Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Moving

I have decided to move to TypePad.
From now on you will find Mzansi Afrika here.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Divisions in the ANCYL?

Another interesting development on the local political scene regarding the presidential succession debate. City Press reports that "the ANC Youth League is being rocked by divisions over whether President Thabo Mbeki should make himself available as leader of the ANC for a third term. The league's deputy president, Ruben Mahlaloga, has broken ranks with its leader, Fikile Mbalula, by distancing himself from a position paper by the latter." (More)

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Iraq insurgency: getting better or worse?

Something that I have been very curious to know, is whether the insurgency in Iraq is getting better or worse. In my opinion the best sources of information in trying to evaluate the situation is to rely on straight forward factual reports in the mainstream media, as opposed to opinion pieces and analysts who may be batting for the left or the conservatives, and more importantly straight from the horses mouth, US military press briefings.

According to the NYT in April 2005 - "Attacks on allied forces have dropped to 30 to 40 a day, down from an average daily peak of 140 in the prelude to the Jan. 30 elections but still roughly at the levels of a year ago. Only about half the attacks cause casualties or damage, but on average one or more Americans die in Iraq every day, often from roadside bombs. Thirty-six American troops died there in March, the lowest monthly death toll since 21 died in February 2004."

Towards the end of April 2005
AFP reported General Richard Myers, the most senior US military officer, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said that the Iraqi insurgency wasjust as strong then as it has been a year ago. Myers said the number of attacks had increased slightly recently but maintained that was a poor measure of the insurgency, noting that half the attacks were thwarted. He also acknowledged that insurgents were capable of surging to higher levels of violence as they did before the January 30 elections.

From a
press briefing transcript on 15 July 2005 by Major General Joseph Taluto, commander of the Multinational North-Central Division. Areas under his command include Balad, Kirkuk , Tikrit and Samarra:

“I would say that the insurgency in North-Central Iraq is at about a similar level to pre-election, but it has changed in its complexion. Our assessment is that many of the former regime or Sunni Arabs that were opposed to the new government and the new political process have fallen away. I think that has reduced. I think the religious extremists, while they have not, in our view, in North-Central Iraq, grown, they have coalesced a little bit more with national religious extremists like Ansar al-Sunnah, getting involved with QJBR(long acronym-basically an Al Quaida group on Iraq) activities, and they are responsible for the spike in suicide bomb attacks in North-Central Iraq. Our attacks in direct fire and indirect fire have reduced over time. And going back to last year to this year, those types and forms of attack have been reduced significantly.

There [is]more cooperation or passing of information between a variety of [insurgent] groups. While direct fire and indirect fire have been reduced in North-Central, we're seeing more suicide vehicle- borne IEDs (improvised explosive devices) of late. So there's some trade-off there. Of course the suicide vehicle-borne IEDs are mostly against innocent civilians, against soft targets, Iraqi security forces, police and army soldiers in static positions. And so therefore, they're still trying to disrupt the process, they're still trying to intimidate people; they're trying to intimidate Iraqi security forces. I just think that we maintain pressure on the insurgency. I don't think it has grown. I don't know that I could say that it has been reduced significantly, because we still see these level of suicide attacks, but it doesn't mean it's done by a lot of people.”

From a
press briefing on 14 July 2005 by Brigadier General Donald Alston, Director, Strategic Communications, Multinational Forces in Iraq:

“Last week throughout Iraq , there were 23 VBIEDs (Vehicle borne improvised explosive devices). Of those 23 VBIEDs, six were suicide VBIEDs. And that number reflects the lowest number of suicide VBIEDs in 11 weeks.”

It looks like the best that we can say, give or take, is that the insurgency is roughly the same as it was a year ago. On the downside, the insurgency does seem capable of spiking at particular times such as during the January elections. From what I’ve been monitoring over the past 3-4 weeks or so, it also seems like activity seems to increase over the week-ends. This week-end for example has been pretty bad.
Reuters reports that today, a fuel truck bomb killed 70 people south of Baghdad.

