21 February, 2013

Agang: South Africa's Latest Political Party

by Hussein Solomon

The launch of Mamphele Ramphele’s political party Agang – Sesotho for “Let us Build” – reflects once again the dissatisfaction that ever larger numbers of South Africans feel about the ruling ANC, 19 years after the ending of apartheid.

Let us be clear though: at present Agang does not really challenge the ANC but would most likely take votes from the opposition DA. Whilst the ANC’s political support may be dwindling it still retains an almost two-thirds majority in parliament and still boasts an enviable political machine. Moreover the ruling party still retains the decisive advantage of incumbency and with it the power to dole out patronage with which to buy key voting blocs.

Agang together with the DA are essentially fighting for the same voting bloc – that of the dwindling urban middle class. This, in turn, raises the issue of how different Agang is from other opposition parties. At the face of it, Ramphele has not clearly articulated these differences. Her talking about self-interested and corrupt leaders is little different from the discourse of that of the DA or COPE leadership. In this, perhaps she should have waited a bit longer and come out with a more substantial political manifesto at the launch of Agang.

At a personal level, Ramphele is clearly the kind of leader South Africa needs – anti-apartheid activist, medical doctor, academic, business woman and a Managing Director of the World Bank. Unfortunately for her, political parties that are built on personalities are doomed to failure. Examples of Buthelezi’s Inkatha Freedom Party and Bantu Holomisa’s United Democratic Movement illustrate the point well. Moving from personality to effective party machinery on the ground is the challenge for Agang over the next year. From this perspective, I really cannot see how Agang would be able to develop the necessary grassroots networks in time for the 2014 elections.

2014 however may be merely her getting a foot in the door and taking her party into parliament. If this is the strategy, it raises the question of leadership of the party in 2019 when the then 75-year-old Ramphele will have to run against an ever younger crop of political leaders.

All the same, the launch of Agang remains an important development in the history of opposition politics for South Africa.

20 February, 2013

The News About Southern Africa: The Sowetan

by Virgil Hawkins

As can be seen from previous posts, the southern African region tends to be marginalized by the news media in the world beyond the region. But how about the news media within the region? Is it possible that we will find a treasure trove of information about the southern African region in the pages of the news media that operate from within?

The literature tells us that issues such as proximity, trade, and historical and cultural ties are some of the key determinants behind the levels of news coverage. If this is indeed the case, then southern Africa should feature quite prominently in the media there. But is it the case? This post looks at coverage in the Sowetan, one of South Africa's best-selling national newspapers, to find out.

The results of a survey of three months worth of coverage (November 2012 to January 2013) were not promising. With the exception of Zimbabwe, which was the object of 17 articles on issues ranging from politics and land to diamonds and marijuana, most southern African countries attracted precious little coverage.

In spite of a simmering rebellion, the deployment of South African troops (two of whom were hurt in crossfire during the period studied), and a visit by President Jacob Zuma, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), for example, was the object of just 7 articles. This was less than the number of articles in the same paper on distant Israel (8) over the same period. By way of another comparison, the UK royal family garnered as many as 19 articles, with Prince Harry's return from 'killing' in Afghanistan and the royal pregnancy occupying prominent positions in the paper. Lance Armstrong's confessions on doping saw the publication of 9 articles.

Malawi was the object of one article – and this was only because Madonna was reportedly building schools there. South Africa's leading trading partner in the region, Botswana, was unable to garner a single article, and nor were Tanzania or Madagascar, where ongoing political crisis remains a major source of concern in the region. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is certainly interested in Madagascar – it was a key agenda item at extraordinary summits held in Tanzania in December 2012 and January 2013. But while the Sowetan reported in advance that Zuma would lead a delegation to those summits, it failed to report during or after the summits were held – what was (or was not) actually achieved at those summits remained unbeknown to the readers.

