It isn’t time for South Africa to chicken out in its chicken war with the US. US Big Chicken’s Senate champions may have overplayed their hand. That doesn’t mean there isn’t other trouble brewing.
“People are saying it may be time throw South Africa under the bus”. That’s what I recently heard from a household name in Washington Africa policy circles, closely associated with the African Growth and Opportunity Act. The context was a conversation about AGOA, the centrepiece of America’s official engagement with the Africa Rising narrative. Specifically we were ruminating on whether and under what conditions SA would continue to enjoy AGOA’s benefits when it is renewed, as it must be by September. What my interlocutor was picking up was not a tactical talking point. It was not a line designed to pressure Kevin Lovell and the SA Poultry Association into letting American Big Chicken violate his industry with surplus drumsticks. It expressed a larger and more important frustration.
The African Growth and Opportunity Act will be renewed before it expires in September. That’s a solid bet. When, exactly? For how long? And will South Africa treated the same as other African beneficiaries? Those are questions awaiting an answer.
Frustrated by what they paint as President Jacob Zuma’s obduracy, President Barack Obama’s advisers are playing hardball to persuade South Africa to dilute or dispose of bomb-grade highly enriched uranium (HEU) left over from its apartheid-era weapons programme.
What has been happening in the US Congress this past week has demonstrated that South Africa’s politicians have no monopoly on loutishness. Only in the US case, with respect, issues of a rather more global nature are at stake.
“Communism”, said Lenin, “equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”. For communism, substitute the creation of a new class of black industrialists. Swap ANC for Soviet. The result is President Jacob Zuma’s justification for wanting to commission a massive new fleet of nuclear power stations from, in what would be a delicious irony if true, Lenin’s latest successor.
If, in this century, mankind kicks its carbon habit and starts to colonise Mars, Elon Musk, product of Pretoria Boy’s High (where he was bullied mercilessly), will be remembered as we remember Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Henry Ford and Werner von Braun. And if, within the same timeframe, cancer is no more a death sentence than the common cold, Patrick Soon-Shiong, son of Port Elizabeth, graduate of Wits and now, according to Forbes, the richest physician in the world, may well join the pantheon of Hippocrates, Louis Pasteur and Francis Crick and make Chris Barnard look like a mere mechanic.
When the rand crashed after 9/11, this newspaper (Business Day) found it could no longer afford a Washington correspondent. So, to the amazement of many, including myself, I went to work for the ANC government. I had come to admire President Thabo Mbeki and when his spokesman, Bheki Kumalo, asked whether I’d be interested in doing some writing for him, I said yes. Several months later, I had a new title: US Country Manager for South Africa’s newly minted International Marketing Council.
Once upon a time there was an organisation called the South Africa Foundation. It was a voice of big business in the apartheid era and it spoke in markets South Africa then considered particularly important. It had offices in London, Paris, Bonn and Washington. Its representatives in those capitals were cultivated, well-connected men who could speak confidently and credibly to captains of industry, policymakers and shapers of public opinion abroad and to those with ears to hear back home.
South African business leaders say they are impressed by the way the ANC government is reaching out to them as it looks to the private sector to rev up a stalled economy and implement that National Development Plan.
Here’s a transcript, minus the opening protocols, of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene’s keynote at the inaugural Siyabonga Awards in New York on October 7. He was speaking to business, US and South African.
Team South Africa in the US has launched the Siyabonga Business Awards to recognise Global South Africans and American companies and NGO for their contributions to the growth of the South African economy. This year’s GSA awardees were Soula Proxenos and Albert Maartens.