Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Thursday, February 24, 2005

More on China in Africa

It seems as if I was on the mark when I speculated earlier about China wanting to be rewarded for investing and aiding African countries. I've seen an article in Tuesday's Business Day that deals with this precise issue. Writing under the headline "Chinese the new economic imperialists in Africa" Dianna Games puts forward the notion that African countries should stop worrying about economic colonisation by the likes of the US and the British, but should rather be looking with more concern at China bearing "gifts". She cites some interesting examples:

"In Kenya last month, China's largest listed telecoms manufacturer, ZTE Communications, made a "gift" of equipment worth 144-million Kenyan shillings to Telkom Kenya. ZTE said the company would "continue to play a positive role in Kenya's telecommunications industry". After a gesture like that, it's certain to get a role.

Zimbabwe is all but owned by China, say many Africa watchers. When President Robert Mugabe saw his biggest critics were also his biggest trading partners and tourism markets, he defensively turned to the east, lauding countries such as China as the true partners of Zimbabwe. In return for a rare hand of friendship in an increasingly hostile world, Mugabe has offered Chinese companies almost anything they want, regardless of the payback. And payback there will be. Chinese telecoms supplier Huawei Investments last year demanded it be guaranteed a portion of Zimbabwe's profits from minerals and tobacco - in addition to a hard cash payment - before it would supply $160m worth of telecommunications equipment for the second fixed-line telephone network."

Games goes on to say that not only does China undermine local economies by flooding their markets with cheap goods, but many contracts stipulate that Chinese labour be used - bang goes the possibility of meaningful local job creation from the foreign investment.

"There is nothing essentially wrong with China making inroads into global markets. Everybody tries to do it. What is different here is that some African governments seem to believe it's not strictly a hard-nosed relationship, but one that is altruistically motivated. This is partly the result of China's support for Africa's independence struggles. The Chinese practice of offering "gifts" to smooth the way for later ventures often serves to bolster this perception of magnanimous comradeship."

The rest of the article is here

Corruption in the social grants system

According to an article in Tuesday's Business Day, although there are some legitimate factors driving growth in government spending on social grants, corruption and a lack of administrative controls have also been clearly identified as a problem in this area. According to Minister of Social Development, Zola Skweyiya, fraud and corruption in the grants system, especially in disability grants, are costing the state about R1.5 billion a year. However some analysts say that that this estimate is far too low, and that a more accurate fraud and corruption estimate is closer to R3bn - R5bn.

The Scorpions, the police and the Justice Department are currently pursuing a number of serious cases involving public servants and syndicates. The department has also launched an indemnity process to persuade people who are currently claiming fraudulent grants to stop doing so. Skweyiya is expected to announce a major investigation by the Scorpions to root out corruption in the grants system. Government is trying to clean out the system before grant administration officials move from the provinces to the new National Social Security Agency which is meant to open its doors in April this year. Hmmm...that gives the Scorpions just over a month, I wish them lots of luck.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Budget 2005

The Budget is out. You can read it here.

Power and Succession

Richard Calland of Idasa has a new book out called Anatomy of Power in South Africa. The latest edition of the Mail and Guardian has an extract. According to Calland the six most powerful people in South Africa in descending order are Thabo Mbeki, Joel Netshitenzhe, Trevor Manuel, Alec Erwin, Mojanku Gumbi, and Essop Pahad. Mojanku Gumbi is Mbeki’s legal advisor and is said to be perhaps the single most influential person, although her power is far less extensive than South Africa’s second most powerful man Joel Netshitenzhe. Essop Pahad’s influence is said to be waning, I have heard this from many other sources as well, but he still remains a substantial voice on key political choices. Manuel and Erwin are said to be more powerful than Pahad.

“Manuel heads the “government within a government”, the one department whose capacity far exceeds any other, and which is capable of exerting the power it holds. Erwin continues to hold a key portfolio in Cabinet, but his influence lies in the axis with Manuel and the fact that he has been centrally involved in every major policy decision taken by government since 1994.”


