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Is South Africa going the way of Zimbabwe?

It's a very obvious overstatement to say that South Africa is becoming more like its delinquent neighbor, Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, an incident reported in South Africa's Business Today gave reason for the comparison: Last weekend, a mob overran a fruit and sugar cane farm, allegedly in frustration for the slow pace of long-promised land reform. It sparked memories of the public outcry in Zimbabwe that spawned a policy of "fast track" reallocation of land from white to black hands.

As South Africa approaches its fourth elections since the end of apartheid this weekend, this is a dismaying analogy. Both countries began independence with striking imbalances -- with some 80 to 90 percent of land in white hands. In South Africa, that persists today, and calls for a more rapid solution to reallocation are growing. Elections are likely to be won by the African National Congress Party's Jacob Zuma, known for a more populist stance on precisely these types of issues. The pressure on Zuma to move forward quickly could be quite intense.

So far, South Africa's approach has been more moderate than Zimbabwe's raid-and-reallocate approach: Pretoria has tried to encourage land owners to sell and private investment to revamp the productivity of failed plots. The government assures that Zimbabwe will not be the model to follow. But success is percieved to be mixed at best, and there is much transferring to be done before the promised 30 percent of land returns to majority black hands by 2014. And land is just one of the manifestations of the inequality that continues to plague South Africa. Patience is wearing thin. 

Where South Africa goes after its Sunday vote is yet unclear. Former parliamentarian Raenette Taljaard has a few predictions in FP's Think Again: South Africa. But one can only hope that the answer to the title of this post is, "no."

AFP PHOTO/GIANLUIGI GUERCIA

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In Novaya Gazetta interview Medvedev shows inner nerd

Last week, Evgeny Morozov explored President Medvedev's love for gadgets, coming to the conclusion that he is a "geek-in-chief". But judging from his recent interview with Novaya Gazetta, the last remaining Russian publication that is openly critical of the Kremlin, Medvedev is also a huge nerd. (Click here to see the difference between the two).

For instance, here is Medvedev's take on Hume and Rousseau:

The conceptualization of the Social Contract is one of the brightest human ideas in history. It is an idea that has played a significant role in the establishment of democratic institutions throughout the world.  It is well known that the sources of this conceptualization stem from Rousseau, but if we are to discuss the modern reading of this social contract, that I would say that this conceptualization is rooted in our (Russian) constitution.

“The entire political system exists solely for the purpose of allowing judges to interpret trials without interference”. David Hume said this on the topic of judicial independence.

Sound unusually intellectual and liberal? Get a load of Medvedev's opinion on internet regulation:

The internet is not just one of few forums, but in my opinion, the best method for public discussions, and not only in our country, but in general, because nothing more significant, nothing more active in allowing for direct communications has ever been invented.

Wow! No wonder Putin chose him as his successor. This guy is the next Gandhi! Well, not so fast. When it comes to those pesky bureaucrats, Medvedev's authoritarian side shines through:

Q) Have you personally felt the negative reaction of bureaucrats? Or did these officials respond with understanding on your decision to disclose their incomes?
A) You know, the office of the president absolves me from having to listen to the negative reaction of bureaucrats. I made a decision – they have to obey it.

It will be interesting to see just how this interview reflects on the hypothetical struggle between Putin and Medvedev. In case you're wondering, Putin is more of a jock.