Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

The winter of our discontent

March 30, 2016
R.W. Johnson

South Africans have, for several months now, been enduring an exceptional torrent of accusations and counter-accusations of racism. Such accusations have, of course, provided much of the steady badinage of South African politics for twenty years, but even when seen against that background the recent period has been special.

Penny Sparrow, a South Coast estate agent, provided a convenient initial focus with her virtually Neanderthal depictions of blacks as monkeys: what the French would call le racisme primaire. Thereafter all manner of essentially harmless folk have been caught up in the storm and have suffered penalties of one sort or another for a few words or sentiments a mite out of place – or not even that.

The situation has now become so ridiculous that when Helen Zille says how pleased she is by the heavy usage of Cape Town’s municipal libraries, she is accused of racism for having implied surprise that blacks read books.

On many university campuses there is a frankly anti-white frenzy. We have seen delighted declarations that “whiteness is burning” when valuable pictures are torched.

What to conclude from this? A first conclusion might be, for god’s sake avoid social media. Almost everybody who has found themselves in trouble has done so as a result of some unwise and trivial post on Twitter and Facebook. One only has to remember how her addiction to Twitter undermined Helen Zille’s leadership of the DA to see what a hostage to fortune such media constitute.

Why all the fuss over racism?

But what is this hyper-sensitivity about? The answer is not simple. For many years it has been commonplace that black commentators insist that “we must debate race”. On the face of it, there is little to debate. We all know that biologically speaking, no such thing as race exists. It is also common cause that black people have suffered badly from segregation and oppression by whites.

Nobody wishes to defend or exculpate apartheid. So what is the debate about? Usually, it seems, debate is just the wrong word: most often what seems to be meant is a further opportunity to rehearse all the multiple ways in which black South Africans still feel aggrieved. This is not a debate, nor even truly a conversation and very seldom is there anything new to say. It is also purely backward-looking.

All the heat and energy is about past grievances (student radicals frequently attack their opponents for the mistreatment of their parents or even grandparents): there seems to be little constructive thought about the future – or even much interest in it. The picture has been further clouded by attempts to reify “whiteness”, philosophically and sociologically a very dubious notion.

The key factor: ANC failure

The main new fact driving the current hypersensitivity is just that the ANC is visibly failing. No one is in any serious doubt now about this. It even passes the taxi driver test: take a taxi from OR Tambo and the driver will soon tell you that the ANC will soon lose power, either nationally or a least in Joburg. It’s literally on the street.

The ANC elites, anxiously aware of this, feel the cold whiff of change in the air. Hence Gwede Mantashe’s paranoid mutterings about the role of the US embassy in allegedly fostering regime change. It has now dawned on the ANC leadership, that far from being in place “until Jesus comes”, they could meet their Maker quite a lot sooner than that.

It is not clear, after, all, how the ANC’s claim to rule would survive the loss of Pretoria and/or Joburg. Hence, too, the much sharper focus now on the possibility of relegation to junk bond status. When I brought out my last book in May 2015 (How Long Will South Africa Survive? The Looming Crisis) the notion of such a relegation was rather recherché stuff.

The oddity was that although almost nobody was willing to review the book, its central ideas quickly passed into the main conversation. The possibility of relegation to junk bond status thus became the key symbolic test of whether ANC government had failed. The result, belatedly, was to make every ANC spokesman vow to avoid such a relegation at almost any cost.

The notion of ANC government as an evident failure triggered complex psychological reactions. Since this was South Africa’s first African government its imminent failure was seen as an enormous symbolic defeat for the black race by certain black intellectuals – first and foremost in their own eyes.

This in itself was almost unbearably painful, as can be seen in innumerable letters to the editor from black readers saying how personally humiliated and let down they feel by the government’s failure. Second, many black intellectuals were quick to imagine whites sitting on their verandahs of an evening, gin and tonic in hand, saying “I told you so” – an almost unbearable image.

Third, and for that very reason, this produced a renewed anti-white animus, a determination that, if the ship was to go down, at least the whites must go down with the ship too.

Julius Malema, with his usual unerring instinct, taunted the ANC with the thought that some whites were actually enjoying the prospect of a black government failing.

The hardening of opinion

There is a smidgeon of truth in this. It is undeniably true that under the weight of government incompetence and corruption, much white opinion has hardened. This is obvious in a host of ways and certainly to any reader of the PoliticsWeb comment section.

Nonetheless, the overwhelming majority of white South Africans still want their country to succeed, irrespective of politics. Yet at the same time there has always been a tiny fringe of white apologists for black racism – it will be hard to convince future generations how much of the damage was done by whites.

Frequently such folk will find sophistical arguments for the proposition that only whites can be racists, although ordinary common sense shows plainly enough that this is a disease that anyone can catch. Blacks and whites can both be racists in the same way that blacks and whites can both be fast food addicts, both be thieves, both be religious nuts and so on.

What seems to drive such folk, oddly, is a strong sense of collective guilt. They would all insist that their own treatment of black people has been blameless (so individually they are not guilty) but they believe that all white people should feel collective guilt about the past. This despite the fact that all the churches, the UN and no end of judicial eminences have declared that the doctrine of collective guilt – used by anti-Semites down the ages to justify their persecution of the Jews – is not only invalid but an offense against humanity.

The doctrine of collective guilt was invoked by the Nazis when they murdered whole communities in reprisal for the acts of a few resistants. It is a deeply inhuman and reactionary doctrine. So guilt can only be individual. No doubt we should all examine our own consciences, but that is far as one can go.

The history of non-racialism

When the ANC was in its pomp under Mandela, it was proudly non-racial and did not stoop to anti-white racism. The person who really reintroduced racism to South African public life was Thabo Mbeki who repeatedly conjured up loathsome visions of blacks as dirty, diseased, plundering and rapacious folk, an imagined white stereotype, though one which Mbeki himself found weirdly believable.

Mbeki relied more and more on “campaigns against racism” (read anti-white mobilizations), held a World Conference Against Racism and said this would be the guiding theme of his entire presidency. This was all very telling. With the Mandela magic gone, Mbeki felt paranoid and insecure and his first instinct was to fall back on anti-white racism.

Zuma was, at first, much better. With Mbeki’s defeat at Polokwane, anti-white racism faded from the scene. But as the cumulative weight of the ANC’s economic blunders became apparent, this has changed. When the ANC has to fight for survival its last card is racial nationalism: vote for us because we are black, vote against them because they are white.

This situation has been dramatically transformed by the emergence of the EFF. The ANC has always most feared attacks from its left and it can see Malema’s radical anti-white rhetoric gaining traction.

This panics it completely and its response is to attempt to ensure that, whatever else, it will not be outflanked on that theme. It must fight to ensure that racial nationalism works in its favour, and not in Malema’s. Thus whites find themselves on the wrong end of a Dutch auction on anti-white racism.

It must be understood that this is all part of the logic of multi-party proportional representation. A new development to the Left of the ANC will have a ricocheting effect right across the system as one billiard ball after another feels the colliding motion of the next. The eruption of an anti-ANC left has immediately set up a new field of force right across the system.

