Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Friday, April 22, 2005

Today is Earth Day (in the US)

The dynamics of denial

There isn’t a problem.

Well, there may be a problem, but we don’t know enough to do anything about it.

OK, there is a problem, but we still don’t know enough to do anything about it.

There is a problem, but it will cost too much to do anything about it.

There is a problem, but it will be cheaper to solve it later.

There is a problem, but someone else should do something about it first.

There is a problem, but the government should do something about it.

There is a problem, but we can’t do anything about it until everyone does something about it.

There is a problem but we need to form a partnership of government, business and the NGOs to do something about it.

There is a problem but it is too late to do anything about it.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

"Disaster Capitalism"

Naomi Klein on the rise of what she calls "disaster capitalism":

"Now the bank is using the December 26 tsunami to push through its cookie-cutter policies. The most devastated countries have seen almost no debt relief, and most of the World Bank's emergency aid has come in the form of loans, not grants. Rather than emphasizing the need to help the small fishing communities--more than 80 percent of the wave's victims--the bank is pushing for expansion of the tourism sector and industrial fish farms. As for the damaged public infrastructure, like roads and schools, bank documents recognize that rebuilding them "may strain public finances" and suggest that governments consider privatization (yes, they have only one idea). "For certain investments," notes the bank's tsunami-response plan, "it may be appropriate to utilize private financing."

As in other reconstruction sites, from Haiti to Iraq, tsunami relief has little to do with recovering what was lost. Although hotels and industry have already started reconstructing on the coast, in Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia and India, governments have passed laws preventing families from rebuilding their oceanfront homes. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forcibly relocated inland, to military style barracks in Aceh and prefab concrete boxes in Thailand. The coast is not being rebuilt as it was--dotted with fishing villages and beaches strewn with handmade nets. Instead, governments, corporations and foreign donors are teaming up to rebuild it as they would like it to be: the beaches as playgrounds for tourists, the oceans as watery mines for corporate fishing fleets, both serviced by privatized airports and highways built on borrowed money. "

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

X-treme Pope Coverage

Watching CNN coverage last night just before the new pope was announced, it struck me that the news presenter's voice was hard to distinguish from the hyped-up testosterone fuelled sensationalism of the announcers on that American wrestling shite you get on eTV. I found it kind of bizarre, that a new pope gets sensationalised in the same way as the more trailer trash aspect of American sports culture.

Flying sausage breaks driver's nose

Beware the flying sausage.....

"A driver in Britain suffered a broken nose on Monday after a frozen sausage was thrown through an open window of his car, an ambulance official said. "He was driving his car when the offending item came through his open window and hit him on the nose. He said he saw a car coming the other way and felt a searing pain in his nose. He managed to stop his car without hitting anyone else, at which point passers-by came to his aid."

I have never seen or heard of anything like this before," the ambulance spokesperson added. Police said they are investigating the incident and want to hear from anyone with information"

Alliance Summit

Karima Brown writing in The Star has a good break down of this week-end's Tripartite Alliance Summit. The ANC have been putting off holding an Alliance summit for about three years now I think - could it be they want to make sure things go their way in the upcoming local government elections?

"The ANC needs an emphatic victory at the polls, especially in places like KwaZulu Natal, where tensions between the ANC and the Inkatha Freedom Party are running high in the aftermath of the IFP's loss of power at a provincial level. Cynics also argue that now that Cosatu and the SACP are firmly behind the ruling party's election machine, the ANC can afford to pay lip service to the demands of its allies".

Idasa has a very nice analysis on the cyclical nature of tripartite politics:

"In the run-up to elections, when the ANC is most reliant on COSATU for ‘delivering the vote’, relations between the ANC and COSATU improve. A confluence of opportunities presents itself to those on the left of the alliance to lobby within the alliance in the one and a half year period that spans the General and Local Government elections. In the aftermath of General
Elections both COSATU and the SACP can claim internal, alliance ‘victories’ as a consequence of the their structures having successfully mobilised voters in support of the ANC.

