Friday, 14 March 2008

'A country where it is okay to fail'

March 13 2008 at 04:16PM

By Tony Leon and Gareth van Onselen

Peter Hain might have done better for himself had he pursued a political and ministerial career in South Africa, where he grew up, not in Britain.

In late January he was obliged to resign from the British Cabinet for failure to declare a donation to his campaign for the deputy leadership of his party.

His resignation, demanded by the strict standards of accountability in Westminster, could never have occurred in South Africa, where government and Parliament have become virtually ethics-free zones.

Under the influence of the ANC, the South African government does not have a clear understanding of or appreciation for the principle of accountability.

Coupled with its insistence on using "the collective" as a smokescreen to protect individual culpability, this has reduced ministerial office to a safe haven for low standards and poor performance.

As a result, misconduct and malpractice are seldom met with meaningful penalties and, instead, a culture of excuse and compromise has been embraced, where everything is negotiable, there are no red lines and seldom are there consequences for failure.

It is a problem and attitude disseminated from the highest office in the land and one which, in turn, has infected even the lowest levels of the public service. But let's start at the top, with President Thabo Mbeki.

Last week, answering a DA question in the National Assembly on whether the Cabinet should be held to account for the Eskom crisis, the president's response was, at best, specious, at worst, warped.

He said: "The government takes collective responsibility for the national electricity emergency. This means that the attempt to attribute this national emergency to particular ministers is misdirected. The president of the Republic will certainly not join that effort."

And so we reach an intellectual cul de sac. For where do you take the case for accountability from there? Nowhere. You can't, because the president's logic is circular.

First, he equates accountability with responsibility, yet they are two different concepts. Responsibility tells you who is in charge; accountability refers to the consequences that those in charge must face when they fail to perform.

The reference to a collective blurs the issue even more. Instead of one person being held to account, suddenly the entire Cabinet is accountable two very different interpretations of the word.

Second a favourite trick of the president's by stating something forcefully, he implies (or perhaps hopes) it is the infallible truth and anything to the contrary is devious or dishonest.

Why is an attempt to attribute this crisis to a single minister misdirected? Because the president says so? Wrong. Actually, it's perfectly logical.

Various processes failed. In each case, someone was in charge of that process. And, in each case, they must be held to account there must be consequences for their failure.

Here is one element of the crisis, by way of illustration. Politicsweb recently set out how Eskom's management of its coal supply helped created the electricity crisis.

In June 2002, former Eskom CEO Thulani Gcabashe approved a corporate directive on procurement from black suppliers.

This established a "hierarchy of procurement" which had to be followed in sourcing products and services.

Although existing agreements were to be respected, for any further purchases drawn from outside the company Eskom was required to go first to "black women-owned suppliers", then "small black suppliers", then "large black suppliers", then "black empowering suppliers".

Only once these options had been exhausted could "other" South African suppliers be considered."

The result was that Eskom's coal stockpile was systematically reduced year-on-year, from 61 days in 2000 to just 18 days in 2007.

Now, all his other responsibilities aside, has Gcabashe faced any consequences for that massively destructive policy? No, none. In fact, he is still on Eskom's payroll.

He was responsible for that policy. It failed with devastating results. Yet he hasn't had to face a single consequence.

But in Parliament, Mbeki went further. When Dr CP Mulder asked him about the constitutionally mandated requirement of individual ministerial accountability to Parliament, the president's response was instructive. He said: "We can't resort to fall guys and scapegoats and things like that."

But while Mbeki might have intended his response to protect the relevant minister now Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka he ignored the fact that there are, indeed, "fall guys and scapegoats" in this saga.

But they are not in the Cabinet or in the public service, but rather in the work force or more likely in the unemployment queues.

While Mbeki was shielding the Cabinet and Eskom top brass from any responsibility or blame, Goldfields, Africa's second-largest gold producer, had announced, just two weeks before, that it might have to eliminate 7 000 jobs or 13 percent of its workforce because of power cuts in the mining sector.

