Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Rissik Street

Rissik St, Johannesburg 1940

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Political Games

The BBC Online reports that the Bush VS Kerry election fight is breaking new ground when it comes to the creation of new games. This includes computer and mobile phone games ranging from earnest educational efforts to the most partisan propaganda. At last count more than 20 US election themed games had been created.

Truth is Ignorance

WWF has released their Living Planet Report 2004.

"The Living Planet Index is the average of three separate indices measuring changes in abundance of 555 terrestrial species, 323 freshwater species, and 267 marine species around the world. While the LPI fell by some 40 percent between 1970 and 2000, the terrestrial index fell by about 30 per cent, the freshwater index by about 50 per cent, and the marine index by around 30 per cent over the same period.These declines can be compared with the global Ecological Footprint, which grew by 70 per cent, and with the growth in the world’s human population of 65 per cent, from 1970 to 2000."

According to the WWF humans currently consume 20 per cent more natural resources than the earth can produce. It seems to me that our planet is in a really serious state of environmental degradation, if we keep up our present behaviour we might soon reach the point of no return - at least that's what I fear. Perhaps I am taking this all far too seriously, but I follow environmental stories closely and the news is just not good. You do read conservation success stories, but these pale into insignificance compared to the extinction and near extinction stories, and the stories about the way forests and such things are declining.

I have tried to figure out why as a global society (leaving out the estimated 1.3 billion poor people who have other things to worry about), people in general are not more concerned about the environment? Maybe it's because people are not being directly affected and the actual dire consequeces are too far ahead in the future, so people probably figure out what the heck, I'll be dead by then anyway so who cares. Maybe it's because the reality is too horrible to contemplate and people would rather be like ostriches and bury their heads in the sand, maybe terrorism and the war in Iraq is too good a smokescreen and makes for more exciting reading than a few dead frogs in some far away third world forest. Maybe mainstream media has figured this out and isn't bringing us the stories we really need to know. Why do serious environmental stories (bar earthquakes and floods) so seldom make frontpage headlines? It's crazy, sometimes I think that we're living in some sort of Orwellian "war is peace", "truth is ignorance" version of reality.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Serious failures in American oversight of Iraq's revenue

Recent audits expose serious failures in American oversight of Iraq's revenues and U.S. reconstruction funds, said a report by the Open Society Institute's Iraq Revenue Watch project. The audits-released in late July by the Coalition Provisional Authority Inspector General (CPA-IG)-paint a picture of disorder and negligence. Contractors made little effort to control costs, while the Coalition Provisional Authority, which was in charge of managing Iraqi reconstruction funds, failed to adhere to federally mandated procedures for awarding and overseeing contracts.
"The CPA did not do its job regarding the oversight of reconstruction funds," said Svetlana Tsalik, director of the Revenue Watch project. "It failed to stop the misuse and waste of money that belonged to the Iraqi people and American taxpayers."


An analysis of the data suggests that of $1.5 billion in contracts, the CPA awarded U.S. firms 74 percent of the value of all contracts paid for with Iraqi funds. Together with its British allies, U.S. and U.K. companies received 85 percent of the value of all such contracts. Iraqi firms, by contrast, received just 2 percent of the value of contracts paid for with Iraqi funds. "Government favorites such as Kellogg, Brown and Root benefited at the expense of Iraqi companies whose workers badly need jobs," said Tsalik.

The report finds that 60 percent of the value of all contracts paid with Iraqi funds went to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR)-the same company that Pentagon auditors in December 2003 found had overcharged the U.S. government for as much as $61 million for fuel imports into Iraq. A criminal investigation of KBR was launched by the Department of Defense in February 2004.

The CPA-IG audits confirm the findings of previous ones. A report released in July 2004 by the International Advisory and Monitoring Board, the watchdog body set up by the United Nations, found numerous problems in the CPA's control and use of Iraqi oil assets during the occupation. These include the absence of oil metering to control theft, poor record-keeping on oil sales, an absence of oversight of spending by the Iraqi ministries, the use of noncompetitive bidding procedures for some contracts, and the CPA's refusal to transmit crucial information to the UN-mandated body.

