Archive for December, 2007


Leo Africanus is taking a break till after the New Year.

I hope to be back after January 8, which is by the way also the occasion of the annual public statement by the President of South Africa‘s ruling African National Congress, but also the birthday of David Bowie.

Of course neither event has anything to do with it.

For real: it is really for the sake of my sanity, my daughter telling me to ‘close it …’ (meaning my laptop!), to hang out with a lot more with my wife (who tolerates my unhealthy obsession with Western mass media coverage of the continent and its peoples) and read from my pile of unread books: first up Joe Sacco‘s 288-page graphic novel Palestine (just got the special edition with Edward Said‘s foreword).

Here’s to 2008 then and to better reporting on and about Africa in Western media.

Safe travels.


Read Full Post »


Jacob Zuma is scheduled to make his first speech as ANC President today. My sense is he won’t say much that carries weight, except maybe congratulate himself and his ‘camp,’ play up unity within the party and make vague criticisms of Thabo Mbeki. But I could be wrong from where I sit.

On the topic of what Zuma represents: I have a short opinion piece on UK Guardian‘s ‘Comment is Free’ site today.

See here.

Read Full Post »

The conventional wisdom on Jacob Zuma’s successful ‘campaign’ for the ANC presidency was that he is a radical. That he had strong support from the trade union and communist allies of the ANC was offered as prove.

Now this comment from a story in this morning’s New York Times:

One veteran analyst of South African politics, Steven Friedman, said Tuesday that critics who were casting Mr. Zuma’s populist rhetoric as a sign of radical change were mistaken.

“The guy is personally problematic, and he has a lot of questions to answer,” Mr. Friedman said. “But this is a mainstream figure who was a bosom buddy and close confidante of Thabo Mbeki. He’s not some wild man coming in from the hills to destroy the palace.”

Full story here.

Read Full Post »

‘In 2002, J. M. Coetzee moved from South Africa to Australia, exchanging one white colony for another, leaving behind the fractious, brutal, and failed project of apartheid for citizenship in a democratic state far more successful at dispossessing its indigenous people. Coetzee has lived in places other than South Africa before, notably England and the United States, but the latest break with his home country seems permanent. There is something irrevocable in the act of changing citizenship; in this case, the transfer of allegiance was carried out by a writer whose fiction had been molded in the workshop of South African politics.’

Read the rest in the December/January 2008 issue of Bookforum here

Read Full Post »

With South Africa’s ruling party having dumped its leader, now on to the Kenyan elections where the incumbent — the ‘reformer’ Mwai Kibaki — could also be without a job by the end of this year (elections are scheduled for December 27, 2007). At least 9 candidates are running, but it is really a 2-person race between Kibaki and his former ally, Raile Odinga.

In a story yesterday the U.S. National Public Radio went big on the drama (‘a political thriller’ and references to American elections), in a story by its Nairobi correspondent. You can either read or listen to the story here and get some background here.

Read Full Post »

Chris McGreal in the UK Guardian on the bling of the new leadership of South Africa’s ruling party new leadership:

Jacob Zuma crushed [Thabo Mbeki] by playing on the widespread sense of injustice among the poor, represented by ANC officials who arrived at the conference in old buses.

That Zuma himself has a very big, shiny, black Mercedes and a fat bank account, which a judge has already found to have been bolstered by bribes from a French arms company, has discouraged neither him nor his supporters.

Full article here.

Read Full Post »

So I wrote yesterday that I won’t blog about the African National Congress’ conference ’till it’s over.’ Well, now that Jacob Zuma has soundly defeated Thabo Mbeki to become ANC President, the conference is effectively over.

Unless Zuma goes to prison because of long-standing corruption charges (his legal team has used all kinds of delays to prevent the trial from going ahead), he’ll probably be South Africa’s next democratically elected President in 2009.

As I suggested before, one conclusion of the ANC leadership election is that even the ANC, like political parties everywhere else, is now primarily about leaders and presidential contests.

So who is Jacob Zuma and what can be expected from him?

Unfortunately we won’t learn a lot from the man himself.

Zuma does not write a lot or give memorable speeches (unlike Mbeki who maintains a weekly ‘Letter from the President‘ on the ANC’s website and whose admirers praise his public speaking). A quick scan of Zuma’s public utterances on the ANC website’s ‘Zuma Page‘ or the website set up by his supporters, ‘Friends of Zuma‘ will confirm this.

We do know he can certainly sing.

But another reason for not knowing what his plans for South Africa is, is that Zuma does not give lots of media interviews (he has it in for South Africa’s media) and when he has spoken publicly, he often talks about himself in the third person.

Recent media reports indicate that he lets those in his ‘camp’ speak for him (these include ‘sources,’ as well as the brother of convicted fraudster Shabir Shaik, and former Cabinet Minister Mac Maharaj, Zwelinzima Vavi of Cosatu, ANC leader and now businesman Tokyo Sexwale and the Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande). But even from them you don’t get any clue about Zuma’s politics or policies as they mouth stock phrases and spent most of their time criticizing the ‘Mbeki camp.’

But they and Zuma may start or will be compelled to spell out their policies now.

Meanwhile if you live outside South Africa (or if in South Africa, care what is said about the country outside), there’s also not much available except color pieces and recycled views from South Africa’s mainstream media and now blogosphere.

* James Sturcke profiles Zuma in the UK Guardian, here

* Alec Russell, the Johannesburg correspondent of the Financial Times, profiles Zuma here. This profile was done before he became ANC President, but I am referencing it here as it contains the memorable lines: ‘Unquestionably, he [Zuma] is a more authentically African leader than Mr Mbeki who gives the impression of being most at home at economic summits. He repairs regularly to his home in Zululand, a collection of rondavels (traditional round African huts), and holds court like an old-fashioned chief. He appears in traditional ceremonies in a leopard-skin. He has between 16 and 18 children‘).

* A profile in the BBC today who refers to Zuma as ‘South Africa’s Comeback Kid,’ here and;

* Jonathan Clayton in the London Times here.

* Finally, there is also this older interview with Zuma in Der Spiegel. (This is quite illuminating.)

By the way, the ANC website has been slow to report the news that it has a new President. It will also be interesting what Mbeki will write in his ‘Letter from the President’ this Friday; that is if he will write it, or will be allowed to.

It is also not clear whether Zuma will continue this tradition.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »