What was the first Bible like?

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Awaiting revelation.
Africa Studio

Tomas Bokedal, University of Aberdeen

In the years after Jesus was crucified at Calvary, the story of his life, death and resurrection was not immediately written down. The experiences of disciples like Matthew and John would have been told and retold at many dinner tables and firesides, perhaps for decades, before anyone recorded them for posterity. St Paul, whose writings are equally central to the New Testament, was not even present among the early believers until a few years after Jesus’ execution.

But if many people will have an idea of this gap between the events of the New Testament and the book that emerged, few probably appreciate how little we know about the first Christian Bible. The oldest complete New Testament that survives today is from the fourth century, but it had predecessors which have long since turned to dust.

So what did the original Christian Bible look like? How and where did it emerge? And why are we scholars still arguing about this some 1,800 years after the event?

From oral to written

Historical accuracy is central to the New Testament. The issues at stake were pondered in the book itself by Luke the Evangelist as he discusses the reasons for writing what became his eponymous Gospel. He writes: “I too decided to write an orderly account … so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.”

In the second century, church father Irenaeus of Lyons argued for the validity of the Gospels by claiming that what the authors first preached, after receiving “perfect knowledge” from God, they later put down in writing. Today, scholars differ on these issues – from the American writer Bart Ehrman stressing how much accounts would be changed by the oral tradition; to his Australian counterpart Michael Bird’s argument that historical ambiguities must be tempered by the fact that the books are the word of God; or the British scholar Richard Bauckham’s emphasis on eye-witnesses as guarantors behind the oral and written gospel.

St Paul: numero uno.

The first New Testament books to be written down are reckoned to be the 13 that comprise Paul’s letters (circa 48-64 CE), probably beginning with 1 Thessalonians or Galatians. Then comes the Gospel of Mark (circa 60-75 CE). The remaining books – the other three Gospels, letters of Peter, John and others as well as Revelation – were all added before or around the end of the first century. By the mid-to-late hundreds CE, major church libraries would have had copies of these, sometimes alongside other manuscripts later deemed apocrypha.

The point at which the books come to be seen as actual scripture and canon is a matter of debate. Some point to when they came to be used in weekly worship services, circa 100 CE and in some cases earlier. Here they were treated on a par with the old Jewish Scriptures that would become the Old Testament, which for centuries had been taking pride of place in synagogues all over latter-day Israel and the wider Middle East.

Others emphasise the moment before or around 200 CE when the titles “Old” and “New Testament” were introduced by the church. This dramatic shift clearly acknowledges two major collections with scriptural status making up the Christian Bible – relating to one another as old and new covenant, prophecy and fulfilment. This reveals that the first Christian two-testament bible was by now in place.

This is not official or precise enough for another group of scholars, however. They prefer to focus on the late fourth century, when the so-called canon lists entered the scene – such as the one laid down by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, in 367 CE, which acknowledges 22 Old Testament books and 27 New Testament books.

Bible #1

The oldest surviving full text of the New Testament is the beautifully written Codex Sinaiticus, which was “discovered” at the St Catherine monastery at the base of Mt Sinai in Egypt in the 1840s and 1850s. Dating from circa 325-360 CE, it is not known where it was scribed – perhaps Rome or Egypt. It is made from parchment of animal hides, with text on both sides of the page, written in continuous Greek script. It combines the entire New and Old Testaments, though only about half of the old survives (the New Testament has some fairly minor defects).

Codex Sinaiticus, Book of Matthew.

Sinaiticus may not be the oldest extant bible, however. Another compendium of Old and New Testaments is the Codex Vaticanus, which is from around 300-350 CE, though substantial amounts of both testaments are missing. These bibles differ from one another in some respects, and also from modern bibles – after the 27 New Testament books, for example, Sinaiticus includes as an appendix the two popular Christian edifying writings Epistle of Barnabas and Shepherd of Hermas. Both bibles also have a different running order – placing Paul’s letters after the Gospels (Sinaiticus), or after Acts and the Catholic Epistles (Vaticanus).

They both contain interesting features such as special devotional or creedal demarcations of sacred names, known as nomina sacra. These shorten words like “Jesus”, “Christ”, “God”, “Lord”, “Spirit”, “cross” and “crucify”, to their first and last letters, highlighted with a horizontal overbar. For example, the Greek name for Jesus, Ἰησοῦς, is written as ⲓ̅ⲥ̅; while God, θεός, is ⲑ̅ⲥ̅. Later bibles could present these in gold letters or render them bigger or more ornamental, and the practice endured until bible printing began around the time of the Reformation.

Though Sinaiticus and Vaticanus are both thought to have been copied from long-lost predecessors, in one format or the other, previous and later standardised New Testaments consisted of a four-volume collection of individual codices – the fourfold Gospel; Acts and seven Catholic Epistles; Paul’s 14 letters (including Hebrews); and the Book of Revelation. They were effectively collections of collections.

Papyrus 46 extract.

