2008-02-28

South Africa's woes

*SUNDAY HERALD*

*Scotland's Award Winning Independent Newspaper*

*February 24th, 2008*

*Wounded Nation*

*The lights are literally and figuratively going out all over South
Africa as crime, corruption and mismanagement push the rainbow country
towards becoming another failed african state. By Fred Bridgland in
Johannesburg*

*AFTER BATHING* in the warm, fuzzy glow of the Mandela years, South
Africans today are deeply demoralised people. The lights are going out
in homes, mines, factories and shopping malls as the national power
authority, Eskom - suffering from mismanagement, lack of foresight, a
failure to maintain power stations and a flight of skilled engineers to
other countries - implements rolling power cuts that plunge towns and
cities into daily chaos.

Major industrial projects are on hold. The only healthy enterprise now
worth being involved in is the sale of small diesel generators to
powerless households but even this business has run out of supplies and
spare parts from China.

The currency, the rand, has entered freefall. Crime, much of it
gratuitously violent, is rampant, and the national police chief faces
trial for corruption and defeating the ends of justice as a result of
his alleged deals with a local mafia kingpin and dealer in hard drugs.

Newly elected African National Congress (ANC) leader Jacob Zuma, the
state president-in-waiting, narrowly escaped being jailed for raping an
HIV-positive woman last year, and faces trial later this year for
soliciting and accepting bribes in connection with South Africa's shady
multi-billion-pound arms deal with British, German and French weapons
manufacturers.

One local newspaper columnist suggests that Zuma has done for South
Africa's international image what Borat has done for Kazakhstan. ANC
leaders in 2008 still speak in the spiritually dead jargon they learned
in exile in pre-1989 Moscow, East Berlin and Sofia while promiscuously
embracing capitalist icons - Mercedes 4x4s, Hugo Boss suits, Bruno Magli
shoes and Louis Vuitton bags which they swing, packed with money passed
to them under countless tables - as they wing their way to their houses
in the south of France.

It all adds up to a hydra-headed crisis of huge proportions - a perfect
storm as the Rainbow Nation slides off the end of the rainbow and
descends in the direction of the massed ranks of failed African states.
Eskom has warned foreign investors with millions to sink into big
industrial and mining projects: we don't want you here until at least
2013, when new power stations will be built.

In the first month of this year, the rand fell 12% against the world's
major currencies and foreign investors sold off more than £600 million
worth of South African stocks, the biggest sell-off for more than seven
years.

"There will be further outflows this month, because there won't be any
news that will convince investors the local growth picture is going to
change for the better," said Rudi van der Merwe, a fund manager at South
Africa's Standard Bank.

Commenting on the massive power cuts, Trevor Gaunt, professor of
electrical engineering at the University of Cape Town, who warned the
government eight years ago of the impending crisis, said: "The damage is
huge, and now South Africa looks just like the rest of Africa. Maybe it
will take 20 years to recover."

The power cuts have hit the country's platinum, gold, manganese and
high-quality export coal mines particularly hard, with no production on
some days and only 40% to 60% on others.

"The shutdown of the mining industry is an extraordinary, unprecedented
event," said Anton Eberhard, a leading energy expert and professor of
business studies at the University of Cape Town.

"That's a powerful message, massively damaging to South Africa's
reputation for new investment. Our country was built on the mines."

To examine how the country, widely hailed as Africa's last best chance,
arrived at this parlous state, the particular troubles engulfing the
Scorpions (the popular name of the National Prosecuting Authority)
offers a useful starting point.

The elite unit, modelled on America's FBI and operating in close
co-operation with Britain's Serious Fraud Office (SFO), is one of the
big successes of post-apartheid South Africa. An independent
institution, separate from the slipshod South African Police Service,
the Scorpions enjoy massive public support.

The unit's edict is to focus on people "who commit and profit from
organised crime", and it has been hugely successful in carrying out its
mandate. It has pursued and pinned down thousands of high-profile and
complex networks of national and international corporate and public
fraudsters.

Drug kingpins, smugglers and racketeers have felt the Scorpions' sting.
A major gang that smuggle platinum, South Africa's biggest foreign
exchange earner, to a corrupt English smelting plant has been bust as
the result of a huge joint operation between the SFO and the Scorpions.
But the Scorpions, whose top men were trained by Scotland Yard, have
been too successful for their own good.

The ANC government never anticipated the crack crimebusters would take
their constitutional independence seriously and investigate the top
ranks of the former liberation movement itself.

The Scorpions have probed into, and successfully prosecuted, ANC MPs who
falsified their parliamentary expenses. They secured a jail sentence for
the ANC's chief whip, who took bribes from the German weapons
manufacturer that sold frigates and submarines to the South African
Defence Force. They sent to jail for 15 years a businessman who paid
hundreds of bribes to then state vice-president Jacob Zuma in connection
with the arms deal. Zuma was found by the judge to have a corrupt
relationship with the businessman, and now the Scorpions have charged
Zuma himself with fraud, corruption, tax evasion, racketeering and
defeating the ends of justice. His trial will begin in August.

The Scorpions last month charged Jackie Selebi, the national police
chief, a close friend of state president Thabo Mbeki, with corruption
and defeating the ends of justice. Commissioner Selebi, who infamously
called a white police sergeant a "f***ing chimpanzee" when she failed to
recognise him during an unannounced visit to her Pretoria station, has
stepped down pending his trial.

But now both wings of the venomously divided ANC - ANC-Mbeki and
ANC-Zuma - want the Scorpions crushed, ideally by June this year. The
message this will send to the outside world is that South Africa's
rulers want only certain categories of crime investigated, while leaving
government ministers and other politicians free to stuff their already
heavily lined pockets.

