So, we are come to this, citizens. We have as a nation paid our debts and done our chores. We have the ships, we have the planes, we have the money too. What we do not have any more is the men, or the social system to serve them, or the moral values or political goals which might prevent our society from collapsing into ruin.
The President of the African National Congress, Jacob Zuma, heir-apparent to the Presidency of South Africa, was recently in Mauritius, making dubious statements to their highest court. He was doing this because he wants documents bearing his name to be kept secret from the South African authorities. This must mean that the documents incriminate him in some way. The press, which supported Zuma’s Presidential campaign, mildly mentions this but does not make a great fuss. Why make a fuss that the leader of the country’s ruling party is a criminal wriggling on a hook? It is, apparently, such fun to watch.
In his spare time, Zuma makes pronouncements. He recently announced that South Africa would probably need a more flexible labour market. (Meaning: the trade union laws must be changed so that rich people can more easily dismiss their workers and thus make greater profits and keep trade union activity under restraint.) This was the man supported by COSATU and the Communist Party, as opposed to Mbeki, who built the present labour market (with the assistance of Tito Mboweni, Labour Minister and now Governor of the Reserve Bank). COSATU grumbled a little, but only a little. When you have abandoned the substance of your principles it is foolish to make much of a fuss about losing the illusion of principles as well.
Willie Madisha, President of COSATU, was purged from his union federation on the grounds that he brought the union into disrepute by exposing the probable criminal conduct of the Secretary-General of the SACP. COSATU was formerly the most nearly democratic institution in the tricameral alliance, so the death of democracy there, displayed by this ridiculous act of executive fiat, is worth noting. Just in case the public hasn’t noticed this, however, it is rumoured that COSATU’s leadership is now casting about for excuses to purge other people who have shown insufficient subservience to that leadership. The press observes this with satisfaction, seeing the people against whom totalitarian methods are being used as being Mbeki loyalists.
Meanwhile, it seems that Billy Masetlha, the former head of the National Intelligence Agency is going to get off scott-free. The forged e-mails implicating Mbeki loyalists in a vast plot against Zuma which he distributed? Apparently nobody can prove he wrote them, and it is not considered illegal for the head of the NIA to distribute false information about government officials. (His using thugs to put the frighteners on Mbeki loyalists was so trivial a matter that he hasn’t even been charged for it.) It is also so trivial for a member of the ANC to spread smear information about the President and the leadership of the ANC that there is no question of a disciplinary hearing; such activities do not count as bringing the organisation into disrepute!
But wait — it turns out that sometimes it is a crime. It turns out that a right-wing Mail and Guardian journalist named Ivor Powell, working for the Scorpions, wrote a draft “browse” report for his superiors about Jacob Zuma and his possible links with foreign governments and internal dissidents. The report was leaked to COSATU, which handed paranoiac selections from it to the media. Now the full weight of the State is coming down on the Scorpions. It is absolutely appalling that anyone should be permitted to investigate a high official of the State! This abuse of authority must be punished!
In unrelated news, Zuma’s ANC has launched an investigation of its former President. An investigation which it does not have the authority to launch. But this does not count as abuse of authority.
What is the proper way to respond to all this? The Roman intellectual politician Cicero went to mediate between Caesar and Pompey during the first Roman Civil War; he first went to see Caesar and discovered that his allies were all corrupt men out for what they could take advantage of in the chaos caused by Caesar’s invasion of Italy; he called them the “army of the underworld”. He then went to see Pompey and discovered that his allies were all homicidal maniacs out to kill anyone who opposed them. He concluded that things did not look great for Rome.
It seems to me that we have a slightly similar situation here, except that we have only one side. The Mbeki camp has collapsed, having no prospect of success, and all its works lie in ruins. The replacement camp, however, has no intention of either restoring the ruins or replacing them with more suitable architecture. So what is it after?
Greed, it would appear. The Creator recently applied for a driver’s licence and was annoyed to think that the machinery used, and the cost of the licence itself, all serves to enrich Schabir Shaik, the criminal behind Zuma. The bulk of Zuma’s allies seem to hold themselves to this kind of moral standard; they want to get even richer than they are even quicker than they have, and nothing can be allowed to get in their way. All that was important was putting Zuma in place, and questions of morality, principle or tactical wisdom were insignificant in comparison. The chaos generated by the incompetence and self-obsession of Zuma and his clique would provide the opportunities.
But once Zuma was in place, the danger was that he might be threatened. So out come the homicidal maniacs, except that instead of killing men they want to kill institutions — the institutions of democracy, of judiciary, of national safety and security. These institutions must be torn down or swept aside so that every crook can be safe from prosecution, but also so that every innocent man who stands in the path of the crooks can be threatened with punishment — outside the judicial framework, if necessary. We stand on the threshold of an era of impunity for lawbreakers, coupled, inevitably, with an era of intimidation for all who try to uphold the law.
Well, not, of course, “all”. You will just have to keep your head down and pay no attention. Then you will be all right. Just read the newspapers — you can be sure that they will not tell you anything that embarrasses your faith in the rectitude of the new regime. (At the moment the newspapers are still free to criticise Zuma, and a few do, mildly — because Mbeki is protecting them. But Mbeki is going, going, gone, and the newspapers who ululate at his departure will soon be singing compulsory praise-hymns to Zuma or to whoever his nominated successor it.)
No, the future is like life under the late Nkrumah, or like life under a Nigerian military dictator. Perhaps not quite as bad as life under Abacha. But when the floor collapses under you, how can you tell, falling through the air, just how far you are going to fall?