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MAIL & GUARDIAN: Opinion

RIP Aggrey Klaaste

<i>Sowetan</i> editor Aggrey Klaaste, who died last week, arrived in Sophiatown as a teenager from Kimberley. But his love for, and link with, his Johannesburg stamping-ground were never lost. In keeping with the ethos of the unique urban melting-pot nicknamed "Kofifi", Klaaste was well known for his love of wine and song, dancing to jazz tunes and imbibing whatever was available -- until he climbed on to the wagon.

A smiling ghoul

Excuse us for not adding our voice to the outpouring of praise for defunct United States president Ronald Reagan -- the <i>Mail & Guardian</i> does not believe in sanitising the malodorous dead. Our only regret is that this smiling ghoul was not gathered to his fathers before the start of his eight-year reign of terror over the Third World.

Adrift in African skies

The disclaimer reads: "Passenger warning: this aircraft has been amateur-built, and does not conform to federal regulations." What do I make of this? The "non-standard" aircraft is already airborne over the Magaliesburg, headed out towards the shimmering, blue-brown wastes of the northern regions of South Africa.

To hell with art

Robert Mugabe's cupboard is bursting with "been-there-done-that" T-shirts. He's done pretty much everything by now. He's done the courts. He's done the media. He's done sport. He's even done Archbishop Desmond Tutu. So it was only a matter of time before the champion of "your-vote-is-my-vote" democracy realised that he didn't have a "been there. Done [in] the arts!" T-shirt, writes Mike van Graan.

Spousal capitalism

This week the <i>M&G</i> throws a harsh spotlight on the growing practice of politicians' spouses and other immediate family members landing fat government contracts to found and build their private businesses. And on another topic, it can be said that one swallow doesn't make a summer, and the launch of the African Peace and Security Council this week is only the beginning of the bird's long migration.

Uncle Bob’s theatre of the absurd

When 70 mercenaries landed at Harare airport, intending to have a smooth ride in their arms buying spree before flying on to stage a coup in Equatorial Guinea, Uncle Bob's men were waiting for them. It's Uncle Bob's theatre of the absurd all over again. And the world's reaction was exactly as the great impresario had intended it to be — outrage from the deluxe seats, cheers from the peanut gallery.

Fat cats, thin acts

According to a <i>Sunday Times</i> report, there are now nearly 700 "ultra-high-gross-worth individuals" with assets of at least R200-million each. I doubt that many of the local 25 000 "dollar millionaires" simply give away R100 000 each month. But this is exactly what the National Arts Council (NAC) is doing, writes Mike van Graan.

Inglorious chapter

African National Congress MP Vincent Smith's coronation as leader of Parliament's public accounts committee, Scopa, brings to a sad end one the most inglorious chapters in South Africa's new democracy. Smith has been rewarded for shielding the executive during Parliament's ill-starred efforts to hold it to account over the multibillion-rand arms deal.

The high price of eggs

There's currently a great big medico/legal fuss under way, about some South African women who have been selling off their ova to infertile foreigners. The South African Society of Reproductive Science has called the trade both "exploitative" and "potentially dangerous". The world has become grossly over-populated by uninhibited human reproduction. If we could keep our breeding down by about 70%, the planet might stand a chance.

The price of failure

The initial impression given by Mbeki's new Cabinet is that of sweeping change -- but this is altogether deceptive. In the minor portfolios and among the deputy ministers, there is indeed a galaxy of new faces. But in the heavyweight jobs, including finance, defence, safety and security and foreign affairs, Mbeki has plumped for stability or, at most, lateral movement of senior ministers to fill holes.

By the seat of their pants

Language tends to get mangled when it is put in the mouths of politicians. Apart from unravelling all the pre-election razzmatazz as it has appeared in carefully worked out posters dangling from every telephone pole and lamp-post in the land, the ordinary man/ woman/hermaphrodite in the street has had to work out what politicians across the globe are really trying to say when they speak off the cuff, or even when they stick to carefully spin-doctored speeches. In fact even in their awkward body language.

A pat on the back for all South Africans

"What the third democratic election has emphatically indicated is that the country is well on its way to being a mature democracy. The fact that, when we compare the electoral process from 1994 up to now, things are generally getting better, says volumes about the country, voters, political parties, politicians, civil society and many other sectors of society." Thabisi Hoeane reflects on the 2004 elections.

Ballad of the ballot

'Why should artists vote for you?" This was the question posed to the fishers-of-votes by arts organisations in different provinces over the past month. Generally, it is pretty hard for arts-related concerns to get on to the radar screens of political parties, but in the game of elections, even artists qualify as players, writes Mike van Graan.

Build it, and they’ll come

Minister of Trade and Industry Alec Erwin's recent statement that Canadian aluminum producer Alcan will shortly announce its decision on whether it will build a R2,2-billion aluminum smelter in the Coega Industrial Development Zone (IDZ) in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, failed to inspire confidence.

Monkey me, monkey you

The thing is, we all now fervently believe that it is safe to venture out of the woods. The thing is, it isn't. Consider this. Nosimo Balindlela, provincial minister for sports, arts and culture for the Eastern Cape, has just instituted a civil claim to the tune of R100 000 against a (presumably white) woman, Erika de Beyer, who called her a baboon in the parking lot of an East London shopping centre some time last year.

Onwards — and backwards

Ten years ago today things were touch and go for the country and for the election that would deliver the new South Africa. Democracy almost did not dawn, but with a little Chinese maths and a whole lot of political will South Africa muddled through. It's a different world now.

Why SA needs minimum sentences

The opening of the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg was attended by judges, including chief justices, from all over the world. It was a truly a momentous occasion for South Africa's judiciary. It was, therefore, a pity that many of the distinguished guests did not know that ours is still such an inconsistent judiciary that it often faces reasonable accusations of remaining racist and arbitrary.

National Geographic and other whinges

I'm using my space this week to get a few whinges off my chest. Some commercial and social sins don't deserve a full column. Let's start with <i>National Geographic</i>. And then we'll move onto a gripe about SABC, e.tv and M-Net, closing off with a swipe at DStv's DMX.

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