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Why traditional healers could have a role to play in fighting HIV

- Ryan Wagner and Carolyn Audet

Many cultures and societies throughout the world turn to traditional healers to find out why they are ill and to seek treatment.

In many settings, including sub-Saharan Africa, traditional healers are often called on to provide cures for various ailments.

Seeking help from traditional healers can have a detrimental effect on a patient because it can delay them getting the care or treatment they need from health facilities. This is a particularly pertinent challenge when it comes to treating HIV because getting access to treatment as early as possible after being diagnosed has been shown to be very important. In addition, studies have shown that traditional medicine can affect the efficacy of antiretroviral treatment.

We were keen to understand how people living with HIV in rural communities in South Africa consulted traditional healers, and how this affected whether or not they sought treatment from local clinics. Our study, done in rural northeastern South Africa, has an HIV prevalence of 19.4% among adults. This is one of the highest figures in the world.

We found that some traditional healers continued to treat HIV-positive people for HIV and their associated opportunistic infections. But it also showed that they referred their patients for HIV testing at public health facilities. This suggests that they saw the value of HIV testing.

The study, undertaken in an area where the South African government’s health facilities offer free antiretroviral treatment, raises important questions about the role that traditional healers play in providing health care. It shows that working with traditional healers could lead to health care that integrates both approaches. Studies from other developing countries has shown that this can have benefits.

One, or both

People seek care from traditional healers for different reasons. Often they are able to access the traditional healer more easily than health professionals. Medication shortages at clinics and hospitals also play a role. For others there are greater cultural similarities between the traditional healers’ explanation of their condition and their own understanding.

Research shows that people felt they were treated better by traditional healers than carers in the public health system.

Traditional healers and health professionals often treat patients concurrently. Patients choose to use one or the other – or both. This results in a “ping-pong” effect of patients moving between traditional healers and health care facilities.

There are dangers in this – using traditional medicine and ART concurrently have been shown to have negative effects in some instances.

Examples of integration

There have been attempts to incorporate traditional healers into health care systems. A number of projects and studies have been done in several African countries including Cameroon and Mozambique to integrate traditional healers with health professionals.

These projects have had mixed results. Traditional healers are a heterogeneous population: not all healers will make effective partners with clinicians and nurses in the health care system. Some healers fear losing income, others do not believe nurses and clinicians can cure all ailments and a history of distrust has damaged relationships between healers and clinicians.

But engaging healers has resulted in several successful partnerships. These have included:

In Mozambique, ongoing research with traditional healers has resulted in the development of a referral-back-referral system. Traditional healers refer patients to a clinic to be tested for HIV and other common ailments. The patients then return to the traditional healer with a clear referral of the clinic’s findings.

Our research shows similar results. About 85% of traditional healers referred their patients for HIV testing at public health facilities before initiating traditional care. And traditional healers used a patient’s CD4 count as a threshold to determine whether further traditional treatment should be offered.

Keep the ball rolling

Great progress has been made in managing the HIV/AIDS pandemic. Key to this success has been ensuring people are tested and then introduced to drug regimens as soon as possible.

The ConversationWhile the push for a functional cure and more effective treatment and treatment delivery systems are important, so too is understanding and mitigating barriers to existing care. Keeping a cautious, yet open mind to the complementary role that traditional healers can play could help further reduce – and support the ultimate end of – the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Ryan G Wagner, Research Fellow, MRC/Wits Rural Public Health & Health Transitions Research Unit (Agincourt), University of the Witwatersrand and Carolyn Audet, Assistant Professor in the Department of Health Policy at the Vanderbilt Institute for Global Health , Vanderbilt University. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons on rolling out an HIV prevention pill in South Africa

- Sinead Delany-Moretlwe and Saiqa Mullick

Last year SA became the first country in Africa to register the use of a drug that could be used as an oral pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV prevention.

Pre-exposure prophylaxis, referred to as PrEP, is the use of anti-retroviral drugs by people who do not have HIV to prevent them from becoming infected.

The idea behind PrEP has been to target high risk populations where new infections remain consistently high. This includes sex workers, men who have sex with men, injection drug users and young women.

Following a recommendation by the World Health Organisation to use the drug as an additional HIV prevention choice South Africa registered Tenofovir/Emtricitabine last year.

By June this year South Africa’s PrEP programme was being implemented at 17 sites that were serving sex workers and men who have sex with men. The programme had also been expanded to provide the drug at nine clinics at seven tertiary institutions which serve more than 120,000 young people.

The PrEP rollout data shows that there is a relatively slow, but increasing, uptake of PrEP. There are concerns. One year after the licence was procured there are fears that the rollout isn’t sufficiently targeting one of the country’s most high risk populations: young women.

This is a critical cohort of people in the fight against new HIV infections. Studies show that young women in South Africa, aged between 15 and 24 years have the highest HIV incidence. About 1,745 new HIV infections occur among these young women every week.

An additional factor that makes the group so important in bringing down infections is that they represent a substantial section – about 10% – of the population.

Unless this problem is solved the rates of new infections in South Africa are unlikely to be reduced.

Great idea, challenging to deliver

After South Africa procured the licence for the HIV prevention tablet, the National Department of Health launched a national policy and set of guidelines to rollout PrEP and provide test and treat services. Test and treat allows people to access antiretrovirals as soon as they test positive.

The government’s cost-effectiveness analyses suggested that the greatest impact of PrEP would be in populations that have a substantial risk for HIV infection. As a result the policy focused initially on providing PrEP at a limited number of sex worker sites. This would help them learn more about real world delivery prior to scale up.

But here lies the issue. There is a high level of political will and desire in the government to rollout PrEP to young women who are at risk, but the health system requirements are complex. Cost is also a consideration. There is a need to establish how best to identify young women at highest risk and how best to offer and retain young women on PrEP.

Next steps

PrEP is new technology that has the potential to alter the HIV epidemic particularly among women. But a narrow focus on a single technology alone is unlikely to solve health and social challenges associated with HIV.

South Africa needs to pay careful attention to access and service delivery issues and constraints, and to engage communities as PrEP is scaled up so that its potential is fully realised.

There are a number of small scale research projects mainly in and around Johannesburg and Cape Town that could help inform how best to deliver PrEP to young women. More than 500 adolescent girls and young women between the ages of 16-24 years are being enrolled in the projects. The aim is to to learn more about scalable models of PrEP delivery for adolescents in countries like South Africa which has limited resources.

Without an understanding of best practices and most cost effective scalable delivery models for young women, it will be challenging for South Africa to maximise the impact of core HIV prevention, treatment, and care interventions.

Another critical step to filling the gaps would be to generate greater community awareness about PrEP. Many people don’t know that there is an antiretroviral pill that, if taken every day, can reduce a person’s risk of being infected with HIV. Getting the message across is difficult because the legacy of concerns about antiretrovirals and their side effects persist in many communities.

