Friday, 16 February 2018

What kind of man is this?

Yesterday, South Africa welcomed its fifth President since the advent of democracy in 1994.

The first such President was Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize winner and internationally renowned statesman who bridged the racial divide to unite a new nation at a time when civil war seemed like an inevitability.  The "Mandela magic" was quite a surreal effect, and everyone knew he would be a tough act to follow.

That task fell to Thabo Mbeki, under whose watch the South African economy grew and service delivery improved.  At the same time, however, power was increasingly centered around the Presidency, as Mbeki became more and more controlling.  His unorthodox views on the link between HIV and AIDS prevented millions from receiving the anti-retroviral drugs they needed, and he earned the scorn of the international community for refusing to condemn Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.  Mbeki fired his deputy Jacob Zuma after he was embroiled in a corruption scandal surrounding an arms deal.

Zuma went on to win the ANC leadership, and saw to it that the party removed Mbeki from office.  Kgalema Mothlanthe was installed as "Caretaker President" until the next election.

And so, in 2009, Zuma assumed office.  His tenure as President has seen the rand slip to record lows, state-owned enterprises be stripped of their talent and capital and the criminal justice establishment removed of its teeth.  Together with the wealthy Gupta family, Zuma has enriched himself at the cost of ordinary South Africans.  The rich have become richer, the poor have become poorer.  Crucial positions like the Public Protector and National Director of Public Prosecutions have been filled with Zuma-friendly candidates, and he replaced one of the world's most respected Finance Ministers in an attempt to raid the National Treasury.  The Zuma house of cards came tumbling down in spectacular style this week, leading to the election and swearing-in of President Cyril Ramaphosa yesterday.

So what kind of man are we dealing with?  Is he in the mould of Mandela, Mbeki or Zuma?

Ramaphosa first came to prominence in the 1970s as a leader of the Student Christian Movement, very much aligned with the "black consciousness" philosophy and served periods of detention and solitary confinement for his politics.  After qualifying in law, he went on to work for the Council of Unions of South Africa and was selected by them to establish the first major union for black mineworkers.  He not only became the first Secretary General of the National Union of Mineworkers, but won official recognition for the union with Anglo American and the Chamber of Mines.  He became famous as a skilled negotiator who did much to improve the lives of poor black mineworkers.  His work with the NUM led him into contact with the ANC, where he quickly rose to prominence.

He formed part of the National Reception Committee which prepared for the release of Nelson Mandela (watch footage of Mandela's first speech after his release - the man holding the microphone is none other than Cyril Ramaphosa) and soon after became the ANC's Secretary General.  He headed up the ANC's negotiations to form an interim constitution to bring about the first fully democratic elections.

It is well documented that Ramaphosa was Mandela's favoured successor, but that the ANC wanted Mbeki instead.  Ramaphosa took on the job as Chair of the Constitutional Assembly, and led the drafting of what is widely regarded as the world's most progressive human rights based constitutions.  When this task was done, feeling snubbed by Mbeki, he left frontline politics and entered the world of business, tasked by Mandela of establishing ways of black economic empowerment.

Beginning with zero capital, Ramaphosa wound up on the boards of several companies, most notably Johnnic, which had been sold off from Anglo American.  He later went on to found his own investment vehicle Shandkua and has become one of the wealthiest businessmen in South Africa, at one time owning the entire McDonald's franchise.

In 2012, he saw the opportunity to return to frontline politics and was elected Deputy President of the ANC and subsequently the country.  He played the long game during his Deputy Presidency, keeping his eyes on the prize as President, a position he won at the ANC elective conference in December based on his platform of rooting out the corruption of the Zuma years.  Just two months after his election, he has managed to remove Zuma from the Presidency of the country in a way that exposes his true character, he has replaced the board at state-owned power utility Eskom and he has given assurances of independence to law enforcement authorities allowing them to arrest, among others, many from the Gupta empire.  South Africa's clean up is underway.

It is notable that in his short speech accepting his election as President of the Republic yesterday, he reached out to all opposition leaders by name, inviting them to meet with him and eat with him to find a solution to the country's problems.  He made telling references to the values of Nelson Mandela.  He pledged to support nation building and reconciliation and to fight corruption and criminality.  As MPs from both sides of the house queued up to hug and congratulate him, it felt like the magic of 1994 was back.