“15 suicide bombers have struck within just over 48 hours in the capital and along the highway heading south in what al Qaeda's Iraq wing has declared is a new campaign to seize control of Baghdad. Iraq has often experienced several suicide attacks per day since the government took power in April. But U.S. generals have said the situation was improving, with just six suicide car bombs countrywide last week, the fewest in nearly three months. The sudden upsurge began on Friday, when 11 suicide car bombers struck U.S. and Iraqi military targets throughout the capital and on the highway heading south. Those attacks killed more than 32 people and wounded more than 100. On Saturday, apart from the Musayyib blast, strikes throughout Iraq killed at least 16 people, including three British soldiers in Amara in the south and one American soldier near Kirkuk in the north.”

According to an article in the
New York Times: “It was unclear why the insurgents decided to carry out the flurry of attacks this week, but many Iraqis had been anticipating a spike in violence tied to Sunday, the anniversary of the 1968 Baathist revolution that ushered Saddam Hussein's political party into power. Officials believe many of the leaders of the insurgency are Baathists.”

On the upside, military press briefings say that ordinary Iraqi’s are increasingly helping to fight the insurgency by tipping off a telephone hotline. “In the month of June, we saw more than 4,000 Iraqi citizens calling their coordination centers with information…. For example, they point out caches, almost eight out of the 10 caches we find now are pointed out to us by Iraqis.” Additionally, it seems that multinational forces are able to thwart at least half of all terrorist attacks. Also the Americans are making increasing if slow progress in better training and equipping the Iraqi Security Forces. About 20 percent of all counter-insurgency operations are being carried out by the Iraqi’s. However a great deal more needs to be done, and the US is unable to predict when the forces will be able to operate completely independently.

In conclusion, I have to say it is not easy to say for certain whether the US is winning the war or not. What does seem clear is that they are, give or take some spikes in insurgent activity, managing to contain the insurgency within certain parameters. Does this mean they are winning? From other articles that I have read, it seems that when the US troops go into certain hotspot areas on big operations they manage to quell the insurgency in those areas. But disturbingly, I have also read that insurgents are starting to operate again in Fallujah where they had managed to destroy the uprising their after their big operation. One solution would be to bring more troops into Iraq, but politically this might have even worse repercussions, I don’t know? Anyway this is not something the US is considering at this point. Their main mission now seems to be to get the Iraqi Forces strong enough so that they can eventually pull out.

At best US and Iraqi forces will succeed in completely wiping out the insurgency. As things stand now this is not yet something we can realistically hope for, for the time being. At worst we could end up with another Israeli/Palestinian situation, whereby even though one side has much greater military strength, the two sides are perpetually engaged in medium grade intensity warfare. My concern would be if the US buggered off at some point and left the Iraqi’s to deal with the mess on their own. They must finish what they started and bring lasting stability and democracy to the country.

Pottermania

Wayne over at Commentary has an entry on the free market economics of Harry Potter and book prices in South Africa. What I find so interesting about the whole Harry Potter craze is just trying to understand – how the hell did it get so big? What is actually so fantastic about the books that seem to have caught the popular imagination, and would the books and films have caught on to this level without the power of the great media machine behind them? I can understand that children and even younger teens love the books, but adults also going so completely and totally gaga is a bit more difficult to grasp.

As well as the books themselves being so popular, the attempt to understand the phenomenon has spawned a huge body of literary and philosophical criticism and analysis. So not only are there Harry Potter books, there are books about the Harry Potter books.

In “Harry Potter's World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives” – what an academic mouthful over a kiddies book - Tammy Turner-Vorbeck criticizes how children seem to be exploited by corporations seeking to cash in on the popularity of the books:


“Corporate consumerism is increasingly targeting child culture... The infringement on child culture is particularly evident in the mass marketing of the Harry Potter products...The proliferation of these items constitutes a blatant exploitation of the genuine excitement for children’s literature that stems from children’s true interests... Once a cultural phenomenon such as Pottermania takes hold, the majority of children are destined to find their first exposure not to the authentic items of child culture (in this case, the Harry Potter book itself). Rather, their first experience is often with the marketing spin-offs, which represent corporate America’s interpretation of the real thing.”