No good reason for emasculating the Scorpions has been put forward.
"That's because there isn't one," said Peter Bruce, editor of the
influential Business Day, South Africa's equivalent of, and part-owned
by, The Financial Times, in his weekly column.

"The Scorpions are being killed off because they investigate too much
corruption that involves ANC leaders. It is as simple and ugly as that,"
he added.

The demise of the Scorpions can only exacerbate South Africa's
out-of-control crime situation, ranked for its scale and violence only
behind Colombia. Everyone has friends and acquaintances who have had
guns held to their heads by gangsters, who also blow up ATM machines and
hijack security trucks, sawing off their roofs to get at the cash.

In the past few days my next-door neighbour, John Matshikiza, a
distinguished actor who trained at the Royal Shakespeare Company and is
the son of the composer of the South African musical King Kong, had been
violently attacked, and friends visiting from Zimbabwe had their car
stolen outside my front window in broad daylight.

My friends flew home to Zimbabwe without their car and the tinned food
supplies they had bought to help withstand their country's dire
political and food crisis and 27,000% inflation. Matshikiza, a former
member of the Glasgow Citizens Theatre company, was held up by three
gunmen as he drove his car into his garage late at night. He gave them
his car keys, wallet, cellphone and luxury watch and begged them not to
harm his partner, who was inside the house.

As one gunman drove the car away, the other two beat Matshikiza
unconscious with broken bottles, and now his head is so comprehensively
stitched that it looks like a map of the London Underground.

These assaults were personal, but mild compared with much commonplace crime.

Last week, for example, 18-year-old Razelle Botha, who passed all her
A-levels with marks of more than 90% and was about to train as a doctor,
returned home with her father, Professor Willem Botha, founder of the
geophysics department at the University of Pretoria, from buying pizzas
for the family. Inside the house, armed gunmen confronted them. They
shot Professor Botha in the leg and pumped bullets into Razelle.

One severed her spine. Now she is fighting for her life and will never
walk again, and may never become a doctor. The gunmen stole a laptop
computer and a camera.

Feeding the perfect storm are the two centres of ANC power in the
country at the moment. On the one hand, there is the ANC in parliament,
led by President Mbeki, who last Friday gave a state-of-the-nation
address and apologised to the country for the power crisis.

Mbeki made only the briefest of mentions of the national Aids crisis,
with more than six million people HIV-positive. He did not address the
Scorpions crisis. The collapsing public hospital system, under his
eccentric health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, an alcoholic who
recently jumped the public queue for a liver transplant, received no
attention. And the name Jacob Zuma did not pass his lips.

Last December Mbeki and Zuma stood against each other for the leadership
of the ANC at the party's five-yearly electoral congress. Mbeki, who
cannot stand again as state president beyond next year's parliamentary
and presidential elections, hoped to remain the power behind the throne
of a new state president of his choosing.

Zuma, a Zulu populist with some 20 children by various wives and
mistresses, hoped to prove that last year's rape case, and the trial he
faces this year for corruption and other charges, were part of a plot by
Mbeki to use state institutions to discredit him. Mbeki assumed that the
notion of Zuma assuming next year the mantle worn by Nelson Mandela as
South Africa's first black state president would be so appalling to
delegates, a deeply sad and precipitous decline, that his own
re-election as ANC leader was a shoo-in.

But Mbeki completely miscalculated his own unpopularity - his perceived
arrogance, failure to solve health and crime problems, his failure to
deliver to the poor - and he lost. Now Zuma insists that he is the
leader of the country and ANC MPs in parliament must take its orders
from him, while Mbeki soldiers on until next year as state president,
ordering MPs to toe his line.

Greatly understated, it is a mess. Its scale will be dramatically
illustrated if South Africa's hosting of the 2010 World Cup is withdrawn
by Fifa, the world football body.

Already South African premier league football evening games are being
played after midnight because power for floodlights cannot be guaranteed
before that time. Justice Malala, one of the country's top newspaper
columnists, has called on Fifa to end the agony quickly.

"I don't want South Africa to host the football World Cup because there
is no culture of responsibility in this country," he wrote in
Johannesburg's bestselling Sunday Times.

"The most outrageous behaviour and incompetence is glossed over. No-one
is fired. I have had enough of this nonsense, of keeping quiet and
ignoring the fact that the train is about to run us over.

"It is increasingly clear that our leaders are incapable of making a
success of it. Scrap the thing and give it to Australia, Germany or
whoever will spare us the ignominy of watching things fall apart here -
football tourists being held up and shot, the lights going out, while
our politicians tell us everything is all right."

2 comments:

Logikata 16:02  

I am a 19 year old South African and I can only commend you for your well written, accurate summary of what SA is like today. It’s really sad to agree with such a negative commentary on South Africa’s current situation however if anything you were too nice. Many South Africans believe that the FIFA 2010 World Cup will help the country, however contrary to popular belief I think that this will be the final blow to South African pride, prestige and attraction as a tourist destination. Once hundreds of millions of foreigners see the true status of our country I am certain that that our tourism will drastically decline. There are sure to be many instances of crime that will be broadcasted world wide during 2010.

Prices are insane here; you pay 3 to 4 times the amount you would pay overseas for basic necessities like oil. Imports prices are so drastically raised by taxes and markup that to buy normal luxuries like books is excluded to the wealthy. South Africa will fall apart completely; it is only a matter of time. It is sad to say, but like many South Africans I am leaving before the shit hits the fan.

Anonymous 19:14  

Are you jas to publish such a long joke

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