By removing accountability meaningful consequences or penalties from any corporate structure (public or private) you are, in effect, removing the fear of failure.

Indeed, if failure becomes just another concept to be condoned by reference to generic terms like "collective responsibility", then, in effect, it becomes acceptable to fail. Even if the failure in question causes devastating economic consequences and fuels unemployment.

The leitmotiv of the ANC government appears to be "it is acceptable to fail". And that attitude is rubbing off on our citizenry, which is hardly surprising given the tip from the top.

Be it the electricity crisis or the service you receive at a home affairs office, South Africans no longer expect the best from their government; indeed, many expect hardly anything at all.

The president has now signalled that there is no consequence for poor performance and no one is held responsible.

This grim prospectus one of the less noted legacies of the Mbeki era needs to be reversed unless we are content to slide toward the low road of mendacity and mediocrity.

Tony Leon is a former leader of the parliamentary opposition and 2007 Fellow, Institute of Politics, Harvard University. Gareth van Onselen is Director of Special Projects, DA.

Brutal farewell for family

13/03/2008 23:26 - (SA)

Virginia Keppler, Beeld

Pretoria - Two days after a family got their visas to emigrate to Australia because of the crime in South Africa, five robbers held them up in their home.

They were burnt with irons and the robbers threatened to rape the woman in front of her husband and children.

During their ordeal, which lasted more than two hours, Rachelle Lubbe, 41, from a small holding in Hennops River, was burned with a hot iron on her left breast, arm and shoulder.

Then, the robbers pulled down her trousers and burned her on her left buttock.

Chris Lubbe, 43, a mechanical engineer, also was burned repeatedly on his back with a hot iron.

Kicked in the face

The couple's children - twins Shelden and Cameron, 13, Damian, 16, and eight-year-old Savanah - also were assaulted and Damian was kicked in the face.

During their reign of terror the robbers ate the family's food and drank their beer and milk.

Rachelle said: "We decided to emigrate because of crime. Now it has happened to us, too, while the rest of the country sits and waits its turn."

Her husband said that as soon as they had their passports they would be on the first plane out of the country.

The robbers broke in through the twins' bedroom window at about 23:00 and, holding guns under the boys' chins, marched them to the lounge.

Eyes filled with hate

Damian and his father were attacked in the lounge.

Rachelle went to investigate when she heard noises.

She encountered an armed robber. She said: "His eyes were filled with hate."

The family was kept in the lounge where the robbers tied them up.

"They thought we had bags full of money in the house and they burnt us with the iron so that we would give it to them, but we didn't have money in the house."

"When they began pulling down my trousers the twins shouted, 'No, Mom!' but I told them not to worry. It's okay."

"I opened the safe for them and they took, among other things, guns, jewellery, my wedding ring and R600 from my purse.

"They also stole R200 which Shelden had saved."

The robbers took Chris into his bedroom at one stage, where a shot went off, but he was not hit.

'I'm going to shoot your father'

While Chris was away from his family, Cameron said to his mother, "Mom, let's pray."

One of the robbers said: "Pray, pray because I am going to shoot your father now."

Savanah said to the attackers, "If you don't shoot my parents, they're going to draw money for you at an ATM."

Before they fled with the family's bakkie and belongings worth thousands of rand, the men tried to hang Chris.

Rachelle said: "One of them put a rope around Chris's neck and pulled it tight.

"One of the others loosened it and told his crony, 'Let's just go'."

Leaving with bad memories, scars

One of the robbers also repeatedly said to Chris, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

After the men fled, the family wriggled free and went to the neighbours for help.

Captain Patricia Simelane said the stolen bakkie was found in Diepsloot, southwest of Pretoria.

Rachelle said "It's a pity that we have to leave the country with such bad memories and scars."

Thursday, 06 March 2008

Wounded Nation

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."