This gloomy set of statistics does not mean, however, that the goings on in the region are being entirely neglected. Sports news was published in relative abundance, particularly with the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations being held at the time. Perhaps if we can get the politicians and decision-makers out of the corridors of power and onto a football pitch, we might have a better chance of sparking media interest, and in the process, raising some regional awareness, cooperation and cohesion.

16 February, 2013

What Congo's Rebels in South Africa Really Means

by Hussein Solomon

The recent arrest of 19 Congolese rebels in South Africa’s Limpopo Province where they were undergoing paramilitary training to ostensibly overthrow the government of Joseph Kabila in Kinshasa raises interesting questions in terms of how South Africa has increasingly come to occupy a central role in promoting insecurity on the African continent and further afield.

Indeed, the arrest of these alleged rebels forms part of a pattern where South Africa has increasingly served as a base for various undesirable elements who use South Africa’s territory to plan attacks in other countries. Alternatively, South Africa is also used as a safe house by these elements where they can lie low. Last month, a suspected former Niger Delta rebel leader stood trial in a Johannesburg court for masterminding two lethal car bombings in Nigeria whilst he was living in South Africa in 2010.

Since at least in the 1990s, the incompetence of our security forces coupled with the corruption in our Department of Home Affairs has attracted some of the world’s worst undesirable elements. In 1996, the existence of five Hezbollah training camps in South Africa came to light. In October 1999, Khalfan Khamis Mohamed, part of the Al Qaeda cell that attacked US embassies in East Africa, was arrested in Cape Town. In 2003, the Tunisian Ihsan Ganaoui was arrest in Germany for attempting terror attacks in the country – planning for it was done whilst he was in South Africa. By October 2004, a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) report noted that the second and third tier of Al Qaeda leadership may well be hiding in Pakistan, Iraq and South Africa. In August 2005, a joint South Africa and United State security operation discover a clandestine cell in Cape Town specializing in shipping Al Qaeda operatives from Afghanistan and Pakistan to the United Kingdom. Small wonder, then, that the British government imposed visa restrictions on South Africans. By May 2010 report of militant training camps in various provinces in South Africa once again surfaced.

The underlying point being made is a simple one. Unless our borders are made less porous, unless corruption within government departments are tackled head-on, unless our security forces are better trained and resourced, insecurity will continue to plague South Africa and from South Africa this insecurity will spread across the region and indeed the globe.

Of Popes, Dinosaurs and Elder Statesmen

by Hussein Solomon

In a shock announcement, Pope Benedict XVI stated that given his advanced years, he felt it wise to resign the papacy since he felt unable to continue his demanding job on account of his physical frailty. This was the first time in over 600 years that an incumbent resigned from the papacy and for this he needs to be commended for his honest and courageous decision.

This resignation however raises questions regarding Southern Africa’s own breed of dinosaur elder statesmen who whilst fossilizing remain clinging onto the reins of power. The octogenarian Robert Mugabe is standing for election once more despite ruling his country for over three decades. In similar vein Angola’s Eduardo Dos Santos who has remained in power for an even longer period of time shows no sign of stepping down.

There is no honesty amongst southern African politicians that their advanced age makes the exercise of power an increasingly difficult task to undertake. There is no honesty that during their respective reigns and that of their respective political parties that they have led their countries to ruin and that the lot of ordinary citizens have actually deteriorated. There is no honesty that perhaps it is time to pass on the baton to someone younger, more competent and who have the interests of the nation at heart.

The perpetuation of the rule of the Mugabes’ and Dos Santos’ also serve to undermine the polity – politics increasingly takes on the personality of the “Big Man” as opposed to being conducted along more bureaucratic line. Indeed, the polity increasingly becomes the fiefdom of the “Big Man” as is seen especially in Angola with the political and economic prominence of the Dos Santos family. Such a situation undermines the rule of law, undermines the well-being of ordinary citizens and undermines the state itself.

To Southern Africa’s political class: follow the lead of Pope Benedict, take a bow and exit the stage in the interests of your country and the region!