Tag Archives: Nelson Mandela

Chinese Trade Deals Top Mandela Commemoration for SA’s President

Word has it that President Zuma will miss the first anniversary celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s death today (5 December).

Although the day has not been made a public holiday, raising eyebrows in some quarters, it has nonetheless been marked with an official commemoration at Freedom Park in Pretoria.

In the absence of the President, the ceremony was officiated over by his deputy Cyril Ramaphosa, who lad a “call to action” at exactly 9.56am and 53 seconds this morning.

Such action involved people sounding bells, sirens, musical instruments and vuvuzelas not only in the Park, but also at churches, schools, factories and the like around the country.

This cacophony was followed by a three-minute silence at 10am, bringing the total time elapsed to six minutes and seven seconds in order to represent the 67 years that Mandela spent in service to the country.

The national anthem was then sung, before a wreath-laying service was held at the Union Buildings, the seat of the government in Pretoria.

As to why Zuma decided not to grace such an historic event with his presence, meanwhile, this was due to important business with China – South Africa’s largest single trading partner since 2009, and China’s biggest on the continent.

In fact, it was China’s patronage and influence that saw South Africa being accepted into the influential club of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations in 2010.

This week, however, President Zuma led a delegation of ministers and representatives from 100 companies on his second state visit to the country. Here he met Chinese President Xi Jinping in a bid to review and strengthen existing relations and trade ties.

To this end, the two nations signed a five-to-10-year strategic cooperation programme, which included cementing “political mutual trust and strategic coordination” in international and BRICS-related matters. It also involved a commitment to improving collaboration in the areas of trade and investment, particularly in sectors such as agriculture, finance and transport.

The deal builds on the Beijing Declaration, which was signed four years ago during Zuma’s first state visit, and created a partnership centred around 38 cooperation agreements. These agreements ranged from mineral exploration to political dialogue and joint activity in global arenas such as the United Nations.

Bi-lateral trade

But a joint forum involving about 150 Chinese companies will also take place today, with the aim of generating a raft of new business deals between the two nations.

Getting such deals right could prove tricky though. Although South Africa’s bilateral trade with China increased by 32% in 2013 to ZAR 270bn (£15.6bn) from ZAR 205bn (£11.8bn) the previous year, the trade balance has remained so far in China’s favour.

In fact, South Africa’s trade deficit with the country widened from ZAR36bn (£2.1bn) in 2012 to ZAR38bn (£2.2bn) last year.

The problem, according to Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies in a written reply to a parliamentary question by African National Congress MP Freddie Adams in March, centres primarily on the make-up of this two-way commerce.

While more than 90% of South Africa’s top 10 exports to China comprise raw materials, all of its top 10 Chinese imports consist of higher value manufactured goods.

But now, it seems, both countries have recognised the unsustainability of the situation and agreed to try and tackle it. The first way, according to Davies, is by working together “to promote value-added exports to China”, while the second is to “increase inward investment from China”, which has traditionally been low.

But trade deficits are not the only way in which doing business with China can apparently be a double-edged sword.

In October, for example, the South African government generated domestic and international controversy by apparently kowtowing to its ally’s political demands.

Pretoria, it appears, chose to deny Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, a visa – for the third time in five years – to attend a Nobel laureates’ summit in Cape Town in order to honour the memory of fellow laureate, Nelson Mandela. The summit was duly cancelled and is now scheduled to take place in Rome on 12-14 December.

Chinese influence

But the government was widely reproached for being afraid to anger its trading partner, which has occupied Tibet since 1950 and sees the Dalai Lama, albeit in exile in India, as an influential and subversive voice of independence.

China, in turn, only made matters worse for its friend by commending the “correct position” it had taken and thanking it for its support.

Although Pretoria hotly denied any culpability, claiming that the Dalai Lama had cancelled the visa himself, it was roundly criticised for everything from handing over its sovereignity, “selling its soul” and betraying the country’s commitment to human rights since the fall of apartheid 20 years ago.

But China’s influence is also being felt in more temporal ways in the everyday lives of ordinary South Africans.