The eclipse of the old Left

Most obviously, of course, it has had dire effects on the SACP and Cosatu – the old ersatz Left. Nobody bothers to mention the National Democratic Revolution any more. Indeed, the NDR seems to be just as dead as the NDP (the National Development Plan), which is to say, as dead as a dodo. If there is a radical vision held out to the radical young it is Malema’s furious return to the Freedom Charter with forced expropriation of all white assets.(Malema carefully omits the Charter’s strongly non-racial stance.) The SACP can’t compete with that. The best it can do is just stay quiet – rather like Blade Nzimande, who is staying as deliberately invisible as possible during the current university troubles. So much for the SACP’s vanguard role.

In effect, neither the SACP nor COSATU brings anything very substantial to the ANC now. They continue purely on sufferance. The hoary old mythology was that the ANC relied on Cosatu to mobIlize the urban vote for it. But the ANC is losing precisely in the cities, and is relying more every year on the great vote banks of the old bantustans, in which Cosatu plays no role.

The budget has set the stage for a further intensification of racial nationalism. As Anthony Butler commented, its boundaries were “set by cronyism, the power of public sector unions, antipathy towards the private sector and public discontent about the economy”. That is, Gordhan could not go further without disturbing or dislodging the patronage networks on which Zuma’s rule depends.

The ANC clock: always slow

The result is weirdly reminiscent of the National Party dramas of the 1970s and 1980s when enormous pressures for change would be met by the fact that the NP’s clock was set not by those pressures but by the purely internal consideration of the relative strengths of the verligtes and verkramptes.

It is the same now with the ANC. It can proceed only at the pace set by its internal clock, which depends on the balance between its factions, its patrons and their clients. This is way behind the pace required by the international political economy of which South Africa is part.

In effect what this means is that the ANC is simply not able to carry out the sort of reforms necessary to guarantee its own survival. Instead it has adopted a defensive crouch which it will maintain through possible local election losses and a further ratings downgrade. As these things occur its mood will get increasingly sour, panicky and paranoid.

Its recourse to racial nationalism will become increasingly shrill. It will be a good time to remember the old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones but hard words will never hurt me”. But, of course, it is playing with fire and, as recent university incidents have shown, it is all too easy for this sort of racial mobilization to tip over into inter-racial violence. Should that occur on any scale it would undo the whole post-1990 settlement and leave the country in no man’s land.

The conundrum of student protest

Finally there is the difficult question of how to interpret the current wave of student protest. While this younger generation is just as affected as others by the emotional consequences of ANC failure, there are clearly extra factors – grievances over fees, over accommodation, over the language of instruction, over exclusion because of indebtedness, as well as fear of academic failure born of poor schooling and a weak culture of study, discomfort (of some) at finding themselves in a mainly “white” environment for the first time, unhappiness at the sight of white and Indian students often scoring higher marks and anxiety over the high rate of youth unemployment.

As if this wasn’t enough, the student movement has quickly been hijacked by out-sourced workers wanting to be in-sourced and by ambitious black academics wanting more affirmative action in academic hiring and promotion.

On top of that there is a general fear that ANC fat cats have feathered their own nests by selling out the next generation, a fear sometimes phrased as the Mandela generation selling out to “white monopoly capital”.

That is already eleven separate factors and doubtless there are more. It is this hydra-headed nature which accounts for both the protest movement’s power and its confusion.

However, as the political theorist Michael Oakshott argued, no political movement is born or exists in a vacuum. In practise it intimates its new meanings and demands in terms of the existing political traditions in that society. In that sense the students had to choose between three competing traditions:

1. The Freedom Charter’s non-racial stance – “South Africa belongs to all those who live in it, black and white, and no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people”.

2. The PAC/Black Consciousness alternative. Although Robert Sobukwe and Steve Biko both insisted that they did not believe in black domination or racial animosity towards whites, their followers have generally interpreted this tradition to mean just that. In addition, BC enthusiasts generally favour de facto racial segregation, with separate racially-based organisations for black students, lawyers, businessmen etc.

3. The radical “Struggle” tradition inherited from the ANC’s thirty years in exile when the party fought for the total overthrow of the system, the “conquest of power”, and a full-on socialist programme. Once the negotiated settlement was reached at Codesa this tradition was cut short but it continued in the popular mind and various leaders bid for its leadership – Chris Hani, Peter Mokaba, Winnie Mandela and Julius Malema among others.

Although Nelson Mandela invoked the first (non-racial) tradition in 1994 as the basis of the new settlement, the truth was that it belonged to the period of Albert Luthuli’s leadership of the ANC and had largely been eclipsed since his death.

But strong traces of it remain for it is still the presumptive base of the Constitution and the entire post-1994 dispensation. In essence Luthuli was a Christian liberal. The black and white students who joined together to pray for peace on their campuses lay exactly within that tradition.

In practice most student activists seem to mix the second and third traditions with little regard for theoretical coherence, just as Malema attempts to combine the (incompatible) first and third traditions.

In truth, the situation is confused. The third tradition has been formally ended; the second was defeated by the ANC and is thus not in power, while the first, though theoretically the basis of the present dispensation, is widely ignored and flouted. The result is literally anarchic.

Thus although some of the activists believe we need to revisit the 1994 settlement and change it, the situation is now quite different from 1990-1994. That period was dominated by the approaching certainty of an irresistible ANC hegemony. Today that hegemony finds itself under assault from all directions with no real certainty about what the new balance will be.

We thus have a period of rough water ahead of us – which could be quite prolonged. It will be a time forvasbyt, for holding fast, for remembering that whatever the accompanying noise, the vast majority of South Africans simply want peace and growth, and remembering too that the country has come through far worse times during the Anglo-Boer War, during the Depression of the 1930s, during the Second World War and during apartheid. It is a resilient country in which it is rational to be an optimist.

R.W. Johnson

South Africa: Only a matter of time before the bomb explodes

March 3, 2016

by Moeletsi Mbeki: Author, political commentator and entrepreneur.
12 FEBRUARY 2011

I can predict when SA’s “Tunisia Day” will arrive. Tunisia Day is when the masses rise against the powers that be, as happened recently in Tunisia. The year will be 2020, give or take a couple of years. The year 2020 is when China estimates that its current minerals-intensive industrialisation phase will be concluded.

For SA, this will mean the African National Congress (ANC) government will have to cut back on social grants, which it uses to placate the black poor and to get their votes. China’s current industrialisation phase has forced up the prices of SA’s minerals, which has enabled the government to finance social welfare programmes.

The ANC inherited a flawed, complex society it barely understood; its tinkerings with it are turning it into an explosive cocktail. The ANC leaders are like a group of children playing with a hand grenade. One day one of them will figure out how to pull out the pin and everyone will be killed.

A famous African liberation movement, the National Liberation Front of Algeria, after tinkering for 30 years, pulled the grenade pin by cancelling an election in 1991 that was won by the opposition Islamic Salvation Front. In the civil war that ensued, 200000 people were killed.

