They fought for slavery

The US National Park Service lovingly maintains more than 70 battlefields and other sites related to the war between North and South – the Union and the rebel Confederacy — which saw 600 000 Americans butchered by each other between April 1861 and April 1865.

The sites include Fort Sumter in Charleston harbour at whose federal garrison South Carolinian secessionists fired the war’s opening salvo. Replicas of the original mortars still squat a few blocks from Mother Emanuel AME church where, two weeks ago, Dylann Roof slaughtered nine African-Americans at Bible study, hoping, he said, to start another war.

“No, you’ve raped our women, you’ve stolen and you’re taken over the country, so no, this must he done,” he reportedly told his victims when one them pleaded with him to reconsider.

A century and a half earlier, Henry Benning said much the same thing. He was one of the commissioners dispatched by South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Lousiana to whip up support for secession in other slave states. In a letter to the Virginia legislature, he wrote:

“If things are allowed to go on as they are, it is certain that slavery will be abolished…The black race will be in a large majority…We will be overpowered and our men will be compelled to wander like vagabonds all over the earth, and as for our women, the horrors of their state we cannot contemplate…We will be completely exterminated and the land will be left in the possession of the blacks.”

Imperialist Trade Preferences

South Africa’s minister of trade and industry Rob Davies serves on the South African Communist Party’s Central Committee. Carried in the Q2 edition of the African Communist is a “political report” prepared by the SACP CC. The report, entitled “Consolidate our revolution and roll back neo-liberalism” mentions the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which the US Congress has just extended for 10 years.  AGOA gives most African countries uniquely generous preferential access to the US market for all but a very few products. South Africa, as the region’s most advanced economy, is the biggest beneficiary. Because of AGOA, BMW and Mercedes manufacturer cars in South Africa for export to the US.

The SACP CC, and therefore, one has to assume, CC member Davies, consider AGOA part of a reinvigorated effort by “the imperialist powers to impose neoliberal policies”. From the report:

There is…no serious counter-hegemonic left alternative that has effectively emerged after 2008 to challenge the major citadels of capitalist power. One consequence of this is the re-emergence of confidence by monopoly capital. This is evident in greater determination by the imperialist powers to impose neo-liberal policies once more, on Greece, for instance, and on developing countries, through, for example, current WTO processes and attaching conditionalities to the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act) renewal.

Although the US is not necessarily keen to drop its AGOA relationship with South Africa, as this would run the danger of ceding further market space in Africa to China, it is pushing South Africa very hard. The failure of a left alternative to emerge is a question that the contemporary communist and other left forces will have to ask and seek to answer, as part of seeking to advance alternatives to neo-liberal capitalism and the capitalist system itself.

Within the coming month, the US Trade Representative will launch a special review of South Africa’s eligibility for AGOA benefits based on conditions that have been in place since the Act was first passed in 2000. The  review will consider whether South Africa “has established, or is making continual progress toward establishing…a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules-based trading system, and minimizes government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsidies, and government ownership of economic assets.”

The SACP and the members of its leadership who, like Davies, occupy key positions in the South African government and ruling party, find these conditions objectionable. If the government is genuinely committed to attracting foreign investment, Davies should either disavow the SACP CC’s political report or resign.

From Jeb? to Jeb!

In 1979, the late Senator Edward Kennedy, last of his brothers, was persuaded it was time to launch his own bid for the White House. So he challenged the incumbent, President Jimmy Carter, for the 1980 Democratic nomination.

Making it official in an interview on 60 Minutes, then the most watched hour on American television, he flubbed the obvious question: why? He had no answer. Running for president was just something Kennedys did. His campaign never recovered.

Jeb Bush, who hopes to become the third of that ilk to win the presidency since 1988, looked in recent weeks to be making the same mistake. Knowing what we know now, he was asked, did he think brother George had been right to invade Iraq? For several days he floundered between yes, no and it depends. The punditocracy and the Republican money men were not impressed. Jeb! — as his campaign logo styles him — was suddenly Jeb?

On Monday, the former Florida governor officially announced his candidacy. His well-orchestrated rally, in the gym of a Miami community college, went some way to restoring the exclamation mark. What we saw was a candidate who knew what he had to do to beat Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee-apparent, 17 months hence.

