Mhambi has been redeployed.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Where's the power to the people?

Mhambi has just returned from an exhilarating 2 month visit to South Africa. Friends of Mhambi might smirk at that. Exhilarating perhaps if your a student of social trends they might say. Scary or downright depressing if you happen to live in South Africa.

Derelict cooling towers
Originally uploaded by Leorex.

And it has to be said, very few of the whities - including old lefties - I met were not envious of me living overseas. And a few of the black South Africans and other blacks I met expressed similar concerns. The only optimistic whitey I heard of was my one nephew. He's a successful businessman.

At a dinner party with committed and very informed lefties I was left in no doubt. It was good that I left when I did they said. There was the Zuma, Mbeki battle, the Selebi shenanigans. But the power black outs were the straw that broke the brave optimistic camel's back, they said.

"It's symptomatic of the retreat of the state." The once mighty South African state is in free fall. South Africa now has more than 3 times the number of private security officers than police. The state gave up any pretense of ensuring its citizens physical safety. And now its the power. "Now people will start to supply their own power". Their is no confidence in public policy and the state. "It's every one for themselves".

This is the type of world where the rich will flourish and the poor will suffer. Not a comfortable world for those of us with a social conscience.

It should not be lost on anybody that it was first recommended to this government that it needs to invest in power generation circa 1998. That is a few months before the government embarked on a multi-million Rand arms deal, that turned out to be highly corrupt.

Even if not corrupt the wisdom of this deal was questionable in some respects. South Africa faces little by way of a conventional military threat. But the corruption involved catapulted the costs while introducing more hardware of dubious use to the Republic. What is clear now is that energy generation was not on the agenda.

Compounding the depression has been the response of the government AND the opposition. Government has claimed that we are suffering because of a growing economy and greater demand and that other countries, the US, Canada and Brazil has suffered similar issues. Meanwhile the opposition, besides rightly labeling the government as inept, pinned for privatisation.

Government claims to have planned and directed this kind of economic growth so surely this can not be an excuse? Besides, a 1998 white paper acknowledged the need. And as the Mail and Guardian pointed out, current power usage is actually below peaks of a year before, but none of the existing power stations are running at full capacity anyhow, probably because of a lack of staff shortages.

As for the US, Canada and Brazil argument. Yes, they have had black outs. Mhambi has little knowledge about what transpired in the Brazilian case, but in the others I do.

In the US and Canada the problem was caused in 2003 by a lack of spare capacity on a particularly hot day, coinciding with an accident. The power was restored everywhere within two days. This can not be compared to a decade of neglect in South Africa.

California however did have a more protracted crisis. It coincided with being the first energy market in the world to be deregulated. According to Wikipedia:

State lawmakers expected the price of electricity to decrease due to the resulting competition from deregulation; hence they capped the price of electricity at the pre-deregulation level. Since they also saw it as imperative that the supply of electricity remain uninterrupted, utility companies were required by law to buy electricity from spot markets at uncapped prices when faced with imminent power shortages.

When the electricity demand in California rose, utilities had no financial incentive to expand production, as long term price were capped. Instead, wholesalers such as Enron manipulated the market to force utility companies into daily spot markets for short term gain. For example, in a market technique known as megawatt laundering, wholesalers bought up electricity in California at below cap price to sell out of state, creating shortages. In some instances, wholesalers scheduled power transmission to create congestion and drive up prices.

The energy crisis was characterized by a combination of extremely high prices and Rolling blackouts that lasted for 12 months from 2000 to 2001.

Here, it is predicted that our problems will last for at least 8 years. Privatisation will not necessarily solve South Africa's problems as should be clear from the above example. It will most certainly lead to more expensive energy. It will be bad news for the poor.

People seem to forget that the Nationalists' nationalised Eskom provided South Africa with the cheapest energy in the world. They forget that a nationalised Telkom provided us with cheap phone calls, and that the privatised version is the most expensive internet service provider in the world.

As with the police, you can expect the ANC not to object to the creeping privatisation of power. As was pointed out in fascinating book The criminilisation of the state in Africa, privatisation in Africa often leads to more opportunities for corruption.

