Zuma Does What He Needs to Do in the US

South African consul general Fikile Magubane made a useful observation when introducing ANC president Jacob Zuma to a packed house at New York University last Friday:  “In the hurly burly of democracy, and especially in an election season, we often mistake caricature for reality.”

Painting rivals and their positions in broad, unflattering strokes is a part of all political campaigns.  Do not expect to hear anything useful about Senator Barack Obama’s economic views from Senator John McCain in the thick of the fray, or vice versa.

For similar reasons, having to do with an even more protracted political season, it has been hard for outsiders to get a clear fix on where South Africa is headed.  The problem has been exacerbated by the prejudices that colour analyses of countries such as South Africa in the absence of persuasively presented countervailing evidence. Continue reading “Zuma Does What He Needs to Do in the US”


McCain Going Down

The 2008 presidential horse race is going as badly for the Republicans as it did in 1996, when they nominated Senator Bob Dole to unseat sitting President Bill Clinton. At the equivalent stage in the campaign, with under three weeks to go, it took a lot of imagination to see how Dole could amass the required number of electoral votes to reach the magic total of 270. So it is with the war hero the Republicans have chosen this time around, John McCain.

Karl Rove, the dark political genius who assembled the winning arithmetic for George Bush, said following the third and final candidates’ debate on Wednesday night that Senator Barack Obama had yet to close the sale, but it’s awfully hard to see how the car America drives home on the night on November 4 won’t be an Obamamobile.

The three televised debates have drawn record-breaking audiences and while the pundits have differed as to the winner, the viewing public has not, giving the edge to Obama in each case by a progressively larger margin. Not only have majorities scored the face-offs for Obama, on every occasion the percentage of people who say they like him after seeing him in action has risen significantly, while rising only marginally, and this week actually falling to less than half, for McCain. Continue reading “McCain Going Down”


Break the placid surface of a pond with a stone, you will get a splash and ripples but calm will soon return.  The same stone will shatter glass irrevocably.  South Africa has the properties of the pond, not the window.

People who lose their nerve have nearly always been wrong about this country. If the ANC Youth League’s Julius Malema scares you rigid, you probably don’t get it. If the machine gun song gives you the willies, you may want to think again. This is not to condone violent rhetoric, or to pretend that words don’t matter.  It is just to say that if you fixate on the scary stuff, you are likely to miss the big picture.

I had a small epiphany on this score in March 1994. I was part of the herd of journalists, local and international, covering events in Mmabatho and next door Mafeking as the curtain came down on Bophutatswana and its president, the quisling Lucas Mangope. Continue reading “Steady”