And what would any criticism worth its salt be without a gender perspective, Elizabeth Heilman writes:

“Males are represented more often, but they are also depicted as wiser, braver, more powerful, and more fun than females. It is not simply who is present, but, also, how characters are portrayed and what they do that matters.... The inferior position of females is further reinforced through characterizations that highlight their insecurities and self-hatred, especially as it relates to their looks and bodies.”

Of course, the philosophers have to get their five cents in too. In "Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts", David Baggett looks at the connections between literature, imagination, and morality:

“Good yarns, such as Rowling’s, appeal to both the head and heart, eliciting from us the right sorts of emotions, and providing us vivid moral paradigms that Aristotle thought were essential to moral education. More suggestive than dogmatic, they teach us to empathize with the sufferings of others, enhancing our capacity for seeing the world through another’s eyes.... A powerful imagination functions centrally in any commitment to morality, because so much of ethics consists in having the right kinds of emotional and intuitive responses to situations as they arise.” ......OK – whatever?

Naturally, the religious conservatives are concerned about the book’s potential to bring Satan’s influence into the lives of our children. Envoy, is a website aimed at “bringing Christ to the world”:

“In early December, Rome's official exorcist, Fr. Gabriele Amorth, warned parents against the Harry Potter book series. The priest, who is also the president of the International Association of Exorcists, said Satan is behind the works. In an interview with the Italian ANSA news agency, Rev. Amorth said "Behind Harry Potter hides the signature of the king of the darkness, the devil." ….errr….no comment.

And then it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous where Harry Potter is seen alternatively as "the first literary hero of the antiglobalization movement" and as "a summary of the social and educational aims of neoliberal capitalism. Like Orwellian totalitarianism, this capitalism tries to fashion not only the real world, but also the imagination of consumer-citizens. The underlying message to young fans is this: You can imagine as many fictional worlds, parallel universes or educational systems as you want, they will still all be regulated by the laws of the market."

Being the cynic that I am, I am tempted to say that this is all really much ado about nothing. The Potter books have got kids reading again, and if I’m not mistaken this is actually a good thing. As for the huge materialist, consumerist spin-offs, well, unfortunately, that is the reality of the world we live in. I know how I would handle the situation if I were a parent, but people need to make their own choices. I do think that as a society we need to be consuming less and not more, but that is another topic in itself.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Quote of the day

"You’re right that Americans don’t have a sense of how the rest of the world views us. We’re one of the most expansionist countries in the world. We’ve been expanding for over 400 years and yet we always think of ourselves as just sitting back minding our own business. I’ve found some great quotes from 1817 when American politicians were coming back from Europe shocked that everyone thought we were an incredibly aggressive country just because we’d stolen Florida, picked a fight with the Brits, were yelling that we wanted Canada, etc. It’s a constant theme. Intervention? Expansion of influence? This is the history of America."
Robert Kagan


Kagan is a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a director of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The PNAC sounds like one of those bad left wing conspiracy theories until you realise that it's actually true. Their website has been down for sometime now, but I have seen it with my own eyes. Wikipedia has a pretty accurate summation of what it's all about.

Plotting in Zimbabwe

Paranoid, deluded, living in wonderland, these are some of the adjectives that come to mind when the name “Robert Mugabe” is mentioned. This really takes the cake. According to Zimbabwe’s state run newspaper The Herald, the recent delegation of South African clergymen to Zim to assess the destruction of homes was nothing more than a plot to discredit the government by British spies. The Herald reports that:

“The abortive visit by a delegation of South African clergymen, led by Archbishop Njongokulu Ndungane under the auspices of the South African Councils of Churches on an alleged fact finding mission to assess the impact of Operation Murambatsvina/Restore Order, was part of the large campaign by Zimbabwe’s detractors pushing for a regime change agenda in the country, it has emerged.

