Author Archive

Ciaran Ryan

The Writer's Room is a curated by Ciaran Ryan, who has written on South African affairs for Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Financial Mail, Finweek, Noseweek, The Daily Telegraph, Forbes, USA Today, Acts Online and Lewrockwell.com, among others. In between he manages a gold mining operation in Ghana, and previously worked in Congo. Most of his time is spent in the lovely city of Joburg.

Rape and retribution in West Africa

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

 

Tarkwa road & sheep.JPG by roaminghomemaker

Tarkwa area, Ghana
Photo: roaminghomemaker, Flickr.com

While working in West Africa earlier this year I met a rapist.

Actually, I employed him in the company I was running in the rain forest area of Western Ghana. Let’s call him Jacob. He arrived to work one day with his face swollen, and deep cuts around his eyes and cheeks.

His demeanour was unusually sullen. Never the liveliest of workers, this day he was particularly inactive and this began to irritate me. I noticed the lacerations around his face, but feigned disinterest and moved away from him. I walked a distance down the road to Moosa’s farm house, and sat myself under a cocoa tree. Ten minutes later Jacob crept up behind me and sat on a rock some five metres away.

“Nana (a Ghanaian honorific meaning “chief” or “elder”), I am sick,” whispered Jacob.

“What happened to your face Jacob?”

“I got into a fight.”

“With who?”

“With some boys in the village.”

I plied him with more questions, but the answers were vague and indistinct. The most I could get out of him was that it had something to do with a woman. I knew that Jacob was a drinker, despite his theatrical averments to follow the path of righteousness while working for me.

I decided to get to the bottom of this and called Steven, a devout Muslim and de facto chief of the village known as Ten and a Half where the beating had been ministered with evident relish. My natural revulsion for violence cried out for justice.

Steven arrived some minutes later looking solemn and slightly disgusted.

Nothing happened in Ten and a Half without Steven’s knowledge. He was often called on to mediate disputes and adjudicate matters of village justice. He was well liked and had a reputation as a fair man. He would surely tender the truth.

“Steven, Jacob says he was beaten up by some boys in the village.”

“Is not telling you all,” snapped back Steven in anger.

In his broken English, he then started to fill in the details. Jacob had snuck into a woman’s room and raped her. What made it worse was that she was both deaf and mute, a disability that prevented her from crying out for help. Jacob was caught by some youngsters and was given a choice: either we call the police and you spend the next 15 years in prison, or you submit to village justice. Which will it be?

Jacob opted for village justice and was beaten within an inch of his life there and then.

I then understood why he had been absent from work for the previous two days. On seeing Jacob limping around the next day, the youngsters decided their beating had not been severe enough, so they repeated it.

As the story unfolded, I turned to Jacob, his eyes now focusing his shame on his feet.

“Is this true Jacob?”

Jacob replied that it was not rape, and that he had been flirting with the woman, who evidently reciprocated the interest.

Not true, snapped back Steven.

“Jacob, I think you need to go home and rest, and I need to think about this.”

The next day I asked Jacob not to return to work. He complied.

Months later I would see him in the village, stumbling from one bar to the next, smiling at me with no obvious embarrassment. On one occasion he summoned the courage to approach me for money, and I blasted him for his drunkenness.

“You told me you would stop drinking.”

“I forget,” he replied.

“You didn’t forget, you just lie.” His eyes turned once again to his feet.

Ten and a Half is the last of a line of villages straddling the main road from Tarkwa to the Iduapriem gold mine operated by Anglogold Ashanti in Western Ghana. The villages are spaced roughly a mile apart, hence the names: Mile Five (or Mafive in local pidgin), Mile Six, Mile Seven, and so on.

Of all the villages on this road, Ten and a Half is the only one without electricity. Its inhabitants are mostly farmers and artisanal gold miners, known locally as galamsey – a corruption of the English “gather and sell.” The better-off have generators to power light bulbs, music systems and TVs. The others get by with candles.

In the absence of technological distractions, alcohol and fecklessness abound. Hence, Ten and a Half has a reputation for attracting low-lifes. The galamsey place their faith in black magic, rather than prospecting, to sweeten nature’s endowment of gold.

A few months later I again met Jacob in the bush near the Bonsa River. “Crazy sample,” he said, beaming at me. He was now working as a galamsey and had found rich alluvial gold-bearing gravels near the river. Rich gravels in local terms is called “crazy sample.”

A week later I saw him again drunk in the village. He obviously cashed in his gold and spent it on liquor for himself and his new friends.

Such is the life of Jacob, the rapist. He is free to roam the village where he raped a woman and still participate in its meagre pleasures. He accepted his beatings and managed to avoid prison. The village, by all accounts, accepts him as one of their own. He begged for forgiveness, and it was given.

