A FAMOUS GROUSE
I'M in no great hurry to read Peter Hain’s forthcoming memoir, A Pretoria Boy: The Story of South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’ (Icon Books). But I am aware that many of you are champing at the bit and cannot wait for its release later this year, craving as you do another stiff belter of baronial self-righteousness.
That said, if enough readers convince me it’s a life-changing experience, I may just give it a bash. Who knows, but I could be pleasantly surprised.
The book’s subtitle refers, of course, to the label Hain was given for his role in organising anti-Springbok demonstrations in the UK more than half a century ago. But is this right? There certainly was a palaver at the time, but nowadays we accept that Hain really wasn’t a chart-topping public enemy after all.
In fact, if memory serves, he got as high as number 37 before dropping out the Top 40 altogether.
However, it seems he is having a fresh crack at courting displeasure by coming out against Spesbonan devolution. Speaking to BizNews Radio recently, the comeback kid suggested it would be better for British people everywhere if the province continued to be misruled by the mugs it had routinely rejected since 2009 rather than governing itself. His reasons for this are baffling:
“I would not support secession by the Western Cape any more than I’d support secession by Scotland, because ultimately if you’re smaller, you’re weaker. You’re stronger together in a bigger entity. That’s true for Scotland and Scotland will be a tiny country of five million, as opposed to one of over 65 million and one of the biggest economies and strongest and most influential countries in the world, which is the United Kingdom.
“The Western Cape on its own may feel, both the coloured community and the white community especially, and some of the black community as well, and the Indian community may feel they don’t want to have anything to do with the rest of the country because it’s too chaotic.”
Well, there you are: whites, coloureds, blacks, Indians … that’s pretty much everybody, except maybe Brett Herron and Cameron Dugmore and some of their fellow travellers. Majority rule, or what?
“But actually,” Hain continued, “the Western Cape would be weaker because it would be smaller. Even if a difficult path to secession were ever to succeed, and I doubt that it would, and I doubt that it would be smooth – I think it would cause a lot of conflict and confrontation and that’s the last thing, frankly, that South Africa needs or that anybody living in the Western Cape needs.”
This is not the sort of argument tossed about whenever Hong Kong is discussed over lunch in Whitehall’s stuffier clubs; that the citizens of Her Majesty’s former colony are better off under Beijing because China is “bigger” and “stronger” and Hong Kong is “smaller” and “weaker”.
Oddly enough, here Hain has an unlikely ally in Roelf Meyer, a former apartheid government minister who now emerges from the mists of the past to bother us once more. Politics, strange bedfellows, etc.
Two embarrassing words about Meyer: “Cyril” and “Ramaphosa”. In this regard, the Nats’ chief negotiator at the 1993 Multiparty Negotiating Forum has some explaining to do: what really happened on those fishing trips to Dullstroom?
One moment Squirrel was a hardened trade union leader, the next a genial and tweedy nob in waders flogging the water for trout.
Did Meyer in a moment of weakness, his senses dulled by infusion of single malt sporran sap, draw back the curtain one bonhomie-stuffed evening and show Squirrel the big white monopoly capital picture?
For Squirrel, as we all know, suddenly got very wealthy. And so very agreeable. Just ask Peter Bruce.
But we digress. Meyer, also in prattle with BizNews Radio, seems to think that the people of Spesbona need to get out a bit more:
“Let me give you what I think is the reason behind [this talk of secession] and why there is this discussion going on within some communities in the Western Cape, I say some because it’s limited, it’s very limited… So what I think what is going on is that on the one side, it comes from people that have been in the Western Cape forever.
“In other words, [they] have never really been exposed to the rest of the country, have never travelled beyond the borders of the province, and then there’s another group among them in which you would find the discussion, and that is people who, ‘fled from the rest of the country’ to the Western Cape because they perceive it to be a better place to live.
“And on top of that, I think what they experience is that they can isolate themselves in the Western Cape. They can withdraw from the rest of the country. And out of that, this whole idea of the isolation that should lead to secession, I think, came about.”
Such patronising twaddle — and quite wrong, too. Spesbonans certainly don’t want to isolate themselves from the rest of the country. They are, in fact, quite fond of the rest of the country.
What they want is isolation from the ANC. This is obvious to all except those dreadfully beige pundits who maintain that we roll over and accept the fact that the party will be running South Africa until doomsday. That this is our manifest destiny, and all we may ever hope for is that a gang of grubby malcontents will one fine day sort itself out and emerge from the stench and murk of its own making as a gang of slightly less grubby malcontents.
How dispiriting. Better then to agitate for secession wherever you are. And of course it may never happen. But as jokes go, this particular struggle does bother the po-faced and dull of thought no end, and long may that be the case. ___STEADY_PAYWALL___
Lessons from the Copper Belt
When it comes to elections, Africa’s incumbents enjoy tremendous advantage over their opponents. According to website Democracy in Africa, the continent’s presidents win a staggering 88 per cent of the elections they contest.
It’s a situation that is hugely favourable where the ANC are concerned. There’s no sign just yet that they’ll be shown the door by the electorate.
How refreshing, then, that Zambia has bucked this trend with challenger Hakainde Hichilema’s landslide victory in last week’s polls, ousting president Edgar Lungu with 65 per cent of the vote.
