The good, bad and the NAC

With 2004 in the bag, South African arts scene has been through it all. Mike van Graan dishes out the dirt and the gold, giving the arts' top "achievers" some very special awards.

‘No such thing as zero-risk blood’

In the past two weeks, two controversial issues hit the South African National Blood Service hard.

Reassert grass roots traditions

There can be no question that Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi has been brave in publicly questioning the government's stance on the crisis in Zimbabwe and the inequities of the ruling approach to black economic empowerment. But it is debatable whether Cosatu's leaders have effectively harnessed the federation's considerable power in its attempt to reshape state policy.

BEE in my bonnet

I am certain I am not the only one whose head sometimes spins from trying to keep up, decipher, interpret, reinterpret and pronounce on the monotonous debates, rantings and declarations on black economic empowerment. The incessant commentary has reached such a fever pitch that I am beginning to empathise with Leonardo DiCaprio's character in the movie <i>Catch Me If You Can</i>.

And the show goes on

Off-key: They sing for presidents. They dine with ambassadors. But our self-appointed opera royalty do suffer a bad review now and then. Even if they have to go all the way to London to get it, observes Mike van Graan.

Branded for life

I drink Diet Coke. It makes me feel good. It helps me retain my boyish figure. It calms me down. It peps me up. It sings me to sleep at night. I love Diet Coke. I want Diet Coke. I need Diet Coke. Advertising people will say this is because of branding. Breweries, currently shacking up with fellow booze pimp Miller, seemed to have got branding down to a fine art. Until Justin Nurse and Laugh It Off.

Cut the losses

Since the start of the United States assault on Fallujah, two incidents have underscored the grotesque reality that underpins the American "crusade" in Iraq. The first is the absurd hoo-ha in the US media surrounding Marine Lance Corporal James Black Miller and his request for more and cheaper Marlboro cigarettes. The second is the cold-blooded slaying of wounded Iraqi fighters in a Fallujah mosque.

Gravy for all

It is the duty of the state to provide opportunities to individuals from historically disadvantaged communities, so that all — okay, maybe not all, but at least their representatives and a few chosen others — shall share in the country's gravy, writes Mike van Graan.

Open source is the business

South African IT entrepreneur and the world's first "Afronaut" Mark Shuttleworth takes ten tough ones from the <i>M&G Online</i>.

Racing our expectations

It is trite to say that the majority of judges are white males and that has to change. It is already agreed that this change has to fit the demographics of society. Judges agree that "racism is inimical to our constitutional values. It is destructive of the fair and proper administration of justice and the constitutionally mandated process of transformation" as the Heads of Court said recently.

A many-sided coin

It was most inspiring last week to see President Thabo Mbeki dishing out awards and encomia to South Africans who have contributed to this country's cultural, social and political tapestry. Never mind the 100 greatest South Africans, these were the real thing. As I watched the awards -- and despite my wracking sobs of patriotic gratitude -- a thought came to me ... Let's widen the scope of the awards to include areas of human endeavour.

Bonehead power

The boneheads have it. And what is truly frightening is that -- in marked contrast with the last United States election -- the boneheads have it by a clear majority. Despite the developing disaster in Iraq, the tattered state of trans-Atlantic relations and the perception among 70% of American voters that the US economy is in a mess, George W Bush has the most ringing electoral endorsement since the Reagan years.

Popcru threatens disruptions in prisons

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) has threatened festive-season prison disruptions unless 127 dismissed correctional officials are reinstated. ''We will be mobilising our members to fight these unlawful dismissals,'' Popcru secretary general Abbey Witbooi said on Thursday.

‘Skeptical environmentalist’ strikes again

A team of eight economists, brought together by the controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg, has declared it is not worth spending money on climate change because the effects are expected to be far in the future. Lomborg's bestseller, The Skeptical Environmentalist, created storms of protest by throwing doubt on climate change science, and is hailed by free marketeers round the world, but reviled by many scientists.

Playing balls

An impressive number and range of people pitched up at the conference. They were business people; city officials and politicians; informal traders; cultural activists; tourism types and the odd international tourist who was simply following the crowd to see what all the fuss was about. Mike van Graan was there.

Face this crisis

Are the ruthless hierarchs of the ruling Zanu-PF in Zimbabwe finally facing up to the fact that Zimbabweans are going hungry? With Amnesty International releasing yet another report about the worsening food crisis, there were reports this week that the Zanu-PF politburo was preparing to debate the issue. Typically, more pressing bureaucratic matters swamped the agenda.

Should websites link to beheadings in Iraq?

The beheading of Kenneth Bigley was made public via the internet, as have many of the previous beheadings in Iraq. This story is a summary of the many discussions I have had with online editors, journalists, journalism students and academics on the ethical, political and emotional questions regarding links to such video footage on news websites.

Parliamentarians deserve every cent

It was with a feeling of pride and fair play that I read in the paper about the 7% rise in salaries that, subject to Thabo Mbeki's approval, is to be awarded to MPs. Notwithstanding that this was nearly a whole percentage point more than Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi was prepared to pay the ordinary run of public servants, this insignificant increment demonstrated an admirable restraint in an exalted profession renowned for its asceticism.