Africa’s just one big joke to the world

At the bottom of the pile of Thabo Mbeki’s speeches published in the book titled Africa: The time has come, is a speech that has haunted me for two decades. It is not the beautifully crafted I am an African speech. And no, it is not the speech about South Africa being a country of two nations.

Nor is it Mbeki’s brilliant farewell speech on the occasion of Madiba’s retirement from Parliament. Rather, it is a brief, little-known and seldom invoked speech which Mbeki made in 1998 titled Stop the Laughter.

He delivered it in Swakopmund, one of the most scenic settings in the Southern hemisphere, home to an indomitable people, the Herero and the Nama.

Bewitched by the magnificence of that Namibian coastal city where sea, desert and sky embrace, Mbeki delivered one of his best speeches, to my mind.

Maybe he was stirred by the knowledge of the violent colonial past of that beautiful place, to make a speech that was bitter and sweet.

And yet it is written in elegant prose, sprinkled with fragments of humour, punctuated with dazzling pearls of wisdom and delivered with the proverbial sting in the tail.

Perhaps by way of contrast, Mbeki chose to construct his speech around the the story of the 2000 or so inhabitants of Dead Man’s Creek, Mississippi, US. Among the citizens was one Stevie Wonder, the only black man in town.

With no access to the most basic forms of entertainment and little connection to the rest of the world, the boring lives of the inhabitants of Dead Man’s Creek, revolved around the "nightly" television news. When they heard on the news one day that President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda was preaching the gospel of African renewal, they said "Hallelujah!" because "they would no longer have to contribute some of their personal money to famine relief in the African Republic of Kalakuta".

And Stevie Wonder said "Amen", for the welcome respite from being called upon daily to explain embarrassing African experiences he knew nothing about.

But soon enough, the news from Africa reverted to the usual doom and gloom. One day it was about the Somalian relapse from modernity back to feudalism. Then the familiar stories of famine and war in Africa became regular again.

Then came the story of how one Gnassingbé Eyadéma stole the 1998 elections in Togo – a country he ruled from 1967 until he died in 2005.

Museveni is alive, so he is still president of Uganda, 31 years later. Seemingly, Paul Kagame intends to remain president of Rwanda, as long as he lives.

And the citizens of Dead Man’s Creek started to laugh saying: "African politicians must be the best comedians in the world."

Stung by that scornful laughter, Mbeki begged his fellow African leaders saying: "Let us stop the laughter."

But dear Mr Mbeki, I have news for you. The mocking laughter has returned, louder and bolder. It is no longer Dead Man’s Creek alone that is laughing. Villagers in the backyards of China are laughing at, and joking about, Africa. The entire world is in stitches over our fantastic ability to wound ourselves.

They see our leaders, including Mbeki, angrily frothing at the mouth about the blunt and punitive justice of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Yet all over Africa, state institutions are either being destroyed or non-existent. Instead, crooked individuals, family dynasties and cronies are consolidating their power.

Do we think these family dynasties will either enable the emergence of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights, the ICC equivalent for Africa? How many Bashirs, Laurent Gbagbos, Joseph Kabilas and Yahya Jammehs must we tolerate and appease and for how long? What’s wrong with simply asking for leaders who will respect the will and lives of the people they lead?

Our country, South Africa, has become the laughing stock of the world again. In fact, I am not sure if the laughter ever stopped. Not even during the Mbeki presidency.

After all, is it not Mbeki who gave us president Jacob Zuma?

The inept and embarrassing attempt to pull South Africa out of the Rome Statute must be one big joke in Dead Man’s Creek.

Last week when the ICC ruled that as a signatory, South Africa was obliged to arrest Omar al-Bashir, which South Africa ought to have known, they must have been rolling on the wooden floors with laughter.

All indications are that if South Africa needed the ICC before, you can be sure we will need it soon – what with the emasculation and deligitimisation of key state institutions! Key instruments of the criminal justice system such as the former Scorpions, the Hawks, the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) and the Independent Police Investigative Directorate have been under siege for a long time with a view to turn them into mere tools in the hands of politicians.

We have seen state-owned enterprises (SOEs) being systematically turned into the cash cows of "the family" and its strategic allies. Why should the world not deride us?

When it emerged that Public Protector advocate Busisiwe Mkhwebane had decided to oppose President Zuma’s application to set aside the state capture remedial actions of her predecessor, a television network issued a screaming headline, saying: "Breaking news, Mkhwebane criticises Zuma." Ought this not to be the normal, though not the only, job of the public protector? Clearly there is growing desperation nationally, for the incumbent public protector to demonstrate her independence.

Across the land, there is a palpable fear that, as well as the National Treasury and the SOEs, the office of the public protector might be in danger of being "Guptaed". When the public protector finally criticised the president, all the people said: "Amen! Hallelujah!"

We fear that the repeated jibes at the judiciary by the some of our senior political leaders, as well as the recent burglaries at the offices of the Hawks, the NPA and the chief justice might be part of a planned, albeit sinister, effort to intimidate and weaken the crucial institutions.

