Mbeki’s Fate Memetically Sealed. Zuma’s?

A meme is an infectious chunk of information or prejudice that tells people what to think about subjects which they do not have the time, inclination or courage to weigh up for themselves.  You can tell that a meme has become particularly virulent when it shows up as media cliché.  Former president Thabo Mbeki, for example, is now memetically sealed as an aloof, pipe-smoking intellectual who coddled Robert Mugabe and whose apostasy on AIDS sent hundreds of thousands to a needlessly premature death.

Memes about Jacob Zuma and what his presidency means for the future of South Africa remain, mercifully, in a state of flux.  It is still an open question which ones will come to dominate in the minds of northern thought leaders.

Easily the most seductive are those against which northern immune systems are already weak.  The default master narrative has South Africa reverting, after the Golden Age of Mandela and the Silver Age of Mbeki, to what is assumed to be the brutish African norm.  Memes that seem to support that storyline are highly infectious. Continue reading “Mbeki’s Fate Memetically Sealed. Zuma’s?”


Back Into the Heart of Apartheid Darkness

Judge Shira Scheindlin of the Federal District Court for the Southern District of New York has spared President-soon-to-be-elect Jacob Zuma some trouble. She will not be seeking his opinion on the six-year-old lawsuits now before her which rely on the only-in-America Alien Tort Claims Act to extract reparations for apartheid from such household names as Daimler, IBM and General Motors.

Denying in part and granting in part the defendants’ motion to dismiss, Scheindlin on April 8 rejected the plaintiffs’ request that the South African and US governments be asked to resubmit their views.  The Mbeki administration had been hostile to the idea of US courts usurping the right of South Africa’s democracy to deal with the past on its own terms. The Bush administration urged deference to that position.

The plaintiffs – two sets, one named after the Khulumani Support Group, the other after advocate Dumisa Ntsebeza – were hoping the Zuma and Obama administrations might be more sympathetic towards what former President Mbeki considered US judicial imperialism. Continue reading “Back Into the Heart of Apartheid Darkness”

On the Horns of a Dalai Lama

The government’s explanation for denying a visa to the Dalai Lama evolved.  Such evolution generally betokens discomfort. A fair conclusion is that this was a cup the ruling party would have preferred prefer to have taken from its lips. It drank, but without joy, protesting a little too much that the decision to do so was its own.

The outcry has not spread much beyond South Africa’s borders.  As the Times of India observed in an editorial on Monday, “the most stringent criticism…is coming from within South Africa, and indeed from inside the government itself.” At this writing there has been little to no thunder from the mainstream US media.

Internationally, the score is understood. China is a bully. Continue reading “On the Horns of a Dalai Lama”