will blame the weather, wildlife, globalisation and possibly the Most High.

But it also exposes the weakness of South African President Mbeki - a decent, down to earth intellectual who is too timid and tender to withstand the vagaries of the Byzantine politics of the Dark Continent.

In February 2004, when Libya (Muammar Gadaffi) and Nigeria (Olusegun Obasanjo) opposed the political aspect of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) as interference into domestic affairs, Mbeki who was looked up to as the "Head Prefect" among African leaders shrugged and said it was alright (never mind how stupid the whole idea was).

It was not until intense pressure from Canada's Jean Chretien, then President of the G8 that Mbeki caved in and had political governance included in the areas for review.

And now when his own country is in chaos, Mbeki's leadership has been weighed and found wanting. Mbeki is arguably a small fellow in a high place and is only lent size and prominence by the fact that he heads (rather than leads) Africa's most prosperous economy.

Even his rise to domestic leadership was largely because he was backed by a strong party - the African National Congress (ANC). Were Mbeki presiding over a small banana republic of no strategic importance to the West, in all likelihood he'd be obscure and inconsequential, and on demand for his intellectualism at academic fora, rather than big time summits with the global big boys.

It clearly illuminates the problem of putting a small man in a big office. At first we judged him rather unfairly - stepping into the shoes of the great man Nelson Mandela. Many uncharitably declared that he was not even worthy to try them on for size. Now their verdicts are being vindicated by none other than the man himself.

However, let's broaden the issue and look at it from an African perspective. Chaos in Zimbabwe comes in part because President Mugabe is too strong and the institutions weak; for South Africa the chaos is in part because although the institutions are reasonably strong, Mbeki is too weak- two extremes which call for Africa to look for a middle ground that breeds strong institutions with reasonably strong and decisive leaders.

Uganda's case falls in the Mugabe category- a strong Yoweri Museveni with institutions that are too weak, under-funded and poorly staffed to stand his domination.

Critically, the chaos in South Africa, Kenya, Zimbabwe, etc shows that any attempts to form a United States of Africa now is silly. If we can't control Africa at micro level, we can't do it at macro level - certainly not with the current array of leaders that reads like an inventory of the dysfunctional.

Lastly, if we are really serious people in a global village, South Africa's credentials to host the World Cup have effectively been lost. The world that for the last few months has been pelting China for its brutality in Tibet and threatening to boycott the Olympics, should now serve the same treatment to South Africa- it's time to use sports as a tool for shaping politics and social conscience in the right direction all over the world.

The Chinese have no business hosting the Olympics. And South Africa, a nation that is killing foreigners, has no business hosting the biggest sports event in the world.

end of article

Comment: Oops, I've just displayed my lack of knowledge of journalism in Africa...Tom Gawaya-Tegulle is a well-known and well-published journalist with years of experience. In some articles he is called an "independent journalist based in Kampala", in others a "political analyst for independent daily The Monitor". Last year the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation cancelled his TV talk show, after the appearance of an opposition politician.
1.6.08 12:03


For the record

I paged back in my blog this morning, scanning every one of the 189 contributions I had written since 2005, and for the record: I can still live with all - but one.

The article titled "Is Tito about to get egg in face?" published on 17 August 2007 is a really bad one. A bit embarrassing, actually. I could delete it, but I don't want to allow myself that luxury. It would be too easy...if I could just write and later erase again whatever time proves to be nonsense.

That way blogging makes much more fun.
1.6.08 13:27


When in Africa...always look on the bright side

After attending a parent evening at the local school, I decided to amend my "Rudolf article".

Two nights ago an expert spoke on the topic of "the dangers posed by the media to children below 11 years". At one point he jokingly defined puberty as "the point where the parents get difficult".

I smiled, but then it struck me again how important the angle, or direction is from which one approaches a problem. Look at the same problem from two different angles and you're likely to get two completely different answers.

That was also the interesting thing for me about the "Rudolf speech" (reprinted below), among others.

Rudolf Gouws has been chief economist of Rand Merchant Bank for who knows how long, maybe 20 years. Between 1986 and 1998 I listened to dozens of his presentations and always walked away with a good feeling. He can simplify (necessary, if you want to make an impact and leave something behind in 15 minutes), he can analyse, he can present, but most of all: He can be positive.

He talked at the graduation ceremony of the University of Pretoria on 14 April this year. On this occassion he again had a positive message. Although, I must remind that this speech was delivered before the whole anti-refugee war thing. Wonder what he thinks about that...

