Foreign Policy Blogs

Sub-Saharan Africa News Roundup

With each passing day it seemed another story crossed my desk that I wanted to write about. Now I have so many tabs open on my computer that it is slowing things down considerably. So without further ado, a roundup of stories that have caught my eye in recent days and weeks with brief commentary as apt:

Why did Jacob Zuma do little in the face of evidence that Zimbabwe’s election in July was not on the up and up? John Campbell at the Council on Foreign Relations and Simukai Tinhu at Think Africa Press have a simple, and I think fundamentally accurate, argument: Mugabe had a stronger hand. To put it another way, while by almost any measure — militarily, economically, culturally — South Africa is a more powerful country than Zimbabwe, the ability of even a vastly more powerful country to wield its will is oftentimes less than we think it is. Ask yourself this: Even if Zuma was unhappy with Mugabe, what should he have done?

One of the main criticisms of the ANC since 1994 has been its failure to produce sufficient jobs. But the experience in the United States should probably augment that of South Africa and remind us that most people might believe job creation to be one of the main responsibilities of any government, creating jobs is hard.

Once again the Mo Ibrahim Foundation did not hand out its award for excellence in governance in Africa. From a philosophical vantage point one might wonder if Ibrahim is not wielding too long a stick and handing out too few carrots. And we could probaby come up with a list of possible candidates the Foundation could have considered. On the other hand, I cannot think of any heads of state for whom I would fight all that hard to advocate as a worthy potential winner.

The combustible combination of race, ethnicity, class, and language emerged recently at Heidelberg Hoër Volkskool, causing black students to engage in a boycott against the school. In echoes of Soweto, students marched in large part over the languages in which instruction would take place.

South African musician Steve Hofmeyr has made a host of claims about the rate and nature of crimes committed by black South Africans against whites. They certainly are explosive allegations. Of course they are pretty much universally untrue. And in most cases Hofmeyr’s exaggerations are comically inaccurate, or would be were it not for the explosive implications too many whites have already drawn from his falsehoods.

Outspoken lefty University of Johannesburg academic Piet Croucamp is consistently outspoken about Afrikaner racism and other issues. His outspokenness has made him rather unpopular amongst the Afrikaner right wing.

Meanwhile Dutch journalist Fred de Vries has raised the hackles of Rhodes MA student Hussein Badat for an article on Grahamstown that does take a pretty narrow perspective.

Cote d’Ivoire Commerce Minister Jean-Louis Billon believes that his country suffers from reduced foreign investment in large part because of the country’s tax rates and its crumbling infrastructure.

Manqoba Nxumalo compares his occasional frustrations with his favorite football team, Manchester United, with his occasional frustrations with the African National Congress. In his words:

I argue that if you are a football fan and frustrated with your team yet cannot leave it then you understand why people will still vote for the ANC despite the e-tolls, Guptagate, Nkandla and so forth. The ANC’s allure is even more powerful than a mere attachment to a soccer team because at least they can point, in material terms, to how they have transformed South Africa. If people cannot stop supporting teams that they have no material connection to save for emotional abuse – yes, the relationship we have with soccer teams is abusive – then understand that no amount of “e-tolls proudly brought to you by ANC” or any of the disparaging comments on Twitter can make people change their vote, at least for now.

I like the analogy. But he’s a ManU fan, so he deserves whatever he gets.

Speaking of football, Orlando Pirates are living a dream. The Bucs have qualified for the CAF Champions League finals. They will play continental titans Al Ahly next month.



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