March 29, 2004

My new partner in crime...

I’d like to introduce my great friend and colleague Waldimar Pelser, who will shortly be joining me on NjaloNjalo. As a former Huisgenoot journalist, three-time Olympic oarsman and professional stamp collector, Waldimar will certainly add some quality and class to my very haphazard efforts at blogging. He tries to use the excuse that he is very busy trying to finish his MPhil thesis in Development Studies and can’t contribute much at the moment, but we look forward to his first post.

Watch this space.

Robben Island

On Saturday I finally got around to visiting Robben Island. Even though it sounds clichéd, I think it is something that every South African should try and do. Most of the general info about the island I knew beforehand, but you cannot get a sense of what the political prisoners went through without visiting the place. The best part of the visit for me was the fact that the guides on the island are all former political prisoners. They were able to share personal insights into how the island operated, what it stood for and what it symbolises to them now. I thought they did an amazing job at summarising South African political history, in their own words, for visitors who may not have known about our past. What was interesting is that both of our tour guides added their own input as to what they thought of the process of reconciliation in South Africa, and also what they thought still had to happen. As depressing as the prison itself is, I feel all the foreign visitors must have been left with a very realistic but positive impression of contemporary South Africa.

Sure, a lot of money is being milked out of Robben Island, but I am not sure who is to blame for that, or whether it is necessarily a bad thing. I can’t think of a better use for such an important symbol of the struggle for freedom in South Africa. So I recommend forking out the R150 to go; for those who care enough to educate themselves about South African history it is definitely worth it.

March 24, 2004

It is so good to be back in South Africa. Unfortunately I have to start my blogging from home with a gripe. Not even the 11 hour flight with no sleep could dampen my excitement about returning home, until the moment I stepped off the plane…

The shuttle bus from the plane to the arrivals terminal was packed – including a large contingent of foreign tourists visiting SA for the first time. For some reason one passenger insisted they get off half way to the terminal building and people started shouting at the (black) driver to stop. He couldn’t hear the shouts and carried on to the terminal. After some mutters of incompetence, a middle-aged white South African woman felt obliged to announce loudly to the entire bus extremely sarcastically: “Welcome to Africa. You can look forward to a lot more of this”.

I told her off for having such a negative (I wanted to say racist but didn’t) attitude, but the damage was already done. Why do these people feel it necessary to drag down our country just to reassert their own racist perceptions? It makes me angry. Perhaps it is just something I am going to have to get used to.

March 21, 2004

Back home

Boy, am I glad to be arriving back in sunny SA tomorrow. Can't wait to be back on home soil. I don't know how well I'll be able to keep up with blogging, but I'll try my best. Cape Town here I come!

March 19, 2004

Hee hee. Talk about getting shot in the foot. Evita vs Tony Leon - no contest.

I’m not going to get too defensive about my views – it seems that my fellow bloggers and I disagree fundamentally on a couple of things, but that is a good thing. I’ll just make a few comments before we move on:

In response to Laurence:
As long as inequality in South Africa is racially specific, so too will South African politics be racial. This is not to say that this will always be the case; we are already seeing inequality becoming increasingly class-based in South Africa. As this process continues, we are likely to see the left increase in political power. It is then highly likely that the ANC will shuffle back to the left and continue to win the majority of votes. Material inequality is the greatest politically destabilising force in South Africa, and the focus of this year’s election campaigns on poverty, employment, education and health reflect this. Just ask the Nats – they learned the hard way.

In response to Andrew:
Africa has a depressing history of "kleptocrats, dictators and genocidal maniacs”, as he correctly points out, but this fact is used to smear all African politics and to portray Africans as being unable to govern themselves (which is why I mostly agree with Laurence’s feelings on Zimbabwe). This portrayal is also a result of a strong Western bias in focusing on the ‘failure’ and ‘crisis’ in Africa, while ignoring the good.

What I argue is different about African politics and societies are the very reasons that such poor leaders come to power in the first place. In the analysis of this phenomenon one cannot ignore colonial and neo-colonial interventions, including the arming of our continent as the Cold War was played out on our soil. History is important, and history is biased.

While reading what the guys over at Conserva-Tory Commentary have to say, I can’t help wondering why they are so hung up on US and European political models. It surprises me greatly to see that their ideal political scenario in SA would be that of the UK. Wayne writes:

“It would also aid in gradually normalising local politics on a non-racial level, such that the local political makeup would begin to mirror foreign ones in the general split between the two major political parties acting as the left wing and right wing respectively of the local political spectrum.”

Does (South) Africa not have anything to offer? Do you see no difference in either the social history of our country/continent or how society is structured in Africa to that of the UK and the US?

Western-style politics has shown to be, and always will be, extremely difficult to implement in Africa. This is why I believe the seemingly inconsistent policies of the DA, as pointed out by Murray, are not so much a function of an uncertain positioning on the political spectrum, but a realisation that pure liberalism (or pure anything, for that matter) does not work in our unique country. These may have worked during apartheid, but these ideologies were missing one key ingredient – democracy. Now that things have moved on, Tony Leon and the other “traditionally white” parties fail to understand how African politics is different. Andrew suggested that me may be too sophisticated; I say no, just too Eurocentric.

As much as I dislike Thabo Mbeki’s constant reference to the struggle against apartheid and to African history, it has a distinctive purpose. Following the tradition of many great African scholars like Cheikh Anta Diop, V.Y Mudimbe and Kwame Anthony Appiah, his aim is to recreate a social history of Africa as told by Africans. The logic is that what stems from this is a politics that serves the people it describes. This is why he appeals. He has created a space in which African politics can create itself.