The former British prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, once commented that whoever thought that the ANC could rule SA was living in Cloud Cuckoo Land. Why was Thatcher right? In the 16 years of ANC rule, all the symptoms of a government out of its depth have grown worse.
• Life expectancy has declined from 65 years to 53 years since the ANC came to power;
• In 2007, SA became a net food importer for the first time in its history;
• The elimination of agricultural subsidies by the government led to the loss of 600000 farm workers’ jobs and the eviction from the commercial farming sector of about 2,4-million people between 1997 and 2007; and
• The ANC stopped controlling the borders, leading to a flood of poor people into SA, which has led to conflicts between SA’s poor and foreign African migrants.
What should the ANC have done, or be doing?

The answer is quite straightforward. When they took control of the government in 1994, ANC leaders should have: identified what SA’s strengths were; identified what SA’s weaknesses were; and decided how to use the strengths to minimise and/or rectify the weaknesses.

A wise government would have persuaded the skilled white and Indian population to devote some of their time — even an hour a week — to train the black and coloured population to raise their skill levels.

What the ANC did instead when it came to power was to identify what its leaders and supporters wanted. It then used SA’s strengths to satisfy the short-term consumption demands of its supporters. In essence, this is what is called black economic empowerment (BEE).

BEE promotes a number of extremely negative socioeconomic trends in our country. It promotes a class of politicians dependent on big business and therefore promotes big business’s interests in the upper echelons of government. Second, BEE promotes an anti-entrepreneurial culture among the black middle class by legitimising an environment of entitlement. Third, affirmative action, a subset of BEE, promotes incompetence and corruption in the public sector by using ruling party allegiance and connections as the criteria for entry and promotion in the public service, instead of having tough public service entry examinations.

Let’s see where BEE, as we know it today, actually comes from. I first came across the concept of BEE from a company, which no longer exists, called Sankor. Sankor was the industrial division of Sanlam and it invented the concept of BEE.

The first purpose of BEE was to create a buffer group among the black political class that would become an ally of big business in SA. This buffer group would use its newfound power as controllers of the government to protect the assets of big business.

The buffer group would also protect the modus operandi of big business and thereby maintain the status quo in which South African business operates. That was the design of the big conglomerates.

Sanlam was soon followed by Anglo American. Sanlam established BEE vehicle Nail; Anglo established Real Africa, Johnnic and so forth. The conglomerates took their marginal assets, and gave them to politically influential black people, with the purpose, in my view, not to transform the economy but to create a black political class that is in alliance with the conglomerates and therefore wants to maintain the status quo of our economy and the way in which it operates.

But what is wrong with protecting SA’s conglomerates?

Well, there are many things wrong with how conglomerates operate and how they have structured our economy.
• The economy has a strong built-in dependence on cheap labour;
• It has a strong built-in dependence on the exploitation of primary resources;
• It is strongly unfavourable to the development of skills in our general population;
• It has a strong bias towards importing technology and economic solutions; and
• It promotes inequality between citizens by creating a large, marginalised underclass.
Conglomerates are a vehicle, not for creating development in SA but for exploiting natural resources without creating in-depth, inclusive social and economic development, which is what SA needs. That is what is wrong with protecting conglomerates.

The second problem with the formula of BEE is that it does not create entrepreneurs. You are taking political leaders and politically connected people and giving them assets which, in the first instance, they don’t know how to manage. So you are not adding value. You are faced with the threat of undermining value by taking assets from people who were managing them and giving them to people who cannot manage them. BEE thus creates a class of idle rich ANC politicos.

My quarrel with BEE is that what the conglomerates are doing is developing a new culture in SA — not a culture of entrepreneurship, but an entitlement culture, whereby black people who want to go into business think that they should acquire assets free, and that somebody is there to make them rich, rather than that they should build enterprises from the ground.

But we cannot build black companies if what black entrepreneurs look forward to is the distribution of already existing assets from the conglomerates in return for becoming lobbyists for the conglomerates.

The third worrying trend is that the ANC-controlled state has now internalised the BEE model. We are now seeing the state trying to implement the same model that the conglomerates developed.

What is the state distributing? It is distributing jobs to party faithful and social welfare to the poor. This is a recipe for incompetence and corruption, both of which are endemic in SA. This is what explains the service delivery upheavals that are becoming a normal part of our environment.

So what is the correct road SA should be travelling?

We all accept that a socialist model, along the lines of the Soviet Union, is not workable for SA today. The creation of a state-owned economy is not a formula that is an option for SA or for many parts of the world. Therefore, if we want to develop SA instead of shuffling pre-existing wealth, we have to create new entrepreneurs, and we need to support existing entrepreneurs to diversify into new economic sectors.

Mbeki is the author of Architects of Poverty: Why African Capitalism Needs Changing. This article forms part of a series on transformation supplied by the Centre for Development and Enterprise.

The Future of South Africa

August 31, 2015

A truly independent IEC is democracy’s last line of defence

  • Mmusi Maimane
The one institution of democracy that has, until now, escaped President Jacob Zuma’s capture of state institutions and enterprises is the Electoral Commission of South Africa (IEC). The value of a neutral, non-partisan electoral watchdog cannot be overstated. If the IEC falls into the hands of an unethical and threatened president, it can spell disaster for our democracy. The warning signs are there, and they need to be heeded.

South Africans have spent a lot of time recently talking about the threat posed by the capture of state institutions and enterprises by President Jacob Zuma. The Presidency’s extraordinary powers of appointment, along with a blindly loyal parliamentary caucus, has enabled Zuma to place dutiful cadres at the helm of a staggering number of influential bodies. Although these presidential appointments are in line with the Constitution, the writers of our Constitution could not have foreseen this abuse of power 20 years ago. They could not have foreseen that a compromised president like Zuma would one day use the full extent of these powers to secure his power, capture the state and shield himself from the law.

When discussing this systemic state capture, most of the attention has been on the institutions of investigation and prosecution, where we now see Zuma loyalists heading up, amongst others, the National Prosecuting Authority, the Special Investigating Unit, the South African Police Service, the Hawks and the South African Revenue Service. In fact, all that still stands in the way of a full house of state-captured investigative and prosecutorial institutions is the Office of the Public Protector, where advocate Thuli Madonsela is proving to be a more stubborn thorn in the flesh than anyone could have predicted. But her term of office ends next year, and the chances of the president making the same mistake again are slim.

The one institution of democracy that has, until now, escaped the same kind of scrutiny is the IEC. The value of a neutral, non-partisan electoral watchdog cannot be overstated. If the IEC falls into the hands of an unethical and threatened president, it can spell disaster for our democracy. The warning signs are there, and they need to be heeded.

The task of the IEC is to deliver regular, free and fair elections at all three levels of government. To date, it has overseen five national and provincial elections and four local government elections. All of these elections were officially declared free and fair by the IEC with no substantial accusations of vote-rigging or other irregularities (although it must be added that last year there were 250 complaints lodged).

