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Saint or sinner?

- David Everatt

South Africans are trying to decode Ramaphosa, and getting it wrong.

During the Cold War, a new profession emerged – “Kremlinologists”, a hodge-podge of academics, journalists, other scoundrels, and commentators, who would study every minute detail of the behaviour of Soviet Union leaders when they were in public.

They examined who stood next to whom, whose chair was closer or further away from the leader, who looked at whom and who was ignored. And then came to profound conclusions about the intentions of the old Kremlin.

The Germans invented a rather better word for it - “Kreml-Astrologie” (Kremlin Astrology), reminding us that quackery of this sort is generally just plain wrong.

Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, the new president of South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), is generating a similar type of interest and a new industry of Cyril-ologists. The commentariat has been in overdrive since the ANC’s elective conference in December, trying to tell South Africans (and Ramaphosa) exactly what he’s thinking, what he’s missed, what his strategy is or will be, and what he should do. They tell the country how he will play the short or long game against President Jacob Zuma’s faction in the ANC, or what he will do against others in the “top 6” leadership of the governing party. And on and on it goes, based on very little.

Many are pushing their own agenda, rather unsubtly; but in large part this is occurring because Ramaphosa plays his cards close to his chest, and allows South Africans to inscribe onto his image the leader they wish him to be.

He is, of course, a highly adept politician. He can’t really lose if every possible future action has been rehearsed by one soothsayer or another.

Saint or sinner?

The challenges are twofold: one is trying to work out what Ramaphosa is thinking and planning, which is reasonable enough; the second, however, are the commentators demanding that he follow this or that course of action. He “must” fire Zuma or he “must” build unity or he “must” leave the Reserve Bank alone …. on and on the list of demands goes.

It’s well known that he’s a successful businessman. Apparently, he is “uber wealthy”, so wealthy in fact, as Gwede Mantashe, chairman of the ANC said, that he doesn’t need to steal from the state.

But how rich is he in reality? No one has a clue.

But mention land expropriation and he turns from saviour to sinner in a flash. The admiring Cyril-ologists who want “stability” are reduced to shock and horror when he talks of using the land productively, or economic transformation, or uses the word “radical” at all, as if the inequality bred from the status quo is not about to sink the entire boat.

For others, Ramaphosa is an evil capitalist from whose hands the blood of Marikana – the scene of the death of 34 miners at the hands of the police – will never be cleansed. The evangelical left will never forget or forgive him for this – and they may be correct. But at some point the findings of the Farlam Commission that there was no causal link between Ramaphosa’s e-mails and the appalling events that unfolded will have to be accepted.

For others, simply not being Zuma, or in the “state capture” crony list, is sufficient. This is a man who didn’t even make the index at the back of Jacques Pauw’s explosive book, The President’s Keepers, in which so many of the ANC glitterati played a starring role. Ramaphosa doesn’t need to be a saint, just not a sinner of Zuma’s magnitude or ineptitude.

And for yet another camp, this is a second (and possibly final) chance for the ANC, if not the entire progressive movement to (try again to) get it right. He is seen as the best (if not the only) chance the ANC has to return to a transparent, democratic project with progressive impulses that puts the needs of the poor ahead of the elite.

The will to believe this is surprisingly strong given that loyal ANC members have seen the party’s fairly radical programme of 1994 replaced first with strict fiscal controls under Thabo Mbeki and then with all-out looting under Zuma. Ramaphosa - central to the democratic project in the 1990s (and not an exile) – is the beneficiary of this almost mystical hope.

He is also frequently referred to as an enigma – describing himself as such to biographer Anthony Butler at their first meeting. The problem with enigmatic leaders is that they tend to be … well, enigmatic, and unavailable for “Astrologie” of any type.

Master tactician and negotiator

Perhaps it is easiest to use two categories that actually matter – his business interests are of limited interest as he heads to the Union Buildings, so too his enigmatic charm, or knowing the exact composition of his backroom team, or what he had for breakfast.

What matters is that he is a politician and a negotiator. Nimble and tactically shrewd seem perhaps more useful labels than saint or sinner. He plays the long game. Most commentators forget that, and demand immediate action - including the firing of some ministers and incompetent heads of state owned enterprises. They also want immediate judicial proceedings against the entire basket of deplorables in government, and other dramatic interventions.

Ramaphosa has been negotiating for the last 40 years, starting during his days in the National Union of Mineworkers followed by talks under the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (Codesa) that ended apartheid, and topped by his role holding together the entire Constitutional Assembly that wrote the country’s new constitution.

It’s remarkable – and a little ridiculous – that a man who crafted his victory against a formidable and highly resourced machinery, in a context of violence and fear (and considerable loathing), is expected suddenly to make rash moves to satisfy whoever is making their demand. So much for ‘Astrologie’.

One thing South Africans can probably be sure of: we won’t know what Ramaphosa plans to do until it is done.

We can watch who stands near him, who he smiles at and who not, who he backslaps and with whom he shakes hand, or read the entrails of a slaughtered beast – and be none the wiser. There will be few dramatic announcements, sudden ruptures, or grand gestures.

The ConversationThis is not a man to challenge at chess. He is also not a man who likes to lose. He may well be the only man able to get South Africa out of the looming economic checkmate bequeathed it by his predecessor.

David Everatt, Head of Wits School of Governance, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

In dealing with Trump, normal protocols are beside the point

- John J Stremlau

Reactions from Africa were appropriately critical of President Donald Trump’s comments about not wanting immigrants from “shithole” countries coming to the US.

This included all those south of the Sahara. A few reactions even included constructive suggestions.

The African Group of United Nation ambassadors unanimously dismissed the comments as “outrageous, racist and xenophobic”. They demanded Trump retract them and apologise. Botswana, Senegal and South Africa summoned US local representatives to be served with a demarche. In normal diplomatic practice this is a stern request for an explanation and is tantamount to a formal protest.

But in dealing with Trump, normal protocols are beside the point.

More than a year after he took office Trump has yet to announce an Africa policy, or even fill important diplomatic positions. He has yet to nominate an Assistant Secretary of State for Africa or an ambassador to South Africa. This means that African leaders lack any policy context in which to frame and guide traditional diplomatic reactions.

The Trump administration’s incompetence makes it difficult for African countries to engage Washington in seeking meaningful explanations, much less substantive negotiations. Even at lower working levels sustaining routine relations are complicated by a lack of policy guidance, budgetary uncertainty, and inter-agency management. This affects complex development, environmental, trade or security issues.

Africa’s limited resources, institutional capacities and vulnerabilities add to the risks associated with the current state of affairs.

Challenging racism with reason

Ebba Kalondo, chief spokesperson for the African Union said Trump’s comment “flies in the face of accepted behaviour and practice”. But she then sounded a possibly hopeful note. She added that the US

remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity. We believe that a statement like this hurts our shared global values on diversity, human rights and reciprocal understanding.

Kalondo’s appeal to what Abraham Lincoln famously called “the better angels of our nature” also recalls how Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, sought to transform troubling moments into what he suggested could be “teachable moments”.

In this spirit prominent African Americans, such as popular TV news pundit Joy Reid, have responded to Trump with positive reminders. Reid informed her viewers that her mother is a professor who immigrated from Guyana and her father a successful Congolese-American geologist. Other successful Africans are also speaking out. This affirms that Kalondo’s reference to enduring shared global values may not ring as hollow as Trump’s bigoted comments might cause us to fear.

This does not deny the immediate danger posed by Trump. As a New York Times editorial reminded readers the day after the reported comment and his attempt to retract it:

Mr Trump is not just a racist, ignorant, incompetent and undignified. He is also a liar … And still supporting Trump are a substantial number of the 63 million voters who elected him. It is these people, albeit not a national minority, who he continues to court, with his denigration of immigrants and especially those of African origin.

Trump’s comments can be viewed as a reflection of his personal animus and a conviction that they will play well with his political base.

Further complicating any effort to hold Trump and his supporters to account is that he’s repeatedly said he “is the least racist person he knows”. Polling suggests that most of his political supporters also believe they’re not racists.

Such denials have a long history in US politics. They are at the heart of America’s ongoing struggle for racial justice as recounted in “The Nationalist’s Delusion” by Adam Serwer.

Trump and his white nationalist supporters will also never concede that the history of slavery and colonial exploitation perpetrated by their own American and European ancestors contributed to Africa’s problems of economic underdevelopment and political balkanisation.

Time to break with protocol

African governments and non-governmental groups are right to voice outrage in reaction to Trump’s outbursts, and to criticise his behaviour.

But they need to do more. They can encourage and cooperate directly with those in Congress, African-Americans and the growing network of civil society groups opposed to Trump. This may bend, or even violate, traditional diplomatic practice. But Trump’s own disregard for international principles and norms justifies using alternative methods and interventions.

Having America as a more politically capable, willing and acceptable partner is surely in Africa’s long-term interests. This aspiration can be rooted in the same values as the pan-African democratic vision enshrined in the AU’s Constitutive Act. The vision was championed more than a decade ago under the banner of an African Renaissance. It is based on shared commitments to democratic cooperation, greater collective self-reliance and eventual democratic integration. But it is floundering and could founder.

The ConversationIf Americans succeed in resisting Trump and reconsolidating their democracy, then this could lend critical support for African democrats who still believe in the shared vision that the AU’s Kolondo refers to.

John J Stremlau, 2017 Bradlow Fellow at SA Institute of International Affairs, Visiting Professor of International Relations, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Ramaphosa should end the presidential merry-go-round in South Africa

- Roger Southall

The large majority of South Africans, including members of the governing ANC, will be glad to see the back of Jacob Zuma as president.

Many, if not most, will hope that Cyril Ramaphosa, the party’s newly-elected president, will assume the state presidency immediately rather than entertaining the nonsense of the party electing an “interim president”.

Zuma’s supporters are strongly supportive of the idea of an interim president. It has its roots in the previous succession drama that unfolded after the ANC forced Thabo Mbeki to resign as the country’s president in September 2008. Kgalema Motlanthe, the ANC’s then deputy president, stepped up to the plate to serve in his place until the party president – Zuma – assumed office following the general election in May 2009. It has never been revealed why Zuma did not become state president directly, although it’s clear that they intended Motlanthe was to become a cypher, subject to Zuma’s control.

This precedent is now being bandied about as established practice that has to be followed. But there’s no getting round the fact that it’s being pursued by Zuma and his supporters for dubious reasons. In short, they want to put the brakes on the transition to a Ramaphosa presidency so that they can protect and further their personal interests.

Zuma, in particular, wants to place continuing political obstacles in the way of his being subject to prosecution through the courts on 783 criminal charges. The charges go back to before he assumed office. And there are lingering hopes among his closest acolytes that they can push through a deal with the Russians on nuclear power before their rule ends.

Fortunately, reports indicate that Ramaphosa has rejected the idea of standing aside in favour of an interim president (and certainly, of Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, who has been proposed by the Zuma faction). Indeed, this opens the door to a reconsideration of how the ANC should handle the relationship between the two presidencies.

