In some ways contemporary politics is something like a disaster movie. The bulk of it is very boring. However, at some point you are guaranteed to see something destroyed by hideous violence. In a disaster movie it is usually cinematic artistic integrity which gets destroyed in this way. In contemporary politics, every other kind of integrity gets it in the back of the neck.
The recent press revelations (as presented by the public-relations teams who drafted the articles) about the Pikoli hearings and the Khampepe Commission are an excellent case in point.
When President Mbeki handed the question of the Scorpions over to Judge Khampepe, his real agenda was “Throw me a bone, somebody!”. At that time the media were running Zuma propaganda in unison, calling for the destruction of the Scorpions, South Africa’s only effective anti-organised crime unit. The media were doing this because big business, which backs Zuma and owns the media, are essentially an organised crime syndicate and did not fancy having Scorpions on their backs. The problem was that the Scorpions are generally popular because they act against organised criminals, and popular in the white community because they sometimes arrest black politicians.
Hence the press treated the story with care, explaining that the problem with the Scorpions was that Mbeki was using them for his own evil political ends. Mention Mbeki and the white community instantly acts like Count Dracula is indahouse, so that smeared the Scorpions effectively to be going on with. Mbeki realised that he needed someone who could not be so easily smeared to stand up for the Scorpions, and thus called on a female black judge. Anyone who attacked her without cause would be in danger of alienating just about everybody.
Judge Khampepe presented her report to Mbeki after a long time, and Mbeki did nothing. The press set up a huge squawk, conducted by Zuma’s gang, that Khampepe’s confidential report had recommended that the Scorpions be disbanded, and that this was obviously why the evil Mbeki was trying to protect the Scorpions by suppressing the report. Mbeki and Khampepe said nothing.
However, times have changed. What has actually changed is that Zuma now controls Parliament and some key posts in the Cabinet. He controls the ANC NEC, which has obediently demanded the disbanding of the Scorpions. He has, assisted by his corporate backers, had legislation passed which provides for the elimination of the Scorpions as an independent entity; they will be brought under the police force, a much more subservient organisation. All of this has been done against the wishes of President Mbeki, who, as the press never ceases to gloat, has been marginalised.
Now that this has been done, the problem is that the public doesn’t want the Scorpions destroyed. This problem is easily solved; the destruction of the Scorpions is being blamed on Mbeki. The long press campaign against the Scorpions, Zuma and Co.’s machinations, and of course all the propaganda about how the Scorpions were Mbeki’s private praetorian guard, have been forgotten in favour of denouncing Mbeki for attacking the Scorpions. Needless to say, part of this campaign entails declaring that the Khampepe report recommended that the Scorpions be retained, and attacking the evil Mbeki for trying to destroy the Scorpions by suppressing the report.
You might, if you were not South African, think that the Creator is making this stuff up. How could anybody, even in the most diseased public culture, get away with such shit? How could any journalist or editor, no matter how corrupt, try, or even want, to get away with such shit? It is a sign of how bad the situation has become that nobody has even admitted noticing the stench of the elephant-sized heap of droppings in our public sphere.
However, Mbeki did have a remedy this time. The government decided to give in to the demands of the DA (the white voice of big business in Parliament, as the ANC is now the black voice of big business in Parliament) and release the Khampepe Commission’s report. Needless to say, the press declared once it was released that it proved everything they had been saying against Mbeki. The press would have said that even of the Khampepe report had proved to be a Yiddish translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.
What the Khampepe report revealed was that Khampepe was a pussyfooting coward. The report did not stand up for the Scorpions — it denounced them savagely for not being sufficiently nice to the police and to the Ministry of Safety and Security. Virtually the only thing which it said in their favour was that their existence was not unconstitutional (you can say the same thing about a serial killer, of course). It was obvious that Mbeki had sat on the report because it was worthless, although it provided some grist to the Zuma rumour mills.
This is a classic example of the problem which Mbeki has faced in the last few years. He is surrounded either by traitors who stab him in the back whenever they get an opportunity, or by gutless people who promise to back him and then sidle away when the chips are down. It is possibly his own fault for promoting them, but perhaps it is also a product of the gutless culture of the ANC after the disappearance of the anti-apartheid struggle, and the self-aggrandizing culture which has arisen in the shadow of neoliberalism and BEE. However, blaming it on Mbeki doesn’t make it go away, especially because Mbeki did not create it — the most one can say is that he didn’t act against it forthrightly enough, and how could he in the absence of any reliable support?
