South Africa Census Results No Surprise

The latest South African census has shown a chasmic gap between rich and poor and that white households earn, on average, six times as much as black households. These are hardly astonishing revelations; after all, 79% of South Africa’s population is black, so it is to be expected that they should occupy the bottom rungs of the economic ladder given their vast majority. Of course, the years of economic undermining and educational limitations imposed by Apartheid have given the blacks a long road to parity with their white countrymen.

What the census report does not reveal is that a black minority has acquired monumental wealth and status since the end of Apartheid. Namely, those occupying, or with close links to, political power. Black politicians have enriched themselves and their families alike through corruption, nepotism and cronyism to the detriment of their fellow blacks, as well as the white and coloured minority.

President Zuma has unsurprisingly praised the “great strides” taken by South Africa since the end of Apartheid. But is he right to? Sure, infant mortality has dropped considerably and Aids rates are in decline but the plight of South Africa’s poorest citizens, most of whom are black, is probably worse than under Apartheid. Minor political freedoms have not be mirrored by educational, social and economic opportunities. Zuma has pledged that by 2030 every community in the country will have a clinic, a school, a library and a police station. Again, one has to ask, is this claim serious? Zuma will be lucky to be alive by 2030, his stint in political office surely long over by then. It is a throwaway statement designed to appease the masses and those few genuine reformers within the government. Indeed, Zuma has hardly given the impression of a man concerned by his political legacy since he assumed the presidency.

Modern slums in South Africa portray a poverty worse than the old Homelands

The simple fact remains that, given its historical legacy, South Africa remains virtually ungovernable. We refer here not simply to Apartheid, but to the simultaneous colonisation by two antagonistic white powers and, before that, the myriad tribal groups and political entities that still shape regional identities and enmities amongst black South Africans. Even the strongest, most upright leader would find governing such a country challenging and Zuma is certainly not that.

President Zuma has proved himself monumentally weak

Unfortunately, for the vast majority of South Africans, black and white, a higher standard of living and improved economic opportunities will remain a pipe dream. The self-interest of the powerful minority condemns them to struggle on.

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Islamic Philistines Threaten Mali’s Future

It is believed that Islamist factions, including Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, now control two-thirds of Mali, West Africa’s largest country. Since ousting the secessionist National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) in the northern third of the country in the past few months, these barbaric groups have gone on the rampage. Not only do they hope to impose Sharia Law on the helpless Malian populace but the terrorists seemingly wish to destroy any traces of Malian history and with it the Malian national identity.

Ansar Dine use religious justification for wanton destruction

History and nationalism go hand in hand. A state cannot have a unified national identity if its people do not share a distinct history. The history of Mali happens to be particularly rich and is of national, regional and international significance. This rich heritage is symbolised by Timbuktu, the legendary commercial hub of 13th century Africa where gold, ivory and knowledge were shared freely between traders and scholars alike. Ansar Dine and its vile cohorts have since reduced a substantial amount of the desert city to ruins, willingly destroying many of its sacred libraries and mosques where some of the rarest and greatest work of Islamic scholars have long resided.

Thousands of Timbuktu’s legendary works of scholarship are under threat

The destruction of cultural and historical icons is a trait of Al-Qaeda and its many affiliated groups. One need only think of the Taliban’s gleeful destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan or Al-Shabab’s desecration of Sufi graves and monuments in Somalia to recognise that anything deemed anathema to the warped principles of these groups is under threat of annihilation.

Many would argue that thethreat posed by Al-Qaeda and its associates to human life is of far greater concern.  Islamic terrorists have shown themselves extremely capable of indiscriminate massacre and torture of innocent civilians. The destruction of history, however, is of equal significance. Should the process of radical Islamisation in Mali not be be reversed soon, children will grow up unaware that they are part of the same nation as their counterparts in distant parts of the country. They will become enemies by default, oblivious to their shared heritage and civilisation and their victories over unscrupulous colonial powers.

The African Union, with aid from international partners, hopes to launch an attack against Ansar Dine and Al-Qaeda in Mali in the coming weeks. Let us hope that they do not procrastinate further for the future of a nation and a heritage that ought to be shared with the world is at stake. There may be no oil in the ground, but the dusty tomes in Timbuktu’s libraries and the terracotta figurines of the great Mali Empire are of equal, if not greater importance, to the destiny of mankind.

Ishihara Party Could Stabilise Sino-Japanese Relations

It may seem a strange concept but the decision by Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara to resign from his post and form a new political party to challenge the ruling DPJ and LDP elite may be the best news for Sino-Japanese relations in several years.

Strained as the relationship is by ongoing territorial disputes and the ever-looming memory of the Japanese occupation of China during WWII, the prospect of Ishihara, an arch-nationalist, becoming an important power-broker in the Diet may concern many. In the past Ishihara has written prominently about the need for Japan to adopt a more assertive foreign policy, unconstrained by Article 9 of the US-imposed constitution, which forbids Japan to maintain offensive military forces. In The Japan that Can Say NoIshihara denounced the reliance of the Japanese on US military might in the region and castigated what he saw as the country’s weak politicians for kowtowing to US demands and appeasing the Chinese.

Ishihara’s nationalism is legendary in Japan

More recently, Ishihara has taken a vehemently anti-Chinese stance. Refusing to acknowledge China’s territorial claims in the East China Sea and persistently antagonising Chinese leaders with incendiary remarks about the war and Japanese superiority, he seems an unlikely candidate to bring greater stability in relations between the two countries.

However, with the Japanese government increasingly indecisive and fragmented, a strong, forceful character may be what is required to prevent China escalating tensions with some controlled aggression. For Ishihara’s nationalist tendencies are mirrored by almost every Chinese politician of note. Should his new party make a miraculous ascent to power, or more probably form a sizable minority as part of a coalition government, Ishihara’s demands for a “stronger” Japan on the international stage may yet become a reality. In the face of constant Chinese intimidation in the East China Sea, a government ready to renounce Article 9 of the constitution may restore the equilibrium. Furthermore, because of its close ties with the US and its technological prowess, Japan has the capabilities to attain nuclear weapons very swiftly.

Ishihara’s decision comes at a time of increasing Chinese aggression

These potential threats, whilst unlikely to materialise instantly, would serve as an important warning to China that any aggression – whether it be against Japanese coast guards in the East China Sea or businesses on the Chinese mainland – would meet with a potentially devastating response. Such a threat may help to restore the balance of power which, with the rise of China and Japan’s increasing timidity, may help stabilise the region.

Mr Ishihara could be an unlikely saviour.