Presently, the ANC elects its own president at a National Congress which is held some year and a half before the country’s general election. Having won that election, the ANC MPs in parliament, who have up until now constituted a majority, fulfil their constitutional responsibility of electing one of their member as state President.

It is this sequential gap between the two elections which leads to unnecessary political speculation and uncertainty, and now stands in the way of the country putting itself back together again after the disaster of the Zuma presidency.

Why Zuma should fall

The idea of an interim appointment is irresponsible. No good reasons have been put forward for postponing Ramaphosa taking over the presidency of the country.

Those against such a proposition might argue that Zuma has every right to remain in office until his term expires. Constitutionally, he does. But politically he is ever more a lame duck, rapidly leaking support in the wake of Ramaphosa’s election to the party leadership. This is why there is an increasingly determined effort to oust him.

Zuma’s detractors inside and outside the party argue, correctly, that the more he hangs around the more damage he will be doing to the ANC and its prospects in any forthcoming election.

In contrast, those still clinging to Zuma may argue that if Ramaphosa takes office immediately, with the possibility that he could serve as state president until the expiry of a second term in office in 2029 (ten years after an election in 2019), he would be doing nothing other than serving his self-interest.

Ramaphosa should ignore such arrant nonsense. There is everything to be gained from his assuming the presidential reins immediately. An extended presidential transition would lead to continuing political uncertainty, of tales of a Zuma push back, and of a divided government.

It would have far-reaching implications for the economy, all of them negative. Hopes that Ramaphosa is a magician and that, with a wave of his wand, he will turn the economy around and restore it to growth are wildly inflated. But the longer there is delay in his becoming president, the faster faith in his magic will recede.

So if Ramaphosa wants to convince onlookers of his abilities to bring about change, he needs to hang tough in his negotiations with Zuma. Quite simply, Zuma has to go on Ramaphosa’s terms if he wants to be taken seriously.

Yet there is more at stake than effecting an immediate transition. Concern has grown during the Zuma years about the way in which power has become concentrated in the presidency beyond what was intended by those who drew up the constitution (Ramaphosa among them).

So far the constitutional provision that no president should hold more than two terms has held. The constitution also lays down (para 88:2) that while a president may not hold office for more than two terms (of five years each)

the period between that election and the next election of a President is not regarded as a term.

In other words, there is no constitutional obstacle to Ramaphosa becoming president now. And there is certainly no suggestion in the constitution that South Africa must have an interim president between now and the next election. This is merely an ANC invention, plucked from the air after the party dismissed Mbeki for its own internal reasons.

Avoiding future political uncertainty

It’s not too dangerous to prophesy that, presuming the ANC wins the next two elections, Ramaphosa will – in his time – face pressure to stand down early in favour of his eventual successor. Perhaps, too, he might prove unwilling to go. South Africa would again be put through the quite unnecessary political uncertainty about the transition from one ANC president to another.

It follows that Ramaphosa should do more than simply ensure that he replaces Zuma immediately. As he does so, he should state unequivocally that the ANC will change the way things are currently done. That it will adopt as undisputed practice that the person elected as president of the party should immediately take on the post of president of the country. This would of course require him to resign following the election of his successor as party leader.

The ConversationThis is a normal democratic practice. It is common sense. It would be stabilising. And it would demonstrate that South Africa is no shithole democracy.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Playing the West's game

- Melissa Tandiwe Myambo

Why countries should break the crippling cycle of hosting big sporting events.

All over the developing world, metropolises are rushing to cement their status as “global cities”. These are metropolitan centres that compete to become important hubs of cultural and economic activity in the interlinked global world. It’s all part of what scholars describe as “the modernity game”. And sport is rapidly emerging as an important way to display modernity and earn the “global city” mantle.

In earlier times, Western countries played host to massive events like the World’s Fair to cement their status as modern world cities. Non-Western countries were left to “catch up” – and despite their best efforts, few beyond Japan, South Korea and Singapore managed to do so.

International sporting competitions are the new World’s Fair and can propel cities up the global city rankings. Hosting the Olympic Games (in summer or winter, depending on their climate), the Commonwealth Games or a single discipline event like the FIFA World Cup offers cities prestige.

Pyeongchang County, South Korea is hosting the 2018 Winter Olympics and Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics. For “globalising” cities in emerging market economies, these sporting extravaganzas offer a way to demonstrate their “rising” geopolitical importance.

For proponents of the “global city” model, this is reason to celebrate. But it also illustrates the ongoing attempt by non-Western countries to compete not only in sports but economically and culturally with the former colonial powers. Who are the modernity game’s score-keepers? Who decides who is winning and who is losing? Who determines what counts as “global” and what constitutes the “modern”?

For the moment, the referees still seem to be primarily Western in terms of historical, geographical or philosophical orientation. The rankings after all originate from the West and are judged by Western entities. So, win or lose, it is still the West’s game. They make the rules.

When elites in emerging market economies accept the rules of today’s modernity game and agree to play by them, they’re re-enacting a centuries-old inferiority complex in relation to the coloniser. By accepting the rules, they’ve already lost the game.

They’ve lost in more than one sense. By allowing the (former) coloniser to define the field of competition, they’ve conceded the ability to craft their own definition of “modern” and “global.”

Internalising the rules of the modernity game entails an acceptance of equating positive judgement with “successfully” adhering to Western ideals. This sounds abstract but concretely, it results in the misdirection of money that could be better spent elsewhere.

Flexing geopolitical muscle

Countries are using sporting events to illustrate their increasing geopolitical significance. There are plenty of examples.

China hosted the 2008 Beijing Olympics. India hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2010, the same year that South Africa staged FIFA’s World Cup 2010. Russia will host the soccer showcase later this year and Qatar will host it in 2022.

Brazil hosted the 2014 FIFA World Cup and, two years later, the controversy-ridden Summer Olympics.

The BRICS nations – Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa – and other “developing” countries had to direct already limited resources away from important social projects to stage these expensive events.

Citizens of these countries have become increasingly wary of the huge costs and question the wisdom of spending national monies on a once-off spectacle.

South Africa’s 2010 World Cup and the same event in Brazil four years later were met with protests by citizens who wanted to see their countries’ scarce resources put to better use. Both countries have high levels of income inequality.

Similar protests took place before the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics.

Governing elites in each of these instances overrode the waves of dissent with a dismissive, “on with the games” attitude.

Why do governments direct scarce resources to hosting games over their citizens’ more basic needs? Why are elites in developing countries so determined to succeed at the modernity game and make their cities “global”?

One line of argument is that “global cities” attract investment, tourism and knowledge workers which all help the economy to grow. To attract professionals, many aspiring “global cities” have also made large investments in expensive art. Hosting sporting events and art fairs are useful in building “global cities” for highly-skilled workers and high-end consumers.

But there’s little space for the working-class majority in any “global city”. These places tend to suffer heightened social divisions and high inequality.

Global sporting events exacerbate these problems: cities’ poorer citizens are often displaced, “making way” for new stadiums and other infrastructure.

A colonised mentality?

Instead of playing the modernity game, why don’t “developing” countries change the rules? My research indicates that the elite obsession with “catching up” with the West does not result in erasing an inferiority complex vis-à-vis “superior” Western modernity. Instead, it entrenches the inferiority complex that took root through colonialism.

The Japanese philosopher Takeuchi Yoshimi argued that Japan’s post World War II modernisation efforts amounted to trying to “catch up” with the “colonial master”. This, he writes, represents the intensification of the master-slave relationship between the coloniser and the colonised.

The ConversationThe modernity game, although not modernity, originated in the West. Cities can only “win” if they adhere to Western standards. Yes, that adherence can be positive when it yields good infrastructure and access to clean water and services – assets that benefit many people. But when the “game” only results in more inequality, it’s clearly time to change the rules.

Melissa Tandiwe Myambo, Research Associate, Centre for Indian Studies, University of the Witwatersrand, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cape Town’s map of water usage has residents seeing red

- David W. Olivier

The latest weapon in Cape Town’s water saving arsenal is a map that exposes private meter readings to public scrutiny.

The initiative has been launched as the South African city enters the third year of its worst drought on record. Unless residents can cut their daily water use to 87 litres per person, city authorities estimate that the taps will run dry on 21 April 2018.

The “City Water Map” has just been launched in an attempt to make a dent in the 200 000 homes going over the limit of 10 500 litres per month. That’s 87 litres per person per day for a family of four, a limit that was imposed at the beginning of the year as part of the city’s level six water restrictions.

The Water Map’s landing page provides a bird’s eye view of the City of Cape Town municipality, as it appears on Google Maps. Zooming in to individual properties reveals the street address and the plot number as well as the water usage level. The plots of users who are within the water restriction limit are marked with a green dot.

The city authorities behind the map have gone to great lengths to design it in a way that highlights those who are sticking to the water restrictions, rather than naming and shaming those who don’t. They say the aim is to publicise households that are saving water and to motivate others to do the same. They even dropped an earlier idea that a red dot should appear on plots where restrictions were being broken.

The map has nevertheless sparked controversy. Notwithstanding the mayor’s positive rhetoric to “paint the town green”, some members of the public are seeing red. Arguments against it include that it’s a violation of privacy, that it’s divisive and that it could promote the harassment of properties.

The map applies a theory developed by the University of California in 2015 that households will drastically reduce their water use when they realise they are the odd one out in a water-saving neighbourhood. Cape Town seems to be one of the first municipalities to actually apply the theory.

How the Map works

Properties are marked by a colour-coded dot. A dark green dot indicates properties with a meter reading of less than 6 000 litres in the previous month. A light green dot indicates properties with meter readings over 6 000 litres but below the limit of 10 500 litres in the previous month.

There are also grey dots with dark or light green centres. The dark centres are for water usage that’s estimated to be 6 000 litres. Light green centres are for 10 500 litres.

Pure grey dots apply to properties where the meter read zero in the past month or for which no meter reading exists. Some properties aren’t assigned a dot. These include properties over the limit as well as properties that are not included in this version of the Map, such as commercial and industrial properties and flats.

Unfair targeting

The strength of the Water Map is its potential to apply social pressure to encourage water savings. Social pressure exerts a powerful influence and shapes behaviour. By allowing the public gaze to fall on every residential property in the municipality, the Water Map renders homes publicly accountable for their water use.

And rightly so, as water saving is a combined effort. Without this accountability, a common resource such as water is vulnerable to exploitation by a few, at the cost of the whole.

But there is a danger to this strategy. Strong social norms promoting certain behaviour can fragment society, creating a sense of “us” and “them”. In this case, “water savers” may stigmatise perceived “water wasters”. This would break down the cohesion that’s needed for citywide water saving.

Patricia de Lille, the mayor of Cape Town, is clearly aware of this potential pitfall. As she explained:

high consumers are often unaware of their consumption but are willing to change their behaviour once approached.

