BBC BLOGS - Andrew Harding on Africa

Archives for April 2010

Security and the World Cup

Andrew Harding | 16:45 UK time, Friday, 30 April 2010


I've just had an interesting meeting with a man who runs a big private security company in South Africa. He's looking after one foreign football team, and many VIPs, during the World Cup. For a variety of reasons he didn't want his name to be mentioned, but here are some of the main observations he made about the upcoming tournament, and South Africa in general.saap595.jpg

- Many foreign security advisors are vastly exaggerating, or misreading the security situation in South Africa. "It's not Congo here," he said. "These guys want Uzi machine guns on every bus and we say: 'Are you mad? You don't need heavy weapons here.'"
He also noted that some local security companies were playing along with foreign misconceptions in order to boost their profits.

- The country is "absolutely" ready in terms of general match and fan security, although if there is a "big bomb or other terrorist attack," then he's worried that hospitals and other infrastructure wouldn't be able to cope.

- "The hijacking threat will evaporate" during the World Cup, because there will be so many extra police on the streets. He also cited a recent international sporting event for which his company looked after 4,500 foreign fans all around the country without a single instance of crime.

- Visiting fans should be very careful about hiring prostitutes. "They'll be asking for massive problems if they get involved."

- There's a growing realisation among local businesses that "more people are going to lose than win" financially from the World Cup. Only a handful of big firms with close links to Fifa would profit. "It's just not going to be as big as hoped," he said, citing reports like this one.

- He's concerned that those organising the logistics "still don't understand the magnitude of what's coming... we have no clue." There will be plenty of logistical mistakes during the tournament - with transport being a key area of concern - but "nothing big... this is still going to be an unbelievable success for South Africa."

- He's worried about a serious post-tournament hangover, and singled out the "apathy" that afflicts the South African police force. "I'm a proud South African, but apathy might be this country's downfall." He's concerned that the country now stands where Zimbabwe did some 15 years ago. "It starts with potholes. If you can't fix the little things..."

Mixed messages from HIV-negative Zuma

Andrew Harding | 11:00 UK time, Monday, 26 April 2010


So... Jacob Zuma is HIV-negative. His very public declaration has prompted a range of responses here in South Africa.zumaafp.jpg

  • Many people seem genuinely pleased that Mr Zuma, whose private life usually makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons, is leading by example and helping to fight the stigma of Aids. It is striking how much that stigma endures here given that the disease reportedly kills 1,000 people a day.
  • But would he have gone public if his test result had been positive? Isn't this just a stunt to try to repair some of the damage done by his irresponsible sexual behaviour. In terms of breaking stigmas, his announcement certainly doesn't compare with Nelson Mandela's admission, back in 2005, that his eldest son had died of Aids.

  • Mr Zuma has a reputation as a womanizer, and famously told a judge at his rape trial in 2006 that he showered after having sex with an HIV-positive woman instead of using a condom. He's had four tests that he says were all negative for HIV. What message does that really send to young men here? That Zuma is very lucky, or that the risks of unprotected sex aren't that big.

  • At least he's open about things, unlike his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki. The National Union of Metal Workers put it rather neatly: "This public disclosure by President Zuma buries the denialism, aloofness, poetic and bookish approach to the HIV/Aids pandemic associated with the presidency during the 10-year tenure of President Thabo Mbeki." Let's just hope he keeps pushing the message about the importance of testing, and backs up that message with sufficient funding.

I suspect that the first and last conclusions could be the dominant ones here in South Africa.

Mr Zuma may be flawed, and his private and public lives clearly send out mixed messages, but on certain issues he has a little of the Bill Clinton about him in his ability to admit faults and ask the public to keep the faith.

Vuvuzelas damage your ears and other World Cup stories

Andrew Harding | 08:30 UK time, Friday, 23 April 2010


Introducing a weekly smorgasbord of World Cup-related stories that caught my eye or ear....

First up, shocking news that the deafening plastic trumpets traditionally honked by fans at South African football matches can damage your ears. Personally I rather like the roar of a stadium full of vuvuzelas. It makes cheering sound almost effete. But don't get within three feet of one.vuvuzela595afp.jpg

Now some less than surprising news that South Africa is having to scale down its ambitious guestimates for the number of foreign visitors coming here. Disappointing for businesses I suppose, but could it be a blessing in disguise? Fewer visitors should take the pressure of transport and other logistical soft spots. A quieter, less chaotic tournament could help South Africa to market itself to the world as the sophisticated, developed nation it sort of, kind of is.