At the recent ANC policy conference, the ANC reminded me of my grandmother, who was nearly the same age as the party when the gods called her.

She would look everywhere for the container in which she kept her tobacco, to the point of dispatching us kids to help with the search everywhere. And all the while, she was absent-mindedly holding it in her hand.

Similarly, ANC policy conference delegates huffed and puffed about everything else, looked and searched everywhere, except whence their problems emanated – the absence of a moral and ethical leadership at the highest level of the party.

When the Gupta wedding Airbus A330-200 plane landed at Waterkloof Airbase in 2013, we resented the ruthless audacity of violating a national key point in that way. We were disgusted by the opulence of a luxury motorcade that ferried the family and their guests to Sun City, under the watch and guidance of our police.

It was nauseating.

To add insult to injury, we have recently learnt the South African taxpayer might have paid for it all, including the lavish wedding.

Surely, we deserve to be laughed at.

* Maluleke is a professor at the University of Pretoria and an extraordinary professor at the University of South Africa. He writes in his personal capacity. Twitter handle – @ProfTinyiko.


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The madness of the DA

In his classic work “Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, published in 1841, Charles Mackay observed:

“In reading the history of nations, we find that, like individuals, they have their whims and their peculiarities; their seasons of excitement and recklessness, when they care not what they do. We find that whole communities suddenly fix their minds upon one object, and go mad in its pursuit; that millions of people become simultaneously impressed with one delusion, and run after it, till their attention is caught by some new folly more captivating than the first.”

In our time social media allows for the rapid transmission of critical information (such as the latest leaks on corruption), but it also creates conditions whereby mob psychoses, such as that described by Mackay, can rapidly develop and then expend themselves.

In South Africa the failure of the ANC’s racial nationalist project, which has brought us to the brink of a kleptocratic dictatorship, has acutely sharpened racial sensitivities, particularly amongst the primary beneficiaries of that project. There is a repeated pattern now whereby the latest outrage from the Zuma-Gupta cabal, over and above the ongoing failure of the ANC to deliver growth and good governance, leads to a building up of simmering nationalist anger and resentment. An emotional release for this is then found in online racial mobbing of someone or other – usually goaded on by the same narrow group of race-ultras – amid strident demands for punishment.

This can be for a genuinely anti-black comment or action – such as that by the poor, old and pathetic non-entity Penny Sparrow who made a crass racial comment shortly after Nenegate– but as often as not the preferred target is some prominent white person (or institution) seen to have done something that could be construed as racially insensitive or impertinent. Zelda la Grange, Allister Sparks, Chris Hart, Dan Retief, Gareth Cliff, Dianne Kohler Barnard, the Koeitjies & Kalfies crèche, Pretoria High School for Girls (PHSG), among others, have all been victims of this pathology of our time.

Once the storm has passed, however, it is often difficult to reconcile the intense outrage of the moment with the often trivial offence that provoked it (if there was an offence at all.) Institutions which get swept up in this mob hysteria and forget their principles, or fail to stand by their people, end up disgracing themselves and looking ridiculous in hindsight.

Unfortunately, it now seems that the Democratic Alliance leadership too has, as a result of one of these passing storms, lost its senses and moral bearings and fixed itself upon the object of driving Western Cape Premier and former party leader, Helen Zille, out of her elected office.

On Saturday DA leader Mmusi Maimane announced that the party’s Federal Executive had decided that it would be moving to suspend Zille from party activities, though she would continue as Premier. An insider informed City Press that move was a “a warning shot to her that we are still in control and Mmusi is tired of being seen as not taking action when it [was] the processes and Helen herself holding him back from doing what he wants to do, which is to fire her.”

In persisting with this endeavour the DA seems oblivious to the extreme and unnecessary self-harm that it is busy inflicting on itself. The only recent parallel that comes to mind is President Thabo Mbeki’s decision in early 2000 to publicly challenge the Western science of HIV/AIDS (which was also, incidentally, excused and applauded at the time by many in the media).


The basic facts of the original incident are as follows:

In early March 2017 Zille visited Singapore for the first time. By her own account she was hugely impressed by what she saw in the South East Asian city state – as China’s Deng Xiaoping had been when he visited in 1978 – which has been ruled uninterruptedly by Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party since 1959.

In a series of early morning tweets on her return to South Africa on 16th of March, while in transit at OR Tambo Airport, Zille asked what lessons could be learnt from this former British colony. She suggested that some of these were: “1) Meritocracy; 2) multiculturalism; 3) work ethic; 4) open to globalism; 4) English. 5) Future orientation. Other reasons for Singapore’s success: Parents take responsibility for children, and build on valuable aspects of colonial heritage.”

The reference to valuable aspects of the “colonial heritage” in Singapore provoked an angry response from some of her followers on Twitter. One commented: “South Africa would be better if all your people left and we drive forward Africa instead of embracing colonialism heritage.” Another that “There was nothing valuable in the colonisation of South Africa… NOTHING!”