But these elections all took place during a time when the African National Congress (ANC) felt their national lead wasn’t threatened, and electoral manipulation was never deemed necessary.

The first time the ANC was handed a notable electoral defeat was in 2006, when they lost control of the City of Cape Town to a coalition led by the Democratic Alliance (DA). They didn’t respond well to this and tried everything in their power – legal and otherwise – to break up the coalition. It was only through court action that these efforts were finally thwarted. Three years later, in 2009, they lost the Western Cape when the DA won 51.5% of the provincial vote for an outright victory. This has never sat well with the ANC, but instead of mounting an effective opposition strategy, they have banked on supporting an ‘ungovernability campaign’ in an attempt to destabilise the Western Cape.

But fast-forward another five years to after the 2014 national and provincial elections, and the whole picture changes. Suddenly the ANC finds itself staring down the barrel as their once-unassailable lead in several key metros has dramatically shrunk. As Nelson Mandela Bay, Tshwane and Johannesburg voters turn their backs on the ANC in their numbers, the prospect of losing one or more of these metros in the 2016 local government election looms large. And it is at this point that we must open our eyes wide and keep them trained on the IEC. Because this is where the ANC’s last hope of swinging an unfavourable result lies.

The IEC is headed up by five commissioners. One of them serves as a vice-chairperson and one as chairperson. Currently four of these five positions are filled, and the recruitment process for the fifth is under way. Once he or she is appointed, the new IEC chairperson will be announced. (The previous IEC chairperson, Pansy Tlakula, was forced to resign in September last year following a property leasing scandal).

It goes without saying that the impartiality of these commissioners should be beyond reproach, but this was called into question in March this year when the ANC used their majority in the portfolio committee for Home Affairs in the National Assembly to push through the nomination of Glenton Vuma Mashinini as an IEC commissioner. Mashinini’s fortunes have been closely tied to that of Zuma for more than five years now. From 2010 to 2012 he served as vice-chairman of the president’s review commission on state-owned enterprises, and then from 2012 till 2015 he was appointed full-time adviser to the president on ‘special projects’. He has been earning a top salary for over five years, courtesy of Zuma, and yet we are now expected to believe that his impartiality is not in question.

But it is not only at the level of IEC commissioner that the independence of the institution warrants scrutiny. At every voting station, the last line of defence in securing a free and fair election is the presiding officer. At the thousands of schools where voting takes place, these presiding officers are often principals and deputy principals. And, more often than not, they are members of the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. Considering the amount of pro-ANC campaigning all the Congress of South African Trade Unions affiliates undertake during each election, this cannot be a healthy situation for our democracy.

When it comes to contesting elections in South Africa, opposition parties do not compete on a level playing field with the ANC. The capture of the SABC has effectively turned the state broadcaster into an ANC mouthpiece during election campaigns, and the allocation of party exposure is skewed in the ruling party’s favour. On top of this, the ANC uses election campaign periods to dramatically ramp up its food parcel handouts in contested areas – in other words, ANC-branded gifts for the bill of the taxpayer.

Then there is the issue of the municipal boundary manipulation to ensure maximum support (or weakening of the opposition). It’s such an old trick in the book, it has its own name: gerrymandering. The Municipal Demarcation Board’s recent decision to proceed with all its proposed outer boundary demarcations, in contravention of due process (and effectively ignoring all objections), places a big question mark over the board’s independence and freedom from political manipulation. The DA will make an application to the High Court to challenge these decisions.

In the face of these enormous challenges, it is absolutely crucial that our electoral watchdog, the IEC, is beyond reproach. Simply pointing to the Electoral Court as recourse in case of a dispute is not good enough, as we recently saw in the Tlokwe by-election court case. Earlier this year the Electoral Court upheld the election of several ANC ward councillors in the contentious 2013 by-elections in Tlokwe after allegations of voter-roll manipulation. The Electoral Court’s majority decision found that the number of bused-in (ie illegally registered) voters was “only” 1,040 and had no material impact on the outcome.

However, this was disputed in the minority judgment by Judge Lotter Wepener, who argued that there was enough evidence to set aside the election results. In his judgment he said: “In all the circumstances, I am of the view that the by-elections were not free and fair and were tainted by illegality, and that the votes cast at voting stations of the relevant wards in the by-elections should be ordered not to count.”

Without an independent electoral watchdog it is virtually impossible for governments to change hands peacefully. Africa is littered with examples of disputed elections and questionable governments because of the lack of electoral oversight. We only need to cast our minds back to the 2002 elections in Zimbabwe – an election that we now know was everything but free and fair thanks to the Khampepe Report finally seeing the light 12 years later. For more than a decade our government tried to prevent this report – by two of our most esteemed legal minds – from being made public because it was diplomatically awkward. But the truth will always out.

So is there anything we can do to ensure that our elections remain free and fair?

There most certainly is. In general, we must all remain vigilant and report any incidents we believe to be improper. Safeguarding our democracy is everyone’s responsibility. We must also welcome international observers. With so much at stake, you can never have too many eyes watching the process and looking out for irregularities.

But on a more practical level, we must ensure the independence of the IEC by firewalling it from cadre deployment. The DA believes that the Home Affairs portfolio committee should continue to shortlist and nominate IEC commissioner candidates. But we also believe that the portfolio committee’s recommendation should have the backing of at least 60% of the members of the National Assembly before being sent to the president. This would be in line with the appointment process of the public protector and the auditor-general, and would prevent the ANC from using their majority in the House to push through compromised nominations.

Next year’s local government elections could be a watershed moment in South African politics. If the ANC loses control of any more metros, the resultant swing in momentum could put 2019’s national and provincial elections in the balance. We know it. The ANC knows it. And we cannot afford to take any chances when it comes to securing the legitimacy of these results. DM

The Miracle of Blood River – 175 years ago today told by Herman Labuschagne

August 30, 2015

For those who asked for my Blood River story again, this is how I wrote it last year:

The miracle of Blood River

Today, on a Sunday 175 years ago an event took place which changed the history of South Africa. In a roundabout way, it was an event that changed the history of the world. It was the start of perhaps the most dramatic event in the blood-stained pages of our country’s past. And it was the start of a day that may never be forgotten as long as blood flows through the veins of the Afrikaner nation.

The story of what happened was told to me by Uncle Gert de Jager – and he repeated it for me a few months before his death at the age of 92. I asked him to tell it to me slowly so that I could listen with care and make sure that I understand it correctly. He even wrote down what he could remember, to make sure that it would not be misunderstood. These were facts that he still heard personally from his father and from his great-grandfather who had been present at the time. Several of my other family members were there also. Some of the events that I am about to tell of are poorly known. But this, to the tribute of those who were there – and to the glory of the Hand which protected them, is the story of what took place:

Uncle Gert’s great-grandfather remembered that when night fell upon the velvet green landscape of Natal, it was dark moon, as we call it. The night was so black that you could not see your hand in front of your eyes. In the western sky the lightning flickered on and off. The night ahead looked ominous, but so did the months that lay behind them. With one or two exceptions, it had been a series of never-ending disasters. There had been the Liebenberg murders during which unsuspecting pioneer families were suddenly overwhelmed and cut to pieces. Then there had been the climactic battle of Vegkop during which only 37 men, servants and boys fought off 4,000 Matabeles. There had also been the months of being besieged in rain-drenched laagers during which time they suffered dreadful hunger and disease. There had also been the tragic scene in which the Trek leader Piet Uys was led into an ambush, where he and his young son were brutally slain. It was an incident that had left the pioneers divided and weak.

