Our man (not) in Cornwall

Andrew Donaldson writes on why he chose not to go on the inside at the G7


I HAD an interesting approach from Her Majesty’s government a few weeks back. A former journalist now working for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Cape Town had been informed of my present whereabouts and was putting out “feelers” for possible accreditation for the G7 summit in Cornwall. Would I be interested?

This was flattering, being felt up out of the blue. It’s been a ball ache trying to interest South African newspaper editors with stories from the land of their former colonial overlords. A London presence, I’d say. Think of that on your masthead. A chap on the inside, gone native with ill-mannered Tories and savage what-whats. But do you think these intellectual pygmies would occasionally fling the odd bit of work my way? The hell they would.

Some G7 copy may change things, though, so I considered it. Cornwall, as colleague David Bullard pointed out very recently, is a delightful corner of the world. It is however also exceptionally pokey and the roads haven’t improved since Poldark’s day. I was there last year, barrelling through the extremely narrow streets of the fishing village of Polruan in search of a good time. A scary business. Think eye, needle and perhaps giddy camel. The evidence is still on the van’s paintwork. And no doubt some quaint fishing village cottages.

But all that aside, this G7 was going to be an important summit, the first time the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the United States of America had met in person for well over a year. It was also the first summit of the Joe Biden administration, and there was interest on the future of the needy-sounding “special relationship” between Britain and the US. Previous summits where Donald Trump had been involved were exercises in “special” damage control; observers were now keen to see if Sleepy Joe was going to kick up any kind of ruckus with Boris Johnson over Northern Ireland.

There was a busy agenda. The deal, for instance, concerning a global minimum corporate tax rate, which was made possible by the Biden administration’s willingness to let American tech giants be taxed in countries where they make profits. More urgently, there was the challenge of assisting developing nations with Covid-19 vaccines.

And then of course there was the hubris factor — which had resulted in the last-minute addition to the summit guest list of Cyril Ramaphosa. According to James Forsyth, the Spectator’s political editor, signs of the UK’s new foreign policy were evident in the agenda, specifically a belief, shared with the US, that the world was entering a new era of competition between democratic and autocratic states. In other words, world leader pretend stuff.

Biden had wanted the G7 to be a forerunner of an international “Summit of Democracy”. BoJo, keen to demonstrate the “Britain Trump” tag no longer applied, climbed on board, and the UK then invited Australia, India and South Korea along to Cornwall as part of a “Democracy 10” prototype. 

“The South Africans,” Forsyth wrote ahead of the G7, “are a late addition to the summit after there were objections that the initial plan for a ’D10’ lacked African representation.” The D10 of “free countries” was now the D11.

The notion of South African “freedom” is interesting and perhaps troubling. Global Peace Index 2021, a comprehensive report by the Institute for Economics and Peace due to be released on Thursday, will reveal the country’s prospects to be exceedingly grim, its hopes for a peaceful future dashed by rampant corruption, civil unrest, inept governance, a rotten business environment, a growing disregard and intolerance of the rights of others, increasing inequality, massive unemployment and the wholesale flight of human capital. 

It will come as no surprise, then, that the report reveals the country to be among the world’s most violent. Perhaps Botswana would have been a better choice as the G7 African afterthought. 

In this respect, I did briefly wonder about Squirrel’s invitation. Here, for instance, was a man whose government’s BEE policies had spawned a toxic “fronting” culture now trotted out as diplomatic window dressing at an international thingamajig. Ironic or what? ___STEADY_PAYWALL___

Then I dropped all thought of attending the summit. This was for purely practical reasons. If Squirrel was a late invitation, then so was I. Although the deadline for media accreditation had long since passed, the foreign office press liaison types, a slick and professional bunch, had gone out of their way to get me on board, and this was truly appreciated. And doubly tempting: South Africa is a red-listed country, and here I’d be, a lone South African hack, suitably vaxxed and given the all-clear to make a nuisance of myself at the G7.

The problem, however, was Cornwall. It was going to be bunfight. The hotels were already stuffed to the gills. Finding accommodation would be expensive, a problem for freelancers without clients. So I didn’t go to Carbis Bay. Instead, I found myself queuing outside a shop on the high street in Leighton Buzzard, in Bedfordshire, at 3am on Saturday waiting for the doors to open for Record Store Day. (Mock not the afflicted. It is a thing.)

As for the G7? Judging by press reports, the welcoming beano felt like a late wedding reception for Boris and new wife Carrie Symonds. There was chatter about China, mostly inconclusive and disappointingly wishy-washy. France’s Emmanuel Macron upset his hosts by suggesting Northern Ireland was not part of Britain, thus rekindling a row about sausages

There was a beach barbecue on the Saturday, prompting a rash of articles in the lifestyle sections of the Sunday newspapers on how to braai — but these may have been recycled features from previous summers. On a slightly weird note, guests were treated to sea shanties by a choir of sailor types. Considering that Brexit has more or less sunk the local fishing industry, this is perhaps one way that sailor types will now keep themselves occupied.

Any regrets? None. And I managed to pick up some killer rare releases in Leighton Buzzard. 

The days of our lives

Today, June 16th, marks an important event in the tide of human affairs. It is International Day of Family Remittances, an occasion in which public and private sectors in countries the world over are encouraged to make policies for the betterment of migrants and facilitate in the transfer of their money to families in home countries.

These remittances are among the largest financial inflows for many developing countries. For example, and according to the World Bank, the 17.5 million Indians who live abroad, mostly in the Gulf states, Western Europe, the United States and Canada, sent some $83 billion home in 2019.  These contributions fell dramatically due to the Covid-19 crisis, perhaps by as much as 20 per cent; the global remittances forecast for 2020 was $445 billion, down from $544 billion the previous year.