This is not just about awareness but about the need for a broader conversation about how we address the underlying issues that continue to shape HIV risks in young women. Stigma, violence against women, judgemental attitudes about young people having sex all make it more difficult for people to accept PrEP and to use it effectively.

The ConversationA broader conversation is needed to increase knowledge and awareness of PrEP, its potential to change the course of the epidemic, and where it fits in to a broader programme of HIV prevention.

Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, Associate Professor and Director: Research at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute I, University of the Witwatersrand and Saiqa Mullick, Director of Implementation Science, Wits Reproductive Health & HIV Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Racism, Examination Assessments and the Transformation of Wits University

- Adam Habib

To advance transformation in our medical school, we changed our admissions processes three years ago, enabling special access for students from rural schools.

In the last ten days, a racial controversy erupted at Wits University when a group of medical students took a class photograph with a banner stating that the medical school was racist. I took a firm view against this small group of students on social media, as did the University when it released a public statement a few days later. This is because we believe that it is imperative that a noble struggle to transform our public institutions is not in any way compromised by opportunism on the part of individuals to advance their own careers or attempts to bypass assessment processes, using lack of transformation as an excuse.

Transformation is an imperative at Wits University and within its medical school which is why three years ago, we developed a comprehensive transformation plan that involves, amongst other aspects, diversifying our student enrolment, changing our staff demographics, addressing the living standards of the poorest of our employees, creating a cosmopolitan environment in our university and residences, implementing a new language policy, transforming our curriculum, and renaming our buildings and spaces. We rigorously implement this plan, track progress on a monthly basis and release regular reports on indicators. Read the latest report.

To advance transformation in our medical school, we changed our admissions processes three years ago, enabling special access for students from rural schools and quintile one and two urban schools, provided that they meet our rigorous standards for admission. Yet we recognised that individual acts of racism would continue. We are also aware of racism’s subtle manifestations. This is why we have both a Transformation Office and a Gender Equity Office with the mandates to investigate and prosecute acts of racism and sexual harassment by individuals within our University community. We have had many such investigations in the last year, some of which have culminated in mediation and others that have resulted in severe disciplinary action. Why then were we so firm with these students who alleged racism in our assessment processes?

This is not the first time that we have had such allegations made. The issue regularly raises its head when some students fail. In the last year, we initiated two independent investigations into our assessment processes, one in the School of Accountancy and the other in the School of Clinical Medicine. The first was undertaken by a senior academic from another university, and the conclusion was that our assessments were in line with those of our peers and of a standard that was both globally competitive and contextually relevant. The second investigation, in the medical school, was undertaken by a senior academic from the Faculty of Humanities who has experience on matters of racism and how to address them. After a comprehensive, three-month investigation, he concluded that a racism charge could not be upheld, although there were definitely administrative, communication and consultation weaknesses within the Faculty. This report was discussed with the student leadership of the Faculty and the students in the relevant classes.

Despite this report, just a few weeks later, a small group of students who failed a particular course raised the racism allegations again. Some accused the medical school of making special concessions for white students who failed a course while not doing the same for black students. Not a shred of evidence was put forward to support this allegation. Instead, they targeted a student who they believed received such a special favour. The student had done nothing wrong. In fact, she passed her examination with the second highest grade in the class. However, her exam result was incorrectly captured on the University's computer system and she was obliged to undertake a remedial programme. When the error was discovered, the Faculty put in place measures to correct it, including allowing the student to complete the remainder of her academic assessments and her clinical practice so that she could graduate. We also initiated an investigation to determine how such an error could be made and what safeguards to put in place in this regard.

Essentially, what we have here is a student who passed, who through no fault of her own has been targeted by another group of students who failed, and who is accused of being granted favours because she is white. The group of students who failed were essentially trying to racialise a matter because they wanted to bypass the University's assessment processes. They suggested that the Faculty's assessment processes were against black students, even though the vast majority of our students in the Faculty – black and white – have passed their examinations. These racialised assertions were supported by others who, without having the facts at hand, simply supported the attack on the Faculty and in this case, an innocent student. The incident demonstrates the danger of acting without having the full facts at hand and of engaging uncritically in a crude populism that is informed by racial chauvinism.

Some of this manifested in an article in the Sunday Times on 3 December 2017. The article claims that out of a final 6th year class of 329 students in medical school, 95 failed at least one or two blocks. It claims that of these 95 students, 90 were African. We are not sure of the source of this data. The latest data at our disposal demonstrates that the class size is 321, of which at least 256 will graduate. 11 students have failed and will have to repeat the year. Of the 321, 53 will carry one or two blocks into 2018. If they pass early next year, they will graduate.

The sub-text in the Sunday Times article is that this data somehow demonstrates racism in the Faculty and its assessment processes. But here is the problem with this conclusion; it assumes that something is wrong with the Faculty’s assessment processes despite independent investigations concluding otherwise. It does not mention that examinations are externally examined and independently verified. The implied solution is that we should change our assessment processes, thereby creating an alternative grading system for black students. The net effect would be to compromise the professional standing of future doctors and put out graduates with a lower level of mastery of their discipline.

A more scientific analysis of this data could lead to a different diagnosis of the problem and an alternative solution. If this data were put against another set which looks at graduation rates of students after one additional year of study, it would demonstrate that the number of African graduates will substantially improve. The issue that this raises is that given our entrance requirements in 2011 (the year of entry of this cohort of students) were lower for African than they were for white and Indian students as a result of the structural educational deficits African students suffer under, is it worth it for us as a society to incur this extra cost to produce a more demographically representative sample of doctors? My answer to this question would be a categorical yes, especially given that we now have further enhanced the transformative character of our admissions by including students from rural and quintile 1 and 2 urban schools.

But there is an even deeper problem that this data demonstrates. Even if an additional year would be worthwhile for producing a more demographically representative sample of doctors, why is it that there is such an overt racial profile to the failure rate in the final year of medicine? Even if African students are being taken into the programme on a lower academic score, six years earlier should our academic development and social support programmes not correct for the structural educational deficit after five or six years? What challenges do these results pose for our academic development and social support programmes? These are the nuanced questions that we should be considering. The debate does not even touch on these questions because it addresses the challenge through a crude racial populist lens. The net effect is that the problem is being misdiagnosed which may result in inappropriate solutions being advanced.

The challenge to our assessment processes has not been made simply by black students. We have had repeated attempts at this in recent months by students (and sometimes parents) across the racial divide. We have had wealthy students who threatened the University with legal action because they had failed or were unhappy about the marks that they had received. Sometimes this created tensions within our student community because of a feeling that concessions were somehow being made, even when this was not the case. In other cases, we have had students or their parents threatening to report the university to ministers and others in government. And then we have had other students – across the racial divide – who have played the race card in an attempt to bypass either our assessment or admission processes.

In all of these cases, our response has been the same: we will not succumb to legal, political or populist pressure to pass individuals who have not mastered the knowledge and skills that are required for them to graduate. Our resolve in this regard is clear, because not only would it be morally reprehensible to pass students who have not mastered the knowledge and skills required by their disciplines, but it would also be dangerous for society. After all, medical students hold the lives of their patients in their hands. Teachers are responsible for the educational futures of our children. If we were to compromise on examination assessments, it could jeopardise the lives of many others in our society.

