Updated: A new beginning for Zimbabwe?

So this past week in Zimbabwe, a “coup that isn’t a coup” took place. Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace were placed under house arrest by the Zimbabwean Military, and Mugabe is being pressured to resign.

On Tuesday evening and early Wednesday morning, Zimbabwe Defence Force vehicles entered Harare and started taking control of Government Offices, including the Zimbabwean Broadcasting Corporation. They also took control of State House, the President’s Offices.

One of my colleagues was in Zimbabwe when the coup began. To our great relief, he was able to leave and arrived back in South Africa on Wednesday.

What is Robert Mugabe’s history?

Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born in 1924 in what was then Southern Rhodesia. He is a qualified Schoolteacher. He is also a hero of Zimbabwe’s fight to end white minority rule, and served 10 years in prison for sedition.

In the first democratic elections held in Zimbabwe in 1980, Mugabe’s ZANU party won and he became Prime Minister. He has ruled Zimbabwe since then, first as Prime Minister and then as President. In 1992, while his first wife was dying of Cancer, he began an affair with Grace, whom he married in 1996.

At 93 years old, Mugabe is becoming increasingly frail. He regularly travels overseas for medical treatments and rumours suggest that he keeps nodding off in Cabinet Meetings.

When and how did things go wrong?

Very early on in Mugabe’s reign.

Opposition to Mugabe in Matabeleland led to the Gukurahundi genocide, where thousands of Ndebele civilians were murdered by the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade. This was overlooked by other African countries and by the West. The former overlooked it as Mugabe was still a hero to them, and the latter probably because the victims were black.

During the 1980’s, Britain agreed to fund the Zimbabwean Government’s buy back of land from white farmers so that black Zimbabweans could purchase it. But after the first few payments, it emerged that the monies were being embezzled. Britain stopped payments and refused to pay any more until Zimbabwe could guarantee that any further sums would be used in the way intended. No such guarantees were forthcoming, and the payments never resumed.

In 2000, a new Zimbabwean Constitution was submitted for a vote. Included was a section that would have permitted appropriation of land without compensation. The Zimbabwean Electorate voted against it. Almost immediately, “War Veterans” began invading white owned farms. A short while later, Mugabe signed the section permitting appropriation without compensation into Zimbabwe’s Constitution anyway. The timing of all this was very suspicious.

The consequences for Zimbabwe’s economy were disastrous. Crops, including tobacco, were the main goods exported by Zimbabwe. With the commercial farmers driven out or murdered, Zimbabwe went from the Breadbasket of Africa to an importer of food. In addition, the foreign currency earned by crop exporting disappeared, as the people moved on to the farmland didn’t know how to work it. Thousands of Zimbabweans fled the country, and the currency went into a period of hyperinflation not seen since post World War One Germany.

In 2002, Mugabe faced a challenge to his rule by the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), headed by Morgan Tsvangirai. Mugabe used violence, electoral fraud, and claims that the MDC were “Agents of the West” to maintain his rule. In this, he was shamefully helped by then South African President Thabo Mbeki, who refused to see that Mugabe, once a hero of the Liberation of Africa, was by that point a despotic tyrant desperate to hold on to power, and who, under the mask of “quiet diplomacy”, refused to act.

What was the tipping point?

Mugabe had started purging the Government of high ranking officials in a move (it is suspected) to clear the way for his wife Grace to succeed him as President. When he dismissed Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Military decided enough was enough and put in motion this coup.

Will Mugabe remain President?

No. The Military, and the Veterans of Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation, which for a very long time were his strongest means of support, have now turned against him. In addition, ZANU-PF, the Political Party he headed, has now begun the process to impeach him. If Mugabe refuses to step down, he will be removed. As I write this, ordinary Zimbabweans are protesting in front of State House and in Bulawayo, among other places, demanding that Mugabe go.

After Mugabe goes, what will happen?

The rumours are that there are discussions to form a Government of National Unity while elections are organised. Both ZANU-PF and Opposition Parties will be in it, and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Vice President fired by Mugabe, will be the acting President until the elections can be held.