No wonder my friends are so depressed. Round here you are on your own and only the very rich and ruthless are still smiling.

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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Siener - Rian Malan's comical take the future

Talking of Music videos, here is Rian Malan's Siener video - a little sweetner for those Afro pessimists out there.

Malan's dog Tommie can see the future. Don't say you have not been warned.

It ends with the line, even if everything goes wrong for 50 years, in the end we will have a jol in Africa.

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NuL - the online superstars

NuL has recently released an video to accompany their song, Online Superstar. As with everything else NuL does, they made the video themselves, in downtown Pretoria South Africa nogal.

NuL also has an excellent website where you can download all their tracks for free through the creative commons license.

Read more about NuL on wikipedia.

And Nul is great live.

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Your an optimist and I'm Canadian

Mhambi is feeling guilty.

There are two reasons for this, but in this post I will highlight only one: Chicken run guilt.

Ver van die ou Kalahari
aan die grens se verkeerde kant

eet ons weer nou calamari
en lag oor die dalende Rand.

Sang Koos Kombuis in the 80's.

I'm not laughing. Mhambi is sitting snug in a little cute (actually quite large compared to London) wooden house, while outside the temperature is -10 and the porch is under inches of pure white powdery snow.

Yes Montreal Canada is very cold, but it is so very sorted.

After two months in South Africa where I worked on two documentaries, myself and my partner have come to Montreal for a job she could not refuse. We promise its only for a while. Really.

It's too easy to pontificate from here, when your so far removed from the reality of South Africa's riots en hel. I suppose everything acerbic or sweet that I pen is tinged, watered down by this fact. I'm not there.

Rian Malan also has a song - Trekboer - about us Saffas living in Canada. The bottom line of the song is this: We miss you.

(Listen to Trekboer here or buy the album Alien Inboorling here).

Liewe Marie
Hier's dit winter al weer, ennie wind ... o jinne
Ek lewe al weke betrap hier binne
Swart reën hamer teen die vensterruite
En die ys lê ses duim diep daarbuite

En jy weet ... op aande soos dié vra ek myself al weer -
Alles in ag geneem, wat die hel maak ek hier?
Weer is ellendig, dollar's amper niks werd
En SA pronk innie koerante soos 'n spogryperd

Ek lees julle het selfs misdaad bekamp
'n Paar jobs geskep en inflasie op sy kop gestamp
Is dit leuens, Marie, of issit werklik waar?
Soos jy weet ... ek twyfel oor alles in Afrika

Trekboer o mamma ek wil huis toe gaan
Ek verlang maar ek is bang
Vir Afrika, o Afrika

Saterdag het ek vir Piet Basson besoek
Daar was wors en tjops en pannekoek
En 'n klomp verlore Boere wat vriende soek
Almal het bewend langs die braai gestaan
Terwyl ons gasheer oor die swart gevaar aangaan...

Ou Piet kry e-mails van sy regse tjomme
Volgens sy bronne gaan dit nou sleg daaronder
Hy sê die Mandela-jare was net 'n wittebrood
En oor die langtermyn maak hulle al die witmense dood

Ek was lekker getrek, so ek sê, Piet, ou maat,
Jy's my vriend, maar eish, dis bog wat jy praat
Ons is net bang om te erken ons het fout gemaak
En Suid-Afrika verniet verlaat
Ja - hy't my gedonder

Trekboer o mamma ek wil huis toe gaan...

Jy weet, Marie, toe ek emigreer...
Ek het gelieg toe ek sê dat ek niks omgee
Ek dink aan jou gedurig, amper elke dag
En droom van jou in hierdie eindelose noordelike nag

Ek droom van die maanlig in Stellenbosch
Ons twee loop huis toe na 'n jol by die Dros
Daar's iets wild in jou oë, jy sê jy wil liefde maak
En ons kruip weg in die donker daar langs Dorpstraat

Ek droom van 'n strand ... moerse wit branders
Die son op my rug, jou lyf onder my hande
Ek lê op my bed, luister Madiba Bay
Strek uit my hand en daar lê jy langs my

Ag Marie...Ek wens alles kon anders wees,
Maar jy's 'n optimis, en ek's nou Kanadees
So ek wil net verneem hoe gaan dit met jou
En vra of jy ook nog vir my onthou

Die uwe,


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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Andries Nel responds

Mhambi recently wrote a blog post in which I critisised deputy chief whip Andries Nel. He has kindly responded to the blog post which I publish in full and to which I will respond to in good time.