But in the absence of a single book prior to the fourth century, we have to content ourselves with the many surviving older fragments sensationally found during the 20th century. We now have some 50 fragmentary New Testament manuscripts written on papyrus that date from the second and third centuries – including the valuable Papyrus 45 (fourfold Gospel and Acts), and Papyrus 46 (a collection of Pauline letters). In all, these comprise almost complete or partial versions of 20 of the 27 books in the New Testament.

The quest will likely continue for additional sources of the original books of the New Testament. Since it is somewhat unlikely anyone will ever find an older Bible comparable with Sinaiticus or Vaticanus, we will have to keep piecing together what we have, which is already quite a lot. It’s a fascinating story which will no doubt continue to provoke arguments between scholars and enthusiasts for many years into the future.The Conversation

Tomas Bokedal, Associate Professor in New Testament, NLA University College, Bergen, Norway, and Lecturer in New Testament, University of Aberdeen

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Theresa May in Africa: cynical post-Brexit development agenda smacks of desperation

may conTheresa May with her South African counterpart, Cyril Ramaphosa. EPA/Mike Hutchings

Michael Jennings, SOAS, University of London

British ministers in 1948 discussed development investment needs for African colonial territories. The focus was not on the needs of those countries, but on how colonial development might best support the British economy. There was also a political calculation to be considered. Following the rebalancing of global power after 1945, ministers felt that only by strengthening Europe’s African empires could an emergent Western European bloc compete with the US and Soviet blocs. Now, 70 years on, “Africa” remains a shibboleth for British politicians, only this time as the solution to the problem of how Britain can maintain global power and influence following its departure from that Western European bloc under Brexit.

Theresa May’s much-hyped and much-reported visit to “Africa” (a trip encompassing South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) has been sold as the means for deepening economic ties between Britain and the region. May announced aspirations for Britain to become the G7’s largest investor in Africa by 2022. There is to be an additional £4 billion in direct British government investment, to be matched by private sector investment (a relatively modest ambition).

The prime minister pledged to defend the level of British aid (against conservative and media critics who wish to see it cut), while positing a reorientation of that aid spending to support the post-Brexit British economy.

May is the latest in a long line of prime ministers who have evoked the potential of “Africa” for their own political purposes. From Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who saw international aid as a mechanism for highlighting British global moral leadership, to David Cameron’s 2011 visit (of which May’s is an echo), when he called for aid to be used to create future consumers for British goods and services.

What makes May’s visit and proclamations different is the smell of desperation. There are many good reasons for deepening trade links across the region, and for establishing better relationships between Britain and African governments. But presenting this as the solution to Britain’s likely post-Brexit economic woes seems misguided at best, deluded at worst.

May has been criticised for her promise to refocus aid in ways that are seen to reflect British domestic and diplomatic interests. She wants to downgrade short-term poverty alleviation in favour of job creation. She wants to increase security and support for fragile African states but her motive for doing so seems largely to be reducing migration to Europe and Britain. Now she is using aid as a tool for supporting the creation of trade deals with non-EU blocs.

Yet British aid has always been about British interests: political, economic and diplomatic. Indeed, the first act that established British aid, the 1929 Colonial Development Act, was passed as the world tipped into global economic crisis and depression. It was explicit in its aim to boost the British economy and jobs.

Aid for trade?

Subsequent iterations of British aid from the 1940s to the 1990s, under both Labour and Conservative governments, tied aid so that spending on equipment and experts was made in the UK. Aid has always been seen as a foreign policy tool as much as a moral obligation to help poorer world regions develop. Nor was Britain alone in this: tied aid requirements remain common despite their poor record in reducing poverty. Blair’s government made tied aid illegal in 2002, but it remained a core element in the UK’s diplomatic arsenal – a means to ensure global influence (helpful, for example, in defending Britain’s permanent membership of the UN Security Council).

In 2009, Hillary Clinton, then the incoming secretary of state under US president Barack Obama, reflected the use of aid as both a means for tackling poverty and insecurity in poor regions of the world as well as for protecting domestic interests when she announced development aid was to be a central pillar of US foreign policy. France is relatively overt in its linking of aid to promoting its own African interests.

Nor is May’s promised refocus really substantively new. Under the coalition government, aid was to be refocused on job creation, with a promise that this would be good for British business. Priti Patel, during her disastrous period at the helm of the Department for International Development, repeatedly asserted that the purpose of UK aid was to serve the UK’s national interest. She regularly linked aid spending to future trade relationships and deals.

May’s “new approach” is essentially the same policy wrapped in shiny new Brexit packaging. But as a mechanism for achieving a bright, post-Brexit future, it seems as convincing as her efforts at dancing.The Conversation

Michael Jennings, Head of department, SOAS, University of London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Net1 accused of duping social grant beneficiaries. Pensioners told that the EasyPay card is the new SASSA card

SASSA says some social grant beneficiaries have been misled into thinking that the EasyPay card is the new SASSA card. Archive photo: Ashraf Hendricks

By Barbara Maregele and Nompendulo Ngubane    

Net1, whose subsidiary Cash Paymaster Services (CPS) will no longer be paying social grants from September, has been accused of duping beneficiaries into opening an account with another of its subsidiaries, EasyPay Everywhere.

