Riots, slowdown and corruption eat away at southern Africa’s promise

By Stephen Chan, SOAS, University of London

These are dark days for southern Africa. The last month has seen xenophobic riots and killings in Zambia, once an almost immaculately peaceful country, and the reinstatement of several hundred corruption charges which could be delivered against South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma.

Times have changed in Zambia since its first president, Kenneth Kaunda, galvanised the country’s 72 ethnic groups (not counting European and Indian populations) into a united nation. During his decades in power, he defied the white minority regimes to his south, Rhodesia and Apartheid South Africa. He hosted the exile headquarters of the ANC and sheltered the Namibian exile group SWAPO, whose country South Africa occupied in defiance of the UN.

Landlocked Zambia took a terrible hammering as the white regimes controlled its transport links to the sea. From time to time there were military incursions into Lusaka, the capital city – yet the Zambians took it all with a stoicism born of genuine solidarity.

But times have changed. Kaunda’s successors have not developed their own moral stature, and the country has been badly mismanaged.

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These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard

Michael Hobbes describes how Joyce Chachengwa, a farmer in Zimbabwe, lost the land upon which she, her daughters and grandchildren depended, after a corporate takeover turning the land over to sugarcane for ethanol production. He writes: You know where I’m going with this, right? I’m about to tell you that the company behind all this is Monsanto, or Shell, or Coca-Cola. That your car is running on the ethanol this plant is producing. That the U.S. government is funding or facilitating or failing to prevent what is taking place here.

But none of that is true. The company responsible for all this is called Green Fuel. It is headquartered in Zimbabwe, it isn’t listed on any stock exchange, it doesn’t sell any products in the United States, and it has no Western investors.

And it is, increasingly, the rule rather than the exception. When you think of the worst abuses in poor countries — land grabs, sweatshops, cash-filled envelopes passed to politicians — you probably think they’re committed by companies based in rich ones: Nike in Indonesia, Shell in Nigeria, Dow in Bhopal, India.

These are the cases you’re most likely to hear about, but they are no longer representative of how these abuses actually take place — or who commits them. These days, the worst multinational corporations have names you’ve never heard. They come from places like China and South Africa and Russia. The countries where they are headquartered are unable to regulate them, and the countries where they operate are unwilling to.

For the last 10 years, I’ve worked at an NGO dedicated to preventing multinational corporations from violating human rights. Here’s why every actor in the West that could have prevented what happened in Chisumbanje — the media, the international agencies, my own NGO — is becoming increasingly powerless to do so. [Continue reading…]

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Zuma court ruling: South Africans witness a massive day for democracy

By Hugh Corder, University of Cape Town

The accountability of public governance in South Africa has come a long way since 1994. When the transitional constitution was hammered out in negotiations in 1993, the primary consideration was to establish an unshakeable commitment to government under law in terms of a binding constitution.

Founded on the “rule of law”, this means that no one is above the law and that everyone is formally equal before the ordinary courts. No-one, not even the president, may take the law into their own hands. One of the founding values of the constitution is the:

… supremacy of the constitution and the rule of law.

The brand of democracy enshrined in the final constitution of 1996 emphasises participation by the people in a multi-party system of democratic government, to achieve “accountability, responsiveness and openness”.

Recognising the democratic deficit that South Africa faced because of the ravages of apartheid, additional mechanisms were introduced to strengthen participative democracy and popular accountability. One of them was the establishment of the office of the Public Protector.

The Constitutional Court’s judgment in Economic Freedom Fighters and Democratic Alliance v The Speaker of the National Assembly, the President and Others represents the exercise of judicial authority and expertise at the highest level by international standards.

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The continuing struggle for democracy in South Africa

Kenan Malik writes: Most first-time visitors to Cape Town are mesmerized by the majesty of Table Mountain, and wowed by the vivacity of the Victorian-era waterfront. As a new visitor myself last month, I was captivated by both. But what has lodged most in my memory is something very different.