In reply to such responses Zille then replied: “For those claiming legacy of colonialism was ONLY negative, think of our independent judiciary, transport infrastructure, piped water etc.” When she realised that this and other Tweets were being misread – including by a number of DA public representatives who were wildly condemning what she said on Twitter – she commented, just before 9 am: “I apologise unreservedly for a tweet that may have come across as a defence of colonialism. It was not.”

A few minutes after this Mmusi Maimane himself responded: “Let’s make this clear: Colonialism, like Apartheid, was a system of oppression and subjugation. It can never be justified.” This triggered a series of further denunciations of Zille by DA MPs on social media.

A couple of hours later Maimane took some time off from the DA’s parliamentary caucus meeting to go on Eusebius McKaiser’s Radio 702 talk show and announced that disciplinary action would be taken against Zille for her “completely unacceptable” sentiments. This was given effect to a short while later.

On this show Maimane again suggested, despite her clarification that this was not her intention, that Zille was trying to justify past oppression (for what reason she would want to do this is unclear) by arguing the case for development. “I think systems like colonialism, apartheid were fundamentally evil. And at their core can never in any ways be praised or justified.”

Over the course of the interview McKaiser repeatedly pressed Maimane to declare that he agreed that Zille’s remarks made her a “bigot”. Maimane refused to go this far but he did declare them “unacceptable and indefensible, without doubt”, “ahistorical”, “completely unacceptable, indefensible”, and “completely unacceptable, and indefensible.” McKaiser then put it to him, in the context of the DA’s social media policy, that “if someone tweets about colonialism’s legacy having some positive elements is such a tweet insulting?” “It is”, he replied.

Despite Maimane’s protestations in the interview that the DA’s internal disciplinary processes should now be allowed to run their course – one of the party’s founding values being “fairness” – he had very publicly prejudged the entire matter. He had moreover done this on the basis of a misreading of what Zille had been trying to convey.

The following weekend the Sunday Times reported too that Maimane wanted Zille out as Western Cape Premier. The week after that Maimane announced that the party’s Federal Executive had “decided to institute formal disciplinary action against Ms Helen Zille, following recommendations presented by the Party’s Federal Legal Commission.”

Due process in the DA now apparently entails: verdict first, then sentence, and then trial.


It is worth noting here what Maimane could and perhaps should have done. Before announcing anything he should have called in Zille, heard her out, then severely carpeted her for complicating his work and the party’s electoral project. The DA should then have crafted a strategy for putting the controversy behind it as quickly as possible. This would require inter alia all DA leaders not to give it any further oxygen, after which the outrage would soon enough burn itself out. A social media policy requiring ALL DA public representatives to clear their Tweets with someone else before posting – as would be routine with a press statement they issued – would also have been a useful innovation.

Instead Maimane committed himself to a course of action, on the hoof, without having given himself time and space to properly apply his mind, take counsel, or weigh up the long term consequences, or let the temperature cool down. By going the disciplinary route Maimane has ensured that the controversy will last months. By publicly condemning and attacking Zille he put her in a position where she had little choice but to defend herself publicly. And by trying to use this incident to drive Zille out of office in disgrace, he gave her no choice but to stand her ground and take him on.

Here Zille would have been remiss not to learn from the experience of Kohler Barnard. In 2015 the then DA Shadow Minister of Police went the abject-apology, no-public-defence-of-herself, plea-agreement route – now being demanded of Zille by those with very short memories – and for her pains was treated horrendously unfairly, escaping expulsion only by the skin of her teeth. Given that under Zille’s leadership the DA drifted away from its liberal ideological moorings, in its as yet unrewarded efforts to win over African nationalist voters, it is also morally incumbent on her to stand and defend the non-racial and liberal soul of the party from internal assault.

The party itself, and prominent party loyalists who should know better, are now in a position where they are under considerable pressure to support the DA leader’s course of action for fear that if he doesn’t triumph in this battle he’ll be made to look ‘weak’ and not ‘in charge’ and this will affect the party’s prospects in 2019. Those currently enabling Maimane in this regard are not doing him any favours however.

In his rush to show how strong and decisive he is, the DA leader is breaking every rule of political leadership in the book. He is displaying real weakness by bending to the demands of the race-ultras, failing to show loyalty to those who were loyal to him, and, in moving to trash his predecessor’s reputation, is undermining the underlying authority and legitimacy of the party he now leads.

Moreover, in politics as in war, if you don’t want a fight to the death then you must leave open a path of retreat for your opponent. Or to put it slightly differently, if you back someone into a corner and pull a knife on them then you and your allies shouldn’t go on a massive whinge-a-thon after you then get punched in the nose.


At the time the controversy broke, and the social media outrage burned white-hot with all its distorting effects on people’s sense and reason, Zille’s Tweets may have seemed providing cause enough to effect her removal from office. But as this outrage has faded this becomes a more-and-more untenable position, given the potential repercussions.