Lungu has naturally cried foul, claiming the election weren’t free and fair as election officials from his Patriotic Front party had been chased from polling stations, leaving ballot boxes unprotected and open to all manner of vote-stuffing abuse.
Independent monitors are not impressed, particularly as Lungu did everything in his power to rig the election in his favour. His dirty tricks included shutting down the internet and using coronavirus as an excuse to call out the troops to stop Hichilema and his United Party for National Development supporters from campaigning in strategic areas. All in vain.
This is not the first time Zambians have waived the rule of thumb when it comes to the rule of dumb. They stunned observers in 1991, you may recall, when they voted out Kenneth Kaunda, revered founding father of the nation.
Change, then, does come, something we so often blithely ignore.
Granted, it’s not going to be easy for Zambia. But Hichilema, a former businessman with an MBA from the University of Birmingham, is no dummy. He’s well aware that millions of young Zambians will hold him to his promise of creating an economic growth rate of 10 per cent. Many are unemployed graduates, and they wore their graduation gowns to the polling stations to drive home the point.
“HH”, as he’s known, is pinning hopes on a rising global demand for electric car batteries. The Times reported that, in his acceptance speech on Monday, Hichilema pledged a major overhaul of all sectors of the Zambian economy, mining in particular.
The country is Africa’s second largest copper producer but it also has huge reserves of cobalt, which is used in lithium batteries. At this stage, there are very few alternatives to cobalt, and the only other producer of the metal is neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo. However, human rights abuses in the DRC, such as child slave labour, have put off global markets, so Zambia it is. Unlike the DRC, the country has the capacity to refine cobalt on an industrial scale — and it is this capacity that Hichilema now wishes to revive.
More interestingly, the new president has pledged to reduce state control of industry and — get this — reduce Zambia’s reliance on Chinese infrastructural projects. It’s going to be hard going, but as HH insists: “It will be done.” We shall see.
Carry on up the Khyber
Which brings us to the distressing events in Afghanistan. The moral panic over the Taliban and the fall of Kabul has knocked the issue of Beijing’s growing belligerence towards Hong Kong and Taiwan out of the media spotlight. Good news for Xi Jinping, in other words.
We have been reminded, yet again, that the chaos of the past week is an echo of Britain’s humiliation in Kabul in 1842 during the first Afghan war. Ever since that ignoble defeat, commentators have pointed out the futility of attempting to impose any form of outside influence on the region. And yet foreign forces have persisted in this folly and have failed, every one of them.
This time, the Americans had the guns and they had the numbers but the “project” was not winnable, so they left. Kabul offered no resistance to the Taliban, who entered the capital as triumphant victors. There are now justifiable human rights concerns as reports appear on social media about gangs of bearded men with AK47s and rocket launchers going from house to house in towns and villages asking questions about women and journalists.
Tears of Rage
On Friday, just hours before the deadline passed to register a complaint in terms of New York State’s Child Victim Act, an unidentified 68-year-old woman filed a lawsuit against Bob Dylan, claiming that the artist had plied her with drugs and alcohol before sexually abusing her when she was 12. According to the complaint, she was allegedly groomed and assaulted in Dylan’s apartment in Manhattan’s Chelsea Hotel during a six-week period in April and May 1965.
Dylan’s spokesman has said that “the 56-year-old claim is untrue and will be vigorously defended”. The industrial gossip complex, meanwhile, have gleefully reported that rock’s #MeToo movement had now finally arrived. There have been tawdry hack dives into the Dylan canon for phrases to smirk up the stories; references to bailiffs “knock, knock, knocking” on the singer’s door abound, as do mentions of legal writs “blowing in the wind” and times “a-changin’” faster than “a tambourine man” climbing up a drain pipe, and God knows what else.
Charges of historical sexual abuse of a minor are serious, and Dylan’s accuser wants the musician to face a jury trial for allegations of assault, battery, false imprisonment and infliction of emotional distress whose aftermath has led her to seek medical treatment on multiple occasions. There is also the matter of “compensatory damages” and this sum, according to the complainant, should be “fair, just and adequate to deter future similar conduct”.
Very few commentators have pointed out the major flaw in the charge: that Dylan could not have been in New York at the time of the alleged offence, except perhaps for a few days in April 1965, as he was very busy elsewhere.
His movements are well known. On April 3, he gave a concert in Berkeley, California, as part of a tour of the western United States and Canada with Joan Baez. This was followed by performances in Vancouver, Portland and Seattle on April 9, 23 and 24, respectively. On April 26 he arrived in London for a UK tour, which was followed by a holiday in Portugal before returning to the US on June 3.
The UK tour, incidentally, was filmed by DA Pennebaker, and the result, Dont Look Back, is regarded as one of the greatest rock documentaries of all time.
If Dylan, whose relationship with Baez was then coming to an end, did return to New York for a few days in April then it was in all likelihood to continue his affair with Sara Lowndes, the woman he later married and who bore four of his six children.
But such facts mean little in a climate of rage.
A recent YouGov poll has revealed that Americans are four times more likely than Brits to believe they could beat a lion, elephant or gorilla in unarmed combat. I have no idea why this survey was ever undertaken, but it does reveal there’s near unanimity when it comes to beating a domestic cat in a fight.