But who should take the blame for the drop in expected visitors? A survey of international tour operators, makes very interesting reading. Turns out it has very little to do with perceptions of crime here, or the occasional blast of fear-mongering by some foreign media. Instead, step forward please, Sepp Blatter's nephew.

President Jacob Zuma does not do embarrassment. It's one of his charms. This week, instead of singing his trademark tune about machine guns, he was trying his best to dance the World Cup diski dance... watch, and practise.

The motorways around Joburg are still clogged with road works, and, in keeping with the last-minute spirit of much of the World Cup preparations here, some work won't be finished in time. But fear not, paint will be applied to key roads to solve the problem.

Lastly an old, but entertainingly combative interview with Johannesburg's mayor. I actually think much of the city centre is looking remarkably good these days. It's no longer the avoid-at-all-costs muggers' paradise that compelled so many businesses to abandon ship. But yes, there's still a long way to go. Is this a World Class African city - and what does that mean?

Coming soon - what to do, and what to avoid in South Africa during the World Cup. Your recommendations greatly appreciated.

Discipline in the ANC

Andrew Harding | 08:25 UK time, Thursday, 22 April 2010


So... the ANC has announced the date for its disciplinary hearing against its errant son, Julius Malema. May 3rd. It'll be behind closed doors, but luckily the ANC leaks like a sieve. Will they slap him on the wrist, or kick him out of the party?

Mr. Malema himself is in Venezuela on an official visit with his Youth League. Brace yourself for the usual choice headlines. He is, after all, a man who seems unable to straighten his tie without causing profound offence. Mr Malema is variously described as a clown, a media-creation, a bully, a public relations genius, the legitimate voice of South Africa's disempowered youth, the next Robert Mugabe, and a current favourite - Kiddie Amin, in reference to his youth and to a certain Ugandan dictator. His is, like it or not, a totemic figure in South Africa - the photo on the wall and on the dartboard.malema226ap.jpg

Earlier this week, the ANC held a news conference - supposedly to update journalists on the Malema case. We dutifully assembled on the 11th floor of the ANC's headquarters to be told, in essence, that there was no news and nor should we expect any. In fact the assembled journalists should be ashamed of themselves.

Dull? Well it wasn't a laugh a minute, but the experience did offer some insights into the party that has ruled South Africa with a crushing majority for the past 15 years.

Mr Malema, leader of the ANC's Youth League, is being investigated in relation to a range of charges that presumably include promoting racial intolerance, causing offence, and undermining the party's leadership and policies.

President Jacob Zuma recently condemned his behaviour as "alien" and warned of "consequences." The speculation, ahead of the conference, was that despite his strong public comments, Mr Zuma didn't have the political clout or perhaps even the desire to discipline Mr Malema - and that the whole affair would be swept under the rug. That could leave Mr Zuma looking rather weak.

The suggestion was resolutely rejected by the ANC's formidable Deputy Secretary General, Thandi Modise. "Fudge? No... We are asking for space. We will consider it at our leisure... This is an internal matter and we do not wish to discuss it in public," she said. "We believe in collective leadership. Malema cannot oppose the president." So... no fudge for now. The charges against Mr Malema stand.

But Mme Modise declined to give any details about the investigation or the specific charges against Mr Malema. She also would not comment or when the process might be concluded. Instead, she and the ANC's spokesman Jackson Mthembu lashed out at the media, local and foreign for quoting unnamed sources within the ANC who "castigate our president....saying he's a weakling, finished, not decisive and that he's afraid of Malema... that he's a lame duck ."

Those sources were threatened, in contrast to Mr Malema, with immediate expulsion from the ANC.

Now of course it is natural that the ANC would rather sort out internal problems internally rather than washing its dirty linen in public. Any political party would want to do the same. But the ANC is such a broad, loose, and increasingly fractious coalition that such efforts are starting to look like a sumo wrestler hiding behind a flannel.

Thandi Modise urged foreign investors not to be put off by any of this. "We want to create jobs," she said, going out of her way to reject Mr Malema's talk of Zimbabwe-style land grabs. "The ANC would never go the Zim way... We will never do it. It will not happen."

But she then went on to acknowledge, indirectly, the increasingly unequal nature of South African society and to warn of growing pressure from the young and the poor whom Mr Malema claims to represent. "We must find a way of addressing [the land issue] quickly unless we want a Zimbabwe situation to impose itself on South Africa."

So where next for the ANC? The party has always closed ranks impressively against external criticism, although that has not protected it from some spectacular internal divisions. It is a fiercely proud organisation, with incredibly thin skin, and, despite its enduring popularity at the polls, a growing habit of misreading the public mood.

As it struggles to root out corruption, and to confront the "Zanu-PF" syndrome of liberation movements across Africa, its fate is inextricably entwined with the future of the whole country. Mr Malema is not the ANC but the way the party eventually deals with him will speak volumes.

As I left the news conference I suggested to an ANC official - who must, I'm afraid, remain nameless - that it looked like the whole Malema affair was indeed being brushed under the carpet. He grinned sheepishly, chuckled, and nodded.

World Cup fans: Beware of South Africa roundabouts

Andrew Harding | 15:37 UK time, Monday, 19 April 2010


I believe I may have identified the greatest threat facing foreign fans coming to South Africa for the World Cup. And no - it's not crime, or the volcano - although that could change. It struck me this morning as I was driving my children to school on the northern edge of Johannesburg - roundabouts.

If you'll excuse a few broad generalisations, I find South Africans to be fairly polite drivers. Far less aggressive than Muscovites. Far more focused than Kenyans or Singaporeans. But confronted with a roundabout, things quickly seem to turn messy, and sometimes ugly here. satraffic.jpg

If you're planning to hire a car to travel between World Cup venues when you're visiting in June/July, watch out - South African roads can be dangerous at the best of times.

The majority of drivers here treat roundabouts like a four-way-stop. Traffic grinds to a halt as each driver waits his turn to enter the circle. No priority to the right, just first-come-first served. Then every once in a while someone uses their car, like a battering ram, to try to enforce a different set of the rules. Well, I speak of rules, but I'm not entirely sure what the law says on this matter here. I saw two fist-waving near-misses this morning as a result of this confusion. Any advice?

I understand where the four-way-stop habit has come from. For some reason, traffic lights in Johannesburg seem highly sensitive to rain. It is quite rare to make a journey without coming across at least one set of lights which are out of order. Whenever the lights are on the blink, Joburgers obediently switch to a highly regimented, one-at-a-time, pattern, regardless of whether they're on a dual carriage way or a dirt track. So the four-way-stop is king here.

But last week I was in the UK, and found myself gripped by uncertainty every time I approached a roundabout. "We're local so we know the score, but yes, foreigners need to be careful," a South African friend of mine said. I don't mean to be flippant about crime and the many other issues which could potentially undermine the World Cup, but I suspect the vast majority of visitors will have a fantastic, safe time here. Just watch out, as Thobeka Mda writes, if you're on the roads.

Zimbabwe at 30: Indigenisation battle

Andrew Harding | 09:53 UK time, Friday, 16 April 2010


Interesting developments in Zimbabwe ahead of Sunday's 30th anniversary of independence.

Behind closed doors, the MDC and Zanu-PF are fighting over the fate of a new indigenisation law, which requires white and foreign-owned businesses to sell a controlling stake to black Zimbabweans. The MDC wants the law watered down in order not to frighten away desperately needed foreign investment. At a cabinet meeting earlier this week, Zanu-PF apparently agreed. But since then it has been sending out some very mixed messages. mugabemorgan.jpg

One significant theory emerging from Harare is that Zanu-PF hardliners are deliberately trying to subvert the country's slow economic recovery ahead of likely elections. According to this version of events, Saviour Kasukuwere, the Zanu-PF minister in charge of indigenisation, is playing the role of spoiler - making public statements designed to keep the investment climate in Zimbabwe ambiguous, and deny foreign businesses the clarity they need to reenter the country in earnest.

"He's an aggressive thug," one western diplomat said to me of Mr Kasukuwere. "Some people don't see economic recovery to be in their political interests. Zanu-PF intends to fight the next election on the issues of sanctions and indigenisation, and for both of those issues to have traction you need a bad economy."

Whether or not that proves to be the case, none of this is easy for the MDC to handle. On the one hand the party is tired of being branded a western stooge by President Mugabe because of its private support for targeted western sanctions against senior Zanu-PF officials, and its lukewarm public calls for them to be lifted.

Indigenisation is another awkward subject - it wants the current law changed, but knows it has to tread carefully in order to avoid being portrayed, yet again, by Zanu-PF controlled state media, as a mere front for colonial western interests.

By the way, Queen Elizabeth is sending her "warmest greetings to the people of Zimbabwe, together with my best wishes for a peaceful and prosperous future," on Independence Day; apparently the same formula of words she used recently for Burma.

On a separate matter - interesting article about North Korean plans to train their team in Zimbabwe ahead of the World Cup.