A recent Pentagon audit of KBR's billing system, which shows that systematic deficiencies in the company's accounting and billing procedures incurred significant costs to U.S taxpayers and to Iraqi oil revenues, is further proof of mismanagement. Following the model of its American predecessor, the Iraq interim government to date has provided scant information about how it is managing Iraq's oil revenues.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

HTML

I am reading The Complete Reference HTML Second Edition by Thomas A Powell. Hopefully my desire to improve the boring appearance of my blog will be stronger than my inbuilt resistance to learning anything technical. Also, maybe blogging about my progress will help keep me on track. My husband is delighted that I am finally taking an interest, he is sick of looking at the the blank expression and glazed over eyes that overcome me when he expounds on his favourite topic. He has offered to give me books on visual basic and C sharp when I have finished this one, but I told him that I am not that ambitious and just want to fix up my blog. I have finished reading chapter one and now understand terms like elements with attributes, nesting, and alphanumeric tags. I will soon be able to tell the difference between logical and physical HTML, and why HTML is not a WYSIWYG design language. From now on I will no longer be wasting my evenings in mundane pursuits like television, I will be hunched over a thousand page textbook of biblical proportions learning a valuable skill.

Global Corruption Report

Transparency International (TI) has released it's annual global corruption report. Corruption costs businesses and governments more than £220 billion a year, with a number of oil producing states among the worst offenders. Amazingly enough, the Corruption Perceptions Index showed that 106 out of 146 countries scored less than 5 against a "clean" score of 10. Wow, that's a lot of corrupt countries out there. Sixty countries scored less than three, indicating "rampant" levels of bribery. The oil-rich states of Angola, Azerbaijan, Chad, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Sudan, Venezuela and Yemen all scored "extremely poorly".

It's not all corrupt governments and crooked politicians - lucrative deals signed with Western contractors have also been mired in controversy. Halliburton, the logistics and oil company formerly headed by the US Vice- President Dick Cheney, was accused by the Pentagon of overcharging the US Government tens of millions of dollars. A US Government report last year found "systemic" and "significant" difficiencies in the way Halliburton estimated and validated costs. Nigerian lawmakers are currently holding public hearings into allegations that Halliburton had bribed government officials to secure a gas contract.

The Times (London) has more.

Some highlights from the report itself:

Corruption in large-scale public projects is a daunting obstacle to sustainable development, and results in a major loss of public funds needed for education, healthcare and poverty alleviation, both in developed and developing countries.

TI urges western governments to oblige their oil companies to publish what they pay in fees, royalties and other payments to host governments and state oil companies. "Access to this vital information will minimise opportunities for hiding the payment of kickbacks to secure oil tenders, a practice that has blighted the oil industry in transition and post-war economies.

Companies from OECD countries must fulfil their obligations under the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention and stop paying bribes at home and abroad."

And now for the scores, which make for some very interesting reading (10 is the best score):

The least corrupt country in the world is Finland at 9.7, followed by New Zealand (9.6) and Denmark(9.5)

The United States is 17th, along with Ireland and Belgium at 7.5

Botswana is the highest scoring African country at 6.0

South Africa comes in at 44th with a score of 4.6 (We improved slightly from 4.2 the previous year)

Nigeria which has been going all out to convince South Africa that they are not as corrupt as they are perceived to be came out as the second most corrupt country in the world with a score of 1.6

And the award for the most corrupt country in the world goes to, actually it's a joint award, shared by Haiti and Bangladesh at 1.5.

Note:
The Corruption Perceptions Index is a poll of polls, reflecting the perceptions of business people and country analysts, both resident and non-resident. This year’s Corruption Perceptions Index draws on 18 surveys provided to Transparency International between 2002 and 2004, conducted by 12 independent institutions.