Impeccable Government sources said British intelligence services, through the Department for International Development (DFID) Central Africa, bankrolled the visit disguised as a fact-finding mission.

"The visit was prompted by appeals and funding by the local DFID, which is an arm of the British government," said a source.

The whole operation, the sources said, was allegedly masterminded in Zimbabwe through the British Embassy with MI6 local operative James Newman.”

Is Mbeki serious on corruption?

It gets murkier and murkier. Some major new developments concerning the oilgate controversy in South Africa are beginning to emerge. Just to go back in history briefly, here’s my little summary of the story so far just to put my readers who haven’t followed the scandal in the picture.

In May 2005 the Mail and Guardian newspaper broke the so called "oilgate" controversy. The paper alleged that the South African oil parastal, PetroSA, had given Imvume, a black empowerment company with close ties to the ANC, R15 million. Imvume then secretly forwarded about R11 million of the payment to the cash-strapped ANC a few months before the April 2004 elections. Further allegations emerged later on that Imvume, from the same PetroSA payment, had also paid money to relatives or companies connected to two cabinet ministers - then Minerals & Energy Minister Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, who has subsequently become South Africa’s deputy president, and Social Development Minister Zola Skweyiya. A multimillion-rand hole remains in the parastatal’s books. PetroSA has gone through the motions to recover the debt by suing Imvume — but most of it remains outstanding.

The Mail & Guardian reports today that they have evidence that the ANC has misled South Africans about the Oilgate scandal.The M&G says it has documents that prove Imvume was effectively a front for the ruling party. The documents allegedly show how close the ANC and Imvume really were. They show that as early as 2001 ANC secretary general Kgalema Motlanthe and, to an extent, ANC treasurer Mendi Msimang were intimately entangled with Imvume boss Sandi Majali. The evidence suggests that together they hatched an ambitious project to raise millions of rands for the ANC by obtaining lucrative oil allocations from Saddam Hussein’s regime under the United Nations Oil for Food (OFF) programme. OFF was an exception to UN sanctions that allowed Iraq to export oil to pay for humanitarian needs. In turn Motlanthe and Majali, on behalf of the ANC, would extend political solidarity to the Iraqi dictator and campaign for the lifting of sanctions. The documents include a letter from Motlanthe to the Iraqis, confirming Majali as the ANC’s designated representative for this project.

Today’s Business Day tells us that a new public opinion survey shows that 86% of 500 respondents feel President Thabo Mbeki’s dismissal of former deputy president Jacob Zuma sent a clear message on corruption to the rest of government. When asked if dismissing Zuma demonstrated Mbeki's commitment to a transparent government, 83% agreed and 11% disagreed. According to the poll, Mbeki’s approval rating rose from 48% in January to 83% after he fired Zuma.

I happen to disagree with the majority of respondents on the poll. I don’t think that Mbeki has sent a clear message to his government that corruption won’t be tolerated. The only message that he is conveying is that if you support my rivals or go up against me, then your corruption won’t be tolerated. Even though the government may be passing bills to make corruption more difficult, and have of late in terms of the National Anti-Corruption Forum been sending signals that they are hardening their attitudes on corruption, other than Zuma’s dismissal, they’re not doing anything particularly bold to stamp out corruption. And while government might be making more of an effort to fight corruption in local government, that probably has a lot to do with pressure to deliver basic services from the many violent community protests against poor service delivery. This, ahead of the next local government elections which will probably occur in around February 2006.

