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.”


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.

Court-bashing Bedfellows

Blade Nzimande, South Africa’s Minister of Higher Education, and Senator Ted Cruz, the fire-breathing Texas Republican who is one of the angry mob competing for his party’s presidential nomination, have something in common. It is more than a propensity to grandstand.

The General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and the Canadian-born son of an anti-Castro Cuban could hardly be farther apart ideologically but they both are in a remarkably similar froth about judges with whom they do not agree.

Dr Nzimande, in his 14 823 word political report to last week’s SACP special congress, charged that “some in the judiciary” were part of an “anti-majoritarian pseudo-liberal offensive against the democratically elected executive and parliament”.

He singled out Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke. It seems a talk the respected jurist gave in Washington in 2012 remains stuck in the Zumacratic craw on the theory it “advanc(ed) an agenda that neither derives from our constitution or the political settlement reached in the early 1990’s.”

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’ve taken over the country, so no, this must be 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:

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.