11:50pm Saturday 9th February 2008

Left In The Dark

RW Johnson, National Post
Published: Monday, March 03, 2008

In the last few days of January, South Africa's steadily escalating power crisis -- there have been increasing electricity outages nationwide for the last few years --finally came to a head when power cuts not only closed businesses and offices across the country but led to the complete closure of all the country's mines. Ever since the discovery of diamonds in 1867 and gold in 1886, this country's economy has been based first and foremost on its prodigious mineral wealth. Never, in all that time, had the mines had to shut for lack of power. Nothing could have brought home more starkly the crisis the country now faces. Eskom, the state electricity monopoly quickly announced that the country should not seek any new foreign investment projects till 2013 since there would be no power to run them. Foreign tourists were marooned on top of Table Mountain for a cold night because the cable cars lacked the power to get them back down. Business confidence plummeted. White emigration began to rise again sharply and everywhere one hears tales of capital flight. The Rand has fallen by over 14%.

Government ministers rushed to insist that the crisis would be managed, that there was no need to panic and the Minister for Energy even told Parliament that one solution would be for everyone to go to bed earlier. But economists hurriedly revised this year's growth rate down from 5% to 2% or less and Eskom warned everyone that even with power rationing there would be continued power cuts until at lest 2013.

Yet when the African National Congress (ANC) came to power in 1994 Eskom was the world's seventh-largest electricity utility, providing the world's cheapest electricity and with a 40% capacity reserve. The government treated cheap electricity almost as a human right and supplied it to many black areas that had never had it before. In 1998, an official white paper warned that new power stations needed to be built if there were not to be power cuts by 2007. The government not only ignored the warning but also imposed a formal ban on the building of new power stations for six years in order to encourage private power utilities to tender. Many came and looked, but realizing that they were expected to provide power at rock-bottom prices while giving away quite a bit of their equity in black empowerment deals not a single one tendered. Meanwhile, Eskom, under its new black management, got rid of large numbers of senior, skilled whites, brought in affirmative action replacements, saw standards of maintenance and technical competence plummet and then multiplied its problems by deciding to sell off its huge coal stockpiles and to privilege small black coal producers in future procurement. Thus, it emerged, when the mines were finally shut down Eskom was operating at 25% less than capacity because of coal shortages, the low quality of coal supplied and the fact that much of it was mere coal dust which, in rain, turned into incombustible mud.

The ANC's embarrassment is considerable for, despite all its avowals that it would not make the same mistakes seen elsewhere in independent Africa, it has done exactly that -- the failure of governance is huge, unmistakable, undeniable. There has been the usual desperate search to see how the crisis can somehow be blamed on apartheid, but the great unmentionable fact, present in every mind, is that under white rule there were no power cuts.

An even greater embarrassment now lies ahead. Last year the head of FIFA, soccer's international governing body, warned angrily that South Africa, which is slated to host the World Cup in 2010, had to strengthen its pitiful soccer team, since it was hard to imagine a successful tourney without a home team capable of keeping fans interested. But the power crisis throws even that in the shade. Can the new soccer stadia possibly be completed in time with the continual power cuts?

If the government were honest it would admit that it cannot promise to stage a decent World Cup in 2010 and ask that its hosting duties be postponed until 2014 or 2018 instead. Such a public confession of failure is, however, politically and psychologically impossible. After all, when South Africa was not awarded the 2006 World Cup, President Thabo Mbeki bitterly labelled it "the globalization of apartheid." Even now the government insists, as an article of faith, that 2010 will be a resounding success, "because all the stadiums will have back-up generators."

FIFA, we are told, is "closely monitoring" the situation, but it is now clear that if the World Cup is held in South Africa in 2010, it will occur in a country where most services work only spasmodically. Even now one faces non-working traffic lights, street lights, escalators, lifts, ATMs, shop and garage tills -- let alone lights, hot water and cooked meals -- on a daily basis. Moreover, Chevron has announced the shutting down of its refinery here since it cannot operate without a guaranteed and continuous power supply, and other continuous process industries are in the same plight.