Cyril Ramaphosa is a shrewd politician, tough negotiator and formidable businessman.  But above all, he is a constitutionalist and will fight to the end to ensure that South Africa's non-racist, non-sexist democracy succeeds.  Four Presidents late, Mandela's wish has been granted.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Strong and stable covfefe

2017 in review

Take a look at any look-back at this year's events and it would be easy to conclude that 2017 was a stinker.  But I'd like to throw in some optimism and suggest that maybe it wasn't such a bad year after all.

Okay, okay... there's the Trump thing, not to mention North Korea.  And Brexit is going about as well as can be expected.  Then there was the fall from grace of my one-time hero Aung San Suu-Kyi.  Not forgetting [insert your pet political grumble here].  I get it.  But hear me out.  Mugabe is no longer in power (granted that Mnangagwa may not be much better, but still), Zuma no longer leads the ANC (and hence, hopefully, will soon no-longer loot lead South Africa), UKIP has all but disappeared and Steps went on tour again.  Personally, it was quite a good year too.  I built a staircase and obtained my reindeer drivers' license (seriously).

Oh, and I became a father.

That's right... whatever the doom-peddlers may say, 2017 was a good year as the world welcomed this little bundle:


It gives an opportunity to put things in perspective.  Let me take you back to the early hours a September Friday morning...

I'm just in bed, having been sent away from the hospital as a spare part, when the phone rings.  This is it: the moment.  It was hard to make out the exact instruction through all the screams and profanities, but the gist was something like 'make haste to the labour suite'.

As I arrive and try to accept the reality of the situation, before I have the chance to do anything, the midwife calls me over to the side to warn me that already things are not looking straightforward.  There is a problem with baby's heartbeat, and a range of scenarios could ensue.

She takes me through her scenario-planning: if x happens, then y could happen, so we better do z just in case.  Then again, if a happens, we'd have to do b so I'm going to prepare c just in case.  Then again, d, e and f might all happen, and that would spell real trouble, so I've got g and h standing by.

"Do you play chess?" I ask her, hoping that levity will relieve the gravity of the situation.  "If you don't, you should."

The clock ticks forward, and more and more complicated pieces of monitoring equipment are attached and inserted as a stream of medics visit, look at the graphs and suck in through their teeth like a mechanic who is about to tell you the cylinder head has gone.  The various alarms and people racing from the room suggest there are several emergencies on the go at once.

"I've called in the on-call surgeon, just in-case," says the chess-playing midwife.  "And I've asked the Sick Kids to send out a paediatric emergency team."

It all sounds very serious, yet no-one is worried because this midwife appears to be super-woman.  There is surely no possible scenario she hasn't got a plan for.

In comes a consultant to look at the monitor, and before we know what's going on, everyone is whisked away down a labyrinth of corridors to theatre, and I'm thrown some scrubs to change in to.  It's all very ER.

Thirteen people it took to bring this one little life into the world: nine midwives, surgeons, anaesthetists and others in theatre, and two paediatric emergency doctors stood with me at the side.  In the end, they aren't needed, as the moment he's delivered, he's as healthy a baby as they've seen.  We all share a moment of gratitude that everything is well, thanks to this 13-strong medical team brought together by the chess-playing midwife.

It's hard not to think back to that night.  The harsh reality is that at any earlier time in history, mother and/or baby may not have survived this ordeal.  The harsher reality is that in most other parts of the world, such a team of specialists would be unaffordable, if available at all.

That we still, over 50 years later, have a National Health Service, free at the point of need, that can perform these most miraculous of acts daily is something for which we should be most grateful.  2017's not been so bad after all, has it?

Friday, 15 December 2017

It's time to take an interest (again)

If you are of a certain age, I'd be willing to bet you did your part in the anti-apartheid campaign.  Maybe you boycotted South African apples, moved money out of South African-linked investments or filled the cleverly re-named Nelson Mandela Place in a protest march.  Perhaps you watched the 'Free Mandela' concert from Wembley, bought the song by The Specials or signed a petition to keep South African cricketers out of the UK.  In lots of small ways, the people of the UK came together and condemned this crime against humanity.

If, like me, you're a little too young to be involved in all of that, then perhaps your seminal memories involve watching Nelson Mandela walk through the gates of Victor Verster Prison to freedom, or seeing him sworn in as South Africa's first democratically elected president, or watching him work his magic at the 1995 Rugby World Cup final, or hearing the accounts at the Truth & Reconciliation Commission... I could go on.

