A Confession.

The Creator has a confession to make. The Creator has made a mistake. This is the trouble with knowing everything; sometimes you know it wrong.
The mistake was in misunderstanding the South African press. The Creator stupidly thought that there was an important difference between the propaganda put out by the Avusa Group on the one hand, and by the Independent Group and the Mail and Guardian on the other. This was wrong, and this was based on a formidable misunderstanding of the nature of South African capitalism and power-politics. The Creator’s current incarnation grovels with embarrassment.
Over the past decade the goal of all newspapers in South Africa has been to undermine the ANC and the Mbeki group within it. This is understandable. So long as the ANC saw its primary allegiance as being to voters rather than to big business, it posed a threat to big business’s interests. So long as Mbeki and his faction supported a pale variant of pan-Africanism, there was a possibility that the faction might cleave to pan-Africanism (which is consistent with social democracy) in preference to neoliberalism (which is the enemy of social democracy, and indeed of all democracy of every type).
But, of course, a lot of the issue was that the newspapers were mostly owned, run and staffed by whites who had been brought up under apartheid and often had strongly reactionary political opinions, and therefore they would have been anti-ANC and anti-Mbeki simply because the ANC had done away with apartheid and because Mbeki was black. Corporate direction was handy, but was not necessary. A side effect of this, however, was that in the beginning the press’s anti-ANC and anti-Mbeki propaganda was not tremendously effective; some of it was quite clever (and since it was the only source of information it was difficult to dismiss it altogether) but a great deal of it was so obviously reactionary and contemptible that it was hard for a sane person to swallow.
The newspapers, defeated, withdrew; big business bided its time. Meanwhile, a number of newspapers increased the number of black people on their staffs, and many even got black editors. This, according to Mbeki’s pan-Africanist theories, should have turned those newspapers into the voice of South Africa’s people. Instead, in a decisive refutation of pan-Africanist ideology, it turned those newspapers into a far more successful propaganda structure for neoliberalism and white corporate privilege.
Well, this was obvious to anyone who actually reads the papers with a critical eye instead of pouring the editorial page directly into a hole in her or his forehead. (Where would we be without the pineal gland?) Therefore, when all the newspapers began hymning the glories of our Zuma future while attacking the SACP and decrying COSATU, it was apparent that something was going on; the chorus seemed to be saying that Zuma’s corporate connections were welcome, whereas Zuma’s support among the supposed left-wing was not — if a choice was to be made. (Since the leadership of the South African Left mostly consists of bootlickers for the plutocracy, this choice is often unnecessary.)
However, it was possible that this process could be driven from two directions. The argument which floated through the Creator’s awesome mind was that the two directions were, respectively, South African foreign-oriented capitalists (who would obviously work through the foreign-owned Independent and Mail and Guardian) and South African domestic-oriented BEE capitalists (who had a big stake in Avusa). The former would want to destroy the ANC altogether and were thus supporting Zuma in order to bring the party down (a very sensible position). The latter might want to bend the ANC to their will and were thus supporting Zuma because he could be trusted to do whatever he was told to do (another very sensible position). As it appeared, therefore, in the run-up to Polokwane both groups might say the same thing, but after Polokwane it was entirely possible that differences would emerge.
What the Creator expected was that Zuma’s clique would receive the uncritical awestruck adulation of Avusa, whereas it would face increasing criticism from all other newspapers. Woe unto the Creator, this has not happened. Avusa (basically the Sunday Times, Business Day and a few hangers-on) has taken an even more right-wing stance than the rest. The Mail and Guardian, for instance, recently ran a laughable puff-piece pretending that the ANC Youth League, that fraudulent facade of prematurely senile hucksters, was the legitimate voice of black youth. In contrast, the Sunday Times recently ran a laughable puff-piece pretending that the ANC was going to lose the Western Cape, Gauteng and the Northern Cape in the 2009 elections. This piece came straight from the numbskulled strategists of the Democratic Alliance, who have fantasised about such things without any success since 1994.