The Cup will be held in the midst of South Africa's winter, when night temperatures in Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bloemfontein can all fall to near freezing. What is clear is that the government is constitutionally incapable of facing reality, so Sepp Blatter, the current head of FIFA will have to decide, whether to go ahead or move the tournament. Blatter owes his election as FIFA president to the African bloc, which elected him on a promise of bringing the World Cup to Africa, so he too has incentive to ignore reality. All things considered, then, a great ship is steering straight for the rocks with both the captain and the pilot insisting no danger lies ahead. The disaster which threatens deserves only one adjective: titanic. - RW Johnson is emeritus fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford, and Southern Africa correspondent for The Sunday Times.

Tuesday, 04 March 2008


Sunday Times (2/3/2008) — 03/03/2008

Mondli Makhanya, Editor.

From the world’s most optimistic nation to a state of depression
I'd like to deal with the rather gloomy mood our country is in. The big question is, how did we find ourselves in this situation where a country whose citizens were among the world’s most optimistic, finds itself in a state of depression, with the world increasingly doubting its viability as a prosperous democracy.

There is compendium of reasons. Crime is the biggest one. It is a big dark cloud hanging over us and could be our undoing. For a long time the South African government sent out a very definite message that it did not care about the safety of its citizenry. Instead of empathising and rallying us all to action, government leaders insisted on telling us that it was not as bad as we made it out to be. By the time the state heard the nation’s wails, so many had lost hope. And lives and limbs and sanity.

'Most corruptible politician'
Then we had the run-up to Polokwane, when the resurrection of South Africa's clumsiest and possibly most corruptible politician became a reality. The past 18 months also saw the unhinging of President Thabo Mbeki, who proved a more and more dangerous man with each deranged decision he took, and each whacky statement he made. We then had our most senior policeman confirming and reconfirming that he rather enjoyed the company of Mafia types and societal scum.

No sense of urgency as the dream slips away
Post-Polokwane, the behaviour of the triumphant ANC bloc has not helped. By the looks of things, some in the party want to ditch any pretence that this is a participatory democracy - an illusion that we could at least hold onto during Mbeki's leadership of the ANC. And, to crown it all, we were reduced to the status of a tropical outpost by the massive power blackouts that hurt the economy and made our lives a misery. As if that were not enough, there has been the spate of racist incidents, which reminded us that apartheid was too deep and sophisticated to be wished away by an enthusiastic archbishop. So, yes, it is a bad place we find ourselves in. We are watching the dream slip through our fingers, and there seems to be no sense of urgency among our leaders about rescuing it.

South Africa in the relegation zone
Elsewhere in this newspaper there is a report about a piece that scenario painter Clem Sunter has written for
Leadership magazine's next edition. In it he warns of dire consequences if we do not quickly reverse our political and economic and social decline. 'The country is now in the relegation zone and faces possible ejection into the economic mire of the second division. And this could happen quicker than we think,' he says. We need to revisit the dream and establish where we went wrong - and just how exactly we get ourselves back on track. What was our intention for the character of our republic when we set out on this journey? What was contained in that pact that we signed with each other and ourselves that April day in 1994?

Making an icon of a man with massive moral deficit
We know that we wanted to create a civilised nonracial republic that would put people first, value good governance, and be ambitious about its place in the community of nations. We need to ask ourselves why, in recent years, so much effort has gone into soiling this pact. And why the supposedly 'people-centred' state is so badly failing the people - and no one is held accountable for it.

There is a need to get to the reasons why public morality has been ditched as one of the defining characteristics of our republic. The ANC sent out a strong message in this regard when it propelled to icon status a man with a massive moral deficit, and reconfirmed it by electing on to its executive dozens of highly dubious individuals. The start of our 15th year in 2008 would be a good time to renew our vows and recommit to the rebuilding this dream. There is so much enthusiasm and energy among ordinary South Africans who want to make this republic work. They now just need to be led.