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


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.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Last tango in Pretoria?

South African President Jacob Zuma loves to dance.

He has certainly led the country and the governing ANC a merry dance, playing footloose and fancy free with the country’s hard-won constitution.

Fired by Thabo Mbeki from his role as deputy president in 2007 when facing corruption charges, Zuma’s legal quickstep saw him elected ANC President, the prosecution against him dropped on a flimsy technicality and Mbeki ousted as president, all preparing the way for Zuma to take the floor after the 2009 election.

Steps were quickly taken to ensure that the institutions of state danced to Zuma’s tune – the Scorpions investigative unit (which brought the corruption charges against him) was disbanded, Zuma allies were placed into key roles such as the head of the National Prosecuting Authority (which promptly dropped all charges against him), government contracts were awarded to Zuma-linked companies, his private homestead at Nkandla was enriched using taxpayers money and privileges were granted to his friends in the Gupta family, who even used a South African Air Force base to land their private plane for a wedding.

Through scandals of corruption, maladministration and even sex, Zuma sidestepped the blame and waltzed cheerfully onwards as if nothing had happened.

Only two state institutions refused to get into step with the twinkle-toed president: The Treasury and the Public Protector.  Both have been in a long dance-off with Zuma which was due to reach its crescendo this week in two high-profile court cases.

When Zuma appointed Advocate Thuli Madonsela to the ombudsman role of Public Protector seven years ago, she was largely unheard of and not thought to present much of a risk to his plans.

Nothing could have turned out further from the truth.  Madonsela ruthlessly investigated cases against Zuma brought to her and was not afraid to stand up to the machinery of government in issuing her findings.

In one of the most publicised cases, her Secure in Comfort report revealed the spending of millions of rand on building a swimming pool, amphitheatre, chicken coup, cattle kraal and visitors’ centre at his private home in Nkandla – all billed to the taxpayer as ‘security upgrades’.  She ordered that Zuma should pay back a fitting proportion of the money, and so began a legal battle as dramatic and passionate as an Argentine Tango.

In a landmark judgement, the Constitutional Court ruled that Madonsela’s findings were binding, and that the President and parliament had violated the constitution by not carrying out her remedial actions.

As Madonsela’s term of office drew to a close in October, she found herself in another legal battle with Jacob Zuma.  On her final day in the job, she was due to release her findings into allegations of ‘state capture’ brought about when Deputy Finance Minister Mcebisi Jonas and MP Vytjie Mentor revealed that they had been offered cabinet promotions by members of the Gupta family. 

Just hours before Madonsela was due to release the report, Zuma launched a court bid to interdict the report, claiming he did not have enough time to respond to her findings.  The case will be heard on November 1st, with Madonsela’s (Zuma-appointed) successor Busisiwe Mkwebane already saying she will not oppose his bid to block the report.  Minister Des van Rooyen also made a bid to block it, withdrew it and reinstated it again today.  His favoured dance is clearly the hokey-cokey – in, out, in out…

The following day, November 2nd, the Pretoria Regional Court was due to hear charges of fraud brought against Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Gordhan was not Zuma’s choice for Finance Minister and is somewhat of a thorn in the side.  There have long been tensions between the treasury and the presidency, as the former tried to keep check on the excesses of the latter.  This led to Zuma spontaneously firing respected Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in December last year, to replace him with a more pliable dance partner in the form of Des van Rooyen.

The ANC leadership, however, smelt a rat as the value of the rand plunged, and forced Zuma into replacing van Rooyen just three days later with safe pair of hands Pravin Gordhan.  Since then, Zuma has had every organ of state looking for a way to remove Gordhan from his position.

The best they came up with is an allegation that Gordhan committed fraud during his time at the South African Revenue Service by authorising the early retirement of a commissioner.  The charges against Gordhan were clearly politically motivated, and were withdrawn at the last moment by National Director of Public Prosecutions Shaun Abrahams who clearly finds the heat of the dancefloor too much.

This week sees a political Paso Doble played out in the courts.  The rulings will determine whether or not South Africa’s constitutional democracy and rule of law stand firm.

Could this be Zuma’s last waltz?  Or will he be allowed to continue his jolly jig all the way to the bank?

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Saying "totsiens"

Tuesday 27th September

Bole International Airport, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

As we set off towards the airport, traffic was very heavy and the reason became apparent as we approached the University of Cape Town.  Students were blocking the road in a protest against higher fees, calling for education to be free as described in the Freedom Charter.

In places, the protests are turning violent, which is extremely concerning to say the least, but at the moment, the ones ere are peaceful and good natured.

There's a general dissatisfaction with the ANC government everywhere we've been.  It seems that loyalty to the party of liberation has not been able to withstand the multiple corruption scandals of late, as the party's heavy losses in the recent local government elections have shown.  In the last few days, President Zuma has paid back a proportion of the Nkandla money, but it feels like rather too little too late.  It is clear he will now go, the only question is when.