Will Mugabe leaving power solve anything?

Unfortunately, probably not. Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Vice President whose firing precipitated this and who has been suggested as the head of the transitional Government of National Unity, is one of the architects of the Gukurahundi Genocide. In addition, the Zimbabwean Generals have declared that they will not obey any leader who is not a hero of the Liberation Struggle.

I hope that things will now get better, but this looks like a case of a different Ringmaster in the same Circus.

Mugabe has resigned

Shortly before six o’clock on the 21st November 2017, Jacob Mudenda, the Speaker of the Zimbabwean Parliament, announced that Mugabe had resigned the presidency of Zimbabwe.

“I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation… with immediate effect,” said speaker Mudenda, reading the letter from Mugabe.

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They just don’t know when to give up, do they?

As I mentioned in a previous post, some antivaxxers tried to get October declared “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month” with a huge lack of success. For the last few years, they’ve also declared the first full week in November “Vaccine Awareness Week”. Orac, who is now getting back into the swing of things blogging-wise, has a post up deconstructing some nonsense from Barbara Loe Fisher, the founder of the National Vaccine Information Center.
Fisher’s story is a rather sad one. Her son has learning problems which she believes were caused by the old DTP vaccine. Early studies suggested that there might be an association between the vaccine and encephalopathy, but later and larger studies don’t support the hypothesis. Nevertheless, her belief led her to become an advocate for “vaccine injury awareness”.
Fisher’s efforts at first did some good. Her actions led to the passing of the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 in the United States. However, she was infuriated that the Act required plaintiffs to prove their case. What she wanted was a completely “no fault non adversarial mechanism” (her words) where anyone who claimed a vaccine injury would automatically be compensated. Never mind that this would lead to all sorts of false claims of injury and eventually be unaffordable. Over the years, she has grown steadily more and more antivaccine. The collapse of the Omnibus Autism Proceedings was a massive blow to her.
I feel great sympathy for Fisher. Being the parent of a child with learning disabilities is an extremely hard row to hoe. All the same, she is almost certainly wrong to blame vaccines for her son’s problems. In addition, by reciting antivaccine falsities, half truths and distortions, she is now doing far more harm than good.

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Links, including for three Sciencebloggers’ new homes

November 1st was the eighth annual Autistics Speaking Day.
For the first time since it started, I didn’t post. If you want to see what other autistic bloggers wrote for it, the Autistics Speaking Day blog is here.
Scienceblogs has shut down. In 2010, I learnt about Andrew Wakefield. Following links about the story, I eventually wound up at “Respectful Insolence”. Orac, real name David Gorski, was a very useful teacher. A few months later, I started blogging on “Life, Autism Advocacy and Anti-antivaccination”. I also started regularly following two other bloggers in the Scienceblogs stable: Ethan Siegel of “Starts with a Bang” and William Connolley of “Stoat”.
Last month, Scienceblogs gave notice that it would be closing for good on October 31st. Orac’s new home can be found here. It has all his posts from his beginning in 2004 to date – over 5000 of them. Ethan blogs at “Starts with a Bang” on Forbes. And Connolley writes here. Please go over and say hello.

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“Awareness” for an exaggerated event

October is the month for Breast Cancer Awareness, Craniosynostosis Awareness, Dysautonomia Awareness, National Dyslexia Awareness, Pregnancy and Infant loss Awareness and RETT Syndrome Awareness Month, among others. In a vile attempt to mount this bandwagon, antivaxxers have tried to have October labelled “Vaccine Injury Awareness Month”. Their efforts so far have met with a great lack of success.
Antivaxxers make several high-level claims in support of their beliefs. They insist that vaccines are not as effective as claimed, that the diseases are not as bad as the medical world declares, that vaccines can shed, that vaccines cause autism and SIDS among other conditions, and that the stated level of severe adverse events from vaccination are vastly understated. Whenever these arguments are scrutinised, the antivaxxers fail to make their case by a significant margin.
It is tedious for me to write this yet again, but vaccines do not cause autism. Since Andrew Wakefield released his mendacious (and now retracted) “case study” the question has been thoroughly investigated. Enough studies have been done for a meta-analysis with literally millions of subjects. At this level, the sensitivity is exceptional. If vaccines caused even a small fraction of cases of autism, this effect would have been detected by the meta-analysis. No such effect was.
Peter Fleming is a Professor at Bristol University, the creator of the “Back to Sleep” campaign, and quite possibly the World’s foremost expert on SIDS. One of the questions he has investigated is if vaccines cause SIDS. They don’t.
From a Reanalysis done at Bristol University:

