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Mixed musings from Southern Africa

There's never a dull moment in South African politics. It's January and we already have our first political scandal of the year. Every political scandal gets a name – most of them ending in “gate”. Last year we had Travelgate (MP's scamming the parliamentary travel voucher scheme), Oilgate (ruling party political funding foulplay linked to the oil industry) and Zumagate (the axing of deputy president Jacob Zuma over corruption allegations). Our latest shennanigans however, makes bold departure from the “gate” terminology, it's been dubbed the “gravy plane”. Our new deputy president Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, it transpires, took a December holiday that wasn't strictly kosher. She took her family on a jaunt to the United Arab Emirates (possibly via Mombassa) using a luxury military jet at the taxpayers expense. She was accompanied by the wife of a cabinet minister, and it's alleged that the three adults involved had more than sightseeing in mind, and were rather more interested in furthering their private business interests.

Commentary joins the debate over whether the trip was legal or not: “I'll concede that Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka's state-funded shopping expedition probably was legal (if only because nobody bothered to cover it up), and I'll even concede the principle that high-ranking government officials are entitled to use state-sponsored transport for personal use, due to security concerns and so on. But the real problem here is the amount. R700,000 is insanely high. How did she manage to spend this much on a week-long holiday? Was she perhaps chauffeured around the United Arab Emirates in a gold-plated Rolls Royce Phantom? Ultimately, even if the whole thing was absolutely, 100% legal, it still reflects poorly on the content of her character. “Right and wrong” is not the same thing as “legal and illegal”, and this was definitely wrong, irrespective of what the lawyers say about it.”

Scandal aside, the political atmosphere is becoming hot and steamy as we count down to local government elections on March 1st. The main election issues are the high levels of corruption in local government and the lack of service delivery for the poor, relating to housing, water & sanitation, and the provision of electricity. These two factors have given rise to a series of violent grassroots protests in the poor informal settlements of the country. Last year there were around eighty such protest actions, and we've already had two so far this year. African Houseit takes a look at a study on the housing crisis in the Western Cape: “The housing backlog has increased proportional to the growth of the population in the province and has reached a crisis point where it is about to spiral out of control. This study argues that the exacerbation of the crisis in housing is as a result of the overall shift towards market-oriented policies, which shapes the approach of housing authorities. “

Politics.za writes about tensions within the ruling African National Congress (ANC) relating to their election candidate lists: “The ANC is finding that drawing up electoral lists is harder than expected. [President] Thabo Mbeki has stated that he intends to use these local elections to rid council of corruption and ‘populists’ but he’s going to find that hard to do when local ANC branches submit lists full of the people he is trying to get rid of. I don’t think that the national ANC structure can override to much of the choices of the local ANC wards without straining tensions in the ANC even further.”

Well, it's not all seriousness and politics in South Africa, Red Star Coven is of the opinion our country has finally managed to deliver the great South African movie: “went to see “Tsotsi” in Glasgow the other night. What an amazing, powerful film. For those who know nothing about it, maybe saying it’s South Africa’s answer to “Trainspotting” or “City of God” will give you a picture. It’s about a township gangster in Soweto who hijacks a car, finds a baby in the back seat and decides to look after it.” Cherryflava shows off a set of gorgeous photo's from a recent trip to Zanzibar, and Lusharazzi tells us why we should avoid going to Cape Town's annual high society J&B Met horse racing event.

Finally, moving beyond South Africa's borders to our north western neighbour, the Botswana blog Mr. Twice, has this to say: “Botswana needs to change and needs the change soon otherwise we’ll end up in the same mess as other african countries who used to have plenty but are now starving. …. i would like to say that there are two fundamental things which do not exist and their lack thereof is already eroding our economy and society like cancer. These two things are 1. Meritocracy and 2. Accountability.”

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