And how many South African jobs has China created?

First, a note to the editors of ANC Today. In your final edition for 2015 you ran an open letter from Justice Piitso, former provincial secretary of the SACP in Limpopo, to President Barack Obama, on behalf of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a Puerto Rican nationalist jailed for sedition, robbery and illegal possession of explosives in 1981.

Please observe the spelling of Barack. One “r”. Perhaps you have corrected this since it was pointed out on Twitter on Tuesday evening. Not that it will help Mr Rivera. He would have been freed in 1999 had he accepted then President Bill Clinton’s conditions for commuting his sentence. One was that he renounce terrorism as a means of advancing Puerto Rican independence, a cause most Puerto Ricans don’t actually support.

Now on to a more substantive matter. I refer to ANC spokesman Zizi Kodwa’s response, as reported by the official Chinese news agency, Xinhua, and tweeted by Sidwell Medupe, spokesman for the department of trade and industry, to Mr. Obama’s Monday night proclamation regarding SA’s continued enjoyment of US trade preferences under the African Growth and Opportunity Act.

Baffling behaviour

US officials say they are both frustrated and perplexed by what they see as Pretoria’s chronic failure to meet mutually agreed benchmarks in order to forestall the suspension of African Growth and Opportunity Act trade preferences that have helped SA’s farmers compete in what is still the world’s richest market.

Particularly baffling, these officials say, has been the string of optimistic statements put out by Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies and his team declaring that the issues involved are close to resolution.

Who, they would like to know, is calling the shots and what is their agenda? The veterinarians, the politicians or both?

No balm for Gilead

Hillary Clinton, very likely America’s next president, sees votes in promising to give the US pharmaceutical industry an enema. Good idea. I wouldn’t, in this instance, be against castor oil administered to selected CEO’s and private equity types by Julius Malema and his Red Shirts.

The other day I went to the dermatologist for a quick once over. She detected redness in an armpit and promptly gave me a prescription. When I went to get it filled, the pharmacist wanted to lighten my wallet by $490 — R7000 — for a 50 gram tube of cream.

What was this stuff, I asked, incredulous. Vusion, came the reply. No thanks, I said and went home to do some Googling.

Cool in the face of terror

A terrorist succeeds when he provokes a response that plays into his hands. By that standard few terrorist attacks have been more successful than those of September 11, 2001. By giving then President George W Bush the pretext he craved to invade Iraq, the jihadist kamikazes who took down the World Trade Centre succeeded beyond Osama bin Laden’s wildest imaginings.

Saddam Hussein was undoubtedly a monster, but as we are now discovering, it took monsters like Saddam and his fellow Baathist, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, to keep a lid on the sectarian and ethnic hatreds, not to mention groups like al-Qaeda, seething inside the arbitrary borders drawn for their predecessors by the colonial powers after World War I.

On the ruins of Iraq and Syria, religious extremists too fanatical even for al-Qaeda’s taste have established a proto-polity — the Islamic State or ISIS — the brutality of whose leaders and adherents make Saddam and Assad look like candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize in comparison.

White death

Donald Trump’s base is killing itself with drugs and booze. Or so one might infer from a startling new paper by Ann Case and her husband, this year’s Nobel laureate for economics Angus Deaton, both of Princeton.

Trump, still frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination in most polls, is doing especially well among likely primary voters with a high school education or less and incomes below $40 000 a year (the median US household income is currently just under $54 000).

Fully a third of this demographic said the Donald (so dubbed by an ex-wife who spoke imperfect English) was the guy for them in a late September survey by the Pew Research Centre. His closest rival for their affection was Dr. Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who has said he would rather see a bullet-riddled body than any impairment of Second Amendment gun rights. He mustered just 14 per cent. No one else in the herd made it into double digits.

MARs attack

Donald Trump, billionaire property developer, casino owner and carnival barker – America’s answer to Julius Malema — has been the clear front runner for the Republican presidential nomination since mid-July. Not only is he well ahead of the pack nationally, polling consistently at around 30% of likely Republican primary voters, he is currently the clear favourite to collect the most nominating delegates in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida when the real voting begins.

Why?

The best short answer is supplied by Ronald Brownstein of the National Journal: “The blue-collar wing of the Republican primary electorate consolidated around one candidate. The party’s white collar wing remains fragmented.”

John Judis, another astute analyst, unpacks the Trump fan base as Middle American Radicals, or MARs, a category first proposed by sociologist Donald Warren in a 1976 monograph, “The Radical Centre: Middle Americans and the Political of Alienation.”

