Oil: It’s not just about the money


What happened in those countries outside of the Middle East in which oil was found? The countries in Africa, which collectively form the world largest oil producers after that region, for example. The top oil producing country in Africa is Nigeria which produces 2.2-million barrels a day, making fourth largest exporter of oil in the world. 

This question arose late after supper among some journalists who were in Abu Dhabi as part of the Emirates Centre for Strategic Studies and Research (ECSSR), which was celebrating its 20 anniversary. The initial question that prompted it was, ‘How did the United Arab Emirates (UAE) become such a successful nation?’

The casual response was, of course, oil money. But as Acemoglu and Robinson point out in How Nations Fail: The origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty ‘the windfall of wealth has done little to create diversified modern economies in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait’. One of the reasons the authors give for nations failing is the lack of a diversified economy. So why did it work for the UAE? Another response was that the UAE wasn’t a nation but actually a very large – and very successful – corporation, but that dodges the question.

Abu Dhabi had changed since I was last here more than 20 years ago. It looked the same: lots of new buildings, just more of them. The driver, with the zoned-in attention of a fighter pilot, swept from the airport along the broad highways and through the empty streets to drop me at the hotel as the sun rose harsh and fast. Dawn lasts an instant here on the far edge of the Empty Quarter.

The Centre, which has the backing of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bib Zayed al Nahyan and who is the Centre’s president operates as a sort of microcosm of the United Arab Emirates: an efficient, fully resourced and effective corporate entity. Its mission, said Dr Jamal Sand Al-Suwaidi, director-general of the centre, is ‘to support national decision making and serve both the UAE and GCC societies’.

Al-Suwaidi emphasised that the UAE is where it is because of its ‘clear strategy and methodology’ that was amply supported by the ‘quality of the management and the thoroughness of the research of ECSSR. The think-tank has produced more than 1 000 publications, hosted more than 800 events and published more than 20 000 of research papers in the fields of politics, economy, military, security and social studies. In short, it forms part of the inclusive political institutions required to make a nation successful.

How do the oil producing nations in Africa then measure up?

Historically, the UAE grew out of what were referred to in the 1850s as the “Trucial Sheikhdoms”, the majority of which now comprise the seven entities that make up the UAE. Earlier in the 1800s, the tribal leaders of the region reached an agreement with Britain to counter the piracy that interfered with their lucrative trading routes to India and the rest of the world. In return, Britain would provide protection against land or sea invasions — and pirates. Once oil was discovered in the 1960s, first in Abu Dhabi, the leaders realised they needed to present a more united front, and formed the Trucial States Council. At the time it included Bahrain and Qatar.

In 1968, however, Britain decided it could no longer afford to provide the protection it had agreed to and in 1971 they withdrew. Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the ruler of Abu Dhabi gathered the Trucial States Council and attempted to form a federation. It failed; Qatar and Bahrain became independent and the regions most powerful leader (and the father of the man behind the ECSSR), the Sheikh of Abu Dhabi then persuaded his counterpart in Dubai to form a union. But first, he stipulated, they must draw up a constitution. The plan was then to invite the five other states to join them, which they did in 1971 (with Ras al-Khaimah coming to the party a few months later).

This matter of drawing up a constitution is an important point. Acemoglu and Robinson point out that in order for nations to succeed its citizens must “trust the institutions and the rule of law that these generated”. Such institutions – economic or political – they term inclusive as opposed to extractive: to be inclusive, “economic institutions must feature secure private property, an unbiased system of law, and a provision of public services that provides a level playing field in which people can exchange and contract; it also must permit the entry of new businesses”.

And here innovation is integral to success, and innovation is “made possible by economic institutions that encourage private property, uphold contracts, create a level laying field, and encourage and allow the entry of new businesses that can bring new technologies to life”.

Extractive institutions are exactly what they say they are: as Robinson put it in a debate with Paul Collier, they are, “those which are designed to extract resources and income from some people and transfer them to other people”.

Nigeria gained independence in 1960 and oil production started in the 1950s. Despite the enormous wealth that oil brought to the country, not much of it benefited the citizens as corruption and venery saw the money channelled into personal bank accounts. In other words, it was an extractive system. This is, however, beginning to change and it’s because the political institutions are becoming inclusive. Military dictatorship finally came to an end in 1999 — as Simon Allison says, there had been a “few other attempts [at democracy] in Nigeria’s post-colonial history” — when a core group of military officers and civilian allies, oversaw the transition from military to civilian rule. It was the culmination of a four-year process and saw Nigerians break with their British colonial heritage and adopt an American-style constitution. The country has since had held three national elections.

In the previous extractive system, for example, there would be no investigation as there currently is into the alleged $49.8-million that went “missing” from the sales of crude oil between January 2012 and July 2013, which was supposed to be remitted to the federation account by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). (This trend towards inclusive institutions maybe reversed, however, given the recent firing of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.)