Driving from the international airport, I was struck by the sheer wretchedness of Cape Flats: the series of black townships, comprising mostly shacks with corrugated steel roofs, that stretch from the highway almost to the horizon. Few people — tourists or locals — want to talk about the Cape Flats. But there is no better starting point for a discussion of the state of contemporary South Africa.

I was shocked by the degree to which the predominant emotions, 21 years after the end of apartheid, are not of hope and expectation, but of fear and despair.

“It’s not rosy,” a leader of the United Front opposition political movement in the eastern Cape city of East London told me, “but it’s not yet totally bleak.” That was about the most optimistic view I heard. [Continue reading…]

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Why an apparent Israeli nuclear test in 1979 matters today

Leonard Weiss writes: At a time when the Iran agreement is in the headlines and other Middle Eastern countries — notably Saudi Arabia — are making noises about establishing their own programs for nuclear energy and nuclear weapons, it is worth giving renewed scrutiny to an event that occurred 36 years ago: a likely Israeli-South African nuclear test over the ocean between the southern part of Africa and the Antarctic. Sometimes referred to in the popular press as the “Vela Incident” or the “Vela Event of 1979,” the circumstantial and scientific evidence for a nuclear test is compelling but as long as many items related to the test are still classified, all the questions surrounding it cannot be resolved definitively. Those questions allow wiggle room for some observers (a shrinking number) to still doubt whether the event was of nuclear origin. But more and more information revealed in various publications over the years strongly supports the premise that a mysterious double flash detected by a US satellite in 1979 was indeed a nuclear test performed by Israel with South African cooperation, in violation of the Limited Test Ban Treaty. The US government, however, found it expedient to brush important evidence under the carpet and pretend the test did not occur.

The technical evidence — evidence that has been reviewed in earlier publications — led scientists at US national laboratories to conclude that a test took place. But to this should be added more recent information of Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation in the 1970s, and at least two instances — so far unverified — of individuals claiming direct knowledge of, or participation in, the nuclear event, one from the Israeli side and one from the South African. And information provided by national laboratory scientists regarding the state of the satellite’s detectors challenges the view given by a government panel that the flash was likely not that of a nuclear test.

The US government’s use of classification and other means to suppress public information about the event, in the face of the totality of technical and non-technical evidence supporting a nuclear test, could be characterized as a cover-up to avoid the difficult international political problems that a recognized nuclear test was assumed to trigger. [Continue reading…]

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How armed intruders stormed their way into a South African nuclear plant

The Center for Public Integrity reports: Shortly after midnight on a cold Thursday morning, four armed men sliced through the chain-link fence surrounding this storage site for nuclear explosives on the banks of the Crocodile River, west of the administrative capital, Pretoria.

The raiders slipped under an array of high-voltage wires in the fence, then shut off the electricity and some alarms, stormed the Emergency Operations Center at the 118-acre complex, held a gun to the head of one of the employees there and shot another.

Around the same time, a second group of intruders breached another section of the fence. But both teams wound up fleeing after they unexpectedly stumbled on a fireman at the emergency center who fought them and asked a colleague to summon help.

Whatever the raiders were after that night in November 2007, they didn’t get it. All they left with was a cellphone from one of their victims, which they quickly discarded. Ever since, the government of South Africa has dismissed the incident as a routine burglary by inept thieves who tried but failed to steal computers or civilian nuclear technology.

Many U.S. officials in Washington reached a different view — more closely matching the conclusions of an unpublicized, independent investigation ordered by the chief of the state corporation that manages Pelindaba. That probe produced an alarming report that has never been released — or even acknowledged — in South Africa but was obtained by foreign intelligence agencies and described to the Center for Public Integrity by multiple people familiar with its contents. [Continue reading…]

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‘Ex-Israeli agents’ threatened cyber attack on S Africa

Al Jazeera reports: A group claiming to be former agents of Israel’s Mossad threatened to unleash a devastating cyber attack on South Africa unless its government cracked down on the growing campaign to boycott Israel, according to intelligence documents leaked to Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit.