The SA Social Security Agency (SASSA) drew MPs’ attention to this during a report to parliament’s portfolio committee on social development on 15 August.

So far there are about 2.5 million grant beneficiaries with EasyPay accounts.

Net1 last week told GroundUp that it was not aware of these complaints.

But SASSA spokesperson Kgomoco Diseko said, “SASSA has been notified about some CPS employees misleading beneficiaries that the green Easy Pay card is actually the new SASSA card. Unsuspecting beneficiaries only find out the next month when money is deducted from their accounts without their consent.”

He said this might be a way for CPS to “cling” to the SASSA payment system after 30 September when its contract comes to an end.

Diseko said SASSA had reported malpractices by Net1 to the Constitutional Court, which is overseeing the changes in the payment system, and to the authorities. “The new gold SASSA card will bring an end to malpractices of some financial service providers. It does not allow for any deductions and it will serve as a remedy to acts of criminality by unscrupulous lenders,” he said.

The Black Sash said it had also received complaints that Net1 officials had continued to operate at the site of cash paypoints which had been closed by SASSA. “They know that it is a familiar footprint for beneficiaries. They use that familiarity, or the fact that they were a SASSA service provider, or are still seen by many people as a service provider, to trick people,” said Black Sash national director Lynette Maart.

SASSA communications manager Mdumiseni Hadebe said beneficiaries could open an account with any bank of their choice, including EasyPay which was underwritten by Grindrod Bank and was considered a bank.

However he too urged beneficiaries to swap to the new SASSA gold card as it does not allow for deductions to be effected. “The only deduction allowed is a funeral policy which must not exceed more than 10% of the grant amount,” said Hadebe.

Net1 told GroundUp: “The Easy Pay Everywhere is a fully fledged bank account underwritten by Grindrod Bank. The contract between Sassa and Cash Payment Services (CPS) will terminate at the end September pay cycle. The EasyPay Everywhere distribution network will continue to provide its clients with both a mobile and fixed ATM infrastructure channel as it has. This will include payments to its client’s base at pay points abandoned by Sassa.”

A 69-year-old pensioner from Imbali township in Pietermaritzburg told GroundUp that she had been offered an EasyPay card outside SASSA’s Vulindlela offices where she receives her pension. She said she had come to switch to a new SASSA card. “The EasyPay staff were outside the offices,” she said.

“I receive my grant from the bank. At the time I had been given a form at SASSA to take to my bank. On my way out a lady from EasyPay asked what I had come for. I told her, I had come for a card swap. She asked for the form; she filled in the form and gave me a new green card. She said I should return the form to SASSA. The employee said there is no need to go to the bank,” said the pensioner.

She said she was confused. “On the radio they are telling us to change to new SASSA cards. At the pay sites they still give us these green cards.”

An EasyPay employee told GroundUp they did offer beneficiaries new cards at ATMs and shops. “During payment dates we are always there. We are visible at Spar, Jwayelani and other shops,” said the employee.

This is from GroundUp

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Delay eating breakfast and eat dinner early if you want to lose body fat – new study

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Jonathan Johnston, University of Surrey and Rona Antoni, University of Surrey

Time-restricted eating (also called time-restricted feeding) is a new dietary concept that involves reducing the time between the first and last calorie consumed each day. There is strong evidence to support the health benefits of time-restricted eating (TRE) in animals, and recent small studies by our research group and others suggest possible benefits for humans, too.

A lot of recent research in animals and humans has shown clear links between our circadian (daily) rhythms, metabolism and nutrition. Circadian clocks exist throughout our bodies, including in tissues that have a big influence on our metabolic health.

Broadly speaking, these clocks enable our bodies to efficiently deal with food intake when we are awake and release energy from stores when we are asleep. A consequence of this is that we process food consumed during the day more efficiently than an identical meal consumed during the evening or at night.

There is, indeed, increasing evidence supporting the idea that our metabolic health is not just regulated by what we eat, but also when we eat. This interaction between circadian rhythms and nutrition is now often referred to as “chrononutrition”.

One of the ways that chrononutrition is being applied to dietary health is with TRE. Animal studies in species as diverse as mice and fruit flies have demonstrated that TRE can reduce obesity caused by a high-fat diet and reduce the risk of heart and metabolic disease. Metabolic and nutritional studies in animals don’t always apply to humans, however, so it is important to test TRE in humans before health claims can be made.

TRE in humans

An early indication of the effects of TRE in humans is available in the form of Ramadan studies. Islamic religious fasting restricts eating and drinking to nighttime, between sunrise and sunset. Recent meta-analyses of these observational Ramadan studies show improvements in some risk markers for diabetes and heart disease.

People who observe Ramadan have improvements in diabetes and heart disease risk markers.
kittirat roekburi/Shutterstock.com

These studies are difficult to interpret, however, because Ramadan involves a change from daytime to nighttime eating, as well as changes in meal duration. Changes also tend to be short-lived and limited to the one-month fasting period.

