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The Independent Online
Crocodile tears

OLD PW Botha, the former South African president whose frog-like visage embodied the ugliness of apartheid, is about to get a lesson in how things have changed.

The irascible "Great Crocodile", as he is also affectionately known, is refusing to testify to the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the dirty war he waged against his opponents when he was in power. On Friday this is due to land him in court, where he will find himself facing a black magistrate, something that would never have happened in the old days. Under Botha, chief magistrate Victor Lugaju would have been confined to the black "homelands", dealing only with black defendants.

Sadly, the authorities are handling the old monster with kid gloves. He may not have to turn up on Friday, the case probably will not get going for several weeks, and he is unlikely at any point to have to spend even an hour in jail, where he could well have found himself sharing a cell with black prisoners. Now that would have been piquant: one place Botha fought to the last to keep segregated was the prisons.

Bargains sur mer

ANYONE who doubts that Monaco is a peculiar place should consider the fact that the main arm of state is the Sea-Bathing Company. Since there is no income tax - which is why the likes of Michael Schumacher and Shirley Bassey live there - the Societe des Bains de Mer, as they call it, is supposed to keep Prince Rainier and his family in the style to which they are accustomed.

The only problem is that the Societe has been losing money lately, despite operating the Principality's casino and several hotels. You would expect it to seize the chance to make up some of the shortfall when Messrs Schumacher and co are racing round the streets in the Grand Prix, but an invoice sent to the BBC suggests otherwise. For the right to station a camera in one of Monaco's minute parks, it charges the extortionate sum of one franc. To this is added VAT at 20.6 per cent, rounded up to 21 centimes, and stamp duty of six francs. Total: 7.21 francs.

Ironically enough, the Societe's failings mean that Monaco's main source of income is the (disputed) share of VAT revenue it gets from the French government.

Seasonal disorder

AREN'T you delighted at how early the daffodils are coming up? Isn't your heart gladdened by reports that birds are already building their nests? In Germany's capital, it seems, these things offend the national sense of ordnung.

Flooding by the Rhine, fine. Snowstorms and ice, no problem: German trains never stop running on time. This year, however, the weather has been exceptionally fickle in Bonn. For three weeks the sun has been beating down from blue skies. The afternoons are almost balmy, the nights still. But my informant tells me the locals are not happy, and that everyone, especially the forecasters on TV, keep muttering that it's "not normal". There is a time and place for everything, and January is no time for spring. The birds tricked by the weather will die, they fret, when Father Winter returns with a vengeance, and flower buds will be throttled by the frost.

But hope springs eternal. The meteorologists are looking cheerful for the first time in weeks: rain has arrived in Bavaria and the satellite pictures are promising snow by today. Soon the whole nation will be merrily skidding along the Autobahn, and chaos will have been averted.

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