According to the reports, then-Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan received a note from “unknown sources” on June 28, 2012, threatening a cyber attack “against South Africa’s banking and financial sectors.” The hand-delivered letter gave the government just 30 days to achieve the “discontinuation of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign and the removal and prosecution of some unidentified individuals linked to BDS”.

South Africa’s ruling African National Congress has historically aligned itself with the Palestinian national struggle, and the BDS campaign there involves some high profile anti-apartheid struggle figures such as Nelson Mandela’s close friend and fellow Robben Island prisoner Ahmed Kathrada. [Continue reading…]

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Spy cables: Greenpeace head targeted by intelligence agencies before Seoul G20

The Guardian reports: The head of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, was targeted by intelligence agencies as a potential security threat ahead of a major international summit, leaked documents reveal.

Information about Naidoo, a prominent human rights activist from South Africa, was requested from South African intelligence by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (NIS) in the runup to a meeting of G20 leaders in Seoul in 2010.

He was linked in the intelligence request with two other South Africans who had been swept up in an anti-terrorist raid in Pakistan but later released and returned to South Africa. [Continue reading…]

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South Africa spied on own government to get facts on joint project with Russia

The Guardian reports: South Africa’s intelligence service relied on a spy “with direct access to the Russian government” to find out details of its own government’s involvement in a $100m (£65m) joint satellite surveillance programme with Russia, the leaked spy cables obtained by al-Jazeera and shared with the Guardian reveal.

The satellite system, known as Project Condor, which was launched into orbit by Russia in December last year, provides surveillance coverage of the entire African continent. The project has been shrouded in secrecy, with Russia originally refusing to reveal who its client was.

Those in the dark appear to have included South Africa’s intelligence agency. But a South African agent with access to Russian military intelligence was able to help, according to a leaked espionage report marked “top secret” and dated 28 August 2012. [Continue reading…]

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China is driving the BRICS train

Pankaj Mishra writes: Rarely has an acronym led such a charmed life as BRICS. Casually invented by former Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economist and Bloomberg View columnist Jim O’Neill to label emerging markets of promise, it actually brought together leaders from the disparate countries of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. Last week in Brazil, they took a decisive step toward building institutions that could plausibly challenge the long geopolitical and economic ascendancy of the West.

The New Development Bank, headquartered in Shanghai, would finance infrastructure and development projects. This would be the biggest rival yet to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, as well as the economic architecture designed by the U.S. in Bretton Woods in 1944.

There are good reasons why China is working hard to establish it. The BRICS countries contain more than 40 percent of the world’s population and account for a quarter of the world’s economy. China itself may shortly bypass the U.S. to become the world’s biggest economy (based on domestic purchasing power). Yet leadership of the World Bank and the IMF remains the exclusive preserve of the U.S. and western European countries.

The promised reforms to these institutions have not materialized; China now clearly wants to build its own global system with the help of the BRICS. A new “special relationship” with its closest economic partner in the West — Germany — and the recent establishment of Frankfurt as a clearinghouse for the renminbi is part of the same Chinese attempt to break the hegemony of the dollar as a payments and reserve currency. [Continue reading…]

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Mandela received weapons training from Mossad agents in Ethiopia

Haaretz reports: Nelson Mandela, the former South African leader who died earlier this month, was trained in weaponry and sabotage by Mossad operatives in 1962, a few months before he was arrested in South Africa. During his training, Mandela expressed interest in the methods of the Haganah pre-state underground and was viewed by the Mossad as leaning toward communism.

These revelations are from a document in the Israel State Archives labeled “Top Secret.” The existence of the document is revealed here for the first time.

It also emerges that the Mossad operatives attempted to encourage Zionist sympathies in Mandela.

