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South Africa

A passer-by in the upscale Johannesburg suburb of Saxonwold observed, the South African Police would never have raided the enormous, high-walled compound of the Gupta family if President Jacob Zuma were not on the brink of being removed. But early Wednesday morning, the police did exactly that.

The Guptas, three Indian immigrant brothers who became extremely rich due to their close partnership with Zuma, used to be untouchable. They were accused of ‘state capture’ in the media, but they were safe because of their alliance with Zuma. He did very nicely out of the deal too.

All that’s over now. One of the Gupta brothers was arrested in the raid, and the other two cannot be far behind. It was a signal to Zuma that the gloves were coming off, and fifteen hours later he was gone. He had clung desperately to the presidency since the African National Congress (ANC) voted him out as its leader in December, but on Wednesday evening he resigned “with immediate effect”.

Jacob Zuma joined the ANC, the country’s main liberation movement, in 1959, and had an illustrious career. He served ten years’ imprisonment on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela, fled abroad in 1975, and became chief of the ANC’s Intelligence Department during the 1980s.

A man who served as his chief of staff in those years, a white South African now living abroad who has no reason to seek Zuma’s approval, told me recently that he was a brilliant strategist. He had admired Zuma greatly, he said, and like many others he was as much puzzled as dismayed by what Zuma became during his later years. After the decades of
sacrifice and dedication, it has been a tragic fall from grace.

Technically, Zuma still had a year left in his second term as president, but the ANC wanted him out now because he was blighting the party’s chances of winning next year’s election. Friendly hints and subtle pressures were not shifting him, so on Tuesday the ANC’s newly elected National Executive Committee ordered him to resign from the state presidency.

Zuma was still telling various media that he would refuse to quit until late afternoon on Wednesday, although it was clear that there was no way he could win. The state president is elected by parliament, not by a popular vote, and parliament can also remove him by a non-confidence vote. The ANC has a majority in parliament, and such a vote was already scheduled for the 22nd.

Why did he hang on so long if he was bound to lose in the end? Probably because he was hoping to negotiate some sort of amnesty deal in return for going quietly. But that’s a hard thing to do in South Africa, as the government does not control the courts.

Until recently Zuma’s exit plan involved getting his ex-wife, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, chosen to succeed him as ANC president. She would then protect him from the many corruption charges that awaited him after he left the state presidency, at least in theory. But the ANC elected Cyril Ramaphosa as its president instead.

After that, Zuma’s only hope, if he wants to stay in South Africa after leaving office – which he clearly does – was an amnesty deal. But if the ANC is to rebuild its credibility with the voters there must be no amnesty, and Ramaphosa has said publicly that it is not on the cards. That is probably true.

In any case, it’s over now. Ramaphosa, a former trade union leader who became a very rich businessman, will probably take over the state presidency only briefly now, choosing some other ANC worthy to serve out the last year of Zuma’s term. He would prefer to be elected state president next year in his right. But in fact he will already be running the show behind the scenes, and much will be expected of him.

South Africa’s economy has stagnated during Zuma’s nine-year reign, in large part because both foreigners and local people were reluctant to invest in a country whose government had become so corrupt. There needs to be a massive cleansing exercise within the ANC, and it needs to start now if the results are to be visible before the election.

Zuma may stay to face the music – or, more likely, he will move abroad and live in the $25 million palace that the Guptas reportedly bought for him in Dubai. (He has categorically denied owning any property abroad himself, but the denial was carefully phrased.)

The ANC has fallen a long way from its glory days, but it is a legitimate and democratic political party that still commands the loyalty of many, perhaps most South Africans. Now that Zuma has finally quit, Ramaphosa, a competent and by all accounts an honest man, can get started on rebuilding the party’s reputation.

If he succeeds, the ANC could still win next year’s election and another five years in power. Whether that is the best thing for South Africa, given that the ANC has already been in power for a quarter-century, is another question.

South Africa: Last Chance for the ANC

The African National Congress has ruled South Africa for 23 years, ever since the end of apartheid and the first free election in 1994. Twenty-three years is a very long time in politics, and you would expect it to be losing power some time around now. But it was a great and noble institution in its prime, and it would be a pity if its ending was merely squalid.

Nelson Mandela, the first ANC President of South Africa, was a secular saint admired world-wide. Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, was a honest and intelligent man, but also reclusive, completely lacking in empathy, and obsessive (he spent thousands of hours searching the internet for evidence that HIV did not cause AIDS, and at least half a million South Africans died because his government did not make the standard drugs available).

And then, eight years ago, came President Jacob Zuma, a man who is neither honest nor intelligent, but who is wily enough politically to have survived the endless corruption scandals that litter his past. This time, however, he has done something that damages the whole country economically, and if the ANC cannot force Zuma to resign now then its political future is likely to be short and miserable.

Ironically, it’s not clear whether Zuma’s motives in this latest initiative are entirely corrupt. He has feathered his own nest and those of his cronies and allies quite adequately over the past eight years without getting rid of the incorruptible finance minister, Pravin Gordhan. Why dismiss him now, only two years before Zuma must retire at the end of his second term?