In human intervention studies, TRE has been achieved in several ways, including avoiding eating at night, restricting intake to a fixed four, six or eight hour eating window, or by symmetrically reducing the eating window by three hours, relative to normal eating patterns.

The latter is an approach we used in a recent pilot study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Science. We split participants into two groups. One group – the TRE group – delayed their breakfast by 90 minutes and had their dinner 90 minutes earlier. The other group (the control group) ate meals as they would normally.

Participants had to provide blood samples and complete diet diaries before and during the ten-week intervention and complete a feedback questionnaire immediately after the study.

We found statistically significant reductions in calorie intake and body fat in the TRE group, compared with controls. Our data also suggested that TRE might benefit blood markers of metabolic disease, including fasting blood sugar (glucose) concentration. Questionnaire data indicated that some, but not all, TRE participants felt the eating pattern was one they could continue with.

It should be noted that pilot studies are designed to generate preliminary data and help with the design of future large-scale research. The number of participants in pilot studies is small, so no definitive conclusions can be drawn from the results.

Early days

In general, TRE studies have produced mixed results, but this should not be surprising, given the diversity of protocols. Various forms of TRE have been shown to either improve or have little effect on risk factors for heart disease and diabetes. Some studies have shown improvements in body composition, such as reduced body fat, in both overweight and obese people, and also in men who regularly exercise, although this is not found across all studies.

One common finding is that people tend to reduce food intake during TRE, even when asked not to. This is itself a finding that could have major health benefits. But even where energy restriction is absent or small, evidence suggests that TRE can still influence metabolism, meaning that the benefits of TRE may go beyond simply regulating energy intake.

Important issues that still need to be investigated include whether some feeding-fasting times work better than others, how TRE might benefit health even when calorie intake is the same, and whether TRE benefits patients with metabolic disease, such as type 2 diabetes.

In this fast-moving field, we and others are now looking to expand upon the initial results described here. Even when living in our modern 24-hour society, there may be important health benefits from eating in a pattern that fits with our internal circadian rhythms.The Conversation

Jonathan Johnston, Reader in Chronobiology and Integrative Physiology, University of Surrey and Rona Antoni, Research Fellow in Nutritional Metabolism, University of Surrey

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Extraordinary leniency for Jooste

Markus Jooste: a worried man

By Chris Gilmour

Markus Jooste, the former CEO of Steinhoff, will give evidence to a parliamentary hearing next Wednesday the 5th of September.

However, following an agreement between Jooste, his lawyers and finance committee chairman Yunus Carrim, parliamentarians will be limited in their questioning of Jooste.

The reasons for this very strange agreement relate to the fact that Jooste will, at some future time, be required to give evidence in a court of law and that giving evidence now before parliament could prejudice his chances of a fair trial.

This is a whitewash, and it is astounding that Jooste could be granted such extraordinary leniency.

Jooste is obviously a very worried man, as his former CFO, Ben LaGrange, had been singing like a canary before parliamentarians all day on Wednesday the 29th of August.

LaGrange has pointed fingers firmly at Jooste, stating categorically that Jooste had established certain relationships between himself and third parties, without disclosing these relationships to either the board or to him.

To paraphrase former Steinhoff chairman Christo Wiese when confronted by allegations of impropriety involving Steinhoff long before the scandal blew up in December last year, this is “drivel”.

In my almost 40 years of analysing JSE and other companies, I have never encountered a situation where the finance director/CFO was in a less powerful or knowledgeable position than the CEO.

In my honest opinion, LaGrange was either complicit or incompetent or both. He is caught like a rat in a trap and is merely attempting to pass the buck to Jooste.

I have always been of the opinion that the Steinhoff board knew far more than they say they knew. But that suspicion-which is widely held by the investing public-will require to be tested in court.

As with LaGrange, if they knew, they were complicit in this monumental scam. If not, they were incompetent and should not have been drawing salaries as directors of the company.

More light will be shed on the situation once forensic auditors PwC have finished their investigation by year-end, and when Jooste et al have faced their accusers in civil and criminal courts.

A properly-constructed parliamentary enquiry would have gone a long way to helping a wide and interested constituency gain some insight into what appears, effectively, to be a Ponzi scheme.

By granting Jooste such leniency, parliament will no doubt be accused of having been compromised, and thus any information coming out of the enquiry may have limited value.

Chris Gilmour is an investment analyst

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EWC is an assault on the constitutional right to dignity

By Mark Oppenheimer and Cecilia Kok

Land dispossession was commonplace in pre-democratic South Africa. People were kicked off their land because past regimes had no regard for individual property rights. With such dispossession came humiliation and a stripping of individual agency.

Individuals lost their homes, their livelihoods; many lost land that had been painstakingly acquired and cultivated. Many lost their dignity.

The ANC is harking back to our pre-democratic era by publicly declaring its intention to amend the Constitution, the agreement on which our democratic society rests, to enable expropriation without compensation (EWC).

