Sunday hurts

My Sundays are spent combing through the Mail & Guardian, City Press, the Sunday Independent, the Sunday Times – and a host of online news sources.

I do this to compose a news review and analysis to be on the desks of my clients by 06h30 on Monday mornings.

It is an arduous task, made all the more so because to get to the good stories one has to plough through the turgid rubbish, misinterpreted rumours and exaggerated rehashes of corporate, government and party press releases.

There are many exceptions. Johnny Steinberg in the Sunday Times is peerless. Percy Mabandu’s Dashiki Dialogues in City Press is a welcome respite.

At least half of the content of the weeklies is good, solid stuff, written by thorough and skilled journalists (too numerous to name here) and many of them have been kind and helpful (those are slightly different things) to me over the years and I would hate to impugn their professionalism.

But it’s the other half of the content that makes my Sundays a gloomy, brooding time of the week – and there are moments when I feel a visceral antipathy to the physical presence of the newsprint scattered around my apartment.

Okay, I am glad I got that off my chest … anyway, here is an extract from yesterday’s news summary – obviously all of it taken from that part of the weeklies written and edited by the thorough, professional, kind and helpful journalists I was refering to earlier …

Notes on the weekend press 19.11.2012

There were some interesting and revealing leaks in the Sunday newspapers:

Confidential NPA communications raise questions about grounds on which Zuma corruption charges were dropped in 2009

The Sunday Times led with an exclusive based on 300 pages of leaked internal emails, memos and minutes of meetings of the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) concerning the dropping of corruption charges against Jacob Zuma on 6 April 2009. The NPA failed to stop publication in a high court interdict on Saturday.

The story in the Sunday Times indicates that the senior state prosecutors felt they had a winnable case against Zuma and that attempts by Zuma’s legal team to use the ‘spy tapes’ to argue that the prosecution was politically motivated was “blackmail” – and that the prosecution should have gone ahead despite the threats from Zuma’s legal team.

So what? Good question. Zuma’s ‘Stalingrad Defence’ against the corruption charges (fighting door-to-door, street-by-street; retreating, but at enormous cost to the enemy) probably has years to run – pushing any possibility of a trial into the dark and distant future. Anyway, an ANC that uses its overwhelming parliamentary majority to block a motion of no-confidence in the president (as it did this week – see below) is unlikely to shrink from passing legislation that exempts its leader from the indignities and distraction of a corruption trial.

Internal reports of patronage, factionalism and vote-rigging

Two reports to the weekend meeting of the ANC NEC were leaked to the Sunday Independent and City Press, one from Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and one from Gwede Mantashe. They both paint a bleak picture of bitter struggles for power in the ANC.

Dlamini-Zuma’s report deals with 425 internal ANC complaints about the 2011 municipal elections – and concludes that a significant number of ANC councillors were fraudulently nominated. “In many cases”, she argues, “ANC branches and members are no longer viewed as living, dynamic units consisting of human beings … (They have become) membership forms that constitute a bulk commodity”.

Gwede Mantashe, in a draft of his secretary-general’s report, describes intense factionalism “bleeding the organisation”.  He suggests the ANC Youth League has positioned itself as a “counterforce” and that “the determination of some members … to destabilise the organisation and disrupt meetings as a tactic to get what they want … is a clear sign of a revolutionary movement that has been infiltrated.”

So what? It is a plus for the ANC that its leadership is anxious and forthright about the battle for patronage and position that takes place within its ranks. It might even be a plus (for the ANC) that all that energy is going into ANC leadership contests – because it is an acknowledgement that the ANC remains, for most intents and purposes, the only show in town. However, at some point, voters are likely to become disillusioned if the party is better at ensuring economic advancement for its leaders than it is at getting the government to deliver services more effectively.

Finally, the fact that high-level confidential internal party reports like these keep finding their way into the press is an excellent demonstration of the ills those very reports rail against.

Motlanthe wanted no confidence vote to go ahead

The deputy president chairs the ANC’s political committee in parliamentary which gave the nod for the no-confidence in Zuma motion to be debated in the parliament. This was overruled by the party’s caucus the next day.

So what? This is being interpreted as another blow to Motlanthe’s electability at Mangaung. As always, Motlanthe actually took no view during the committee meeting – it was National Council of Provinces chairman Mninwa Mahlangu and parliamentary speaker Max Sisulu who were in favour of allowing the motion to be debated and ANC chief whip Mathole Motshekga who was opposed. Motshekga convened a special sitting of the ANC’s parliamentary caucus when he lost the argument and the caucus hastily overturned the decision. We think the impact of this matter on Motlanthe’s election chances is less interesting than the fact the ANC refused to allow such a debate to take place – a breach of the etiquette, if not the rules, of parliamentary democracy. The DA filed papers on Friday at the Western Cape High Court to seek an urgent interdict to compel the Speaker of the National Assembly “to uphold the constitutional right of the opposition to have this motion debated” (DA parliamentary leader Lindiwe Mazibuko in a statement on Saturday).