There is no increased or reduced risk of sudden infant death during the period after the vaccination.

One of the vaccines most loathed by antivaxxers is Gardasil, which gives immunity against Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). HPV causes nearly all types of cervical cancer, as well as head, neck, throat, anal, and penile, cancers. Many claims of deaths and injuries have been made, only for it to be confirmed that the vaccine was not responsible. I blogged about the Meylor Sisters who brought suit in Vaccine Court saying that Gardasil had caused them to suffer premature ovarian failure. Their suit was dubious, and was eventually dismissed.
Earlier this month a Paper by antivaxx “researchers” Christopher Shaw and Lucija Tomljenovic was retracted. This was after commentators on the PubPeer website noticed clear signs of image manipulation and other problems with the Paper. The Paper in question was an attempt to smear aluminium salts used in vaccines as adjuvants.
Vaccines are carefully tested before being placed on the schedule and then subjected to rigourous post-approval scrutiny. It is next to impossible that they are causing the quantity and severity of adverse events antivaxxers insist they are.

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I have been Pwned

Last week, Australian cybersecurity expert Troy Hunt revealed that the personal details of millions of South Africans had been leaked. A Database had been hacked and names, email addresses, ID Numbers, credit ratings, income, employment status and related information had been exposed. For those who wanted to know if they had been hacked, Hunt created a website (Have I been pwned) where concerned South Africans could enter their email addresses to see if their data had been exposed.
Worried, I went to the site and entered the email I use most often.
I have been pwned.
It has now emerged that real estate company Jigsaw Holdings, which has various subsidiaries including Aida‚ ERA and Realty-1, was the source of the leak. Jigsaw purchased the data from credit bureau Dracore in 2014 so it could trace potential clients who wanted to sell their houses.
There are two big issues here.
Firstly and most obviously, Jigsaw didn’t secure its systems properly, and now millions of South Africans are at risk of Identity Theft. Many of the people in the database are just children. This is especially dangerous as fraudsters can wait until the victims turn 18 then take out loans and credit in their name. Jigsaw Holdings was careless and must now face consequences for its sloppiness.
The second, and perhaps more important issue, is why was Jigsaw able to buy this mass of data from Dracore? And why was Dracore able to sell it?
My previous employer had several South African banks as clients. Whenever I was considered for an assignment at any of them, I had to sign consent forms to allow the banks to conduct background checks on me, including for my credit status and if I had a criminal record or not. And yet, Jigsaw was able to buy the information of millions of South Africans without their knowledge, let alone their consent. This is outrageous. Businesses should not be able to buy the information of private citizens in this way.
Several things now need to be done. First off, Jigsaw Holdings must be investigated and heavily fined for this breach, and any employees who were negligent must be criminally charged. And second, the law must be changed so that private individuals can not have their data sold in this fashion.

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The Culpability of the Complicit

Yesterday, the Supreme Court of Appeal ruled against an appeal by Zuma and the NPA of a ruling by the High Court that overturned the 2009 decision of then National Director of Public Prosecutions Moketedi Mpshe to drop 783 charges against Jacob Zuma. The High Court had ruled that the decision to drop the charges was irrational and that they must be reinstated.

You might think that I would be happy to see this. After all, I have complained before about the wholesale looting of South Africa by politically connected individuals.

Instead, I’m furious.

Furious that the corruption has reached the point that it has. Furious at the lost opportunities caused by it. Furious that it was allowed to reach this point. And furious that many of those in a position to do something not only did nothing but actively protected and defended Zuma or were complicit in creating the very environment that enabled him and the Guptas to bleed South Africa dry.

