What price a life

The death of 34 rioting miners killed by police at a Lonmin mine in Marikana South Africa is in stark contrast to the 17 police injured by rioting youths at Amiens in northern France.

The South African police say that their response was in self defense, yet only one officer sustained minor injuries. Video footage reveals a panicked response, with the police firing live rounds at the onrushing crowd. The police in Amiens were armed with non-lethal rubber bullets.

Ultimately, if anyone is held accountable for the deaths, it will probably be the police officers who fired the shots. But this is really an issue of poor preparation and inadequate training exacerbated by bad management. Besides those who fired the bullets, senior government officials are also responsible should be held accountable.

One of the reasons Senegal elections this year were peaceful, disproving predictions ofviolence, is the police’s professional handling of the pre-election demonstrations. This was very different their poor handling of the demonstrations only months earlier, when voters objected to President Wade’s attempt to change the constitution.


The Senegalese police’s interim training paid dividends as they showed discipline and order in the face of clear provocation. Conflict was avoided, resulting in a smooth transition of power.




South Africa deserves better, and that will only start when the people in power start being held accountable for the deaths that they cause.

More at:
Zuma announces inquiry into Marikana shooting
Peace organisation blames Zuma, ANC for Marikana killings
Liberté, égalité, fermeté?
Violence flares

Will South Africans’ anger boil over?

Cause to celebrate

Africa is the troubled continent. Somalia, Sudan, Mali, DRC, Nigeria – all riven by conflict. Many of the countries covering the Sahel are suffering starvation.

The appointment of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s most capable politician, to head the African Union (AU) commission brings hope.

A minister since 1994, she headed the ministry of health under Mandela, then foreign minister for 10 years, earning kudos for her quiet diplomacy, with her biggest success coming as minister of home affairs. Prior to her taking the portfolio, the ministry had been consistently ranked the worst in government. Last year, under her guidance was the first time in 16 years that it received an unqualified report from the auditor general.

She’s a great choice to turn the AU into a body that can resolve Africa’s many challenges.

More at:
If Dlamini-Zuma leaves, who will steer home affairs?
Cabinet Report Cards: An Unbalanced Seesaw
Dlamini-Zuma elected to head AU Commission
The AU’s new chief: Who is Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma?

Escaping the poverty trap

South African politics has a bizarre arrangement that is a legacy of the apartheid era. The ANC, the federation of trade unions (COSATU), and the South African Communist Party (SACP) have an alliance born out of the battle that they fought to overcome the former regime.

Zwelinzima Vavi, the head of COSATU, is quoted as saying that the education system is keeping apartheid alive. He’s right to attack the education system, but he adds nothing constructive to the discussion.

The poverty trap, including poor education standards affects countries round the world, developing and developed. It’s part of the poverty trap, and escaping it is challenging. Esther Duflo, the joint author of Poor Economics is the foremost expert on the subject. In the book she describes how poor parents are forced to decide which child has the best prospect of being the success in the family, and the whole family places its bets on the early developer. The other children are relegated to menial labour. Those not picked eventually succumb to the belief that they are inferior. Paradoxically, scientific studies prove that the best prospect is often not the child the family elected.

Ms Duflo has also come to the conclusion that hope, believing that escape from poverty is possible, is the most influential determinant to making the escape possible.

In other research there are signs that the charter school system can improve education for the poor. The results are promising.

Perhaps everyone would benefit if Mr Vavi spent a little more time reading and a lot less time talking.

More at:
A 20-year lesson
Unions – part of the solution or not
Hope springs a trap
The audacity of hope
SA education: The poorest choice
Vavi: Dysfunctional education system keeps apartheid alive

Insanity is ………

The South African police have a tough job. The crime rate it high, and the criminals are violent. Meeting the challenge requires good leadership. A recent article in The Economist revealed how badly that’s being handled:

AT TIMES South Africa’s police force seems rotten to the core—riddled with corruption, crime, dirty tricks, political machinations and even murder. On June 12th General Bheki Cele, the police chief, was “relieved of his duties” by President Jacob Zuma amid allegations of graft and dishonesty. His predecessor, Jackie Selebi, a former head of Interpol, was also fired after being found guilty of corruption and jailed for 15 years. Now the head of the police crime intelligence unit, Richard Mdluli, has been suspended, for a second time, after charges of murder and fraud. He had apparently hoped to get Mr Cele’s job.

