Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Media Caught in a Tug of War

Jacob Zuma for once made his stance a little clearer by some rather provocative statements about the SA media recently. Among his writings come some interesting quotes:

"There are few, if any, mainstream media outlets that articulate a progressive left perspective."

"Those with power, particularly economic power, are keen that the media serves to reinforce their privileged position, while those who seek a more equitable distribution of resources campaign for a media that serves the cause of a more equitable society."

"At times, the media functions as if they are an opposition party"

Funnily enough, many members of the ACDP hold the opposite view much of the time: that the media is overly left-aligned and distinctly humanist (which is a bad word in ACDP circles). Perhaps in light of Zuma's comments we should be grateful that the media is not more left-aligned than it already is.

While the media does clearly dish out criticism of the present government, most of that criticism is deserved - for that kind of criticism to be withheld would be a violation of the integrity of the media. But then again, violation of integrity seems to have become far less of a taboo within the ANC than it should be. We watched with fascination in 1999 as the SABC covered the election build-up. The cameras covered each party's campaigns, throwing in little curse words over each one. When it came to the ACDP, the narrator said the event being shown was more like a sermon than a political campaign. But no bad words were said when the ANC event was shown. This was a blatant indication of ANC bias within the media. How can Zuma dare to suggest that the SABC is insufficiently aligned to his movement?

South Africa's media can undoubtedly improve. It can start leaning closer to integrity, good values, work ethics and basic human values, like the right to life of an unborn baby. If Zuma thinks the media leans too far to the right, he is wrong. It should lean even further.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Inside View: An ACDP Meeting

With a world of shenanigans, wild promises, concealed corruption and a bag of tricks up any given sleeve, you might wonder just what goes on inside a political party. Just what do they discuss at their meetings?

Well, here's an inside look at a typical ACDP meeting, a regional one I attended on Saturday in my role as a Provincial Executive Council member...

Not particularly well attended, numbers were typical of a "mid-season", the time between elections. Election time naturally draws a small crowd of hopefuls, and of course the energy levels rise when the competition heats up. Nevertheless, there are always the faithful few who keep the fires burning and spur the others on. Again we were the faithful few, the stalwarts.

Personalities? Looking around the room that day, I saw a steady-eddie type, very principled but mostly a gentle, understated motivator. Then there was a real rock - a solid, well-weighted person who gave a good answer to every question. A quiet person to the right. Then next to me a loyal servant of the party for many years, enthusiastic but more likely to follow than to lead - good people to work with. Another three who made small contributions with regards to council matters in the city. And then another with a very principled view and keen to emphasise any good points that came up. To my right, a more proactive type, quite involved in a poor community, helping poor families fill out grant forms - working at the grass roots, an eager beaver for community matters. And lastly, a strong person, not saying as much, but with a lot to say, if you get what I mean. Overall, a gentle, cohesive bunch made up of 3 different ethnicities.

The agenda was very well adhered to, with particular emphasis on protocol - a record of apologies, a register and a brief word of encouragement from each person in turn. There is a strong Christian emphasis in the party, with plenty of prayer, a Scripture here and there, and frequent mention of the Lord. My personal contribution was a reminder from the Bible that those who are faithful with little will be entrusted with much. It was met with thank you's, approving mm-hms and amens.

Formalities aside it was a really productive meeting. We tackled the inevitable issue of funding. I suggested selling ACDP marked merchandise, with would bring in funding, help with marketing and give the buyers an increased sense of belonging. There was mention of opening a bank account for one of the branches. Of course an account incurs bank charges, but the ACDP is the only party in South Africa that keeps its books completely open, so transparency of funds is important.

So maybe this is boring and you want juicy titbits? Well, it emerged that one of the members had been a key member of a local organisation taking care of orphans. The ANC mayor recognised the threat this councillor held with such a good role and promptly spent R500,000 (apparently) on a Christmas party for the orphans. A video was made of the work the ANC "is doing with orphans". Of course, we have no chance of competing with this, except to make a story of it, which our media person will now do with the local paper.

Other administrative matters aside, we discussed marketing, always a key point. Attention was pulled back to the ugliest but most important marketing method: door-to-door visitation. Simply, every representive in an area needs to knock as many doors as possible. It's pretty daunting! And of course you don't get paid for it, except that if you do well and get elected, then you get a councillor's salary (R9000 - R14000 per month). Personally, I'm thinking of just going down a local business street and walking to every counter and saying: Hi, just want to let you know that the ACDP are in the area. If they tell me to foetsak, I'll promise to be back in one month just to prove that we keep our promises!

I guess a meeting like this would bore most people, but running a political party is far more about administration and motivation than about planning where to plant secret microphones in rival offices! In the ACDP we have this small hope: that all of the hard work we've put in over the 14 years will be justly rewarded and not undone by an unjust political system. Here's hoping. And praying.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Immediate Solutions to the Power Crisis

The natural reaction to South Africa's power crisis has been the blame game. Who's fault is it? Why was nothing done? How long is it going to go on for?

What is really called for in times like this is a solution mentality. It's time for all of us to sit down and find a way ahead, to get ourselves out of that "blame" rut and change gears. Here, to kick off, is a set of solutions to consider for this crisis.

No doubt there needs to be some action at Eskom headquarters, and I won't say much here. We need to keep in mind that most of the power supply expansions will take several years to implement - this is not bureaucracy, but complex technical challenges. Nuclear power stations don't get built overnight. In my mind, wind turbines seem to be the "quickest route to market", but the Western Cape seacoast is possibly the only reasonable location and that area would need to be linked to the power grid. Wind farms have a limited contribution and are very expensive.