I'll say where and why I differ from Rudolf's positiveness below his speech. (Also look out for his interpretation of what the Mbeki government did right and wrong on economic policy.) Here we go:

"Chancellor, Vice Principal, Registrar, Dean, Members of Council, graduates, their families and friends, ladies and gentlemen.

"I am honoured by your invitation to speak today, and am very happy to be able to congratulate you, the graduates. You have done yourselves and your families proud. Your hard work has paid off: this morning you are obtaining degrees most young people in South Africa can only dream of, and from an institution with a proud history.

"Yet even for students who have excelled, such as you, many aspects of your future must appear uncertain and worrying, no matter from which community you come - crime, HIV/Aids and a suddenly weaker South African and world economy are colour-blind.

"In considering what to say today, I thought back 40 years to 1968 - the year I graduated (I have to admit, not from this university). Then the prospects - especially for a white graduate such as I - could not have appeared better. We did not know it then, but economically, South Africa was soon to reach the sudden end of a wonderful decade of high economic and employment growth, and of low inflation. A decade of effective political suppression had hidden the country’s growing tensions from most young whites, creating the illusion that all was well, and stable, on both the social and political fronts.

"No sooner had I graduated than things started to fall apart: the stock market crashed spectacularly in 1969; the economy entered its first serious post-war recession in 1971; and the following two and a half decades saw a steady decline in economic growth, falling real per capita incomes and sharply rising inflation. As international attitudes towards its racial policies hardened, and sanctions were imposed, the NP government embarked on expensive strategic projects. Also, domestic companies and workers were sheltered from international competition by high tariff walls, which bred inefficiency and complacency. Government spending and the number of people it employed rose rapidly.

"Against this background the tax burden and budget deficits escalated sharply. Interest rates were kept artificially low, creating an ideal breeding ground for inflation. Inflation is, of course, an anathema to fixed investment, and the domestic business environment became increasingly unpredictable and unprofitable. This was also a time of political unrest, states of emergency, and uncertainty. Not surprisingly, private fixed investment (and, with it, job creation) slowed down sharply.

"Moreover, because of the fiscal and economic problems it had brought upon itself, from the late 1970s the government (and the rest of the public sector) were forced to cut back their capital expenditure. Unfortunately, this included cutting back on ‘social infrastructure’ - for instance, universities, schools, hospitals and clinics.

"In short, the NP government bequeathed to its successor a serious socio-economic mess, including big discrepancies in income, wealth and access to social services and to social and economic infrastructure, plus widespread and deep poverty. On top of that, it left its successor a big budget deficit, high and sharply rising government debt, and internationally uncompetitive tax rates.

"The new government’s position in 1994 was much like that of a traveller in rural Ireland, who, on asking a farmer the way to Dublin, was told: “If I were you, I would not start from here”’.

"Like the traveller, the new government did not have an option. It had to deal with the position it found itself in. It simply had first to fix a big hole in the government finances, and simultaneously had to build capacity to spend funds efficiently on what mattered to the previously excluded majority. This was going to be far from easy. It had inherited a civil service not particularly well equipped to switching from administering the apartheid state to servicing a much larger constituency, and it implemented transformation in ways that led to a serious loss of skills in all levels of government and the public sector.

"Moreover, some in the ANC were also slow to realise how inappropriate many of the ANC’s own earlier policy approaches (such as nationalisation, tighter exchange controls, higher corporate and maximum marginal personal taxes, more government borrowing, interest rate controls, prescribed investment ratios, and so on) were for the problems the economy and society faced.

"Yet (for reasons that may make an interesting topic for a dissertation for some of you intending further study in Economics)*** the new government almost immediately took a very different approach from what many had feared before the political transition. For instance, it quickly realised that the country’s problems were so great that they could not be solved by government taxing, borrowing and spending more – that the ability to address problems sustainably would indeed be undermined by such an approach. They also realised that many of these problems the government could not tackle alone – in particular that the government itself could not possibly create jobs in the numbers required even to start addressing the huge unemployment problem.

"It therefore accepted that sustainable job creation required private fixed investment, and that fixed investment in turn depended on the perceptions of risk and return on the part of those who had to risk their own or borrowed capital to make those investments. Also, it could start to deliver on promises of expanded infrastructure, and of housing, water and electricity delivery only if it made the private sector a partner, instead of blaming the private sector for its own failures.