Our defence of Wits' assessment processes, after independent investigations that proved their legitimacy, is important to retaining the credibility of our qualifications. If a perception emerges that our rigorous assessments can be bypassed through legal, political or populist pressure, then our degree certificates will lose their employment and professional cache. As of now, 93% of our students get a job within six months of graduating. The outcome is beneficial for our graduates, and is a result of the sterling contribution of all of our staff and the dedication of most of our students. This must not be compromised in any way by the unfortunate actions of a few.

Finally, a remark on the racism that has manifested itself in this debate. There are posts on social media and statements made in forums such as talk shows that are profoundly racist. They speak disparagingly of whites and blacks, and inappropriately use historical incidents to arrive erroneously at the most racist conclusions about groups of people. Some make disparaging remarks about 'curry', 'Gandhi' and Muslims, simply, I assume, because they pigeon-hole me as reflecting these identities. And others speak approvingly of fascist discourses and behaviour in the naive belief that this will somehow deliver them from their sense of racialised victimhood. 

Some are of these remarks are, of course, made out of ignorance, and they can be forgiven. But there are many others that are borne of deep racism. And there are not enough voices rising up against this racism. Politicians and political parties pander to it for opportunistic ends and short term electoral gains. Social justice activists remain silent for fear of being labelled or deemed irrelevant. Journalists do not rigorously interrogate the proponents of these views and allow individuals to get away with the most outlandish, racist remarks.

But we do this at our collective peril. If we allow our public discourse to be dominated by the most racist among us, those who mobilise on the most basic of human instincts, then we will be condemned to a future of division, fear and violence. The vast majority of us are decent human beings. But we are too easily silenced by the political spectacle that is being created by the small group of racists among us. We need to stand up against them; they need to hear that they do not speak in our name. Only then, can we collectively build an inclusive future that serves all of our interests.

This opinion piece was originally published in the Daily Maverick. Professor Adam Habib is the Vice-Chancellor and Principal of Wits University.

The ANC leadership race will go down to the wire: here’s why

- Susan Booysen

The suspense is tangible as the African National Congress (ANC) – South Africa’s former liberation movement that’s turned into a tired governing party

It's fiercely contested 2017 elective conference takes place this weekend.

By December 5, the party’s branches had largely spoken, and its provincial structures had consolidated the branch delegates’ voting preferences. The lay of the land seemed clear. Yet, on close dissection it’s evident that developments could still subvert what appeared to be definitive trends in branch nominations.

Less than two weeks prior to ballots being cast at the Nasrec Expo Centre in Johannesburg, the contest is closer than both the Polokwane race of 2007, (when Jacob Zuma beat Thabo Mbeki) and 2012 in Mangaung (when Zuma beat then deputy Kgalema Motlanthe).

The branch nominations have confirmed that the two leading 2017 candidates for the ANC presidency are Cyril Ramaphosa and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma. While Ramaphosa has a lead, the intricacies of the election process caution against early celebrations: there are black holes that could still devour the advantages he appears to have.

The voting

The voters at the ANC conferences comprise roughly of 90% delegates from ANC branches across the nine provinces. Provinces had been allocated a total of 4,731 delegates (proportionately in terms of membership figures). The rest of the about 5,240 voting delegates come from the ANC’s national executive committee and top six officials (roughly 90 in total). The nine provincial executive committees (27 each, thus 243), the women’s, youth and veterans’ leagues (60 each, thus 180).

The number of branches endorsing Ramaphosa by the evening of December 4 were 1,860 and Dlamini-Zuma 1,333. A total of 3,193 for both candidates, or around 2,000 fewer than the total number of conference voters.

Given that the race will go down to the wire, and that a few hundred ballots in either direction could make a world of difference to the ANC and South Africa, this analysis dissects eight black holes that account for the approximately 2,000 “discrepancy”.


At the core, the uncertainties that make up the eight black holes are:

  • The scores released by the ANC’s Provincial General Councils have a “margin of error”. This is because the scores are of branches and not individual delegates. But big branches send more than one delegate and are given more weighting in the voting. This can substantially change the balance between leading candidates come the election.

  • Mpumalanga province brings its own black box of 223 “unity” votes. The biggest bloc of branches refused to endorse a particular candidate and entered ‘unity’ on nomination forms, following the instruction of provincial leader DD Mabuza. These votes can therefore go to either leading candidate should the delegates cast their vote rather than waste it.

  • A further uncertainty comes in the exact number of branches that have missed the deadline for their branch general meetings. The deadline for convening these was a week ago. Missing the deadline means they have missed the opportunity to be represented at the conference. The ANC in an interview with the author estimated that between 95-98% made the target date. Exclusions will lower the number of delegates.

  • A number of branches are caught up in disputes. Challenges centre on the lack of legality of the branch general meetings, some of which have been chaotic. Some battled to reach quorums (50% of members had to be present), or they faked quorums. In other instances officials disappeared with meeting materials and memberships lists, attendance registers were signed off-site, or bickering and fist-fights ruled. These branch delegates could still make it into the voting booths at the conference if the ANC task teams resolve the disputes.

  • A number of branches and provincial structures have taken their disputes to court. Prominent cases are in KwaZulu-Natal, Free State and the Eastern Cape. The national conference does not ultimately depend on the provincial structures, but provincial leaders may have influenced their branch-based underlings substantially, or have covered up irregularities that affected whom the branches nominated. Disputes at the time of conference could exclude some from voting, or having their votes counted.

  • The ballots of individual delegates are secret and it’s therefore uncertain to what extent branch nominations will convert into matching votes. Prior conference outcomes show that the branch or provincial counts tended to hold: delegates are inclined to vote according to their mandates. But, political times have changed. Beyond the scrutiny of the superiors and away from branch commissars, delegates might vote according to “conscience”.

  • Hand-in-hand with individual discretion in the voting act is the practice of “brown envelopes”, or bribes. Speculation is that the bribes could be enormously persuasive, going into six-figure rewards for the right vote.

  • The final big uncertainty comes via the three leagues - for women, youth and veterans - and the ANC’s executive structures. The large block of around 90 NEC and top-six votes, for example, could split relatively equally between the big candidates. It is this block that has kept Zuma in power through a series of votes in the National Executive Committee, and interventions in parliamentary votes. But, they could by now see that the writing is on the wall given that Zuma will cede his position as head of the party in two weeks time, and his post as head of state in 2019.

Hard to call

The ConversationThe battle lines are drawn and the result is close. Exact calculations will remain impossible; the result is likely to be known by 17 or 18 December. In the interim, all South Africans can do is rely on circumstantial evidence, including signs of confidence or panic in the ranks of the candidates. They can also try and plug the black holes.

Susan Booysen, Professor in the Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Is it Cameroon’s turn to be suspended from US trade pact with Africa?