Joel Netshitenzhe, I find particularly interesting. Officially he is head of GCIS, government communications – basically responsible for the messages and the public face that the ANC government wants to portray. It is a powerful office that falls under the presidency and is basically the interface between the president and the government, and the media and the public. His GCIS position means that he is allowed to sit in on all cabinet meetings, he is also a member of the ANC’s NEC. Unofficially Netshitenzhe is thought to be a powerful and influential political advisor to Mbeki. In fact, there are many who are of the opinion that it’s actually Joel who runs the country while Mbeki focuses on his African agenda. At one point he was offered the deputy presidency of the ANC but he wasn’t interested preferring to work behind the scenes, and so Zuma became the compromise candidate. There was also talk at one stage of him getting a post as a special minister in the president’s office but he wasn’t interested in that either.

Mbeki has increased the size of the presidency since he came into power. He has been called a technocrat and a micromanager, and it certainly seems that over the past year he has even further increased the presidency’s role in terms of coordination of government programmes and chivvying departments along in their work. I think the presidency must have been the catalyst behind Project Consolidate (an integrated strategy to improve local government and hence service delivery), and certainly the presidency must have been the driving force behind the new programme of Political Champions (ministerial oversight of key municipal nodes identified for special government attention). The Political Champions programme is quite an interesting one and I’ll try blog more about that later.

Mbeki has had his failures, no-one understands his contrary stance towards Zimbabwe and HIV/Aids. He hasn’t done enough to combat crime and corruption. He has been accused of undermining the democratic process by his profound lack of tolerance towards his critics. However he has been strong in driving economic growth and development. He has also been strong in his attempts to provide service delivery and reverse the structural inequalities of apartheid. There are some who say he hasn’t done enough in this regard, and I agree with this assessment but I believe that Mbeki feels strongly about fixing the service delivery situation and is attempting to fast track the process from the presidency downwards. I think that Joel Netshitenzhe is closely involved in this process and I would by far see Netshitenzhe as our next president than Jacob Zuma.

Zuma has been tainted by allegations of corruption, he has probably been distracted from his political work over past years by his financial troubles and involvement in various scandals and many of his political commitments have involved his role as a peace negotiator in Burundi and the DRC and making speeches at rallies and conferences. He does however have huge populist appeal with ordinary people, Cosatu and the young lions. Netshitenzhe is far more hands on and involved in the running of the country and according to the Sunday Times, he is said to be “humble and modest”, and a good political strategist. He is also considered to be one of the top ANC intellectuals. The problem is, so far he has shown no sign of wanting to gain high office. I hope he changes his mind, because when I look at the various names that have been speculated upon as possible successors to Mbeki, Netshitenzhe has my vote.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Hypocracy

It's a strange thing, and one of the many hypocracies that abound in the democratic world. Much like the mythological notion of "free" trade which is neither free nor fair. Two of the major global institutions upholding the neo-liberal system of globalisation, the IMF and the World Bank, are neither democratic nor transparent.

Good governance. Consultation. Participation.

You would be a millionaire if you had a dollar for every time a World Bank official has mentioned these words. Unfortunately, the selection process for the top post at the World Bank completely ignores these principles. Right now, there is a vacancy for the most senior post in official world development circles, a job that is of direct interest to billions of people across the globe. The process and candidates are shrouded in secrecy and the only candidates in the running are U.S. citizens.

The Bank’s critics regularly point out the gaps between its rhetoric and reality. But the fact that three White House staffers are responsible for drawing up the short list exposes particularly clearly how tightly the U.S. government controls the institution. Under a gentleman’s agreement from the 1940s the World Bank head and International Monetary Fund (IMF) deputy head are always U.S. citizens, while the head of the IMF is a European. The efforts to open up this system have come to nothing as neither side of the Atlantic has an incentive to be the first to make a change.


The rest of the article is here

SA Blog Awards

I know that I am late in getting in on this, nevertheless, I have been nominated for two SA Blog Awards and would just like to say thanks a million for nominating me.

China in Angola

Laurence at Commentary.co.za has some interesting thoughts on China and its place in the global economy. China’s increasing role in Africa has also been mentioned before on the local blogosphere. Irin reports on China’s growing investment in Angola and the possible repercussions. China has recently injected 2 billion US dollars into the Angolan economy. The oil-backed credit line, agreed with Eximbank of China in March 2004, is being released on a project-by-project basis to rebuild Angola's war-devastated infrastructure.