Furthermore, there had been the worst day of all: the day in February of that same year when their leader, Governor Piet Retief was murdered, along with his young boy and his entire party of men. They had just concluded a successful land purchasing transaction with Dingane, king of the Zulu. During the festivities that followed, Dingane suddenly rose and shouted: “Kill the witchdoctors!” upon which Retief and all his unarmed men were seized. Their fate was so horrible that it cannot be described without shocking the senses. They were impaled alive and fed to the vultures – with Piet Retief being forced to watch it all until he too, as murdered.

That same night, the Zulu impies had swept across the length of the upper Tugela river. They fell upon the unsuspecting encampments of families across a huge distance. It was totally unexpected. In the darkness, that evening became the sum of all nightmares as unspeakable cruelties were committed. While men fought desperately in the darkness against an unseen foe, they were overcome by sheer force of numbers. Pregnant women were cut open, and children and babies were swung by their feet to have their brains bashed in against the wagon wheels. In that one night 500 men, women, children and servants were butchered. Their bloodied bodies with drawn-out entrails were found among the charred remains of their burnt out tents and wagons the next day. It was a crime and a tragedy in that small community which was so great that words could not be found to express emotions.

After this incident the pioneers realized that they were now faced with most desperate hour in the entire existence of civilization in Africa south of the equator. All attempts at peaceful relocation had failed. Their honest intentions had been met with murderous deceit. And now they were left weakened and vulnerable in a strange and hostile land.

Dingane commanded the most fearsome army in the history of Africa south of the Sahara. For two generations they had swept the southern and central parts of southern Africa, killing and murdering as far as they went. Entire nations were driven to the brink of extinction. In the Mfecane, or great cleansing, the vast interior had in fact become uninhabited by humans, except for a few miserable starving souls who tried to survive in the isolated mountain regions. They were already driven to the extremes of cannibalism as a result of these deprivations.

The pioneers knew that they had only two choices – either to return to the Cape Colony where they had already been exposed to nearly 60 years of border warfare – or to act with daring defiance that might amount to suicide. They knew their resources were desperately weakened by that time. But they had never been weak as men. And so they chose the most bold and daring action of all – to attack in order to survive. They knew the risks. It would be an all or nothing act of the most desperate kind. There would be no partial victory. It would be total victory or total oblivion. There was no doubt about the gravity of the risks they would be facing.

Accordingly, when the spring rains came, a fighting force was assembled. The pioneers had no army. They were simply farmers, sons, fathers and grandfathers who had to defend heir families with every fibre of their strength. Even so, only 470 men could be assembled. With them came their 150 strong service core of ex-slaves and servants who would not be there to fight, but only to handle the livestock and move supplies.

When their reconnaissance-men returned, the news was dreadful to the extreme. The armies of Zululand were on the move. Like rivers of dark ants the dreaded regiments of the amaZulu – literally “people of the heavens” – were already streaming through the valleys towards them. They knew that battle had become unavoidable, and the best they could do was to hurriedly find a place where they could wait for it.

The place they found was on what would become Uncle Gert’s family’s farm until the current generation. There the desperate pioneers drew their wagons into a circular shape. On one side they had a deep ravine and on the other side a flooded river. In the space between these two defences there was only open range – a soft green landscape of rippling grass that afforded clear views northwards. This would be the theatre of death on which they had to act out the most terrifying play of all. In great haste they lashed the wagons together. The gaps between them were closed off by wooden grates, called “fighting gates.” Ammunition was checked, guns were oiled, and then they settled down to wait. If their spies were right, the Zulus would not keep them waiting long.

The men who were there that day must have known that on this fateful night they had come to fight back – or be exterminated from history. There would be no middle ground. They tough men, but ordinary all the same. Old men with weathered faces and gnarled hands. Middle-aged men who thought about their wives and unborn children. And clean-faced youths who had not experienced very much of battle yet. The Voortrekkers knew that theirs was a precarious situation. They were hugely outnumbered. Surrounding them in the darkness of an African night was possibly the biggest army that the Zulu empire had ever assembled. They were the most experienced, most cruel, and most effective army in Africa. And they were there to kill to the last man.

The Zulu army was exceedingly great. But they were pitched against an enemy who knew where their strength lay. Knowing that humanly they had no hope at all, the pioneers had made a covenant with God during the preceding days. A covenant which they had repeatedly every night. And a covenant which successive generations have continued to renew ever since that day. In this covenant, they had promised to God that if He would grant them victory, they would build a church to His honour, and that they and their descendants would honour this day as a Sabbath in all perpetuity. The pioneers had no ministers of religion with them, for not a single one had been willing to join their exodus. But that did not mean that they did not have some men of faith to lead them. Sarel Cilliers was a man who carried the word of God like a sword. And they called upon his to lay their case before the Lord.

Gathered round their spokesman, where he was standing on a small ship’s cannon, they renewed their covenant for the last time. His words must have sounded grave and hollow in the suffocating mist as he made his famous deal with God and spoke words that have been echoing across the ages ever since:
“At this moment we stand before the Holy God of heaven and earth,
to make a promise if He will be with us and protect us,
and deliver the enemy into our hands so that we may triumph over him,
that we shall observe the day and the date as an anniversary in each year,
and a day of thanksgiving like the Sabbath,
in His honour, and that we shall enjoin our children that they must take part with us in this for a remembrance even for our posterity.”
When it was over, cold fingers returned their damp hats to their heads. Hauntingly, their sad and melancholy psalms filled the night. And then the long sleepless wait began. Trouble was all around them. They knew it from the barking of the dogs, and from the restless way the cattle and horses milled around. Lantern light shines barely five paces. Beyond that the grass was rustling. That, they all knew, was the sound of death.

On the Zulu side, it proved to be a night like no other. The army had planned to attack the laager at midnight. Had they done so, it would have been a massacre. But this did not happen, because everything started to go wrong in dreadful slow-motion fashion. From nowhere an eerie mist settled in – a mist that was so thick that it enclosed the whole landscape and swallowed the Zulu army. The Zulu regiments got hopelessly lost, and after marching twice around the wrong hill, they concluded that the white men had managed to make themselves invisible by means of powerful sorcery.

The regiments who did manage to find the laager were baffled by what they saw. The Voortrekkers had tied lanterns to their whip sticks, which they then suspended above the wagons. In the haunting fog the diffused light of the lanterns looked like suspended balls of fire, and so the mightiest nation in Africa paused to reflect with superstitious awe. By slowly following the trail of the wagons the main force finally found the laager near the end of night. When most of them had reached the spot, they sat down on their shields and prepared to wait. Some were testing the sharpness of their spears already. Spears that had already tasted an ocean innocent blood.