Ottoman colonialism, which by 1566 covered North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt, the entire Arabian Peninsula and Iraq, imposed highly extractive institutions. The Ottomans were succeeded by the British, and while it was still an extractive system it allowed a greater deal of independence. But most of the Middle East and North African countries after independence simply continued the extractive system; the only difference this time was that it benefited an indigenous select few. The effect of these extractive economies eventually led to the series of anti-government protests – the so-called Arab Spring – that began in Tunisia in 2011 and spread across the Middle East.

Why Nations Fail claims that the high levels prosperity in successful modern societies rests upon those nation’s political institutions. It points out that investment and innovation work to generate prosperity only if they believe their successes will not be appropriated by the powerful. This assurance, they maintain, can only come from a centralized democracy.

Inclusive institutions are those that allow sustained economic growth, technological innovation and capital accumulation. Acemoglu and Robinson state that, ‘economic institutions… are those that allow and encourage participation by the great mass of the people in economic activities that make the best use of their talents and skills and that enable individuals to make choices they wish. Innovation is crucial because talent and skill is spread throughout society and there is no way these talented skilful can flourish in an oligarchy operating a system of extractive institutions.

UAE does not qualify, strictly, as a democracy. The last elections held in 2011 involved 129 000 “selected” voters (male and female) who could vote for 20 members of the 40-member Federal National Council (FNC), an advisory assembly with very limited parliamentary powers. So, while the concentration of political power is characteristic of extractive economic institutions, the difference in the UAE is that political power is not only spread among seven members but, more importantly, it is also centralised.

And it does have a strong justice system. The Norway-based Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) 2013 annual International Human Rights Indicator (IHRRI) ranked the United Arab Emirates “first among Arab countries and 14th globally for respecting human rights — six points ahead of the United States (20th overall).

Abu Dhabi controls the majority of the UAE’s hydrocarbon wealth: 95% of the oil and 6% of the gas. Yet, due to a vigorous (and well-funded) economic diversification strategy non-oil and gas GDP — manufacturing industry, real estate, tourism and retail — now comprises 64% of the UAE’s total GDP. Its founder had a development vision, much of which is reflected in the establishment of the ECSSR that focused Al-Suwaidi said was on “establishing innovation and creativity” that supports the overall development of society. It is in other words, an inclusive system.

The same cannot be said for the other four top producers in Africa. Algeria is second, producing about 2.1-million barrels a day and number five in terms of world exports. It gained independence in 1962 after a bitter 12-year war against the French colonialists.

Algeria felt the rise of the Arab Spring and in 2011 President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s government lifted the 19-year state of emergency and promised the 2012 parliamentary elections would mean a real step towards democracy. The elections, however, showed markedly low turnout but it did see the establishment of 23 new political parties and new rules that preserved 30% of the places on the candidacy lists for women (this has led to 145 women gaining seats in parliament). But overall Algeria has largely preserved the political status quo in polls and remains an extractive system.

Third is Angola — one of Africa’s richest countries — with 1.9-million barrels per day pegging them at seventh in the world, yet a third of Angolans exist on les than $2 a day. Angola gained independence in 1975 and since 1979 has been ruled by José Eduardo dos Santos.

An example of how an extractive system works, say Acemoglu and Robinson, would be to look at the daughter of Angola’s president Isabel dos Santos, who according to Forbes, is “the wealthiest woman in Africa”. Forbes also claims, “every major Angolan investment held by dos Santos stems either from taking a chunk of a company that wants to do business in the country or from a stroke of the president’s pen that cut her into the action”. That stifles innovation.

Libya, which gained independence in 1951, produces 1.7-million barrels per day and exports about 1.2m of that. It comes in at fourth. It is currently engaged in a destructive civil war, which started in 2011 – part of the Arab Spring – after the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, who had ruled the country for 42 years. It remains mired in conflict. And, finally, in fifth position is Egypt, producing 680 000 barrels per day. It gained independence in 1922.

South Africa is 10th on the list of African oil-producing countries (roughly 191 000 barrels of oil every day). We inherited an extractive system (20% [whites] took resources and income from 80% [blacks]) and its slow to come around. The constitution has been challenged and the rule of law flaunted in numerous cases. On top of that we have cut back on important research and development that is required to increase our international competitiveness in science and innovation, The goal of raising R&D spending to 1% of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2010 was not been achieved and according to the National Survey of Research and Experimental Development 2009-2010, we invested only R21-billion (US$2.3 billion) in R&D over that period. This equals 0.87% of GDP in 2009-10. Not only that, but this was the third consecutive year that research funding as a percentage of GDP had dropped: 0.93% in 2007-08 and 09.2% in 2008-09. It is doubtful that we will meet our target of 2% GDP spending on research by 2018.

Think tanks are not a luxury. They are a prerequisite if a nation is to “adopt a strategic approach to forward planning” and be able to provide support to government decision-making processes.

As Robinson points out, nations locked into extractive institutions are not there for reasons of stupidity or ignorance. It is, they say, about the “conflict of interest of people who control power as politicians or as leaders or business leaders or whatever of the country, are having their preferred policies imposed on society, even if it’s not good for society”.

