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Lady Macbeth of Maseru

First there was ‘Macbeth’, the Shakespeare play (1606). It’s a bloody play even by Shakespeare’s demanding standards, with Lady Macbeth as the chief inciter to violence.

Then there’s ‘Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk’, a short novel by Nikolai Leskov (1865) that was later turned into an opera by Shostakovich. This Lady Macbeth is called Katerina, and she murders first her father-in-law, then her husband, then his nephew and heir, and finally her lover’s next mistress. Industrious to a fault, you could say.

And in 2020 we have Lady Macbeth of Maseru, the unpretentious capital of Lesotho. Maesaiah Thabane, wife of Prime Minister Thomas Thabane and therefore First Lady of Lesotho, is charged with ordering the murder of his previous wife three years ago, and he’s accused of being her accomplice. She is, of course, half his age. She’s 42; the prime minister is 80.

I have had several dear Basotho friends since I was a teenager and have visited the country at intervals for most of my adult life, but I must admit it’s a puzzling place. There is no white settler minority, and it has none of the tribal rivalries that cripple so many other African countries. It should be better than it is.

Everybody is descended from Sesotho-speaking refugees who held out in its mountains against the Zulu armies during the Lifaqane of the early 1800s. It’s poor, like many mountainous countries – 16th-century Switzerland sent its young men abroad as mercenaries; modern Lesotho sends them to South Africa’s gold mines – but it’s pretty equal.

So why has it got a very high murder rate, and why are its politics so vicious? It’s a democracy, but its modern history is strewn with coups, attempted coups and even military interventions to quell the fighting by South Africa (whose territory completely surrounds Lesotho). Now the prime minister and his wife both stand accused of murder.

The killing actually happened in 2017, just before Tom Thabane began his second term as prime minister, but the story goes back to 2012, when he began divorce proceedings against his wife, 58-year-old Lipolelo Thabane. She fought the case, so he just moved his girlfriend, Maesaiah Ramoholi (as she was then known), into the prime ministerial residence and began treating her as the First Lady.

Now it was Maesaiah who accompanied Thabane on state occasions and received the official financial support a First Lady is entitled to – until Lipolelo won a court case in 2015 that acknowledged that she was still the First Lady and entitled to that money.

This judgement made no practical difference at the time, since it was issued just as Tom Thabane lost the prime ministership in one of the games of musical chairs that pass for politics in Lesotho. But in the next round of the game, in 2017, Thabane emerged as prime minister again, and suddenly that court decision mattered a lot.

Lipolelo was going to be First Lady again, receiving the honours and the money that Maesaiah thought should be hers. Two days before Thabane’s re-inauguration as prime minister, however, Lipolelo was shot to death on the dirt road leading to her house outside Maseru. A family friend who was also in her car escaped with several bullet wounds, but she could not identify the attackers.

Regrettably, attacks like this are not unknown in Lesotho, so the public (with some misgivings) accepted it as just another unresolved tragedy. Two months after Thabane took office again, Maesaiah became the new Mrs Thabane and Lesotho’s new First Lady in a wedding in Maseru’s stadium. However, Lesotho’s police quietly continued their investigation.

Eventually they found something interesting. Two months ago Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli sent a letter to the prime minister whose key sentence read: “The investigations reveal that there was a telephonic communication at the scene of the crime in question… with another cell phone. The cell phone number belongs to you.”

Okay, give him a break. Thabane is 80, and he didn’t realise that he should be using a burner for this kind of call. Or Maesaiah didn’t. Whatever. But there it is: the fat is now officially in the fire.

Maesaiah fled to South Africa when an arrest warrant was issued for her in January, but eventually came back and was officially charged. Tom Thabane also went to South Africa to avoid a court appearance, allegedly for ‘medical reasons’, but appeared in court last Monday and claimed that as prime minister he has legal immunity from any criminal charge.

That’s questionable. The king, Letsie III, certainly has immunity, but Thabane’s claim will have to go to the High Court. Maesaiah’s trial will probably have to wait until that is decided.