The fact is, that for several decades, the UK - and Scotland in particular - was caught up in the fight of black South Africans for their emancipation.  We followed their struggle, did what little we could to help and then rejoiced as the miracle of the "rainbow nation" unfolded.

Here's the thing, though: the time has come for us to get stuck in again.  The miracle has been coming undone.  Through a corrupt and reckless president, the last decade has seen the lives of ordinary South Africans plunged into despair, racial tensions re-stoked and Mandela's legacy trashed.  Desmond Tutu has described it as "worse than the apartheid government" - at least we would have expected it of them, he cries.  And yet, we in the UK are paying no interest.  But we should be...

Most people are shocked and stunned by Donal Trump's disinformation campaigns and use of "fake news" as propaganda to further his narrow cause, but on another continent, one Jacob G. Zuma has been doing the very same since he seized power at the 2007 ANC conference through what courts have now shown to be lies and deceit.  He engineered the removal of Thabo Mbeki as president of the country and established for himself a patronage network that has in the process destroyed parliament, cabinet, the Treasury, the Revenue Service, the police, the prosecutions service and the rule of law.  He has ensured that he and his network get richer, while the poor get poorer.  And the price to maintain this power?  Re-igniting the racial divisions of the past that Mandela's generation worked so hard to overcome.

Why should this matter to us?  Why should we again take up the cause?  The answer is simple: this is all being made possible because of UK companies.

British PR company Bell Pottinger masterminded a campaign blaming South Africa's woes on "white monopoly capital" and gave Zuma the racial narrative he was looking for.  As they profited from sowing division, we in the UK turned a blind eye.  (Since this was uncovered, Bell Pottinger has gone into administration - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41245719.)

KPMG was then found to have been involved in lending legitimacy to the regime and its associates through what it admits were "deficiencies" in its auditing of accounts associated with Zuma which "fell considerably short" of the required standards.  (More here: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/sep/15/bell-pottinger-fallout-deepens-kpmg-chiefs-south-africa.)

The Serious Fraud Office is investigating the use of HSBC and Standard Chartered accounts to launder money.  (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41672793.)  Peter Hain has claimed that HSBC ignored warnings that this was going on (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-41835937).  He also claims that Barclays and Santander need to check whether they have had any accounts used (https://www.fin24.com/Economy/british-peer-calls-for-london-based-bank-accounts-of-soes-to-be-investigated-20171206).

I could go on at some length...

The point is that 10 years before Trump burst on to the scene, JZ was using the same tactics in another hemisphere.  The UK has become bound up in his network of corruption and propaganda, and its time that we, who took such an interest in the anti-apartheid movement - did something about it to safeguard the freedoms secured by the Mandela generation.

But what could we do?  Rock concerts and apple boycotts won't achieve much this time round.  But we could investigate whether the companies we have money in have any links to Zuma or his associates the Guptas, and move it if they do.  We could lobby our foreign office to take a tougher stance against the stoking of racial tensions for personal gain.  But most importantly, we could take an interest.  During the days of apartheid, South Africans drew strength for their struggle from knowing that millions across the world stood in solidarity with them.  They need to know the same now.  So lets inform ourselves (start by watching these episodes of HARDtalk: https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=hardtalk south africa&search_group_id=urn:bbc:programmes:b006mg2m) and take an interest once again.


P.S. The ANC conference to elect Zuma's successor begins tomorrow.  The two leading candidates are Zuma's ex-wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Nelson Mandela's favoured choice as his own successor, Cyril Ramaphosa.  It would seem that the best hope to reclaim the principles of democracy would be a Ramaphosa victory.  Watch with interest...

Friday, 20 October 2017

European Venn Diagram

European Parliament Visitor Centre
A number of years ago, I visited the European Parliament in Brussels.  They have an excellent visitor centre which explains the history and current status of European institutions in as dynamic a manner as possible.

Before visiting, I don't think I had realised just how complex the European settlement is.  I tended only to think of "The EU" and was perhaps vaguely cognisant of the terms "Council of Europe" and "Single Market", but hadn't given any thought as to how the whole thing fits together.  I think the same is true of most of us - we think of the mythical beast that is "Brussels" rather than its web of complex associations.

The truth is that Europe is a hotch-potch of  treaties and diplomatic agreements, and different countries have joined in - or not - as suits their circumstances. 