Organisations, such as the ECSSR — and locally the sadly now defunct Institute of Democracy in Africa (Idasa) — provide input into the political and economic institutions of governance, from training government cadres, to organizing seminars and creating the avenues for dialogue among decision making bodies. In addition it provides extensive and intensive analysis of local, regional and international events that potentially may affect the UAE. And where political institutions are inclusive, this sort of research is incorporated into the vision for the nation, rather than simply providing lip service — another extractive forum — for entrenched rulers.

Robinson goes on to say that leaders who rely on extractive systems are best termed “political losers” – leaders that are only interested in their own bottom line. “Many of the fundamental transformative technologies and many of the institutional changes that unleash economic growth throughout history have come together with changes that weaken the political power of rulers. And that’s why they’ve been resisted by rulers.” And that’s why we have to guard against political losers holding power.

[This first appeared in Daily Maverick http://bit.ly/1lEwegw]


The Underdog

Every dog has his day. So too the underdog. And its day may be done. You’d be hard-pressed to find the underdog in the empty national stadiums watched either by people worried their season ticket was an ‘I-told-you-it’s-a-waste-of-money’ prediction come true or corporate guests who can’t tell the difference between a drum majorette’s bum and a rugby ball; you might just possibly have a sniff of the underdog in school teams on a cold Saturday morning with the mothers screaming like butcher dogs in heat and the fathers trying not to cry behind their Oakley’s.


Like most the myths that shape our lives, the underdog has been impounded by Hollywood, nabbed while limping home from a good thrashing, filling the air with the bark of ‘If we’d just run that line and if we’d had just kicked that touch and if we’d just fielded that sitter…’. The underdog is now an endangered cock-and-bone nameless stray condemned to exist triumphant only in the silver slippery world of cinema.

Blame it on television and sloppy sponsorship and gambling-addicted fanatics with access to too many cell phones. Blame it on the Me Decades of the ‘70s and ‘80s; blame the swamp-slurping Goldman Sachs muppets of the 21st Century. Blame bloated sports administrators who can describe every business class lounge in every city that has a stadium but couldn’t tell you the captain’s name of their national team. Blame your spouse. Blame the cat. Blame the referee.

But don’t blame the athletes.

Sir Sebastian Coe, one of the members of that all male club of sub-four minute milers (the women’s record is still 12 seconds off from a sub-four), told journalist Gary Smith that the members had ‘bond among us…which Lady Macbeth describes as a sickness: ambition and the pursuit of excellence’. That’s the true definition of an athlete.

The founding member of the club Sir Roger Bannister said, ‘I think the four-minute mile has been overrated. After all, it’s only a time. The essence of athletics is racing against an opponent rather than a clock.’ He was right: 46 days later, the Australian, John Landy joined the club, besting Bannister’s time by one second.

Bannister was not an underdog when he broke the four-minute mile barrier in May 1954. He was a determined athlete—and a medical doctor—who trained a paltry three times a week but he knew what the human body was capable of and he knew what he could achieve. Three months later, at the 1954 Commonwealth Games, he was the underdog when he finally ran against John Landy in what the media billed as ‘the miracle mile’. It was the first time they’d met on the track. Landy led from the start only to be passed by Bannister in the final straight.

But being an underdog does not mean winning against a supposedly superior foe. That happens all the time. The allure of underdog, the thing that elicits a primordial growling and rumbling, that distant howl resonating with recognition and redemption, the thing for which myths are made rests on a single premise: honour.

We don’t just want our underdog to win. We don’t even care if they don’t win. Sure, we want them to win—but only with honour. That’s why there are no underdogs in top league football: you’ve just got crap teams and good teams. Occasionally a crap team will win and the usual shit will be thrown around about referees and diving and other matters of foul play. Or some one will get fired and some one bought and another sold.

Boxing? All boxers are underdogs so they don’t figure. Boxing’s a bewitching sport made mad, however, by men of feral cunning and rapine viciousness who never enter the ring except to hoist their boxer aloft in victory or haul him off the canvass in defeat. The only time anyone vaguely resembling an underdog got into a real boxing match was when Jake La Motta whipped Sugar Ray Leonard in their second meeting. But La Motta was not a honourable man: a great fighter but not an underdog. Martin Scorsese and Robert de Niro portrayed that perfectly in Raging Bull. As the critic Pauline Kael said, Jake was a champ and a bum.

Cricket? Ever since Hansie Cronje praised the Lord, passed the ball and opened another Caribbean bank account, it’s been hard to watch any ‘underdog’ team triumph and not shudder, and feel the faint lick of some venal lounge lizard’s tongue tickling your neck.

Horse racing has the outsider—not to be confused with the underdog. The outsider is usually a horse with an iffy pedigree and, according to the New York Times study on horse racing in the United States, trainers that pump the horses full of ‘chemicals that bulk up pigs and cattle before slaughter, cobra venom, Viagra, blood-doping agents, stimulants and cancer drugs’. And that’s just for the training sessions. No need to mention the owners or the anorexic, drug-fuelled jockeys.

The great and true stories of boxing and horseracing were the first to be ensnared by Hollywood, from Raging Bull to Seabiscuit. And to be fair, Seabiscuit was a true underdog, in every way. But, as the poet said, that was in another country, and besides the horse is dead. But Hollywood did what it does best and re-mythologised the underdog in Rocky, Million Dollar Baby and National Velvet. And if the movie ratings are to be believed, they will continue to do so.