She added that the intention was to make the map as green as possible‚ and so encourage compliance with the water restrictions. She also added a clarification: properties may have legitimate reasons for exceeding the usage limit.

The Water Map FAQs also urge people against shaming:

During this crisis we all need to work together, not alienate each other.

Naming and shaming

Despite these explanations, many members of the public still see the Water Map as a “name and shame” campaign.

Naming and shaming has been used in other save-water campaigns. For example, Sydney, Australia named water-wasters in the local news as part of its 2006-2009 Target 140 campaign.

Cape Town has already applied this strategy. The city has published images of water wasters, as well as the street names of the top 100 water wasters.

The ConversationThe purpose of the Water Map is clearly not to name and shame. If anything, it seems that the map is a “name and acclaim” campaign; a broad scale representation of all homes showing exemplary savings in the city, acting as an incentive for others.

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.

Why shaking up South Africa’s power utility matters for the economy

- Jannie Rossouw

South Africa’s power utility Eskom has seen a remarkable leadership shake up in the past few days.

Almost the entire board has been replaced with seasoned businessmen. And a well respected acting CEO has been put in place, too. The developments appear to reflect resolve by the country’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, who was elected as president of the African National Congress in December. Sibonelo Radebe asked Jannie Rossouw to discuss what the changes at Eskom mean.

What do you make of the shake up at Eskom?

The announcement of a new board at Eskom is welcome for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the previous board and top executive layer proved to be incompetent if not downright destructive. Secondly, the power utility had sunk into dire financial difficulties on their watch. Recent reports suggested that the power utility has run out of funds and wouldn’t be able to meet its obligations unless government stepped in with another huge bailout. This, after the government injected R23 billion in equity and and wrote off about R60 billion over the past five years.

Over the past five years or so, Eskom has been hit by a series of corporate governance breaches of the worst kind. These included the former CEO Brian Molefe trying to secure a R30 million payout for only 18 months at the helm.

And it’s become clear from the Gupta leaks that the power utility had come to play a central role in a raft of activities related to state capture. It appears to have served as a conduit to transfer government resources to well-connected and corrupt individuals and families in South Africa.

Given the damage that’s been done, the previous board at Eskom simply could not continue. It had no plan to turn the company around or stop corruption. Its only strategy was to lean on the South African government for more financial assistance.

The Eskom shake up is also significant because it’s a signal that the new president of the ANC Cyril Ramaphosa is committed to fighting corruption in both the public and private sectors.

Why does Eskom matter?

Eskom is arguably South Africa’s most important state owned enterprise. The South African economy depends on continuous and uninterrupted power supply. This puts Eskom in a different league to other embattled state owned enterprises like the national airline, South African Airways (SAA).

SAA is also dependent on government bailouts, but the South African economy will continue to function without it. Eskom, on the other hand, is a monopoly power supplier. All South Africans depend on it for power.

There seems to have been an urgency to make changes. Why?

It seems that Ramaphosa moved quickly to wrap up the Eskom shake up before he left for the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s not difficult to understand why. South Africa has had some very bad headlines over the past few years, including downgrades by international rating agencies, and its economy is in the doldrums.

A significant portion of South Africa’s economic pressure originates from declining confidence of local and international investors in the country’s economy. This is evident from the South African business confidence index, which has plummeted. Since 2013 business confidence has been on a declining trend from above 50 to a current level below 35.

Replacing the Eskom board before the Davos meeting was a smart and necessary move. Davos is a rare occasion to showcase South Africa as an investment destination of choice for international investors. One condition for attracting international investment is a clear commitment to addressing corruption and instilling sound management in government enterprises.

What in your view is the long term solution around Eskom?

The long term solution to the problems at Eskom and other troubled state owned enterprises is a rethink of their role in the South African economy.

Some, such as South African Airways, are really unimportant and their disposal or even their closure would have little impact on the domestic economy. Disposal or closure are necessary options as these entities add an unnecessary burden on the national fiscus.

But others, like Eskom, are more strategic and matter enormously and the government should retain them.

It has also become necessary for South Africa to rethink the remuneration policies for executives of state owned enterprises. They earn salaries that aren’t commensurate with the risks they face. The consequences of failure are much more severe for executives in the private sector. Executives of state owned enterprises simply apply for bailouts when they’re in trouble.

So there’s no justification for exorbitant remuneration at state owned enterprises. And no executive at any state owned enterprise should get a bonus: how can a bonus be justified when the South African government provides the bailout in the event of financial difficulty?

The new Eskom board should urgently revise the company’s remuneration policy to restore some sanity in the level of remuneration. The board should also review business practices to ensure that Eskom remains financially viable without any financial assistance from the government.

The ConversationIt is also important that the South African government and the board of Eskom should make it clear to the general public and to investors that the proposed nuclear procurement project plan will not go ahead: neither the South African fiscus nor Eskom can afford such a project.

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.

Why Tunisians are back on the streets

- John Filitz

Seven years after the popular uprising in Tunisia to oust President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisians are rising up again.

This year over 770 Tunisian civilians have been detained and one civilian has been killed in protests that commemorated what became known as the Jasmine Revolution.

The protests which began on January 8 this year were organised to question the passage of Tunisia’s new Finance Act. The act raises taxes on consumable goods and seeks to cut government spending, including public sector wages.

The country has been plagued by deep seated structural economic challenges for a long time. This includes tepid economic growth, a stubbornly high youth unemployment rate and marginalisation of inland territories. Recent developments underscore the urgent need for inclusive and equitable economic development to ensure lasting peace.

Ordinary Tunisian’s are yet to see an improvement from former times. In addition to a flailing economy with significant intra-state wealth disparities across regions, the absence of free, fair and credible local government elections poses a significant risk to the future of the country. So too does the need to address the inherited highly centralised governance structure through much needed decentralisation reforms.

Struggling economy

The Tunisian economy has stagnated since 2014. Given that the average age of the population is 31.1 years the country’s high rate of unemployment is particularly troubling. Youth unemployment is at 35%.

Tunisia is also struggling to attain fiscal stability as a result of the disruptive effects of the 2008 Great Recession, followed by Arab Spring in 2011. The political instability in the region saw a decline of foreign direct investment from 5.8% of GDP in 2008 to 1.7% as of 2016. Its once booming tourism sector too is suffering in the wake of terrorist attacks. To add to its woes its former highly lucrative hydrocarbon and phosphate mining sectors, have also borne the brunt of a softening of the global commodities sector. Total natural resource rents have declined from a peak of 11% of GDP in 2008 to 3% in 2015.

A struggling economy has forced the country to seek a USD$2.9 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. The money was advanced on condition that Tunisia lowered public expenditure, reformed the civil service, and revised the tax code.

Struggling democracy

Since the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime after 23 years in power, successive Tunisian governments have struggled to manage the expectations of a frustrated population.

In spite of various reform efforts, public sector corruption has reportedly become endemic, especially at the local government level.

A key outcome of the Nobel Peace Prize winning Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet, a collective of civil society organisations that pulled Tunisia back from the brink of civil war through dialogue, was the need to decentralise political power. But realising the democratic gains that were expected after the Jasmine Revolution has been a fraught process.

The situation has not been aided by the state of emergency imposed after a terrorist attack on the presidential guard in November 2015.

Tunisians are also unhappy about the local government elections which were due to be held on December 17, 2017. They were postponed for the fourth time. March 2018 is the new tentative date.

Regional inequality

Social and economic inequality between states remains a significant challenge. The interior and southern regions of the country suffer the most due to a lack of basic infrastructure and services, and a disproportionately high poverty rate compared to the rest of the country.

For example, the Kasserine Governorate, some 300km inland from Tunis, has a poverty rate of 32% compared to the national average of 15.5%, and 9% in the capital. In a unique application filed under Tunisia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015, the residents of Kasserine filed a submission to be recognised as a “victimised region” of Tunisia.

The failure of the Tunisian government to put up essential infrastructure in the hinterland was seen as a key driver behind the 2011 uprising. The protests started in the interior city of Sidi Bouzid and spread to Kasserine before reaching the capital, Tunis. Big coastal cities such as the capital Tunis, Sousse and Sfax have historically seen the bulk of investment and development in the country.

The stakes are high

The root causes that led to the overthrow of the Ben Ali regime are still present. In fact, in the context of fiscal austerity they are arguably more pervasive.

If the government is to start addressing the marginalisation of inland territories, Youssef Chahed the fifth prime minister since 2011, and his recently appointed cabinet, face an arduous challenge. There is an urgent need to push through the much needed political decentralisation, together with vital social services, and essential infrastructure development in marginalised territories.

Because of Tunisia’s stagnating economy, and due to the fact that the country is beholden to the International Monetary Fund, the government has limited room to manage the expectations of an increasingly frustrated population. But a good starting point would be to hold free and fair local government elections in March 2018.

The ConversationThe newly elected leaders should then address the historical marginalisation of inland territories. Failure to do so would present a great risk to the stability of Tunisia. In such a volatile region, the stakes couldn’t be higher.

John Filitz, Researcher - African Security - One Earth Future Foundation, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Nationalising the Reserve Bank

- Jannie Rossouw

Government ownership does not automatically imply government control.

South Africa’s governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), recently adopted a resolution to nationalise the country’s central bank. The move comes on the back of calls for government to rein in the South African Reserve Bank, causing concerns that the bank’s independence will be lost. Sibonelo Radebe asked Jannie Rossouw to consider what’s at stake.

What do you make of the ANC’s resolution?

The ANC’s thinking around this resolution is a bit ambiguous and confusing. The resolution itself and subsequent comments by the new ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa, say that the resolution should not affect the independence of the bank.

While upholding the resolution to nationalise, Ramaphosa added this qualification:

The Reserve Bank plays a critical role in the life of any nation with regard to monetary policy and safeguarding and promoting the value of its currency. The ANC once more reaffirms the role, mandate and independence of the Reserve Bank.

He clearly wants to protect the central bank from political interference. This should be welcomed because political interference would have an impact on the constitutional mandate of the central bank.

But those pushing for nationalisation are against it remaining independent from political interference. They want its independence curtailed. This view is aired by those on the left in the ANC, such as the Congress of South African Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party. They believe that the Reserve Bank is misguided on focusing on keeping inflation under control and that this compromises economic growth. Prominent ANC leaders have also backed this view.

On its own, a change of the bank’s ownership from private shareholders to the South African government wouldn’t affect the constitutional mandate of the central bank. Government ownership doesn’t automatically imply government control. This is evident in countries like the UK, Sweden and Denmark, where government ownership of central banks doesn’t affect their unwavering commitment to keep inflation under control.

How does this resolution fit into global trends?

Nationalisation would align the South African Reserve Bank’s ownership structure with the majority of central banks across the world. Other than in South Africa, central banks with private shareholders can be found in seven other countries. These are Belgium, Greece, Italy, Japan, San Marino, Switzerland and Turkey.