According to TI - It is difficult to base comparative statements on the levels of corruption in different countries on hard empirical data, e.g. by comparing the number of prosecutions or court cases. Such cross-country data does not reflect actual levels of corruption; rather it highlights the quality of prosecutors, courts and/or the media in exposing corruption. The only method of compiling comparative data is therefore to build on the experience and perceptions of those who are most directly confronted with the realities of corruption in a country.

Things Republicans Believe

Got this in my inbox today:

Things Republicans Believe

Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you're a conservative radio host. Then it's an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

Government should relax regulation of Big Business and Big Money but crack down on individuals who use marijuana to relieve the pain of illness.

"Standing Tall for America" means firing your workers and moving their jobs to India.

A woman can't be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton.

If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won't have sex.

Global warming and tobacco's link to cancer are junk science, but creationism should be taught in schools.

Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush's daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him and a bad guy when Bush needed a "we can't find Bin Laden" diversion.

A president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense. A president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy.

Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Streets of Jozi



10 streets in Newtown, JHB have been renamed in honour of South African performers.

* Becker Street to Gerard Sekoto Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
* Minaar Street to Mahlathini Street. (Newtown)
* West Street to Ntemi Piliso Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
* Pim Street to Gwigwi Mrwebi Street. (Newtown)
* Goch Street to Henry Nxumalo Street. (Newtown)
* Wolhuter Street to Margaret Mcingana Street. (Newtown/Ferreiras Dorp)
* Sydenham Street to Noria Mabasa Street. (Newtown)
* Avenue Road to Dolly Rathebe Road. (Newtown/Fordsburg)
* Park Road to Barney Simon Road. (Newtown/Fordsburg)
* Bezuidenhout Street to Miriam Makeba Street. (Ferreiras Dorp)

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Who's the biggest liar?

Well it seems that when it comes to fact twisting and distorting the truth in the presidential debates, both Bush and Kerry are equally at fault. Factcheck.org is a great site for, well, checking the facts. Bush lied about his tax cuts and Kerry wasn't much better when it came to distorting the truth on Bush's education spending.

"Bush said most of his tax cuts went to "low- and middle-income Americans" when independent calculations show most went to the richest 10 percent. Kerry claims Bush "cut the Pell Grants" when they've actually increased. Both men repeated misstatements made in earlier debates, and added a few new ones."

You can get the rest here.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

My new cousin

I was recently chosen as part of a project being worked on, as one of the team members to go for DNA Ancestry testing, some of you may be familiar with this from a Carte Blanche documentary broadcast not too long ago. It turns out that my most famous ancestor is none other than Oetzi the Iceman. (Heh heh)



Ötzi the Iceman(also spelled Oetzi) is the modern nickname of a well-preserved natural mummy of a man from about 3300 BC, found in 1991 in a glacier of the Ötztaler Alps, near the border between Austria and Italy. The nickname comes from the valley of discovery. It rivals Egyptian "Ginger" as the oldest known human mummy, and has offered an unprecedented view on the habits of Neolithic Europeans.

At the time of his death, Ötzi was a 30-to-45-year old man, approximately 160 cm tall. Analysis of pollen and dust grains and the isotopic composition of his teeth's enamel indicate that he spent his childhood near the present village of Feldthurns, north of Bolzano, but later went to live in valleys about 50 km further north.


This is what scientists think he may have looked like. I'm happy to be able to say...errr...hmmm...there's not much of a resemblance.

Criticism

I was sorting through a pile of papers earlier, and came accross a quote that I had printed out. I don't remember what I printed it for, what I was working on at the time, or even who the quote was written by. But I think it has a lot of relevance to Africa's present situation, because in the light of the African Union, and the Pan African African Parliament, it seems to me, to point out one of the greatest failings of the leaders of the African continent.

"Soyinka taught me many things, far too many to detail here. But what most struck me about him was his dictum that a fundamental aspect of commitment to a field, indeed to one's people, however broadly that may be defined, was the willingness both to praise and to criticise, whenever the occasion called for one to do so. "Criticism like charity," Wole would repeat again and again like a mantra, "starts at home."