Mandela, the father of the new South Africa and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, led the struggle against apartheid in his country from the 1950s. He was arrested, tried and released a number of times before going underground in the early 1960s. In January 1962, he secretly and illegally fled South Africa and visited various African countries, including Ethiopia, Algeria, Egypt and Ghana. His goal was to meet with the leaders of African countries and garner financial and military support for the armed wing of the underground African National Congress.

A letter sent from the Mossad to the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem reveals that Mandela underwent military training by Mossad operatives in Ethiopia during this period. These operatives were unaware of Mandela’s true identity. The letter, classified top secret, was dated October 11, 1962 – about two months after Mandela was arrested in South Africa, shortly after his return to the country. [Continue reading…]

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Mandela’s unfinished revolution

T.O. Molefe writes: For all his remarkable achievements, Nelson Mandela died with his dream for South Africa incomplete. Democracy and peace were attained, yet real racial harmony, social justice and equality seem, in some ways, further away than ever.

South Africa’s economy still stifles the aspirations of most of its black citizens — a situation that threatens the sustainability of the project of national reconciliation that is a central part of the Mandela legacy.

When I am able to detach myself from the anger I feel over this injustice, I see the South Africa that Mr. Mandela described in his 1994 inaugural address — “a rainbow nation at peace with itself and the world” — as but the opening move of a master tactician. It represented the brief suspension of reality for the sake of an endgame Mr. Mandela knew he would not be around to play.

Mr. Mandela’s rainbow ideal of a multiracial country that had avoided civil war, where blacks had forgiven whites for apartheid and everyone had learned to live together, was great and necessary for its time. But it is an ideal that should be laid to rest with him. Today, an economic revolution is what is needed most if South Africa is to continue on the path to reconciliation.

Like many of the transitional steps on the road to democracy, the rainbow-nation ideal was needed to hold together a country that was on the verge of fracturing. It did this by assuaging white guilt and putting off the black majority’s demand for immediate social justice.

In the 1990s, together with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Mr. Mandela popularized a new national self-image that made it possible to focus mainly on racial reconciliation, strengthening democratic institutions and creating a free press — all prerequisites for turning a tentative peace into a more lasting one.

In pursuit of this rainbow ideal, Mr. Mandela and the African National Congress had to silence, mollify or sideline certain allies within the liberation movement who not only demanded a democratic revolution but an economic one, too. But the price of deferring the dream of true equality was to leave the country lurching dangerously toward an explosion.

For the poorer black majority of South Africans, the unheralded heroes who have sacrificed so much in the transition to democracy that Mr. Mandela led, social justice has been held in abeyance, ostensibly for the sake of peace, as though the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied” did not apply to them. [Continue reading…]

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If Nelson Mandela really had won, he wouldn’t be seen as a universal hero

Slavoj Žižek writes: In the last two decades of his life, Nelson Mandela was celebrated as a model of how to liberate a country from the colonial yoke without succumbing to the temptation of dictatorial power and anti-capitalist posturing. In short, Mandela was not Robert Mugabe, and South Africa remained a multiparty democracy with a free press and a vibrant economy well-integrated into the global market and immune to hasty socialist experiments. Now, with his death, his stature as a saintly wise man seems confirmed for eternity: there are Hollywood movies about him – he was impersonated by Morgan Freeman, who also, by the way, played the role of God in another film; rock stars and religious leaders, sportsmen and politicians from Bill Clinton to Fidel Castro are all united in his beatification.

Is this, however, the whole story? Two key facts remain obliterated by this celebratory vision. In South Africa, the miserable life of the poor majority broadly remains the same as under apartheid, and the rise of political and civil rights is counterbalanced by the growing insecurity, violence and crime. The main change is that the old white ruling class is joined by the new black elite. Second, people remember the old African National Congress that promised not only the end of apartheid, but also more social justice, even a kind of socialism. This much more radical ANC past is gradually obliterated from our memory. No wonder that anger is growing among poor, black South Africans.