I doubt he will rape again. Perhaps village justice works. It is swift, brutal and effective – and, unlike prison, short-lived.

As for his drinking, I fear there is no hope.

Zuma Exposed: Book Review

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

South African President Jacob Zuma addressing the African National Congress leadership meeting in Durban on September 20, 2010. Zuma reaffirmed leadership of the ruling party amid an ongoing debate over the future of the national democratic revolution. by Pan-African News Wire File Photos

Kept man: Jacob Zuma
Photo: Pan African News Wire
Flickr.com

Jacob Zuma is a man of gargantuan appetites. According to Gareth van Onselen, a senior analyst with the Democratic Alliance (DA), Zuma has cost the South African taxpayer R754 million over five years, broken down as follows:

R12,3 million       Salary over five years

R6,5 million         Medical aid

R2,75 million       Pension fund

R77,6 million       Spousal support

R3,67 million       Private vehicle

R234 million        VIP flights

R10 million          Additional flights

R72 million          Helicopter flights

R8,2 million         Ferry flights

R26,5 million       Accommodation – official residences

R238 million        Private residence

R60 million          VIP protection

R2,1 million         Hotels

All of this is detailed in Adriaan Basson’s newly released Zuma Exposed. It makes for disturbing reading.

Turn the page and we find that Zuma has six wives, four girlfriends and 21 children.

Turn the next page and we find his sons, daughters and wives involved in upwards of 70 companies, trusts or foundations. There is hardly a corner of the South African economy that his patrimony has not embraced.

Any utterance from the Zuma camp about the urgency of redressing inequalities in SA should be weighed against the above indictment.

When confronted with serious allegations of racketeering or fraud, the stock response is to plead a “political conspiracy.” This is precisely what de-frocked ANC Youth leader Julius Malema did when faced with charges of financial impropriety. He simply took a leaf from the Zuma playbook.

There isn’t a whole lot new in this book for those who have been following Basson over the years as a journalist at Mail & Guardian and City Press, but it is handy to have a chronicle of Zuma’s almost unbelievable journey to the top of SA politics. One is left with the clear impression that he is a ward of the state, and a costly one at that. The book details the back-room dealings that derailed Zuma’s prosecution in the arms scandal, his stacking of key ministries with loyal cadres, his apparent willingness to burn the village to save it, and his out-of-control libido. It’s a long fall from Mandela to here.

Former president Nelson Mandela identified Zuma as a financial problem child, and paid R2 million to help him clear his debts in 2000, as detailed by Mail & Guardian.

Here’s how Basson describes Zuma’s strange and meteoric rise from kept man to president of SA, having toppled former president Thabo Mbeki as leader of the ANC at the Polokwane conference in 2007: “He became president because enough ANC branch members believed he was the victim of a conspiracy concocted by Mbeki, the first generation of BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) millionaires and the Scorpions (the now disbanded law enforcement unit). Mbeki’s so-called 1996 Class Project was also rejected by the left, who saw him as a cold-blooded capitalist with scant regard for the plight of workers and communists. Although Zuma had no track record in the union movement, he became a Trojan horse for desperate interest groups with bleak futures. And so they pushed a compromised man to the front because he had nothing to lose and was the only ANC leader brave enough to put Mbeki, who was seeking a third term as ANC leader, in his place.”

Basson also touches on another interesting aspect of Zuma’s staying power. He ran ANC intelligence from the mid-1980s, so he has the dirt on all the top people. This was an argument that came up when Zuma was facing corruption charges related to the R70 billion (the figure keeps getting bigger) arms deal. “Zuma’s suited strategists and grass roots supporters agreed: if this man starts to talk, he could take the party down,” writes Basson. “Such speculation was fuelled by Zuma himself, who told his supporters outside court that ‘one day’ he would reveal the identities of his persecutors.”

A court has already found that Zuma was part of a corrupt relationship with his former financial adviser, Schabir Shaik, from whom he received more than R4 million in cash and benefits. In return, Shaik offered access to Zuma.  “Another court was to decide whether Zuma had accepted the money and benefits with a guilty mind. When the charges against him were dropped on the most dubious of legal grounds, Zuma had reason to be fearful.”

He took care of business by keeping the security portfolios in the clan, so to speak. Jeff Radebe became Minister of Justice, Nathi Mthethwa took over as Minister of Police, and Siyabonga Cwele was made Minister of State Security. All three were from his home province of KwaZulu Natal. Zuma protected them, even when Cwele’s wife was convicted of drug smuggling and Mthethwa “was exposed as a beneficiary of a dodgy crime intelligence slush fund.”