Goading the US on AGOA

Here’s a question I have about the time the South African government is taking to remove barriers to US chicken, pork and beef exports. Is Pretoria acting in good faith? Or is Minister of Trade and Industry Rob Davies deliberately trying to provoke the Obama administration into suspending South Africa’s benefits under the African Growth and Opportunity Act? Publicly, he keeps insisting that SA is doing every it can to get things resolved. And yet one hears that every time there’s a meeting, the SA side raises some new complication.

Davies sits on the central committee of the SA Communist Party whose fingerprints are all over a draft ANC policy document which all but declares the US a hostile power. The chapter on international relations asserts that Washington has launched a new cold war against China and Russia and accuses the US of working to destabilise SA’s “progressive” friends the world over. The SACP might well consider it a propaganda coup if the US were to reimpose tariffs on key SA exports for what Davies would claim was no good reason. Look, the wicked imperialists are trying to destabilise us too!

Telephonic Air Guitar

Much has been read into the photo of Presidents Barack Obama and Jacob Zuma crossing paths at a UN lunch last week. We have no way of knowing what was going on in either man’s head. But it’s fun to guess.

Here’s what I hope. Mr Obama was table hopping, saw the South African leader and graciously stopped by to say hello. Mr Zuma, cell phone pressed to his ear with one hand, proffered the other. Mr Obama shook it, gestured “call me when you have a moment”, and moved on not wishing to interrupt.

What I fear is that Mr Obama, as he shook Mr Zuma’s hand, was amused to see a head of state on the phone at such an occasion, mimicked him by playing the telephonic equivalent of air guitar, and as he focused elsewhere, said to himself in his cool way, “What a strange little dude.”

Buying in

If you’re desperate to emigrate to the US, have half a million dollars you’re willing to park with an American property developer without earning much of a return, and can’t qualify otherwise, you might want to take a look at the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Programme and then consider another plan.

In the decade ending September 30 last year, EB-5 visas were the ticket to a green card for just 166 South Africans, or 1,1 per cent of the 13 141 who received US immigrant visas because they, or someone in their immediate family, had what America considers to be the right stuff.

The programme is up for renewal by Congress at the end of this month. While it has not been without controversy, it is one of the few facets of US immigration policy which most politicians can agree to like, especially when it’s sending bacon to their constituents.

Seriously?

Are we supposed to take seriously the international relations chapter of the ANC’s National General Council discussion documents?

I ask this remembering a conversation I had with the great Charlie Rangel, he of the Rangel Amendment which stopped US companies deducting taxes paid to the government of PW Botha from what they owed Uncle Sam.

The congressman from Harlem and I spoke at the 1988 Democratic convention in Atlanta. The platform the party adopted for its presidential nominee Michael Dukakis to run on that year pledged a nigh hermetic embargo of South Africa, well beyond the 1987 Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act and Rangel’s own initiative.

“For real?” I asked. He laughed. “Goodness, no! Nobody pays the slightest attention to the platform.” Platforms, he intimated, were things to keep party activists happy and out of the grown-ups’ hair.

Here’s hoping the same is true of the NGC discussion documents, certainly as they relate to foreign policy.

A better Brand SA

With the appointment of Kingsley Makhubela as its new captain, Brand South Africa leaves the serried ranks of public institutions whose CEOs are acting.

Holding the record for longevity of service at Brand SA – I lasted 12 and half years as US country manager – I continue to take a morbid interest in the fortunes of this awkward duckling now nestled uncomfortably in Faith Muthambi’s ministry of truth.  From experience and the public record (budget documents, strategic plans, portfolio committee reports and the organisation’s own work product), I’d say that if Mr Makhubela truly wants to make a difference, rather than simply be there at Davos and the like, he has a slog ahead of him.

Here’s the basic problem.  Brand SA’s mandate is a mile wide while its capacity to carry it out – budget, marketplace credibility and political and institutional clout – is an inch thin.

Brand SA, it says in Treasury’s 2015 Estimates of National Expenditure, “is charged with building the brand reputation of the country in order to improve its global competitiveness and better position South Africa in the world, as well as promoting active citizenry and social cohesion across society.”

That is a ludicrously tall and scattershot order.

AGOA and the Dinosaurs

Rob Davies, the minister of trade and industry, is a member of the South African Communist Party’s central committee whose collective signature is on an article in the current African Communist. In it we learn that the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which helped SA run a $2 billion trade surplus with the US last year, is a tool devised by newly confident “monopoly capital” to force neo-liberal policies down the throats of SA’s working class.

“Imperialist” America, say Mr Davies and his friends — prime exhibits all in SA’s Jurassic Park of failed ideology — are “pushing South Africa very hard” by attaching “conditionalities” to AGOA’s just enacted 10-year renewal.

The SACP dinosaurs acknowledge “the US is not necessarily keen to drop its AGOA relationship with South Africa”. On that, at least, they are correct. Shakier, though, is the logic on which they base their conclusion. Call it Sino-manic infantilism.