One should remember this is not money stolen by foreigners. These are wages, and very often from the lowliest of jobs. In South Africa, however, there is much grumbling that it is the jobs themselves that have been pinched. 

Why else would the country be facing a situation where the official youth unemployment rate for the first quarter of 2021 was 46.3 per cent? Clearly there are more Zimbabwean waiters and Malawian gardeners running about the place than previously imagined. Specialists, like SA Federation of Trade Unions general-secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, will however insist that this is all down to the failings of capitalism.

Which reminds me, besides being the 45th anniversary of the 1976 Soweto uprising, now known as Youth Day, today is also the International Day of the African Child, which focuses on the barriers African children face when it comes to receiving a decent education. 

This is all very well, and a jolly good idea to boot, but in our case, the barriers now seem to be the very foundations upon which the education system is built. Why else are the horrors of school pit toilets still with us? Is it because this source of national shame distracts from the scourge of crap teachers and an utterly hopeless education department? 

Still, and despite these obstacles, it is good to know that the Economic Freedom Fighters continue with their learning curve. The redshirts’ leader, Julius Malema, is a role model in this regard. Once derided for being barely able to hammer planks together, he has since earned a BA degree in communications and African languages and an honours degree in philosophy from Unisa. He is currently studying for his Master’s at the University of the Witwatersrand.

It must be difficult with all that on his plate. One would have supposed a break from his duties as a Judicial Services Council commissioner would be welcome. But no, Malema has vigorously objected to the Council for the Advancement of the SA Constitution’s attempts to have him suspended because of his attacks on the judiciary and his loutish conduct during interviews with candidates.

As he told journalists last Thursday: “We view the campaign by Casac to remove the president of the EFF from the Judicial Service Commission as a racist attempt to continue the influence of the Indian cabal on the judiciary.” Despite referring to himself in the third person, this was a disappointing outburst. All that time spent with books, and yet no evident comprehension of his own innate bigotry? Little wonder our universities are falling down the international rankings.

Yet more days, or not

On a more general note, it could be that there are not enough days these days, which accounts for the doubling, trebling and indeed quadrupling of dates and the confused mess that is now our calendar of commitments and celebrations. February 13th, for example, is International Condom Day, an occasion to remind youngsters to rubber up ahead of Valentine’s Day and remind them that safer sex practices are “always in fashion”. It is also World Radio Day. I doubt if there’s a connection between the two. 

Similarly, March 20th is World Anti-Racism Day. It is also World Storytelling DayWorld Sparrow DayWorld Oral Health Day and the International Day of Happiness. Some crackpot conspiracists, opposed to lockdown regulations, insist it is also World Freedom Day, an occasion on which, this year, we were urged to rise up against the tyranny of face masks, science and much learning besides.

September 21st, meanwhile, is World Alzheimer’s Day and World Peace Day.  It is also World Gratitude Day, an occasion “to bring the whole world together in a day that is all about being thankful”.

All this and more discovered while searching the internet for a possible World Platitude Day. This clearly was a waste of time. Every day, after all, is a day for suchlike.

A cultural revolution

Further to the Day of the African Child and the pursuit of learning, it is bemusing to note the growing obsession with the academic qualifications of DA members. Latest to fall foul of this Red Guard-like “cleansing of the old order” is the party’s Western Cape deputy chair, Jean-Pierre “JP” Smith. 

Fingered by the Weekend Argus, Smith has been trundled into the village square and there before the peasantry forced to kneel on broken glass sporting a dunce cap and a placard alleging some fudging in his CV concerning an honours degree in English. Smith denies falsifying his records and suggests instead a clerical error may have been responsible for this misunderstanding — his honours degree is incomplete.

Smith, the Cape Town mayco member for safety and security, also says the Weekend Argus, a Despiqbal publication, does not prescribe to the Press Code and is known for “incessant misinformation”. On Monday, the paper reported that the ANC in the Western Cape legislature intends laying criminal charges against Smith.

Meanwhile, Brett Herron, handbag wallah for Good Party leader Patricia de Lille, is beside himself with chuffness that “the DA is being exposed for its hypocrisy”. As he put it: “[Each] case is treated differently depending on who you are. Bonginkosi Madikizela was suspended, investigated, and resigned. Party chief whip Natasha Mazzone was not investigated but just exonerated, mayco member for water and waste Xanthea Limberg is apparently under investigation, but still in her position.”

There is, as is the custom when it comes to bashing the DA, a fair bit of dissemblance here. Each case is treated differently, but then only because they happen to be different cases. Herron should be aware of this, being a lawyer and all. But then, like his party leader, he’s been known for fairly dramatic mood swings. It may be said, then, that reality blurs in the throes of vigorous opportunism and blissful expediency.

Aluta continua, etc

Is there a soul among us, here at the Slaughtered Lamb (“Finest Ales & Pies”), who does not feel a twinge of sympathy for Carl Niehaus now that the ANC has ruled that the leadership of the Umkhonto weSizwe Military Veterans Association and the MK Council be disbanded? Probably quite a few.

Still, it must be hard for Carl. He’s like a spoilt child who has been told to stop playing with the nice choo-choo as it doesn’t belong to him. Moving images of a trembling lower lip and a blinking back of tears come to mind when reading his aggrieved statement, hastily penned on behalf of MK vets president Kebby Maphatsoe. Here indeed are revolutionaries not merely disrespected, but “fundamentally” so, as Carl puts it. Which sounds too ghastly to discuss in polite society. 

How satisfying then that Carl and Kebby boldly declare they will not disband. They will defy Luthuli House and continue their struggle for irrelevancy. Viva that, with cherries on top. This joke still has legs. And in camouflage trousers, no less.