The ANC has shielded Jacob Zuma from accountability for years. In the most recent no confidence motion against him, the ANC Members of Parliament who spoke before the vote raged against the motion, labelling it an attack on democracy and the ANC, instead of an opportunity to remove a clearly corrupt and compromised individual. After the news about upgrades to Zuma’s home at Nkandla being paid for by public money broke, some of the most ludicrous explanations (firepool) were made for them. And at the 2012 ANC Elective Conference when Zuma stood for reelection to ANC President despite earlier stating he would only serve one term, the ANC, instead of voting him out, returned him to the position.

What is even more astonishing is that the ANC shields him despite the fact that he is clearly damaging it. Its share of the vote has fallen from 65% in 2009 when he was first elected President to just 54% in the 2016 Municipal Elections. And there is a very good chance that the ANC’s share of the vote in the 2019 National and Provincial Elections will drop below 50%. Even ANC members have mentioned this possibility.

Cadre Deployment is the ANC Policy of appointing political loyalists to key non-political positions. It was how Zuma was able to gain control of institutions and the Guptas were able to gain lucrative contracts from Government. It is also how he managed to block investigations and criminal charges as both the Police and National Prosecuting Authority have been captured.

The policy of Cadre Deployment was decided upon in the 1997 ANC Conference. Not even 10 years later it had shown itself to be a failure, with Eskom forced to introduce Load Shedding to save the entire electricity grid from going down and other State Owned Enterprises making huge losses every year. Despite this, it is still in force today with the ANC not willing to consider abandoning it.

One of the fiercest critics of Jacob Zuma is Trevor Manuel. Manuel was South Africa’s Minister of Finance from 1996 to 2009, and Minister in the Presidency for National Planning from 2009 to 2014. After losing his job in 2014, he began criticising Zuma.
Manuel’s condemnations of Zuma, correct though they are, reek of hypocrisy to me. He was perfectly happy to go along with things while he was a Minister and only spoke out after he lost his place at the trough. What is worse is that when he was a Minister he was himself party to corruption and incompetence.

In 1998, South Africa began a process to buy new military equipment to replace the obsolete equipment then used by the South African National Defence Force (SANDF). “Arms Deal” has since become a byword in South Africa for corruption. When Patricia de Lille, then a Member of Parliament for the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), made claims of corruption around the Arms Deal, Manuel screamed at her, calling her a “useful idiot”. For years, Terry Crawford-Brown fought to get the Arms Deal overturned. Manuel viciously attacked him all the while. Enough has now come out from investigations overseas to confirm that there was indeed massive corruption and bribery going on with the Arms Deal. In fact, the charges against Zuma all relate to the Arms Deal. Manuel, in pointing a finger at Zuma, has three pointing back at himself. He also never spoke out about the damage and expense inflicted by Cadre Deployment.

Another hypocritical critic of Zuma is Frank Chikane, Director General of the Presidency for Thabo Mbeki. In his book “The things that could not be said”, Chikane inadvertently made one of the most damning admissions I have ever read.

When then National Director of Public Prosecutions Vusi Pikoli brought charges against then National Police Commissioner Jackie Selebi, then President Thabo Mbeki ordered him to drop the charges. Pikoli refused. Mbeki then demanded Pikoli resign and when he refused, suspended him to protect Selebi. It was all ultimately for nothing, as Selebi would be found guilty on several charges.

Chikane’s explanation for Mbeki’s actions was shocking. He stated that Mbeki viewed Pikoli as a deployed cadre whose first duty was to obey instructions from political higher ups, and not someone whose job it was to prosecute offenders based on the merits of a case. In addition, Prosecutorial Independence is guaranteed by South Africa’s Constitution. Chikane made clear he shared Mbeki’s views that Cadre Deployment trumps the Constitution. He is thus in no position to lash Zuma’s actions.