Maybe Zuma is just doing a final big favour for his friends – but maybe he has been talked into this by smarter men who told him that if he just spent a lot more money (which isn’t there to spend), that he could finally raise the living standards of the multitudinous South African poor.

Zuma is an “old comrade”, after all: he spent years imprisoned on Robben Island with Nelson Mandela and the other ANC icons. Maybe some shreds of his old idealism remain, and it was his associates inside and outside the government who persuaded him that Gordhan was the only thing standing between South Africans and prosperity.

That’s how the rhetoric justifies it. Zuma talks about the need for a “radical socio-economic transformation” in South Africa, and the new finance minister, Malusi Gigaba, points out that “the ownership of wealth and assets remains concentrated in the hands of a small part of the population.” All true, of course, but these are not the people you would hire to fix it. And meanwhile, the resistance to Zuma’s move builds.

Pravin Gordhan was seen by foreign investors (and many South Africans) as the only guarantee that Zuma would not turn the country into a feeding trough for his associates. The finance minister held the purse-strings tight, blocking many of the government contracts that would have enriched them further. Now he is gone.

Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa called the dismissal of Pravin “totally unacceptable” and condemned “greedy and corrupt people” in a broadside clearly aimed at Zuma. Gwede Mantashe, secretary-general of the ANC, said the list of new ministers which Mr Zuma presented to the party leadership was compiled “elsewhere”. Even his old allies in the trade union movement have called on Zuma to step down.

The South African currency, the rand, lost 5 percent of its value on the foreign exchanges, but far more serious was the fact that one of the big ratings agencies, Standard and Poor’s, downgraded South African bonds to “junk” status. If only one of the other two agencies follows suit, big international investors like pension funds will be obliged to dump their South African government debt, and the government will be unable to raise loans abroad.

The reactions against Zuma’s action are so intense that you would think he cannot just ignore them and carry on running the country into the ground. Unfortunately, he may be able to do just that, because real power within the ANC lies in the National Executive Committee, and he has devoted much attention to ensuring that most of the NEC’s members owe him for past favours received.

The odds on Zuma really being forced from office by this incident are less than even. If he gets two more years in office, now with a pliable finance minister who allows the looting of the state coffers to proceed unhindered and with wicked foreign investors to blame for the resulting havoc in the country, the ANC will be discredited beyond hope of resurrection.

What comes afterwards may be better and it may be worse, but the familiar ANC-ruled South Africa of the past quarter-century will be gone.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraph 7. (“That’s…builds”)

Omar al-Bashir and International Law

Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir, facing an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide and war crimes, fled from an African Union summit meeting on Monday before the conference ended. The South African High Court was going to order him arrested and handed over to the ICC, but the South African government let him fly out of a military airport near Pretoria.

There is outrage in South Africa at this breach of the law, but there is also a belief in the rest of the continent (especially among national leaders) that the ICC is prejudiced against African countries. Is the ICC out of control, or is it just trying to do its job?

President Jacob Zuma’s government had a serious public relations problem. In the past month South Africa has seen a great deal of xenophobic violence against illegal immigrants and their property. It’s embarrassing for Zuma, and clearly contrary to the spirit of African solidarity, so he felt that he couldn’t let an African head of state be arrested while attending an AU summit in his country.

The resentment of poor South Africans at the presence of so many illegal immigrants from other African countries (probably between 5 and 10 percent of the population) is understandable but inexcusable. The right solution is for South Africa to take control of its borders, but meanwhile Zuma has to placate his African Union partners.

Zuma had to sneak Bashir out of the country because South Africa’s High Court is still independent, and it was about to rule that Bashir must be handed over to the ICC for trial. Indeed, Judge Dunstan Mlambo did rule exactly that – “The government’s failure to arrest Bashir is inconsistent with the Constitution” – only hours after Bashir fled.

Well, obviously. Since South Africa is one of the 123 countries that signed up to the ICC, it is legally obliged to enforce its arrest warrants. Some other African countries also take the ICC seriously. In 2012 an AU summit was moved from Malawi after the government refused to let Bashir attend, and in 2013 the Sudanese president had to leave Nigeria earlier than planned after a rights group went to court to compel the authorities to arrest him.

But most African governments now ignore ICC rulings because, they claim, the court only targets African criminals – and it’s true that all the arrest warrants now in force are for Africans. This understandably causes deep suspicions in the African continent.

Under the same international laws, shouldn’t former US president George W. Bush be indicted as a war criminal for illegally invading a sovereign country, Iraq? No, actually, because the ICC can only arrest the citizens of countries that have signed up to the ICC, and the United States hasn’t. (Neither has Sudan, but there is an exception for war criminals who are specifically designated by the United Nations Security Council, as Bashir was.)

The wounds of colonialism are still raw, and it just feels wrong. But which of these people would you want to drop from the list?

Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed prophet whose Lord’s Resistance Army murdered tens of thousands of innocent people in northern Uganda and adjacent countries?

