Jacob Zuma Shower Gel, Feel Presidential

First Zaipiro with the shower-headed Jacob Zuma and now laughitoff, a satirical South African blog, has been selling a shower bath product with Jacob Zuma’s name attached to it for the past few months. The label advises: “After intense physical activity use … gel for an invigorating cleansing experience.” With coverage in The Times, the BBC, and other blogs, it seems to be the hot product for this election season. 

Though it might be too clever for the ANC’s liking, and with Zuma riding his political capital at the moment and going after cartoonist Zaipiro, the ANC is said to be considering legal action against laughitoff.. This is just another example in the long list of others, that the ANC pictures itself as above the state, and thus above criticism or satire. Obviously the recent failure to achieve a 2/3 majority in the parliament has done nothing to dent the ANC’s hubris.

One must believe that its not until satirists and critics are accepted by the ANC as part and parcel of democracy that South Africa will take the next step. Obviously simply accepting satire is not the only thing that must be done, but when a cultural exists that accepts criticisms and does not attempt to label it libelous, a atmosphere will exist to promote greater thought, introspection, and debate on the serious issues. 

Where that society can be found in the world today is hard to pinpoint. As much fun as Americans and Britons make of their politicians, there are still a minority of their supporters who will not tolerate the abuse and satire that is thrown at their candidate. 

However it turns out, well-played to laughitoff….now if only it was available in the US. Make sure to check out the advert that is going viral.


Nondumiso Gasa speaks at TransAfrica on Zimbabwe

Nondumiso Gasa visisted the Washington DC office of the TransAfrica Forum on 10 March to brief on her struggle to attract attention to the humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. Gasa, chair of South Africa’s Commission for Gender Equality, is part of the campaign Save Zimbabwe Now and recently completed a 21-day hunger strike in attempts to cause the international community to help the Zimbabwean refugees that are flowing into South Africa as well as those still inside Zimbabwe. 

In her briefing she touched on her experiences of meeting with refugees at the South African border town of Musina. She said that she has seen the crisis evolve along typical migration routes, where in the past the men of Zimbabwe had left for work in South Africa’s mines, then followed by the women as domestic servants, but that now unaccompanied minors ranging from 8 to 17 years old are crossing the border in hopes of finding employment, and more importantly food, in Pretoria or Johannesburg. 

The Save Zimbabwe Now  campaign has criticized numerous actors in the region, from Mugabe to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to the South African government. In that regard Save Zimbabwe NOW has produced a film titled “The Shame of Musina”. It documents the struggle that Zimbabwean refugees have had in South Africa where they must live in the open air show ground of the town. They are not permitted to leave, as the police has established a non-official policy of arresting anyone that goes beyond the ‘border’ that extends 100 yards into the town. This in turn prohibits anyone to seek help from the local police. The impact of this policy is most intensely felt by the women of the refugee ‘camp’ as they are unable to report rapes to the authorities. The film showed how women must endure multiple rapes on their path out of Zimbabwe and also after arriving in South Africa. Gasa said that intergenerational rape is common, and the practicing of ‘mattress’ rapes (where the man must lie underneath his wife while she is raped) is prevelant in Musina. 

Gasa discussed how rape in Zimbabwe has become a political weapon, one that she says SADC has no stand on. She described how child soldiers are initiated through the raping of family members. The closer the family member is to the child, the more ‘brave’ the child is considered. This leads Gasa to call women’s bodies battlefields in this crisis. She also makes the point that the events transpiring in Zimbabwe are not unique to the country and follow much the same path of other crises on the continent such as the Congo and Darfur when it comes to child soldiers, rape, internal displacement, and government killings. The use of appropriation of aid and supplies by the government, specifically ZANU-PF, for political purposes is an issue that must be addressed as well according to Gasa. She believes a special agency that is not under the government is needed to ensure that aid can be distributed. She cites the cholera tablets that were diverted to specific communities as the most recent of government abuses of aid. 

