It started on April 8.
Zambia‘s president Edgar Lungu and his forever-rival Hakainde Hichilema — who faced off in an extremely close presidential race last year — were both traveling in separate convoys to an event.
Whether by design or sheer logistic stupidity, they ended up very briefly sharing the same stretch of tarmac as one convoy overtook the other.
It should have ended with an expletive, maybe an irritated honk and something muttered about “opposition drivers”.
The next day, the presidency and Lungu’s ruling Patriotic Front party began stirring. Hichilema wilfully endangered the president’s life, they said. Hichilema was disrespectful, they said. The president’s life was at stake, they said.
By Wednesday, Hichilema was behind bars and facing charges of treason.
AFP reporters witnessed as “more than 100 armed police surrounded Hichilema’s house outside Lusaka overnight, and tear gas was fired before a raid when he was taken into custody”.
Speaking to the Financial Times, Hichilema said, “They broke into the house, they broke the doors down, everything, they beat my workers… It was extremely brutal.”
The charges have been condemned by rights groups and some traditional leaders, but the opposition leader remains jailed and reportedly with limited access to his lawyer and doctors, claims the police deny.
Meanwhile, Zambians are now watching their words online after a politician was slammed with a libel charge for criticising the police’s handling of the matter. The atmosphere of intimidation and violence, which defined last year’s election season, is totally out of character for the country. “International observers said the election was marred by restrictions on opposition campaigning, voter intimidation and biased state media,” writes AFP.
“For a while, Zambia had been a beacon for human rights experts,” Human Rights Watch’s southern Africa director Dewa Mavhinga told VOA. “In recent months, this has not been the case.”
This blog’s primary goal is to expose South Africans to news from their region, which as a general rule is poorly covered by the media here. But two pieces of SADC news did make it into the South African press last week — albeit in a rather lording “look at these Africans” kind of way. Let’s take a closer look.
Zimbabwe moseyed on into SA headlines last week when the country’s education ministry told The Sunday Mail that schools should accept goods or services in lieu of cash when it comes to settling fees.
“The ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Sylvia Utete-Masango added: ‘Schools should not turn away pupils for not paying tuition fees. Instead, parents of the concerned children can pay the fees using livestock. That is mostly for rural areas, but parents in towns and cities can pay through other means; for instance, doing certain work for the school.'”
Cue the hilarity.
But suggestions like this are coming at a time when getting your hands on actual physical cash in Zimbabwe involves queueing outside banks for hours — and even then only coming away with a token amount, if anything at all.
“Frustrated Zimbabweans queue, sometimes for several days in a row, to be able to access their salaries,” reported News24. “At times bank clients are only allowed to take out $60 at a time — and it’s almost certain that there won’t be a ‘real’ US dollar note in the mix.”
The “bond notes” introduced last year were supposed to be the fix to this problem, but they too quickly seem to vanish from circulation as the government accuses citizens and business of hoarding.
And it’s not just schools looking for alternative options.
Finance minister Patrick Chinamasa has tabled a bill that would see banks accept yes, among other things, cows as collateral for bank loans. Which, as you can tell from that “financial dark ages” headline, has been greeted with all kinds of measured response here in South Africa.
But there is more to the Movable Property Security Interests Bill:
“The movable property or asset will include any tangible property such as motor vehicle, jewellery, equipment and machinery, household goods and livestock among others… including services, intellectual property, and negotiable instruments such as banknotes and bills of exchange… The Bill is meant to facilitate increased access of credit to micro, small and medium enterprises and communal farmers…”
Which doesn’t sound utterly ridiculous all.
As Tim Worstall writes for Forbes: “There are cattle ranchers all over the world who use the value of their stock as collateral with the bank… the basic concept isn’t really all that odd.”
And in the Financial Times: “In other parts of Africa, including Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, livestock is frequently used as collateral. That can be a way of enabling people normally excluded from the banking sector to access loans without paying exorbitant interest rates.”
The difference, both reports note, is that this move comes not at a time of empowerment, but desperation.
“Zimbabwe is slowly being squeezed by a credit crunch largely of its own making… The desperate shortage of cash has obliged it to try various wheezes to spirit credit out of thin air…”
I would expect more wheezes are yet to come.
Namibia also forced its way into the South African consciousness this week with this headline:
(The comments on that article do not make for nation-building reading, so just don’t.)
President Hage Geingob delivered his State of the Nation address last week, and said a long-time-coming empowerment bill would soon be tabled.
And it’s this clause of the National Equitable Economic Empowerment Framework (NEEEF) that’s causing all the fuss:
23. (1) Any private sector enterprise that is established after the commencement of this Act may commence business only when such enterprise has secured 25 per cent ownership by a racially disadvantaged person or persons or such higher percentage as may be determined by Minister by notice in the Gazette.
I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised that the one time South Africa takes notice of its neighbour is over an economic transformation debate.
But by all accounts the conversation is just as fraught across the border as it is here.
Reports Reuters: “Last year, rating agency Fitch cited the empowerment plan as one of the reasons it had downgraded Namibia’s economic outlook from stable to negative, saying the policy would scare away investors who might not be willing to cede stakes in their companies… The Construction Industries Federation (CIF), the Namibia Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Namibian Employers Federation have all expressed concern about the empowerment plan.”
Some have said the bill will benefit the black elite instead of the poor, and in a debate last November, Namibia’s former prime minister Nahas Angula said, “I won’t mention their names but there are some black people who made a fortune…. and it is not fair on white people alone to give up 25 percent of their businesses.”
In the same debate, an advisor to the president said there was a chance the contentious 25 percent clause may be revised.
But in his address last week, Geingob stressed that income inequality would go nowhere without a helping hand:
“The majority of Namibians remain structurally excluded from meaningful participation in the economy… Without deliberate policies, the economy on its own will not be able to correct for structural imbalances. This underscores the notion by Joseph Stiglitz that inequality is a choice. This is not our choice and we require the support of all Namibians to fix the obvious, and dangerous, flaws in our social structure.”
And finally, out of Tanzania — a new dino fossil, or rather that of a much older relative. A good 12 million years older.
According to a paper published in Nature last week, Teleocrater rhadinus was found in Tanzania’s 245 million-year-old Manda Beds formation. The creature is two to three meters long and looks something like a velociraptor crossed with a monitor lizard.
Reports Forbes: “Birds and crocodilians are each others closest living relatives, united in a group called Archosauria. From there, archosaurs diverge into two separate lineages: crocodile-line and bird-line archosaurs. Dinosaurs and modern birds are on the bird line, along with the flying reptiles, the pterosaurs.”
Teleocrater rhadinus is firmly on the line that that led to dinosaurs and birds, but what is interesting is how it shared characteristics of both lines.
“While the ankle is crocodile-like, the skull fragments recovered show it possessed extensive jaw musculature—a much more dinosaur-like trait,” writes Forbes.
It also had “a number of markers that identified it as a bird-lineage archosaur, such as a telltale depression on top of the head,” reports the Los Angeles Times. “It also had a muscle scar high on the thigh bone — a characteristic you see even in chicken legs today.”
If you want to read more about the long history of this find — fossils found some 80 years ago and sitting forgotten in drawers — I highly recommend both of those (illustrated) stories from Forbes and the LA Times.