"While the government could certainly have done better on these fronts, private fixed investment did indeed respond positively to the new political and economic environment, growing by an average of seven per cent per year in real terms from 1994 to last year – having actually declined marginally over the previous decade. Yet jobs initially continued to be lost. Among the reasons for this is that the policy path the ANC embarked upon was a necessary, but clearly not sufficient, condition for reaching the goals of faster growth and job creation. A great deal remains to be done in almost every sphere of economic and social policy, which is why our growth ceiling remains far too low. But, it is significantly higher than it used to be.

"The government knows that it has to “deliver” far more rapidly than it has done so far to the poor and unemployed. Having bitten the bullet in the first few years after 1994, it has over the past five years been able to accelerate the pace of delivery (of, for instance, housing, water reticulation, and access to electricity). Though in some cases the pace has been slower than hoped for, this is expected to improve further over the next five years. In many other fields, most notably crime prevention, a great deal more needs to be done.

"Fortunately, government knows that it can deliver sustainably only if it does not allow its deficits, debt and inflation to get out of hand again. It also knows that the global reality is one of the free movement of capital, technology and skilled labour, and that the government’s role is to help to make South Africa a country that will attract and retain - not repel - these resources.

"I should like to conclude this look at the past forty years by saying that, when I graduated, everything looked bright, but this was really an illusion. To my mind, the reverse is now true. The South African reality today (though not without many serious problems and challenges) is much better than the general perception.

"South Africa has a legitimate, democratically elected government; we have a constitutional state and are politically stable. Race groups previously forcibly kept apart now live in harmony. For the purposes of this morning, I wish I could simply have repeated a speech delivered last month by Mr Dave Knowles, the headmaster of St Stithians - please read it on the website of South Africa The Good News. Having more than the fifteen minutes I was allowed this morning, he listed a wide range of positives which many people either do not know, or choose to ignore in the current gloomy climate, which seems to be feeding on itself.

"You may say that this is all very well, but where does it leave me as a graduate about to enter the jobs market? Will I find a job? How will it pay? If I am black, will I be hired for my skills, or mainly because companies are forced to have a certain number of previously disadvantaged employees? If I am white, will I be hired at all, or will I have to go abroad to find a job? There are no easy answers to these questions. What I am certain of, is that the big shake-out in the South African labour market has already taken place. It may sound cruel, but this shake-out was necessary if we were to make it possible for our economy to compete internationally and to be able to create real and sustainable jobs in the long run. I think we passed that point three or four years ago. The necessary rationalisation lies behind us, and there is now in fact a serious skills shortage

"The economic slowdown which started late last year may well become more serious, but it is one we share with much of the world. Unfortunately, the consequences for the United States and the rest of the world of the credit crisis now playing out are difficult to judge. The US is almost certainly already in recession, and the impact is, and will be, felt worldwide. Though in the South African case it is also worsened by a shortage of power, our slowdown should be seen as an inevitable and perhaps necessary adjustment after the big personal debt buildup and large external imbalance that had developed during the boom of the past four years. Following the present consolidation, South Africa will continue on the longer-term growth path which started in 1994.

"I want to congratulate you again on the degrees you gain this morning, and wish you every success in your further studies. Or, if you are now heading for the job market, I wish you well in your careers, whether those careers are in South Africa or abroad. We are, to my way of thinking, all citizens of the world in this age of globalisation and nobody should be criticised for seeking opportunities elsewhere. But South Africa needs its youth, and there is much all of you can do to help shape our future.

"There is currently a serious new surge of emigration but, through my involvement in The Homecoming Revolution, it is clear that more than just a trickle of young South Africans are returning. They are doing so not only because conditions are often much tougher out there than they had thought. I believe that the future for them, and for you, is far brighter here in South Africa than we realise.

Congratulations and thank you."

Comment: In deciding whether one wants to be optimistic about the future, or pessimistic, one must look at trends. Snapshots have only limited value. Certainly, a snapshot of government finances today has a much better story to tell, than a snapshot taken shortly before 27 April 1994. But, even a sunny snapshot has only limited value when it comes to "the future prospects". For instance, the gains slowly and painfully made with state debt in the 14 years since 1994, could evaporate very quickly by a "jump to the left" in the post-Mbeki era (or should one call it the post-Trevor era?) In short, if one looks at the way things are trending in SA, then one must (unfortunately) be a little less optimistic, to put it positively.

*** Also look at my take on what happened in my article titled "Why I'm so negative on the rand - Part II" dated 3 December 2007.
4.6.08 11:18


Don't panic, don't panic, don't panic

Alan Knott Craig, a South African businessman, wrote a book for South Africans called Don't Panic. I should read it.
4.6.08 11:44


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