For instance, according to African TV news channel eNCA’s Checkpoint documentary entitled “South Africa and China’s Trade Relationship”, this very partnership has led to 100,000 jobs being lost between 2002 and 2010 as cheap Chinese imports have flooded in and decimated local industry. Chinese investment has by way of contrast created less than 50,000 new positions.

A particularly marked casualty has been the garment-manufacturing sector in the Western Cape, which in its heyday in the 1990s employed 50,000 workers of its own.

But according to Ron Stockdale, managing director of men’s suit producer PALS, the industry has been unable to compete due to labour laws that restrict working hours to 42.5 hours per week compared with China’s 60.

“They’ve got a nearly 50% longer week to produce garments against the same fixed overheads so they can give better prices,” he explains.

His company has survived by cutting delivery times due to productivity improvements and finding a niche by making police uniforms for African states and bowling trousers for the UK.

But Stockdale is also hopeful that, after years of sitting on its hands, recent measures by government to provide interest-reduced loans and productivity-incentive schemes to help businesses purchase new equipment may bear fruit.

Chinese unpopularity

Another issue that is causing local concern, meanwhile, is the large number of Chinese people moving to South Africa. At an estimated 300,000 to 500,000, the country is believed to have the largest such population on the continent, with many workers leaving China in the hope of finding better-paid job opportunities than they would at home.

The almost inevitable consequence of these dynamics though is that the Chinese presence is becoming increasingly unpopular.

According to a survey by the Ethics Institute of South Africa among over 1,000 Africans across 15 countries earlier this year, a statistically significant 43.3% had a negative perception of Chinese businesspeople compared with only just over a third holding the opposite viewpoint.

Locals were just as unimpressed with Chinese products and services (55.9% negative) and their labour practices (46% negative). This was due to a widespread belief that Chinese firms do not treat their African staff with respect, fail to provide decent working conditions and have little regard for either their basic rights or health and safety.

But it appears that, of everyone questioned, it is South Africans who are the most anti-Chinese.

This situation was attributed not only to the fact that they are “generally-speaking more xenophobic than other Africans”, but also that Western media, which tends to paint a black picture of Chinese investment in the continent, has more influence here.

In addition, the long-standing presence of Chinese businesses means that they are more widespread than elsewhere, particularly in rural areas, which has entrenched dislike. The final nail in the coffin is the fear that such businesses are perceived to pose a direct threat to domestic manufacturing, especially the textile industry.

But the one glimmer of hope is that an ongoing complaint that Chinese businesses employ countrymen rather than local workers due to their willingness to work longer hours for lower wages, is starting to loose validity as salary costs rise back home.

Whatever the truth of it though, it appears unlikely that China’s influence in South Africa – or the rest of the continent for that matter – is likely to wane anytime soon.

As Dr Garth Le Pere, author of “China, Africa and South Africa” told Checkpoint: “China is looking at major mining concessions in South Africa and the region at a time when there’s a rentrenchment of commitment, development aid, trade and investment from the European Union and United States. And this is the difference – the Chinese make things happen.”

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Nelson Mandela: Paying our Last Respects

What an amazing time to be in South Africa and witness the country mourning the death, and at the same time celebrating the life of, Nelson Mandela, known affectionately all over the country as Tata Madiba.

 

I can’t say that I’ve seen anything like it since the huge outpouring of grief for Princess Diana in 1997. Crowds taking to the streets, flowers laid in appropriate places as a mark of respect, condolence books everywhere, even in supermarkets.

 

People are also comparing it to the funeral of assassinated US president, John F Kennedy in 1963, although that was before my time, it must be said.

 

But just as the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, captured the mood of the moment by dubbing Diana “the People’s Princess”, President Jacob Zuma also seemed to do the same when he called Mandela ‘the Father of the Nation”, a moniker that has likewise stuck.

 

So at least he’s done something right. The booing that he received during Madiba’s memorial service on Tuesday has widely been viewed with embarrassment here – not least because no one can think of a comparable incident having taken place on an international stage anywhere else in the world. Ever.

 

But the episode is being blamed on a number of factors, all of which put Zuma into stark contrast with the man he was there to commemorate. Firstly, there ‘s the singular failure to tune into the public mood by giving the nation even a single day’s public holiday in which to mourn their hero.