Rugby. Now, that has all the ritual and reverence, all the fanaticism and murky fury and clarity required of myth. Rugby fans proudly support the underdog—there’s no room to mention that the underdog is perhaps now no more than a mangy mutt barking in the darker recesses of their brain.

They will tell you proudly and loudly that topdogs such as the Stormers pay their scrumhalf the equivalent of the ‘entire salary of the Cheetahs team’. They will tell you that the Cheetahs’ players turn up ‘110%’ for every game (maths not being a requirement for underdog believers). They will cheer for Argentina’s Pumas. They will tell you, as if speaking of their school mates, that the Pumas are a bunch of electricians, motor mechanics and café owners that get together after work, buy their own kit, pay their own airfares and play bruising, ‘real’ rugby.

The underdog believer yelled with delight at the Italian Azzurri, even before Nick Mallet made them into a team. When the Azzurri beat France by one point in the 2011 Six Nations —the first time in 31 encounters—their supporters told the les bleus fans that if they wanted to run with the underdogs they’d have to lift their legs high.

There’s a bone always gnawed over during this tail wagging: filthy lucre. The dog in the litter always picked up, the runt, is the one that can’t be sold. The one that can’t be bought. It’s not part of the mythology that the athlete born with a silver Nike on his foot can be the underdog. The underdog is one of us, the kid who struggles to make the U13 team, the adolescent hungering to run on with the First XV, the young man dreaming of donning his country’s colours.

But way back in the ‘80s high schools in the US sports management types started their culling. Kids were getting the message: if you don’t have megabuck potential, don’t even try out for the college team. Sport was no longer an extra-curricular activity: it was a career choice. The talented and goofy guys, who may have made sport fun to watch, went skateboarding or surfing or created digital games (where they always won). That’s a short way off from happening in South Africa. (I know, it’s not happening at your child’s school, and neither are the first team taking steroids.)

And so we follow the money trail and it leads back to… television. As Roone Arledge, who when he ran American Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) Sports in the ‘70s, told US Sports Illustrated’s Steve Rushin in 1995, ‘everything is magnified by television’. He would know. He’s the man who stuck a microphone in a dead zebra so viewers could hear what it sounded like being chomped by a lion. He’s the man who pioneered the instant replay in the ‘60s—and television sport was never the same again.

With that television magnification came the munificence of advertising. Wodges of splonga. When ABC bought the rights to broadcast the Mexico City Olympics in 1968, it cost $3-million. Eight years later the 1976 Montreal Olympics cost R25-million. The same escalation was happening in professional sport, as players became commodities to be bartered and exchanged, usually for huge sums of money. Teams became franchises with more marketing and branding staff on the team than players.

And we sucked it up. We installed DStv, not for the educational channels for our kids to watch, but for the six or seven or nine channels of 24-hour sport. Re-runs. Hand-held videos of unintelligible fishing competitions filmed on drab grey dam water with incoherent commentators. Black and white documentaries of boxing tournaments in dodgy halls between equally dubious fighters. Golfing play-0ffs at three a.m. in the morning. Mind-numbing views through camcorders mounted on ugly, shiny insect-like vehicles showing the backside of a similar vehicle travelling at 300kmph down a swath of asphalt.

And, of course, football and rugby and cricket. TV gives us a chance to watch the underdog, without having really to support him—like buying a ticket and showing up at the game. This is where myth was deflected, overtaken and even altered. In what some one once called ‘the boom bard bombardment board’ — television. With it, the original myth was fractured.

Consider the Cheetahs of the Free State Rugby Union—excuse me, the ‘Toyota’ Cheetahs. In the heart and bones of its supporters there is no more magnificent team. This is the underdog who not only is triumphant but whose triumph—and defeat—is cloaked with honour, whose players are the archetype honourable warriors. These are local boys made good. Who cares that Ashley Johnson comes from Wynberg or that Kabamba Floors is from Oudsthoorn. To the underdog believer, they are of the same ilk as Heinrich Brussouw and Adriaan Strauss. The Cheetahs don’t have draw-card foreign players past their sell-by date. Some may say they simply can’t afford them. Others will say that’s not their game. But as the song goes, ‘the truth bites and stings’ and both sides will come out bleeding and itchy.

That’s what happened to supporters watching the Cheetahs—the underdogs—in their SuperRugby 15 game against the Crusaders on Saturday. With a weak front row, the Cheetahs scrum was crushed. It was not a pretty sight for those of us who still refer to Os du Randt as ‘Sir’—and those less impressed call ‘god’. The Free State breeds props as easily as it grows mielies so what was happening? Coach Naka Drotske was obviously equally crushed.

Then it was down to uncontested scrums as all of the Cheetahs front-row forwards proved crock. We are 63 minutes into the game and the Crusaders are leading 21-11. Within 12 minutes the scores are even, and there’s less than five minutes to go. The Crusaders rampage like—well, like Crusaders—but the Cheetahs snarl and scramble and keep them out. Then the line breaks and Israel Dagg crosses over for a try and Taylor slots it to make the final score 28-21. The underdogs were bruised but proud. Bliksem, even the Kiwi commentators couldn’t hold back the praise bites.