Fifa’s Honest Services

In the manner of Casablanca’s Captain Renault, most anyone who follows the beautiful game must have been shocked — shocked! — to discover that Sepp Blatter’s FIFA-dom was a cesspit. It is so seldom that people with power to bestow highly valued favours seize the opportunity for self-enrichment when they have the discretion to do so. Why, just look at the reproachless governance of contemporary South Africa.

More genuinely novel was how the US Justice Department found a legal path to the indictment it handed down last week on 14 members of what it calls “the enterprise” — FIFA, its confederations, their federations and the marketing companies that feed on and off them. The dodgy dealings alleged in the 163-page charging document occurred only very tangentially in American territory and in many instances long after the statute of limitations would normally have expired.

Read the document closely with a copy of the US Code to hand and you will find that the case against Jack Warner, the Trinidadian alleged to have made a bundle fixing SA’s 2010 bid, and the rest of his fellow “conspirators” hinges on their having engaged in “a scheme or artifice to deprive another of the intangible right to honest services”.

In this instance “another” is “the enterprise”. Technically, the enterprisers’ alleged crime is not bribery and kickbacks, though the words appear frequently in the indictment, but betrayal of fiduciary duty to FIFA and the other foreign bodies they variously represented.

Can Facebook help journalism?

Hitherto, to read an unpirated New York Times article online you had to click on an URL that took you to a site owned and controlled by the New York Times. Today that changed as Facebook began serving, at least to users of its iPhone app, selected content belonging to the Times and eight other A-list media properties directly from within its own walled garden.

The shift, some said, was tectonic, which may sound over the top to the average poster of cat videos and holiday selfies, but to someone with a son about to graduate from journalism school, the deal will be big if it pans out the way the Times hopes. Not everyone thinks it will.

Why would the Times — or the National Geographic or the Guardian or the BBC or Der Spiegel or any of the others who have signed up — want to participate in this “experiment”? (That, for now, is what they are calling it; the official title is Instant Articles.)

Do South Africa’s ideologues really want AGOA?

That the US Congress will vote to extend the African Growth and Opportunity Act any day now apparently brings no joy to the heart of Sandile Tyini, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies’ man at the Washington embassy.

At a gathering of African Union ambassadors on Monday, Mr Tyini lamented the new “conditionalities” in the reauthorization bill, attendees said.

This, they also said, elicited no sympathy from the ambassador of Gabon, who was chairing the session, or other African colleagues. They want to see the bill enacted promptly. Uncertainty has been killing export orders.

Strictly, the language adopted by both Senate Finance and House Ways and Means Committees last month imposes no extra eligibility requirements. It simply makes it easier for interested parties to complain if beneficiaries are non-compliant and lets the US government apply the screws in more calibrated ways.

For most, the threat of greater scrutiny is a small price to pay for 10, as opposed to 5 or 3, more years of privileged access to the US market. But not, it seems, for SA.

Markets, not minerals

If you’re a student of China in Africa and haven’t read Howard French’s “China’s Second Continent: How A Million Migrants are Building a New Empire in Africa”, you need to remedy that.

French was probably the best correspondent the New York Times ever posted to Africa between the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Sahara. The newspaper then made him bureau chief in Shanghai where he mastered Mandarin and was struck by the growing flow of visiting African bigwigs. That led to scores of interviews in six African countries, and the book.

To see China’s involvement as a “raw materials play” is “a failed appreciation of China’s ambition with regard to Africa and, indeed, the world”, he said at a forum here this week. “What China is really after is the development of markets”.

To illustrate his point, he held up his iPhone.

Home to roost

It’s common to hear people who should know better call the African Growth and Opportunity Act an agreement. It isn’t. It’s a one-way grant of preferential access to the American market for African countries that meet certain criteria. The recipients made no binding concessions of their own to secure these preferences. The donor calls the shots. That’s life.

The US wanted to negotiate a free trade agreement with South Africa after AGOA went into effect.  The negotiations failed in 2006 leaving a sour taste in Washington’s mouth. South Africa says they failed because the US was asking for more than its South African Customs Union partners — Namibia, Botswana, Swaziland and Lesotho — felt able to give. That’s not an excuse that’s universally accepted on the US side. The feeling here is that South Africa preferred to keep getting without giving.

