PRETORIA - Jacob Zuma sang in the choir when he was a political prisoner on Robben Island in the 1970s.
South Africa's president has a remarkable voice, and these days he uses it particularly effectively during election campaigns. Not necessarily when he gives speeches (he tends to read these) but in the songs he sings; songs about Nelson Mandela, the fight for freedom, his party.
And so it was on Tuesday. At the African National Congress (ANC) party meeting in the provincial city of Mangaung, the 70-year-old president of the party and of the country was reelected as ANC head with a large majority. Zuma also stands a good chance of being reelected as president of the country in the 2014 presidential elections.
In the hot sticky tent, Zuma did what the 4,000 delegates expected of him: he sang, he danced and he fostered community spirit among members of the ANC – which has always been more than just a party. During the fight against apartheid, the ANC organized cultural life in the townships and is still today – despite countless scandals and political failures – part of the identity of many black South Africans.
Outside, hundreds of street peddlers were selling caps, motorcycle jackets, even grandfather clocks – with the ANC emblem on them. Lucrative business.
While Zuma bonded with the crowd, now former deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe had already left the stage and it is expected that he will pretty much disappear from the circle of ANC leaders. He was replaced by Cyril Ramaphosa.
Warnings from South African business leaders were not given much play in Mangaung – and yet if the government keeps allowing debate about nationalizing the mines and fails to implement the National Development Plan infrastructure package, the country may face a fate similar to Greece’s, says Stephen Koseff, CEO of Investec Bank.
"South Africa can’t go on much longer living the way it has for the last six to nine months – during which relations between economic players, workers and the government have suffered considerably," Koseff warns. During this period the country experienced brutal strikes in the mining sector. Business leaders were also unsettled by the fact the issue of nationalizing the mines and reforming land reforms were on the agenda of the ANC congress.
The Chinese model
The ANC itself suffers from structural problems. In major cities like Johannesburg or Durban, since 1996 it has been running political schools to train future party members like Ntando Sibeko, 23, who spent three months learning party history. He says the party didn’t have its own schooling center, and that after his training he received no further communications from it.
However, basing itself on Beijing’s Celap Academy where China’s Communist party trains its future leaders, the ANC is apparently going to open an institution on a farm near Johannesburg. Heading it will be Tony Yengeni, who did nearly five months jail time for his involvement with arms deals – apparently not a hindrance to getting the job. Like Mr. Yengeni, 58, hardly anyone in ANC leadership circles is under 55.
The ANC’s teaching program is being treated as a priority, but the opposition – the Democratic Alliance (DA) – has been running a program called "Young Leaders" for six years. Its 60 graduates occupy positions in the party, local administrations, and at the national level.
The DA also uses the program to recruit talent from the non-white population. Since Lindiwe Mazibuko became parliamentary leader and Mmusi Maimane was named party spokesperson, it has been increasingly harder for the ANC to claim the DA is a party of whites.
"At the moment only 40% of our students are white," says Marike Groenewald who runs the DA’s education program. Skin color plays no role in selecting the 20 candidates out of the 800 who apply every year. What’s important is that "they think and have proven themselves in leadership positions in their community, the private sector or universities."
And they have to be willing to work really hard, since the program runs parallel to their job. Five times a year, the students meet for long weekends to discuss political issues and DA projects.
Tumi Ngqondo, for example, created DA links in universities near Durban, a traditional ANC stronghold. He received threatening calls, and as a result will no longer answer calls from unlisted numbers.
He and other attendees of the DA school say they can dance too – but they, unlike Zuma, aren’t about to let it replace substance at political gatherings.
Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.
If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.
The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.
Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.
This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.
It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."
In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.
Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.
Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.
But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.
In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.