Leaving Eskom for the moment, there are several contingency plans. At a basic level, load shedding schedules HAVE to be communicated effectively and stuck to. To some degree we can all manage with some load scheduling when we know it will happen. Industry can reschedule shifts; ordinary citizens can plan social time instead of TV.

The simple truth is that nearly every household in South Africa can cut its power usage by 30% and nearly every industry by 5-10%. This is not the idyllic lifestyle, but you'd rather have continuous power than what we have now. In households, a key strategy revolves around geysers. Firstly, most geysers can be turned off for half the day. If you as a family bath/shower at night, you set the timer to go at 10pm and turn the geyser back on at 3pm in the afternoon. Secondly, geysers and hot water pipes can be wrapped in insulation.

There are numerous other household improvements available on a smaller scale. Lightbulbs can be replaced and lighting can be rearranged so that fewer bulbs light the same area. Where possible, motion sensor lights can replace permanent outdoor floodlights. Although kettles are a big power draw, I'm not sure about latest developments here. Anyone?

If I was in government now, I would institute a new door-to-door power improvement advisor service. I would have agents visit each house for a 10-minute discussion on ways to improve power usage. I prefer door-to-door because it communicates to a home owner that they are personally responsible, compared to some generic message flashed across a TV screen that is effectively a "everybody but me" message.

As a last step, South Africa can go the route of Giuliani's New York - begin fining abusers. This is not a healthy first-up solution and that's not the kind of country I would want to live in. Healthy lifestyles must come from the heart, not from the government's whip. However, there are times when strong measures are needed and if no other options are available, power caps can be set on individual houses and geysers can require efficiency licensing.

Our home has been very efficient for a long time - lights stay off when they're not needed, light bulbs have been replaced with the power-saving type, computers get turned off and a full kettle is only boiled when everyone is drinking. However, we have recognised that our geyser could use insulation and possibly be turned off during the day. If everyone adopts an attitude of personal responsibility, then we can say: what power crisis?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Power Shortages: Who's To Blame?

Power shortages are indeed a hot topic in South Africa. I think most of us are somewhat at a loss for words on the matter. There's an unspoken question of: how can we be short of something so basic and so intrinsic to our lives? Electricity is so engrained into our way of living that it comes as something of a shock to the system when you stumble cluelessly around the house at night wondering what to do with yourself.

In my own family, we pulled out a Scrabble board and enjoyed some social time together. Perhaps the loss of electricity helps to restore some of those old time family social circles. But that's besides the point.

What's emerged in the blame-game is that there are three principle administrative elements in this fiasco. Firstly, the apartheid government decommissioned power plants incorrectly, requiring a 5-year plan in order to resurrect these abandoned plants. These 5 years are not bureaucracy as much as simple technical difficulties with regard to restoring individual turbines to use.

Secondly, the new government in 1994 came in with big plans to electrify the rural areas and clearly didn't do their homework. If building new plants takes 10 years, then the ANC government has had 14 years to think about it.

Finally, the brain drain hasn't helped the situation at all. Understandably, less qualified electricians will take longer to carry out plant maintenance, scheduled servicing and requirements analysis.

All the indications point to a sustained period of load shedding, irregular supply and industrial nightmares. Personally, I get the feeling that this matter will be resolved several years down the line and we'll look back with relief that the difficulties have passed.

From an ACDP point of view, we obviously ask ourselves how we might have governed the matter differently. The power crisis is simply a question of administrative excellence. Any good government needs to wake up in the morning and ask themselves: what could possibly go wrong? Foresight and preventive maintenance serve a massive chunk of good administration and seldom can a leader afford to rest on his laurels and assume the job is done. As a Christian party, we endear ourselves to the Biblical challenge: "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men" (Colossians 3:23).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Bottom-Up vs Top-Down

It's amazing just how much faith and how much blame we invest in our leaders! Incredibly, some people believe that a single man can turn everyone's fortunes around. And on the opposite scale, most waste no time in blaming all their ills on just the same man.

Before I present my case, let me just clarify that I do believe that good leadership can make a significant difference. A good economy can be killed off very quickly by bad policy, and a few radically good decisions can spur a country to new heights.

However. I am a strong believer in "bottom-up" more than "top-down". In other words, the success of a country depends on many Joe Citizens working hard at McDonalds more than it does on one man in some fancy office in some government building. When you multiply Mr Faithful Joe Citizen a million times over, you have a successful country. Imagine taking charge of a country full of slothful citizens who live to see what government is going to dish out to them, rather than what they can produce for themselves!

This is the failure of Africa. Not wrong border lines, colonialism, corrupt dictators and unfair trade rules. They all played their role, but the real power of a multitude of good citizens cannot be overruled by one leader. I'm not sure that the old saying "A country gets the government it deserves" is always true, but it sure has a lot of merit.

It might seem like I'm discrediting the ACDP here. In light of what I have said, who needs a government? In fact, what I am emphasising here is what ACDP supporters have always recognised: when you take personal responsibility for your own life and for the impact of your actions, everyone benefits. The emphasis of the ACDP is on the personal integrity of its staff and on legislation that emphasises everyone's shared responsibility. I'm sure we all agree on this: if government can convey a sense of personal responsibility to the masses, it means less governance is needed - and that's got to be a good thing.

DISCLAIMER: This blog serves as a commentary and the views presented are not necessary the official views of the ACDP. For official statements and contact details, visit: www.acdp.org.za