There are two reasons why political commentators in Africa constantly refer to Western philosophies and political models: firstly, these principles are portrayed as universal truths that apply to all societies; and secondly, alternative (in this case African) philosophies are that much harder to come by. There is plenty of scholarship to draw from but you have to actively seek it out. An alternative to this very theoretical approach is to just open your eyes to politics in Africa; to see who is winning what and why.


As for Laurence suggesting that the Tories are more likely to field the first black PM: come on, give us a break! These are the people who rely on racist Britain (yes, it does exist – in a big way) for their votes, and who would send foreign immigrants back to their concentration camp in Calais if they had half a chance. Just take a look at the lily white Shadow Cabinet versus the present Cabinet with two black ministers. Get real.

March 17, 2004

Oops. Just discovered that I was using the same template as Way South and Darkie's Place - that'll never do. So...I changed the colours. Hope you like it!

Was just chatting to two Zimbo's who were explaining how they really enjoy it when things in the UK don't work. Like when there is a power failure, everyone here goes bezerk; they just sit back, enjoy and think of home. Oh, what it is to live in Africa...

March 16, 2004

Jacob Zuma is going to seriously regret this little episode. When the opposition is playing on the public's fear of a one-party African state and a number of the opposition explicitly claim to hold Christian moral values, saying:"the ANC will rule South Africa until Jesus comes back" is not the brightest election slogan. Joe Seremane seems to to be the first to lay into him for the comment, but no doubt the ACDP will have a word or two to say.

In response to a post by Andrew at Southern Cross: I’ve also noticed a harsh anti-DA sentiment amongst white South Africans and a leaning towards the Independent Democrats and have a couple of thoughts on the reasons for this.

The DA does have well-thought out and comprehensive policies, but why don’t they make a BIG deal about this? Why is it that whenever we see the face of the DA, it’s the face of Leon attacking the government? I agree that there is a very necessary role as a ‘watchdog’ to the government, but this should be complemented by a constant offering of the alternatives they advocate. I also think that Tony Leon draws too much attention to himself, rather than the party or its politics. Perhaps it is just because of his ‘Westminster’ style of politics, but people are getting tired of it. What to people think of when they think of the DA other than Tony Leon? How many people actually know who Joe Seremane is? Unfortunately, Andrew, the vast majority of voters fail to analyse party policies but vote instead on what the posters say, who said the least stupid things (see above) and who they perceive to represent their cultural group.

Andrew’s scapegoat theory is plausible, but I think there is another subtle reason for the dislike of Leon amongst young white South Africans. He represents all that it means to be a ‘liberal white’ in South Africa; a category into which many of us would have fallen pre- and post-1994. There is a lot of unrecognised ‘white guilt’ associated with this position; they/we are the people who would protest against apartheid and racism, but never really do anything meaningful about it. To me, the position of the white liberal is associated with apathy. Tony Leon does not do enough to firstly admit that white guilt exists, and secondly, show how whites can deal with their complex role in South Africa’s history. The DA advocates policies that are not honest about the social history of our country and seem too distant from the messy daily realities that many people face. It is just not enough to consider ourselves a happy, non-racial democracy and to get on with the what works ‘best in the West’.

Thus us left-leaning, former-liberal whities are forced to seek alternatives. I think a lot of people would like to support the ANC, but feel (justifiably) uneasy about the danger and complacency caused by too much power. Or they just can’t abide Mbeki’s stance on AIDS and Zimbabwe. The next best centre-left not-yet-racially-aligned party would seem to be de Lille’s Independent Democrats. She is an established ‘people’s champion’ and is vociferous on a number of topical issues. The party is new and no one has had time to offend the electorate or say anything stupid. So I checked out their website

…and was very disappointed. They do nothing to allay the suspicions that ID is a one-woman show. The only place on the whole site where anyone other than de Lille is mentioned is on the candidate lists, and even there only a couple of names ring a bell. The policies generally look good, but lack substance and numbers. More irritating is the fact that they don’t answer the questions posed to them on the digital forum (perhaps de Lille is too busy). It is a pity, but it is still early days, and if de Lille gets some good support at the polls (and I suspect she will) then people will sit up and take notice. Then perhaps she can attract some top quality people to give her the institutional support that she needs. We’ll have to wait and see.

March 13, 2004

I don’t know if anyone bothers to read Thabo Mbeki’s ‘Letter from the President’ in the ANC Today newsletter. It is quite an effort to get through it, particularly if you object to having Mbeki’s revision of African history shoved down your throat every week, but it does provide some interesting insights into the views of the president, his current tactics and his pet projects.

This week’s diatribe took a tack that I think was particularly inspired. By taking defence behind South Africa’s rock-solid Constitution, Mbeki managed to allay fears of constitution tampering and score a huge blow to many opposition parties in the process. Basically, Mbeki categorically states he has no intention of amending the Constitution and then goes on to point out that the insistence of the ACDP that the death penalty be brought back would necessitate an amendment to the Bill of Rights. All the other parties (and there are an amazing number) that have joined the ACDP in their death penalty lobby will battle to present any credible retort to this. I think Tony Leon has made a grave mistake in supporting the death penalty and is being suitably lambasted in the press because of it.

Fikile-Ntsikelelo Moya makes a very similar point in this week's Mail & Guardian in his well-argued objection to the death penalty. This leaves me wondering whether perhaps Mbeki relies on the Mail & Guardian for arming the more intelligent of his political offensives. Does it not seem strange that the M&G is published on a Thursday and ANC Today comes out early on a Friday morning…

So here it is: the first post on my new weblog. What an intimidating prospect.

Firstly, I have to say that this blog is largely inspired by Southern Cross – a great source of updates and analysis on South African news and events. Andrew and Murray have complained about the lack of South African blogs, so, even though many have arisen since I first intended to start NjaloNjalo, here is yet another.