Such claims serve to both bolster internal morale of the SACP and COSATU, and to remind the senior partner of the extent to which the alliance partners successfully serve the movement. Concurrently space is offered to COSATU and the SACP to be more assertive in lobbying their policy positions because there is an inbuilt guarantee of a more ‘sympathetic backlash’ from the ANC who will again rely substantively on their structures to mobilise constituencies in the run-up to the Local Government elections.

This space closes in the aftermath of the Local Government elections and the ANC, as the senior represented component of the alliance, and the occupiers of the executive, operate with the knowledge that years can pass before fences need to be mended in order to contest the next election. The proximity of the "ultra-leftist" attacks to the ANC’s Stellenbosch National Conference is no coincidence as the broad left and right components of the party jostled for ascendancy within party structures.

It is in this context that the apparent ascendancy of the Alliance’s left should currently be understood: COSATU and the SACP have, since the 2004 elections, used the space afforded to them to articulate their grievances and lobby for their policy positions. The ANC can not summarily reject their issues in the shadow of an impending election. Equally, we can expect these dynamics to change in the course of next year, and in the run-up to the crucial 2007 National Congress, which will, in part, plot a course of continuum or change beyond Mbeki’s tenure as President".

Quote of the day

"African states need strong trade unions in order to have a strong labour movement that can keep the government on its toes...Without a strong labour movement, I don't see how we can strengthen our governance...The government cannot work without trade unions. They can ruffle feathers sometimes, but if they don't do that, we are not kept on our toes".

South African Labour Minister Membathisi Mdadlana in his opening message to the AU Labour and Social Affairs Commission on Monday 18 April as reported by The Star newspaper.

More on Zim

Independent Online is reporting that that the MDC in Zimbabwe has decided to cut ties with the South African government due to it's lack of support for free and fair elections in Zimbabwe.

"MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube, who was the main contact between the two, said at the weekend: "I am not available to the South Africans any longer." William Bango, spokesperson for MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai, said: "He is not talking to the South Africans either as far as I know." A senior South African foreign affairs source said the news of the MDC's decision had come as a shock."

It will be interesting to see if the SA government makes an official response to the allegations in this article.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Mbeki & Zim

Laurence at Commentary once again tries to shed some light on why Thabo Mbeki continues to support the Mugabe regime, "Zimbabwe, though it may retain the mechanisms of democracy, is a kleptocratic gangster-state. Nobody seriously disputes this. So why can't Thabo Mbeki muster the courage to say it?". This is indeed the million dollar question. It's always interesting to read the speculation and theories on this, but it appears, that just like Mbeki's stance towards AIDS, his attitude on Zimbabwe is something that no-one, not even political analysts or journalists seem to truly understand or explain.

Probably, its a combination of different factors, and I think Laurence is absolutely on the mark when he writes in his comments section that, "I'd say Mbeki supports Mugabe out of racial and ideological solidarity with another former liberation movement, "Southern" solidarity against the West, and gratitude for the assistance Mugabe provided to the ANC".

Tongue firmly in cheek, Laurence advances the conspiracy theory that, "Maybe COSATU has been stoking up tensions between SA and Zimbabwe in order to deliberately provoke a trade war between, thereby allowing us to bar the import of Chinese textiles!". While I realise that he's only joking about this, I do however think that there is a strong Cosatu angle that partly explains Mbeki's support for Robert Mugabe.

In Zimbabawe opposition to Zanu-PF came from the MDC in the late nineties. The party leader and founder Morgan Tsvangirai prior to that, moved through the ranks of the trade union movement until he became Secretary-General of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, and it follows that the MDC has a huge trade union support base. In South Africa, the only real threat to power that Mbeki and the ANC could realistically face in the foreseeable future would come from a Cosatu/SACP split from the alliance. Although Cosatu has been careful to deny any overt support of the MDC, we have seen them come out strongly in support of the Zim trade unions, to the extent of protesting against human rights abuses in Zimbabwe against the wishes of the ANC. It is possible that Mbeki does not want the precedent of a trade union supported political party overthrowing a liberation movement turned ruling party right on his front doorstep. This might encourage Cosatu (with the support of the MDC/ Zim trade unions) to go it alone.