But something was licking at the back of my neck. The uncontested scrums had definitely helped the Cheetahs. Was it a tactical move? And if so, so what? There is talk of dropping one of the South African SuperRugby teams to make way for the new franchise, the Southern Kings, in 2013. With that hanging over your head, any South African team—meaning the Lions or the Cheetahs—would do what it could to make sure it’s not left holding the wooden spoon—and an empty purse—at the end of this season.

But if it was tactical, the Cheetahs are no longer our underdog. They are mere pack dogs hounded by Mammon to tow the line. A management decision like this would besmirch even the colossus Os du Randt, the last of the South African players who started his career as an amateur and ended it in the professional era: an honourable and good man.

We need our mythologies—the underdog—in our life to lure us closer into the pool of understanding that leaves us sated by the ‘pursuit of perfection’ embodied in 80 minutes of methodical savagery and physical virtuosity; or in a one-mile long three minutes and 59 second of oxygen-depleting epiphany. We need our underdogs because without them we can no longer keep our head above water in the swamp pool of social constructs, ritual and regulation, taboo and transgression through which we sink or swim. And then get up and go to work every day.

After watching re-runs of that game and talking to a few trusted rugby observers, the Cheetahs are still the underdog, the beast that we cradle in our belly.  But the decision made in the last quarter of the Cheetahs vs. Crusaders game may be a faint hint of Gabriel’s hounds howling, warning us of the imminent death of the underdog, and that desolate moment when myth becomes nostalgia.

[This first appeared in Sports Illustrated August 2012]

When rulers replace leaders.

Who Rules South Africa?

By Martin Plaut and Paul Holden (Published by Jonathan Ball)

If you wrote a book called, Who Rules the USA? the clamour of conspiracy theorists from David Icke’s collection of lounge lizards to the Twitters of the  #Elvisisinthesupermarket followers would be deafening. The book would be a best seller but no one would take it seriously, let alone read it.

But Who Rules South Africa? is taken seriously and read in South Africa. South African-born, Martin Plaut was an advisor on Africa and the Middle 
East to the British Labour Party from1978 to1984 (spanning the James Callaghan and Michael Foot years) after which he joined the BBC, working primarily on Africa. He was an Associate Fellow of the Royal Institute of 
International Affairs, leading their Africa research programme and continues
 to be an active member. He is
 currently Africa Editor, BBC World Service News and has written, co-written and/or edited seven books. Paul Holden, a South African, is the author of two other books, both dealing with what has become known as ‘the arms deal’: The Arms Deal in your Pocket and The Devil in the Detail.

Conspiracy theories do dribble through this deeply researched book. But at the end of the last page you are faced with some glaring truths. (One of which is that since 1948 South Africans have been ruled by a one-party state with ’democratic trimmings’.)

The simplistic answer to who rules is, of course, the African National Congress (ANC). For the ANC—the ostensible ruler of the country—the state train, however, is beginning to pop a few rivets and may be close to derailment. The tripartite alliance of the ANC, the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu)—the real rulers—are no longer on the same train, let alone the same track.

Plaut and Holden claim the alliance was never really in agreement and was simply bundled onto the same goods wagon by the ANC in exile with no written agreement, no constitution, no minuted meetings and no public accountability. It still operates in this clandestine manner.

Part of the problem in fathoming who runs the country goes back to black economic empowerment (BEE), the murky unstable structures of which are beginning to teeter. They quote businessman Moeletsi Mbeki who derides BEE as a plan by the white economic ‘oligarchs’ to ‘co-opt leaders of the black resistance movement by literally buying them off’. And it seems to have succeeded. By August 2011, ‘about three quarters of Cabinet’s 35 members were found to have financial interests outside their main occupations…’ as did ‘59% of the country’s 400 members of parliament’.

Some say the increasing middle class will stabilise the government and thus play an important role in who rules. Transformation in the public service has been the primary driver of black middle-class growth and continues to do so. The middle class comprises just under 10-million people, of which 50% are black Africans. But the abrogation of power by the middle class—both black and white—means it has become docile.

A 2007 Public Services Commission report on the indebtedness of public servants found that 20% of all public servants had been served with garnishee orders (instituted when a person defaults on a credit repayment which is then serviced by a third party, in this case the State). Business Day columnist Mzukisi Qobo says the complacency of the black middle class is result of the economic security: holding a professional job and having a regular income.

He says, however, the white middle class think it is the job of the black middle class to challenge the government. This, he says, is ‘a convenient escape from individual responsibility to whiteness as a de-legitimated category that can exist politically only as a victim of the black-led ruling party’.

The SACP and Cosatu are challenging the rapaciousness of the BEE elite and the ANC’s ‘cadre deployment’ in key government and economic sectors, stirred by their members call for service delivery. It is feasible these two could form their own opposition party and vote the ANC out of power. But now, the voters—of whatever class—are not the rulers in South Africa, due partly to the mix of proportional representation and cadre deployment.