In going on a 21-day hunger strike, which she continued the relay fast after Kumi Naidoo completed his hunger strike, Gasa wanted to highlight the use of a women’s body as a battlefield for this current conflict. She wanted to encourage others to not be passive about this conflict and to learn how to resist through their bodies. On her sixth day she had alarmingly low levels of iron and was forced to hospital where she was administered an intravenous drip for 8 hours. She said of this experience that it showed her that she “had no control over her body” and that she was “not brave at all”. However, she said of her time lying in hospital that it gave her “clarity of thought and conviction” to finish her fast. 

She said that in living in South Africa for the past few years, many believed that South Africa was working towards a solution with Thabo Mbeki’s Quiet Diplomacy. On her visit to Musina and viewing the conditions of life there, Gasa subsequently saw that “we are in [a] much different problem” . She believes that the unitary government that was forced upon Zimbabwe by SADC, which led to the current unitary government between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC, has only legitimized ZANU-PF and what she calls the Mugabe ‘phenomenon’. Gasa however believes that once “government…uses military on its own country it loses its legitimacy”. She says that the presence of the military that currently hangs over Prime Minister Tsvangirai restricts any real change he can implement.

Turning to the solutions that Save Zimbabwe Now and Gasa believe are needed, she said that Save Zimbabwe Now is asking for others to pledge their solidarity and create a “people to people struggle”. She believes more discussion in churches or other forums are necessary to creating a movement where the more voices that exsit the more likely they will achieve their goals. Save Zimbabwe Now calls on the US to join in the struggle, through donations, fasting, and most importantly a political advocacy movement in which the goal of restoring human dignity to the people of Zimbabwe can be acheived.

Gasa asks for Obama to send a special envoy to SADC and to weigh the different options through multilateral discussion on whether or not to lift sanctions. To this end Gasa believes that if donor money is allowed to flood in, the government and Mugabe will be able to ignore the people of Zimbabwe and their vote. Gasa does not have much faith in SADC in terms of delivering wide spread aid as she believes they do not have the capability to distribute a humanitarian package from themselves. She believes the fact that most of these nations are themselves cash-strapped and their cozy relations with the ZANU-PF region will result in wasted aid money. 

In closing, Gasa gave a warning that seemed to stress her belief that the time to act is now. She says that she expects no action to come down from the ANC government in Pretoria as public discontent with the refugees is growing. She said in Johanessburg, the security forces routinely raid the churches where refugees stay when the police “want to have some fun or make some money”. Gasa points to the Democractic Alliance ousting the ANC from the ward in Musina where the refugees stay. Gasa says the DA ran their platform on a xenophobic message in the area because of the refugees. 

In the end, Ms. Gasa did provide a first hand account of the suffering that the people of Zimbabwe endure when they enter South Africa, and she rightly criticized many of the organizations that have been tasked to solve this issue. However, her prescriptions for change were vague, especially when she answered a question from the audience about what the US should do by saying that American’s should pledge solidarity with the Zimbabwean people. This perhaps gives an insight into this complex issue that even the people on the ground who are interacting with these many  different actors do not have a clear plan for solving the problem. Their hope that by attracting more attention will bring an end to the suffering is a difficult task, but as seen with the conflict in Darfur and many others on the continent, more media attention is never the final answer to the conflicts that are troubling Africa.

South African President to Dissolve Parliament? Call New Elections?

A report by Stratfor, tucked away nicely on their members-only page, is titled South Africa: President To Dissolve Parliament – Report. Such a course of action would seem prudent if viewed from a political perspective. While this year’s regulary schedule general election were to be held sometime between April and June, this recent possible action by South African president, Kgalema Motlanthe, could signal the African National Congress’s (ANC) growing concern over the upstart breakaway party, the Congress of the People (COPE). 