Some had expected Mr Mkhwanazi, a respected career officer, to succeed Mr Cele. But during his eight-month stint as acting police chief he apparently proved too independent and outspoken. In an interview last month he declared “war” on the extensive rot he claimed he had found within the police ranks. “I am cleaning out the house and will not stop until all the bad apples, regardless of who they are, are removed, once and for all,” he said. “I will prove that there are people strategically operating like the Mafia and I will deal with these people.”

Just over a month later he finds himself back in his old job as head of the police Special Task Force after the surprise appointment of Riah Phiyega, a businesswoman with no experience of policing, intelligence or security, as the country’s new police chief.

Zapiro, the cartoonist, had the last say:

Zuma exposed

There has been quite a bit of controversy recently about a painting by the artist Brett Murray, depicting South Africa’s president Zuma with his genitals on display.

The exhibition might have passed off largely unnoticed, except that the ANC put out a statement expressing “outrage” over the “disgusting” depiction of its revered leader and demanding the immediate removal from the Johannesburg gallery where it was hung and from the website of the only newspaper that had noticed it. When both refused, the ANC promptly applied for a court order for the high-court to force them to comply.

Before that that could happen, though, two of the president’s supporter all but destroyed the painting, possibly realising that in court, some of Zuma’s colourful past would be brought into public view.

In March 2006 Zuma was brought on trial for the rape of an HIV positive AIDS activist on November 2, 2005. His defense was that the sex was consensual. Under cross examination Zuma was asked, knowing that the woman was HIV positive, what precautions he had taken against being infected. He answer was that afterwards he had taken a shower. Since then, Zapiro, a South African cartoonist, has depicted Zuma with a shower rose attached to his head.

South Africa has 5.6 million people who are HIV positive, beating Nigeria into second place by 2.2 million. Leadership by example is not Zuma’s strong point.

In February 2010 Zuma admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock by the daughter of a friend, reportedly born on October 8 2009, three months before Zuma—a polygamist—married for a fifth time. The baby girl was said to be the president’s 20th child.

In a letter to the editor of the Economist, a reader expressed the views held by many South Africans:

“Once again South Africa has made the headlines for all the wrong reasons, this time over a gallery’s cartoon portrait of President Jacob Zuma. Like most decent South Africans, regardless of race or creed, I value freedom of expression, but take offence when it is abused to indulge in gratuitous indecency or the spreading of falsehoods. To my way of thinking Brett Murray’s painting of Mr Zuma as Lenin was his genitals exposed was in bad taste and culturally insensitive. It has also, paradoxically, caused an outpouring of sympathy for the man it was supposed to ridicule.

Many South Africans sympathise with Mr Zuma, who apparently felt personally offended and violated. But before we start looking for a tree to lynch the artist, let us be aware of the elephant in the room: Mr Zuma’s own conduct and the offence it has caused.

The crux of the matter is that South Africa will continue to experience much deeply divisive incidents as long as the ruling African National Congress insists on foisting this deeply flawed man on us. In case the party’s leadership hasn’t noticed, Mr Zuma is not just an embarrassment; according to recent opinion polls he is rapidly becoming an electoral liability as well. His behaviour provides satirists and artists with endless inspiration, and when comedians discuss the President they sound more like news reporters than stand-up comics.

The dignity of high political office is a two-way street. In liberal democracies politicians fall on their swords for far less serious missteps than have already been proved against Mr Zuma. It is sheer hypocrisy to expect respect from one’s subjects when one flaunts the norms and values most of them hold dear.

Leaders earn respect. They cannot behave like buffoons and then expect to be revered like saints.”

Well said.