This book, says Basson, is not a biography. “I am an investigative journalist, interested only in the truth. Naturally, when a person is elected president of my country, I follow his every move and his money and interrogate every decision he makes in order to navigate through the bullshit and spin that South African journalists are increasingly being fed.”

In truth, Zuma has done precious little of benefit to South Africa. He has been woefully preoccupied with internecine battles in the grand cathedral of the ANC. This is the man who got off on rape charges, arguing in court that the sex was consensual, and protected himself against possible Aids infection by taking a shower afterwards. This is also the man who promised to champion a moral regeneration crusade in SA.

For those who argue that Zuma is indeed the victim of a political conspiracy, Basson provides evidence in the form of affidavits and charge sheets that at the very least cry out for rebuttal by the president.

Will he get his day in court? That remains to be seen.

That he is affable and a man of the people is beyond question. But how did a man so tainted by bad judgment and gross moral lapses end up president? It is a question that continues to baffle, even among the ANC faithful.

 

The lost art of written communication: Part 2

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR

Here we continue with some tips on written communication. You can find Part 1 here.

Newspapers published in Taiwan by bibicall

It’s all Chinese to me
Photo: bibicall
Flickr.com

Sloppily written communication reflects poorly on the writer. Unfortunately, grammar is poorly taught in schools in this modern age, and students are forced to remedy this later in life. Make no mistake, the elegance and economy of your written word marks you as a person of intelligence and competence. Think about what you want to write, cut out the clutter and get your message across simply and sweetly.

That brings us to the next point:

6. Proof-read your message before sending it out. That means avoid grammatical and spelling errors. The mark of a professional is a well-crafted, brief and clear communication without errors.

Do not write: I wanna get ur answer on this matter like yesterday!

Rather put it this way: I would like your feedback on this as soon as possible.

Former professor of English at Cambridge, F.L. Lucas (1894-1967), had this to say about writing English:

“As the police put it, anything you say may be used as evidence against you. If handwriting reveals character, writing reveals it still more. You cannot fool all your judges all the time. . . . Most style is not honest enough. Easy to say, but hard to practice. A writer may take to long words, as young men to beards – to impress. But long words, like long beards, are often the badge of charlatans. Or a writer may cultivate the obscure, to seem profound. But even carefully muddied puddles are soon fathomed. Or he may cultivate eccentricity, to seem original. But really original people do not have to think about being original–they can no more help it than they can help breathing. They do not need to dye their hair green.”

Predictions for South Africa

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Jacob Zuma by DonkeyHotey

Jacob Zuma: Can he last past 2014?
Picture: by DonkeyHotey from Flickr.com

The ANC has backed Jacob Zuma for a second term as president of South Africa. This news comes a few days after the release of Adriaan Basson’s book Zuma Exposed, which details the interesting circle of comrades surrounding the president. It also comes a week after Mail & Guardian ran an expose on Zuma’s questionable financial entanglements.

South Africa begins to feel like Israel, or France, or dare we say Zimbabwe, where those in high positions cling to office to escape their inevitable day in court. Zuma foiled attempts to get him to answer corruption charges related to the R60 billion arms scandal, which now appears as nothing more than a luscious pension fund for the ANC. As Basson points out, Zuma was by no means the biggest beneficiary from the scandal, but he remains dangerously tainted by it.

Around him he has selected ministers and officials, many of whom are equally tainted. We have a new deputy president in the form of Cyril “zero to billionaire in 10 years” Ramaphosa who sits on more than 200 boards, covering just about every sector of the economy. How can he possibly raise his voice in any matter of national importance without there being a conflict of interest?

Zuma attempted to redeem himself against the raft of allegations surfacing against him when he dwelt on the subject of tender corruption this week, estimated to cost the country R6 billion a year. But no-one takes this seriously until he answers questions about his own role in the arms scandal and related issues, such as the R200 million upgrade to his home at Nklandla.

“Who in their right minds could have approved the expenditure of more than R200 million? And to do it in that area, where you have this nice place standing up and just around there the squalor and poverty,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu told The Star this week.

Revolution is coming to a country near you

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Vancouver Riot 2011 - VIII by cabbit

Vancouver Riot 2011
– VIII from cabbit
Flickr.com

 

What do Syria, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria all have in common?

Apart from violent street protests or outright revolution, they are the world’s most profligate printers of money.

The Johannesburg-based and Austrian-leaning economic research house ETM Analytics recently put out some research that looks at the economic triggers behind social upheaval. Rather than looking at the more obvious political causes of violent revolution, the research shows that those countries with the money printing presses in overdrive are also those experiencing – or about to experience – massive social tension.