I think even more so since this seems to be a trend in Southern African politics. In Zambia, opposition to Kaunda's strong man rule came from the unions. The first president after Kaunda, Frederick Chiluba, was also a trade union leader. In Swaziland the strongest protests against the King come from the unions, and the leader of Namibia's largest opposition party, while not exactly proving to be a dire threat in any way to Swapo, also comes from a trade union background. While it seems that there are opposition leaders from trade union backgrounds, I'm not sure if a trade union turned political party has ever taken over from a liberation movement government in Southern Africa, but I'm sure it's still something that Mbeki must be taking into consideration.

United Nations vs Internet?

Do we really need the UN to be involved in internet governance - and what would this achieve?Well, it seems that the UN is looking to carve out an increasingly significant role in Internet governance. An editorial in eWeek questions whether or not the Internet needs a new bureaucratic bully to create policies?

"The U.N. has been trying to carve itself a role in Internet governance for years through its International Telecommunication Union agency. The ITU's desire to play a larger role in running the Internet has been met with opposition from the United States and members of the global Internet community, particularly the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN......We're not against the U.N. having a seat at the table of Internet governance. But we would be far more convinced of the U.N.'s worthiness for such a role if it were to first perform some concrete, constructive tasks on behalf of Internet users."

The rest of the story is here.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Corporate responsibility

"It's not easy being a consumer in the global economy. Moral dilemmas confront you at every turn. Was this pair of space-age Nike shoes produced in an Asian sweatshop? Dare I sheathe my feet in the product of modern-day slave labour? Should I boycott? Then again, who am I to pass judgment on the workplace norms of other people? "Exploitation" is a culturally relative concept, isn't it? Why do I have to deal with this now? Why don't those Asian governments enforce fair working conditions and leave me to frolic carefree through my local mall? And for crying out loud, why, if the labour is so cheap over there, do these Nike sneakers cost $200? ". (Source)

Nike has published a list of over 700 of its contract factories. According to Reuters "the list was a response to interest from trade unions and non-governmental organizations that want to see less secrecy in global manufacturing and to tackle health and safety issues". This makes the running shoe giant the first major apparel manufacturer to voluntarily disclose its entire supply chain.

From AP: "In the report released Wednesday, Nike acknowledges that factories with which it does business have harassed workers and forced some to work overtime. For years, activists have demanded that Nike and other major companies reveal where their contract factories are located, so that independent observers could assess their labour conditions. Corporations have been reluctant to do so, arguing that the plants are where the company's trade secrets are laid bare and advanced products could be leaked to rivals. Some Nike critics welcomed the disclosure of the supplier locations because it challenges others to do the same. "

Being the cynic that I am, I don't think that the Nike bosses woke up one morning with a sudden pang of bad conscience - looks more to me like the many anti-Nike campaigns have finally started bearing fruit. Either way, it's a good thing, the more transparency the better.

I don't consider myself to be a conspiracy theorist when it comes to the "evil" corporates. I just happen to think that as far as they're concerned, money is the bottom line and to hell with everything else like the environment, personal health in the case of big tobacco etc, and in many cases labour fairness. Usually corporations only act when they have to or are forced to by laws and regulations. I think it's becoming a lot less socially acceptable for big companies to behave with complete impunity as we see in the Nike example, a lot more attention is possibly being paid to being "good corporate citizens" - at least companies are trying to put on a socially responsible face, even though the reality may be quite different. We still have a long way to go and activists are fighting an uphill battle all the way.

Friday, April 08, 2005

More women only

Gabbahead has a story about women’s only train carriages in Japan. The idea is to promote safety. South Africa is following suite. No, Metro Rail has nothing to do with it, but the Royal Hotel in Durban is following international hotel trends by dedicating an entire floor for use by female guests only. This was done to ensure that women would feel safer and more secure in the hotel.

Internationally, hotels have started marketing their services towards women travelers following a large increase in the numbers of single female travelers over the past three decades. A study conducted by New York University, indicated that while in 1971 only 1% of international travelers were women, by 2003 the number had risen closer to 40%.

The Royal Hotel in Durban’s service extends beyond safety to include flowers, new bathrobes, and petals in the bathroom. Female guests will have access to their own female butlers whose duties would include secretarial services and bookings for various services, functions and travel arrangements. But best of all you even get to have your very own pink manicure set. Whoopeee!!!!!