Dear Wessel,

In your blog of 24 December 2007 (“Party Pooper: Andries Nel – Sies!”) you accuse me of having, “contributed to the demise of the moral fibre and the growth in corruption of the ANC.” You base these accusations on Andrew Feinstein’s book, After the Party.

These accusations are very serious – so much so that one would have expected you to have heard my side of the story before deciding to, “expose, to hound and to damn.”

You say that, “those who are mentioned and named are of course, welcome to reply.” I would have expected more than a cyber kangaroo court from you. Hanging first and hearing evidence later just isn’t good enough.

When you were busy with your film project on the “border war” you found time, on numerous occasions, to correspond with me by email, seeking assistance in tracing activists in the anti-conscription movement. I gladly responded to these requests and also met with you to discuss your project. What made it so difficult to contact me regarding this matter?

This kind of behaviour goes against the traditions of comradeship, rigorous, honest intellectual engagement and common decency that existed amongst the activists you mention. You say that, “charity (and putting right wrongs) should start at home.” I agree. I would add that the same should apply to getting things - like facts – right.

The implication of the statements that I have been, “quietly climbing the ANC ranks” and that my “loyalty must have been noted early on, as he was appointed to the Party’s whips office” is disappointing, especially coming from someone who should know better.

I have never hidden or been ashamed of my loyalty to the liberation movement. It is a loyalty based on deeply held convictions that I have maintained during times when doing so held no prospect for material reward. I will continue to be a loyal and disciplined member of the ANC – also in the democracy for which so many of its members died.

Returning to the charges of, "contributing to the demise of the moral fibre and the growth in corruption of the ANC." The only evidence you adduce is Mr. Feinstein’s account of the matter involving former Minister Penuel Maduna and (the late) former Auditor General Henri Kleuver and my participation in the Standing Committee on Public Accounts (SCOPA.)

You quote/paraphrase Feinstein to the effect that the ad hoc committee dealing with this matter – which I chaired - blocked “a full investigation” and “despite hearing damning evidence against the Minister, the Committee found in his favour.You also say, “Yengeni told them ‘I don’t think a public hearing is a good idea, this matter should be dealt with internally, like the Maduna matter.’”

The facts, in highly abridged form, go something like this:

During Parliamentary question time Maduna accused Kleuver of aiding and abetting certain oil sanction busting activities of the apartheid regime. The matter was referred to the Public Protector. An extensive investigation, lasting many months and costing millions of rands came to the conclusion Maduna’s allegations were not true. There was, therefore, no need for a further “full investigation.” The Public Protector briefed the ad hoc committee on his findings in a series of open and transparent meetings - no inkling of the matter being “dealt with internally.” The committee did not, “find in favour” of Maduna, but accepted the Public Protector’s findings. What is true is that we did not hang, draw and quarter Maduna as many had wanted. By the time the Public Protector’s report was presented to Parliament Maduna had long withdrawn the offending remarks (something the Public Protector missed.) In terms of the rules of Parliament, there was no further sanction to apply.

In relation to SCOPA, you make the statement that, “the new members of the Committee were openly hostile to Feinstein. As far as Scopa was concerned the arms deal would be investigated no further.” Firstly, I don’t recall ever being “hostile” – openly or otherwise - to Mr. Feinstein. Tellingly, you provide no examples. Secondly, it is simply not true that, “the arms deal would be investigated no further.” There was an extensive investigation conducted jointly by the National Prosecuting Authority, the Public Protector and the Auditor General on the recommendation of Scopa.

There are ongoing investigations and prosecutions of alleged wrongdoing relating to the arms procurement process. The democratic government, led by the ANC, has made no attempt to interfere with these processes.