What’s going on? The first thing which the Creator forgot is that Avusa may be heavily influenced by Mvelephanda, Tokyo Sexwale’s investment company, but Mvelephanda is itself not exactly an independent organisation. Ultimately it derives from Anglo American, just as does Avusa itself, and as does Cyril Ramaphosa’s investment company. All the shuffling-around of corporate names and nominal ownerships, stock-market corporate tap-dancing, fooled the Creator into thinking that something real was happening. But it was not; no real money was changing hands, just a restructuring process to accommodate the arrival of a number of black public figures to sit by the glass door and pretend to be empowered, and show up at occasional meetings to absorb the wrath of the self-righteously indignant stockholder.
The point which Thabo Mbeki discovered much too late is that the skin colour of a capitalist does not determine that capitalist’s politics. Capitalists are there to make money, and are motivated by greed. Capitalism requires avarice far more than it requires brains or personality. As a result capitalists will tend to support politics that they think will benefit their bank accounts. What is more, because the requirement for being a capitalist is not to be bright, but is rather to have a lot of money and to want even more, the chances are fairly good that a lot of capitalists will be thicker than pigshit. In consequence they will tend to be not only greedy, but stupidly greedy.
And therefore, South African black capitalists tend to look overseas; after all, white capitalists look overseas and the black capitalists are entirely dependent on the white capitalists. Perhaps people like Ramaphosa or Sexwale or any of the few who still support Mbeki could have persuaded white capitalists to risk some of their money on domestic investments, but they chose not to do so. But what this therefore means is that the black capitalists are not, actually, interested in the ANC, except insofar as they can influence the ANC to give them public money. The DA would do so just as well — and, after all, the DA is the party which their masters support. So the new black elite are not just fickle; the chances are that, whatever party they actually belong to, their allegiances are objectively to the kind of party which the DA represents, simply because the DA has become the quintessence of subjection to corporate capitalism.
What this also means is that the press has no need to cultivate the Zuma clique, whereas the Zuma clique desperately needs to suck up to the press. Hence the active criticism of Zuma’s ANC is also a warning sign. As Rupert Murdoch famously asked a suppliant politician, “What’ll it be, then — a headline a day, or a bucket of shit a day?”. The Sunday Times article showed the bucketloads of shit which could come down on Zuma’s head if he stepped out of line. Gwede Mantashe was on his knees before big business, a tube of KY in hand, within a week of that headline; perhaps it was just coincidence, but probably not.
Of course this does not mean that any newspaper will support Mbeki’s side. The recent suicidal and undemocratic purge of provincial premiers was hailed by the press which had done what it could to fabricate evidence against them. But this was because they were Mbeki allies more than because they were Zuma enemies; undoubtedly the hope is that the new Premiers will be less capable than the old (partly intrinsically and partly because they will have less freedom of action than existed in Mbeki’s more open-minded ANC). Likewise, the Zuma campaign to seize control of the SABC has been endorsed by the press, but this is partly because the SABC is the last medium to give any voice to Mbeki and his allies; in addition, the weaker and more discredited the SABC is, the more completely big business will control all the media. So in this case, too, Zuma is being supported for reasons not his own.
One would almost feel sorry for Zuma and his allies if they were not so despicable; they are in a desperate plight. Mbeki and his allies had to cope with the hostility of the press throughout their careers; Mbeki attempted unsuccessfully to reach out to white big business after he became national President, was viciously rebuffed and retired into his shell. None of this stopped him from increasing his personal support-base and the vote-share of the ANC continuously for ten years. Zuma, on the other hand, was the darling of the press the moment he came out against Mbeki. He knows quite well that he is desperately vulnerable to press attacks — they need only tell the truth about him and his career. As a result, he is almost as dependent on press support as he is on corporate cash, and he surely knows it quite well. The accelerating decline in ANC membership (which he obviously has no notion how to reverse, while his SACP and COSATU allies have no intention of helping him out) can only make this situation worse for him. Like Blair, he will be a prisoner of a press over which he will have no influence.
The Creator thinks that this is a very bad thing for the country, which, of course, is why the Creator was so deluded about the actual nature of the supposedly black-owned press. Perhaps part of the confusion arose out of the existence of the “Black Journalists’ Forum”, a gathering of black-skinned semi-literate people who all work for newspapers ultimately owned by, and run for the benefit of, rich white people. The Forum was established (on the ashes of an earlier organisation of the same name) to work for Zuma, and clearly poses no threat to corporate control of the press. But it might have done, and in the wilderness of mirrors which is South African political opinion, the Creator stared into a funhouse reflection of reality. Apologies. Will try to better next time.


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