Farmworker conditions and unrest

All the newspapers reviewed here (Mail & Guardian, City Press, Sunday Independent and Sunday Times) had stories relating to the farm strikes and the unrest in the Hex River Valley, Ceres, Touws River and De Doorns areas. The M&G insisted the strikes were “organic” (occurring without any form of organisation), although it also ran the assertion by commercial farmers union AgriSA that “political forces have directed the strike”. Meanwhile, government (in the person of agriculture minister Joemat-Petterson) and Cosatu (in the person of provincial secretary Tony Ehrenreich) have unsuccessfully attempted to portray themselves as at the vanguard of the angry workers.

So what? Wage levels in the sector have come as something of a shock to much of the media (the sectoral determination sets the minimum wage for most of these striking workers at ZAR69 per day.) Clearly, Cosatu and the government are worried about a Marikana-type outcome, where workers turn on the union and government with as much – or even more – ferocity than they display to the employer. This is, ultimately, a wage strike that is part of the wave that started at Impala in January and is likely to burn all the way through the economy, especially in areas poorly represented by trade unions and in areas where wages are out of kilter with the rest of the economy. If there is a possibility of workers achieving better settlements outside of the collective bargaining system, that is the route they are likely to pursue. Already the government is reopening the minimum wage determination process for this sector – something that would not have happened without the strikes having lit a fire under the government and its trade union ally. The logic must be that the wave will continue to cascade until it has modified basic wages throughout the economy. This probably means that this driver of labour unrest will be present for at least the next 18 months.

In other news:

  • Nkandlagate bubbles on – with several newspapers disputing Zuma’s claim that he is paying off a bond on his house. Last week Zuma went off-piste in the parliamentary debate about his Nkandla homestead and won many hearts with an emotional defence of his right to own a home – a home which in his case had twice been burned down in violence in the province. “My residence … has been paid for by the Zuma family,” he is quoted in the M&G. “All the buildings and every room we use … was built by ourselves as family and not by government. I have never asked government to build a home for me, and it has not done so.” The truth will be eventually out, but it appears that it will be an arduous and painful birth.
  • City Press ran a fascinating extract on Doug Fosters book about “the younger Jacob Zuma”. Amongst the many interesting bits and pieces was the huge esteem in which Zuma is held by his family – and especially his brothers. The esteem comes, in part, from his early brilliance at stick-fighting, “a form of combat in which one turned the fury of an adversary back against him … Ukuxoshisa was a test of quickness, balance and misdirection. Winning blows were landed with whip-like motions, involving a sudden flip ….” Both Thabo Mbeki and Zuma’s current competitors should have benefited from this paragraph based on an interview with one of Zuma’s brother’s: “Sometimes, the young boy held his sticks casually, as if on a lark, as Mike remembered it. Occasionally, he even turned away from his opponent to crack a joke with other kids standing around. When his opponent dropped his guard or joined in the teasing, though, he would pivot swiftly and strike suddenly, sweeping his opponent off his feet.”
  • Cosatu has come out, according to two of the papers, with a strong advice to Motlanthe to back off from challenging Zuma at Mangaung. They look set to join most ANC supporting structures in proposing Cyril Ramaphosa for deputy president in the event that Motlanthe doesn’t back off.
  • The Democratic Alliance is due to hold its elective congress next weekend – and despite lots of minor contests, it looks like Helen Zille will be unopposed for party leader.
  • Several news sources carried stories similar to the Business Times’: “Happy Xmas, Tokyo”. The assertion is “Human Settlements Minister Tokyo Sexwale and his partners in Mvelaphanda Holdings are set for a festive bonus of what could be R265-million on the sale of its stake in Absa.”

5 thoughts on “Sunday hurts

    1. Hi Martin – I would never usually have allowed an advertisement to sneak into these comments pages … but for Robin Levetan and the fine memories of Bright Blue as the soundtrack to my twenties and the glorious End Conscription Campaign … I could never have refused you … and the free concerts in De Waal park are a great public service anyway … I hope everyone who is able to get there does – cheers

  1. I am surprised you read nothing more into the conditions and unrest on Western Cape farms other than a wage dispute and political posturing between the ANC and DA. Otherwise as usual, useful summaries.

    1. Hi Sean … I wanted to draw parallels between the platinum sector and seasonal fruit and vegetable workers … the migrant status, the close links to rural families, the transitional nature of the workforce from those resident on farms and often dependent on the farmer to seasonal and migrant workers, …. also the issue of the use of illegal migrants … and also the ultra-exploitation of all these workers … but it is clear that the situation is more ‘ethnically’ and geographically complicated that I thought … also I have no real idea of the profitability or otherwise of the more marginal farms … my instinct is to say it is entirely inconceivable and outrageous that temporary workers should be being paid as low as R69 per day – but what if the farm, the farmer and the workers are clinging on by their fingernails and the margins have zero give? I thought, until I learned more about the industry, I would adopt maximum caution, while making the general point that the actions of workers themselves “will continue to cascade until it has modified basic wages throughout the economy”.

  2. It seems to me, cynically perhaps, that democracy necessarily – perhaps more in S.A. than elsewhere but I suspect that that’s not so, if we look at other national psyche examples that it’s just the nature of the beast – entails zealotry of various intensities. (And please don’t quote Churchill as a response.) That makes me mistrust it: as a zealot myself, I know the emphatic arguments of so many years’ standing have in late years only led me to wonder where did we get to, everything we wanted, believed in, wished for, where did it go? No wonder Sundays hurt. Or perhaps it’s just Sunday and I’ll believe differently tomorrow.

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