If you are writing your blog in good faith you will go back and tell your readers whether you ever bothered to study any of the basic original source documents relating to this matter - such as the Public Protector or the ad hoc committee’s reports. All of this information is readily available on the internet. You undermine your statement that “there's no escape from information on the superhighway” by ignoring easily accessible information. We escape easily on this highway by skidding on the oil of our own intellectual sloth.

At the start of your blog you remind us that, “quite often important information is revealed in books, information that never makes it to a wider audience.” Very true, but how much important information never even makes it into books?

Laudable as your approach of trying to disseminate information might be, you end up trapping yourself in the vicious downward spiral that is impoverishing our public discourse. Information is uncritically recycled from newspapers into books back into newspapers onto the internet back into newspapers and so on and so on. How many journalists, public intellectuals etc. actually go to the trouble of investigating, analyzing debating what they write about? How many media companies provide those that write with the space and resources to do so properly?

You will remember how, during the 1980s and early 1990s, Students for a Democratic Society at the University of Pretoria organized internal political education workshops and public seminars, held public meetings where speakers came to give first hand accounts of what was happening in the country, published Skryfskiet – a monthly newsletter etc. We were trying to provide alternative information and to give students tools to analyse, understand and change their society. We actively opposed the regime’s propaganda and the established media and provided alternatives.

We trusted each other and resisted the lies the regime spread about us. We built and developed each other through debate and discussion.

Let us continue engaging in this tradition of honesty, integrity and respect.

Yours comradely,

Andries Nel

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Mhambi's South Africa 2007

Mhambi is very late with this posting, my summary of Mhambi 2007.

Last year I described 2006 as a watershed year for South Africa in my posting Mhambi's 2006. A year in which open debate returned to South Africa.

If you remember, as Steven Friedman explained, this was not because of a new found commitment to democracy amongst our ruling political class, but because of the battle for control of the ANC and the state between the Mbeki and Zuma camps.

So 2007 started off with many of these 2006 debates carrying into the new year. In these debates Xolela Mangau was one of 2007's most acerbic and eloquent voices against creeping country wide corruption. Others like Rhoda Kadalie waded in.

Steeds De la Rey

There were more heated exchanges at the beginning of the year about the De la Rey song. What did it mean? What would it bring?

Leeu van die Wes Transvaal
Originally uploaded by Wildebeast1.

Tim du Plessis changed his mind (and not for the last time in 2007) . In 2006 he warned of deliberate Afrikaner civil disobedience, but now announced the arrival of a more confident participatory breed: the New Afrikaner. Pallo Jordan, the minister of Arts and Culture, warned against De la Rey song inspired treason.

The song reached the press in both the UK and US. And in the process it served as an amusing outing of international prejudices about Afrikaners.

But nowhere was its meaning as debated as among Afrikaners. Lefty journo Max du Preez saw in it the worst: racism, atavistic nationalism, a longing for the past. But poets and writers Antjie Krog, Koos Kombuis were not convinced with that line of argument.

But before you think South African 2007 debates were dominated just by a pop song. They were not. By years end it was out of the news completely.

In the US, a debate raged over what extent apartheid could be compared to current events in Israel.

Angola the country South Africa helped wreck celebrated 5 years of peace.

Britain and racism

Rather arbitrarily the BBC decided to screen a blatantly racist tribute to colonial writer Rider Haggart. Perhaps not surprising as in 2007 it transpired that Britain is a society with little self awareness when it comes to racism.

2007 was a year when racism boiled over on British TV, when Jade Goodie and other white Big Brother contestants ganging up on Indian star Shilpa Shetty. The incident had the country in a tizz. The press especially were aghast, while admitting at the same time that the opinions expressed were prevalent in British society.

Many left commentators defended Goody: she was working class, and more likely to be exposed to multi-cultural Britain than her critics they claimed. A good example was Philosopher Julian Baggini who spent six months living in Rotherham, Yorkshire. In the Guardian he professed that he doesn't believe most white Britons are racists - even though he heard racist language almost everywhere he went.

On the cultural and media front trade union solidarity won the global award for the best union website. Gazelle released a funky a stomping Afrikaans electro track, while two movies cataloging life in gay South Africa, screened in London.