"But even before the lion's share of the money is paid out, there are questions about the sustainability of the Chinese projects. "This is a very old-fashioned way of promoting development," said an aid worker who did not wish to be named. "They [foreign enterprises] come in, build dams, roads and bridges, but no one ensures that there's the capacity to maintain them. There is a real risk of creating white elephants - mega-projects gathering dust in the desert," the source commented.

Others fear that the approved projects are focused on boosting the government's popularity ahead of general elections, due in 2006, rather than on the grass-roots development Angola so badly needs. The massive cash boost will not have a noticeable impact on employment. Well over half the working-age population are jobless but, under the agreement, Chinese companies have access to 70 percent of the contracts, leaving just 30 percent for local firms - an arrangement that has already caused consternation. Perhaps the biggest concern among foreign officials in Luanda is the perceived opaqueness of Angola's recent deals. The bilateral Chinese agreement comes hard on the heels of a $2.25 billion Standard Chartered bank loan, which means there is less pressure on the government to answer difficult questions posed by the international community.

Despite being rich in oil, most of Angola's 13 million people are woefully poor, and critics continue to level accusations of corruption at the country's wealthy elite. The China deal has already been dogged by claims of mismanagement. The agreement provides China with crude in return for credit, and also opens the door to possible future exploration prospects. China already imports around 30 percent of Angola's oil, just behind the United States, which buys 40 percent of production. With talk of establishing a Chinatown in Luanda, and weekly flights linking Beijing to the Angolan capital, bilateral ties are expected to become increasingly important."

South Africa recently met with a high level Angolan delegation and signed a bilateral agreement. We've also been trying to muscle in on all that lucre to be made from investing in Angolan infrastructure and other projects. I also wonder how one sided these deals are - are South Africa and China opening up their markets to Angolan goods and products other than oil in any meaningful way? Is Angola going to have to risk the development of its own manufacturing and other industries and be made to open its markets to Chinese exports as a reward to China for all those loans and investments?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Nuisance

Sometimes I hate technology, or should I make that loathe technology, detest technology, have an abhorrance for technology. Ok those were the best words I could come up with in the thesaurus, I'm sure you get the picture. I just spent over an hour, doing what I hoped was a nice, lucid account of my past two weeks spent in Cape Town at parliament attending media briefing week and my impressions of where I think government is at in terms of all its promises and plans. However, the universe obviously didn't think much of my ramblings, because somewhere between that final full fullstop and the accomplished sensation of clicking the publish button, my post disappeared into....well...I'm still trying to figure that out. So to hell with politics for today, I'm going to go for the warm, fuzzy option instead and one of my favourite South African legends - Just Nuisance.

South Africa has the distinction of being the only country in the world, to my knowledge, that has ever had a dog, fully conscripted and holding rank in the military. To be more precise its a naval rank, and I give you none other than Able Seaman Just Nuisance.

Just Nuisance was a Great Dane, and he became a friend and mascot of sorts to the sailors serving at the naval base in Simonstown during the Second World War. Just Nuisance used to accompany the sailors by train to Cape Town when they went off drinking and carousing. Legend has it that on the return trip he would wake the inebriated sailors where they had passed out so that they didn't miss their stop, and escourt them back to their ship. He died in 1944, was given a full military burial, and his legend has become larger than life. Apparently the Great Dane was not averse to the odd pint himself. Because of his love for travelling on trains, angry conductors threatened to have the dog put down, his sailor friends came to his rescue and he was enlisted as a way of protection.

"On Friday, 25th August 1939, Just Nuisance was enlisted into the Royal Navy. He was given the Christian name of "Just", the Trade of "Bone Crusher" and his Religious Denomination as "Scrounger" (this was later upgraded to Canine Divinity League [Anti-Vivisection]). Like all new sailors, he underwent a medical examination which he duly passed and was declared fit for active duty. The proper enlistment forms were filled in and he signed them with a paw mark. Just Nuisance was now a bona-fide member of the Navy and, as such, he expected all the benefits that that brought - he started sleeping on sailors' beds - his long frame fully stretched out with his head comfortably placed on the pillow. One of the seaman was allocated to ensure that Just Nuisance was regularly washed and he often appeared at parades wearing his seaman's hat."