The number of central banks with private shareholders have declined over the years since the nationalisation of the Reserve Bank of Zealand. Many more countries followed. The most recent was the National Bank of Austria in 2010.

What influence and benefits do the shareholders of the bank have?

The South African Reserve Bank has 2 million issued shares, held by the general public, which includes individuals and juristic persons. No group of shareholders (referred to as associates) can hold more than 10 000 shares. This ensures that no shareholder can exercise undue influence over the activities of the bank.

Shareholders in the Reserve Bank have very limited powers. And being a shareholder isn’t very lucrative. They are entitled by law to annual dividends not exceeding 10c per share per annum, which amounts to 8c per share after tax.

Shareholders also have the right to attend the bank’s ordinary annual general meeting where they are able to approve the appointment of the external auditors of the bank and set their remuneration. They also elect six of the 13 board members. The other board members, including the Governor and the deputy governors, are appointed by the president of the country.

The board plays an oversight role on the governance of the bank – including being responsible for the bank’s annual financial statements. But its mandate does not extend to monetary policy decisions.

This structure of general meetings adds an additional layer of transparency to the activities of the central bank and improves its accountability. At general meetings (which are also attended by journalists), the Governor answers questions on the bank’s activities and on its financial performance. The whole process adds to the transparency and general understanding of the role and activities of the central bank.

What needs to happen to give effect to the ANC resolution?

The nationalisation of the bank will require an amendment to the South African Reserve Bank Act which stipulates the private shareholding. Amendments require a simple majority in parliament.

Nationalisation could therefore happen as soon as legislation is prepared and a bill is passed in parliament.

But the process could become far more complex if nationalisation trampled on some international interests that are anchored in international treaties. At the moment it’s not clear whether or not this is the case.

The other challenge might be around determining the buyout value of the bank’s shares. This is because the South African Reserve Bank Act makes provision for the liquidation of the central bank, but not for its nationalisation.

In the event of liquidation, the legislation prescribes that shareholders should be reimbursed for their shares in terms of a formula based on the trading value of these shares. The shares are traded on an over the counter share trading platform. The last traded price per share was R9,60.

A different approach could be to use the share price confirmed by the High Court in dealing with delinquent shareholders. The central bank had to approach the High Court to deal with shareholders who failed to adhere to legal prescriptions in respect of maximum of 10 000 shares held by associated shareholders. In this instance the High Court confirmed a price of R1,55 per share which was calculated by consultant firm KPMG on behalf of the central bank.

The ConversationThese two examples highlight the fact that valuation won’t be a simple matter. Adding to the complexity is the fact that parliament could decide on a completely different value of the shares.

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.

How safe are after school clubs?

- Nicole de Wet

New research shows after school clubs can be unsafe environments with opportunities for risky sexual behaviour and drug use.

Young people around the world are encouraged to get involved in extracurricular activities. These range from choirs and drama clubs to sports teams, with many other options available depending on the school. These activities are important for several reasons.

Sports and other physical activities, such as drama clubs, support the development of young people into healthy adults. For parents who work long days, these activities are a productive way to keep their children busy when nobody is at home to supervise them. Finally, these activities often differ from what children are taught in class, so they encourage new interests beyond school work.

But, as research I’ve just published with my colleagues shows, after school clubs can also be risky environments because they’re not always properly supervised. This can present opportunities for risky sexual behaviour and drug use. Our study focused on South Africa, and bears out an extensive global body of research that’s found an association between young people’s participation in sport and their use of drugs and alcohol.

South Africa’s Department of Sports and Recreation has found that 51.7% of the country’s young people participate in sports and recreational activities.

This is not to suggest that after-school clubs and teams should be scrapped in South Africa. Rather, greater supervision is needed; parents need to get more involved so they know exactly what their children are doing in their after-school time and policies must be created that better monitor and evaluate extracurricular activities.

Risky business

Risky behaviour, including sexual and illicit drug use, have devastating health consequences. Some of these relate to health: young women may fall pregnant and contracting HIV is a real risk especially in a country with such high prevalence rates of the disease.

There’s also a real risk of young people becoming addicted to drugs or alcohol. They may also be separated from their families, lose out on future and current employment or even end up in jail.

To many parents, after-school activities are a way to prevent their children from engaging in risky behaviour. The idea is that if youth are kept “busy” during their leisure periods they will not have time to experiment in these behaviours. They also believe that their kids will benefit from the social interaction and physical exercise. And research has confirmed that these benefits exist.

But after-school clubs are not always entirely safe. They can be spaces where young people try their first cigarette or experiment with alcohol for the first time.

Our study concentrated on young people aged between 10 and 22 – in South Africa, it’s not unusual for those aged between 18 and 22 to still be in the secondary school system. This is usually because of prolonged absence through illness, the responsibility of caring for an ill relative, pregnancy and grade repetition.

Our statistical analysis of the South African Youth Lifestyle Survey 2009 controlled for a number of factors. These included age, sex, race, whether they lived in an urban or rural area, the number of income earners in the household, food security in the household and whether or not the youth had set goals for their future.

We found an association between sports participation and youth group involvement and risky sexual behaviour as well as illicit drug use. The risks were higher for females and those who live in the country’s rural areas; they were lower for those who’d identified predefined goals for their future and those involved in choirs or drama groups.

Finding solutions

Several things can be done to tackle the issues raised in our research. For starters, there’s a clear need for better supervision and organisation of after-school activities so that they don’t become enabling environments for risky behaviour.

Young people who participate in sports and other clubs should not be left unattended. And supervisors, coaches and other authority figures should be monitored to ensure that they’re not allowing anyone to engage in risky behaviour on their watch.

Parent involvement is also key. Parents should attend practices and events to meet the people who supervise these clubs, and ask their children about their activities. Of course, it can be tough for parents who work long hours to make time for this; other adult relatives could be asked to get involved here.

National policies and programmes also need to be aware of these issues. Policymakers must broaden their scope to include the monitoring and evaluation of after-school programmes.

The ConversationThis will allow South Africa to protect its young people from peer and adult pressure to engage in acts which risk their health and social well-being.

Nicole De Wet, Senior Lecturer, Demography and Population Studies, Schools of Social Sciences and Public Health, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Land reform and the law

- Jackie Dugard and Nompumelelo Seme

Expropriation assumptions reflect misunderstanding of Constitution.

Apart from the election of the new party president and ‘top six’ membership, the issue that dominated the ANC’s elective congress at Nasrec in December 2017 was the question of expropriation of land.

Following what by all accounts was a heated deliberation, the ANC resolved to adopt a radical programme to fast-track land redistribution through "creating the legislative framework to pursue expropriation of land without compensation".

The ANC’s party’s January 8 statement accordingly referred to a commitment to pursue the expropriation of land without compensation, albeit in a manner that "not only meets the constitutional requirement of redress, but also promotes economic development, agricultural production and food security".

The political rationale behind the ANC’s move to champion a more radical programme of land redistribution is obvious: while there are no accurate data on land ownership and redistribution, 25 years into SA’s democratic dispensation, it is painfully clear that land ownership patterns are nowhere near racially (or from a gender perspective) representative.

The reasons for the aggregate failure of land-ownership redistribution, along with other forms of rural land reform, are complex and continue to be a central issue in policy debate.

But what about the law? At the heart of public discussion about land has been contestation over section 25 of the Constitution, often popularly cast as inhibiting the project of land restitution (and redistribution) through its assumed reliance on paying market value to historical dispossessors of land; and a ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ approach to expropriation.

Yet both of these assumptions reflect a misunderstanding of the law, possibly exacerbated by a conflation between the law on the one hand, and political will and the implementation of policy on the other hand.

The confusion might also be related to a continued reliance on the Expropriation Act which, as a pre-constitutional piece of legislation, references both a willing buyer, willing seller and market-value approach (an amendment to the Expropriation Act that aligns it to the Constitution was approved by Parliament in May 2016 but was sent back to Parliament by President Jacob Zuma to clarify the process for passing the bill).

However, the Constitutional Court has clarified in cases such as Du Toit v Minister of Transport that, to the extent that the Expropriation Act is not in line with the Constitution, the Constitution must prevail.

As we highlight, the Constitution provides a clear framework for transformation of the land regime. It is therefore unclear what the ANC plans to amend.

Regarding market value, section 25(2) of the Constitution establishes that property can be expropriated only in terms of a law of general application:

  • For a public purpose or in the public interest; and
  • Subject to compensation, the amount of which and the time and manner of payment of which have either been agreed to by those affected or decided or approved by a court.

Section 25(4)(a) specifies that the "public interest" includes "the nation’s commitment to land reform, and to reforms to bring about equitable access to all of SAouth Africa’s natural resources". Thus expropriation to advance land restitution (and as well as redistribution) is explicitly covered.

Section 25(2)(b) suggests that the issue of compensation must be deliberated between the landowner and the state. However, it has been conclusively established by the Constitutional Court (in the 2011 case, Haffejee NO v eThekwini municipality) that, while it is ideal for the amount, time and manner of compensation to be established prior to the expropriation, this is not necessary. In other words, a A landowner may not hold up an impending expropriation by arguing over the price being offered, a fact that clearly negates the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ thesis.

It is also clear from section 25(3)(a-e) of the Constitution that market value is simply one of a range of (in-exhaustive) factors (including the use of the property, history of acquisition, extent of direct state investment and subsidy, and the purpose of the expropriation) to be considered when deciding how much compensation to award in cases of expropriation.

Accordingly, market value might be one of the factors considered but, following proper consideration of all the other factors, the final amount could be substantially lower than market value and it could even be close to zero.

A series of judgments, including the 2005 Constitutional Court case of Du Toit v Minister of Transport, has emphasised that the guiding principle in section 25(3) is to achieve just and equitable compensation rather than market-value compensation. This means that, even if sometimes market value is often a useful starting point in deciding the amount of compensation, a court can award below-market value compensation in the public interest.

So, for example, according to the formulation of section 25(3), where the property had been egregiously dispossessed, was not being used for food crops, had benefited from substantial state subsidies under apartheid, and where the expropriation was going to result in the restitution of the land to a community of farmers, compensation might be extremely low.

Intriguingly, section 25(8) of the Constitution states: "No provision of this section may impede the state from taking legislative and other measures to achieve land, water and related reform, in order to redress the results of past racial discrimination, provided that any departure from the provisions of this section is in accordance with the provisions of section 36(1)’."

This provision indicates that, to the extent that the existing clauses of section 25 become an outright impediment to necessary social transformation (a position from which we suggest we are SA is far away from since, in expropriation and restitution practice, we have not yet tested the limits of section 25 have not yet been tested), any departure from any of the provisions of section 25 could be deemed constitutional if found "reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom…."

The bottom line is that section 25 mandates neither a willing buyer,- willing seller regime nor market value compensation for expropriation. Limits to large-scale land restitution (and redistribution) are not the result of do not result from constitutional obstacles. Rather, any such limits or failures are the result of political choices and/or bureaucratic processes, implying problems with the polity rather than the Constitution.