Plaut and Holden see it is a little more sinister. Zuma has created a cabal of BEE elites, a prejudiced intelligence service tracking political opponents, a compliant Judicial Services Commission and a corrupt police force working hand-in-glove with organised crime to maintain his position of power. He has been able to do this as ruler of the ANC—not as the country’s leader. Parliament and the Cabinet operate very much as does the Chinese National People’s Congress—to rubberstamp the decisions of the ANC’s National Executive Committee (NEC) very much in the manner of the Chinese Politburo.

The influence of China on trade and policy decisions may well mean that the ANC may not respect the power of the ballot box should it lose the elections. And that’s when we’ll really know whether the ANC rules or leads the country.

This review was originally published in the Cape Times.

Who are we talking about here?

This is from a recently published online magazine. And I bet you know who it’s talking about.

“… [political] parties had gone from being vehicles of popular sentiment, to “machines of power and clientelism” which colonised the state. Ten years later, the XXX’s scandal hit. Today, its descendant … reveals an even more pervasive and toxic mix of corruption spanning politicians, businesses and organised crime. It is this particular mix, this system of power, which keeps XXXX afloat, above and beyond any popular political consensus he may have. This system relies on clientelistic – often nepotistic – ways of managing public affairs combined with electoral legislation which makes it practically impossible for citizens to vote leaders out of office. XXXX is the archetypical expression of this system: …  he is not just a political leader, but is independently capable of conferring patronage…. The XXXXXXXXX magazine recently labelled XXXX a “plutocrat.”

Renewable leadership: A partnership of passion for the environment

Climate change, global warming, fossil fuels peaking, world water wars and the host of other issues that confront us – not only globally , but right in our backyard – necessitate that we start doing things differently if we are to sustain our life on the planet. Two activists, Lewis Pugh and Jonathan Deal, are forging a new management dynamic: renewable leadership.

Toward the end of his autobiography Achieving the Impossible, lewis Pugh says: “There’s a perfect speed for hostile water, and you’ve got to find it.” He was describing the waters of the Magdalenefjord in Norway , where he had gone in preparation for his first swim within the Arctic Circle, which took place at Vergelegenhuken.

The temperature was below 4°C; and after the 21-minute swim, his core body temperature had dropped to 35°C — the point at which hypothermia sets in. Some years later, in 2007, Pugh would use this strategy when he actually swam in the Arctic Ocean — known as the Black ocean — a mass of water some four kilometres deep and with a surface temperature in summer of minus 1.7°C. Pretty hostile.

He swam one kilometre in this water, wearing only a speedo, goggles and a swimming cap. He did it in 18 minutes and 50 seconds. He wrote about that moment: “What I feel is not victory nor vindication, but the sense of having survived.”

Pugh is trained for survival; and that is not simply because he was a corporate lawyer at the shark-infested Bar of London. Of the 200 applicants who entered with him on the gruelling, drawn-out ordeal of training to become a member of the United Kingdom’s elite Special Air Service (SAS), only he and two others received the coveted beret. When he left the SAS, he admits he wept on the train ride back home.

Law did not appeal to Pugh, and soon he was hankering for something else. When his six-month contract with the law firm he had joined after leaving the military expired, he decided it was time to do something different. As he says: “You don’t see many statues of corporate lawyers.”

He had wanted to be a champion long-distance swimmer. But a chance meeting with Clare Kerr of the world wide Fund for nature put his swimming in perspective: he was swimming in places where he should not have been able to because of climate change. The world was warming up, and unless we changed our way of managing our resources and our lifestyles, we would not survive.

“I swam in the Arctic Ocean — not because I am brave or foolhardy or a show-off. I swam because I should not have been able to do so,” Pugh says. “Global warming is a reality: the Arctic ice cap is melting; I swam in the glacial lakes of the Himalayas beneath Mount Everest, knowing that it should have been solid ice; I have seen the Maldives gradually being submerged by the rising waters of global warming.”

He became an environmental activist.

When Pugh heard that oil and gas companies planned to use hydraulic fracturing (see box below) to prospect for shale gas in the Karoo, he made a quick decision: he would get involved. he could connect the dots between the environmental damage it would cause (mainly contamination of the water aquifers), the resultant social conflict and the impact on climate change (the pursuit of more fossil fuels).

Pugh is decisive — and believes it to be a crucial trait in leadership — but his years in the SAS have taught him that planning, preparation and alternative plans are as critical. So he immediately contacted Jonathan Deal.

Deal grew up in rural honeydew, “running in the bush, catching snakes and riding horses”. He now owns Gecko Rock Private Nature Reserve in the Karoo, a 4 000-hectare eco-destination that offers a range of activities that are environmentally friendly and educational. Deal says he bought the farm in 2000 when he decided the corporate world no longer interested him — he ran a physical risk management consultancy — but the natural world did.

He is the co-ordinator of the Treasure the Karoo action Group (TKaG) – the reason he was the first person Lewis called when the latter decided to get involved. Deal remembers that first conversation. When he answered the phone, this calm, authoritative voice said: “Hello, Jonathan. This is Lewis.”