Facebook took the world by storm in 2007. Also in South Africa, despite the privatised national telecoms provider Telcom's parasitic and damaging impact on the countries internet ecosystem.

Bad news aplenty

Bad news about the break down of trust and public institutions came a plenty. Many of which, like the Hlophe affair and the scandalous neglect at the Frere hospital Mhambi never wrote about himself.

Originally uploaded by Wildebeast1.

I did write about the alleged corruption of the National Health minister, who was not fired, even after it was claimed that she was an alcoholic and a thief. Instead the government tried to muzzle the press. There were other posts of Afro-pessimism. Events like the casual destruction of monuments in Standerton helped to spread the gloom.

The astounding growth of crime and the corruption inside the South African police continued to make waves internationally. Journalists like Jonny Steinberg tried to make sense of the corruption and crime.

In 2007 there were less reports of xenophobic attacks on other Africans by South Africans like which transpired in 2006 when scores of Somalis were murdered. Now the focus shifted to extreme indifference towards other Africans best illustrated by the death of Adonis Musati in Cape Town.

There were valiant attempts from South Africans to reach out to each other, like when Hansie Diffenthal tried to save Halaletsang Nkome.

The Rugby World Cup

But so too did the Rugby World Cup loom large. It became clear that racial make up of the South African Springbok team would be an issue. In fact, the ANC also wanted to change the teams ' iconic name.

As the first big match of the cup approached, between SA and England, the English press went to town with prejudicial reporting: South Africans were stupid and not "every inch Western gentlemen". The verbal barrage did not save the English from a battering on the pitch however.

Neither could the spectre of Che Guevarra help the Argentines against a rampant Springbok side.

Jusr before the final The Guardian published a curious rugby article by Gavin Evans, which was duly pulled apart by readers.

Then, despite all this, the Springboks won. And Mbeki tried to surf the wave of glory. The Bok name became non issue.

Mbeki vs Zuma

He certainly needed it. Such was the the growing opposition to his control freakery that too many it seemed that he would loose the election for ANC presidency the end of the year. That placed many South Africans between a rock and a hard place who wanted neither Mbeki or Zuma in charge. Cyril Rhamaphosa entering the race was one of our great hopes.

Mbeki could and did continue to point out how the economy has grown under his leadership. But doubts remained about his success in addressing poverty.

But his Aids denialism still hung over him like a shadow, with Mark Gevisser confirming and explaining it upon the publishing of his monumental biography of Mbeki. 2007 was also the year in which a minimum number was put to the deaths caused by Mbeki's Aids inaction: 300 000.

Another book, Andrew Feinstein's After the Party, cataloged the ANC's move away from democracy and decent into grand corruption. Mhambi cerealised some of it.

By the end of the year it became clear that Mbeki would hit a wall. Some of us, Mhambi included, were optimistic. The inability of the incumbent holding on to power was that the openness had prevailed, a sign of democracy. And so Mbeki did hit a wall. Karplaks!

Better the devil you know?

Down went Mbeki, and enter stage 'left' Zuma. 2008 will no doubt be as interesting.

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Friday, January 11, 2008

Selebi 0 Judicial process 1

The South African Commissioner of Police Jackie Selebi has failed to stop him from being charged when the Pretoria high Court through out his unusual application today.

You can read a pretty good summary of the links between Selebi and Glen Agliotti in today's Guardian, while the BBC gives a good summary of Selebi's career.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Police arrest Gerrie Nel - Selebi's investigator

Gerrie Nel, regional head of the Directorate of Special Operations or the Scorpions, was arrested by about 20 armed policemen in front of his wife and children at about 9pm last night.

Nel led the investigation into the shooting of mining magnate Brett Kebble and the probe into alleged criminal activities by national police commissioner Jackie Selebi.

The National Prosecuting Authority to whom the Scorpions report has already made a decision as to whether to charge Selebi, but has been ordered by President Mbeki to first consult with the Justice Minister before they make the decision public.

President Mbeki is believed to be close to Commissioner Selebi.

Nel has been arrested on charges of corruption and defeating the ends of justice.

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