If the ANC wants to fast-track land expropriation and restitution, the Constitution provides a conducive framework for this, as is recognised by the November 2017High Level Panel high-level panel report released in November 2017.

And if section 25 is used to its full potential, it should not be necessary to amend the Constitution to pursue such critical socio-economic reforms.

The current ANC call for "sustainable land expropriation", "without undermining other sectors of the economy" may in fact create additional confusion to the detriment of the much-needed land reform.

What is needed much more than legislative amendment is coherent political direction and effective implementation of land-reform mandates.

Jackie Dugard is Associate Professor and Nompumelelo Seme is a lecturer in the Wits School of Law. This article first appeared online on

How to restore the humanity stolen by racism

- Manosa Nthunya

Achille Mbembe's “Critique of Black Reason” illuminates how the world can account for the construction and consequences of race and racism.

African philosopher, Achille Mbembe, has gained an enviable reputation as a scholar that challenges the tenets of modernity. Some aspects of modernity Mbembe is known to challenge are characterised by the move towards more capitalistic economies, an increase in social stratifications and the universalisation of Western European thought. From “On Private Indirect Government” (2000) to his recent book, “Critique of Black Reason” (2017), his interest has always been on how the world can account for the construction and consequences of race and racism.

In “Critique of Black Reason” Mbembe challenges us to rethink the present with the view of charting a future that, according to Mbembe, will differ from the past and the present.

A key interest of the book is on how race and racism have played a role in how the modern world is organised. However much the world might have benefited from modernity, what is unavoidable is the integral role of race and racism in the construction of modernity. This is why for Mbembe it is of utmost importance that we examine this aspect of modernity as it continues to exclude subjects and create new and old victims that are “the wretched of the earth”.

He writes:

race, operating over the past centuries as a fundamental category that is at once material and phantasmic, has been at the root of catastrophe, the course of extraordinary psychic destruction and of innumerable crimes and massacres.

For Mbembe, the construction of race emanates from the symbolic. It accounts for the ways in which subjects live and where they live. It explains the kinds of debates that prohibit – or allow them – to lead meaningful lives.

Age of Reason

The book focuses more on how discourses of race and other differences emerged in the eighteenth century during what is popularly known as the Age of Reason or the Enlightenment.

This was a period in which science, philosophy and other disciplines, and social debates, constructed differences between people.This was driven by two factors: material interests and an unwillingness to live with the unfamiliar. Mbembe’s book takes to task this idea of Enlightenment to show how it is responsible for the construction of race and racism:

The Black Man is the one (or the thing) that one sees when one sees nothing, when one understands nothing, and above all, when one wishes to understand nothing.

This, for Mbembe, is not coincidental. This is because,

the term ‘Black’ was the product of a social and technological machine tightly linked to the emergence and globalisation of capitalism. It was invented to signify exclusion, brutalisation, and degradation, to point to a limit constantly conjured and abhorred.

Capitalism, from this perspective, is only possible because it’s exclusionary. For much of our contemporary history, this has been through the discourse of race.

History of Africa

Africa is the continent where most “black” people live. Mbembe’s book therefore looks into the history of Africa and how it has been used, and abused, as the antithesis of Western modernity. Since the West depends on the “rest” in order to construct itself, it is not surprising, Mbembe writes, that,

when Africa comes up, correspondence between words, images, and the thing itself matters very little. It is not necessary for the name to correspond to the thing, or for the thing to respond to its name.

This is because,

when one says the word ‘Africa’ one generally abdicates all responsibility.

And it is in this abdication of responsibility that Mbembe argues for a different way of being in the world, and of living with others that are different from oneself.

While, then, the word Africa might speak to a historical and present suffering, there is also something in the word, Mbembe writes,

that judges the world and calls for reparation, restitution, and justice. Its spectral presence in the world can be understood only as part of a critique of race.

Mbembe argues that while race and racism still play an important role in the present, it is also clear that there is a “Becoming Black of the world” that has to do with the numerous forms of exclusion and violence that haunt the contemporary.

For instance, Mbembe writes,

If yesterday’s drama of the subject was exploitation by capital, the tragedy of the multitude today is that they are unable to be exploited at all. They are abandoned subjects relegated to the role of a ‘superfluous humanity.

To be hopeful

How, then, does one continue to live, and to be hopeful, when it seems as though the history of the world is a history of depredation and cruelty? To answer this question, Mbembe turns to philosopher Frantz Fanon (as he does in much of the book) and writes that one of the important lessons that he taught us is,

the idea that in every human subject there is something indomitable and fundamentally intangible that no domination - no matter what form it takes - can eliminate, contain, or suppress, at least not completely.

It is here that the possibility of a different future is possible.

This is because for Mbembe,

until we have eliminated racism from our current lives and imagination, we will have to continue to struggle for the creation of a world beyond - race. But to achieve it, to sit down at a table to which everyone has been invited, we must undertake an exacting political and ethical critique of racism and of the ideologies of difference…

And that is precisely what this book does.

In bringing together thinkers us such as Fanon, Aime Cesaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Marcus Garvey, Nelson Mandela, Michel Foucault and many others, “Critique of Black Reason” is an impressive book. It offers readers insight into how the construction of race and racism underpins our understanding of modernity and therefore of the world we inhabit.

More than this though, it challenges readers to undo forms of exclusionary thinking that still haunt the ways we live. It is only in doing this, according to Mbembe, that we can,

restore the humanity stolen from those who have historically been subjected to processes of abstraction and objectification.

“Critique of Black Reason” is an illuminating and brilliant addition to Mbembe’s corpus. It is the kind of book, I suspect, that will become compulsory reading for undergraduate and graduate classes worldwide.

The Conversation“Critique of Black Reason” is published by Wits University Press

Manosa Nthunya, PhD Candidate, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

"Mrs Ples" is actually a "Mr"

- Gaokgatlhe Mirriam Tawane and Francis Thackeray

A study of the tooth sockets of one of the world’s most famous fossil skulls, “Mrs” Ples, has made scientists think differently about “her” sex.

A study of “Mrs” Ples’ tooth sockets has made scientists think differently about “her” sex. © Ditsong National Museum of Natural History

More than 70 years ago two palaeontologists named Robert Broom and John Robinson discovered a skull at the Sterkfontein Caves near Johannesburg. They nicknamed the skull, which is believed to be about 2.5 million years old, “Mrs Ples”.

Its scientific name is Australopithecus africanus, and it’s extremely significant because scientists believe it to be a distant relative of all humankind. The fossil represents part of the evidence demonstrating that Africa is the continent from which all humanity originated.

In the decades since then the skull’s sex has become the subject of some debate. Not everyone has been convinced by Broom’s insistence that “Mrs Ples” was a female of her species.

Our new research, just published in the South African Journal of Science, offers compelling proof that the naysayers were right. “Mrs” Ples was actually a “Mr”.

We discovered this by making a careful study of her tooth sockets. In many primates, males can be distinguished from females because of differences in the size of their canine teeth. Simply put, adult males have larger canines than females.

Mrs Ples’ teeth were not preserved. Her canine sockets were, and they were about the size one would expect for a female. But our study revealed that the sockets weren’t naturally that small: they’d become smaller because of acid used during work done on the skull about 60 years ago. The acid digested away parts of the skull bone around the tooth sockets.

These findings, which form part of an ongoing debate about the iconic skull’s sex, are further proof that science is a work in progress. Scientists don’t always agree, and they don’t always have the definitive answers. Sometimes it can take decades, or even centuries, to reach a resolution.

A disputed history

Soon after he and Robinson made their landmark discovery, Broom confidently claimed that Mrs Ples was female based on the size of her canine sockets. This was a visual deduction; at that time he did not have a substantial comparative sample for the species, so there was room for doubt.

Measurements of the canine socket were published in 1950 at a time when the fossils found at Sterkfontein were cleaned mechanically.

Initially, Broom used a hammer and chisel to remove the hard calcified sands that surrounded Mrs Ples in the caves. But later, in the 1960s, Robinson used acetic acid to remove further rock – and some fossils, Mrs Ples among them, were damaged in the process.

In 1983, Professor Yoel Rak from Tel Aviv challenged Broom’s opinion. He pointed out that there were prominent ridges on Mrs Ples’s snout, and argued that these were probably associated with the large roots of the canine teeth. Rak became the first to suggest that Mrs Ples ought to be called “Mr” instead.

This view was supported by subsequent research, which one of us – Francis Thackeray – was involved in.

Then opinions changed yet again. In 2012, Professor Fred Grine of the State University of New York re-examined the available evidence. He and his colleagues published an article in the Journal of Human Evolution which insisted Mrs Ples was “an adult female”. The assertion was based in part on the apparently small size of the canine tooth sockets.

A rebuttal and new measurements

The research we’ve just published is a rebuttal to Grine and his colleagues’ arguments. The heart of the issue is that they omitted to present all of the data that Broom had obtained about Mrs Ples before the teeth sockets were damaged by acid.

We compared Broom’s measurements of Mrs Ples against those obtained for about 12 other specimens of Australopithecus africanus from Sterkfontein. These including specimens that have previously been clearly identified as males or females.

Using the measurements of canine sockets from all of these specimens, we were able to show that Mrs – or rather, Mr – Ples should clearly be grouped with small males rather than with large females.

Of course, science being what it is, the debate is probably not over. We are continuing our research on “Mr Ples”, using state of the art CT scans to test our view that the skull is male. For now, and based on our careful comparative study, it seems that the human ancestor who roamed the Sterkfontein Caves so many millions of years ago and whose skull has become a scientific treasure was a male, not a female.

The ConversationIn the final analysis, whether Ples is a Mr or a Mrs doesn’t detract from the significance of what the skull tells us about our human ancestry.

Gaokgatlhe Mirriam Tawane, Curator of Plio-Pleistocene palaeotology, Ditsong Museums of South Africa and Francis Thackeray, Phillip Tobias Chair in Palaeoanthropology, Evolutionary Studies Institute, University of the WitwatersrandThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Blurred lines

- Marius Pieterse

Cape Town water crisis: crossing state and party lines isn’t the answer and no political party should lead a response to an urban governance crisis.

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, that governs the City of Cape Town and the Western Cape Province, now leads the task team to “defeat” Day Zero, the day on which Cape Town’s water is predicted to run out. This is currently set for April 12.

The DA’s plan to keep the taps running comes amid infighting within the Cape Town Metropolitan Council, where mayor Patricia De Lille has been stripped of responsibility for responding to the water crisis.

While many were impressed to see Maimane, Helen Zille’s provincial government and the city’s leadership presenting a united front against the water crisis, others pointed out that this was not Maimane’s show to run, saying that it crossed the “line” between the DA as a political party, and the relevant organs of state.