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Red Alert

This week the South African Communist Party (SACP) will hold its mid-term Special National Congress. One of the “big” items on the agenda, much hyped by the media, but played down by the party itself, is the issue of whether the SACP should go it alone in the next local government elections.

Personally, I don’t see it happening. Perhaps some time in the medium to distant future, but definitely not now. The move to go it alone is being spearheaded by the Young Communists League (YCL). Buti Manamela, national secretary of the YCL claims that they have a lot of support from provincial SACP leadership and members, he also claims to have support from some members of the SACP Central Committee.

I think that old loyalties die hard, and the older guard of the SACP who hold the power are too close to the ANC to seriously consider breaking away from the Tripartite Alliance. The lines between ANC, SACP and Cosatu membership are extremely blurred which suggests that although there may be bluster on the surface, essentially loyalties lie in keeping the Alliance together. The ANC and SACP have been in bed together since the struggle days and their relationship goes back even to the late 1940’s. When Nelson Mandela started the armed wing of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) in around 1961 it was Joe Slovo, and other SACP stalwarts like Rusty Bernstein that he roped in to get the movement off the ground. Chris Hani, head of MK during the eighties was also secretary general of the SACP.

Many SACP members hold dual ANC membership. SACP members are cabinet ministers in the ANC government – Sydney Mufamadi (Provincial & Local Government), and Ronnie Kasrils (Water & Forestry) are currently members of the SACP Central Committee. Charles Nqakula (Safety and Security) is currently National Chairperson of the SACP. Jeff Radebe, Geraldine Frazer-Moleketi, Alec Irwin, and Trevor Manuel, believe it or not considering their capitalist bent, were all strongly involved in the SACP, not sure if they are still members or if they have allowed their memberships to lapse. Blade Nzimande, the fiery and outspoken general secretary of the SACP is a member of the ANC National Executive Committee. This kind of dual membership/dual loyalty probably goes all the way down through the ranks of the SACP.

Judging from the above set up, it does seem as though a strong possibility is that the SACP is likely to be able to exert more policy influence on the ANC by remaining within the Alliance. It’s difficult to actually measure how much influence the SACP is able to exert as a left wing pressure group within the ANC, as much the wheeling and dealing goes on behind closed doors. Possibly the SACP has played a significant part in getting the ANC to increase government’s role in the economy of late, but it’s difficult for outsiders to really know. If anything I think if the Alliance were to break the move would be more likely to come from Cosatu than from the SACP.

There is also a huge overlap between dual SACP/Cosatu memberships even more so than the SACP/ANC overlap. It would be interesting to find out if Cosatu supports the SACP go it alone stance, to the best of my knowledge they haven’t made any public statement regarding the issue. I would imagine that if anything, Cosatu is experiencing a similar situation to whatever’s going on within the SACP. If anything happens the decision would probably be a joint Cosatu/SACP decision to break away from the Alliance together. Although Cosatu might be a larger movement with greater membership and organisational ability, it does seem as though the SACP has greater influence on the ANC than Cosatu does. For now, it makes political sense for them to remain in the Alliance.

Because of the strong historical ties and loyalties to the ANC in the context of the struggle, I think the older guard would basically have to die off, or become diluted by a newer generation of members for a split to occur, and this is something that we are already seeing in the SACP with the YCL. But even so, Buti Manamela has made it clear that that the upcoming congress will be grounds for debate only, the issue will not be voted upon. In a discussion paper ahead of the congress, laying out the SACP’s vision, Blade Nzimande says, “This SACP vision must be located within the context of ensuring that we improve and enhance the functioning of our ANC-led tripartite alliance. In particular, the independent strength and capacity of working people needs to be consolidated within the broader alliance. This requires, amongst other things, a much greater active participation of workers in grass-roots level ward committees, community policing forums, school governing bodies, and ANC branches themselves”. This does not sound like a party that is planning to go it alone for now.