ANC may well claim that since the dismissal of Thabo Mbeki from head of state, Motlanthe has been in a care-taking role and that with the current worldwide finicial crisis, it is more appropriate to get a new government seated sooner, rather than later. Motlanthe has certainly kept the ball rolling on certain ANC projects, one of which was the dismantling of the Scorpions, but he has not undertaken any other major endevors as he has no political capital of his own. The looming shadow of Jacob Zuma must also be inhibiting Motlanthe during his Presidency. (To See a Review of his first 100 Days in office, see his interview with the M&G) This claim that a legitimate government is needed to handle the financial crisis would seem to make good sense, as a new government would be able to react to the crisis and use their newly earned political capital to implement their plans.

Oddly enough, another possible reason for the early election might be a new possibility for South Africans abroad to vote overseas. While not all inclusive, the government may want to speed up an election, so that word of mouth of the new provision has not spread sufficiently in time for an overseas vote to be significant. As most of the overseas vote would most likely favor the DA or possibly COPE, the ANC is not exactly advertising this new ability to vote abroad.  

The ANC must also be worrying about any growing influence that COPE is gathering in former ANC territory. It would be rational to believe that the longer COPE has to prepare for the elections and to publicize their platform, the more successive they will be in the election. Whether this plays out in this fashion is still to be seen, but its a fair bet that the 2009 South African election may well be the most exciting since 1994. The smaller parties are sensing the division in the ANC may mean more votes for their platforms, but I believe the actual number of electorate defections will be less than is hyped in the media. In any case, voter participation may rise for the first time in South Africa’s post-apartheid era.

Which ever reason is given by President Motlanthe to call for elections before the normal timetable, there must be a period of 60-65 days between when an election is called and when the actual voting day is established. COPE has claimed that a date of March 25th has been set, denied by Motlanthe, but in reality will one or two months make a difference to COPE’s success at the voting booth? They might argue yes, but in reality I believe that those who were ready to cast a non-ANC vote have already made up their mind about COPE. Those rural people who COPE may try to target for conversion from ANC stalwarts cannot be converted in months, rather years.

While 2009 sees the first formidable splinter group of the ANC pose a challenge to the ANC, no real power change will happen this year. It may be 2014, or beyond, before a COPE, or a COPE-DA alliance, could seriously threaten the stranglehold the ANC possesses over the South African electorate.

Proof that Even A Dictator Can Tire From Destroying their Country

Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s underfire president, has decided that the past year of rigging elections, murdering opposition supporters, and being staunchly against sharing his power, has taken a toll on his nearly 85 year old body and is going to take a one month vacation according to the Mail & Guardian. One must ask where one  would go in Zimbabwe to vacation these days, much less the all-a-round hated leader of the imploding nation. One would hope that he might head to Victoria Falls where we could all pray that the Zambezi might sweep him over the edge, but alas, he’s decided to take what must be the last bit of foreign currency reserves the government holds and use them to vacation abroad. Says his spokesman George Charamba: 

This is more of a retreat than an annual leave. The president is very busy reflecting on the new structures that are needed to deal with the economic sanctions against Zimbabwe as well as working on structures of an inclusive government which must come too soon

These are the times when you wish that ZANU-PF was facing anything but a subjugated press, or at least a media outlet that would ask, “So how far off is ‘too soon’?”

A deeper analysis could reveal two things. One, Mugabe is so secure in his power of controlling power that he knows that whether he is in the country or not, he is able to maintain his iron grip. Two, he knows a coup is coming, and does not want to be caught in the cross fire and is using this ‘retreat’ as a way of getting out of the line of fire and thus living out his days in exile. Or, a more likely third probablity, Mugabe has long been oustered from the real center of power in the party and in the country, and thus is just being used as a figure head for ZANU-PF. The people really in charge of the suppression of opposition and of land redistribution have slowly wrestled power away from Mugabe, though in his old-age they probably still convince him that he makes all the ‘real’ decisions.

Whatever the deeper meaning or reason behind his vacation, this would be the perfect time for outside intervention from the AU or the UN, but that’s more of a fantasy than Mugabe falling off Victoria Falls…