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Soweto Centenary


Today Soweto, arguably South Africa's most famous and internationally known township, celebrates 100 years of existance. Soweto, an acronym for South Western Townships, started off as Klipspruit in 1904. It was created to house black workers, mainly miners, to keep them separate from white urban areas. Soweto is also one of the most cosmopolitan townships in the country, although it has expanded tremendously over the years, it remains a predominantly working class area. The City of Johannesburg, says they have plans to develop business in the area.



The
BBC online puts a positive spin on the centenary.

"Alastair Leithead reports that the area is a vibrant, energetic township where community seems to mean so much more than in Johannesburg's sterile, security-ringed suburbs. While Aids and unemployment are still huge problems in Soweto, there is a real feeling of optimism that the next 100 years have good things in store for the sprawling township."



Monday, October 11, 2004

Global Warming

"An unexplained and unprecedented rise in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere two years running has raised fears that the world may be on the brink of runaway global warming.
Scientists are baffled why the quantity of the main greenhouse gas has leapt in a two-year period and are concerned that the Earth's natural systems are no longer able to absorb as much as in the past."


However:

"It is possible that this is merely a reflection of natural events like previous peaks in the rate, but it is also possible that it is the beginning of a natural process unprecedented in the record. Analysts stress that it is too early to draw any long-term conclusions." (More)

Science Journalism

"Science journalists have accused drug companies of issuing misleading information to inflate perceptions of disease threats and maximise profits from drug sales, and have called for greater journalistic scrutiny of the companies' activities. Speaking at the 4th World Conference of Science Journalists (WCSJ) today (5 October), freelance journalist and author Ray Moynihan warned that journalists risk being used as promotional tools. Instead, said Moynihan, journalists should be reporting on the pharmaceutical companies' tactics. But the conference also heard that for many science journalists in developing countries, big companies are an important source of access to the stories they cover — whether they accept the companies' public relations material or not." (More)

Friday, October 08, 2004

An African women wins Nobel Peace Prize

Kenyan environmentalist and human rights campaigner Wangari Maathai has won the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the first African woman to be awarded the peace prize since it was created in 1901. The prize committee says Mrs Maathai, Kenya's deputy environment minister, is an example for all Africans fighting for democracy and peace.



Some quotes from Wangari Maathai:

"All through the ages the African people have made efforts to deliver themselves from oppressive forces. It is important that a critical mass of Africans do not accept the verdict that the world tries to push down their throat so as to give up and succumb. The struggle must continue. It is important to nurture any new ideas and initiatives which can make a difference for Africa."

"We can work together for a better world with men and women of goodwill, those who radiate the intrinsic goodness of humankind. To do so effectively, the world needs a global ethic with values which give meaning to life experiences and, more than religious institutions and dogmas, sustain the non-material dimension of humanity. Mankind's universal values of love, compassion, solidarity, caring and tolerance should form the basis for this global ethic which should permeate culture, politics, trade, religion and philosophy. It should also permeate the extended family of the United Nations."

Reuters reports:

"She founded the Green Belt Movement, mainly with women members, which has gone on to plant some 30 million trees around Africa in a campaign to slow deforestation and erosion.
As well as protecting the existing environment, her strategy is to strengthen the basis for ecologically sustainable development.


In 1992 riot police clubbed her and three other women unconscious in central Nairobi during a demonstration. She has been teargassed, threatened with death by anonymous callers, and once thrown into jail overnight for leading protests.

Maathai went to court numerous times to block forest clearances by the former government of President Daniel arap Moi. He lost power in 2002 elections in which Maathai won a parliamentary seat for the victorious opposition.

Maathai was made an assistant environment minister but says forest clearances continue and has threatened to quit the government.
"It's a matter of life and death for this country," Maathai once said of clearances. "The Kenyan forests are facing extinction and it is a man-made problem."

King Moshoeshoe

I've decided on Friday's to do mainly history and culture stories, so for today from the University of the Free State:
"The University of the Free State (UFS) will premiere a documentary film on the legacy of King Moshoeshoe, Basotho leader of the nineteenth century for his role in nation-building and reconciliation on Wednesday 13 October 2004.