This is correct. As a Member of Parliament, Maimane has oversight powers that allow him to investigate how the city or province handle the water crisis. But for an MP to head a governmental task team pushes the boundaries of the separation of powers, in terms of which day-to-day running of government should be left to executive officials.

By swooping in from his position in national government to take control of the situation, Maimane also ignored a set of constitutional principles which allow higher-level governments to intervene in running a city only in limited circumstances, such as when a municipality fails to deliver basic services based on national delivery standards.

The DA disagrees. It argues that Maimane hasn’t taken over any governmental offices, but, as party leader, is merely coordinating the actions of the DA-run city and province.

Tensions between party and State

This brings into play the line between political parties and government which, in South Africa, appears to be crossed on a regular basis.

South Africans tend to associate government officials with the political parties to which they belong. For instance, many people simply think of the ANC as being the national government. They don’t distinguish between ANC officials acting in their capacity as party members, or when they’re acting as members of government.

This is problematic, since it undermines the perceived independence of state institutions and diminishes accountability of state officials. It creates the impression that government institutions can be accessed and influenced through party structures. This leads to potentially corrupt situations, such as where a political party’s donors expect to be rewarded with government business.

Some countries, such as the US, have legislation which places a strict separation between party and state to the point where civil servants are not allowed to campaign for political parties or run for election. And state officials are not allowed to wear party regalia or discuss party business in their government offices. This is not only meant to reduce opportunities for corruption, but also to ensure that people feel that government works for, and is accountable to, all citizens, regardless of which party they support.

Since winning the first democratic elections in 1994, the ANC has often been accused of using state structures to further the party agenda. And its MPs are further often accused of placing party loyalty above the national interest.

The most dramatic recent example of this was when the Constitutional Court was asked to direct the Speaker of Parliament to allow ANC members to vote in secret on a motion of no confidence against President Jacob Zuma. The fear was that the party might punish ANC MPs who voted in favour of the motion.

At the time, former President Thabo Mbeki wrote an open letter in which he reminded ANC members of Parliament that they were accountable to the people of South Africa, not the ANC.

The principle of accountability is the most important reason for keeping political parties and the state separate.

While the state is held accountable through a range of institutions and laws, similar measures don’t exist to make political parties act in the public interest.

Shadow governments

The same applies on local government level.

South African cities are run by elected local governments, through legal structures, such as the ward committees established by the Municipal Structures Act. These structures don’t always function well. Where they break down, the provision of basic municipal services suffers and residents’ concerns are not addressed.

But instead of trying to strengthen, fix or change dysfunctional structures, people often bypass them. This weakens them even further. One way in which this happens is when people resort to having their grievances solved through political party structures, such as local party branches.

When party structures become the most efficient way to solve local government problems, shadow governments are created. These shadow governments are not directly accountable to residents.

This means that it becomes easier for internal party politics to infiltrate city affairs. It also creates opportunities for corruption.

A recent book, ‘How to steal a city’ by Crispian Olver, about the last days of the former ANC local government in Nelson Mandela Bay, sets out in detail how this happens. Olver explains how the ANC sent in senior party members to “clean up” governance in the city. But the book also shows how provincial ANC structures tried to prevent the then mayor from acting against corrupt city council members.

Sidelining structures

By taking control of the water situation in Cape Town as leader of the DA Maimane has effectively sidelined the people and structures that are constitutionally supposed to be in charge.

However good his intentions may be, this is a blatant example of shadow governance. His actions have undermined accountability and participatory democracy and weakened the city’s ability to govern in the interests of all of its residents.

The ConversationNo political party should lead a response to an urban governance crisis. The city, provincial and national governments must cooperate as government, across party lines and through the relevant legal and constitutional structures and processes, to ensure effective and accountable service delivery.

Marius Pieterse, Professor of Law, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why ANN7 won't be missed

- Anton Harber

Rather than the future of ANN7, South Africans should perhaps worry about Multichoice having so much power, and using it so cynically.

The closure of any media outlet is normally mourned by all journalists, because of the loss of jobs, diversity and competition. But the announcement that South African pay-TV operator Multichoice will not renew the contract of news channel ANN7 will be no great loss to the news media, or the public debate.

It will, though, be a setback to the corrupt three-way state capture conspiracy which brought together ANN7, Multichoice and elements of the government, as exposed by the now notorious Guptaleaks emails.

The emails were leaked some months ago from inside the Gupta clan. The family has been at the centre of state capture accusations in South Africa because of its extraordinary influence over President Jacob Zuma, his family and members of his Cabinet. The allegations of corruption have extended to Multichoice. It stands accused of making multi-million rand payments to both ANN7 and the South African Broadcasting Corporation to get their support for Multichoice’s attempt to influence government policy on digitalisation.

Yesterday Multichoice, which is facing an inquiry by South Africa’s broadcast regulator Icasa, announced the results of its own internal probe. The company said it had made mistakes, but there was nothing corrupt or illegal about its decisions. Nevertheless, it would not be renewing ANN7s contract when it expired in August. Instead Multichoice would open up bidding for another black-owned news station.

The night before this announcement, ANN7 had run a piece on air about the Vrede dairy farm, in central South Africa, which is part of the police investigation into Gupta-inspired fraud. The TV station promised to give the country the real story that the rest of the corruption obsessed media were not telling.

The report aired by ANN7 was a clear illustration of the kind of dishonest journalism the station has produced since its launch in 2013. It was unmistakenly part of the fight back campaign being launched by Zuma’s supporters, a number of whom are among those accused of fraud in relation to the dairy farm.

An unseemly story

As part of the piece station owner Mzwaneli Manyi, a former government communicator who was gifted the station by the Guptas, went to the farm himself to show that it was not derelict, but a “world class facility”, a fact being downplayed by the rest of the media. It was a repetitive piece in the ANN7 tradition of trying to deflect criticism of friends and sponsors accused of corruption and state capture.

There were also some significant omissions in the report. It made no attempt to tell the audience why the farm’s current state was relevant to fraud that happened at least five years ago under different ownership. Nor did it address the issue of whether it was worth the R220 million of taxpayers’ money that went into it, nor why most of that money appeared to have been peeled off to pay for a lavish Gupta wedding and other non-farming activities.

It did not say whether the farm was profitable. They did speak to some of the 45 employees who said they and their families depended on the farm, though the townspeople they spoke to all said that the politician’s promises that this farm would benefit the community had come to little.

It was the worst kind of sham, poisonous journalism for which ANN7 has become known. It was based on a false premise (that the media were suggesting that the farm was still derelict) and intended to throw up dust around those accused of involvement in what was by all accounts a fraudulent business venture.

One veterinarian took one look at the pictures of cows and tweeted, “Call the SPCA”, saying these bony bovines did not look healthy enough to produce significant amounts of milk.

But Manyi did not get an expert to look at the pictures. Instead the station wheeled out analysts and commentators to repeat the station’s mantra that other media was hiding the real story as part of the grand white monopoly capital conspiracy.

A history of dishonest journalism

Was this kind of dishonest political propaganda the reason Multichoice not renewing ANN7’s contract? It’s impossible to tell how the decision was made because the company gave no details of what their mistakes were, nor any explanation of why it was not corrupt.

One possible conclusion is that Multichoice and its parent company, the global internet and entertainment group Naspers, was doing what it has done best for over 100 years: move with the political wind to stay onside with whoever is – or is going to be – in Pretoria’s Union Buildings. With Zuma about to be replaced as president of the country by new African National Congress president Cyril Ramaphosa, the Gupta connection becomes a liability rather than an asset.

This is why the demise of ANN7 is more worrying for the Gupta network of corruption than for journalists or the viewing public. Surely in the post-truth age we have to act against those who knowingly purvey falsity?

The closure of ANN7 could be viewed as South Africa’s Facebook lesson: diversity in news is of dubious value when it means polluting the air with dishonest journalism. What South Africa audiences want is more, better, independent journalism – and they will have a better chance of getting that if ANN7 is replaced by another station.

There is a precedent in this country for a media outlet that was born in sin and shunned for decades by anyone who cared about news and journalism: The Citizen newspaper. It was started in the 1970s with secret government funds, with the express intention of undermining the Rand Daily Mail, at the time the most liberal and anti-apartheid of our newspapers.

The Citizen went through multiple changes of ownership until this history was bleached out. But only diehard apartheid supporters would have mourned its closure in the 1980s, just as only diehard Gupta-supporters will mourn the disappearance of ANN7.

What this incident highlights more than anything is the danger of the Multichoice monopoly on pay-TV, which gives it extraordinary power to decide what alternatives audiences have to the public broadcaster, the SABC.

The ConversationRather than the future of ANN7, South Africans should perhaps worry about Multichoice having so much power, and using it so cynically.

Anton Harber, Caxton Professor of Journalism, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Keeping famine weed at bay

- Blair Cowie

A leaf-feeding beetle is one of the most promising agents that help South Africa to control the spread of its worst invader plant.

The poisonous herb, Parthenium hysterophorus, is one of the world’s most destructive invasive plants. It threatens biodiversity, national food security and human health. Native to parts of Central and South America (Gulf of Mexico) it has spread to more than 40 countries including Australia, India, Pakistan, Ethiopia, Swaziland and South Africa. In South Africa it’s known as famine weed.

Much of southern and eastern Africa remains susceptible to famine weed invasion. First recorded in South Africa in 1880, famine weed only became a prominent invader in 1984 after cyclone Demoina hit the country. Since then, the plant has rampantly invaded northern and eastern parts of the country prompting major concern.

Famine weed spreads rapidly and is devastatingly destructive. It kills other plants within its vicinity, wipes out entire crop harvests, poisons wildlife as well as livestock, makes food inedible and causes a variety of health problems in humans.

Controlling famine weed is incredibly difficult, but it is possible. A number of approaches have been trialled and include physical and mechanical removal, herbicide sprays, prescribed fires and biocontrol (using the weed’s natural enemies).

So far South Africa is mainly attempting to thwart the spread of famine weed and reduce infestations using biocontrol. Rather than trying to get rid of the weed entirely, biocontrol uses Parthenium’s natural enemies to slow down infestation and spread of the weed. Following biocontrol successes in Australia and India, South Africa become the first African country to implement biocontrol against Parthenium in 2003.

The use of biocontrol in South Africa has made some progress in slowing the spread of famine weed, but the battle is never ending.

Devastating effects

The weed’s rapid growth rate and prolific seed production make it highly troublesome. It’s tiny seeds are easily spread by wind, water, animals, vehicles, or in soil, and can remain viable for up to 10 years. Once germinated, famine weed out-competes and chemically excludes surrounding vegetation in a process known as allelopathy, decimating an areas biodiversity.

The weed grows rapidly and outcompetes other vegetation. Blair Cowie

Famine weed is also toxic to wild game and domestic livestock. It causes ulcers of the mouth, skin lesions and even death if consumed in large amounts. Milk and meat from livestock reared on fields or fodder infested with famine weed are unfit for human consumption.