Take, for example, the Eurozone.  Most EU member states have joined in, but the UK, along with eight other members, has not.  Then there's the Shengen Agreement, allowing borderless travel, which has been signed up to by all but six member states, along with five non-member states.  Then there's Cyprus and Ireland who're in the Euro but not in Schengen.  But Monaco is in Schengen, but not in the EU.  And it mints the Euro but is not in the Eurozone.  Like San Marino - though that is not in Schengen.  But it is in the Customs Union.

This is all before we've even considered the rival body to the EU - the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).  Membership of each is mutually exclusive.  EFTA members are currently Iceland, Lichtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.  They're all in Schengen, and three of the 4 have joined all of the EU in the European Economic Area, or Single Market.  But Switzerland hasn't.  It is in EFTA and Shengen, but not the EEA.  And I've not even mentioned the Central European Free Trade Area or the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, which has such famously European members as the USA and Canada.

This could become very complicated to explain.  What's that, you say?  You're crying out for a Venn diagram?  I am only too happy to oblige:

The UK has voted to leave the inner orange section of the diagram.  The question is where we end up.  It seems to me that there are four possible locations for Britain once we leave the EU, as indicated on the diagram in increasing degrees of separation from the EU:

1. This would see us defect from the EU to EFTA and staying inside the Single Market, but unlike the other countries with this deal, we would remain outside the Schengen area.  This is often referred to as the "Norway" model.

2. The "Switzerland" model, we would leave the EEA, but through membership of EFTA would still have relatively free access to trade.

3. This would see us leave the EEA but remain in the EU Customs Union.  Looking at the other bed-fellows in this position, I'm not sure the "Turkey" model or "Andorra" model have quite the same appeal as Norway or Switzerland.

4. This seems to be the position the government are aiming for - outside of the EU, EEA and Customs Union.  Again, though, my eyes are drawn to the other states in the same section of the diagram.  Does any of these countries have an economic model or trading relationship we want to emulate?  Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Georgia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine.

I haven't even considered complications such as the need for a common travel area with Ireland.  Perhaps, as is so often the European way, a new circle will be drawn at the eleventh hour.  But if option four is where we are headed, we cannot continue to ignore the economic and political reality of becoming a European outsider.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Funeral Politics

My granny held very firmly to the manta that money, politics and sex were not things to be openly discussed, and it would be a tremendous faux pas if any of them reared their head at as public an occasion as a funeral.  In fact, as anyone with any experience of planning or leading a funeral will know, there is often a lot of time and energy spent on ensuring that politics - including intra-family politics - doesn't raise its head.  Even the most outspoken of political speakers would agree that it would be disrespectful to use a memorial service as a platform for political rallying.

All of this might be true in a privileged Western context, but in many societies, funerals offer the only opportunity for resistance to oppression.  This was very much the case during apartheid South Africa.  With political gatherings, town hall meetings, liberation movements and most political parties banned by an increasingly authoritarian government, funerals were one of the only mass gatherings still permitted by law.  And so, the funeral became the place from which the freedom struggle rallied its troops. 

This was not in the least bit disrespectful to the deceased, in fact it often carried out their direct wishes.  The funeral as a political rally was seen as keeping alive the spirit of the departed.  If you've never seen the film Cry Freedom, take a look at the scene from Steve Biko's funeral to get a feel for what these occasions were like:


Of course, this type of scene has not been seen since the fall of apartheid twenty-seven years ago.  Until, that is, the events of this week...

Followers of my blog may have noted the corruption that exists within President Jacob Zuma's South Africa, with government influence and cash going to the wealthy Gupta brothers.  The main stumbling block to this 'State Capture' was the diligent and incorruptible Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan.  Zuma has been trying for over a year to find a way to get Gordhan out of the way - he's even had him arrested on trumped-up charges.

This week, Zuma signalled he was going to simply go for the nuclear option and fire Gordhan without reason.  As Gordhan landed in London on Monday for meetings with investors, Zuma summoned him home and it was clear a replacement was being lined up.

Then, on Tuesday, stalwart of the freedom struggle and fellow prisoner of Nelson Mandela, Ahmed Kathrada, died.  As a Muslim, he had to be buried the next day, and his burial service on Wednesday quickly became a political rally against Zuma's plans - the family said Zuma was not welcome, Gordhan was given a standing ovation, former President Kgalema Motlanthe quoted Kathrada's own call for Zuma to step down.  Nonetheless, a full state memorial for Kathrada was planned for today in Soweto.