- Regis Simo

Cameroon has been a member of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) initiative since it was launched in 2000.

AGOA is a preferential trade programme which allows a set of eligible products from designated African countries into the US market.

Its main objective is to promote economic development through increased trade and investment between the US and sub-Saharan Africa. Cameroon has benefited a great deal. In 2015, it made USD$133 million in overall export trade. Cameroon’s main exports to the US include petroleum, cocoa, rubber, timber, and coffee, while its main imports from the US include machinery, vehicles and chemicals.

But AGOA is not just a trade pact. It’s also a way of promoting democracy. It comes with strict eligibility criteria which require that countries maintain the rule of law. Countries must also commit to political pluralism, the right to due process, fair trial, and equal protection under the law. They must also cooperate in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations.

The AGOA legislation empowers the American president annually to determine which countries are still eligible for its benefits. If he determines that a country is not making progress towards meeting the criteria he can decide to suspend it from the agreement.

The history of AGOA is replete with cases of ejections and re-admissions. These have often been based on human rights and democracy related issues. For instance, in 2016 former US President Barack Obama ejected Burundi from the AGOA family.

He did this on grounds that the country had failed to establish the rule of law. His reasons included the continuing crackdown on opposition members, assassinations, extra-judicial killings, arbitrary arrests and torture.

South Sudan and The Gambia have also had their memberships terminated. The Democratic Republic of Congo and Swaziland too. Mali, Guinea Bissau and Cote d’Ivoire were ejected and re-admitted after making efforts to strengthen the rule of law.

So far Cameroon has had a stellar record. But given recent developments questions are being asked about whether or not it should still benefit from the scheme.

Troubles in Cameroon

Over the past year Cameroon has been engulfed in a crisis that has pitted the Anglophone part of the country against the central government whose policies are decried to favour its Francophone regions. The Anglophone regions to the west are former British mandated territories, while the Francophone regions in the east are former French mandated territories.

The unrest began in October 2016 with a protest against the overwhelming use of French in a country where French and English have equal status under the constitution.

What began as a disagreement over the use of language in courts and in the design of school curricula has slowly became a political battle for Anglophone secession. The calls for secession have been met with brutal repression by state security forces. Whenever the state and the secessionists have clashed state agents have used excessive force.

Multiple human rights abuses have been committed against unarmed civilian populations including killings, mass arrests and detention. Some pro-Anglophone Cameroonians have sought refuge in neighbouring Nigeria while others have been arrested and detained pending prosecution.

In January, the government shut down the internet in some Anglophone regions. The shutdown, which lasted for more than three months, was condemned as a violation of international human rights.

Because of this crisis one could rightly question whether Cameroon is still eligible for the AGOA trade benefits. Cameroon is not alone. Mauritania also faces ejection from the trade agreement for human rights abuses. The issue of modern-day slavery in Mauritania, which was once expelled before being re-admitted, has raised questionsabout its continued AGOA membership.

Eligibility in question

In October US Trade Representative’s Joseph Lighthizer announced new efforts to ensure that all countries receiving US trade benefits met the eligibility criteria.

By creating a more proactive process to assess eligibility the US will ensure that nonperforming countries are excluded from trade preferences. Although Lighthizer was referring to America’s Generalised System of Preferences – which is a different US preferential trade arrangement – it is likely that the review will also be applied to AGOA countries.

When it comes to Cameroon, the international community has called for dialogue before any action is taken. Opposition leaders are demanding the inclusion of all political and civil society stakeholders regardless of their religious beliefs or political opinions, including those who aspire for a return to federalism. Federalism was abolished in 1972 and replaced by a unitary state.

The Cameroonian government has shown its readiness to engage in talks with every stakeholder except the separatists who have been implicated in the November killings of four soldiers in the North-West region, and another four in the South-West region.

Current events have given the Cameroon government an opportunity to address issues of decentralisation which have remained dormant since the promulgation of the 1996 constitution. The constitution was supposed to grant a certain level of autonomy to local governments. Twenty years down the road decentralisation has remained a dead letter. This is why the latest separatist calls have taken root.

The ConversationDialogue is needed not only to end the brutal repression of the secessionist movement, but also to address the latent causes of the crisis. If the dialogue doesn’t take place Cameroon’s AGOA membership may be just another casualty of the ongoing Anglophone crisis.

Regis Simo, Senior Researcher at Mandela Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa needs approach to inequality

- Edward Webster with David Francis and Imraan Valodia

It is widely accepted that SA is one of the most unequal societies in the world.

The top 10% of the population earn about 60% of all income and own 95% of all assets. But there are significant and critical gaps in the understanding of how this inequality is produced, and the systems of power that support its reproduction.

There has been no significant reduction in inequality in post-apartheid South Africa. At the start of the 1990s, South Africa had the highest Gini coefficient of all 57 countries for which there were data at that time, at 0.66. South Africa remains one of the world’s most unequal countries: estimates vary depending on the measurement used, but recent calculations show the Gini coefficient for income remaining at 0.66 in 2015. The Gini coefficient is a measure which reflects levels of inequality, where 0 is absolute equality, and 1 is absolute inequality. Importantly, the Gini coefficient has historically been focused on income and not on assets and wealth.

Excellent research has been done on poverty in South Africa, including an emerging field of technical research that measures the magnitude of inequality. But we believe that the time has come for a new approach. This is based on insights from emerging scholarship that’s highlighting the confluence of how different systems of power shapes inequality. Of particular importance in South Africa is the nexus of race, class and gender in driving inequality.

To grapple with the multi-dimensional nature of inequality in all its forms, an interdisciplinary approach is required. To this end the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg has launched a new centre to drive a five-year, inter-disciplinary project on inequality. The project, the first of its kind in the global South, includes approximately 80 researchers from a number of universities across South Africa as well as other research entities from the global South.

A research agenda on inequality that is rooted in the south is long overdue given that countries share a range of common problems within the global economy. By drawing on the intellectual resources in South Africa and beyond, we hope to bring new knowledge, new insights and new policies to overcome the challenge of inequality. The Centre will be drawing on academic excellence of economists, historians, educationalists, sociologists, legal academics, healthcare researchers and a range of other disciplines to build the most comprehensive picture of inequality in the South.

Gender, race and class - questions of power

Gender inequality in wealth and income continues to be pervasive in South Africa. Significantly, black women continue to carry the burden of low-paid work. In 2015, there were 1.1 million domestic workers in South Africa, 887,000 of them women, who earned less than R3,500 per month.

In community services, 1.2 million workers, of which approximately 800,000 are women, earn less than R3,500 per month. There are significant differences in the burden of care work and unpaid domestic work which falls predominantly on women. This is all in addition to the class and gender inequalities in unpaid work.

Its important to understand that economic inequality is only one manifestation of how patriarchal power shapes economic, social, sexual and political relations. Research has begun to both quantify the impacts of the intersection of power and gender, and to understand the dynamics. But much more work is necessary.