The hour-long documentary film, produced by the well-known journalist Mr Max du Preez, was commissioned by the UFS as part of its centenary celebrations.

“To us this film is a practical demonstration of the UFS’s commitment to the continued transformation of the campus, and its commitment to reconciliation and nation-building. It is seen as a contribution to one of the UFS’s key strategic priorities for this year, namely diversity, equity and redress,” says Prof Frederick Fourie, Rector and Vice-Chancellor of the UFS.



“Through these priorities, the UFS commits itself to developing a shared appreciation of the history of this country and to contribute to the establishment of the Free State Province as a model of reconciliation and nation building,” says Prof Fourie.

“King Moshoeshoe was a great African statesman and leader. He was born in this region of the country, but his influence and legacy extends way beyond the borders of the Free State, Lesotho and even way beyond the borders of South Africa,” says Prof Fourie.

Earlier this year the UFS launched a project to honor King Moshoeshoe. The project included among others the production of this documentary film, the possible presentation of an annual Moshoeshoe memorial lecture that will focus on African leadership, nation-building and reconciliation and PhD-level research into the life and legacy of King Moshoeshoe and a literary anthology including prose and poetry.

According to Prof Fourie the project will enable the UFS to give real meaning to words such as reconciliation, respect for the diversity of our languages and cultures, and the unity South Africans seek to build as a democratic nation through such diversity.

The documentary film on King Moshoeshoe will be screened on SABC 2 later this year."

Thursday, October 07, 2004

Alter Ego's

The BBC online reports on a photographic exhibition with a difference. Photo-journalist Robbie Cooper is showcasing photographs of ordinary people alongside their online gaming avatar personalities. Cooper says he wanted to see if people's real lives were echoed in their digital alter egos in role-playing environments.

Checkout Chalmaine, full-time mom - but online minx.


Hello Kitty - the critique

What does it mean to live in a society when marketers are aggressively targeting children as young as 9 to be brand conscious and to go out and spend? I think it's horrible. When I was 10 I was busy climbing trees and pretending to be Little Joe from Bonanza, I didn't care how I looked or what other people thought of me because I didn't have the right label on my jeans. When you start to worry about how you look it takes away from the unselfconscious innocence that's part of the beauty of childhood. You hear or read stories about little girls who are already worried about being fat and going on diet and I think that's sad. Of course it can be argued that childhood is a modern construct, certainly in the Middle Ages children were taught the skills of adulthood from an early age, and married very young - then again, people didn't live as long then as we do today. I suppose even up until the mid 19th century poor children went to work, and child labour exists to this day.

It's not just the idea of how this affects childhood that I find somewhat disturbing - it's the way we're being influenced as a society to consume more and more, from an earlier age, during a time of environmental degradation that means we should be more careful about how and what we buy. From the
Worldwatch Institute State of the World 2004 Feature, "Linking Globalization, Consumption, and Governance."

"By stretching the physical distance between the location where a product is first made to where it is later used and then disposed of, today's global economies tend to insulate end consumers from the various negative environmental and social impacts of their purchases."

More from the report:

"One subcomponent of the overall expansion in world trade has been rapid growth in trade in a range of particularly environmentally sensitive commodities, such as minerals, forest products, fish, and agricultural produce. In some cases, countries whose ecological "footprints" exceed their available ecological capacity, such as Japan, the Netherlands, and the United States, have imported these goods from countries enjoying surpluses—in effect enabling them to live beyond their ecological means.
Meanwhile, corporate strategies focused on boosting consumer demand in developing countries have lead to increases in purchases of all manner of goods, from cars and televisions to paper and fast food. While it is ethically problematic to suggest that developing countries are not entitled to have the same options for material consumption that have long been taken for granted by western consumers, the global adoption of industrial country–style consumption patterns would place unbearable strains on the health of Earth’s natural systems."