 

Secondly, there are the scandals based on self-interest rather than the interests of the nation such as “Nkandlagate”. Here Zuma is accused of undertaking R206 million-worth of renovations at his private homestead in KwaZulu-Natal at public expense.

 

Curiously flat

 

And then there is the deeply unpopular introduction of e-tolls on the highways of Gauteng province, which has taken place despite heavy criticism over an inadequate consultation process.

 

On the other hand, however, it has also been whispered in some quarters that the heckling was mainly political in nature.

 

In this version of events, the perpetrators were supporters of the Economic Freedom Fighters, a new break-away political party from the ANC set up by disillusioned firebrand, Julius Malema. Their aim allegedly was to discredit his rival ahead of next year’s elections.

 

Whatever the cause though, I can’t imagine that Mandela, a man whose particular mantra was national unity, peace and reconciliation, would have been especially impressed with the carry-on.

 

I also don’t think he’d have been over-enthusiastic about the memorial ceremony that he received either. A marathon four-hour long event, it was curiously flat, dull and un-South African, with apparently endless male speakers droning on into microphones and playing to the cameras rather than the crowds sitting miserably in the rain.

 

Not that the bad weather was necessarily considered a negative thing. In Xhosa culture – the tribe that Mandela belonged to – the rains come to honour those who have lived a good life, apparently, which all seems very appropriate.

 

But the problem, I guess, is that there are only so many ways that you can say someone is fabulous and inspirational – although US president Barack Obama did manage a stand-out performance by at least making his speech personal and relevant. Raoul Casto’s utterly inappropriate anti-capitalist rant also made me laugh.

 

Beautiful and poignant

 

But my big question would be, where were the children that Madiba always loved so much? Why weren’t they given any space to honour him? And where was the vibrant and life-affirming singing and dancing that is such an important part of South African tribal culture and which Mandela always delighted in?

 

It was such a contrast to the night of his death, when my Beloved and I made our way up to his home in the well-heeled suburb of Houghton.

 

Arriving there by car like lots of others at about one in the morning, we were met by crowds of people, some wearing T-shirts bearing Madiba’s image or sporting ANC logos and others still in their pyjamas after walking from their homes nearby.

 

People carried lighted candles and framed pictures and knots formed of mourners celebrating his life by dancing up and down the open, leafy boulevards, singing struggle and freedom songs, songs invoking his name and, most heart-warmingly of all, songs of peace.

 

Movingly, one young man with long dreadlocks even clutched a bunch of pure white lilies, but, apparently slightly disorientated, seemed unwilling to put them down.

 

It was beautiful and poignant and could only have happened in South Africa. Always a man of the people, Tata Madiba would have loved it.

 

I’m not sure what such an apparently modest man would have made of being laid out in state in the Union Buildings in Pretoria though, although presumably he must have got used to the cult of personality that had developed around him over the years.

 

Something to think about

 

And I’m also not sure what he would have thought of South Africa’s embarrassing incident number two in the shape of Thamsanqa Jantjie. He was the guy that stood beside world leaders at Mandela’s memorial service and had the apparent gall to invent his own version of sign language off the cuff.

 

Being the inclusive type, I don’t think Madiba would have been that pleased at the thought of deaf people around the world being effectively excluded from the proceedings.

 

On the other hand, if it does turn out that Jantjie really did have a schizophrenic episode, I think he would definitely have found it in his heart to forgive him – potential security risk or not.

 

Another thing Madiba was known for, meanwhile, was his impeccable understanding of symbolism, and also of timing. So what better moment to pass over and have his funeral than around South Africa’s Reconciliation Day weekend?

 

The Day of Reconciliation on (Monday) 16 December was, during the apartheid era, known as the day of the Vow (Geloftedag). It commemorated a pledge made by a group of 470 Voortrekkers that the day would be observed as one of thanksgiving if only they could defeat the more than 10,000 Zulu warriors aligned against them – which with their guns, they duly did in what would become known as the ‘Battle of Blood River’.

 

Unsurprisingly due to its potent symbolism, the day, under apartheid, became one marked by dissent and protest against unfair laws. But following democratic elections in 1994, the aim was to transmute it into a day that would promote the building of a nation and unity among its people.