Just another heart-warming story of everyday folks in Lesotho politics – but at least the rule of law still prevails.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 5 and 13. (“Everybody…equal”; and “Okay…fire”)

The Trump-Netanyahu Peace Deal

The peculiar thing about the ‘peace deal’ between Israelis and Palestinians that was announced in Washington on Tuesday was obvious at a single glance.

There was President Donald Trump and his good buddy Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, together at the podium, and an audience of US and Israeli officials who clapped at every opportunity. They were talking about a ‘two-state solution’, and one of those states would have to be Palestinian – but there wasn’t a single Palestinian in the room.

The after-life of the ‘two-state’ principle has already been much longer than its real life. It was born in the Oslo Accords of 1993, which were based on the belief that although Israel had conquered all of historic Palestine by 1967, it could not go on ruling over millions of Arabs forever.

Peace and prosperity could only come, therefore, if the Palestinians had their own state too. So the Oslo principle was that there should be two equal and democratic states living side by side, one Israeli and one Palestinian: the ‘two-state solution’. But that solution didn’t even survive the 20th century.

Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli prime minister who signed the Oslo deal, was assassinated by a Jewish right-wing extremist in 1995. His successor, ‘Bibi’ Netanyahu, had strangled the deal in its cradle before his first term as prime minister ended in 1999.

The Oslo Accords died because Palestinian nationalists didn’t want to accept a state that included only one-sixth of former Palestine, and Israeli nationalists didn’t see why the Palestinian Arabs should have even that much land. Indeed, since the whole area was controlled by the Israeli military, Jewish settlers were already building towns throughout the occupied zone.

Yet even two decades later almost nobody admits publicly that the two-state solution is long dead, because to say that commits you to a discussion of the remaining alternatives – and none of them are good. That’s why even this bizarre sham ‘deal’, cooked up by Trump and Netanyahu without any Palestinian participation, still talks about two states.

At every turn of the wheel, the size of the imaginary state on offer to the Palestinians dwindles. With Israel on the brink of formally annexing all the Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, it’s down to about 10% of former Palestine, and it will never actually happen. Yet the fictional destination of a Palestinian state must still be maintained. Why?

When people saw the ‘concept’ of a Palestinian state unveiled by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, consisting of several dozen little enclaves linked by overpasses and tunnels, many were irresistibly reminded of the ‘Bantustans’ of South Africa.

The Bantustans were created by the apartheid regime to give the illusion of freedom and self-determination for South Africa’s oppressed black populations. They never fooled anybody, but they allowed the regime to claim that it did respect the democratic rights of black people. They just couldn’t vote in South Africa, which was a country for white people.
Kushner’s map is trying to do the same trick.

A real two-state solution is politically unsaleable in Israel, partly because of the Jewish majority’s security concerns but mainly because the Jewish settlers want too much of the territory such a Palestinian state would be built on.

But the Palestinians are not going to go away, and there are around five million of them. They have already lived under Israeli military rule for more than fifty years. Can you really defend leaving them under military occupation for another fifty?

If not, then the remaining alternatives are a two-state solution or a ‘one-state solution’ in which Israel annexes all the occupied territories. But if Israel annex them then those five million Palestinian Arabs will be able to vote in Israeli elections – and Israel ceases to be a ‘Jewish state’, although it remains a democratic one.

Or else you don’t let them vote, in which case Israel becomes an apartheid state. This is why the zombie two-state solution keeps rising from its grave. Israel doesn’t actually have to get the Palestinians to agree, but it must keep talking about some sort of Palestinian state or else resign itself to being simply an ethnic tyranny.

Is this a sustainable long-term policy? It may well be. Israel is the regional military superpower, unbeatable by any imaginable combination of Arab states, and in any case the rest of the Arab world has largely lost interest in the plight of the Palestinians.

