Syria and South Africa

Owen Bennett Jones introduces insight, wit and analysis from correspondents around the world. In this edition, our diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus asks what the manoeuvring over Syria tells us about the new shape of the world, while Gareth Armstrong delves into the tangled history of the town of Mafikeng.

A new paradigm for crisis management

Anti-government mass actions in Syria began in March this year and so far the protestors have failed to achieve a breakthrough. Some of the country's government officials now believe that they have seen off the threat to those in power in Damascus. But many protestors now feel that if they stop demonstrating, the regime will arrest them one by one and possibly kill them.

And so the stalemate continues at home - while in the Middle East and internationally, the country's status plummets. BBC Diplomatic Correspondent Jonathan Marcus has been wondering what the response to Syria can tell us about where real power lies.

Mafeking? Mafikeng? Mahikeng?

The town still usually known as Mafikeng has had its share of historic reverses. At the very beginning of the 20th Century it saw one of the great military victories of the British Empire and its mythology - the Relief of Mafeking, during the Second Boer War, which so elated Britain and made Robert Baden-Powell into a national hero.

But it's changed hands several times since, too; it was for a while the administrative capital of what's now Botswana, when it was a British territory called Bechuanaland; then living through the earlier stage of the apartheid era as a part of South Africa, and then behing handed over to the so-called "independent homeland" (in reality a puppet Potemkin state) of Boputhatswana in the final days of apartheid.

Gareth Armstrong visited the town recently and found that despite its turbulent past, it's now a place blessedly free from some of the social tensions which swirl around it.

(Image: Pro-democracy protesters, waving pre-Baath era Syrian flags, demonstrate against President Bashar al-Assad's regime. Credit: AFP/Getty)

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10 minutes

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Sat 19 Nov 2011 04:50 GMT

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