Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label South Africa. Show all posts

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Africa is too cozy with China to Suit the West

On July 19, South African President Jacob Zuma opened the 5th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, held in Beijing, with a warm and effusive address about China's relationship with Africa.

Zuma even cited Admiral Zheng He's visits to the African continent as the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Even though he was off by a few hundred years, Zuma was undoubtedly expressing admiration for the Chinese that came to trade for a few giraffes to take back to Beijing--unlike the Europeans that later came to rape and pillage and kidnap natives for the slave trade.

By simply altering the sequence of Zuma's speech, the Financial Times adroitly changed the tone of his speech into one that "warns" China that all was not well, implying that China was as guilty of exploiting Africa as the European predecessors. The Washington Post shamefully reprinted the FT piece without any revision.

We have been led to believe that major publications in mainstream media have a public responsibility to be accurate and objective. They are supposed to inform their readers and not to pander to known biases nor reinforce preconceived but erroneous notions.

In other words, their job is not to merely tell the reader what they think the reader wants to hear.

Fortunately, in this case President Zuma's speech has been posted in its entirety by the South African government so that the reader can compare what he actually said to how his speech was reported.

There were certain passages in Zuma’s speech that failed to be included in the Financial Times piece.

“We are particularly pleased that in our relationship with China we are equals and that agreements entered into are for mutual gain.  This gathering (referring to the Forum) indicates commitment to mutual respect and benefit.”

Then Zuma went on to declare, “We certainly are convinced that China’s intention is different to that of Europe, which to date continue to attempt to influence African countries for their sole benefit.”

Zuma in the same speech then said, “Over the last decade, and partly because of China’s unrelenting support, the African continent has seen tremendous growth rates, making it one of the fastest growing continents and certainly the next growth pole. Furthermore, global growth estimates suggests that Africa’s growth will continue in an upward trend for years to come.

Does the above sound like Zuma was complaining about China’s treatment of Africa?

Certainly not, according to what Zuma went on to say, “In particular, we take note of the infrastructure development China has assisted Africa with in the past several years.

“ African continent is now being seen as a major player in global affairs, and is becoming more attractive to investors and development partners.  

“Indeed, this is proving to be Africa’s decade of change.

President Zuma basically concluded his speech by calling on China to continue to be Africa’s partner in meeting future challenges.

Along with helping Africa build its infrastructure, China has overtaken the US as Africa’s biggest trading partner.

Unlike the US, China does not give foreign aid with or without strings. True to its policy of non-interference, China does not tell the African nations what to do, nor make suggestions on rectifying human rights abuses.

Ironically, a recent op-ed in the New York Times by a Zambian economist argued that foreign aid tend to line the pockets of corrupt dictators while trade and infrastructure investments were more likely to benefit the general population and thus empowering the populace to hold their government accountable.

The same economist reported that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had warned Africa to be aware of new form of colonialism, an obvious but oblique reference to the presence of China in Africa.

It’s hard to know if Secretary Clinton truly believed that Africans would find her credible or if she were merely mouthing a party line that she knew her American constituents would want to hear.

Monday, April 4, 2011

South Africa, Tourist Destination - 2

The game watching experience at Kruger is different from that on the Serengeti Plains where herds of animals range freely and predators can be seen stalking them. At Kruger, presence of game is more elusive and one has to work harder to spot them. The hyena appeared on the roadside for a fleeting second and disappeared into the bushes.

Impala is by far the most common sighting but nevertheless one of the handsomest animals on the Reserve.

Spotting lions copulating in the bushes is not difficult. While they tryst often, each tryst does not last long. The hard part of catching them in the act is the act itself.

At the Mkaya Reserve in Swaziland, wild nyalas and warthogs walked freely around the camp grounds and rangers took us on walks for close views of rhinos, tsessebes, zebras and giraffes.

As our ranger quickly backed the safari vehicle out of the way, he said, "You'd never want to get between a herd of elephants and their water."

South Africa as a Tourist Destination

South Africa is a beautiful country: spectacular coast lines on eastern and western part of the country that funnel down to the famous Cape of Good Hope; Drakensberg mountain range with peaks higher than 10,000 feet that runs north-south and divides that the country into a wet eastern region and a dry western region; wild game preserves, waterfalls, beaches, breathtaking mountain passes and Cape Town, the crown jewel of South Africa.

The surface area of South Africa is about 10% larger than the combined territory of California and Texas. Officially the population of South Africa at 50 million is about 10 million less than the two states but there could be as much as 10 million unregistered immigrants from other parts of Africa living in South Africa. Even though California and Texas have illegal immigrants residing within their state borders as well, the number is believed to be vastly less than those in South Africa. My observations of the challenges facing South Africa have been discussed in my earlier blog.