That’s why there was no need to have any Palestinians at the great unveiling of the Trump-Netanyahu ‘peace deal’ this week. Palestinian consent is not necessary, and when they reject it they can be vilified for rejecting ‘peace’. Netanyahu understands this perfectly. Whether Trump understands it doesn’t even matter.
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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“When…trick”)

Nelson Mandela: Peace at Last

17 December 2013

Nelson Mandela: Peace at Last

By Gwynne Dyer

The Catholic Church consecrates saints with less pomp and sentimentality than was lavished on Nelson Mandela during the week-long media orgy that we have just been through. We haven’t seen such a ridiculous spectacle since…oh, since the 50th anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy three weeks ago. But at least the Kennedy orgy was over a lot faster – and nobody compared him to Gandhi or Christ.

Pity the poor journalists who had to grind out endless stories about what was hardly a news event at all – 95-year-old man dies after lengthy illness – and inevitably ended up sounding like sycophants and fools. True, the world needed (or at least wanted) a political icon of perfect virtue, but the beatification of Nelson Mandela took much too long.

The problem was that everybody in the media knew well in advance that Mandela was dying, and had time to invest millions in preparing to “cover” the event. Hotel rooms and telecom facilities were booked, crews and anchors were deployed, and the expense had to be justified by round-the-clock, wall-to-wall coverage of funeral orations, vox pop interviews, and talking heads.

And of course all the world’s politicians showed up for the greatest photo op of the decade, including many who had condemned Mandela as a terrorist before he pulled off a peaceful transition from apartheid to majority rule in South Africa. But now that the babble of rhetoric has died down and just before the myth takes over completely, let us talk honestly about who he was and what he accomplished.

Mandela understood that South Africans needed an icon, not a mere mortal man, as the founding hero of their new democracy, but he had a strong sense of irony. It would have got plenty of exercise as he watched the local politicos and the foreign dignitaries strew metaphorical flowers on his grave.

The man whom they buried at Qunu on Sunday was arrested by the white minority regime in 1963, probably on a tip from the US Central Intelligence Agency. He was the head of the African National Congress’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), at the time, and continued to back its campaign of sabotage, bombing and attacks on military and police targets throughout his 27 years in prison.

If the South African Communist Party is to be believed, he was a member of its central committee at the time of his arrest. It was a different time, when US President Ronald Reagan could declare that the apartheid regime was “essential to the Free World,” and the ANC’s main international supporters were the Soviet Union and Cuba. Mandela might have ended up as a man of violence if he had not gone to prison.

Instead, in prison, he had the time to develop his ideas about reconciliation and persuade the other ANC leaders who were also confined to Robben Island of their value. By the time he came out of prison in 1990, he had become the man that everybody knew they could trust – including the whites.

During the next four years, when he and F.W. De Klerk, the last white president, negotiated the transfer of power from the white minority to the black majority, he really was the indispensable man. His commitment to reconciliation was so visible and genuine that whites were willing to do what had once seemed inconceivable: to hand over power before they absolutely had to.

If you want to know what South Africa would have looked like if the whites had clung to power down to the last ditch, look at Syria today. But it was not only Mandela who saved the country from that fate: they gave the Nobel Peace Prize to both Mandela and De Klerk, because the miracle could not have happened if De Klerk had not had the will and the skill to lead his own Afrikaner tribe out of power.

Then, after the first free election in 1994, Mandela became the president, and frankly he wasn’t very good at it. He had no executive experience, nor much aptitude for it.

Thabo Mbeki did most of the hard administrative work behind the scenes during Mandela’s presidency (1994-1999), while Mandela greeted visiting celebrities, hobnobbed with the rich and famous, and solicited donations for various causes that included, unfortunately, his own extensive family. He was not personally corrupt, but he was involved in a few dubious deals, and he tolerated corruption in others.

But he did his country one last big favour: he retired at the end of his first term rather than clinging to power. He was already 81 years old at that time, but lesser men (Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, for instance) have not let that stop them. And he even had a few good years left to enjoy his family before age began to drag him down.