Just Nuisance Monument in Simonstown


Plaque at the monument

By account, Just Nuisance was not the most well behaved sailor in town:

"All things considered, Just Nuisance was more than just a dog. He did much to boost the morale of all those involved in fighting the War from the South Atlantic Station and he was renowned for the love and care he showed for his sailor mates. However, Just Nuisance was no angel, as his "Conduct Sheet" shows. He was guilty of several misdeeds, such as travelling on the train without his free pass, sleeping on a bed in the Petty Officer's dormitory, going AWOL, losing his collar and resisting eviction from pubs at closing time. His most serious offence was fighting with the mascots of other Royal Navy vessels. He caused the death of the mascots on both the HMS Shropshire and the HMS Redoubt. His Conduct Sheet, now in the Simon's Town Museum, shows three recorded offences:
Traveling on the railways without a pass. Punishment Awarded: Confined to the banks of Froggy Pond, Lily Pool, with all lamp posts removed.
Did sleep in an improper place, namely in a bed in the Petty Officers’ dormitory. Punishment Awarded: Deprived of bones for seven days.
Did resist ejection from the Sailors’ & Soldiers’ Home. No punishment awarded."






To read more click
here or here

Thursday, February 03, 2005

State of the Nation

My apologies for the lack of updates, I will have to offer the feeble, sad and sorry excuse of being swamped by work deadlines, I am being sent to Cape Town next week and will get back to Joburg on the 18th of Feb, so no more blogging until then - and then I will endevour to make a concerted effort to blog on a daily basis.

Next week friday President Mbeki will give his State of the Nation address, I don't think there will be any major surprises but then again there is always the chance of the unexpected. In his May 2004 State of the Nation address, after being re-elected, the president in a first since ANC rule, gave out an extensive list of detailed promises, many of them with timeframes and there are high expectations that he will report back on government progress. I think the ANC government has made modest gains over the past year in terms of economic growth, and service delivery but I also think that this has been more at the level of policy formulation and trying to put the right structures in place, than actual implementation. Houses have been built, water and electricity connections made, but not enough to cope with the staggering backlogs. Of course corruption and public service maladministration has been a huge problem, particularly at the provincial level and even more staggeringly so at the local government level. In this light I think that we can expect to hear Mbeki come out strongly against his public servants and officials and really emphasizing the need to fast track delivery - the ANC faces local government elections towards the end of this year or early next year, also Mbeki will want to finish his last term on a positive note. Whether poor delivery will actually influence ANC voters to make a change when it comes to the crunch is another story but I think Mbeki at least has some sense of duty and of wanting to carry out the ANC ideals forged during apartheid to make a better life for his people. If anything, Mbeki wants to prove to Africa, and to the rest of the world that an African government can be truly successful and he wants to keep South Africa moving forward as a regional power in his efforts to unite the rest of the continent into an eventual economic force.

Ultimately, if the government is ever going to truly alleviate poverty it has to create jobs, and although the economic growth we've seen over the past ten years has created new jobs, it has not created enough jobs to cater for all the new job seekers entering the labour market. Also the government has failed dismally in it's education and training delivery so while skilled labour is in high demand in certain sectors the human resources aren't there. I think we should also consider some of the immense challenges that the government faces in beating the backlog - lack of infrastructure and the huge costs fixing this involves, when it comes to service delivery - there have been challeges involved in trying to efficiently intergrate the three levels of government - national, provincial and local. Also, service delivery has to be sustainable to keep up with the backlog - operational costs have to be considered, it's no use building a house, providing electricity and then evicting people because they can't afford to pay their bills, this is not going to eliminate the backlog in the longterm. Population is increasing all the time, demographics are constantly changing and household sizes are becoming smaller meaning that more houses have to be built. Over the past few years, an enormous amount of work has gone into formulating the right policies to deal with South Africa's socio-economic situation, but it's a unique situation - there's no blueprint for success for the government to follow, so there is a level of trial and error. Of course, I will have to bring up the ugly corruption word here again, because I don't think that the government will attain credibility in it's efforts to deliver (and I do think that the government deserves a certain level of credibility in this regard) without seriously trying to combat corruption, financial mismanagement, cronyism etc