On our tour of South Africa, I find Kruger National Park, Mkaya Preserve in the Kingdom of Swaziland, Sani Pass of the Drakensberg Mountain and Cape Town especially memorable and selected photos are presented in this blog. We were in South Africa early March, which was the beginning of autumn, and we experienced ideal weather. The one thundershower that met us as we arrived at the hotel in Drakensberg was impressive by the massiveness of the quick downpour and made us appreciate the clear blue skies that preceded and followed that shower.

Just as I am glad to have visited Tunisia and Egypt when we did, I am appreciative of the natural beauty of South Africa and a bit fearful of its future as a tourist destination. My advice to anyone thinking of visiting South Africa is to do so sooner rather than later.

Rock formations caused by swirling waters on Blyde River.

The three rondavels on the Blyde River Canyon.

The morning mist that envelops the lowveld and Kruger National Park.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

A Brief History of South Africa

As recorded history goes, South Africa is a young country, and that's because the original people, the San (also called Khoisan), had no written language and left only rock art. For centuries, they were protected by an east-west, coast to coast belt of deadly swamp full of malaria bearing mosquitoes, Tse Tse flies and poisonous water that isolated South Africa from the rest of the continent. The eventual southern migration of the Bantus from Central Africa pushed the hunter-gatherer Sans to less desirable land.

The Portuguese were the first white men to land in the Cape Town area on their way to India. Their swords and lances were no match against the greater number of Sans' wooden spears augmented with herds of charging cattle. The heavy casualty suffered at Table Bay (in today’s Cape Town) convinced the Portuguese to keep sailing around the horn of Africa and establish their bases elsewhere.

By the time the Dutch arrived about 150 years later, they had guns and the strength to push their way in. They came to settle and farm and were known as Boers (Dutch for farmers). Together with slaves from other parts of Africa and Far East along with Khoisan and protestant immigrants from France and Germany, they made up the Colored and Afrikaner populations of the Cape Town area of South Africa.

About another 150 years go by (until just before 1800) before the British captured Cape Town to protect the trade route and keep the strategic area out of the French hands. The Boers that did not care for British rule moved out of the Cape Colony toward the interior and came into contact with various tribes of the Bantus that had settled in areas north of the colony.

The fiercest of these was Shaka, king of the Zulus. Ironically he was able to make a technological breakthrough in war craft using iron from the Europeans to devise a short thrusting spear, suitable for repeated thrusts against the enemy and not just one heave and hope for the best. For a brief time, he even held the firearm equipped British soldiers to a standoff.

With the discovery of diamonds (1868) and gold (1886), all hell broke loose. The British had to get their hands on all that wealth from the ground. Some of the biggest diamonds from South Africa literally found their way to the crown jewel collection of the British throne. The British proceeded to fight the Zulus and the Boers to achieve hegemony over South Africa which they eventually accomplished. The different states were consolidated into the Union of South Africa, sometime in the early 20th century.

Seeds of apartheid were already sown by this time as segregation was widely practiced in the urban areas. The de facto practices were steadily formalized into laws and regulations by the white ruling class culminating into official policy of apartheid formed shortly after WWII.

There were two black heroes that wrestled Africa from the white ruling class. One was Robert Mugabe who won control of Rhodesia and turn it into Zimbabwe in 1980 and the other was Nelson Mandela who came to power in South Africa in 1994. Mandela has since stepped out of the limelight and bask in accolades showered on him as a senior statesman. Mugabe, alas, does not know when to retire and has earned worldwide scorn or even worse epithets.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Diversity of South Africa

With the repudiation of apartheid, release of Nelson Mandela from prison and the election of African National Congress (ANC) into power in 1994, South Africa became a democracy governed by the wishes of the majority. The world applauded the selection of Mandela as the first head of the new nation. The successful hosting of the 2010 World Cup seemed to suggest that South Africa is on the way to joining the ranks of fast growing nations such as the BRICs, (Brazil, Russia, India and China).

We spent nearly two and half weeks travelling around South Africa and came away impressed with the tourist potential of this country with its diversity in flora and fauna and in its spectacular scenery. South Africa is also diverse in its people but instead of being a plus, the diversity of people seems to work against the nation than being an advantage. While South Africa has been held up as the standard for other African nations to aspire to, I see troubling signs ahead.

The most obvious is corruption at the top. While still a poor second to the king of Swaziland, who is on to his 14th or 15th wife, President Zuma has announced his intention for take on his fifth, or is it sixth, wife. As our township guide, an ethnic Xhosa, said to us, “As the leader of this nation, he is setting a terrible example for the people.” (Zuma is a Zulu.)