It is significant that in all the numerous DA communications dealing with this matter, directly or indirectly, the party has yet to either quote or accurately summarise Zille’s offending statement, logically explain what is wrong with it (beyond clumsy phrasing), or set out how it contravenes the values of the DA. Maimane and the DA have also failed to explain how the converse position is compatible with either reconciliation, non-racialism, the party’s values, or indeed the Constitution of South Africa. This requires that we:

Recognise the injustices of our past;
Honour those who suffered for justice and freedom in our land;
Respect those who have worked to build and develop our country; and
Believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, united in our diversity. (My emphasis)

There is no contradiction or even tension between any of these. But it is impossible to comply with the third requirement if you claim that the economy, infrastructure and institutions inherited by the democratic state in 1994 – the collective product of the skills, capital, enterprise and labour of generations of South Africans of all races – are too tainted by the ‘colonial’ past to have any value; or, the fourth, if one persists in peddling the dangerous claim that one racial minority is the cause of all a particular majority’s misfortunes.

Zille is the democratically elected Premier of the Western Cape. She was re-elected for another five year term in 2014 with a 59% majority. By all accounts her administration continues to perform with distinction. Most of the voters who put her into office are unlikely to have a profound principled objection to her comments, though they may have thought them ill-advised, given that their very existence is but one of many ‘legacies’ of the colonial past.

It is only the result of South Africa’s PR electoral system, which gives party bosses ultimate control over all their public representatives, that the DA even has the option of pushing her out of her position as Premier. This is the same pernicious system that has, thus far, prevented ANC MPs from rebelling to save their party by voting President Jacob Zuma out of office in parliament. It was adopted and retained by the ANC precisely in order to ensure that the party’s top leadership could exercise the same type of Soviet-style command and control over its cadres that it had once wielded in exile.

Though the DA can use the system for the same purposes – once it has jumped through some hoops internally – does not mean it should, given its values. The party’s own constitution states that “The government must reflect the will of the people and our elected representatives must be directly accountable to the people.”


If the DA leadership fails to step down from the effort to “fire” Zille – rather than provide her with a dignified path to retirement in two years – they are going to cause severe and enduring harm to the party. It will result in internal fracturing from top to bottom, just at the moment when internal unity and cohesion is critical, and release a Pandora’s Box of hatreds and resentments. It will also destabilise the Western Cape government, the primary showcase of what the DA can do in government. The basis on which this is being done – namely her failure to pay proper obeisance to a narrow Africanist view of our past – may delight the race-ultras but it will shock and disturb many of the party’s loyal supporters.

There is still significant momentum propelling the party forward into 2019, especially as the ANC continues to implode, but the DA will now be in the precarious position of the monocycle rider who falls over the moment he stops moving forward. The DA leadership would also be foolish too to rely on the fact that there is as of yet no real alternative to it among its core minority support-base. There was also no credible alternative to the National Party for (non-ANC supporting) minority voters post-1994, until there was.


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Burning Coligny and irresponsabile politicians

Let’s start at the beginning. The date is April 20 and a black youth lies dying on a lonely road in an iconic Highveld landscape. Mealies march over the horizon in all directions. There are grain silos in the distance.

Sun glints off the tin roofs of a nearby shack settlement, home of the boy lying in the dust at our feet. Between us and his parents’ shack is a vast sunflower field owned by Pieter Karsten, a leading farmer and businessman in the town of Coligny. The crop is worth tens of thousands of rands, and it is slowly vanishing. Kids in the squatter settlement are hungry. It’s laughably easy for them to nip over the fence, nick a few sunflower seeds and roast them over a fire.

Karsten has tasked two employees to prevent such pilferage. Phillip Schutte, 34, and Pieter Doorewaard, 26, are said by their supporters to be decent young men, raised in Christian homes, responsible and well-mannered. Over recent months, they’ve caught several kids helping themselves to Karsten’s crop. In every case, they loaded the offenders onto the back of a bakkie and delivered them into the hands of the police, who phoned their parents and released them with a warning. It is common cause that none of these citizen’s arrests involved violence.

Today is different. There stands Schutte and Doorwaard’s bakkie. Here lies a boy with a broken neck. Their version: they caught two teenagers stealing sunflower seeds. One ran away. They ordered the second onto the back of their bakkie and were heading towards the police station when he made a break for it, leaping off the vehicle as it slowed to take a corner, breaking his neck.

But there is another version, put forward by a thus-far nameless black man who told reporters and police he saw Schutte and Doorewaard beating the black boy to a bloody pulp, and that they threatened to murder him if he did not keep his mouth shut.

These contradictions could have been resolved by a swift and effective investigation. There were other witnesses, most important of whom was the alleged sunflower thief’s companion; if the police had found him in time, his testimony could have proved crucial. The same applies to witnesses who told reporters they saw a bakkie speeding past in the distance, stopping and returning to the spot where the youth lay dying; they too have yet to surface.