Class is growing as an important lens through which to understand the dynamics of inequality. Evidence from a 2012 study showed that intra-race inequality (inequality between members of the same race group) had exceeded inter-race inequality (between race groups). In 2008, income inequality among black South Africans was higher than in any other race group.

In 1993, inequality within race groups accounted for 48% of overall inequality. By 2008 this had increased to 62%. It is significant that inter-racial inequality had decreased markedly, and it must established if this trend has continued into this decade.

This points to the growing importance of a class-based approach to understanding inequality, in addition to a racial approach. This suggests not a declining significance of race - inter-racial inequality remains unacceptably high - so much as the growing importance of class. This has important implications for the way we understand ownership and control of assets and income, as well as access to economic and social opportunities.

Wealth inequality

Researchers investigating poverty and inequality in South Africa have had access to excellent poverty and income inequality. But very little has been written about the extent and dynamics of wealth inequality.

The wealth factor has attracted increasing attention since the seminal contribution by Thomas Piketty. While income inequality examines the share of income that goes to different sections of the population, wealth inequality looks at the distribution of assets.

A recent insightful paper by economist Anna Orthofer is the first significant investigation into wealth inequality in South Africa. The author used previously unpublished personal income tax data from the South African Revenue Service for the 2010-11 tax year.

Her results are striking. They underscore the importance of the distribution of wealth in any study of inequality. She found that while the top 10% of the population earn 56%-58% of all income, they own approximately 95% of all wealth. And 80% of the population own no wealth at all.

These findings show that the country has made little progress in addressing wealth inequality. In 1970 the richest 20% of the population was estimated to own 75% of all wealth. A focus only on income inequality misses the highly skewed accumulation of assets which arises out of the country’s apartheid past.

More effort needed

There’s much more research that needs to be done to understand the dynamics of wealth inequality in South Africa and the relationship between wealth, political and social power. Our argument is that while technical solutions to addressing inequality are very important, they will not be politically feasible unless the social and political forces driving high levels of inequality in South Africa are clearly understood.

We argue that it is vital to identify the social forces both inside and outside the state that could build a broad coalition against inequality. This requires an understanding of power that goes beyond the power to control markets. We need to understand how power manifests in structural and institutional exclusion and discrimination.

The ConversationWe believe the Southern Centre for Inequality Studies will be enormously beneficial in understanding inequality. It is not just a South African study. The idea of a Southern Centre means that we are placing our own country in the realm of Southern countries who face very similar challenges on inequality. It also allows us to broaden our research pool to a wider group of academics who are currently grappling with different aspects of this very important issue.

Edward Webster, Professor Emeritus, Society, Work and Development Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cape Town’s water crisis is driven by politics more than drought

- David W. Olivier

Cape Town, South Africa’s second most populous city, is hurtling towards “Day Zero”: the day taps run dry.

This is expected in mid-May, just weeks after the city’s new water supplies are due.

Cape Town is quite used to surviving dry years. Water restrictions get it through and then dams refill, thanks to the wet years that usually follow.

But this time it’s different. Never in recorded history has Cape Town encountered a drought of such severity for three consecutive years.

One of the biggest debates is whether local government is handling the crisis effectively. Investigating this question exposes politics, not rainfall, at the heart of the problem.

The Western Cape is the only province in the country run by the official opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. South Africa’s ruling African National Congress runs the rest. This means that the relationship between national government and the Western Cape is complicated, as the water crisis shows.

Two tiers of governance – the Western Cape province and the City of Cape Town – went above and beyond what was required to prepare for drought. The system failed, however, at the level of national government.

Wasteful expenditure in the national Department of Water and Sanitation, erroneous water allocations to agriculture and a failure to acknowledge or respond to provincial and municipal calls for help obstructed timely interventions.

National government’s numerous spanners jammed up the works of a system that could have managed the crisis quite effectively.

The Western Cape’s water situation

Six major dams make up 99.6% of the volume of water in the Western Cape Water Supply System.

Cape Town’s strategy for handling droughts is based on a warning system that kicks in when dam levels are lower than normal for a particular time of year. About once every ten years, there is extremely low rainfall around the major Theewaterskloof Dam. The last dam level scare was in 2004-2005.

In 2007, the national Department of Water and Sanitation issued a warning about Cape Town’s water supply, saying the city would need new water sources by 2015.

The deadline was based on normal rainfall and water demand trends. Unusually dry winters and higher water consumption could shorten this deadline considerably.

The city took the warning seriously and acted quickly. It implemented a water demand management strategy involving water meter replacements, pressure management, leak detection and free plumbing repairs for indigent households.

The strategy was so effective that the city met its 2015-2016 water saving target three years early. This pushed the deadline back to 2019, based on normal rainfall and normal water use.

Following a wet 2013-2014, the South African Weather Service estimated that Cape Town’s 2014-2016 rainfall would be only slightly lower than normal, conforming to weather patterns recorded since 1976.

Based on the information available to the city, it was on target for implementing the first water augmentation project by 2019: increasing water supply to the Voëlvlei dam. Then disaster struck: a drought more severe than anything in Cape Town’s history.

Bad decisions

Provinces don’t have the power to make water allocations to agriculture. This is done by the national government.

In 2015, the city of Cape Town was allocated 60% of the water from the Western Cape’s water supply system. Almost all of the rest went to agriculture, particularly long-term crops like fruit and wine as well as livestock.

The drought began to take its toll on provincial dam levels. Yet the national Department of Water and Sanitation took no action to curtail agricultural water use in 2015/2016.

There is evidence that the department’s failure went even further: that it allocated too much water to agriculture in the Western Cape. This pushed demand for water beyond the capacity of the supply system and consumed Cape Town’s safety buffer of 28 thousand megaliters.

Cape Town shows some of the best water saving levels in the world. But its supply dams are being hit by national government’s bungled water allocations to agriculture.

Calls for help

In response to low winter rainfalls in 2015, provincial government took pre-emptive action and applied to national government for R35 million to increase water supplies by drilling boreholes and recycling water.

But national government rejected the request, possibly because dams were still 75% full.

The following year, national government agreed to recognise only five of the 30 Western Cape municipalities as drought disaster areas. (Significantly Cape Town was not included.) But by October 2017, national government had still not released the promised funds.

The Cape Town Mayor appealed directly to the Department of Water and Sanitation for disaster relief funding. But this was rejected on the grounds that Cape Town was “not yet at crisis level”.

The cause of the crisis

The civil society group, South African Water Caucus, reveals that national government’s reluctance to release drought relief funding stemmed from spiralling debt, mismanagement and corruption in the national Department of Water and Sanitation.

This claim is supported by the Auditor General, which attributes “irregular and fruitless and wasteful expenditure” to the department exceeding its 2016-2017 budget by R110.8 million.

The department has no funding allocated to drought relief in the Western Cape next year. Again, provincial government will have to foot the bill.

Had systems in national government been running smoothly, Cape Town’s water crisis could have been mitigated. Appropriate water allocations would have made more water available to Cape Town. And with timely responses to disaster declarations, water augmentation infrastructure could have been up and running already.

