On Reading Propaganda (II).

In a sense all right-wing and neoliberal propaganda in South Africa derives from overseas. Many conservatives in South Africa owe intellectual and moral allegiance to foreign conservatives. Those whose ideas were formed indigenously, mostly through racism or through domestic plutocracy, are aware that they can only succeed in their goal of oppressing or cheating the South African working-class majority with foreign assistance, and therefore accommodate their ideas to foreigners. However, this does not mean that all the propaganda one reads is foreign-oriented. The most effective South African propaganda is attuned to the power-shift in society; it is unwise to simply denounce the working class as one can do in the United States. Instead, in South Africa, one must pretend to endorse the change in society, while offering a proposal for reforming it which (naturally) implies the reversal of everything which has happened since the 1980s. (This is rather like the attitude which American politicians hold towards Social Security.)

In this light we turn to Mark Gevisser. He was a journalist working for the Mail and Guardian, supposedly left-wing but actually right-wing, writing “profiles” of politicians — hatchet-jobs on people whom the management disliked, arse-licking for people whom the management approved. In brief, a propagandist, though perhaps less dishonest or talentless than most. He withdrew from that newspaper for several years (it would be nice to think that this was because that newspaper had become so atrociously dishonest) and spent almost a decade researching a biography of Thabo Mbeki.

Suddenly the book was produced in terrific haste. It appeared late in 2007, and was enormously hyped by almost everybody. The newspapers printed screeds of extracts from it — and all of these extracts happened to be ones which contained none of Gevisser’s actual research, but were simply repetitions of the usual journalistic lies told about Mbeki; that he was an AIDS denialist, that he was secretly backing Mugabe, that he was a vicious totalitarian, and so on. Presumably Gevisser had cut a deal; provided that he inserted appropriate material to hang a pre-Polokwane propaganda campaign on, he would receive excellent and uncritical promotion for his book. If this is true, and it seems the most likely explanation for the situation, then Gevisser serves his political bias and his personal profit more than he serves the truth. (Nothing remarkable there, no doubt.)

Turn again to Gevisser’s article “The people will uproot African tyranny”. Interesting title — interesting claim. Is it true? One could say, overconfident. Also, who are “the people”, and who defines what “African tyranny” is?

Gevisser kicks off by saying that Thabo Mbeki likes to claim that Western hostility to Zimbabwe is all about ill-treatment of whites, and that there are many other African countries where conditions are worse but Western hostility is trivial or absent. Gevisser says that Mbeki is wrong, because black people also suffer in Zimbabwe, since there is high inflation there. While Gevisser’s original statement is partly wrong (Mbeki doesn’t talk about the issue much any more) it is evident that there are indeed many other African countries where the West countenances worse atrocities than Zimbabwean, so Mbeki was telling the truth and Gevisser wrong to criticise him. When Gevisser singles out high inflation as the big crime in Zimbabwe; apart from the question which the Creator has asked as to whether this inflation is directly caused by ZANU (PF), inflation is something which particularly affects rich people; apparently, Gevisser’s deepest concern is not for poor Zimbabweans, but for rich ones. This seems related to his desire to let the West off the hook regarding their real motives in Zimbabwe.

According to Gevisser. Western concern about Zimbabwe resembles the anti-apartheid struggle; it is a moral campaign against tyranny and in support of a “vibrant new coalition”, the MDC. In practice, the campaign against Zimbabwe is an official campaign, led by governments. Vast amounts of Western state money were poured into the MDC’s election campaigns and international propaganda operations. The West offers immense bribes for Zimbabweans if they vote MDC. Nothing like that happened in the anti-apartheid struggle, where Western countries sided with apartheid (and, for that matter, with Smith’s dictatorship in Rhodesia) as much as they dared. There is no grassroots anti-Mugabe campaign in the way that there was a vast grassroots anti-apartheid campaign. Why should there be, when the government is doing all the work anyway?

Gevisser also compares this campaign with Zambia, where a similar campaign, the Movement for Multiparty Democracy, also supported by Western governments, overthrew the Kaunda government, sold off the national infrastructure to foreigners, and plunged Zambia into chaos and misery as the new tyrant Frederick Chiluba plundered the state. Not a good comparison, but doubtless Gevisser hopes his audience has forgotten this; doubtless also, the MMD provides an excellent blueprint for international neoliberals to plunder Zimbabwe, which is presumably the agenda which Gevisser endorses.

