17 August 2008

Looking down

Panorama photograph overlooking Cape Town. (Click to enlarge)

It’s always nice to do something you’ve never done before. Well, most of the times at least. This weekend me and my wife went up to the top of the Table Mountain. It’s mad because I’ve spent a lot of time in Cape Town but I hadn’t before this done what people who come here for a long weekend always do. Well, I guess it always is like that. You never know the museums of your home town either.

But anyone who has been in Cape Town can say that the mountain is grand whether you’re up or down. I’ve added some photographs online. I also did some experiments with panorama shots. I use SLR camera so it’s not one of those in built panorama options that small digital cameras sometimes have, and there was some tweaking involved. Generally it’s a learning experience but I am rather happy with the results.

Below some shots and more when you click here.

Amkelwa looking over the city bowl. (Click to enlarge)

Far from home

Few weeks later

Let’s try again. Last time updating my blog was far from smooth experience. I don’t know if it’s Google (of which Blogger is part of) that was playing jokes with my nerves or should I just blame the internet in South Africa. I don’t know and it’s not so important, but life goes on.

After writing my last piece which somewhat speculates on the Zimbabwean situations, the negotiations in the country have been ongoing, and it looks some kind of solution is at hand. That’s so nice although there seems to be a distinct lack of reporting it in the so called western news. Of course, there are already new countries to point the fingers at, and Zimbabwe can now be added on the long list of things that the powers that be and the pan-European world can remember and if things go wrong they say “told ya so”, and if they go right we ignore it and put new places in check. As long as it isn’t us. Few weeks ago people in the west were talking about military interventions that would have left the country even more scarred than it already was and this week we have forgotten that there was a problem. How convenient. Well, as long as there are other things to focus, like Georgia, that we can give our uninformed opinions on, it’s all alright to us. That’s how simple it all is to us.

Well, this being said, if the change happens in Zimbabwe like it may, the problems of global capitalism in the form of highly conditional loans may be just starting. I wish not but we must be realistic as well. See, I really don’t want to be the guy who says “I told ya so”… I’d hate to be that guy.

7 August 2008

Devil's Advocate

Here's my disclaimer: I am neither an economist nor a fortune teller. Also, things generally are complicated and over-simplifying them doesn't make them simple. Many things, however, have a logic, and I may even be paraphrasing or quoting Dr. Phil here when I say that past behaviour is usually the best way to predict the future one. So that being said, let me get down to business.

Zimbabwe is in crisis. How could we not be aware of it when it's been in the news for a long time. They've got their bank notes going up to Z$100 billion and generally we just get bad news after bad news. It's a shame. It really is, and I have been trying to think (I am aware that thinking is not the same as taking action; what action can I, in all honesty, take?) what are the possible outcomes of the situation. Let's think about the option of change.

If the political situation in Zimbabwe changes and new government takes control, the country is in a desperate need of money coming from somewhere. Somewhere maybe like IMF and World Bank. Surely they will want to help but unfortunately that help comes with strict conditions. Inflation has to be controlled by any means necessary. Public sector needs to be cut into minimum and general wave of privatisations will sweep over the land. Then, as it has been happening in South America, former Eastern Bloc and Russia, Indonesia and in South Africa the people who are ready to take what they can will do so and live happily ever after. Large part of the country will be then owned and controlled probably by multinational companies and since the public sector will be forgotten, the poor and sick will become more sick and poor. Sounds cynical I know, but hey, I didn't come up with that. People with much more knowledge on economics, as far as I understand, in the Chicago University Economics Department did.

Last week I read about a study made nowhere else but University of Cambridge that because of the conditions of the loans given to former Soviet Union countries and Eastern Bloc, over 100 000 people have died because of tuberculosis; a perfectly curable illness. This, according to once again people much more intelligent and knowledgeable than me, could only be because of non-existent healthcare; a crucial part of cutting down the public sector which is a condition for this money. Now Zimbabwe isn't running out of poor people (actually as anyone in South Africa could tell you, the poor people are running out of Zimbabwe, unfortunately only to find more hostility from the country that silently has been plagued by similar conditions regardless of what appears to have been peaceful political, no one ever said economical, transformation). The economical shock therapy for a country that is in a shock to begin with, will have deadly effects on so many. Collateral damage, as some could call it in a cold manner, will be unthinkable. I said earlier, I am not an economist, and I must say that this writing is largely based on logic offered by Naomi Klein in her book Shock Doctrine, but with her case studies and the study I referred to earlier by University of Cambridge, my writing will have as much meaning as any in a blog like this could.

It would be easy to say that Zimbabwe is a perfect example of what corruption can do to a country and it would probably be true. Especially so, if one is inclined to think that an iceberg is only what we see above the sea level. Icebergs however, continue far below the waterline and that's where its power lies. To some extend, actually, Zimbabwe is much better example of what happens, especially in an African context, when you don't do what your former colonisers and their mates say. It's an example of non-cooperation with international money power. It hasn't worked too well either.

The whole thing is though, as I was talking with my wife the other time, like a child of a single parent blaming all of the shortcomings of his/her life to the fact that another parent wasn't around. As a people we are generally inclined to think that any other option that we currently have would automatically be better. We like to ignore the fact that there's a good chance it would be much worse as well. That's unfortunately how I see Zimbabwe. If the aggressive father/mother comes back into the house everyone may get hurt and all the little money that there was will be spent on booze.

None of this is to say that Zimbabwe is doing particularly well or that Mugabe would be fit to lead it to a better tomorrow. But the vultures are circling over the Victoria Falls right about now and they are ready to strike. My opinion, which I never have claimed to be the truth, is that Mugabe is not on the Top 40 of bad guys in the world and we probably don't even recognise many names in the Top 10. It quite clearly appears that Zimbabwe could use a change but what will it be like? What are its options in realistic terms? Unfortunately I have no real answers and fortunately no one really depends on me having any.

The last and most important question remains: what does that mean in practice? Not just in Zimbabwe which I used merely as a current example, but globally to us all. How can one apply any information like this in the real world? Is it better to be beaten up by police or by economy? These are rhetorical questions that are rather arrogant to even ask. My uneducated guess would be that we as people around the world must think about things on a grassroots level. Positive change starts from there and then it can spread wider. You can't have positive change as a take away like a cup of coffee in a cardboard mug. It is a long road. We need to learn what is possible to happen before we try and make anything happen. Using a South African example, because this is where I currently live, we must first understand what can happen and what will be the large scale national impact on the economy, currency and markets if the promises of the Freedom Charter will be realised. We need to know what do we vote for and not just throw our vote out. We must, in the words of Dr Ramphele, not wait for the government to act but we must hold them accountable.

External link to the Cambridge study I mentioned.

South Africa: 13 years after liberation international debt conditions still keep public sector and masses poor.