Dawn broke with milky whiteness which yielded unwillingly before the eastern sun. In the laager the men had barely closed an eye. By the low droning of thousands of voices they could tell that they were completely surrounded. In the laager their horses and cattle were milling fearfully. Even they could smell the danger. After a while they were able to faintly make out the figures. The nearest ones were seated 50 paces away. In their hands they carried the long throwing spears of their ancestors, and the short stabbing spears of Chaka. In their hearts they bore the wish of death. Beyond them the regiments were still arriving like angry ants across the landscape. The pioneers could not believe their eyes. There were thousands upon thousands of them. So many that not even the Zulu commanders could count them. As many as 30,000 warriors were assembled, some history books say. Uncle Gert’s grandfather held that after both calculation and from his impression as a whole, the number might have been far larger yet. The odds were at least 63 to 1 – if they were lucky.

Inside the laager the Voortrekkers were deeply concerned. They knew almost without a shadow of doubt that they were doomed. Not only because of she sheer numbers against them, but particularly because they knew that after a night of such heavy fog their gunpowder would be rendered entirely useless. Gunpowder had a famous affinity for moisture. And after such a foggy night, the men all knew that their guns would not be firing. With a sinking feeling they realized that at this point nothing but a miracle could save them.

What they did not know was that his was destined to become a day of miracles. While they were still vainly straining to peer into the mist, it suddenly lifted. One moment it was there, and the next it just rose and vanished away into thin blue air. The change was startling and completely unexpected. Uncle Gert’s grandfather stressed that this was unprecedented and unbelievably dramatic. Suddenly not even a single cloud remained. Now, beneath the harsh glare of the morning sun, they could see that they were completely enclosed. With a surging drone the regiments rose. Lines upon lines of dark figures, grandly arrayed battle dress: plumes around the arms, blue crane feathers in the hair to signify war – and different coloured shields to identify the individual regiments. In their hands they held the sharpest spears in Zululand. And they were ready for the kill.

They wasted little time. At the blowing of a reed trumped the mass of straining warriors leapt forward, bellowing the ancient blood-curdling battle cry of “Usutu! Usutu! Usutu!” Thousands of spears were beaten against thousands of shields so that the very air shook with the thunder of it. It was as if the whole landscape had turned into a black avalanche which came thundering towards the dim square of fragile wagons. The attack was swift and brutal. With great anxiety the Voortrekkers held their fire – and then pressed the triggers. To their utter astonishment the powder exploded in all guns – and the laager erupted into a wall of liquid fire, followed by an avalanche of pure white smoke. In each barrel the men had placed multiple balls of lead. And now they were firing for their very lives. There was no need to aim. At each shot several warriors fell to a single shot – with great holes blown through their bodies by the heavy lead balls. Some tried to catch the bullets with their hands. Others charged forward without fear – for they had been blessed by their witchdoctors at their departure – and many believed they were untouchable by death. Yet, death found them faster than the speed of sound. And Uncle Gert’s great-grandfather said that they fell across each other like a reed patch in the wind.

In the laager, the men staggered back to reload their muskets with trembling hands. It took 2-3 minutes to reload each gun, and it must have taken about that long for the first warriors to reach their position. Yet the strangeness continued. After the third volley the smoke was so dense that the whole army could no longer be seen. Perplexingly, however, moments later the gun smoke cleared again – rising straight up into the air. This too, was something the defenders had never encountered before. The pride of Zululand broke as their front ranks faltered. And then the commanders began to think. Hurriedly the signal was given so that the warriors withdrew to beyond gunshot and settled down to reflect. The battle had started badly.

Realizing that they had to take advantage of momentary confusion, and emboldened by events thus far, Uncle Gert’s grandfather, along with some settlers then galloped out to provoke a new attack. In this they were successful. With a fearsome cry the battle-tested warriors leapt to their feet and came for them. With the sound of many waters their limbs raced across the bloody fields. Shouting and leaping across their fallen comrades they came – bellowing with rage and determination. Yet they ran into a wall of death again. Slight though the effect was upon their huge number, it nevertheless caused them to slow the attack.

When the second assault finally also faltered, 12 mounted men were sent out to provoke the next wave. As dreadful as it seemed, the regiments had to be kept moving so that they would not be able to rest. They were not as quick to respond this time. Then one man, Flip Coetzer, shouted at them.
“This time it’s not the women and children that you murdered in the camps,” he shouted at them, “but strong men who came to vanquish you!”

The next attack came at once. With earth-shaking thunder the regiments ran into streams of screaming lead. In the laager the small ships’ cannons thundered methodically. Their ranks crumpled like wheat before a scythe, but their numbers seemed limitless and they were advancing faster than the few hands could reload their cumbersome flintlocks guns. Even the three small ships cannons were unable to blow large enough holes into their ranks. It was as if all of Zululand had been unleashed upon the tiny circle, and for a moment it must have seemed as if they were about to be engulfed. And yet, again the attack lost impetus and then turned into a soft retreat.

At this point the Zulu commanders decided that there was no need for further attack. With their superior numbers all they needed to do was draw the circle tight and besiege the settlers. That night, they argued, they would close in and wipe them all out cleanly. At night settler eyes could not see to take aim. At night they could simply swamp the brittle defences and slaughter every living soul inside.

But suddenly a strange problem arose. The young warriors were still bloodthirsty and rearing for battle. They were severely dissatisfied at being denied more opportunity to attack. Furthermore, a few of them had made a new and critically-important important observation. It had quietly occurred to them that every time the horsemen were sent out, it took some time for the wagon that served as a gate to be drawn back into the perimeter. And during that time the entire defence was deeply vulnerable. Some of them had therefore devised the plan of sneaking around towards the gate area. When the horsemen were let loose, they planned to rush inside before the gate could close – and once that happened the battle would be over. From inside the settlers would stand no chance at all. Thereupon, a great argument ensured among the leaders, but eventually it was decided that this would be the surest way to victory. And so the young men stealthily moved into place to execute their plan.

Exactly as expected, the settlers soon sent out another 18 men to charge at the enemy and fire into their ranks. The young men saw the gate open and recognized their chance. This was when they would all be heroes – and they rose with whitened knuckles around their deadly spears. What followed next should been a race to victory. But then the strangest event took place – something that history could never explain – an event which some would later point to as having been one of the greatest miracles in our nation’s history.
“Even though each of us directed our gun shot at the nearest Zulus,” Uncle Gert’s great-grandfather remembered, “their faces were not directed at us. In stead, they were facing the mountain, in which direction they beckoned to each other.”

When this happened the curious horsemen blinked with astonishment. They could not believe their eyes when, almost as if by a prearranged signal, much of the entire Zulu army turned and ran. But not all of them, as Uncle Gert explained. Flight was not permitted in the Zulu army, and so the older regiment of white shields would not let the young ones depart. Running into their path of retreat they presented steel – and the two sides clashed with a thundering report. Before the incredible eyes of the settlers the Zulu army began slaughtering itself with the most bitter passion.