Read more: ‘The parents are devastated and resting at home’ – Coligny school principal

Also missing at the crucial moment were the results of a post-mortem which surely established the true cause of death; human violence leaves injuries very different from those caused by a high-speed tumble onto a rough dirt road. But the SAPS moves at a leisurely pace and sometimes doesn’t move at all; after 10 days, detectives hadn’t even established the boy’s identity, even though he lived within sight of the spot where he died. These uncertainties created a vacuum, and into the vacuum rushed a set of volatile ideas. One of these was ideological, but we will deal with that later. The other was racial.

Coligny is a place where grim conclusions come easily to some people. In the apartheid era, Afrikaners were stern masters of this landscape, administering discipline to their labourers as they saw fit, sometimes with fist and sjambok. Such incidents began to taper off after Eugene Terre’Blanche was imprisoned for savagely assaulting a cheeky petrol attendant in neighbouring Ventersdorp, and these days, they are vanishingly rare. But black people remember, and harbour deep resentment. They say Afrikaners still treat them rudely, and some tell you they’re still afraid of “the Boers.” It was but a small step from there to conclude that the death in the sunflower field just had to be a racist murder.

Around sunset on Sunday April 23, foreign traders in Coligny’s satellite township were visited by a mysterious man they knew only as “Tebele”. Tebele warned that an upheaval was coming, but since it had nothing to do with them, they would be safe if they just closed their shops and kept a low profile. Tebele is also said to have visited township schools the following morning, asking or ordering headmasters to release all pupils to join a protest targeted at Dooreward and Schutte, the white community that was supposedly shielding them, and the police who had thus far failed to arrest them.

The gutted house of an Indian businessman from Coligny. Photo: Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

A few minutes later, Dutch Reformed Church dominee MH Pieters got a call from a policeman warning that a large crowd was on its way into town and that the police could do nothing, because there were only five officers on duty and no reinforcements available thanks to violent service delivery protests in nearby Blydeville and Lichtenburg.

Judging by cellphone videos shot by apprehensive whites, the opening movement of Tebele’s protest was fairly orderly; a throng of mostly schoolchildren marched or ran unopposed through the town’s business district, breaking the odd window and kicking down the doors of the town’s only hotel, which is owned by Pieter Karsten, employer of the accused. When they got to the far end they found their way barred by a handful of white farmers, so they turned around, pausing to loot Karsten’s bar as they passed.

After that it was quiet for a while, but then police asked the farmers to withdraw on the grounds that their presence was "provocative". According to dominee Pieters, the Boers obliged and withdrew to protect Najaarsrus, the local old age home. At this point protesters realised the coast was clear and returned, their ranks swollen by hundreds of adults. There followed 24 hours of near-anarchy. All bottle stores in the business district were trashed and looted, most businesses too. Three houses were set alight, and six terrified white girls trapped in the ransacked hotel had to be rescued by what they called "the Boeremag" but which turned out to be the local farm patrol.

Read more: 4 houses burnt in renewed Coligny violence

As word spread on social media, Afrikaners for hundreds of kilometers around began to mobilise and roll into Coligny to save their brethren. Some were armed, and ordentelike citizens didn’t like the look of them. As one put it, “The last thing we needed at that point was trigger-happy right-wingers shooting people in the streets,” so local Afrikaners set up roadblocks and politely asked strangers to go home, which was pretty brave, considering that night was falling and there was still no sign of strong police reinforcements. Many thought they’d be protected by God. Some put their faith in the essentially good nature of their black neighbours.

One of these was Diana Swart, a vivacious woman who used to manage the town’s multi-racial under-21 rugby team and make dresses for black girls who wanted to look beautiful at Coligny High School’s multi-racial matric ball. After dark, she sat under a tree outside her house, watching shadowy figures carrying looted TVs and beer crates back to the township. “My sons wanted to get me out,” she says, “but I wasn’t scared. I never thought anyone would harm me.” She was wrong. When the sun came up, her house was surrounded by a mob that threatened her with knives and then burned her house down, with her beloved dogs trapped inside.

By then, all the foreign traders’ shops in the townships had been burned out and looted too. There were 53 of them, and they didn’t really make news, even though they were by far the saddest victims of phase one of the battle of Coligny.

I found some of them in a makeshift refugee camp outside the town’s mosque, a throng of wretched Bangladeshis left with nothing but the clothes they stood up in and handfuls of ash that used to be their life savings. A tragic refrain ran through all their stories, and it went like this. “We know we are not really welcome here, so we try hard to make friends. We try to speak the language. We give presents to policemen so they will protect us. We help struggling people with credit, but when the looting started, families I know very well came with their children to carry my stock away.” One added: “A black person has no heart.” Then he gave me his name and phone number and said, “I don’t care if you identify me, I have nothing left to lose.”