The people involved in the oilgate scandal are all close to Mbeki’s camp – I don’t see him taking any action against them. The NPA has said that it will not be investigating oilgate. The matter is being looked into by the Public Protector, Laurence Mushwana who says he will be releasing his report at the end of this month. In August last year, Mushwana was one of 179 members of parliament and former parliamentarians under investigation in connection with a R13m travel voucher scam. I’m not sure what the outcome of that was, but travelgate is a perfect example of how the president has failed to act against corruption in the ANC. As for the five implicated MP’s who gave up their seats voluntarily, the SABC reported last week that it had evidence that they were forced to resign by the ANC, according to thier plea bargain agreements they were supposed to keep their seats. Rumour has it that they were Zuma supporters, but obviously I can’t verify that.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Why?

"The first reason I became a suicide bomber was because my friend was killed. The second reason I did it is because I didn't want to go to school. I would become a martyr and go to my God. It's better than being a singer or a footballer. It's better than everything"

The words of would be Palestinian suicide bomber, 15 year old Hussam Abdo. He was arrested by Israeli troops before detonating his charge.

Yesterday on BBC World I saw at least five different interviews with an array of experts, analysts and politicians, all attempting to answer the same questions – why? Why were the terrorists seemingly ordinary young British Muslims? How could they have arisen from within our own society? How could they have bombed their fellow citizens?


Finding the answers to these questions is clearly going to become one the greatest dilemma’s of the 21st century. It is tempting to write off terrorists and suicide bombers as crazy animals with no respect for human life, but as much as you may believe this to be true, ultimately this way of thinking will get us nowhere. What we really need to do is try and understand the mind set of these young Muslims who are obviously in some kind of psychological state that makes them susceptible to being brainwashed by fanatics who distort their faith into the complete opposite of all that religion is meant to be. What is it about a person's state of being that would make a 15 year old choose death and mayhem over going to school?

In trying to gets to grips with this terrorist threat we unfortunately have to ask, what it is about Islam in particular that allows it to become a religious paradigm for violence in the way that it has? At the same time, just as importantly we need to look at ourselves, and we need to ask what it is about western policies and expansionism that have been the catalyst for the rise of radical Islam? Has it been partially responsible? What are the other factors? What is it about globalization and the 21st century way of being that is bringing out Samuel Huntington’s so called “clash of civilizations?” The 9/11 attackers didn’t just wake up one morning and decide that blowing up the World Trade Centre would be a fun thing to do on a sunny day.

I don’t know what the answers are, and I certainly don’t know what the solutions may be, but more than ever we need to somehow forge a climate of understanding and robust debate. Can we afford not to?

Two minutes silence for the dead

Today BBC World gave extensive coverage to the two minutes silence observed in memory of the bomb victims. Understandable, considering the terrible circumstances. The BBC presenter announced that many countries around the world would also be observing the two minutes of silence to show their solidarity.

It is worth noting that if we were to observe two minutes of silence for all the Iraqi civilians that have been killed by fanatic suicide bombers, and in the general cross-fire of war, we would probably be observing two minutes of silence on an almost daily if not monthly basis. Just yesterday around 24 Iraqi children were killed by a suicide bomber, in September last year, in a similar incident, a bomb blast in Baghdad killed at least 34 children. That's 58 children dead in two incidents, suicide bombs go off just about every day in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq. Since the US invasion in 2003, between 22,787 and 25,814 Iraqi civilians have been killed. How many minutes of silence is that worth?

Iraq is a war situation, so civilian deaths are more likely to occur, it's shocking for us when the terrorists take their frightening aggression into western countries - and understandably, from blogs to the mainstream media, I've been hearing a great deal of moral outrage against terrorists since the London bombings. All I am saying is, where is that same sense of moral outrage when it comes to the daily loss of life experienced by Iraqi children and other civilians?Judging by the western and mainstream media, we don't place as much value on Iraqi lives as we do on our own.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

G8 spin

Political analyst Kuseni Dlamini thinks that the G8 new deal on Africa is just a lot of spin.

"It seems that rich countries have been dishonest and intellectually fraudulent in deploying the language and discourse of the Marshall Plan when talking about their commitment to help Africa while simultaneously failing to back their rhetoric with he financial resources required to make an African Marshall Plan happen. Some critics argue that some rich countries have scored a lot in terms of good public relations by using Africa to project themselves as caring.