The ConversationCape Town teaches us that water crises are rarely a matter of rainfall. Understanding disasters like droughts involves seeing the issue from many different perspectives, including politics.

David W. Olivier, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Global Change Institute, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa needs electoral reform, but president’s powers need watching

- Roger Southall

The debate about electoral reform in post-1994 SA has largely focused on the system used to elect MPs and their counterparts in the country’s nine provinces.

Within a short time, the 4000 odd delegates to South Africa’s governing African National Congress’s 54th National Conference will elect a new party leader. In turn – save death, disaster or unlikely electoral defeat – a parliament stuffed with an ANC majority will at some point elect that leader as the new President of South Africa. The expectation is that this will be Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma or Cyril Ramaphosa. But, if the ANC elects a pig, the ANC parliamentary majority will vote for the pig.

Although it is by no means unusual for parliaments to elect countries’ political leaders, there is widespread complaint in South Africa that it is the small ANC elite which attends the conference that effectively selects the next president of the country. This, it is said by many, is undemocratic.

Two main reasons are cited. First, ANC electoral procedures are deeply corrupted by money changing hands, personal ambition and factionalism. Second, it should be the people, not the party, which should be charged with electing the country’s leader.

It is therefore of considerable interest that, rather than emanating from civil society or another political party, the proposal has been made by the ANC’s Gauteng provincial conference that consideration should be given to ordinary voters voting directly for presidents, premiers and mayors. This is of particular interest given that Gauteng is one of the ANC’s most powerful provinces, and at the same time, one which is often at odds with the party’s current leadership.

The proposal that the state president, provincial premiers and mayors be directly elected is a most welcome one, as there is much need to consider the quality of South Africa’s democracy, and to encourage public participation in decision-making. However, direct election of such offices simultaneously holds its risks.

The electoral reform debate

The debate about electoral reform in post-1994 South Africa has largely focused on the system used to elect MPs and their counterparts in the country’s nine provinces. The standard argument for a change was captured succinctly by ANC dissident and Umkhonto we Sizwe veteran Omry Makgoale:

When will we wake up and reform our crooked electoral system?

The argument is that the list proportional representation system results in the election of MPs who are accountable to party bosses rather than voters. Such an outcome is rendered more certain by the fact that South Africa’s constitution lays down that MPs or provincial legislature representatives who leave or are ejected from their parties lose their seat in the relevant legislature, plus the handy salary that goes with it. To continue with the animalistic referencing, parties’ elected representatives become sheep, devoid of any capacity for independence.

Such critiques often suggest (very sensibly) that the electoral system should become a mixed one which combines proportionality of outcomes with the direct election of representatives from constituencies. This was recommended in 2002 by the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission on electoral reform. But there has been relatively little debate about whether the President and premiers should be directly elected.

The survey conducted on behalf of the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission indicated that 63% of respondents would have liked to vote for the president directly. This level of preference was pretty much the same across all racial groups. Given the disastrous nature of the Zuma presidency, it is very possible that the preference for direct election would be considerably higher if the issue was put to survey respondents today.

Virtue of direction election

The virtue of the direct election of key political leaders is said to be that it renders them directly accountable to voters rather than to their political parties. On the face of it, it is an attractive argument, and it is one which could usefully introduce more diversity into the South African political system.

If they wanted to maximise their vote, parties would have to look at the qualities of their candidates, and ask themselves whether they would appeal to the electorate as a whole. (On this reckoning, it is a dead cert that Cyril Ramaphosa would streak home and dry, rather than, as under the ANC’s present system, running neck and neck with his chief rival, whose popular appeal is that of a wet fish). This would mean that candidates would end up openly campaigning for the leadership, dispensing with the ANC’s absurd pretence that individuals should not demonstrate political ambition.

There is also the possibility that voters would elect a president from a party other than the one which enjoys a majority in the National Assembly.

Would direct election of the president, premiers and mayors be a good idea? And, if so, what system should be adopted?

The second question is easily answered. To avoid the election of a president who gains less than 50% of a popular vote but more than any other candidate, provision would wisely be made for a second round of a presidential election in which the top two candidates engage in a run off.

A good idea?

So would direction elections be a good idea?

Parliamentary systems work well because they devolve the election of prime ministers to the legislature. On the continent, countries that inherited a parliamentary system from Britain subsequently opted for elective presidencies.

The results are not unambiguously encouraging.

In Kenya and Zambia, for instance, the direct election of presidents may have weakened the link between legislatures and executives. This has allowed executives to trample over legislatures, and for leaders to claim a legitimacy separate from that of their party. Presidents from Daniel Arap Moi through to Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya and from Frederick Chiluba through to Edgar Lungu in Zambia have all proved exceedingly authoritarian.

It follows that changing the South African system to allow for direct election would require the country to look carefully at how a directly elected president should be rendered accountable to parliament. Would the change enhance the accountability of the government by empowering MPs, or would it render them increasingly irrelevant?

Dangers of an all-powerful president

It is also worth recalling that there is now much greater awareness about how much power is concentrated in the Presidency, in a way, it would seem, that the makers of the country’s constitution did not intend. Under Zuma, the presidency has a direct say in far too much, such as the right to appoint the head of a National Prosecuting Authority which might have the responsibility of calling him to legal account.

South Africans need to be wary of any change in the system which ends up making the President less – rather than more – accountable.

In any case, while there can be very good reasons for reforming an electoral system, this will not automatically result in better governance. Form can rarely trump substance. Robert Mugabe only “won” the Zimbabwean presidency in 2008 through his army and police terrorising the opposition and effectively forcing his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw.

The ConversationIt will take more than a piecemeal change to South Africa’s constitution to improve it’s democracy. South Africans should be careful what they wish for, as they can never be quite sure what they will get.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Steinhoff scandal points to major gaps in stopping unethical corporate behaviour

- Jannie Rossouw

A corporate scandal unfolding around one of the largest businesses coming out of South Africa, Steinhoff, has become a major cause for concern.

It threatens to wipe out hundreds of billions of rand invested on behalf of many people – rich as well as ordinary South Africans. Sibonelo Radebe asked Jannie Rossouw to interrogate the saga.

What do you read from these allegations of corporate corruption?

The Steinhoff scandal is disturbing because it points to a serious gap in the checks and balances in the investment management space. A scandal of this magnitude should not have occurred if the systems with their multiple layers were working.

It’s still early days but it seems as if a multiple of highly paid professional layers failed investors. This includes auditors, asset managers and non executive directors who in their different roles should ensure that the company’s accounts are as close to the truth as possible.

Steinhoff share price collapsed by more than 90%, wiping off nearly €10 billion in shareholder value in about three days following the resignation of the company’s CEO, Markus Jooste, after news that German prosecutors were investigating the company for alleged massive accounting fraud. Steinhoff is listed on both the Johannesburg Stock Exchange and Frankfurt Stock Exchange.