From an agricultural perspective, the weed lessens the grazing capacity of rangelands (pastures). It also degrades and removes hectares of arable land, costing millions of rand in losses. If uncontrolled, it has the potential to reduce crop yields by as much as 97%. Similarly, crop harvests contaminated with famine weed suffer massive reductions in their value. In severe cases, entire harvests become unusable.

The weed and its pollen also pose numerous health threats to humans. These include asthma, bronchitis and hay fever but also skin problems like dermatitis, rashes and blisters.

Controlling famine weed

Physically removing the weed can work for extremely small infestations but only if the root is removed before the plant sets seed. Mechanical clearing like mowing or slashing is not recommended, as this accidentally spreads seeds and furthers the weed’s invasion.

Herbicides work, but only if proper follow-ups are made to kill new plants. And intensive chemical control may not be suitable for agricultural areas or grazing lands. The high cost of herbicides also makes it unfeasible for areas with low commercial value or in poorer communities.

Prescribed fires may hold promise in reducing Parthenium seedbanks, but research into the effects of burning remains preliminary and hotly debated.

Biocontrol is one of the most promising and cost-effective solutions to successfully manage infestations. It allows scientists to make use of a weed’s natural enemies to effectively and “naturally” manage the problem species. Since the initiation of biocontrol efforts in South Africa the country has released four biocontrol agents: a leaf-rust fungus (Puccinia xanthii), a stem-boring weevil (Listronotus setosipennis), a leaf-feeding beetle (Zygogramma bicolorata) and a seed-feeding weevil (Smicronyx lutulentus).

All of these agents exert different levels of damage to famine weed populations in the field. Researchers hope that the damage inflicted will steadily increase over time and offer greater control, particularly by the leaf-feeding beetle and the stem-boring weevil. Additional agents are also under investigation.

Zygogramma bicolorata_Leaf-feeding beetle © Blair Cowie

Slowing the spread of famine weed

Prevention is ultimately better than cure. Landowners should familiarise themselves with the weed and remain vigilant. For landowners facing famine weed invasion, every effort should be made to reduce the density and contain spread of the weed. Good land management practices, particularly maintaining good grass cover, are critical to preventing and reducing famine weed invasion. Sowing bare overgrazed soil patches with native grass seed may aid in restoring grass coverage and limiting infestation.

The ConversationBiocontrol alone is unlikely to completely control famine weed at present. But in the interim, researchers have come up with a specially catered national strategy to optimise Parthenium control. This strategy aims at implementing the best control options throughout different parts of South Africa.

Blair Cowie, PhD Candidate Invasive Species Management, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Lessons in democracy

- Roger Southall

President Jacob Zuma's determination to stay put is being widely condemned by a range of South African voices.

South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma is digging in his heels and refusing to relinquish the top job despite mounting pressure from his own party, the African National Congress.

But there’s a case to be made that his reluctance is doing South Africans a favour as it is forcing them to clarify various constitutional and political issues. Most obviously, albeit inadvertently, he is asserting the supremacy of parliament over the authority of the party.

Because the top leadership structures of the ANC are divided – including the top six where it seems that only four want him to leave office immediately – Zuma is exploiting what wriggle-room he has left. He’s effectively saying that the forces ranged against him aren’t convincing enough, and that he still has considerable support within the party.

In other words, he is daring the ANC leadership to put a motion of no confidence to the National Assembly and to use the party’s majority to vote him out of office.

His gamble is this: he can survive such a motion if it is put by an opposition party because to support an opposition motion would prove hugely embarrassing to the ANC. The speaker of parliament has already put down a motion of no confidence tabled by the opposition party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), for discussion after the budget speech on February 22.

For the ANC to put down its own motion, and then try to ensure it received a majority, would all take time, time, time. And that’s what Zuma wants so that he can rally his supporters, convince waverers that he still has some clout, and maximise his bargaining power.

If the party’s new president Cyril Ramaphosa could manage to secure a clear majority of the ANC’s national executive committee (it’s highest decision making body in between elective conferences) asking Zuma to resign, then it is conceivable that Zuma might accede to leave office. But more likely, he would continue to force the ANC to resort to parliament.

And even if he were to step down at the very last moment, his behaviour is reminding South Africans where, ultimately, the power to elect and depose a president lies, and that is, with parliament.

Zuma’s nine lives

Zuma has already survived umpteen votes of no confidence brought about by opposition parties. Not enough ANC MPs have ever voted with the opposition to carry the motion.

In the last event, a small minority of ANC MPs used the cover provided by a secret ballot to vote in favour of the motion (or to abstain). But the large majority voted for Zuma to stay in office. At the time, they could use the excuse that the ANC’s national conference was coming up and that it was the appropriate place for the leadership issue to be decided. But now that has passed, Zuma’s favoured candidate has lost, Ramaphosa has triumphed, and he now wants the President to resign. What excuse would the ANC MPs have for not supporting the opposition motion this time round?

The justification that they cannot be expected to vote for a motion put by the EFF is morally and politically threadbare. What is Ramaphosa going to do? Argue that internal ANC unity matters more than the needs of the country? What would the popular reaction be to the ANC in effect voting for Zuma to stay in office?

Frankly, the ANC’s cover would be blown.

The role of MPs

Beyond the immediate issue of Zuma, South Africa’s political parties need to debate what they expect of MPs. There was much talk prior to the previous vote of no confidence for the need for ANC MPs to display their ‘integrity’, a code word for them to break party lines and vote for the opposition. In other words, it was suggested that MPs should resist acting like party cyphers. Yet, in the ANC’s eyes, its MPs are ‘deployed’ to parliament, and have to obey party dictates. Little or no room is left to individual conscience.

Historically the tradition in parliamentary systems has been that certain issues, often relating to human rights, are resolved by party whips allowing MPs to vote according to their individual consciences. In South Africa, political parties have largely been spared potential conflicts over divisive issues such as the death penalty because they’ve been resolved by the Constitutional Court.

This has meant that, since 1994, MPs have largely been kept in party line because of the threat of being disciplined by their parties. The ultimate threat is their dismissal from the party which in turn means being kicked out of parliament. This follows largely from South Africa’s adoption of a party list proportional representation system. In contrast, in constituency based electoral systems, for instance in the UK, MPs are accountable downwards to voters in their constituencies as well as upward to their party bosses in parliament.

This means that MPs in South Africa are unlikely to put the interests of the people (the voters) above those of their party. This issue is not satisfactorily resolved, as the ANC likes to say it is, by voters having given the majority party most votes at the previous election.

Alas, political life is more complicated than that.

Voters want accountability as well as representation. While most South Africans understand the need for proportionate representation of political parties in parliament, there is nevertheless a substantial hankering for MP’s to be more accountable to the voters.

There is a widespread argument that a change to a mixed member proportional representation scheme would square this particular circle. Some MPs would be elected from multi-member constituencies (with from three to seven MPs as recommended by the Van Zyl Slabbert Commission on the electoral system) while others would be elected from party lists to bring about overall proportionality. This would mean that South African could be able to identify particular constituency MPs who had particular responsibilities to represent them.

In turn, this would mean that MPs would have to consider more than the interests of party bosses when casting their votes.

It is certainly an attractive idea, and is one which needs a proper airing. Whether practice would match electoral system theory is another matter. For all their numerous faults political parties can’t be dispensed with; nor can they be expected to operate without exerting discipline on their representatives in parliament.

At the same time, citizens want to be represented by individuals who are more than party donkeys.

South Africans need to debate in what sort of circumstances they expect or make allowance for MPs to deviate from the party line. But they need to recognise that there is an inherent ambiguity in the role of MPs: at times, they are faced by conflicting obligations, simultaneously to party versus people. Accountability demands that they justify their decisions.

The ConversationIronically, Zuma is banking on that ambiguity, while hoping that ANC MPs duck the need for accountability.

Roger Southall, Professor of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

South Africa needs good water management, not new water laws

- Mike Muller

Experience around the world is that, more often than not, water laws aren’t the problem.

Because water is shared by everyone, there have to be some rules to govern the way it is used. But it’s a difficult resource and when things go wrong, the temptation is to blame the unpredictable water – or the rules.

In fact, the problem is usually neither the water nor the rules, but the people concerned.

When politicians in trouble say that the rules need to be changed, be wary. Experience around the world is that, more often than not, water laws aren’t the problem. They’re simply not implemented. So proposals from South Africa’s minister of Water Affairs Nomvula Mokonyane to revise the two laws that underpin South Africa’s water security are worrying. South Africans need to ask whether the problems are with the laws or with her department’s administration of them.

The two laws are the 1998 National Water Act and the 1997 Water Services Act. The Water Act sets out how South Africa should cope with the vagaries of the country’s climate and the demands of a growing population. It stipulates what different tiers of government and water users should do and what procedures should be used to address particular problems. The Water Services act regulates municipal water supply and sanitation services.

So what happens when there is no longer enough water to go around or to meet new needs? The current laws set out technical and administrative processes that need to be followed if there’s no longer enough water to go around, or if there isn’t enough to meet new needs. These allow water to be reallocated between existing users and those seeking water for the first time.

The law also gives priority to leaving enough water in rivers to sustain the environment and establishes procedures for doing that.

And the law instructs the minister to monitor and make public both the availability of water and the evolving uses of water. Where shortages loom, the law obliges her to establish a strategy to show how this will be dealt with.

Just because there is a law on the statute books doesn’t mean that it will be implemented. As Cape Town has shown, a few years of good rainfall allowed people to believe that their water supply was adequate. And half of South Africa’s major metros would be at risk if there was a serious multi-year drought. Many water courses are polluted by poorly managed wastewater plants as well as unlicensed and unsupervised mining operations. In some places, poor farmers who want to irrigate their land can’t get a licence because the water is “all allocated”.

History teaches us that this is a dangerous moment.

Civilisations have fallen

Great civilisations in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Rome, China and Central America were built on rigorously enforced water management rules.

In Mesopotamia, if a neighbour’s field was flooded because you did not maintain your canal, you replaced his crop or your household goods were sold. The Egyptians were less charitable; allowing dykes to deteriorate could be punished by death. Early Hindu law gave Indian kings the duty of monitoring public waters – and the right to execute by drowning anyone who broke a dam and caused water to be lost.

Chinese administrations ensured that water users maintained their infrastructure and only used water for authorised purposes. The Roman Water Commission used double entry bookkeeping, with one column for water sources and availability, another for water uses, including public purposes as well as private concessions. When those concessions ended, the water was returned to the commission for reallocation.

Many historians believe that failures of water administration were one cause of the collapse of a number of early civilisations. It should be a warning. But there shouldn’t be impatience. It can take many years for new water laws to come into effect. Europe introduced its Water Framework Directive in 2000. We will only know in 2027 whether it has reached its initial objectives. Countries like Mexico introduced a succession of new laws over the past few decades, not allowing time to get one right before trying to introduce something new.

