This Long Disease.

Julius Malema was talking about having President Mbeki expelled from the ANC on the radio today. It makes considerable sense — an ANC dominated by Malema would be no place for Mbeki, or anyone else with intelligence, courage or knowledge. Notwithstanding, Malema was talking about how this would do absolutely no harm to the ANC because nobody in the ANC supported Mbeki, he said, apart from people who should not have been in the ANC in the first place. Presumably that includes the two-fifths who voted for Mbeki at Polokwane. It made the Creator want to vote for the Reusagtige Babbelende Malkoppe Party, out of sheer spite.

However, in the real world there are no choices to be made. There is no alternative; hence the ANC is going to be elected whether we vote for it or not. So the only question is, objectively (if possible, which it probably is not) what is going to be done after the ANC is elected and Jacob Zuma becomes President, with Kgalema Motlanthe, presumably, as Deputy President?

The Creator cannot pretend to know who is going to be in Zuma’s Cabinet; we don’t even really know, though it is widely believed, that Routledge-Madlala, currently subverting ANC structures in the Boland, will become Health Minister. Hence details of policy are difficult to work out and very little of significance has been released. Nevertheless it is possible to pick out a few elements — which are seldom particularly encouraging. Let us try to assemble these fairly and see what they suggest.


1. Democracy.

There has been very little consultation of Party or public by the Zuma faction since they took power. There has also been no attempt to explain why so many things promised to the Party at Polokwane, such as political education and a radical policy review, have disappeared. All discrepancies and apparent misconduct by leading Party figures is explained by the blanket concept of conspiracy where it is explained at all. The Party’s leaders in the public eye pursue demagogic agendas which are essentially policy-free; if there are any policies being developed they are being kept secret.


2. Party organization.

The ANC has shrunk — not decisively, but significantly — while Zuma’s current followers have been in charge of its organisation (since 2002). It has been plagued by unresolved internal conflicts since 2006 and these conflicts have become more serious since Zuma’s leadership took over. There are obvious problems of careerism, corruption, election manipulation and gerrymandering which Zuma’s followers have in part noted, but which they have also intensified for their own purposes. Sometimes, as in Malema’s words above, they seem not to care about how the organization works as long as they get their own way.


3. BEE and AA.

These are real policy issues. BEE was introduced under Mbeki as an attempt to challenge white dominance of finance capital, although it has not proved to function effectively in this regard. AA was introduced in the Mandela era to challenge the white gatekeepers who kept blacks out of responsible positions. In general, the left wing of the Zuma group appear extremely hostile to BEE for its own sake, conflating it with finance capital itself. The right wing of the Zuma group, meanwhile, appear hostile to AA, or at least willing to countenance its elimination.


4. Broader Class and Race Issues.

While the Zuma clique has since Polokwane devoted much more time to liaising with big business and affluent communities generally than with workers and the poor, it might be argued that this is because they are confident of their leftism and desire to reassure the affluent that this leftism does not pose a threat to them. However, this seems to suggest that their leftism is not real, for if it were, they would simply be fooling the affluent, who undoubtedly have ways of discovering the truth (and are not easily fooled, since they are extremely suspicious of the ANC). Real leftism would pose even more of a threat to the affluent than the moderate social democracy of Mbeki, which the affluent hated. The fact that business organisations have come out strongly in open support of Zuma seems to confirm that there is a real connection between them.

Meanwhile, although the unions appear to be in a somewhat stronger position than before, the vast bulk of workers appear to have been ignored. There has been no attempt to provide them with anything except promises. As already pointed out, COSATU’s economic analysis appears to favour bosses and the bourgeoisie much more than workers or the genuinely poor. Meanwhile there seems to be no class analysis taking place. Even the SACP simply provides structural economic analyses which seem to omit class almost completely.

On the other hand, one might consider the Zuma group as a “popular front” along the lines of the UDF. One might then assume that it would draw, not on the relatively divisive politics of the SACP, but on the inclusive politics of that organisation, which enjoys considerable promotion from the bourgeois press and pundits. In practice, Zuma is certainly “reaching out” to whites of all sorts, in the same way that he “reaches out” to the business community. However, in effect this is reaching out to the privileged and promising that their privileges will not be reduced; that the modest suspicion of affluent whites expressed in the Mbeki era will be dismantled and replaced by endorsement. In practice this suggests that, as in the “rainbow nation” scam, “racial reconciliation” will be used as a cloak for the consolidation of the ruling class against the working class.

5. Gender issues.

There has certainly been no firm promotion of gender issues by the Zuma group as was done by Mbeki. Indeed, before and after Zuma’s rape trial, the rumour has been disseminated that Mbeki’s promotion of women in the administration was purely due to Mbeki’s uncontrollable lusts and the need to provide himself with a vast harem (he would have had very little time for anything else if that had really been the case, given the number of women promoted on his watch). This obviously appears intended to smear the case for gender equality. The calls by black business to remove white women from the category of historically disadvantaged, while understandable in some senses, can also be seen as an act against women. There are few outspoken women in Zuma’s camp, apart from his spokesperson Jessie Duarte, and Speaker of Parliament Mbete (who was only included in Zuma’s list, and took the ceremonial position of ANC Chair, after the Women’s League was widely castigated for supinely voting for a male-dominated NEC).

6. Safety and Security.

It seems probable that the hysterical calls for greater police violence from Deputy Safety and Security Minister Shabangu are more related to Zuma than to Mbeki. Such calls bear the conservative stamp of Zuma, and they are also public-relations gimmicks without substance. More importantly, of course, Zuma’s decision to disband the Scorpions instead of reforming or making use of them shows a complete disregard for the actual needs of safety and security as regards high white-collar and organised crime. (This is hardly surprising.) It also shows Zuma’s almost childish vindictiveness, which is not a promising indicator of good criminal justice.