Take a look at the accompanying graph and make your own deductions. It’s no surprise that Syria tops the list, with a Continuous Commodity Index (CCI) inflation rate of 60% since the start of 2010. Next comes Turkey, Brazil, South Africa and Argentina with CCI inflation of 30-40% over the same period.

It’s true that apart from Syria, none of these countries have experienced anything like the kind of upheaval in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria. Not yet, at any rate.

Continues at source

 

Blood diamond farce

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Kimberley Diamond Mine by The National Archives UK

Kimberly diamond mine
Source: Creative Commons

Something from the archive (2010) when Kieron was up in Congo…

Naomi Campbell is in the ridiculous position of having to give testimony at the war crimes trial of former Liberian warlord Charles Taylor on the grounds that she received a blood diamond from him. One might question the company she keeps, but on the diamond issue she should tell her inquisitors to go to hell.

Blood Diamond was a fun movie and no doubt had elements of truth to it. Leonardo di Caprio’s South Africa accent was passable (actually he portrayed an ex-Rhodesian who had moved onto bigger, badder battles fighting the white African cause wherever that calling took him). His real crime was attempting to smuggle diamonds supposedly obtained by slave labour and destined for the grand arms bazaar that turned countries like Sierra Leone and Liberia into giant, open-air slaughter houses. A somewhat embarrassing sub-text to this story is that it was a company of South African mercenaries, called Executive Outcomes, that brought peace to Sierra Leone in the 1990s, allowing 300,000 refugees to return home safely before the World Bank forced the bankrupt government of the time to terminate its contract with the company. The result? Aluta continua (“the struggle goes on”) as they used to say in Mozambique, as the warlords recaptured lost ground and the blood diamond trade flourished once more. If there were no diamonds in Sierra Leone, the warlords would have traded cassava, cows or rhino horn.

Continues at source:

www.lewrockwell.com/orig11/ryan-k1.1.1.html

 

How to write a newsletter

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR

Newspaper Wallpaper: Melissa by SelfMadeCelo

Photo: SelfMadeCelo

Most companies will tell you that 80% of their business comes from 20% of their customers.

This is the 80-20 rule, also known as Pareto’s Law,  named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, who observed in 1906 that 80% of the land in Italy was owned by 20% of the population, and that 20% of the pea pods in his garden contained 80% of the peas (Wikipedia).

That being the case, how companies communicate to their existing customers is crucial to their financial success. (How they communicate to people who are not yet customers is an entirely different subject that we will cover later.) Most companies publish newsletters or magazines for distribution to their existing customers, showcasing their product changes, upgrades, staff re-shuffles and the like.

Headlines that grab

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in PR, Uncategorized

The job of the headline writer is to capture the essence of the story in a few words.

The headline sells the story.

Some people are brilliant at it. Years ago I wrote a story for a newspaper about how car rental company Hertz was planning to grab market share from its rival Avis.

The headline writer came up with this:

Hitting Avis where it Hertz

Irreverent, yes, but also funny. I doubt Avis were pleased, but our job was not to pander to the sensibilities of companies in the public eye.

Ghana leads business boom

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Journalism

Accra, Ghana by littledutchboy

Photo: Creative Commons

South Africans are pouring into Ghana, the world’s fastest-growing economy, with a growth rate of 14.4% last year.

Stroll through any town in Ghana and it is impossible to miss the South African presence. There are Engen garages, Stanbic branches and ATMs in all the major towns and MTN signs are as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola. The 21,000m2 Accra Mall, recently sold by private equity group Actis to the Pretoria-based Atterbury Property Group for $65-million (for an 85% share), would not look out of place in Centurion or Sandton. Three of the biggest tenants in the mall are Game, Mr Price and a Shoprite that stocks a range of South African products at prices that would not seem out of place in some of the more expensive European capitals.

Surrender ultimatum to Queen Elizabeth

Written by Ciaran Ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

Sergio Rueda - Bono U2 by srueda43

Photo: flickr.com
Sergio Rueda – Bono U2 by srueda43

We, the people of Ireland (including her sons and daughters in the Diaspora), hereby demand the immediate surrender of Her Majesty’s Government and the hand-over of the keys of Parliament to Michael O’Leary, our designated representative in London. He can usually be reached at the Lambeth Tavern, off King’s Cross Road (mind the missing manhole cover outside the entrance). You will also be required to vacate Buckingham Palace.

You have 48 hours to respond to this ultimatum. Failure to comply with these demands will be met with all the force of Irish retribution of which you know we are capable, commencing with a one week non-stop song fest hosted by Bono and Riverdance and beamed relentlessly into your homes and places of worship.

You have been charged and convicted in abstentia of the following crimes: