It’s a little puzzling to follow South African politics at the moment if you believe what the press say, as so many middle-class South Africans do (and even working-class South Africans are influenced by this).
Economic migrants to South Africa appear to be clamouring for forced repatriation, bitterly attacking the government (especially the President of South Africa) for allowing them to come here and for protecting and sheltering them when they were attacked by thugs. The West’s candidate for President of Zimbabwe is bitterly denouncing the President of South Africa, who negotiated the election deal which made it possible for him to seek the Presidency of his country (and pissing off powerful neighbours for no obvious gain is not often considered a smart move). The South African Communist Party is calling on its alliance partner, the African National Congress, to remove the President of South Africa by any means available, although this would be unbelievably destructive for the African National Congress, and also the SACP has no actual reason for demanding this removal. Meanwhile, the President of the ANC, ignoring all the actual problems, is visiting the Eastern Cape, trying to impose the opinions of the corrupt O R Tambo Municipality, one of the few regions in the province which support him, on the whole province, against the wishes of provincial government and electorate.
Hmm. Open the papers. Ah, it’s all so clear now. Like everything else, it’s all Thabo Mbeki’s fault. Just get rid of him and there will be no more xenophobia, Zimbabwe will be rich, the Tripartite Alliance will be at peace and the Eastern Cape will be contented. Actually, if you depend on the papers, this will probably be the case; all those things will indeed fill the papers once Jacob Zuma is in charge of the country. But those things will be no more true than anything that fills the papers now.
What goes on?
The Creator would like to cut through some of the fog. The fundamental issue is that not only South African, but global big business wants Mbeki out. Mbeki has been an extremely business-friendly President, but he has not been corrupt, and he has not been hostile to national development. Allow more corruption, and cut back on social and infrastructural spending (and ramp up privatisation) — these are things which big business wants and which Mbeki poses a threat to. These are also the things which the new ANC elite particularly fancy (and, sadly, which too many of the old ANC elite fancied, so Mbeki walked a tightrope between them and his own beliefs until he fell off last year).
Hence Tsvangirai’s kick at Mbeki. He is simply doing what his Western handlers tell him to do. He may even believe it, since in his cowardly flight from Zimbabwe this year he mostly sheltered among right-wing whites in South Africa, a category of people whose word Tsvangirai has always followed. Most importantly, he knows it will do no harm; if Mbeki falls soon, the Zuma faction may even give Tsvangirai a little handout for helping them. But if, against all expectations, the Mbeki faction holds on to power, they will not punish Zimbabwe or Tsvangirai for his rudeness.
The behaviour of the foreigners in the makeshift camps is also not at all odd. Anyone who has been chased from their home by marauding mobs is likely to be in a disturbed state of mind and will abuse almost anyone available to be abused. No surprise that they extrapolate from the handful of thugs to the whole of South Africa. No surprise, either, that they blame the government. Who else are they to blame, other than the thugs, of course?
What is slightly surprising is that the media, especially the press, is taking precisely this line, blaming the government a) for allowing the foreigners in — essentially, saying that the thugs have a point, b) for not acting sooner against the violence (which is unfair, but a potentially legitimate criticism), c) for not giving the foreigners better refugee camps (again a bit unfair, since the government desperately hoped that they’d be able to go back home — now, of course, more permanent camps are being set up, but for obvious reasons these can’t be seen as superior to the shacks which the foreigners were living in beforehand), d) for not blathering on about how xenophobia is bad. (This last shows where the press is really at; it’s all about propaganda, and to hell with reality — which explains why the convicted criminal who was fired from the Ministry of Home Affairs for incompetence and corruption, Winnie Mandela, is now held up as a glorious example by the press.)
However, the media’s urgent need to blame the government, to exploit the results of attacks on foreigners and to exploit the laughable babbling of the West’s glove-puppet in Zimbabwe, is not in itself easy to understand. OK, the media is owned by big business, and big business hates Mbeki. On the other hand, all this vicious and dishonest propaganda does obvious harm to South Africa’s socio-political and economic interests. Maybe South Africa’s interests are not exactly high on the agenda of our media bosses, who all have homes abroad, but surely it might count for something among the editors, some of whom spend winters in South Africa. What’s going on?
Oops, look at the time! It’s June! Gotta rush — August is just around the corner! In August, unless something intervenes, Jacob Zuma goes on trial for corruption, bribery and income-tax evasion. It’s a no-brainer; an honest judge would have the handcuffs on Zuma before he’d been in the dock for ten minutes. More probably, however, the case would go on for a long while, excruciatingly exposing the dishonesty and treachery of the man chosen by South African big business to be President of our country, and implicitly showing that the entire present leadership of the ANC’s National Executive Committee are either idiots or criminals or both.