The failure to come up with radical commitments to turn Africa around is a missed opportunity, one that should have been used to offer a real, tangible and far-reaching “alternative to hatred”. The lack of bold, courageous and ambitious commitments from the G-8 shows the leadership deficit in global politics. With the right leadership, globalisation could be made a positive force. But to the extent that Africa continues to suffer a huge globalisation deficit as it falls by the wayside, globalisation will continue to have a credibility crisis.

To the extent that the rich industrialised countries do not embrace ethical and inclusive globalisation, and ruthlessly pursue their narrow selfish interests and ignore the plight of the poor and oppressed people in the Middle East and Africa, the world will continue to be a dangerous place for all of us."

What's good for the goose

I find it continually amusing to see how America plays by the rules "what's good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander". What's even more amusing is how conservatives hold the US up as a bright shining light of all that is meant to be good in the world, and are prepared to completely overlook all the hypocracies inherent in the US way.

Reuters reports that a plan by Cyprus to put genetically modified food on separate supermarket shelves has angered the US. Damn - how can those nasty little Cypriots think they can make their own decisions about how to run their supermarkets? Washington responded to this highly subversive activity by warning Cyprus that the move could harm bilateral ties. In a letter to the Cypriot parliament our modern day masters said that these actions would stigmatise biotech goods and could contravene Cyprus' obligations as a World Trade Organisation member. Incidently, America is the leading developer and producer of agricultural biotech products.

Strange how when it comes to sticking to WTO rules, the US is quite happy to ignore its own obligations. Last week, Brazil said it was going to ask the WTO for permission to penalize the United States for its failure to comply with a WTO ruling against U.S. subsidies for cotton growers. In March this year, the WTO upheld a ruling condemning government help for cotton producers in the United States, saying that many U.S. programs include illegal export subsidies or domestic payments that are higher than WTO rules allow. The WTO gave Washington a June 30 deadline to end its illegal export subsidies and domestic payments. Brazil is currently trying to negotiate with the US, but if the negotiations fail, they want the WTO to penalise the Americans.

Well, one thing is for sure, I'm sure the US would love South African supermarkets where GM foods are hardly labelled at all. This despite being one of the leading GMO growers in the world.

Single monetary union for SADC

It seems that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is definitely embarking on the journey to create a single monetary union for the region by 2016. The SADC agenda is to create a free trade area by 2008, a SADC customs union by 2010, a common market by 2015 and a monetary union by 2016 with a single currency and central bank.

South Africa's Reserve Bank governor, Tito Mboweni says that important economic targets still have to met to make the single monetary union a reality - no kidding. These include, reducing inflation in all SADC countries to single-digit figures by 2008 and to 5% or less by 2012. The budget deficit of SADC countries has to be 5% or less of gross domestic product by 2008 and 3% or less by 2012. This is to force governments in the region to strengthen their tax collection and stop reliance on central bank borrowing, according to Mboweni. (More)

Photo of the day

For obvious reasons I could not resist posting this classic picture of our "esteemed" Minister of Health, Manto Tshabalala- Msimang.


Source

She is pictured here with the Treatment Action Campaign's Zackie Achmat, with whom she is in a state of perpetual war due to her department's failure to provide anti-retrovirals to HIV/AIDS infected South Africans.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Jewish Agency report

The Jewish Agency has just completed an interesting study which shows that next year Israel will overtake the US to become home to the largest Jewish community in the world. Of the 13 million Jews living in the world today, 5.28 million live in the United States and 5.25 million in Israel.

For the first time in 2,000 years, Israel will host the world's largest Jewish community. The Israeli Jewish population grows at a faster rate than the Jewish population in the United States, where mixed marriages are increasingly common. Israel and the United States between them are home to nearly 80 percent of the world's Jewish community. In third place comes France, with around 494,000 Jewish residents, the report added. In 15 years time, the report estimated, Israel will be home to more than 40 percent of the world's Jewish community.