South Africa in this respect is just one version of the recurrent story of the contemporary left. A leader or party is elected with universal enthusiasm, promising a “new world” – but, then, sooner or later, they stumble upon the key dilemma: does one dare to touch the capitalist mechanisms, or does one decide to “play the game”? If one disturbs these mechanisms, one is very swiftly “punished” by market perturbations, economic chaos and the rest. This is why it is all too simple to criticise Mandela for abandoning the socialist perspective after the end of apartheid: did he really have a choice? Was the move towards socialism a real option? [Continue reading…]

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Recognizing Nelson Mandela

Alex DeWaal writes: For more than twenty years, following his conviction and sentence to life imprisonment in 1964, the Apartheid government in South Africa banned pictures of Nelson Mandela and his fellow prisoners. This ban was so effective that in 1982, following a medical checkup in Cape Town, Mandela’s warders allowed him a stroll on a public beach, confident—correctly—that no-one would recognize him. As told by his biographer William Gumede, “On the beach that day no-one as much as glanced at him. Later, with a glint in his eye, Mandela said he’d wondered what would have happened had he suddenly shouted: ‘I am Nelson Mandela!’”

Mandela’s anonymity was all the more ironic as, for over a decade, the African National Congress and the international Anti-Apartheid Movement had singled him out, from among all the other political prisoners in South Africa, as the symbol for its campaign. Images of his face from the Rivonia trial adorned posters and badges around the world, and in 1984 the song “Free Nelson Mandela” by the ska band The Specials helped to spark a movement by musicians, culminating in the “70th birthday concert” in 1988.

Mandela and his comrades were reluctant to give a single personal face to their mass movement. The ANC was run by a collective leadership in which individuals were required to submit to party discipline. It was profoundly averse to any personality cult. Nonetheless, at the insistence of the British Anti-Apartheid Movement which convinced the ANC that the global campaign against Apartheid needed a rallying symbol, they participated in constructing Mandela’s image to serve as an icon for their cause.

For the last twenty three years of his long life, Mandela had little privacy and no anonymity. Instantly recognized around the world, he became a vessel for many people’s hopes and aspirations, and a symbol of the new South Africa. For Africans, he exemplified leadership and dignity in overcoming racism and oppression: he was the leader they deserved. For white liberals, his forgiveness was a reward of which they could hardly have dreamed. Identities were projected onto him. When Mandela visited America after his release from prison, one young journalist prefaced her question with the words, “as an African American, do you…” before he gently reminded her that he was, in fact, an African. The way he has become idolized and idealized tells us more about the world’s need for such a figure, than about Nelson Mandela himself.

We need to tease apart the wishful thinking from the realities of this great man. [Continue reading…]

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Among those eulogising Mandela are people who once damned him as a terrorist and supported apartheid

Chris McGreal writes: Nelson Mandela Square sits at the entrance to the glitziest shopping mall in what is reputed to be the wealthiest square kilometre in Africa. Towering over the cafes around the northern Johannesburg piazza, as if guarding the diamond jewellers and designer clothes shops within, is a six metre tall, 2.5 ton statue of the great man dancing.

The mall’s owners say the statue is intended to honour Mandela and his country’s hard-won democracy and most of the shoppers milling around it would probably see it that way. But the great totem always seemed to me to be mocking the new South Africa.

Many of the same prosperous whites who gaze on the giant Mandela from plush cafes and pour out their love and admiration for his sacrifice in saving South Africans from themselves can also regularly be heard bemoaning the state of the country he bequeathed. They worship the man but despair of the legacy of his handiwork in the levels of crime, corruption, authoritarianism and “falling standards” under democratic government.

Not all whites, but a good number of them. And they feel free to do this because when they look at Mandela they see absolution. Their praise of his willingness to forgive comes with the understanding that they too are forgiven and absolved of the past. Freed of responsibility for how South Africa came to be what it is, they head back to the pool and congratulate themselves on their luck in embracing the world’s greatest modern statesman. Bring up past responsibilities and you face being accused of failing to understand Mandela’s message. [Continue reading…]

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