This is the larger problem facing South Africa. Rather than get on with the complicated and often thankless task of managing water resources and regulating water services, ministers have been finding excuses to avoid getting down to business.

Complicated business

Some parts of water law are difficult. It may seem simple to allocate water between competing users, but it requires a great deal of work to know how much water is available and how much water is currently being used, by whom. Only then can a decision be made as to whether new users can just take water from existing sources or whether existing uses need to be curtailed.

Similarly, water licences for mines and wastewater treatment plants must protect the quality of the rivers and streams which they may pollute. To set the conditions, officials must know how much water is flowing in the streams (the higher the flow, the more pollutants they can absorb without damage). They also need to know how much pollution is coming from other sources. Local communities must make choices about the balance between pristine water, economic activity and social needs.

Water management is about setting up organisations that can work with the resource and its users. The new institutions needed are provided for in existing legislation. Despite a great deal of talk, they have not yet been set up.

Even routine parts of the existing law have not been complied with. For example, the National Water Act requires the minister to deliver, a National Water Resource Strategy every five years. It’s meant to set out how much water is available in the country and how much is being used. But this basic responsibility has not been complied with.

So rather than revise the water law, the priority must be to do the spade work of water management: collect and interpret the data, ensure that administrative systems work, and enforce the rules.

Until these basics are done, it is almost certainly premature to talk of revising the law – unless, that is, the intention is to distract from the failure to do the basic work in the first place.

The ConversationThis article was co-authored with Stefano Burchi and Advocate Robyn Stein, former visiting Professor at Wits University, Johannesburg. Burchi is Chairman of the International Association of Water Law and was previously chief of the UN FAO’s Development Law Service. Stein is a member of the Water Law Committee of the International Bar Association’s Natural Resources Section, the Environmental Law Association and is a Trustee of the Endangered Wildlife Trust and is currently a director of ENSAfrica.

Mike Muller, Visiting Adjunct Professor, University of the Witwatersrand. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Hope is well and good but effective policy reforms will save the day

- Imraan Valodia

Ramaphosa’s rise has sparked optimism, but work must be done to tackle inequality and grow the economy.

South African politics is never dull, but 2017 and the lead-up to the ANC conference in December was particularly complex. While 2018 looks set to be no different at some level (note, for example, the intrigue over the recall of President Jacob Zuma), it is important to recognise that there has been a qualitative shift in our political mood and economic outlook.

In a matter of a few weeks Cyril Ramaphosa has shifted the focus from despair to hope — perhaps not yet optimism, but hope at the very least. His actions on a number of fronts — Eskom, the Hawks, the messaging at the World Economic Forum — have created a level of hope and some confidence that we can handle challenges that seemed intractable just a few weeks ago.

While hope and confidence are welcome, it is also important not to see Ramaphosa as the messiah who can solve all our problems. The reality is that while a lot can be tackled in the short term, our challenges require a long-term structural shift in the way the economy operates.

We are still a country of glaring inequality, among the worst in the world. We still have too few people earning too much money and far too many people living in poverty. We also have too few people in stable, secure employment and too many people desperately seeking any work that will put food on the table. And far too many people who have completely given up all hope of finding employment.

We still have too few pupils at schools that offer the highest quality education and far too many crammed into overcrowded classrooms with too few teachers and not enough resources. We have too few people being treated (or over-treated) by a high-cost, private medical system while most people rely on an underfunded and underresourced public healthcare system.

These are all long-term tasks that cannot, of course, be tackled in a few months. But dealing with some short-term challenges will create the space and framework for managing the long-term inequality challenges.

From an economic perspective Ramaphosa should focus on these areas:

Public finance policy. Corruption, poor governance and policy neglect have meant we are going to have to find big pots of money for education, energy, water and healthcare, to name a few. We need to think about where that money is going to come from; what tools we have and what tools we need to build to generate this revenue. Getting a better handle on tax policy (the Davis tax committee has already done excellent work in this regard), tackling the challenges at the South African Revenue Service (SARS) and more effective management of government expenditure are absolute priorities.

We cannot afford to have so much of our public funds spent on policy that is made on a whim, as was the case when Zuma announced his plans for higher education. The policy of free higher education for low-income students is correct, but how is it possible that this could be announced without a clear idea of how it would be funded? We also cannot afford to have the key institution that raises government revenue, SARS, in constant crisis. A revenue collection authority that loses its credibility will impede our ability to deal with the inequality challenge. Our economy is stuck in a low-growth trap, with the benefits of growth accruing disproportionately to the wealthy. Policies such as a national minimum wage, introduced in a responsible manner, have the potential to change this pattern of growth. We need more action of this kind. Changing the pattern of ownership to curb dominance by very large companies is another way to handle this problem.

Energy. If we are looking for an upturn in investment and international confidence in SA, the business community needs to be ready to grow: this applies to already established businesses as well as the small business and entrepreneurial sector.

If we are reaching the point where we are ready to look at beneficiation and the development of downstream industries, we must make sure we have the capacity to enable this. Our energy demands will increase and we absolutely cannot afford to go back to the 2008 crisis of blackouts and inadequate capacity. Hopefully the nuclear debate is finally off the table and we can now look at a suite of energy sources focused on the renewables sector.

Part of tackling the inequality crisis in our country must be tackling the inequalities in social services, health, education and the like. For the first 25 years of our democracy policy has focused mainly on access. We need to shift the focus to handle the challenges of inequality and at the same time tackle the poor quality of social service delivery.

The progressive business community has been growing stronger over the years. This community has recognised the damage high wage inequality does. The levels of executive salaries in many parts of business are not only immoral but also unsustainable. Changing this practice is relatively easy.

Other social partners also need to demonstrate their willingness to think about the long-term sustainability of the economy so we can reach consensus and achieve a long-term perspective to tackle inequality.

The decisive manner in which the Eskom challenge has been dealt with has been refreshing. Many other state-owned enterprises (SOEs) have been lurching from one disaster to the next. We need clear policy on every SOE.

It is more of a long-term issue, but the so-called fourth industrial revolution is already having an effect on our economy, establishing our options and determining the way forward. A lot of the narrative on the fourth industrial revolution is being shaped by a view that we can do nothing to stem its impact. That is a very naïve view of the world. We may not be able to stop the technological revolution but we have a lot of power over shaping how it affects us, and how we can fully realise the benefits and manage the costs. We need clear thinking and a clear strategy on this issue.

Over the next five-year period it is incumbent on all of us to ensure whatever policy decisions are made are aimed at pulling those at the very bottom up and, at the same time, ensuring those at the top do not get a disproportionate share of economic growth. We need to deliver high-quality, affordable services that open doors for the marginalised. Our strategic objective must always be to create an inclusive society.

The future of SA requires a comprehensive moral recalibration, which starts with outlining a society that strives to be more equitable.

Imraan Valodia is the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce, Law and Management at Wits University. This article was originally published on

Why are there so few black women in science?

- Ndoni Mcunu

Ndoni Mcunu, PhD-candidate at the Global Change Institute at Wits University and founder of Black Women in Science (BWIS), shares her personal journey.

Nine years into my research and academic career, one of the most common questions I hear from family and friends is, “uzoqedanini ukufunda?” (“Will she ever finish studying?”)

They’re not the only ones who struggle to understand what it is that I do. My experience is that most black women “fall into” research and academia, rather than deliberately choosing it as a career direction from the start. That would explain why black women undergraduates often ask me “What is research?” and “Is reading all you do?”

The United Nations marks February 11 each year as the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. This is an important occasion – but, based on the kinds of questions I receive almost daily, I’d suggest that retention rather than participation should be the focus of February 11 and related initiatives.

In South Africa, where I conduct my research and am working towards a PhD in climate change and food production, there is a particular need to attract and retain black women to the sciences. This has been a difficult, fraught process. Mamokgethi Phakeng, a full professor of mathematics education and a deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town, has offered several reasons for this.

For instance, she has pointed out that black women wishing to enter “non-traditional” careers face opposition from patriarchal African cultures. This, she suggests, is part of the reason that men dominate science and technology-related careers.

These issues can be addressed in several ways. Mentors and role models are crucial; so too are opportunities for black women scientists to find and build more collaborative spaces where they can combine their technical training with other skills. Cultural attitudes to the notion of “women as scientists” also need to be addressed.

The reality

During my talk at the Science Forum South Africa conference in 2017 a young man asked me: “What is the big deal? Could it be that women are just not interested in the Sciences?” My answer was, “No sir!”, and that’s backed up by figures. University enrolment data shows that attracting young black women to science courses at undergraduate level in South Africa is not the problem.

Retention is the issue. There is a “leaky pipeline” that sees women complete undergraduate science degrees – and then leave academia rather than pursuing postgraduate qualifications.

This means that black women lecturers in the sciences in South Africa’s academy have the lowest representation. Fewer lecturers ultimately mean fewer professors – the most senior, admired and respected in their academic disciplines.

In an environment like this, young black female scientists feel isolated and misunderstood. I know this first hand, as a young black women researching methods to improve food production for sub-Saharan Africa on limited land and in the face of changing climate. My own experiences are part of the reason I started an organisation called Black Women in Science.

I was also responding to complaints from other science students, who felt the same worry about their own skills and sense of isolation that I did. Black Women in Science, which has 150 members, aims to encourage women’s participation in science, technology, engineering and maths by approaching the career of a scientist in a collaborative manner. It’s not about sticking to one discipline or area of specialisation.

Role models and cultural norms

So what’s holding young black women back? The giant leap from high school to university is an enormous hurdle. This is true for all students, but – as data about first-year dropout rates in South Africa show – especially among black students. This is because they tend to come from lower quality primary and secondary school systems than their white peers.

For those who remain in the system and look to pursue postgraduate degrees, the lack of mentorship and role models is another issue. When you don’t identify with people who are lecturing in terms of image, culture and background, it’s easy not to relate to the field or subject. Diversity in the lecture hall is a way to show black women students that they can also take ownership in a particular field.

It’s important for these young women to look beyond the academy for mentors, too. One of the women I admire is Getty Choenyana, who trained as a mechanical engineer, then founded Oamobu Naturals and uses her scientific skills and knowledge to successfully produce marketable products.

Family, marriage and culture also influence black women’s experiences as scientists. A number of African communities and cultures do not have a tradition of professional women. There is a strong expectation that women must conform to the traditional roles of wife and mother.

I am a Zulu woman. If I were married, my in-laws would probably struggle to understand that I am unable to attend “umembeso” (one of the many stages and rituals in a Zulu wedding) because I have a thesis to write-up.

This is an added layer of complexity and a daunting burden. I, and black women scientists like me, feel enormous pressure to be perfect in the eyes of our academic peers and our own communities.

The ConversationThis points to the need for institutions to change too. It’s important that departments, faculties and senior academics understand the language and cultural challenges black women scientists face, and try to be more sensitive to them.

Ndoni Mcunu, PhD Candidate, University of the WitwatersrandThis article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.