 

And given the uncertainty and fear of the future in some quarters, it’s certainly something for people to think about as they tuck into their beer and braais, I’d have said.

Johannesburg: City of Gold

Although economically Johannesburg may be the most important city in South Africa, I can’t say that it has either the charm or beauty of Cape Town.

 

Flying in for the weekend from the Mother City, you pass through scenery that morphs from green, fertile plains and soaring mountains to dramatic stretches of red desert.

 

As you near your journey’s end, however, the landscape is transformed into the mud-coloured highveld of winter, scarred by mine workings, pools of toxic chemicals and slag heaps – the unprepossessing by-products of an industry that has produced a huge 35% of the world’s gold. Mining in all of its various forms still accounts for nearly 20% of the entire South African economy.

 

Nonetheless, the City of Gold prides itself on its “urban forest” of six million trees that are planted everywhere from parks and along pavements to within people’s gardens in the suburbs.

 

But because the indigenous trees of the Highveld savannahs don’t grow more than about six metres and their thorns have a habit of puncturing car tyres and piercing pedestrians, most of them are foreign imports – oaks brought by the first Afrikaner farmers from the Cape in the 1830s and 1840s; Australian blue gums planted during the Gold Rush to serve as pit props as well as the planes and jacaranda trees beloved of colonial settlers.

 

For the average ex-pat/middle-class city dweller, meanwhile, the northern suburbs appear to be where it’s at. Green, leafy and pleasant, they’re basically residential areas with uniform, soulless shopping malls dotted around in between – all very American.

 

In fact, if I was going to compare it to anywhere, I’d say Jo’burg reminded me most of Los Angeles – a downtown that you wouldn’t walk around at night, although the prosperous, Canary Wharf-like Sandton has risen to take its place, and various suburbs acting like separate little towns and villages, each with its own look-and-feel.

 

Soap operas and theme parks

 

One of the pluses of Jozi, as it’s known locally, though is that it’s among the few South African cities that has suburbs with a bit of street life in the form of pavement cafes and restaurants – and I include Melville in that esteemed list.

 

While philistines outside of South Africa’s hallowed shores are unlikely to have heard of it, Melville is a veritable mecca for fans, such as myself, of cult Afrikaans soap opera, ‘7 de Laan’, which my beloved was kind enough to whisk me off to as a secret treat.

 

Melville’s Seventh Street and its multifarious shop fronts, restaurants and bars have the five-day-a-week honour of being featured on the show’s opening visuals. And, unsurprisingly given its bohemian feel, it’s apparently a favourite hang-out of students from both the Universities of Johannesburg and Witwatersrand.

 

Another rather interesting little trip that we made was to Gold Reef City. While essentially a theme park based on the 1886 gold rush in the Witwatersrand hills surrounding Jo’burg – which includes a fun if rather leaky River Rapids log flume and an ‘Anaconda’ ride that is apparently the fastest and tallest inverted rollercoaster in Africa – it also happens to be the site of an out-of-action gold mine.

 

Although the shafts originally went down for about more than 7,700 feet, taking men two hours to get there in order to start their shifts, we only ventured as far as 700, which, it must be said, was quite enough for me.

 

While the site itself was somewhat sanitised, life working in a gold mine very patently isn’t. Of all of the different kind of mining activity, working with gold is by far the most dangerous, not least because the depths at which people have to work make rock falls much more common.

 

But even if they survive such hazards, the silica dust produced by constantly drilling into rock that has been blasted loose, even if the area is wetted down, can lead to silicosis, a lethal disease that attacks the lungs.

 

Soweto

 

Widespread mechanisation is impossible, however, due to the narrowness of most gold ore-bearing reefs and, despite modern drills and the like, the work remains very labour-intensive.

 

It also appears to be exceptionally destructive – every six tons of rock that are blasted out of the earth produce only one measly ounce of gold, meaning that the economic viability of any mine is heavily dependent on the metal’s value on world markets.

 

But it’s also the reason for the mountainous, cream-coloured slag heaps, or mine dumps as they’re known locally, dotted around the less affluent southern suburbs of Johannesburg, including just outside of Soweto.