His response was: “Lewis who?” and the answer made him take a breath: “Lewis Pugh,” said the voice. And, as Deal says, “That was that.”

Pugh offered to help in any way he could. “We agreed to meet in Noordhoek for a sandwich the following Sunday. It was quite an occasion for me,” says Deal. “I was amazed at how easy-going he was and I also thought he’d be a lot younger. We clicked immediately.”

That same day, Pugh, the strategist, started marshalling ‘the troops’. He called around and got the name of a public relations firm, HWB Communications, and set up a meeting for the next morning at 8:30 a.m.

One can tell much about the way people handle their first meeting: not only had Pugh and Deal just met, they were now in a business meeting with a group of strangers, and presenting a common face. Deal is reserved, soft-spoken — almost laconic — and observant. Pugh is a presence, immeasurably polite, attentive and forceful. Both have reservoirs of intelligence upon which to draw.

Within the first few minutes of introductions, Pugh had stated his needs, his objective and his commitment. He talks strategy in military terms: he began this first meeting by repeating some words of advice given him by his commander on his first assignment in Iraq – “when you get into an encounter, the way you use your first magazine will determine whether you live or die.”

While the table was digesting that, deal started to ask questions. This pattern is reflective of their leadership style. Pugh often gets to his feet and paces the room during meetings. It is not a sign of impatience: it is more like a way of exorcising the need to stop the talk and simply ‘do something’. But he is too clever and too well-trained to do that. Deal makes notes and asks who is going to do what. They prepare, and act.

Both admit they still know very little about each other’s private- and business lives, but share a passion to stop further environmental degradation of the planet. Deal says they work well together, simply because they each have “a single-minded determination to achieve the same goals.”

Pugh agrees: “We know little about each other, outside of the work we are doing to stop fracking in the Karoo. But we have had to collaborate to win.” Deal has immersed himself in the technicalities and science of hydraulic fracturing. Pugh works the big-picture strategy through the media, legal and environmental angles.

Deal makes himself available for interviews, fighting every daily skirmish on the ground. Pugh uses his global influence and connections to find out what is happening in Europe and the United States; Deal works with local advertising schools to get the youth involved. Pugh asks how we can win the battle for the hearts and minds of the South African people; Deal attends the hearings in the Karoo. Pugh evokes an African vision, a commitment to our Constitution; while Deal works to grow the circle of supporters.
Pugh once said that he “always believed that there is nothing more powerful than a made up mind.” But he equally believes there is nothing more fragile than a made up mind. By this he means that in order to survive, you need to have the courage to make a “radical tactical shift”. We have relied on — and believed in — fossil fuels for so long, we need to make that radical tactical shift if we are to start thinking seriously about renewable energy.

Their collaborative leadership commitment is backed by their wallets: both have put large amounts of money into the campaign, and even more time. The leadership position taken by Pugh and Deal was never questioned or even discussed between them. Deal puts the collaboration down to an “almost instinctive” feel. “I know when to defer to him and he knows when to defer to me. It never gets to the point where there is conflict,” he says. “There’s no game plan — it’s just a wonderful working relationship.”

Pugh agrees. He says the battle for a good, clean and fair environment is the next logical step of the civil rights movement. “We fought for liberty — and won; we fought for equality — and won. Now we need to fight for our survival as a species.”

It is this environmental commitment that unites them, this willingness to look beyond the immediate solution of relying on yet more fossil fuel. What they want to see is a sustainable future based on renewable energy supplies.

“There is a tremendous amount of mutual respect,” says Pugh, but adds that there is very little “waffle”. They are decisive and move quickly, and are willing to delegate so that others within the campaign are never left waiting to act.
Deal says they talk every day on the phone, and willingly admits that he relies much on their friendship. “We talk about our frustrations and moments of despair,” he says “It’s not a macho, tough-guy relationship.”

Pugh concurs: “I am there to support him when he is shattered, and he’s there for me. What is most significant about this collaborative leadership is that it is renewable. First, because they are able to work within their areas of expertise without friction; secondly, because they use their bond of friendship to offload outside the core business concerns; and thirdly, because they are willing to incorporate and include others to participate actively within the campaign.

They are, in short, the civil rights leaders of the 21st century.

Fracking what?

The oil and gas companies, including Royal Dutch Shell, use a controversial modern drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking), properly termed “high-volume slick-water horizontal hydraulic fracturing”. This process did not exist prior to a decade ago, having been developed by Halliburton after the year 2000. A drill is sunk through the water table and down into the shale rock and then horizontally into the shale (previous hydraulic fracturing relied only on vertical drilling). Millions of litres of water, mixed with a toxic compound of chemicals, is forced down the hole and the pressure fractures the shale, releasing the trapped gas. More than 30% to 40% of the chemical-laden water mix remains below the surface. The rest is pumped out and has to be disposed of as hazardous waste. Fracking will deplete the scarce water resources of the Karoo and may lead to contamination of the groundwater table.

[This story first appeared in Leadership magazine in June 2011.]