Meanwhile, the Scorpions were also in the news around the Ginwala Commission. Frene Ginwala, ex-Speaker of Parliament (not to be confused with the current Speaker Baleka Mbete, the Zuma toady with the fake driving license) was appointed by Mbeki to look into the behaviour of Vusi Pikoli, former head of the Scorpions who was sacked for misconduct. Because the Scorpions are an independent body, Mbeki is required to set up such a commission. What was the issue?
Some may recall that Pikoli was sacked during the investigation into Commissioner of Police Selebi. The press naturally claimed that Mbeki sacked Pikoli to defend Selebi. However, since Selebi was almost immediately sacked and charged with corruption following that investigation, this argument could only stand up if you were as incapable of logical thought as South African newspaper readers are. The real question was why Mbeki sacked Pikoli and whether he was justified in doing it. Naturally the press is saying that the reason was to protect Selebi and that he was not justified; they would be saying that even if it have been proved that Pikoli was a Klingon agent responsible for a string of rape-murders which Selebi was trying to have investigated.
So, looking beyond the press, what has come out? Interesting stuff. It turns out that Pikoli was acting in much the way that the Zuma clique pretend that his predecessor, Bulelani Ngcuka, was acting. That is, he was trying to nail Selebi, come hell or high water. Instead of waiting for the actual investigation to proceed — interviewing people, going through files, comparing statements and compiling evidence — he was charging around, trying to get search warrants for all kinds of police premises which had nothing to do with the charges against Selebi (Selebi was not likely to have left evidence that he took bribes from organised criminals lying around in the local charge office). It appeared that Pikoli was simply trying to stir things up and destabilise things. Finally, without having any hard evidence against Selebi at all, he showed up at Mbeki’s office triumphantly waving a warrant of arrest against Selebi which he’d got from a tame judge.
By any sane standard (not something associated with our press, alas), this is grand-scale misconduct. You don’t do random trolls in search of evidence unless you already have some kind of case. The Scorpions only hit Zuma’s private premises, for instance, when they already had a strong case against him (and that got them into legal trouble). Since Khampepe had complained about the bad vibes between Justice (which runs the Scorpions) and Safety and Security (which runs the police) it was a safe bet that Pikoli’s plans to further alienate the police by forcing them to submit to search-warrants did not sit well with the Presidency.
But to arrest Selebi without any hard evidence against him was catastrophic behaviour that would probably have torpedoed the actual case which Pikoli’s team were preparing. Any lawyer would have blown Pikoli out of the water, and that would have driven a huge nail into the coffin that Zuma’s team were getting ready for the Scorpions — for a big part of their case was that the Scorpions were irresponsible. Meanwhile, Scorpion investigator Billy Nel’s gang were working with the murderer, drug dealer and money launderer Glenn Agliotti, promising him immunity from prosecution if he were prepared to claim that Selebi had accepted bribes from him. That might not be true, and it might not stand up — but it is a case that Selebi had to answer, and it is the reason why Selebi is no longer Commissioner of Police. Pikoli must have known that this was in the pipeline — why did he try to pre-empt it, especially if he really wanted to nail Selebi?
Presumably Pikoli was not really interested in nailing Selebi. What he was interested in, most probably, was embarrassing the government and promoting conflict between the Scorpions and the police. Selebi had already been effectively smeared, whether or not he was actually charged. However, it’s not clear that anyone within the ANC really disliked Selebi (though Selebi clearly has very influential opponents outside the ANC, especially in the white business community). However, Selebi was associated with Mbeki, and an attack on Selebi would disrupt whatever Mbeki was doing. Particularly, all this was happening in the run-up to Polokwane, and it kept Selebi, Mbeki and Pikoli in the news and provided a hook for various smear attacks on Mbeki which promoted the position of Zuma’s clique.
There is another possibility which looks more and more plausible. It seems likely that Pikoli is yet another Zuma mole in the South African spook community, like Billy Masetlha. This being the case, it is quite plausible that his agenda was to destroy the Scorpions, or to discredit them so that they could more easily be destroyed. In this perspective, his agenda was not to wreck Selebi’s career, but to save him, by prematurely charging him and thus making it seem that the Scorpions were biassed against him (making future charges less likely to hold up in court) — and provide more ammo for Zuma and company in their campaign against the Scorpions.
Conspiracy theory? Of course, dummy. This is a conspiracy. We know it exists. All we can do is theorise about how deeply it goes. We can’t do anything to stop it. Let’s scrunch back in the uncomfortable seats and munch our stale, greasy popcorn.