 

Thankfully however, modern processing techniques mean that these piles of crushed rock can now be mined for sand and residual gold and so are gradually starting to disappear – although not before time, it must be said, particularly due to the dust pollution that they generate.

 

Speaking of Soweto, or ‘South West Townships’ though, we also took the almost obligatory trip around there too. Once a symbol of apartheid oppression and the heart of the ‘struggle’, the vast township that houses unknown numbers of people, now comprises quite distinct areas.

 

Much of it is made up of the old apartheid era ‘matchbox’ houses, or uniform four-room places, which were build to provide cheap accommodation for black workers.

 

But other neighbourhoods are made up of the decrepit, corrugated iron shacks of the informal settlements, while yet others comprise the upmarket homes of the prosperous and growing black middle class.

 

Local specialities

 

Winnie Mandela, for example, still lives in a huge mansion built for herself and Nelson before their divorce, in the well-heeled Soweto suburb of Orlando West – and to prove the point, we even saw her being driven away in her flashy black Audi.

 

Somewhat more modest in stature, however, is the house of retired Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Located on lively and commercialised Vilakazi Street, it is just down from the road from Nelson Mandela’s old home, now a museum, and just up the road from the Sakhumzi Restaurant.

 

Obviously a tour-guide’s favourite, it was here that we finished off our trip with a range of local delicacies, which included mutton stew and tripe, the latter of which I politely declined.

 

I did, however, get to enjoy a couple of Nguni (speakers of certain Bantu languages such as Zulu and Xhosa) staples that I’d vaguely heard of, but never sampled before.

 

White ‘mealie pap’ or maize meal porridge may be pretty tasteless in and of itself, but the flavoursome tomato sauce that it’s traditionally served with certainly helps to liven it up a bit.

 

Samp and beans (crushed corn kernels and sugar beans), along with various other unknown flavourings, on the other hand, is definitely scrummy just as it is and is apparently a favourite of Nelson Mandela.

 

Which just goes to show that life is always about the small pleasures, no matter where you happen to find yourself.

 

Paarl: How it shaped today’s South Africa

To make the most of the unseasonably warm weather that we’ve been enjoying lately, my beloved and I decided that a weekend trip to the countryside was in order.

 

And so it was that we made our way to Paarl. Although the town itself is somewhat similar to Luton in terms of loveliness, there are nonetheless two historically significant things about the area that make it worth the half hour or so trip from Stellenbosch.

 

While these points of interest may be symbolic of oppositional political forces, they have undoubtedly helped to shape South Africa and make it the country that it is today.

 

The first is the Taal (or ‘language’ in Afrikaans) Monument, which was erected on top of Paarl Mountain in 1975 to mark the town’s status as the birthplace of the official Afrikaans language movement.

 

This made it, at one time, as important a place of pilgrimage for nationalistic Afrikaners as the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria, and is, interestingly, the only monument specifically dedicated to a language anywhere in the world.

 

The second point of interest, however, is the Groot Drakenstein Prison, formerly known as Victor Verster. It is here that Nelson Mandela stayed for two years in the warder’s cottage while negotiating the end of apartheid. He then walked free from incarceration for the first time in 27 years under the glare of the world’s media spotlight.

 

To mark the occasion, a wonderfully lifelike statue of Madiba raising his right fist in the ‘Viva ANC’ position was erected just before you get to the security barriers of this still-operational jail – and through which it is possible to glimpse the strangely familiar avenue that he walked down on that fateful day on 11 February, 1990.

 

The setting is quite odd in a way though. Surrounded by abundant vineyards, upmarket wine farms and hazy mountains, it’s not the usual place that you’d expect to find a prison, even one as famous as this – so much so, in fact, that we almost zoomed past it.

 

Important symbolism

 

Anyway, back to the Taal Monument, which being positioned on top of a mountain with granite outcrops that allegedly gleam like pearls in the sunlight (Pearl – Paarl – get it?) affords truly excellent panoramic views.

 

On a good day – which luckily it was – you can see vast expanses of the Cape Winelands in one direction and the breath-taking sweep of Cape Peninsula and False Bay in the other.