World Cup tickets: The race is on

Andrew Harding | 13:23 UK time, Thursday, 15 April 2010


595300afp.jpgFirst in the queue outside Sandton's World Cup ticketing centre was 19-year-old designer Mohammed Dadabhay. He'd been camped out on the street since 1pm on Wednesday afternoon. "I never thought I'd be first," he said, looking rather dazed by the scrum of cameras surrounding him as he waited for the doors to open.

The mood, from first light, was exuberant - bright sunshine and the deafening blare of vuvuzelas - local plastic trumpets - rising over the smart hotels and office blocks of this upmarket suburb of Johannesburg.

For months South Africans have been wrestling with Fifa's rather high-tech ticketing system. The majority of fans here don't have access to the internet and most people are used to buying football tickets in hard cash if and when they can afford it. Today, at long last, Fifa and local fans seem to be talking the same language. "About time," said one young woman in a bright yellow Bafana Bafana strip.

But when nine o'clock struck, exuberance started to give way to chaos. A small but ugly scrum developed at the door. There were virtually no security guards in evidence. And when Mohammed Dadabhay finally got through, ran up the stairs to the ticketing office and went to the first counter hoping to buy seats at the opening and final matches, things ground to a virtual halt. The computer network was, it seemed, struggling to cope with the abrupt surge of demand. Twenty five minutes later, Mohammed finally came out with proof of payment. But the first self-service printing machine didn't work. Nor did the next. The scrum of journalists followed him around the office until, an hour after he'd come in, he grinned broadly and held up a clutch of yellow tickets.

On the radio we heard reports of similar glitches around the country. No big deal in the long run, I'm sure. Mohammed certainly didn't seem to mind. But in the queue outside, there were some grumbles of frustration as the hours slipped past.

The head of Fifa's local organising committee, Danny Jordaan, was in the Sandton centre, and bristled at repeated suggestions that things weren't going as planned. "I don't think you understand chaos. Unfortunately the system went down. Now it is operating perfectly," he said. "Go and buy a ticket for an FA Cup final at Wembley and see how long it takes."

Foreigners may not be buying tickets as quickly as Fifa had hoped. But the size of the queues and the amount of enthusiasm on display here today suggests that South Africans could easily make up the difference. After years of planning and waiting - and complaints from Fifa that not enough excitement was being generated here - the World Cup has finally become a tangible, thrilling reality for many South Africans. Fifty six days to go....

Sudan votes: Millstone or milestone?

Andrew Harding | 15:37 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010


Thanks for all your thoughts about my previous post. I promise to reply in detail shortly.

In the meantime I wanted to write something about Southern Sudan, a region which has perhaps more on its plate, and more at stake, in the next few months than anywhere else on this continent - World Cup host included.

Trying to hold fiendishly complex elections in a vast, precarious, impoverished region for the first time in a generation was never going to be easy. And sure enough the polling in the south of Sudan has been chaotic in many places. sudanvotesafp226.jpg

But so far, touch wood, the direst predictions of some observers have not materialised. See here for a strong perspective on all things Sudanese. And here for some of the possible ways things could develop.

"It's not going that badly," a UN official told me by phone on Tuesday, failing to disguise the surprise in her voice.

The broader question now though is whether the elections will actually prove useful to the south, or whether they could yet undermine stability in the region as it moves towards a referendum on independence - and an almost inevitable "yes" vote - early next year.

The optimists - and I met plenty of them on a trip there last month - see the local polls as an important stepping stone on Southern Sudan's path to becoming the world's newest country. "This is the start of democracy," Gabriel Kuch Abiyei told me on the campaign trail in Rumbek, a bustling town in the dusty heart of the region. The 51-year-old former school teacher was running against the local Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) candidate for the position of governor in Lakes state. He had virtually no money, no car, and had already sold 12 cows to pay for his staff and for some campaign posters.

"This is going to change Sudan for the better," said Mr Kuch as he and his team sheltered from a late afternoon thunderstorm. "The rule of law will prevail."

The elections were part of the peace deal agreed between north and south Sudan back in 2005. It's widely believed that the Americans pushed for the ballot hoping it would lead to the removal of President Omar al-Bashir, while other voices warned that holding an election just before a referendum would be at best irrelevant - and at worst destabilising.
Now the situation in the north has been profoundly complicated by the withdrawal of so many opposition parties.