The Constitution currently empowers the state to expropriate land for the public benefit provided that just and equitable compensation is paid. In rare cases, no compensation will be payable because the land has no value, the state had granted the owner a subsidy equivalent to the value of the land, or because the owner acquired the land unjustly.

Although historical land dispossession clearly violated individuals’ dignity, there was no right to dignity to which one could appeal.

Our Constitution not only has enshrined the right to dignity in the Bill of Rights, South Africa’s ‘cornerstone of democracy’, it emphasises the foundational importance of dignity as a value that permeates the entire Constitution.

Changing the Bill of Rights to allow the state to seize land without paying compensation could be deemed unconstitutional because it infringes the foundational value (and right) of dignity.

In India, the Supreme Court has relied on the “basic structure doctrine” to prevent parliament from amending the Constitution in a way that alters its basic features. Such a principle could be used by our Constitutional Court to prevent a broader EWC regime than the existing one.

It may be objected that those who are landless have no dignity, and that landowners should part with some of their land to give those who have nothing some dignity.

However, this objection fails to account for the distinction between positive and negative rights. Negative rights create duties on the state and other citizens to refrain from certain actions.

For example, the right to freedom of expression stops the state from censoring speech or banning books. The right to property entails not having your property taken away from you. The right to dignity means that others cannot deprive you of your rights and resources.

Positive rights make the State responsible for providing basic services like housing, health care, food, water, social security, and education.

However, it is not permissible to violate a negative right to carry out a positive right. Respecting a land owner’s right to property is compatible with fulfilling the landless’s right to housing.

Another objection may be to claim that there would be no loss of dignity in cases where only a portion of a person’s land is taken from them.

For example, Gwede Mantashe briefly proposed expropriating portions of farms owned by white landowners that exceed 12,000 hectares.

However, many successful farms that ensure our food security already operate in a hostile environment. Farming at scale helps mitigate against variable weather conditions, fluctuating food prices and foreign competition. Capping the amount of land that a farmer can own would ruin the viability of these farms and endanger food security.

Not only would this place the greatest strain on the poor who would not be able to afford imports, but it is the very opposite of what Ramaphosa claims the EWC route would bring about, namely, greater food security.

It would also significantly affect the dignity of the farmers concerned, given that many may need to give up their farms after they become unprofitable.

We need only look north to Zimbabwe to see the devastating consequences of seizing farms. EWC is a dangerous and regressive path, likely to be economically ruinous and unlikely to be of real value to the very individuals it is intended to uplift and, thus, unlikely to restore their dignity.

Instead of giving hand-outs in the form of rural land in far-flung parts of the country, the best way to improve the dignity of the poor would be to grow the economy, fix the broken education system, increase employment, and enable people to buy homes which they themselves choose and in places that suit them.

A growing economy requires strong institutions and investment certainty. When a government toys with the idea of taking away land over 12,000 hectares, what is left to stop it from taking more?

Mark Oppenheimer is a practicing advocate and member of the Johannesburg Bar and Cecelia Kok is Head of Research and Advocacy Projects at the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom

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Key questions the Zondo inquiry needs to pose about the nuclear deal

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Deputy Chief Justice Ray Zondo looks into state capture in South Africa’s energy sector.

Hartmut Winkler, University of Johannesburg

South Africa is emerging from a debilitating period where politicians and their benefactors systematically placed pliable individuals into key positions at state institutions to gain undue influence and ultimately financial advantage. The ensuing malaise is called state capture.

A commission of inquiry to investigate state capture was initiated in January, headed by the Constitutional Court’s Deputy Chief Justice Raymond Zondo.

The first week of hearings ended with shocking testimony by former deputy finance minister Mcebisi Jonas. He reiterated his previous claim that a member of the influential Gupta family offered him a bribe of R600 million plus appointment as finance minister in return for favours. He also disclosed, for the first time, that his life was threatened should he fail to cooperate.

Jonas declined the bribe, and eventually went public about the offer – becoming the first and most senior person in government to lay bare the role being played by the Gupta family at former president Jacob Zuma’s behest. The fact that he worked at National Treasury was particularly significant as it was the department that vetted government expenditure.

The testimony of Jonas as well as that of subsequent witness Vytjie Mentor both referred to the proposed nuclear build, and how this was influencing efforts to control state institutions.

The dismissal of Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene in December 2015 precipitated a national currency collapse and public outrage that forced Zuma to remove his replacement after only four days and install Pravin Gordhan. But Gordhan’s tenure was marked by high tension and Zuma dismissed him in March 2017.

Jonas’ testimony reminded South Africans why Zuma was so keen to have a compliant ally as finance minister. He posited that the reason for the hostility towards Nene was that he was blocking the implementation of a nuclear deal with Russia.

The inquiry will be probing this further, a welcome development given that so many unanswered questions remain.

The nuclear deal

The construction of new nuclear power stations was first mooted around 2010 in response to electricity shortages and projected increased future demand. But the idea never gained traction when it became clear that electricity demand was growing less than expected. The hugely expensive new nuclear development was no longer financially defensible.