Then there is the leader of the ANC Youth League, Julius Malema, who is merely scary. He struggled through more than the required years to complete eight grades of schooling. He is a fiery orator and self proclaimed admirer of Robert Mugabe and he has been advocating nationalization of the mines. Because as much as 20% or more of South Africa’s black youth have no gainful employment, Malema’s rabble rousing rhetoric finds a receptive audience among the restless youth. Zuma was one time leader of the Youth League and thus Malema could be regarded as a potential future leader of this nation. Needless to say, for a Mugabe-like leader to turn South Africa into another Zimbabwe would be a prospect of enormously frightening proportions.

Some of the policies since the ANC came into power seem to have been taken from Mugabe’s book of governance. For example, we were told that admission to the medical school is strongly biased in favor of the blacks. The minimum entrance test score needed to qualify for admission for the blacks is around 70, but 82 for the colored people and 92 for the whites. One can only shudder at the future of South Africa--where world’s first ever heart transplant was performed--staffed by mediocre doctors that are poorly trained and poorly qualified.

The whites in South Africa are decreasing in absolute numbers and in relative percentage. Some of the whites left South Africa just before the end of apartheid fearing for the uncertainty of the transition. Others have left since the end of apartheid because they now face fewer opportunities under economic policies that are tilted in favor of the black majority. The whites that leave tend to be professionals and thus causing a brain drain. The end of apartheid seems to have been replaced by reverse apartheid.

Corruption by government officials is probably not avoidable but there are two general kinds of corruption. When a government only knows how to line their pockets and does little or next to nothing to develop their domestic economy, those countries are inherently unstable and face occasional uprisings of Egyptian proportions or trudges along in a zombie state where the rich stay very rich and the poor have no hope of a future, not unlike many of the banana republic’s in Latin America.

The South African economy is growing but not fast enough to be considered as a rising economy in the league of BRICs. Furthermore, the rate of growth has been slowing to around 3% per year—not enough to create the number of new jobs necessary to employ a growing population of young blacks and illegal immigrants. Most blacks still live in townships where the school system has been degrading from bad to worse. Most of the young people are not trained for productive work and thus suffers from high unemployment, as high as 30% in places. With so much idle youth, high crime rate is a persistent problem. Without the safety network of state sponsored pension that comes from regular employment, the people in the townships procreate more kids as a form of security in retirement. Thus a downward spiral is formed.

When Mandela first came into power, he declared that no one should live in the dismal hovels found in shanty towns. So far the government has built enough housing for 5 million people, a tiny fraction of the number needed in order to get rid of the shanty towns.

South Africa has a nice highway system. Most of the roads were built during the apartheid rule. For the 2010 world cup, the government built a number of new soccer stadiums. Many have been underutilized since the world cup. The one in Cape Town located in prime real estate has been sitting unused. The local government is said to be considering tearing the new stadium down to save on the annual maintenance cost. Of course, new public works projects create opportunities for graft, which is the biggest driver to spending taxpayers’ money.

Despite its troubles, South Africa is better off than rest of Africa and thus is a magnet for illegal immigrants. The continuous inflow of immigrants adds to the burden of having to provide them with basic services.

South Africa recognizes 11 official languages, English and Afrikaan being two of these. The other nine are languages of the black native tribes dominated by Zulu and Xhosa. Ironically by insisting on each ethnic tribe being allowed to teach in their respective language, it is encouraging de facto segregation and separateness.

Ultimately, the economic well-being of the people of South Africa depends on having good government. By becoming a democracy ruled by the majority does not guarantee good government. Whether South Africa will continue to be the beacon for the continent will depend on the current and next generation of leaders.

Overturning apartheid was South Africa's greatest day in history. Now the leaders will have to deliver for not just the black majority but everyone and put the nation on the path to greatness. The nation may be at a tipping point either leading to economic growth and stability or to disaster. Only time will tell.

We were on a tour of South Africa organized by Overseas Adventure Travel. This tour company emphasize discovery and learning as part of the travel experience and made sure that we had a chance to interact with blacks (which represent the majority) as well as the colored segments of the population. We automatically interacted with the whites because our guides were white and so were most of the managers of hotels and restaurants.

Among the dozen travelers in our group, we had two retired professional African American women who were particularly interested in and sensitive to the racial issues of South Africa. They led pointed discussions with our white tour director. Their presence added zest to our discussion, even if we may hold varying views.

A racist could attribute what ails South Africa or even the continent of Africa to race, blaming the supposed inferiority of the black race. The counter to the racist point of view is to argue that educated black leaders such as a Mandela can be as capable and effective as any leader. The crux of the matter is whether black leaders care enough about the population they lead to bring everybody up, to make sure they all get quality education, and to create economic opportunities for all. To the extent they fail to do so, they are reinforcing the biases of racism.

I will write about South Africa as a tourist destination in a future blog.