As for how things play out in the south - there are plenty of reasons to be worried. The SPLM - the last of Africa's liberation movements - is struggling to hold itself together. In several states there are early signs that breakaway factions could do well at the polls. Much depends on how calmly the SPLM responds and on the complex web of tribal alliances and frictions that dominate local politics. Then there are the usual tensions along the border with northern Sudan - over oil, land, disarmament and other local issues. Many observers are also concerned about the potential for neighbours like Eritrea and Ethiopia to stir up trouble. And of course there is Darfur. All in all, a lot of flashpoints.

If, after so many years of conflict and suffering, the extraordinarily resilient people of Southern Sudan manage to limp the last mile to their long-awaited referendum next January, and vote - as almost everyone I met in the south insisted they would - for independence, then a whole new clutch of uncertainties come into play. Will international pressure compel the elites in the north and south to cut a deal to keep Sudan nominally intact in the loosest possible confederation? Will separatist tendencies in countries like Nigeria and Ethiopia be energised by the SPLM's success? And can an impoverished, turbulent region which still relies on outside aid for some 85% of its health care, survive as fully independent country - or will the south quickly find itself still-born as the world's newest "failed state"? Please let me know your thoughts.

Race and racism in South Africa

Andrew Harding | 08:00 UK time, Tuesday, 13 April 2010


eugene226afp.jpgI moved to South Africa just over a year ago, and the very first white man I met - the gregarious owner of a serviced-apartment complex in Johannesburg - casually offered me his thoughts about the "baboons" who would eventually wreck this "magical country."

Since then I've encountered plenty of enlightened, tolerant, optimistic people. But I have never lived in a place more openly, exhaustingly, poisonously preoccupied with race and racism. It's thoroughly understandable, of course.

Apartheid is still fairly fresh in its grave and it will surely take another generation or more to reverse its viciously warped economic legacies. But as Justice Malala argues in his weekly column, there is a danger that South Africa's vital debate about apartheid's aftermath is being hijacked by extremists on both sides, diverting attention away from the core challenges facing the country.

Last week was a particularly bruising one. Eugene Terreblanche was a vile and increasingly irrelevant figure in South Africa. But his violent death, the reaction from his supporters, and the ongoing speculation about it have touched raw nerves.

The anger I've heard from black colleagues is well summed up in this piece by Andile Mngxitama.

I recently got a phone call from someone very close to the ANC leadership. He sounded genuinely worried. "It's been the worst possible week for race relations - especially with the World Cup coming," he said.

And then, of course, there is Julius Malema - the enfant terrible of South African politics - I wrote about him in more detail recently here. He has been mouthing off about Zimbabwe, as well as President Zuma and a BBC colleague here in Johannesburg.malema226ap.jpg See here and here for more.

That prompted another prominent ANC official to write privately to our office to express his fury that "my leaders desert the core values of my movement by not repudiating every odious statement he makes". Eventually the ANC did publicly condemn Mr Malema's comments.

Julius Malema reminds me increasingly of a man called Vladimir Zhirinovsky who used to play the populist clown in post-Soviet Russia, but who also gained a significant popular following and was often suspected of being a frontman for more powerful forces. Does anyone have any better comparisons?


Andrew Harding | 15:44 UK time, Monday, 12 April 2010


"Do you have kidnap insurance?" was the earnest inquiry of an English friend of mine on hearing that I was moving, with my wife and three children, to live in Johannesburg. From the outside, South Africa can seem a little daunting - and yes, it does take a while to get used to the security alarms, the armed guards, panic buttons and so on. But spend a little time here and you'll realise why so many foreigners fall under the spell of this country - and this continent.

Cape Town stadiumYou'll also see why - we think, hope and pray - the World Cup is going to be an inspirational, triumphant, and yes, probably chaotic experience.

I used to live in Kenya and felt that South Africa was a land apart - sophisticated, developed, self-obsessed and not the "real" Africa. Now I find that many South Africans seem to feel the same way, and hold the rest of the continent at arm's length. Friends here - black and white - talk about going "to Africa" on holiday - meaning a trip to somewhere like Mozambique or Tanzania.

The introspection you find here is understandable. A generation after apartheid, this country is still going through the most tumultuous, absorbing, high-stakes transformation. Will South Africa muddle through, or triumph, or follow Zimbabwe's grim example?

Sudan electionIn this blog, I'll try to give you my sense of that transformation, and an on-the-streets perspective of Africa's first World Cup. I'll also be reporting from around the continent, from places like Sudan, which could well split in two next year and Somalia, which is still fighting to put itself back together.

There is, of course, plenty going right in Africa at the moment. This blog is my chance not just to reflect on what's happening - good and bad - but also to hear your views, complaints, and recommendations. Please let me know your thoughts.

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