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. Continue reading “AGOA Held Hostage”


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. Continue reading “Unnecessary Meltdown”

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. Continue reading “Bad Behaviour”

History marches past the Zumacrats

“Communism”, said Lenin, “equals Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country”. For communism, substitute the creation of a new class of black industrialists. Swap ANC for Soviet. The result is President Jacob Zuma’s justification for wanting to commission a massive new fleet of nuclear power stations from, in what would be a delicious irony if true, Lenin’s latest successor.

Which begs the question: is the means suited to the end? Or will the Zumacrats land up on the wrong side of history, lashing the South African economy to an obsolete model and leaving the new class, benighted, with an albatross? Will they learn nothing from the success of their own renewable energy procurement programme?

There’s a revolution under way. Its equation might be liberation equals solar power plus batteries to store it by the megawatt for when the fusion reactor in the sky is occluded. In the vanguard — another lovely twist — are South Africans. Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame. His cousin, SolarCity’s Lyndon Rive. And, less well known, Mike Thackeray, a Comrades Marathon standout credited with a critical breakthrough in lithium-ion technology and now working at the US government’s Argonne laboratories outside Chicago. Continue reading “History marches past the Zumacrats”

Eminent emigrants

South Africa, says Brand SA, is the country of “inspiring new ways”. It has certainly produced people who fit that label. Nelson Mandela, obviously. Any takers for Jan Smuts? Among the living, Elon Musk and Patrick Soon-Shiong spring to mind.

Mandela inspired, for sure, but homage to his example, like Gandhi’s and Martin Luther King’s, is nowadays paid more in word than deed. Mandela’s chief of staff, Barbara Masekela, was willing to give Smuts his due when I had the privilege of serving her, but she is of the old, that is to say Mandela, school.

If, in this century, mankind kicks its carbon habit and starts to colonise Mars, Musk, product of Pretoria Boy’s High (where he was bullied mercilessly), will be remembered as we remember Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Henry Ford and Werner von Braun.

And if, within the same timeframe, cancer is no more a death sentence than the common cold, Soon-Shiong, son of Port Elizabeth, graduate of Wits and now, according to Forbes, the richest physician in the world, may well join the pantheon of Hippocrates, Louis Pasteur and Francis Crick and make Chris Barnard look like a mere mechanic. Continue reading “Eminent emigrants”