Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
16 March 2007

Ranjeni’s ethical free zone

Yesterday the ex-journalist turned spin-doctor, Ranjeni Munasami, wrote in Business Day that it was a terrible scandal that Mr Jacob Zuma has gone from darling to devil in the eyes of the South African Press. All the fault of that horrid little man, Bulelani Ngcuka, see.

Now if there is one thing that irritates the hell out of me then it is people who claim victimhood without any regard for the facts. Think J Arthur W Brown, any politician ever caught with his pants down or his or her hand in the till, and any journalist caught plagiarising. So I shot off the following missive to Business Day which was published this morning:

Ranjeni Munusami blames the former head of the National Prosecuting Authority for Jacob Zuma’s bad press, Jacob Zuma: from darling to devil (March 15).

She conveniently forgets that Zuma might not be the victim of a conspiracy but rather of some inconvenient facts that emerged in the fraud and corruption trial of Schabir Shaik.

It is worth remembering that five judges of the Supreme Court of Appeal have now confirmed that the state had proven beyond reasonable doubt that:

‖Shaik had paid Zuma more than R1m for a range of goods and services, including rental for a flat in Durban, new tyres for a car and Christmas spending money.

‖Shaik and Zuma concocted an interest-bearing “loan agreement” that did not stipulate the loan amount and thus could not but be a fabrication by the two to cover up the corrupt payments.

‖Zuma did several “favours” for Shaik, including meeting the representative of the French arms manufacturer in London to convince it to do business with Shaik’s company.

‖Zuma attended a meeting with Shaik and arms contractor Alain Thetard “on either March 10 or 11 2000”, where a bribe for Zuma was agreed upon.

The Supreme Court of Appeal has thus, in effect, found beyond reasonable doubt that Zuma had lied to Parliament — twice.

First, he submitted a fake loan agreement to justify why he had not declared to Parliament the more than R1m Shaik had given him as a gift. Second, in answer to a question in Parliament, Zuma said: “I did not meet … Thetard on March 11 2000 in Durban or anywhere else in SA.”

Zuma has issued broad denials of wrongdoing but has always declined to answer specific questions about these court findings.

He has therefore only himself to blame for his bad press.

There. I feel better already.

Why is it that politicians and their hangers-on insult us by talking as if certain things never happened? Maybe the press is partly to blame. The press is rather reactive and journalists seldom seem to have a collective memory which would inform their reporting of current events. They also do not always have the resources to go and check up on whether what somebody is claiming is actually true.

When they do follow up, it can lead to brilliant journalism. I fondly recall the memorable day when Alec Irwin claimed he never said the Koeberg bolt was the result of sabotage, only for E-TV news to broadcast this claim and then the clip where he claimed that the bolt was the result of, well, sabotage. Now that was human instrumentality at its very best.

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