Steinhoff shares were the darling of most fund and asset managers in South Africa and across the globe. We must ask questions why these entities, which draw enormous fees, failed to pick up the alleged irregularities when it seems like they should have done so if they were doing their jobs properly.

How big is the damage caused by this scandal?

It’s still early days but some people are already tagging this scandal as the biggest corporate failure in the history of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. With more than 40 retailing brands in over 30 countries, Steinhoff was positioned as one of the largest companies by market capitalisation on the exchange. Its market value of close to R300 billion as recorded earlier this year placed it in the top 10, flanked by other South African corporate giants like media giant Naspers, luxury products specialist Richemont, resources giant Anglo American, petrochemicals firm Sasol as well as two big banks Standard Bank and Firstrand.

If Steinhoff’s stock doesn’t recover the capital losses of share investors who bought at inflated prices will be massive.

Steinhoff started off as a South African based company but built itself into a global retail business with significant interests in western Europe. As a result it attracted prominent investors. In South Africa, these include the Public Investment Corporation which invests on behalf of the Government Employees Pension Fund among other public entities. The Public Investment Corporation is reported to hold 10% of Steinhoff’s total shares which means its losses reached more than R10 billion after the share price collapsed.

It is therefore of the utmost importance and in the interest of all involved – particularly direct and indirect investors – that the Steinhoff matter be brought to a swift closure. Swift closure should be followed by legal action against and punishment of all those implicated.

How wide spread is such behaviour?

Each time a major scandal surfaces, regulatory gaps are identified and new measures are put in place to plug the apparent holes. But the scandals keep coming.

South Africa has had its fair share of corporate scandals with the most recent being a list of companies linked to the Gupta family inspired state capture. Big names like Naspers, KPMG, McKinsey and SAP have been caught in the extensive web of corruption allegedly driven by the Guptas who have close ties to the country’s president.

Some commentators have linked the Steinhoff saga to the broader ethical challenges facing South Africa. The integrity of some people in key positions of authority in both the public and private sectors is being questioned. This includes the country’s President Jacob Zuma who stands accused of violating the oath of office.

What must be done?

Despite the best efforts, it’s impossible to regulate for integrity and ethical behaviour. The one effective way that behaviour can be changed is through legal process and by means of tough punishment.

At this point in time we are still unsure of the degree of corporate rot in Steinhoff. Numerous allegations have been made, but the world now waits for the company’s delayed audit report to see the full extent of possible corporate fraud. Steinhoff must act swiftly in informing shareholders and other stakeholders about the true financial health of the company.

The Board of directors of Steinhoff is responsible for the financial health and the financial reporting of the company. The problems at the company resulting in the serious decline in the share price, raise the question whether the Board members should continue to hold office. Under the watch of the current Board a massive destruction in shareholder value took place.

No Board replacing the current one can do worse, as there is simply hardly any shareholder value left to destroy. Will the current Board do the honourable thing and step aside?

If fraud is proven, I want to see Steinhoff executives serve jail terms. They have caused immeasurable harm to many people. This is the only way in which unethical and fraudulent behaviour can be out-rooted and integrity restored.

From a proper investigation of the affairs of Steinhoff, possible regulatory gaps should also be identified and eradicated. Nevertheless, no structure of regulation and supervision can replace the single most important requirement for successful business conduct: Ethical behaviour. In South Africa we need ethical behaviour at all levels, namely the government, businesses and civil society.

The ConversationThe board of directors of Steinhoff is responsible for the financial health and the financial reporting of the company. The problems at the company resulting in the serious decline in the share price, raise the question whether the board members should continue to hold office. Under the watch of the current Board a massive destruction in shareholder value took place. No board replacing the current one can do worse, as there is simply hardly any shareholder value left to destroy. Will the current board do the honourable thing and step aside?

Jannie Rossouw, Head of School of Economic & Business Sciences, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The ANC has a new leader: but South Africa remains on a political precipice

- Roger Southall

Assumptions that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new leader of the African National Congress, will place South Africa on an even keel are misplaced.

Rumours that President Jacob Zuma has instructed the South African National Defence Force to draw up plans for implementing a state of emergency may or may not be true. Nonetheless they are evidence of South Africa’s febrile political atmosphere.

But any assumption that the election of Cyril Ramaphosa as the new leader of the African National Congress (ANC), after winning the race against Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, will place South Africa on an even keel are misplaced. Indeed, the drama may only be beginning.

It’s useful to look back to 2007 when President Thabo Mbeki unwisely ran for a third term as ANC leader. His unpopularity among large segments of the party provided the platform for his defeat by Zuma at Polokwane. Within a few months the National Executive Committee of the ANC latched onto an excuse to ask Mbeki to stand down as president of the country before the end of his term of office. Being committed to the traditions of party loyalty he complied, resigning as president some eight months before the Constitution required him to do so.

The question this raises is whether South Africa should now expect a repeat performance following the election of a new leader of the ANC. Will this lead to a party instruction to Zuma to stand down as president of the country? And if it does, will he do what Mbeki did and meekly resign?

There’s a big difference between the two scenarios: Mbeki had no reason to fear the consequences of leaving office. Zuma, on the other hand, has numerous reasons to cling to power. This is what makes him, and the immediate future, dangerous for South Africa, and suggests the country faces instability.

Why Zuma won’t go

It is not out of the question that Zuma may say to himself, and to South Africa, that he is not going anywhere. He is losing court case after court case, and judicial decisions are increasingly narrowing his legal capacity to block official and independent investigations into the extent of state capture by business interests close to him.

With every passing day, the prospects of his finding himself in the dock, facing 783 charges, including of corruption and racketeering, also increase.

Zuma will have every constitutional right to defy an ANC instruction to stand down as state president until his term expires following the next general election in 2019, and the new parliament’s election of a new president. In terms of the South African Constitution, his term of office will be brought to an early end only if parliament passes a vote of no confidence in his presidency, or votes that, for one reason or another, he is unfit for office.

But today’s ANC is so divided that it cannot be assumed that a majority of ANC MPs would back a motion of no confidence, even following the election of Ramaphosa as the party’s new leader.

In other words, there is a very real prospect that South Africa will see itself ruled for at least another 18 months or so by what is termed “two centres of power”, with the authority and the legitimacy of the party (formally backing Ramaphosa) vying against that of the state (headed by Zuma).

Throwing caution to the wind

As if that is not a sufficient condition for political instability, we may expect that Zuma will continue to use his executive power to erect defences against his future prosecution. He will reckon to leave office only with guarantees of immunity. Until he gets them, Zuma will defy all blandishments to go. And if he does not get what he wants, he may throw caution to the wind and go for broke.

Hence, perhaps, the possibility that he is prepared to invoke a state of emergency.

The grounds for Zuma imposing a state of emergency would be specious, summoned up to defend his interests and those backing him. They would be likely to infer foreign interference in affairs of state, alongside suggestions that white monopoly capital, whites as a whole as well as nefarious others were conspiring to prevent much needed radical economic transformation. Present constitutional arrangements would be declared counter-revolutionary and those defending them doing so only to protect their material interests.