A Bangladeshi business owner shows what remains of his savings after his shop was set on fire. Photo: Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

Locals were more cautious. A house belonging to one of the town’s old Indian families was burned down, but Indians wouldn’t talk about it "because that will only make things worse for us". The few whites who were willing to be interviewed tended to cloak their true feelings in PC newspeak, and most blacks walked away when I asked awkward questions like, who organised this thing? Or, who is Tebele? Or, do you approve of school children being used in this way?

After one too many rebuffs of this nature, I walked back to the magistrate’s court, where the accused’s bail hearing was underway. On most mornings last week, there was a hard core of 15 to 20 militants toyi-toying outside the court, some wearing EFF red, but most wearing ANC yellow. Soon as school let out, though, the crowd swelled and reporters were treated to the spectacle of hundreds of excited youngsters chanting, "The police are thugs and whites are killers".

Their colour was school uniform, and they were oddly friendly, considering my white skin. They said the EFF and ANC had formed a united front to oppose bail for the “racist murderers,” and that the town would be burned to the ground if the accused weren’t kept behind bars. I didn’t take them seriously. They were children, and by last week, the police seemed to be firmly back in control, thanks to the deployment of 130 public order officers from elsewhere in the country. By late Friday afternoon my inquiry seemed to have reached a dead end, so I decided to go home and come back once things had calmed down.

I should make it clear at this point that I was sent to Coligny to write an in-depth piece about the violence and its underlying causes. After three days, I was still clueless, although it seemed clear that the alleged sunflower thief died at a convenient moment for the local ANC, which was facing violent protests across the troubled Ditsobotla District Municipality. In towns like Blydeville and Lichtenburg, the burning issues were corruption, incompetence, potholed roads, broken sewerage plants and intermittent water supply. The ANC-run municipality is hopelessly bankrupt, with debts of R323 million, four consecutive negative reports from the Auditor-General and a manager who has faced serious fraud allegations.

Black people in Coligny have similar complaints, and were in a mutinous mood long before the looting started. Against this backdrop, a nameless corpse in the government mortuary might have presented itself as a useful distraction. Which is to say, a chance for local ANC leaders to change the subject, shift the focus of rage to whites and demonstrate that their balls were still as big, red and militant as the EFF’s.

But this was just a theory at that point. I hadn’t interviewed any local politicians. I had no idea what they were thinking until I woke up the next morning to find that a new drama was unfolding in Coligny. By that time, the boy from the sunflower field had been identified as 16-year-old Matlhomola Mosweu, and now his funeral was set to take place. The location was a giant tent outside Coligny’s shack settlement, and the keynote speaker was Supra Mahumapelo, ANC premier of the North West and an important ally of President Jacob Zuma.

According to a Twitter feed from News24 reporter Jeanette Chabalala, Mahumapelo began by stating there was “no confusion” about at whose hands Mosweu had died. This was odd. On Friday afternoon, the magistrate presiding over the bail hearing indicated that aspects of the evidence against the accused were confusing. “One of your witnesses says this, the other says that,” he told prosecutors. “It’s like a soccer player scoring goals on one side of the field while his team-mates score own goals on the other.” As previously stated, the police investigation was still in its infancy; key witnesses had yet to be traced, forensic evidence was lacking and the cause of death remained unknown. Beyond that, doubts had emerged about the credibility of the anonymous witness who claimed to have seen Doorewaard and Schutte beating Mosweu; it seems he told one version of that tale to a TV crew, and a significantly different one to police.

But Mahumapelo was immune to doubt. “Had they caught a white child, I don’t think they would have done it,” he thundered. “I have a problem with white superiority in this country. White people continue to control the land and the banks. We are going to call all the white people and tell them they are visitors in this country.” He was speaking from a podium recently vacated by Mxolisi Bomvana of teachers’ union Sadtu, the largest trade union still loyal to Jacob Zuma’s ANC. His message: “I don’t think what happened is the will of God. It is the racists of our time. (Mosweu) is gone because a racist decided to kill a black person.”

The third speaker at the funeral was Packet Seakotso, provincial secretary of Sanco, another key element of the Zuma’s grand alliance. His role was to inform the community about plans for the following Monday, when Magistrate Magoala Foso was expected to rule on Schutte and Doorewaard’s bail application. Seakotso didn’t exactly call for the town to be burned down, but he did indicate that direction action was imminent. “We are going to meet at the old municipal building,” he said. “We are closing the roads in an effort to oppose bail.”

Can we pause here to consider the significance of what you have just read? When the troubles in Coligny began, we were told that they were a “spontaneous” expression of the people’s righteous anger. Maybe so, but what we saw at the funeral was something else entirely. Mahumapelo and his comrades are ranking members of Jacob Zuma’s faction. They could have condemned the violence. They could have apologised to the 53 Bangladeshis, Somalis and Ethiopians who lost their livelihoods. They could have called for calm, and advised their followers to delay further protests until the facts were in. Instead, they chose to further inflame racial passions and collectively endorse a second round of protests in a town already smashed by rioting. I doubt this was an emotional error. To me, it looked like a coldly logical part of the Zuma administration’s survival strategy, which rests largely on scapegoating whites in the manner pioneered by Mugabe, endorsed in 2010 by Malema and recently adapted into Zuma’s plans for “radical economic transformation”.