Land restitution, small holder farming and food security

Land reform, land restitution and food soverienity dominate the headlines. Land restitution has been given political priority over agricultural production. The challenge of land reform is how to speed up the transfer of land and encourage and support productive use of the transferred land. There remain, however, a substantial number of citizens who go to bed hungry every night. Food security is not just about prducing enough but also about distributing it efficiently. The following links are to The Daily Maverick in which these three issues — land restitution, small holder farming and food security — appeared. Shorter versions of the features also appeared in Business Day.



This series of three articles was made possible by an Open Society Foundation for South Africa Media Fellowship.


Singer/songwriter David Kramer, the troubadour of the Karoo, took his show “Kramer se Karoo” to the Jam Street Amphitheatre at the Klein Karoo Nasionale Kunstefees (KKNK) in March this year.  And he’s singing out against fracking.

Some years ago, David Kramer went walkabout in the Karoo listening to and learning from the music and the people who made it. Kramer’s music has always sung of people on the margins, physically and socially; of people who are like geologic seams within our country’s landscape—enduring, fragile and essential. From his travels and meetings with musicians who played the “ou liedjies van die Karoo” (old songs of the Karoo) emerged the brilliant Karoo Kitaar Blues. It showcased the slide guitarist Hannes Coetzee and many others, including Helena Nuwegeld.

The story of Helena Nuwegeld is the story of the Karoo. Kramer met Helena while exploring the rich vein of musical history that is as vital to these parts as water. She was a guitarist and singer and her songs were about her place in the land. She was murdered a few years ago. The man who killed her was down on his luck and had been offered a roof over his head on a farm near where Helena lived. Kramer says it’s a particular South African tragedy, shaped by the violence that has rung through our history, and which has made cries of the violated as common prayers for rain.

“This man [her murderer] couldn’t deal with her so-called disrespect,” says Kramer. The man said in court that she had not called him “sir”. Helena was 85-years-old at the time of her death. “More importantly,”says Kramer, “He couldn’t respect her. She’d had a tough life and she wasn’t about to play that subservient role. She was hard, like the land she lived in. And she was badly treated and was suspicious of other people’s motives. But, she had more than he had, and he couldn’t handle it.”

Helena had more, says Kramer, because “she was that kind of person”. She had her life—rough hewn and sparse as it was—and she had her family and her songs. The murderer did not respect that; he wanted part of it—and ended up shooting her. He was sentenced to life in jail.

This is the essential story of the Karoo. It has more than it will yield yet gives more than any one person can grasp. For the oil companies to come in and want a part of it, shows a similar disrespect and they will end up killing it. Kramer is almost speechless when he talks about the prospect of fracking in the Karoo.

“This is short-term. They [the oil companies] say they will replace what is damaged. But we’ve heard all that before and we’ve seen what’s happened in the Niger Delta. When there’s a disaster, you destroy the ecology for centuries. If we contaminate the water underground, we can’t flush it out because don’t have the water in the first place to do so.”

And he’s not speaking from a point of ignorance. He has read up on the issue, watched the documentary “Gaslands” and he is constantly asking questions. “Life is on this planet because of water. I don’t understand how—in an arid place like the Karoo—they want to use so much water to get gas,” he says, referring to the technology of hydraulic fracturing which entails pumping millions of litres of chemical-laden water into the shale rock to split it and release natural gas.

“Are we going to take that chance? Are we going to pump in millions of toxic chemicals in these underground areas, crank the rocks, leave it there and then think it doesn’t really do any damage because we can’t see it? And what then, when in a hundred years time it [the toxins] start to ooze out?”

Someone commented that if shell was a person and you looked at their criminal record, it would not be the kind of person you’d want in your neighbourhood. “It’s like saying, ‘Oh, that guy is fine—he’s a paedophile—but he gives the kids sweets and feeds them.’ It’s a kind of suspension of logic and rationality,” says Kramer

On his CD, “Huistoe”, there’s a song called “Dans mettie dood” (Dance with the dead) that describes the harsh, tenuous lifeline of the Karoo.

Ek staan heel maand en wag virrie reen se reuk/Want sonner water sallie veld’ie bloomie/Sonner blomme sallie geld’ie kommie/Sonner geld wil almal vir almal neuk

[I stand for months awaiting the smell of rain/’Cos without water, the flowers won’t bloom/Without flowers, the money won’t come/And without money, we’ll tear each other apart.]

If fracking goes ahead in the Karoo, the oil companies will be handing out their dance cards.

At the show, he introduced his song “Onnerwater”—a song about the ancient Karoo, and from his recent CD “Huistoe”—by telling people of the dangers of fracking. His is the essential story of the Karoo as much as the Karoo is an essential story in South Africa’s history. A couple of the band members wore T-shirts that read: “Stop fracking our Karoo!”

Postscript: Since this was written, the South African government has placed a moratorium on all shale gas prospecting that will utilise hydraulic fracturing technology.

Kramer’s new show featured his favourite songs of the Karoo, spanning some 30 years and he was joined by Hannes Coetzee and the Sonskyn Susters (the Sunshine Sisters) and local jig dancers (rieldansers).


Photo courtesy of Hans van der Veen.