After a matter of time, such justifications would probably be declared unconstitutional by the judiciary. It is then that there would be a confrontation between raw power and the Constitution. If such a situation should arise, we cannot be sure which would be the winner.

South Africa’s army

It is remarkable how little the searchlight that has focused on state capture has rested on the Defence Force. Much attention has been given to how the executive has effectively co-opted the intelligence and prosecutorial service, as well has how the top ranks of the police have been selected for political rather than operational reasons.

It seems to have been assumed that South Africa’s military is simply sitting in the background, observing political events from afar. But is it? Where would its loyalties lie in the event of a major constitutional crisis?

The danger of the present situation is that South Africa might be about to find out.

Were the military to throw its weight behind Zuma the country would be in no-man’s land. Of course, there would be a massive popular reaction, with the further danger that the president himself would summon his popular cohorts to “defend the revolution”.

And South Africans should not assume that Zuma would be politically isolated. Those who backed Dlamini-Zuma did so to defend their present positions and capacity to use office for personal gain. If they were to rise up, the army would then be elevated to the status of defender of civil order.

What is certain is that in such a wholly uncertain situation the economy would spiral downwards quickly. Capital would take flight at a faster rate than ever before, employment would collapse even further, poverty would become even further entrenched.

Reasons to be hopeful

Is all this too extreme a scenario? Hopefully yes. There are numerous good reasons why such a fate will be averted.

Zuma’s control over the ANC is waning, as is his control over various state institutions, notably the National Prosecuting Authority. And the country has a checks and balances in place: there is a vigorous civil society, the judiciary has proved the Constitution’s main defence and trade unions and business remain influential.

The ConversationEven so, it remains the case that what transpires now that the ANC’s national conference is over will determine the fate and future of our democracy. South Africa is approaching rough waters, and a Jacob Zuma facing an inglorious and humiliating end to his presidency will be a Jacob Zuma at his most dangerous.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

ANC conference: Testing time for journalists

- Glenda Daniels

In the age of disinformation and the rise in populism and nationalism, journalists should stick with the Press Code and follow the Constitution.

“Anyone would be better than Thabo Mbeki.” Remember that time – which feels like a lifetime ago because the past decade has been so traumatic – when just about everybody cried in desperation that anyone heading the country would be better than Thabo Mbeki.

Journalists in all good faith threw their hearts, minds and pens into this chorus and backed “a man of the people”, “a humble man”, an “unpretentious and simple man”.

Some powerful types proclaimed there would be “blood on the floor” if Jacob Zuma did not become the next president.

As quickly as populist alliances form so do they unravel, according to Ernesto Laclau’s political philosophy theory. True to theory, Zuma does not have his alliance friends who brought him to power, anymore: Zwelinzima Vavi, then in Cosatu, Blade Nzimande from the SACP, nor Julius Malema then heading the party’s Youth League. His fair weather friend Gwede Mantashe flip flops to the extent that there is now a verb in the local lexicon, “mantashing”.

Then look what happened. I won’t mention what everyone knows, but for public enterprises minister Lynne Brown’s benefit: The political and corporate corruption with the Guptas, at the nexus with international companies McKinsey and KPMG, among others, is explosive. This has been exposed in the Gupta leaks: the capture of the state and law enforcement agencies, starting with the disbandment of the Scorpions.

The country, minister Brown, is struggling with a shocking unemployment rate, a hideous current account deficit, and junk status ratings. Meanwhile politicians, all over the world, are known to attempt to mislead with disinformation and even bribe journalists to get the nod in the media.

If journalists accept money from politicians they are equally complicit in corruption.

Code of Ethics

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) held its last council meeting for the year on Friday (24 November). Among other issues, ethics and reporting in the run up to and at the ANC elective conference was discussed and a statement was released appealing to journalists to heed the Press Code’s clause on Independence and Conflicts of Interests. This states:

2.1. The media shall not allow commercial, political, personal or other non- professional considerations to influence or slant reporting. Conflicts of interest must be avoided, as well as arrangements or practices that could lead audiences to doubt the media’s independence and professionalism.

2.2. The media shall not accept a bribe, gift or any other benefit where this is intended or likely to influence coverage.

The code of ethics is clear and simple. And let’s be frank: It’s not journalists’ business to be backing anyone for president of the ANC, or the country, nor any candidate’s slate. But it is their jobs to speak truth to power, hold the powerful to account which they do by exposing corruption, including politicians who are or have been involved with unsavoury dealings.

Take, for instance, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma and the tobacco dealers.

It is for journalists to help the public connect the dots to remind us that she was responsible for the anti-smoking legislation, hence the irony. Then there was the Sarafina debacle which no one is mentioning these days. It is also for journalists to remind the public that Cyril Ramaphosa has the Marikana blot on his landscape, including interesting facts about his buffalo bill.

The judiciary, opposition parties, civil society organisations and journalism are all playing their roles in this democracy, but with the ANC elective conference drawing near, journalists needed to be reminded about how easy it is to be led up many different garden paths.

Journalism as we know it is dying

We are living in an age where we are confounded by disinformation, propaganda enabled by digitisation, throwing the future of journalism into doubt. This phenomena exists parallel to the rise in populism and nationalism.

In this age, we just had confirmed for us at the Global Investigative Journalism Network conference hosted by Wits Journalism this month, that only investigative journalism will survive but the rest, for example, “content” may in the future be produced by robots who gather beforehand algorithms and analytics from your data. This is enabled by growing monopolisation of Facebook and Google, who have captured 50% of digital revenue globally.

The future for journalism as we know it is bleak; it’s dying. While investigative journalism will grow there isn’t a business model for it and probably never will be. It will probably continue to be funded by crowded sourcing and philanthropic sources such as George Soros, Open Society and Bertha foundations, among others.

There will be more collaborations especially cross border and international ones. This is the future for journalism – while print continues to die. The latest victim being The Times which will be online only after December this year.

This is the context of journalism as we think of the ANC elective conference on 16 December, and reflect on journalists backing presidents and slates. So is Ramaphosa the least rotten from a bunch of rotten apples? Maybe, maybe not. I heard one media company is backing the “unity candidate” Zweli Mkize. Maybe this is misinformation, so I won’t mention the name of the company.

Leave backing horses to comment and analysis. However, because business models are collapsing, unfortunately opinion, comment, analysis and reporting are getting mixed up. It’s hard in the current journalistic environment to get everything right.

You can’t give equal time to everyone, and you can’t be completely free of bias and subjectivities, but you can connect the dots, provide context, history, use your eyes and ears.

However, you can’t over connect dots as though the readers and audiences are idiots. It’s a delicate and difficult balance.

Start with the premise that all politicians want something from journalists, stick with the Press Code about conflicts of interests. If you still in doubt, look at the Constitution, the rest will follow.

Glenda Daniels is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Wits University. This article was originally published in The Media Online. Read the orginal article.