He was not a saint; he was just a man. But he was the right man at the right time.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 12. (“Pity…long”; and “Thabo…others”)

 

 

 

Rape is an African Problem

15 September 2013

Rape is an African Problem

By Gwynne Dyer

Last May, with considerable trepidation, I wrote an article about what seemed to be extraordinarily high rates of rape in Africa. The original data came from a study by South Africa’s Medical Research Council in 2009 which found that more than a quarter of South African men – 27.6 percent – admitted that they had committed rape. Almost half of those men had raped two or three women or girls. One in thirteen had raped at least ten victims.

Over the next couple of years, I ran across a couple of other less detailed studies suggesting that the problem was not just South African. A report from the eastern Congo in 2012 said that over a third of the men interviewed – 34 percent – had committed rape, and an older report from Tanzania found that 20 percent of the women interviewed said they had been raped (although only one-tenth as many rapes were reported to the police).

So I wrote a piece called “An African Iceberg” in which I said that this was a phenomenon that needed urgent investigation continent-wide – but it did occur to me to wonder if there were similar icebergs in other developing countries. The only figures that were available for developing countries elsewhere were official ones, and those normally only record the number of women who tell the police they have been raped. Most don’t.

Women are reluctant to report rape in any society, and in traditional societies much more so. The South African study was the only one that had adopted the strategy of asking men directly. Maybe if the same sort of study were done in other continents, I thought, it would return equally horrifying figures. And lo! Somebody else had the same thought, and the resources to do something about it.

The new report, conducted under the auspices of four United Nations agencies cooperating as “Partners for Prevention”, was published last week in the online version of “The Lancet Global Health”, a respected British medical journal. The study was undertaken quite specifically to learn if the South African figures were duplicated in developing countries outside Africa. .

The researchers chose six countries in the Asia-Pacific region: China, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. As in the South African study, the word “rape” was not used in the questionnaire. The 10,178 men interviewed were asked if they had ever “forced a woman who was not your wife or girlfriend at the time to have sex” or “had sex with a woman who was too drunk or drugged to indicate whether she wanted it.”

There were further questions about forcing a wife or girlfriend to have sex (which is also rape), about gang rape, and about raping males, but for simplicity’s sake let us stick with the questions about what the researchers called “single perpetrator rape” of a woman who was neither wife nor girlfriend. The answers varied from country to country, but the overall picture was clear. Africa (or at least South Africa) is all alone out there.

In most of the Asian countries involved in the study, between 2 and 4 percent of the men interviewed said that they had raped a “non-partner” woman. That falls into the same range that prevails, one suspects, in most developed countries (although their reported cases of rape are much lower).

There were some local peculiarities, like the fact that in rural Bangladesh men are more likely to get raped than women. China came in surprisingly high, with 6 percent of the men interviewed admitting to rape, but that may be related to the growing surplus of males in a society where the gender ratio has become very skewed: there are 99 large Chinese cities where more than125 boys are born for every 100 girls.

But Papua New Guinea was right up there with South Africa: 26.6 percent of the men interviewed had committed “single perpetrator rape” of a non-partner woman. And the other numbers were just as startling: 14 percent of PNG men had participated in a gang rape, and 7.7 percent had raped a man or boy. So Asia as a whole is quite different from Africa on this count – but PNG is practically identical.

What is so special about Papua New Guinea? It is a country with an extravagantly large number of different tribes and languages. It is an extremely violent country, where most people live in extreme poverty. It is a place where the law is enforced only sporadically, and often corruptly. And it is a place where traditional tribal values, patriarchal to the core, reign virtually unchallenged among a large part of the population. Remind you of anywhere?

Well, you already suspected that this was at the root of it, didn’t you? You just didn’t want to say so, for fear of being accused of being racist, anti-African or something of that sort.

But it does need to be said, loudly and repeatedly. Women and girls are more likely to be the victims of sexual violence in Africa than almost anywhere else, and the only way to change that is to change the behaviour of African men. By persuasion if possible, but also by enforcing the law.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 2 and 9. (“Over…police”; and “There…girls”)