Now come the consequences. What’s given unilaterally can also be taken away unilaterally. The US is threatening denial of AGOA benefits to get what it wants. That includes a share of the SA market for frozen chicken legs and wings.  SA says US exporters were dumping their surpluses on SA at less that the cost of production before punitive duties were imposed in 2000.

Were it so inclined, the US government could take SA to the World Trade Organisation over those duties. Why hasn’t it? Two reasons. One, success is by no means certain. Two, Washington has another tool to work its will: the threat of dropping SA from AGOA.

Now, as a result of the chicken dispute, it looks likely that the US Congress will renew AGOA with a clause obliging the US Trade Representative (the person, Michael Froman, and the agency he runs) to launch a review of South Africa’s eligibility within 30 days of the the renewal legislation becoming law.

The legal language mandating the review calls for it to be conducted with reference to a specific subsection — highlighted in italics below — of AGOA’s section 104:

Wearying of the Zumacrats

“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 Zumacrats may treat this as a feather in their caps, but Washington, on a bipartisan basis (and to the extent it can be bothered), is growing tired of them, their sanctimony, their statism, their graft, their time-warped loyalty to the discredited ghosts of Bandung, their BRIC fixation, their pandering to autocrats and other violators of principles for which thousands of South Africans died, their ill-concealed resentment of the West; in sum, what is perceived as their utter lack of Mandela-liness.

AGOA Held Hostage

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.

Holding things up is strong opposition from most Democrats, and some Tea Party Republicans, to giving President Obama “trade promotion authority” (TPA). This he needs to conclude his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement with 11 “like-minded” nations — China is not on the list — that rim the Pacific on both sides.

Republicans are using AGOA as a hostage to obtain the Democratic votes they need to give Mr Obama TPA, on which he and they are in rare agreement. Without TPA, there will be no TPP. Japan, New Zealand and other partners have said they will not make final offers without assurance that whatever Mr Obama gives them in return will not be tampered with by Congress after the deal is done.

The Democrats may be in the minority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, but because of dissension within their own ranks, Republicans need help from the Dems to give Mr Obama what he wants. They have yet to get it.

Unnecessary Meltdown

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.

Readers of the Washington Post, easily agitated members of Congress among them, awoke on Sunday to the front-page headline: “S. AFRICAN NUCLEAR PLANS UNNERVE U.S.” The subhead ran: “Quarter ton cache left over from country’s former explosives arsenal is seen as dangerously vulnerable”.

The thrust of the ensuing two-page spread was that the still mysterious November, 2007, break-in at Pelindaba was not, per the official version, a third-rate attempt to steal a few PCs. Little more than dumb luck, it was suggested, had stopped a professional gang from getting into the vault where the HEU was stored and stealing enough for six bombs “each powerful enough to obliterate central Washington”.

Developed for the Post by an independent investigative unit, the Center for Public Integrity, the six-month-in-preparation story had a lot of help from someone in or close to the White House. The CPI’s reporters had copies of letters from Mr Obama to Mr Zuma which they placed on the center’s website. Unnamed administration officials were quoted extensively.

Bad Behaviour

From this remove, the South African commentariat’s reaction to events in Parliament on February 12 seemed a little shrill. Who doubted that the Economic Freedom Fighters would cause a ruckus with the intention of being removed? Not the government and its heat-packing waitrons, obviously. Nor can any other half-way sensate observer have been overly gobsmacked either, if they were honest.

As for the jamming of cell phone signals, that can hardly have been aimed exclusively at the media. It must have affected every mobile in the chamber. In any event, there was nothing to stop people taking pictures and videos of whatever transpired for sharing immediately afterwards. Is the right to live tweet now sacrosanct?

Realising that these are matters that have already been well masticated inside and outside the local media bubble, I raise them simply to say 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, the US being a substantial power which, whatever the prejudices of the SA establishment, many other countries still take seriously, look to for leadership and don’t sophomorically accuse of spying.

The Republican Party, or a goodly number of its members, have shown themselves to be motivated by a contempt for President Obama that leads them to acts some would — and do — say border on treason. That goes too far. Nevertheless, lines have been crossed.