Foreign Policy Blogs

South Africa Roundup

I have so many Africa-related stories in tabs on my laptop that my whole system is slowing down. You know what that means: Here are a bunch of stories that have caught my eye, with commentary, much drawn from my recent trip to South Africa, as apt. This is the South Africa edition (a more general Africa edition will follow shortly):

Julius Malema is the gift that keeps on giving, at least to those of us who write about South Africa. He is perceived as, well, less than a gift to many South Africans. There has been considerable schadenfreude in the recent discovery that Malema, populist extraordinaire, man of the people, spokesman for the dispossessed, has been hiding the fact that he is actually a “trust fund kid.” Now, there is nothing especially hypocritical about a rich guy advocating for the poor. The poor usually need such advocates working for them. But what galls so many people is the way that Malema so carefully and intentionally hid his mysterious supply of cash. (And the fact that it may not all be above board from a legal vantage point.) I have seen increasing fear that Malema is going to work, fight, cajole, manipulate, and demagogue his way to the presidency of South Africa, but I simply do not see it, especially as Malema continues to alienate vital and powerful constituencies. President Jacob Zuma may not be out of the woods quite yet in terms of retaining the dual presidencies of the party and the country, but that does not mean Julius Malema is next in line for either. Not as long as the savvy, low key, and quite widely respected Kgalema Mothlante is still in the wings.

I was watching tv in Durban one day and heard Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula hint that maybe, just maybe, the 2020 Durban Olympic bid was not dead after all. Well, the idea, once seen as a dead issue, is regaining traction in the wake of Durban hosting the latest International Olympics Committee indaba as both South Africa’s Olympics Committee (SASCOC) and IOC  head honcho Jacques Rogge have ranged from coy to ebullient about the idea of the games coming to South Africa. Mbalula is widely gaining praise and is seen as a bit of a rising star in the ANC hierarchy. I always understood the reasons for not hosting the Olympics so relatively soon after the 2010 World Cup departed South Africa on a wave of good feeling. But I can also see the arguments for it, and I have even warmed to the idea of Durban, rather than Cape Town, taking on hosting duties if South Africa pursues a bid. I suspect that the allure of being the first African nation to host the Olympics will be too strong for South Africa to resist for too long.

Want a reminder of how awesome Jonathan Shapiro is? Well, if you are in South Africa, “the South African Jewish Museum has pulled out all the stops and spared no expense to host a superbly curated exhibition of work by internationally celebrated cartoonist” better known as Zapiro.And if you’re anywhere near Oxfordshire you should head to the Pitt Rivers Museum for what is sure to be an outstanding exhibit of photographer Bryan Heseltine’s 1952 Cape Town Survey.

So the Springboks’ 39-20 thumping at the hands of Quade Cooper and the Wallabies has many South African rugby fans in a high-speed wobble. Some fans and foes alike are accusing the Springbok brains trust of having kept an entire squad of elite players away from the away leg of Tri Nations to get them ready for the World Cup in New Zealand later in the year, an accusation that Boks coach Peter de Villiers and his staff of course deny. But I’m just not sure what it all means. After all, it seems to me to be a perfectly legitimate strategy for the defending world champions to decide to put all of the eggs in the World Cup basket, especially if some of those eggs show signs of weakness in the form of injury or fatigue. I firmly believe that between Currie Cup, Super 15, and national competition — especially in World Cup years — truly elite players are subject to far too much rugby which makes them less effective players and makes for worse rugby. I would just as soon see SANZAR not hold the Tri Nations in years when there is a World Cup. In any case, there is a lot of time between now and September and it is impossible to tell what, if anything, Tri Nations will mean. And in any case, with New Zealand hosting the Cup, they would seem to be heavy favorites irrespective of any given team’s strategy.

Look, can we all stop searching for a new Mandela? The man is sui generis, a legend, and he is the kind of person who comes along so rarely that to call him an outlier is to understate what an outlier he actually is. South Africans should be searching for competent leadership, inspiration where they can get it, honesty and commitment to service, and vision from their leading party, which for the foreseeable future is the ANC. The Mandela yardstick is neither fair nor reasonable.

Finally, academics are an easy target, but I’m simply not certain this is at all justified and I am actually quite certain that it is not. I’d like something resembling data or even evidence about academic engagement in politics pre- and post-1994 before we start making gross generalizations about the failings of academics in having a public voice.




Derek Catsam

Derek Catsam is a Professor of history and Kathlyn Cosper Dunagan Professor in the Humanities at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He is also Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University. Derek writes about race and politics in the United States and Africa, sports, and terrorism. He is currently working on books on bus boycotts in the United States and South Africa in the 1940s and 1950s and on the 1981 South African Springbok rugby team's tour to the US. He is the author of three books, dozens of scholarly articles and reviews, and has published widely on current affairs in African, American, and European publications. He has lived, worked, and travelled extensively throughout southern Africa. He writes about politics, sports, travel, pop culture, and just about anything else that comes to mind.

Areas of Focus:
Africa; Zimbabwe; South Africa; Apartheid