Zuma is not the problem but a symptom. His Presidency is the culmination of years of undermining the independence of state institutions, protecting criminality and placing political loyalty above even the Constitution. All of these things began long before he took office. While he deserves to spend the rest of his life in jail, the harshest opprobrium should go to those who created and nurtured the environment which allowed him to inflict the damage he has. Including his critics.

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Smug antivaccine cow sent to jail for Contempt of Court

So this week a woman was sent to jail for not getting her son vaccinated in defiance of a Court Order. On Wednesday October 4th, Rebecca Bredow was sentenced by Judge Karen McDonald to one week for contempt of court.
Some facts:
James Horne and Rebecca Bredow have a son together. They are now divorced. While they were together, they agreed to space out his vaccinations. Or, more correctly, Bredow demanded it and Horne went along. After the divorce, Bredow was made the son’s primary caretaker.
Rebecca married Gary Bredow and they have a daughter together.
Over the years, Rebecca Bredow grew more and more antivaccine, and after her and Horne’s son was about a year old, she refused to get him vaccinated further. Her daughter with Gary Bredow is completely unvaccinated.
Horne either discarded his antivaccine beliefs or never held them in the first place, because he later decided he wanted his son vaccinated. Bredow refused. The matter wound up in Court, and on November 30th 2016, Bredow agreed to get their son caught up on his vaccinations. This was then made an Order of the Court.
Bredow never had any intention of getting her son vaccinated. Despite the Court Order, she kept stalling. Eventually, on Wednesday September 27th, Judge Karen McDonald gave her a week to start getting her son vaccinated or she would sentence her to jail for Contempt of Court.

You have seven days to get your child vaccinated. If not, you will appear here Wednesday and if you have not, I’ll send you to jail. Let me say it one more time, you have seven days. It’s ridiculous. Don’t make me do that.

Bredow stalled again, and three days ago a very irate McDonald not only sentenced her to a week in jail for contempt, but granted temporary custody of the son to Horne, until such time as he was up to date on his vaccines.
Someone provided a transcript of the Judge giving her ruling. It is abundantly clear that Bredow lied to the Court, and she should consider herself lucky that McDonald did not slap her with further penalties for perjury.

Ok, ma’am. I’m going to stop you… because the truth matters.
November 30th [2016] you appeared to set that order aside. You never went before me.
You agreed in a consent order to vaccinate your child. One.
Two. I understand you love your children, but what I don’t think you understand is that your son has two parents and Dad gets a say. And the record – I urge you to review it, and anyone else –
– What you just said, “that he has a new found objection”, is Not True. You acknowledge in your own pleadings your child at a year old was up to date on all his vaccinations. You acknowledge that in your own pleadings… [holding hand up to silence Mom] I’m not going to take time, today, to listen to the facts as you see them.
– I just urge you to really read the record… because I have. And what you’re saying is just not true.
Contempt is a serious and critical power the court has. It’s available to the court so it can enforce orders and so the people before me have confidence that an order means something. And I don’t take it lightly.
It’s clear to me that you don’t care about orders even if you agree to them. WHICH YOU DID. You agreed on Nov. 30th; your attorney signed that order.
I reviewed your testimony at the FOC hearing where you acknowledged that you enrolled the minor child in a different school without Dad’s consent.
You’ve admitted in this court previously that you unilaterally changed the child’s therapist without the court’s approval or Dad’s consent.
You signed a waiver for vaccinations without Dad’s consent. [nodding head with each word for emphasis]
And you’ve repeatedly stated over the last several days, publicly, that you will not follow this court order. So I am sentencing you to seven days in jail, and I also award Dad temporary physical custody while you are incarcerated and until enough time has passed for him to bring your son’s vaccinations up to date as rapidly as medically necessary, which is the language in the order.

What the above quote makes clear is that Rebecca Bredow has previously repeatedly violated the terms of the custody agreement, which is an aggravating factor that Judge McDonald considered.
Bredow strikes me as one of those arrogant antivaxxers who thinks she knows better than the experts, and that she is exceptional. i.e. She thinks the law doesn’t apply to her. It must have been a thump to learn that it did.

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