But Zuma’s government persisted with the idea. It soon became clear that Zuma favoured a Russian bid, and in 2014 the Russian nuclear company Rosatom stunned the country by announcing it had secured the rights to build the new South African plants.

It was a move with massive long-term financial implications for South Africa, and raised many red flags. The nuclear build soon came to be viewed as the most audacious example of state capture.

One of the questions the inquiry needs to try and answer is why, given that the programme was massively tainted by controversy and was deemed unaffordable, the ex-president doggedly pursued it.

The Shiva uranium mine acquisition

Some reasons are already known.

In 2010 a consortium that included the Gupta family and ex-president Zuma’s son Duduzane purchased the Dominion uranium mine near Klerksdorp in the North West province. The transaction baffled mining sector observers; in an era of weak global uranium demand, Dominion was considered a poor asset.

But the mine, soon to be renamed Shiva, would become exceptionally valuable if it was going to become the uranium supplier to South Africa’s new nuclear power plants. Mentor’s testimony specifically stated that the Guptas already considered themselves the exclusive uranium suppliers. Because of his family association, the former president had a vested interest in the nuclear build coming to fruition.

It was also odd that the transaction involved Rosatom’s mining subsidiary.

Because the buyers did not have the finance to conclude the purchase, they approached state-linked agencies to attempt to raise the funding. The mine was eventually purchased through a R250 million loan from the Industrial Development Corporation.

The questions that remain unanswered are:

  • What were the exact details surrounding the mine purchase, and what was Rosatom’s role in this transaction? And,
  • Did ex-president Zuma or other high-ranking officials unduly pressure funding bodies to grant a loan for the mine acquisition?

The Russian agreement

Zuma’s many meetings with his Russian counterparts resulted in the Russian bidders inexplicably receiving preferential status ahead of other potential bidders. This engagement produced an astounding intergovernmental agreement, signed by then Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson.

After a court challenge from civil society organisations, the Russian agreement was declared illegal. But this didn’t stop government efforts towards the realisation of a Russian-led nuclear build.

Here the unanswered questions are:

  • Why did Joemat-Pettersson sign an agreement she must have known to be unprocedural and irregular?
  • Which officials were instrumental in promoting this agreement, and who instructed them?

Ministerial reshuffles and redeployments

The last period of Zuma’s presidency was characterised by the drama of frequent cabinet reshuffles.

National Treasury was at the centre of the reshuffle storm. But the Ministry of Energy was equally afflicted by frequent transitions, with five ministers throughout Zuma’s presidency.

The unanswered questions to the finance and energy ministries are:

  • Were two finance ministers and a string of ministers dismissed because they were opposed to the nuclear build, or not pushing it vigorously enough?
  • Were these dismissals initiated by ex-president Zuma, or enacted at the request of other parties?

Connecting the remaining dots

The inquiry will undoubtedly investigate the infiltration and abuse of the national power utility Eskom, which also manages South Africa’s nuclear power facilities. In recent years the previously neutral entity had increasingly taken on the role of a nuclear lobbyist.

A key question here is:

  • Was the obsessive promotion of the nuclear build by several Eskom leaders driven by a genuine belief in the technology and its affordability, or by pressure?

It’s important to know what happened, and how, if South Africa is going to be able to put processes in place that ensure the entire energy sector never becomes compromised again.The Conversation

Hartmut Winkler, Professor of Physics, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Trump’s comment about South Africa is a reminder that race still matters

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US President Donald Trump is accused of siding with white right wing groups on South Africa’s land reform issue.

Steven Friedman, University of Johannesburg

For a brief moment last week, US President Donald Trump served a useful purpose. He reminded us how important race is as an economic and political issue on much of the planet.

Trump chose last week to pronounce on land reform in South Africa. He asked his Secretary of State to study “land and farm seizures and expropriations and the large scale killing of farmers”. He made it clear why he was doing this by quoting right-wing commentator Tucker Carlson’s claim that the “South African Government is now seizing land from white farmers”.

Two aspects of Trump’s tweet tell us what lies behind it. First, his – and Carlson’s – interest in what they think is happening in South Africa is not the traditional conservative concern for property rights or the market. It’s that whites are, in their view, under attack from blacks.

Second, Trump and the right-wing commentators close to him are responding to the South African non-governmental organisation Afriforum. Two of its leaders went to the US to campaign on the land issue earlier this year, where they met Trump’s national security advisor, John Bolton.

Afriforum calls itself a “civil rights organisation” but is in reality a lobby group for white Afrikaans speakers who feel threatened by majority rule. It is rejected by most white Afrikaners who vote for the official opposition, the Democratic Alliance, not the Freedom Front Plus, whose view is close to Afriforum’s.

Why can a fringe South African lobby group gain the ear of Trump and his cheerleaders? Because they are talking about the issue which most worries him and those who vote for him: a sense that whites are under threat because others are sharing their spaces and challenging their control.