He then gives a more or less accurate account of the current predicament. The Zimbabwean government refuses to acknowledge that it has lost the Presidential election. This is even worse behaviour than the behaviour of the Republican Party when they stole the 2000 Presidential election in the United States. The Zimbabwean government must be persuaded not to pursue such a course. However, it is not, by African standards, a crisis. Angola hasn’t had an election for sixteen years. Rwanda and Equatorial Guinea have never had free elections. Rigged elections are routine across much of Africa. It is proper to protest against Zimbabwe’s misconduct, but it is not proper to pretend, as Gevisser does, that this is something extraordinary, or to be astounded, as Gevisser is, that the People of Zimbabwe have not Risen Up. Why should they? What, really, is in it for them, and why shouldn’t they follow The Who in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”?

There is nothing in the street that looks any different to me,

And the slogans are all replaced by and by,

The Party On The Left is now the Party On The Right,

And the beards have all grown longer overnight.

Come and meet the New Boss,

He’s the same as the Old Boss.

One thing which Gevisser reluctantly admits is that a lot of Zimbabweans support Mugabe. He concludes that they must be mad or brainwashed; there is just no way in Gevisser’s mind that anybody could honestly have any doubts about the sleazy foreign-backed opposition party. When that sleazy party calls strikes which fail, and demonstrations to which people don’t show up, Gevisser explains that this must be because of intimidation. Why are Zimbabweans so easily intimidated when South Africans were not? Why, says Gevisser in effect, are Zimbabweans such fools and cowards that they will not automatically do what the West wants them to do? Why are they not fighting, as they did against Smith, whom Gevisser suggests was no worse than Mugabe? Obviously, this is because Gevisser’s attempt to compare the squabble in Zimbabwe and the actual struggle in South Africa or Rhodesia is a load of nonsense, but Gevisser cannot see how completely he has undermined his own case.

Reading propaganda not only shows where the ruling class’s lies are headed, but also shows how promoting ruling class lies eventually poisons the mind.

Gevisser’s conclusion, however, is true. There is obviously a need for negotiation. This is what the South African government has been saying since the 2000 election, after which the South African government, under the auspices of Thabo Mbeki, first floated the idea of a government of national unity, an idea which Gevisser ascribes to the leader of the MDC Morgan Tsvangirai. The Southern African Development Community agrees and, for some time, has supported Mbeki’s proposals for negotiations. The difficulty is simply to get the two sides to sit down and agree on a formula, for there is vast and well-justified mutual mistrust. However, with the MDC holding control of Parliament it seems clear that ZANU (PF) is in a weaker position, politically, than ever before, so there is a lot of promise that the Zimbabwean crisis may be brought to an end.

This does not sit well with everything which Gevisser has said up to this point. If ZANU (PF) are not evil incarnate, but a bad government which can be removed by negotiations, then the issue is not a struggle, but something like the negotiations which ended apartheid. Again, it is then not a titanic crisis, but a resolvable impasse (which is what the South African government has claimed all along, and what Gevisser and the rest of the press here and abroad have denied).

In order to gain something from this failure, Gevisser explains that Thabo Mbeki must not be allowed to have anything to do with this. This is because he is utterly discredited by his support for Mugabe. Gevisser provides no evidence for this (none exists — Gevisser a few sentences later claims that Mbeki supports someone else) and of course virtually nobody actually believes it. But it has to be pretended; this is why Morgan Tsvangirai has repudiated Mbeki. Actually, it appears that Mbeki is too honest a broker; Tsvangirai either does not trust Mbeki to negotiate in bad faith, or more probably, Tsvangirai’s Western backers do not trust Tsvangirai to succeed in any honest negotiations process. Therefore, Gevisser insists, for real negotiations we must look elsewhere.

The person Gevisser (and Tsvangirai) favours is the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban-ki Moon. He is the former Korean Foreign Minister whom the Americans installed as their toady at the UN, because their previous toady, Kofi Annan, had proved insufficiently subservient over American aggression in Iraq. Undoubtedly a glove-puppet of the U.S. right-wing would be a useful mediator if one wants the Western side to win, but the UN is so despised throughout Africa that it is hard to see anyone being fooled by this.

Since things aren’t likely to happen his way, Gevisser simply repeats that Mbeki is discredited. That is not likely to be the way for Zimbabwe to succeed, of course; even Gevisser admits that Mbeki is the best-qualified mediator. Most probably, however, Gevisser does not want Mbeki to emerge from the Zimbabwean impasse with any credit. This is the gist of his book, and this has been the gist of what the South African media has been saying in general.

For Zimbabwe, however useful it might be for Western capitalism, increasingly in need of funds, to plunder, is no longer the real prize. The real prize is South Africa, and the real tool is Zuma’s cabal of cronies. Zuma is the man who has passed the true test (by going and bowing the knee to Gordon Brown) and who can be trusted to do to South Africa what Tsvangirai is going to do to Zimbabwe, and what Chiluba did to Zambia. This is what Gevisser’s article is really about.

Amazing what you read in the papers these days, isn’t it?

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