There are no words to describe the utter rout that now took place. The slaughter was so intense that many fell down and pretended to be dead. Suddenly it had become a fight of brother-against-brother and father-against-son. The pride of Zululand was cutting itself to pieces in a way that nobody had ever seen before. The scale of the confusion was beyond description. Many just ran in any direction – and the direction that most were drawn to was the direction that lead home. Accordingly, an enormous number of them plunged into the Buffalo river where they were drowned or swept away, or presumably taken by crocodiles. It was an outcome such as no man had ever expected to see.

As the battle of screaming humanity thundered away from the powder-stained laager, the Voortrekkers stared with disbelief. How could such a thing be possible?

The 18 men, in particular, were dumbfounded. They must have looked towards the mountain behind them many times and blinked in complete astonishment. What did the Zulu army see which had instilled the terror of death into their hearts? They looked, but they could see nothing. They were speechless.

The answer to this mystery was only revealed years later when old survivors of the battle came to Uncle Gert’s family and told them their version of the story. I had heard this story since I was a little boy, but this time I quizzed Uncle Gert most carefully. I wanted to make sure that I got the story exactly straight.

Uncle Gert told me that the old survivors told his father and grandfather that the turning point came when they looked up at the mountain and saw the most perplexing sight. According to them they saw a mighty army of fighters on white horses and streaming banners, tearing towards them across the soft green landscape. It was an army of cavalrymen, they said. And leading them – right at the very head of their columns, was a single man upon a white horse that carried a long knife – which was their way of describing a sword. It was at this dramatic appearance that the young regiments turned and fled.

As for the veteran regiments and even the settlers themselves – they never saw a thing. Not one of them saw that phantom army. The thought never even crossed their minds. Yet this story was told to several members of Uncle Gert’s family on various occasions. They shared what they heard with their friends and neighbours, but as Uncle Gert told me, most of them just dismissed it as “Zulu stories.” They themselves had, after all, never seen the white army.

In the meantime, the settlers pursued the fleeing Zulus. All around the laager the fight continued in places. Here and there it turned to hand-to-hand combat. Both Voortrekker leader Karel Landman and Andries Pretorius were attacked by Zulu warriors and both succeeded in killing the warriors with their own spears. Pretorius was wounded in his hand in the process. He was 39 year old at the time.

Uncle Gert told me that the settlers rode up and down the river banks for several hours – firing at all the noses they could see – and defending themselves from periodic attacks from the reed beds. Between the regiments’ killing themselves and the Voortrekkers’ shooting at what they could see, the river slowly turned red with the blood of Zululand’s best. And that is where the river got the name by which it is know to this very day: Blood River.

The Battle of Blood River was the pivotal event in South African history. After Blood River the Zulu army was still mighty. But after decades of slaughtering hundreds of thousands of innocent black tribesmen across South Africa they never managed to reorganize themselves completely. It was as if the fright that had taken hold of their hearts on that day remained with them forever. King Dingane was so shaken by the defeat of his enormous army that he burnt his own capital at Ulundi and fled into the depths of Zululand where he felt more safe. For the time being, this left him unwilling or unable to reorganize his armies.

During this time of confusion the Voortrekkers took possession of the land of Natal which they had fairly bought from the Zulu king months ago. A year after their deputation had been treacherously murdered by the Zulu king they discovered the skeletons of their fallen governor with the deed of sale still in his leather pouch. It exists to this day, still bearing the cross which Dingane had scrawled upon it by his own hand. Dingane had murdered Retief’s men, but he had already set in motion a sequence of events that could not be altered. After this the land was safe to dwell in.

In the annals of famous South African battles, none are as important or as famous as Blood River. It was the most unlikely of victories under the strangest of circumstances. There are those who may ascribe the deliverance to luck and pluck. Some scholars and armchair historians even argue that the outcome had been assured because after all – what match could spear-carrying natives have been against modern firearms? And yet, if one carefully thinks about it, the argument seems pitifully flawed. When the overwhelming force of numbers is considered, the entire notion becomes childish.

There are many who will always acknowledge that “something took place” that day at Blood River. Something that was not of human making.

Among the settlers, only two were lightly wounded, one of them being the commander himself. Among their ranks, not a single man was killed. Among the Zulus the number of dead as so great that it could never be estimated. According to Uncle Gert, his great-grandfather said that in his opinion the numbers must have been close to the largest figure that history suggests. A figure so great that it is often regarded as improbable. The dead numbered in the thousands – and the greatest part of these, Ungle Gert’s grandfather said – did not die by settler bullets. They were killed by the blades that had been forged in their own kraals. Whatever the real facts, it was a totally unlikely outcome of incredible significance.

This day continues to be remembered for divine deliverance in a battle which the settlers never could have won on their own. The covenant that was made on this day was renewed many times by succeeding generations. There are those who choose to dismiss the covenant, or the events which took place on that day. But there are some who still remember. And some who still acknowledge that we are alive today because that ancient battle had been won. Without it, the history of South Africa would have been vastly different.

In 1938 my great-grandfather wrote a letter to his son, whose name I bear. It was the year of the centenary of the Great Trek. That letter was carried by one of the centenary wagons which trekked all the way from the Cape to Pretoria where the Voortrekker monument was revealed on this same day. It was a letter that he had written not only for his son, but also for posterity. He ended his letter with the following words:

“And so we close with the prayer that this Centenary would contribute towards making of us better, father, mothers, better sons and daughters, better Christians, better burghers and fatherlanders. And that the heritage of our forefathers would always be held in great honour, that it shall be built up and improved, and that we may become a noble nation in a pure land. That you, dear Herman, with everyone entrusted to you, would have a happy and a blessed future in our beloved South Africa – this is the blessing and prayer of your loving parents.

In my family, we have never had any doubt at all that God’s hand was to be seen at Blood River. We have been reared with a sense of ever-lasting gratitude that victory had been granted to our forefathers when they certainly could not have deserved it.

I visited the 175th commemoration of this Battle of Blood River and the Great Trek at Hartenbos today. With me there were the descendants of many of the men who fought that day – and across South Africa – their number is beyond estimation. At the commemoration Frans Moolman, professor of history, said something that made a significant impression on me. He said that the Battle of Blood River has been politicized so much. It has been dismissed as irrelevant by modern generations. It is often even held in a negative light from the point of racial relations. And yet, he argued, if this is how the world is viewing it, they are missing the entire point.

The facts of history show that the Battle of Blood River was not the result of land-hungry invaders that had come to disturb a peaceful people. In stead, it was a peaceful people who had come not to rob land, but to fairly purchase it. When they were faced with murderous treachery, they presented arms out of a sense of self-preservation. That they survived, could only be accounted to divine intervention. The Battle of Blood River, he pointed out, pointed not to the triumph of white over black. In stead, it marked the triumph of the light of civilization over the cruelty and barbarism.