 

Sitting outside the Monument’s coffee shop for lunch and soaking up the sun, we even got to see the always-magnificent Table Mountain shimmering in the distance, while little Cape gerbils kept their beady eyes on us as they scurried busily among the bushes.

 

The thing with the Taal Monument itself, however, is that, while its soaring, undulating spires may look magnificent from a distance, close up  – and apologies to any of its fans out there – I found it to be a hideous, modernist carbuncle, as Prince Charles would say.

 

While I loved the symbolism built into it by architect Jan van Wijk, which is all about the rise and fall of different cultural and linguistic influences on the language, for me the abstract concepts were way better than the (literally) concrete reality.

 

The point is that Afrikaans eventually emerged as a language independent from Dutch, with which it still shares about 85% of its vocabulary, mainly through the interaction of the settlers, their slaves and the native KhoiKhoi.

 

As a result, it effectively became the language of the people, while Dutch – and later English – remained the language of officialdom and the elite. But changes started appearing between the two early on simply in order to enable communication.

 

For example, while the pastoralist Khoi-Khoi of the region initially communicated and traded with the Europeans using a simplified form of pidgin Dutch, by the 18th century, they had adopted it as their home language.

 

Making it official

 

As an aside, although the Khoi-Khoi were, unfortunately, either exterminated or assimilated particularly into present day coloured communities, some 60,000 of their descendants still survive today in the shape of the Nama people in Namibia.

 

Another key influence on the language, meanwhile, was the influx to the Cape of slaves from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Sri Lanka, Mozambique and Madagascar between about 1658 and 1808.

 

Not only did they change and simplify Dutch grammar to make communication easier in what was the lingua franca of the time, but words, especially in relation to food and household items, were also added from their own Malay and Portuguese creole languages.

 

Again as a quick aside, it was these people, found today predominantly in the Western Cape, who would eventually be classified as coloured under the apartheid regime and who still form the largest group of Afrikaans speakers to this day.

 

The next big milestone in the development of the language, however, was the creation in 1875 of the Genootskap van Regte Afrikaners (the Society of Real Afrikaners) in Paarl.

 

Under the leadership of Dutch Reformed Church minister, Stephanus Jacobus du Toit, a key goal of the Society was to establish Afrikaans as an official, written language rather than simply as a ‘Cape Dutch’ dialect, which had been illegal to employ in public life since the British took control of the Cape Colony in 1795.

 

Another important and related aim of the movement though was, of course, to boost an Afrikaner sense of identity in order to encourage them to mobilise against British political, economic and cultural hegemony.

 

And within 50 years, at least some of their objectives had been met. Afrikaans gained its rightful place as an official language alongside English and Dutch, both of which had enjoyed such status since the Union of South Africa was formed in 1910.

 

Reframing the past

 

The fact that the language could now be used for educational purposes in schools also helped a lot of poor, white Afrikaners scale the economic ladder.

 

Between 1948 and 1994, however, the role of Afrikaans changed drastically. Rather than being the language of a minority that felt itself oppressed by the British, it became instead the language of the oppressor itself, coming to symbolise the power of the ruling National Party and its apartheid regime.

 

By 1976 though, that same regime had made the fatal linguistic error of attempting to impose its language as a medium of instruction in black schools.

 

The Soweto uprising and violent suppression that resulted were later seen as a watershed in the anti-apartheid struggle and would eventually lead to the government’s downfall under the weight of national resistance and international outrage.

 

But despite this difficult chapter in its history, the Afrikaans language has so far managed to survive, and even prosper – even if some in the coloured community have actively chosen to abandon their mother tongue due to its political connotations in favour of English.

 

While there may be real and present fears among the Afrikaner community that political pressure will see the language dwindle in importance once again in public life, it doesn’t seem set to die out any time soon.

 

Bodies such as the Afrikaanse Taalraad (Language Board) have worked hard to try and disentangle it from its apartheid connotations and reframe it as a language belonging to anyone who speaks it – a move that has, in turn, led to a revival of Afrikaans music, drama, literature, film and TV over recent years.

 

And long may it continue. As it says on the pathway leading up to the Taal Monument, “Dit is ons erns” (We take this seriously) – and it’s important that they do.