The power of identity

This is a European reality too. The British vote to leave the European Union was heavily influenced by fear of immigrants who, research has shown, were constantly portrayed by the media as threats. Claims that Europe is being “swamped” by immigrants is driving the growth of the populist right there.

Another key factor is fear of Muslims, which may also have helped India’s right-wing prime minister, Narendra Modi, win that country’s last election.

In much of the planet, then, the core political issue is identity – race, religion, gender – not the economy.

Some of this was boosted by the economic crisis of 2008: people who feel their dominance is threatened feel it far more sharply if their economic security is under threat. But the economy’s crisis fuelled something which was already there; it did not create it.

North America and Europe’s identity storm has been brewing for decades. People of African, Asian and Hispanic descent were once invisible there. Now they are not. It’s no accident that the US is the epicentre; whites will be a minority there in a few decades and research shows this is fuelling white fear.

Areas of life which whites monopolised are no longer all white. There are black and Asian professionals, corporate executives; even, as in the US and Ireland, the occasional head of government. This has created a sense of threat which emerged long before the 2008 crisis.

In India and Burma, two countries in which Muslims are the targets of violence, the economy cannot explain the enmity. In Africa, identity remains a core issue whatever the state of the economy.

In many societies, challenges by women to the power of men are also a huge identity issue. Violence against women seems strongest in societies where men feel their power is under threat. The economy is a side issue.

Overturning conventional theories

Marxists have often insisted that racial, religious and other identity divides are symptoms of economic inequality, not causes of conflict. Liberals have seen racial and religious division as primitive: for them, the good society is one in which the market decides, not tribal loyalties. Traditional American conservativism and centre-right thinkers in Europe share this view. The common thread is that the market place is primary, identity secondary.

But the opposite is now true – and may have been for longer than we think. Ashutosh Varshney, a US based scholar of Indian politics, argues that people who are on the wrong end of inequality usually act to change it only when they feel they are poor because of their identity. This is true of South Africa, where the trade union movement, which played a key role in defeating apartheid, was strong because its black worker members were also victims of racial injustice.

We need to stop seeing race, religion and other identities as side issues when we try to understand economies and politics. And, if we want to improve economies and societies, we need to tackle identity head-on, rather than seeing it as a product of more important issues.

Race factor in South Africa

This is particularly so in South Africa, where racial divisions were left to fester after 1994 because it was wrongly assumed that a new constitution meant they no longer mattered. These divisions explain poor economic performance better than any other issue.

There are many dimensions to this. But the root cause is that most economic debates are really about race. Since democracy arrived in 1994, the state has been controlled by black people, the economy mainly by white people. When people demand that the market decide, they want whites to decide and vice versa. This may not describe what always happens, but it is the way most people see the world.

The result is distrust between much of government and much of business, and attitudes and behaviours which make growth far less likely. The economy’s weakness is primarily about a failure to tackle race since 1994.

South Africa may be more like the rest of the world than it seems. If its economic debates are disguised ways of expressing identity, the same may be true of those in most other parts of the globe too.The Conversation

Steven Friedman, Professor of Political Studies, University of Johannesburg

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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May you be forgiven, Prime Ministers

Cyril greets a smiling lady in red

By John Fraser

We have all done it. You have a brief stop-over after a long flight. Dehydrated and dizzy from all that free booze, you dance around (badly) for a while, creating ghastly visions and memories which will linger forever. For all the wrong reasons. Look it up on social media. It’s a laff.

I didn’t time Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tuesday Cape Town visit, but it can’t have been that long, as she was scheduled to be in Nigeria the next day.

And it wasn’t just through her dancing that May put her foot (feet?) in it.

Given that Britain is one of the largest trade partners of, and investors in, South Africa, it was pretty likely that she would be asked about land reform.

Sadly, the lady who is busy buggering up Brexit, buggered up this one as well.

If News24 is to be believed, her response, if not joyful, was hardly a robust defence of the interests of British investors and property owners in SA.

“The UK has for some time now supported land reform that is legal and transparent and generated through a democratic process,” said May.

“I discussed it with President Ramaphosa during his visit to Britain earlier this year and will discuss it with him again later today.

“I welcome the comments that President Ramaphosa has already made, bearing in mind the economic and social aspects of it.

“I think he’s made some comments that it won’t be a smash and grab approach. I think there’s an opportunity to unlock investment.”

Wow. It’s OK as long as it is lawful? A dangerous argument.

Slavery is lawful in some places, as is the oppression of women, gays, journalists, free speech. There are Middle Eastern countries where they chop off your hands or your head. Such barbarism is lawful. The law is an axe.

The rule of law is vital, but only as long as the laws make sense, do not deprive citizens of vital rights. Anyone remember Apartheid? That was legal.

It is oft stated, too, that most of what Hitler and the Nazis did was completely legal. Ask his neighbours what he thought of property rights? Or the Jews and others whose property was snatched before they were taken off to the camps.

Bring me the toilet plunger, Mabel. We have a stinky blockage here.

We may never know which spineless diplomatic dunce drafted the UK Prime Minister’s briefing notes on the land reform issue, or whether, sleep deprived and shagged-out from all that cavorting (strictly what the hell were you thinking, Ms May?) she strayed from the script.

What we do know is that any hope that Britain might have sounded a friendly warning on the matter seems to have evaporated the second she staggered down the steps from her plane and skipped onto the soggy CT red carpet which greeted her, along with some comfortingly drizzly English weather.

While she was here, the PM and Cyril cobbled together a bilateral trade deal, which basically will preserve existing EU relations with the region post-Brexit.

This may be useful Brexit-related PR for her. And she certainly needs some, but remember the current EU deal was negotiated to appease a bunch of protectionist farming nations like Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece.

Do we in SA really not want to go for a better deal, with better access to the UK market post-Brexit.

In giving May a quick one in the bag, Cyril and his team may well have dropped the trade ball. Time will tell.

Should we have expected a better performance from a woman who is widely criticised for such ill-judgement and ineptitude in negotiating Brexit? The Inspectress Clouseau of the European Union?

Apparently, her SA whistle-stop visit (a clanger, during which she aptly presented Cyril with a bell) was the first for five years or so by a British Prime Minister.

Please don’t hurry back.

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Plastic pollution: seaside communities coming together will save us – not technology

File 20180720 142405 1lpfc4u.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1

Rick Stafford, Bournemouth University

Our oceans are threatened by three major challenges: climate change, overfishing and pollution. Plastic pollution is of growing concern, and has gained international attention from governments, media and large sections of the public, partly fuelled by last year’s BBC documentary Blue Planet II and its images of sperm whales and seabirds entangled in or ingesting plastic debris.

Despite the attention plastic pollution has received, some scientists think this is the least important of the major marine threats, and that climate change and fisheries need more urgent attention.

This is not to say that plastic is not a major issue – it is, especially in some parts of the developing world, and in large open ocean gyre systems where ocean currents meet and all that they carry accumulates. Research has also found that microplastics (small fragments which form as larger plastic pieces are broken down in the sea) are found in seafood, and plastic may even accumulate as it passes up the foodchain.

The Ocean Cleanup

One reason why plastic pollution seems to get more attention than other threats to the ocean is that the issue may have a technological “fix”. The Ocean Cleanup is the flagship tech solution to marine plastic and proposes using several 600-metre long barriers to float in the ocean current and catch plastic drifting in the surface waters of the gyres.

Invented by a then 19-year-old student, the idea has come in for criticism in recent years with concerns ranging from the project’s ability to reach microplastics to it causing harm to wildlife.

Nevertheless, the Ocean Cleanup has captured imaginations by trying to reverse the problem of ocean plastic on a large scale.

We’re familiar with the idea that we can all do something to prevent plastic ending up in the sea, such as refusing plastic straws and carrying a refillable water bottle. However, while we need to use less, we also need to produce less, and throw away less of it. This means not only individual behaviour change, but changes in industrial processes, and government policies worldwide.

The visual impact of plastic pollution and high levels of public interest might be fundamental to some solutions. In many countries, local beach cleans are a regular occurrence, and are rapidly gaining in popularity. It has also been suggested that despite plastic hotspots in ocean gyres, eventually, many large plastic items will wash up on beaches, and that a significant proportion of plastic waste ending up in the sea comes from coastal or riverside communities.

Most plastic enters the ocean from the shore and accumulates in ocean ‘gyres’, where different currents meet.

Think global, act local

This provides hope for community networks to be formed that can combat plastic pollution at a local level. These networks need to expand beyond beach or river clean-ups to involve and engage multiple groups and individuals in society.

These stakeholders, who have a shared interest in healthy oceans, should include local retailers who can provide deposit return schemes on bottles and other recyclable materials and even reduce or eliminate the sale of products such as plastic straws, disposable coffee cups, plastic bags and takeaway containers.

Local councils could set up rubbish and recycling facilities for beach goers and enforce penalties for littering and fly tipping near beaches and rivers.

Communities in charge of managing their local environment have been shown to be effective in coastal areas, but issues always arise with the scaling-up of these approaches to national or international levels.

There is clearly a need for policies which support local initiatives, rather than combat them. For example, government policies should immediately call for bans on non-essential plastic packaging rather than “working to a target of eliminating avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042” as the UK’s 25 year environmental plan currently indicates.

Beach cleanup events can engage communities in halting the flow of plastic into the ocean.

Remaining non-essential packaging should urgently be made recyclable, and recycling incentive schemes, such as payment for recycling, need to be introduced quickly, beyond the approaches used by local retailers.

Technological solutions can and should form part of our approach to environmental problems, whether plastic pollution or climate change. However, they can only be part of a solution.

Schemes which change attitudes and empower communities at a local level can be effective worldwide, but they need support from national and international policies to bring about real change. At present, pollution and natural resources are dismissed as necessary casualties in the pursuit of economic growth.

Support for seaside communities in policy is missing, and until it is in place, no high tech miracle will step in to save us.The Conversation

Rick Stafford, Professor of Marine Biology and Conservation, Bournemouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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