At midnight on Thursday, Zuma fired Gordhan, his deputy and every other minister who had ever disagreed with them.  The ANC made clear that it did not support its own President in this.  At the same time, the presidency callously cancelled the state memorial for Kathrada, fearing it would be too political.

So, the Ahmed Kathrada and Nelson Mandela Foundations held their own memorial today, attended by as diverse a crowd as South Africa has ever seen, and what a gathering it was!  Christian prayer opened a Muslim funeral, the Communist Party and business leaders called on one another for support, and the ANC writ large called on its own President to resign.

Many have criticised the funeral as being too political and disrespectful, but it was continuing the debate that 'Uncle Kathy' had himself begun a year ago.  Watch, for example, the address by Kathrada's widow, Barbara Hogan:



The event was filled with the anti-apartheid cries of "Amandla! Awethu!"  (Power! To the people!) and "The people shall govern!"  Freedom songs were sung, Kathrada and Mandela's legacy called upon and it culminated in an address from Gordhan himself, "unashamedly" calling for mass mobilisation of the people against a corrupt and securocratic regime:


Perhaps a political funeral was Uncle Kathy's parting gift to South Africa.  It certainly engendered a mood of optimism that justice will prevail, and united South African's of all backgrounds in a way that we've not seen since the times of Madiba.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Thereanent

I'm periodically asked about the name of this blog.  What is "thereanent"?

Is it the re-anent, as in "she tried the re-anent, but it did not work" or "he went to the re-anent but found it empty"?

Could it be there an ent, as in the Morningside pronunciation of "over there, an ant hill once stood"?

Or is it therean ent, an entrainment company specialising is metamorphosing into animals?

It is, of course, none of these things.  It is simply a wonderful Scots word, used largely in legal (and ecclesiastical) circles:

thereanent (ˈðɛərəˈnɛnt)
adv. Scottish in reference to; concerning

It is one in a long line of such words, which are in a sad and steady decline in usage.  This blog is named in a subtle attempt to keep alive that particular line of Scots Presbyterianese, the use of which would make our language much more vibrant, as the following tale illustrates:


Monday, 28 November 2016

Come on Irene

Across South Africa, and the world, an unexpected hope has arisen that by the end of today, Jacob Zuma may have been recalled as president of the ANC, and subsequently the country.

The party's National Executive Committee has been meeting in Irene, where on Saturday night Tourism Minister Derek Hanekom surprised everyone by tabling a motion for Zuma to step down.  He is supported by at least three other prominent members of cabinet.  The motion was filibustered until yesterday, to try and get as many Zuma supporters as possible present, and then they announced that the conference would be extended until today - and we are told it will go on "very late".

It seems something is definitely afoot.  Zuma can no longer rely on the full support of his NEC.  His days are numbered, but hopes that he will be removed today may be a little premature.  Why?  There is simply too much at stake.  JZ has drawn those around him into a web of corruption and state capture, and those closest to him know that when he goes, their careers will also be on the line.

Take, for example, Minister of Cooperative Government Des van Rooyen - the one who Zuma made Finance Minister for all of three days.  He has lodged himself firmly in the Zupta camp, even going so far as to launch two legal bids to stop the release of the State of Capture report.  Any future president could not keep him in their cabinet.

Nor could they keep any others implicated in dodgy dealings with the Gupta family, such as Minister of Mineral Resources Mosebenzi Zwane.

Or Nathi Nhleko, the Minister of Police, who found that Zuma's swimming pool was actually a fire extinguisher, and his chicken coup a security measure.  No one other than JZ would allow him to remain in his position.

Or what about Shaun Abrahams, head of the National Prosecuting Authority, who brought phoney charges against Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan to try and pave the way for JZ to remove him from office, collapsing the value of the rand in the process.

Or Hlaudi Mostoeneng, CEO of Corporate Affairs at SABC who had been found to have lied about his qualifications, yet as a JZ supporter remains in post.

Even new Public Protector Busisiwe Mkwebane has firmly nailed her colours to the Zuma mast, even going so far as to lay trumped-up charges against her predecessor in a bid to discredit the work of Thuli Madonsela.

These are just the tip of the iceberg.  The cabinet, SABC, SAA, Eskom and countless other state owned enterprises will have to come under new leadership when Zuma is gone.

No wonder they are trying every last ditch attempt to keep him, despite the damage that would do to the country.  We can only hope and pray that common sense and a sense of justice prevail in the NECs discussions.  To mis-quote Dexy's Midnight Runners, "Come on Irene" - the world awaits your decision.