What’s to be done? The problem is compounded by the fragility of the coalition behind Zuma. It consists chiefly of egomaniacal greedheads. Some of these greedheads pretend to be leftists, some pretend to be businessmen. (In each case the self-identity is dubious, although at least the businessmen possess the selfishness and corruption required, whereas a selfish and corrupt leftist is a contradiction in terms — albeit a sadly frequent one.)
These groups are at war. The leftists abuse the businessmen for not being leftists; the businessmen sideline the leftists and mock their principles through the newspapers they own. Within local branches and provincial executives of the ANC there is a perpetual jockeying for power which leads to chaos at conferences. Everybody is itching for a salaried government job, and the royal road to this lies through votes in local councils. Most probably, this is a big reason for the recent attacks on foreigners; someone has discovered that an easy way to mobilise people is through hatred of foreigners. Very possibly the leaders of those mobs carrying sticks and petrol-bombs are future mayors. Not a pleasant thought.
However, this is not a product of the times, or of poverty. It is a product of the deliberate decision by the Zuma clique within the ANC, to eliminate disciplinary action in the party. (This is why nobody is being threatened with expulsion, even though the violence often flared in ANC strongholds; it would be against the convenient position of the current leadership.) The lack of discipline makes it easier for minorities to disrupt or overrule democratic activities, and to promote intimidation generally. It cannot be stopped (despite all the spurious rhetoric about restoring discipline to the movement) because then the majority of ANC members would be free to express their anger at being sidelined and bullied by a minority who happen to have the support of the National Executive Committee. However, it is problematic because it is not easily controllable; what if another clique arises which resolves to use the same tactics against Zuma’s clique? What if the branches become ungovernable?
The best solution is to hold the party together with something that everyone can unite around. Unfortunately, the Zuma clique has no principles which the bulk of ANC members can share, so there is nothing positive with which to promote union. Hence something negative is needed. Hatred of foreigners might be one such solution, but it leads to embarrassing bloodshed. Much better is hatred of Thabo Mbeki, especially since the leadership of the NEC all have scores to settle with Mbeki; he has sidelined them in the past because of their incompetence or corruption, and must be punished. Hence the ANC NEC is promoting violent attacks on the President of South Africa, a member of the ANC who until last December was President of the country, and has one of the most impressive struggle track records of any surviving active member of the party. These attacks are often drawn, knowingly, from parties and organisations hostile to the ANC who have used attacks on Mbeki as springboards for attacks on the ANC itself.
In short, scapegoating Mbeki is a kind of suicide. After all, what does it say about the ANC? Either that the party has been so incompetent that it has elected the Great Satan to run it for ten years, or that it is now so dishonest and unreliable that it chooses to run a bogus campaign proclaiming one of its best leaders as the Great Satan for pure purposes of revenge and point-scoring. Either way, it’s not a party that any sane person would join, or vote for if there were any alternative. It’s an indication of how far the ANC has fallen under Zuma’s leadership.
Of course, there’s another side to it, the urgent one the Creator mentioned earlier. In August Zuma’s trial comes up. If Zuma can be made President of the country before then, by kicking Mbeki out somehow, perhaps this can be headed off. The President has potentially great powers of intimidation, through his powers of appointment and dismissal. Zuma seems to be more than a figurehead; he is virtually the only member of his clique who commands genuine popularity outside the corporate elite (people like Ramaphosa and Sexwale are forgotten men in politics; they are prominent only for their wealth). Hence, without him, the coalition would again be in danger of falling apart.
But what if he doesn’t manage to prevent the trial? That would then make things worse; the President of the country, rather than just the President of the ANC, would be going on trial, and probably going to jail, for crimes the mere suspicion of which should disqualify a man from holding high office. (Of course this is not a Rich-Poor world issue; look at Berlusconi in Italy or Dick Cheney in the United States.) Meanwhile, with Mbeki gone, the glue holding the coalition would have disappeared. It would probably fall apart, and bring down the ANC with it.
It’s possible that this explains the ambiguous attitude of the group. They’ve got themselves into a bind and don’t know how to get out of it. They’re thrashing around, kicking their own party to pieces and thus breaking apart the ladder on which they are standing. Mbeki is the man holding that ladder steady, so while they abuse him, they cannot really afford to get rid of him. But when he walks away next year, they will probably fall off anyway. Everything they do makes the ladder more unstable.
The only part of the coalition which is really happy with the situation is surely the SACP. They know that in the way things work, if the coalition holds together, they will get shafted and the tycoons will reap all the benefits. On the other hand, if the coalition disintegrates and the ANC splits up, the SACP is the only truly disciplined body involved in it — being completely undemocratic — and therefore has the potential to make gains. Not enough gains to get power, but enough to get it a few MPs in Parliament — perhaps even to be a tiny, powerless “official opposition” to the huge plutocratic foreign-dominated government which will probably be the successor to the ANC. And that, basically, seems to be what the SACP wants; a few jobs for the boys and an official opportunity to whine about the ever-worsening situation.
Welcome to the future; remember, you probably voted for it.