Jean-Pierre Bemba, a former Congolese rebel leader who is on trial for crimes against humanity and war crimes over alleged cases of murder, rape and pillage in the Central African Republic in 2002 and 2003?

Or Ivory Coast’s former President Laurent Gbagbo, who faces four charges of crimes against humanity – murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and “other inhuman acts” – in the violence that followed disputed elections in 2010?

None of these men are being lynched. They have just been summoned to face a trial, with all the legal rights they are accused of denying to others. And in most cases, the prosecution have been undertaken with the support of the relevant African country.

African countries dominate the list for two reasons. One is that more than half the world’s wars are in Africa. The other is that African countries, so vulnerable to violence, have a strong interest in establishing the rule of law, and most African lawyers and senior civil servants understand that.

They are often thwarted by their presidents and prime ministers, who belong to a very exclusive club. African leaders are as prone as any other interest group to try to exempt themselves from rules that hold them legally responsible for their actions. The ICC has also made mistakes, like bringing cases against senior politicians when there was no realistic chance of getting the evidence needed for a conviction (like President Uhuru Kenyatta in Kenya).

But even if it fails much of the time, the ICC is a worthwhile enterprise. It is part of a long-term effort to build a world that is ruled by law, not by force, even if that goal is still a century in the future – and in the meantime, it occasionally gives the victims justice right here in the present.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“The resentment…go”; and “Under…was”)

Israel: The “A” Word

By Gwynne Dyer

Hillary Clinton would never have used the word when she was US Secretary of State, because she still has presidential ambitions. John Kerry, the current Secretary of State, has no further ambitions in that direction, which may be why he dared to use the words “apartheid” and “Israel” in the same sentence. Or maybe he just didn’t realise that the world would hear about it.

Kerry spoke last week to a group of high-ranking officials from the US, Europe and Japan known as the Trilateral Commission about the failure of his year-long attempt to revive the “peace talks” between Israel and the Palestinians. Somebody at the meeting secretly recorded his comments, which were published by the Daily Beast on Monday, and suddenly he was in very hot water.

What he said was that the long-sought “two-state solution” was the only real alternative to a “unitary” Israeli-ruled state that included all the territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean Sea – and ruled over millions of Palestinians in the territories that have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

Those Palestinians, most of whom cannot remember a time when they did not live under Israeli control, have no political rights within Israel. The two-state solution, under negotiation off and on for the past twenty years, would give them a state of their own, but most people had despaired some time ago of getting Israel to agree to an independent Palestine.

Kerry had not, so he was surprised and disappointed when his efforts came to naught. That was why he blurted out the truth that American politicians are never supposed to acknowledge. He said that without the two-state solution, “a unitary [Israeli] state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class [Palestinian] citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.”

It was clumsily phrased, but the basic idea is common in both Israeli and Palestinian political discourse. Even if Israel never formally annexes the occupied territories, it has been building Jewish settlements all over them for decades, and the Palestinian inhabitants are effectively controlled by the Israeli government.

If this situation continues indefinitely, and the Palestinians must live out their lives as mere residents without no political rights, then they are in the same position as the black South Africans who lived all their lives under white rule without citizenship or the vote. That was the very essence of apartheid.

Alternatively, of course, Israel might grant them citizenship and the vote: that’s what happened when apartheid ended in South Africa in 1994. But there are already a great many Palestinians living under Israeli rule, and their higher birth rate would make them a majority in in that “unitary” Israel in less than a generation. That might or might not be a state where Jews were happy to live, but it would definitely no longer be a Jewish state.

That’s all Kerry was saying: if you don’t accept the two-state solution then willy-nilly you get the one-state solution, in one of two flavours – an apartheid state in which the great majority of the actual citizens are Jews and the Palestinians have no voice in how they are ruled, or a more broadly defined state in which everybody is a citizen but Jews are no longer the majority.

Many Israel senior politicians who favour the two-state solution, including former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak, have made exactly this point, even using that same inflammatory word, “apartheid”, to underline the gravity of the choice. Senior Palestinian politicians talk about it all the time. But senior American politicians are not allowed to talk like that about Israel.

State Department officials tried to defend their boss’s comments for a few hours, but as the firestorm of protest by American Zionist organisations grew the Obama administration realised that Kerry had to be forced to apologise for speaking the truth. The story that they took him down into the White House basement and beat him with rubber hoses is probably untrue, but on Tuesday he recanted his heresy.

“I do not believe,” Kerry said, “nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one.” Well, of course not. It’s not an apartheid state now because the non-citizen status of the Palestinians for the past 47 years is technically only temporary, pending the creation of their own state.

And Israel has no intention of ever meeting the technical definition of an apartheid state, either, because that would be a public-relations disaster. However, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu seems convinced that he can avoid that outcome simply by hanging on to the occupied territories indefinitely but never formally annexing them, and many Israelis agree with him.

They might even be right, but John Kerry doesn’t think so. Or at least, he didn’t until his own people worked him over a bit.
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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 9 and 10. (“That’s…Israel”)