I never really thought about it like that before. Professor Moolman said if the tribes of South Africa understood Blood River for what it really was, they too, would commemorate the day with much enthusiasm. After all, between Chaka and Dingane, innocent thousands without number had been slaughtered. Death, superstition and fear pervaded that land from the dry interior to the shining coast. When the might of the Zulu nation was crushed at Blood River, that was when the bell of liberty rang for the multitudes who would surely still have perished beneath Dingane’s cruel hand.

As for king Dingane, he died as he had lived – assassinated as a back-stabbing traitor, just the way that he himself had assassinated his own half-brother Chaka before. His successor, Mpanda, remained a loyal friend of the Andries Pretorius, the victor of Blood River. Between the two they signed a treaty of “everlasting friendship.”

The Voortrekkers never lost their respect for the Zulu nation after that, nor did the Zulus lose their respect for the Trekkers. I grew up with the Zulus – and always felt that in the greater scheme of South African politics, there exists a strangely respectful bond between our two peoples. Perhaps not a bond of total brotherliness, but the bond of understanding that can be found between two groups who would like to never go to war against each other again. In my family, I never knew a shred of disrespect or resentment about those dreadful times of the past.

Finally then, we can look at Blood River today and ask ourselves what would have happened if the pioneers had lost the fight that day? Almost without question, the Zulu armies would have spilled across the land and slaughtered all the encampments in Natal. From there they probably would have wiped out the settlements in the deep interior. What they did not finish off, the Matabele of the north probably would have taken care of.

Inspired by these successes, it is likely that the Xhosa of the Eastern Cape would have launched the greatest assault against the eastern border. Desperately weakened by the departure of the pioneers of the frontier, the Colony very likely might have collapsed. It is not unthinkable that it might have wiped out the light of civilization in South Africa for the next half a century or more. If this had happened, the history of the world would have been entirely different. Throughout all of this, genocide would have followed genocide among the black and brown races of the southern continent – and millions who are alive today would have never existed.

This then, sums up the history and the significance of the most important day on the calendar of South Africa. This is a day that our children should know of – and that the world should understand. In the end victory came to the pioneers not because they were good, but simply because God was great.

May we who live today, never forget to teach that to the heroes of tomorrow.

Herman Labuschagne, Glentana, 16 December 2013.
Original article: http://www.labuschagne.info/the-miracle-of-blood-river.htm…

Cost of living: South Africa vs the world

April 20, 2015

While South Africans often complain about the rising cost of living in the country, it remains one of the most affordable countries in the world.

This is according to new data from Deutshe Bank, looking at world prices for a number of goods and serves in terms of purchasing power.

The 2015 report follows indices like the Big Mac Index closely, but covers a far wider selection of goods than simply the famous McDonalds burger.

The Big Mac Index – which is also included in DB’s research – is based on the theory of purchasing-power parity (PPP).

This is the notion that, in the long run, exchange rates should move towards the rate that would equalise the prices of an identical basket of goods and services (in this case, a Big Mac burger) in any two countries.

The Bic Mac is selected for comparison as the popular fast-food meal is widely available across the world, and remains fairly consistent in pricing; however, it is by no means an exact science.

DB’s research covers more items, including the relative cost of living across 20 countries, car rentals and hotel rooms, as well as specific goods such as Coca Cola, beer, sports shoes, Levis jeans and Apple iPhones.

Prices in New York City are used as the standard measure, and all other prices are listed by city, where applicable, relative to NYC.

Global cost of living

Along with other emerging markets, South Africa has seen relatively large shifts in consumer prices – over 6% – between 2013 and 2014. This is an increase on par with economies like Brazil, India and Russia.

In relative terms of purchasing power parity, however, the cost of living in South Africa is just over 44% of that of the United States, showing relative affordability.

On the flip side, however, this trend of affordability in South Africa is notably shifting.

According to DB, in 2001, Johannesburg was the third most affordable city measured on the index. Fast-forward to 2014, and the South African city has disappeared from the top 10 completely.

Cost of living 2001 vs 2014 Top and Bottom 10

“In previous years, Australia had consistently been the world’s most expensive country while the United States had been the cheapest developed country,” deutsche Bank said.

“This year, however, the strength of the USD has significantly narrowed the gap between the two. Similarly, shopping in Europe and Japan now feels a lot cheaper than before.”

Brazil was the most expensive emerging market in the world and was more expensive than the US for several categories.

However, currency depreciation has brought Brazilian prices more in line with what one would expect for a country at its level of development.

India remains the cheapest major economy in the world across a range of products.

Relative price levels by PPP

South African prices

In its report, Deutsche Bank measures countries across a basket of goods, looking at multiple cities where possible.

Two South African cities were featured: Cape Town and Johannesburg. Here is how South Africa’s averages compared to the New York standard, as well as how Cape Town and Joburg fared, head to head.

Item Cape Town price Johannesburg price South Africa average
Petrol (1 litre) 143% 143% 143%
iPhone 6 126% 126% 126%
iPhone 5S 120% 120% 120%
VW Golf 2.0 TDI 99% 102% 101%
Levis 93% 106% 100%
Five star hotel rooms 109% 64% 87%
Sports shoes 86% 86% 86%
Coca Cola 56% 56% 56%
Taxi trip 48% 63% 56%
Economist subscription 51% 51% 51%
Men’s haircut 51% 45% 48%
Big Mac 46% 46% 46%
Car rentals 42% 42% 42%
Movie ticket 31% 37% 34%
Gym membership 32% 35% 34%
Beer 27% 26% 27%
Public transport 20% 27% 24%
Marlboro cigarettes 22% 22% 22%

According to the data, South Africa’s highest relative charge is for petrol, where the country pays 143% the relative value of a litre of petrol in New York.

On the other end of the spectrum, vices such as smoking are more affordable in the country, where a pack of cigarettes is only 22% of the relative value in the States.

Looking at the cities, of the 18 items, Cape Town and Joburg differed in price in nine – six of which had higher prices in Joburg.

Education, dates and holidays

Using Harvard as its standard, DB also analysed business school tuition fees and salaries offered to graduates across the world.

In South Africa, tuition fees at Wits and UCT were only a fraction of those at Harvard – 14% – but with an average starting salary of US$43,556 for graduates, South Africa ranked lowest for pay.

In it’s “cheap date index”, Cape Town offers the 7th most affordable night out, with date costs amounting to only 40% of the same night in New York.

Joburg prices amount to 47% of NYC’s prices.

A cheap date consists of taxi rides, McDonalds burgers, soft drinks, two movie tickets and a couple of beers.

The weekend getaway index, which looks at a two night stay at a 5-star hotel, four meals, snacks and car rentals, among other things, also works out to be relatively cheap in South Africa.

Cape Town prices work out to be 89% of the New York values, with Joburg prices even cheaper at 61%.

Nkandla Style

March 28, 2014

Viral throughout South Africa –

South Africa

March 28, 2014

South Africa

I do not like….. Green Eggs and Ham or even that wicked Zuma Man