Workers load food on a bakkie to go to struggling families. Photo: Jonathan Katzenellenbogen

The rest of it you know; at 10.30 on Monday, magistrate Foso announced that the law and his reading of the circumstances required him to set the murder accused free on bail. Within minutes, a white-owned farm on the outskirts of town was set on fire. By the time police arrived, a second fire had been set elsewhere, and then a third and a fourth, this time the home of an Indian businessman. Unhinged by the loss of his house, a farmer pulled a gun and attacked a cameraman for trespassing on his land. Police fought running battles with stone-throwing youth, using rubber bullets and stun grenades. By sunset, a measure of order had been restored, but the situation remained extremely tense, and racial minorities faced the night in a state of dread. “South Africa is finished,” an old Indian gentleman told me. “Soon this will spread everywhere.”

Ah, this country. Where did our glory go? Coligny was a sad and depressed place before these troubles began, and now it’s worse. Aside from Pieter Karsten and a few others, it is a town of poor whites and retired railway workers, struggling to survive on state grants and charity. Shops are shabby, houses dilapidated, roads potholed and full of sewage. Some houses in town have been on the market for years, but there are no buyers.

The surrounding farmland was once extremely valuable, but now it’s unsalable too, thanks to the sword of imminent nationalisation hanging over farmers’ heads. The town’s racial minorities are frightened and isolated, and the position of blacks is even more desperate. Exact figures are not available, but township residents say unemployment is around 80 percent. More than half of the populace is still waiting for flush toilets, and almost every family depends to some extent on social grants for its survival.

This makes Coligny a South African everyplace, and thus fertile ground for politicians trying to manufacture anti-white rage, either as a tool to gain power or in the case of Zuma, to hold onto it by inventing an enemy whose defeat will usher the masses into the utopia of full economic freedom, where everyone has a nice life “like the whites.” This is a cruel and tragic hoax. The big money fled this country long ago. Whites are a tiny and dwindling minority, well on their way to absolute irrelevance. In Coligny and surrounding towns, only one percent of the populace earns more than R600 000 a year, while 87 percent fall below the tax threshold; numbers like these suggest that taking everything from whites and redistributing it to the poor would make barely a dent in black poverty. And the price to be paid for that redistribution would be terrifying; total loss of investor confidence, capital flight, decimation of jobs, collapse of the tax base, end of the social grants, and ultimately, a fate far worse than Zimbabwe’s, because where will our refugees go?

South Africa is a country where many possible futures beckon. One of these is on display in Coligny, and it’s ugly for everyone. Another, better outcome is still possible. We should grasp it before it vanishes.

– Rian Malan is an acclaimed journalist and author of My Traitor’s Heart and Resident Alien.


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Killing Private Medical Aid

Durban – Medical Aid Schemes are a “crime against humanity” and should be abolished because they cannot co-exist with the government’s proposed National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme.

SA Health Professions Council president Dr Kgosi Letlape told academics and medical professionals at a discussion on whether the NHI white paper meets human rights objectives of the constitution, that private medical aids and the Medical Schemes Act should be abolished if the NHI was to provide universal health care access for all citizens.

Letlape was speaking at a public discussion at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban on Friday.

“There can be no national health if it is not for all of us. You try to engage about NHI with the privileged, and they say ‘don’t touch my medical aid’. Medical aid is a crime against humanity. It is an atrocity.”

Letlape said Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi did not seem to have much support for NHI, and people such as parliamentarians and judges also had an attitude of “don’t touch my medical aid”.

However, he said it was possible to provide universal health care, which was not a new concept, as the country previously had one of the best health-care systems in the world under apartheid.

“South African whites had health for all. By 1967 they had a system that could give somebody a heart transplant for no payment. At the point of service, there were no deductibles, the doctor was on a salary and everyone could access health care.”

But when the Medical Schemes Act was created 50 years ago, the exodus of medical professionals from the public to the private sector began, Letlape said.

He estimated there were between 3000 and 4000 medical professionals working for medical schemes that could be redistributed to the health system if schemes were abolished.

Dr Mfowethu Zungu, deputy director-general for Macro Policy, Planning and NHI at the KZN Health Department said only 48% of expenditure on health in South Africa was spent in the public sector, which served 87% of the population.

The balance was spent in the private sector, which served medical aid members, who comprised around 17% of the population.

Dr Hanif Vally, deputy director of the Foundation for Human Rights SA, said medical aid created a divide, as 50% of the country’s doctors and an even greater number of specialists served around 18% of the country’s citizens, who had access to the private sector.

“Medical professionals are going into private practice, inequalities are being worsened and people are not realising their constitutional rights."

Heath Department deputy director-general for Health Regulation and Compliance Management, Dr Anban Pillay, said the provision of universal health care for all citizens was critical.