"Enjoy the good exchange rate while you can," advised one local resident, "because when Zuma is gone, we will never allow this to happen again."

And that's the real story of South Africa.  It no longer shimmers with Mandela magic, but neither is it the failed state that some residents disgruntled with the fall of apartheid would have you believe.

Democracy is alive and well, there is a strong, independent judiciary and the office of the Public Protector is rooting out government corruption.  Things can only - and will only - continue to improve.

The repeated plea we've heard everywhere is for people to come here - the economy is dependent on foreign visitors.  And so that is my plea, too.  Visit.  This is the most geographically beautiful, ecologically fascinating and culturally diverse country in the world.  South African's are friendly and welcoming, their wildlife enthralling that there really is something for everyone - beaches, cities, wilderness, desert, luxury, basics and a retreat for the soul.

So visit.  And visit.  And visit again.  It will transform the way you see the world and will captivate your heart in a way that will never leave you.

I for one can't wait to get back...

Note: Since this diary entry was written, political events have moved apace in South Africa.  Thuli Madonsela has finished her term as Public Protector and her successor seems less enthusiastic in holding the government's feet to the fire.  Zuma is trying to block Madonsela's report into 'state capture' and her successor is not defending it.  Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is facing trumped up charges of fraud (for offering someone early retirement) in a bid to have him replaced with someone more Zuma-friendly.  South Africa has withdrawn from the International Criminal Court.  The student protests have become increasingly violent, with many deaths now occurring.  Rather than deal with the protests, Zuma took himself off to Kenya to discuss the urgent matter of avocado prices.  Many of these matters come before the highest court in the land in November and I truly hope and believe that South Africa's courts are strong and independent and that justice will take its course.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Another religion

Monday 26th September

Hout Bay, Cape Town, Western Cape Province

National Assembly
This morning we took a stroll around Cape Town City Centre, passing the parliament and visiting St. George's Cathedral, former seat of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Located right next to parliament, it is easy to see what a thorn in the side of the apartheid government this must have been.

But church is not the only religion on the go here.  After lunch, we went to the Springbok Experience, the story of South Africa's love affair with rugby, described throughout as "a religion".

It tells the story from the first Springbok team in 1906, through the separate teams and boycotts of the apartheid era, the formation of the Rugby Union in 1992 and
A piece of Mandela magic
the winning of the 1995 World Cup when Mandela famously appeared on the field in a Springbok cap and Francois Pienaar's number 6 jersey in an inspired moment which united a nation.

There is an area to try out for the Bokke in a series of simulators.  It turns out my fitness is better than expected and I can kick like Patrick Lambie but am possibly the world's worst at passing.

The 'experience' finishes with a passionate 'Our Honour.  Our Heritage' film, which could convert the most sceptical into a Springbok fan.  This is followed with a pint of the local beer, a sip of which reminded me why I don't drink.

Enough said
Perhaps the most amusing part of the museum was the account of South Africa's first game against Scotland, which the Boks won 44-0.  One Scotland fan is quoted as saying, "Forty-four nil, and we were lucky to get the nil!"

Dinner overlooking the V&A Waterfront signalled our last night here, then as if to get us ready for going home, the heavens opened on the drive back round the bay.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Taking to the skies

Sunday 25th September

Hout Bay, Cape Town, Western Cape Privonce

Cape Town Helicopters
The coast of the peninsula and the hills that surround it are so breathtakingly beautiful that it's hard to take them all in, so we decided to see them from above by helicopter.

Flying from the east pier of the V&A Waterfront, we rounded Sea Point, flew over the beaches of Clifton and Camps Bay and crossed over to Hout Bay, circling over the harbour and turning over the place where we are staying before returning by the same route.

Sea Point and V&A Waterfront from above
Seeing from above only serves to make things even more beautiful - the changing tones of the water, the dramatic waves crashing against the cliff faces, the chance to see Table Mountain, Signal Hill and the Twelve Apostles all in one view.  That it was a gloriously sunny day helped!

Though Cape Town's CBD appears relatively small, seeing the Cape Flats stretch out for miles really brings home how big a city it is.  From the opposite window, Robben Island looks suffocatingly small when viewed from above.  (Actually, it looks like Craggy Island in the opening credits of Father Ted.)

Hout Bay from above
As the helicopter lowers over the waterfront, it strikes me what an incredible development this is - the whole world in one harbour.

Contrast the tranquillity of the bay with the hustle and bustle of the Bay Market Harbour we visited this morning.  This extended garage sale for local artists was alive with music, bartering and trade.

The afternoon was so hot that we headed to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens to stroll amongst the proteas and succulents and enjoy the weather.

And, a day late, we were able to celebrate National Braai Day.