Some time ago I watched an Oprah show focusing on what's becoming a big problem in America - working class families getting themselves into debt to the point of borderline bankruptcy. And these people were all in debt becuse they kept buying expensive stuff that they didn't really need, cappaccino machines, Nemo-themed deco for the kids etc. I don't think the Hello Kitty card is part of some great big conspiracy theory to dumb us down with mindless television that makes us captive audiences for advertisers, while big pharma churns out the prozac to keep us placidly happy. But somewhere, somehow, we are not being mindful global citizens, we're lost in the war on terror, on what's happening in Iraq, and with America and China at the helm as the world's largest consumers of energy and other natural resourses, the rich parts of society are voraciously gobbling up everything in sight. I think we need to be instilling a sense of caution in our children when it comes to consumption habits, not teaching them how cool it is to spend and spend and spend, without knowing what the social and environmental consequences are.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Hello Debt

Let's get them spending and into debt from as young an age as possible.



"With the Hello Kitty Debit MasterCard, there is no employment check, no credit requirement, and no bank account required! Use it any of the millions of locations that accept MasterCard debit cards, including ATM's.The Hello Kitty Debit MasterCard is also one of the most fashionable payment options around."

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

It's all in the name

From Wikipedia, an etymology of company names. Did you know?

Adidas - from the name of the founder Adolf (Adi) Dassler.
Adobe - came from name of the river Adobe Creek that ran behind the houses of founders John Warnock and Chuck Geschke.

Apple- for the favourite fruit of co-founder Steve Jobs and/or for the time he worked at an apple orchard. He was three months late in filing a name for the business, and he threatened to call his company Apple Computer if his colleagues didn't suggest a better name by 5 p.m.. Apple's Macintosh is named after a popular variety of apple sold in the US.
Atari - From the board game Go, "atari" is a Japanese word to describe a position where an opponent's stones are in danger of being captured. It is similar, though not identical, to "check" in chess.
Daewoo- the company founder Kim Woo Chong called it Daewoo which means "Great Universe" in Korean.
(More)

Business in Africa

Irin reports, unsurprisingly, that South Africa is Africa's largest foreign investor. According to a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), we accounted for 60 percent of Africa's Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) outflows for 2003.

"Seven South African companies are the only ones on the continent that feature among UNCTAD's top 50 transnational companies (TNCs) based in developing countries. The list includes paper manufacturer Sappi,petrochemical company Sasol, telcommunications company MTN, and mining giant AngloGold."

Africa is ripe for investment, although there are many obvious disadvantages, there is much money to be made from investing in the more stable economies like Senegal, Nigeria, Ghana etc While many western companies are hesitant to take the risk, South African corporations are diving in and reaping the benefits. A recent article in Business Day reports that that the time has never been better to look at African markets. The article quotes Leadership magazine as saying that there is a marginalisation of African markets that can be considered as a collective first world blind-spot.

"This is evident in the fact that CNN and Bloomberg routinely ignore African markets, while the BBC recently reported Thailand was the best performing market last year, oblivious to the fact that some African markets outperformed it and other major world exchanges."

There have been a lot of bi-national commissions going on this year between South Africa and other African countries that are focusing on developing trade and investment. I think this is a good thing, if the rest of the world is going to hesitate it's great that African countries are increasing trade among themselves. Nigeria in particular is going all out to court South Africa with some high level delegations coming into the country over past months to try and encourage South African investment. One of my concerns however, is that as usual, it's the big boys who are going in to do business. It doesn't seem as if enough is being done to encourage smaller scale investment and entrepreneurship. Also, Africa needs to do more to encourage manufacturing and not rely so much on exporting raw materials. This is one of our biggest downfalls. And, when South Africa goes to do business in other African countries are we operating according to the same principals that we would use at home - are we going to try and empowering local communities as well?

More on the Environment

The BBC online reports that many scientists believe that we are currently undergoing the sixth mass extinction to affect life on Earth. In 2003 the World Conservation Union's Red List said more than 12,000 species (out of 40,000 assessed) faced some extinction risk, including:
*one bird in eight
*13% of the world's flowering plants
*a quarter of all mammals.

Within 15 years, about a fifth of central Africa's forests will have gone, by one estimate. And the forests of Indonesia are in headlong retreat.