I have one more scenario, and this is definitely a maybe, and a very small maybe at that, but maybe……The Alliance is often referred to as being a “broad church” and it seems that within it there are as many shades of socialism and communism as there are members. A lot of trade unionists and “communists” have been rewarded for towing the ANC line by being given parliamentary seats, or plum positions in government or the private sector. One of the aims of this weekend’s congress is to allow the SACP to consolidate their class analysis of South African society after 10 years of democracy – whatever that means. But interestingly, this so called class analysis will also extend to looking at the SACP itself. Such an analysis might very well conclude that there are class differences within the SACP between fat cat capitalists and “real” socialists who have not betrayed the working class. The Youth Leaguers seem to have a very strong socialist bent, so possibly we could one day see a break away from leftist hardliners within the SACP and Cosatu breaking away still leaving the original capitalist leaning Alliance in existence, but weakened.

CORRECTION: Apologies to my readers. I am afraid that I have slipped up. Farryl Liefson has pointed out that Trevor Manuel was involved with the UDF and not the SACP. I hope this will in no way reflect on the validity of this post or my writing in general. I usually try to be very careful to check my sources and facts before posting.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Child Trafficking

UNICEF reports that child trafficking now rivals that of drugs and arms trafficking. This is really horrible to hear. In many ways we are living in the most technologically advanced and progressive of times than ever before in human history. Yet, we are still unable to get rid of some of the world's worst social problems. Globalisation seems to be the current mode of global societal evolution - it is a process that is economically led and shaped, whereas before Church and then State determined the shape of our societies, more and more this is becoming increasingly moulded by economics. While I don't think globalisation can be stopped, from a pragmatic point of view that would be impossible, also globalisation brings many positive benefits - but it does unfortunately, like all social systems, have an ugly downside.

"Millions of children are trafficked every year as part of a lucrative industry linked with criminal activity and corruption. Trafficking in human beings is beginning to rival the illegal trade of drugs and arms, with an estimated revenue of as much as $10 billion a year. Hidden from view and without legal protection, children in poor countries are often lured by promises of a good education or a “better job.” Far from home or in a foreign country, trafficked children – disoriented, without papers, and excluded from any form of protection– can be forced to endure prostitution, domestic servitude, early and involuntary marriage, or hazardous and punishing labour"
(Source: UNICEF)

Also, "According to the International Labour Organization, an estimated 246 million children are engaged in exploitative child labour. Almost three quarters of them work in hazardous environments such as mines or factories, or with dangerous substances such as chemicals and agricultural pesticides. Some 5.7 million of these children work under especially horrific circumstances, including the virtual slavery of bonded labour"
(Source: UNICEF)

South Africa unfortunately, is a major player in this area. In 2003, the Cape Town based child advocacy group Molo Songololo released a report estimating that there were up to 38,000 child prostitutes in South Africa and that 25 percent of the country's street children engaged in survival sex. South Africa has become a transit country for girls as young as 10 from other African countries who are being sold as sex slaves to international syndicates. The International Organisation for Migration published research in 2003 stating that South Africa is a main destination for trafficked women and children.

Sadly, the global trafficking industry is one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative criminal enterprises in the world. "There are no exact figures, but a U.S. government report suggests 50 percent of all trafficked victims are children. International Labor Organization figures for 2000 estimate 1.8 million children are exploited in the commercial sex industry, while UNICEF estimates that child soldiers have been used in more than 30 ongoing or recent armed conflicts in almost every region of the world". (Source:Jerusalem Post)

Monday, April 04, 2005

Another quote

“These groups, at the head of which stands the ruling circles in America, are determined to perpetuate a permanent atmosphere of crisis and fear in the world. Knowing that a frightened world cannot think clearly, these groups attempt to create conditions under which the common men might be inveigled into supporting the building of more and more atomic bombs, bacteriological weapons, and other instruments of mass destruction. These crazy men whose prototype is to be found at the head of the trusts and cartels of America and Western Europe do not realise that they will suffer the destruction that they are contemplating for their innocent fellow beings.”

A highly contentious statement, but what makes it interesting to me is that it was uttered by former President Nelson Mandela 54 years ago in 1951. Whether you agree with it or not, is one thing, but it’s amazing that what Mandela said as far back as 1951 in terms of wmd’s etc still has so much meaning and relevance as we stand here today. And we do know now that America exaggerated the threat of wmd’s to justify their war project in Iraq.