“We currently have a system where people access care based on what they can afford. Clearly, there are a number of barriers to access, particularly in the lower socio-economic groups. NHI is a massive reorganisation of the public and private health-care system.”

Pillay said the poor were often most in need of health care, and funding for NHI would come from taxpayers based on a principal of social solidarity.

“Social solidarity means we all contribute to a fund, so that when I am sick I will have access to health care. But maybe I may never need to (access), but somebody else will.

“It’s not a concept South Africans are particularly used to in the current context. If you look at your medical scheme environment, which an individual contributes to as an insurance, you have a particular entitlement – it’s your money. This is very different to how the NHI works.”

In younger, healthier years, South Africans would contribute to the fund and were likely to derive benefits from that contribution only later in life.

“The young and healthy should subsidise the sick and old. This is not about investing in something where you are going to derive some profit. It’s investing in society so you can build society,” Pillay added.


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Baby weighing 525g survives without intensive care in Bloemfontein

Kimberley – The “miracle” baby who weighed just 525g when she was born in an ambulance rushing her mom to a Kakamas hospital and has never been on life support, has astounded doctors.

Lee-Anne Adonis now weighs 625g, Netwerk24 reported.

Lee-Ann was born prematurely between 22 and 25 weeks in an ambulance on January 12 with the aid of a midwife. She was airlifted to the Bloemfontein Mediclinic, where Dr Jaco Neser treated her.

Neser said everything was perfect: her lungs were amazing, the heart fine, her sugar levels normal and her blood count like that of an adult.

She had been breathing on her own since birth. Neser said he had treated many premature babies, but never one who did not need life support.

‘A small miracle’

“I’ve never seen anything like this. Everything about her is special. A small miracle. She will develop just like any other premature baby.”

There was no indication that Lee-Anne sustained permanent damage.

Lee-Anne’s mother, Antoinette, a housewife from Nababeep in Namaqualand, only found out she was pregnant about two weeks before the infant’s birth.

Lee-Anne’s sudden arrival was a shock for her and her husband John, but also a pleasant surprise, she said.

“I wasn’t prepared at all. We hadn’t even bought her clothes yet.”

All she wants now, is to hold her baby in her arms.

“I am sad. She is thousands of kilometres from me, but as soon as I have enough money, I will buy a bus ticket to visit her.”

Hospital spokesperson Barbara Steenkamp said Lee-Anne was being treated in an incubator in the ICU for premature babies and being tube-fed.

“She is a special child who has crept into our hearts.”


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Sa last in math and science

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has released its Global Information Technology Report 2016, which ranked South Africa last in mathematics and science education quality.

South Africa also finished close to last – 137 out of 139 countries – when looking at the overall quality of its education system.

The WEF’s 2016 report ranks SA’s mathematics and science education quality lower than that of Nigeria, Mozambique, and Malawi.

This is the third year in a row that South Africa has finished last in the World Economic Forum’s mathematics and science education quality rankings.

It should be noted that these rankings are based on the perceptions of business leaders, and make use of the WEF’s annual Executive Opinion Survey to establish how well a country’s education system is performing.

In this survey, the opinions of business leaders are gathered on a variety of topics.

The rankings therefore detail the perceived quality of mathematics and science education systems.


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Barclays disinvesting from South Africa

Johannesburg – Barclays is poised to lose around £400m of the £3.8bn capital it invested over the past decade into South Africa’s leading retail bank, Absa.

Although the SA operation’s profit performance in local currency terms has been adequate, a continued slide in the value of the Rand means that in the currency that matters for the UK group, Pound Sterling, the value of the injected capital has fallen by 12%.

Just over a decade ago, in May 2005, Barclays invested £2.6bn to acquire 56.4% of the Absa Group. This shareholding was raised to 62.3% in July 2013 when it accepted Absa shares in return for injecting £1.2bn worth of other African banking assets into the SA group, which was then renamed Barclays Africa.

This morning the Financial Times of Londonreported that the UK group is set to announce the divestment of its stake in Barclays Africa on Tuesday when it reports its 2015 financial results.


This has been on the cards since the financial shock created by Nenegate on December 9 last year.

At Friday’s closing level of the JSE-listed operation’s shares, the stake which Barclays owns translates into a recoupment of £3.4bn (R76bn) on the £3.8bn it paid for them over the past decade.

Although Barclays has received dividends during the period when it controlled Absa, those inflows would not have covered the costs incurred in servicing the invested capital.

Two days after Nenegate, BizNews reported that the UK’s largest retail bank Barclays had decided to offload its R120bn South African subsidiary Absa.

That marked a significant reversal in a strategy which has seen SA’s largest retail bank progressively change its image – with the Absa red and name progressively giving way to Barclays blue – including the listed company whose name was changed to Barclays Africa.

But according to the Financial Times of London, the new Barclays management team has gone through the motions over the past three months and is set to confirm the biggest disinvestment in South Africa since the spate that hit the country during the mid 1980s.

Sceptics are concerned that the Barclays sale will spark a similar exodus.


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