7. Economic matters.

Zuma seems wedded to the spend-and-borrow policies of COSATU. This is not surprising, as such policies would probably be good for his popularity at first. (Possibly the current campaign to have Mbeki removed relates to a desire to establish some such credibility in advance of the forthcoming election.) How bad this will be depends on how high the borrowing rate is and how much it costs. The desire to cut interest rates similarly might not be too harmful — depending on the consequences for the value of the rand, and for promoting irresponsible borrowing. (It is interesting that there has been no sign of a policy turnaround amid the strong evidence from the United States and Britain that unduly low interest rates in time of recession can be downright harmful.)

Amid all these issues, there is another conditioning factor. This is that Zuma owes a great deal to his supporters. These supporters are not the “people”, for in all the period of his campaign, the “people” have been treated as fodder to be fooled or threatened. There has not been a single campaign for Zuma which has not been driven by Zuma or one of his affluent or politically powerful supporters.

Some of these supporters are big businessmen. Some are high officials within the ANC who would be higher had others not gained preferment (for good or bad reasons) under Mbeki and therefore are backing Zuma. Some are journalists and editors who have opposed Mbeki for his entire political career and see Zuma as a way of discrediting Mbeki’s legacy (about which, more later). These categories of supporters, who are important, all share common features; they are all politically conservative (within the ANC, Zuma is generally supported by the right) and, with the possible exception of the ANC officials, they are generally hostile to the ANC itself to a greater or a lesser extent. (In general the businessmen’s ideas were formed under apartheid, and the journalists have wedded themselves to making propaganda against Mbeki because he was seen as the ANC’s Achilles heel, a belief which has not — before Zuma upset the apple-cart — turned out a particularly realistic one.)

There are also forces outside the ANC who support Zuma — the SACP, COSATU and the ANC Youth League. The former two groups are supposedly left-wing, and the latter group is supposedly radical (although, unlike the Youth League of 1944, nobody can say what is radical about the Youth League of 2008). Many of these forces have been able to win support within the ANC; Polokwane and subsequent developments have shown how effortlessly the SACP has been able to browbeat ANC members into acceding to its demands. However, none of these forces has any loyalty to the ANC as a structure or as a party. If another structure or party arose which suited their interests more, they have made it clear that they would join it.

No party has arisen, or is likely to arise, which corresponds to this desire. On the other hand, these external forces are now, nominally at least, in charge of the ANC, something which they have been demanding since before the ANC was in power. They have shot their bolt; if they cannot now implement the radical policies which they continually boast about but have never actually revealed, or if these policies don’t work, then there is actually no reason for supporting them.

There is, however, the problem that these supporters on the left are in a very ambiguous position. The Youth League, as is known, is heavily endebted to the business community — in other words, their radicalism is as likely to be a radicalism of the right as of the left. COSATU, bizarrely, is led by people who are very largely financial speculators, despite their apparent political radicalism. The same is true of the SACP. Hence their motives for seeking power must be doubted; are they doing it to further the avowed political agenda (which they have done so little to pursue for so long), or are they doing it to further their private financial agendas? In which case, are they any different from the corporate figures backing Zuma, and will the pressure they put on Zuma be any different? Even if they are nominally different, surely they are unlikely to take a principled stand against financiers — the public political calls of both the SACP and COSATU have been heavily skewed in the interests of capitalism in recent years.

In other words, it is possible that there is not really a right and left wing to the anti-Mbeki faction, but rather, two right wings — both of which express themselves, in order to appeal to the public, in left-wing jargon. (Perhaps the three epitomes of this contradiction are Tokyo Sexwale, the Communist property speculator and mining magnate under the authority of Anglo American, Kgalema Motlanthe, the Communist financial speculator on behalf of the ANC’s investment trust, and Karima Brown, the Communist political columnist for the neoliberal reactionary Business Day newspaper.)

Zuma is infinitely more vulnerable than Mbeki was, because his behaviour has been divisive within his own party — meaning he has powerful, broad-based enemies who need to be conquered or sidelined — and because his record is filled with various levels of misconduct. (Apart from the misconduct in the run-up to his Presidency, such as the Masetlha affair and the Mo Shaik affair, there is also the rape trial to be remembered, and the current indictment for bribery and corruption. Also, Zuma is almost certainly implicated in much of the human rights abuses committed by the ANC’s intelligence wing, which ran the “Quattro” prison camp and other nefarious activities.) If the press ever turns against him, it will be much easier to undermine Zuma than it was to undermine Mbeki, because the press has only to print the truth — which is less work than making up lies about Mbeki, and probably more effective in the long run. In short, the solidity of his position depends on the sympathy of the media, and therefore, on the sympathy of big business.

The solidity of his position also depends on his keeping big business happy, and on his keeping the Communist Party happy. This is not as contradictory a position as it sounds. Many of these people are careerists, and provided that enough lucrative sinecures can be found, such people will remain happy. It is likely that this is what motivates the Zuma camp’s desire to break up the merged universities; this will, of course, throw the universities into the same chaos which they faced during the merger process six years ago, and thus destabilise higher education precisely at the time when it will be having to cope with the disastrous results of the new school curriculum (married with the deliberate sabotage of the corrupt “Democratic” Teachers’ Union). However, it will create four or five jobs paying several million rand a year without requiring much effort; what could be a better gift for an aspiring, but lazy and stupid, Zuma cadre? (Let us not ask what would happen to the Mmabatho campus of the University of the North-West if Julius Malema becomes its vice-chancellor.)

It is probable that the whole public service will be treated in this way. Possibly not at all levels, but probably at the top, people loyal to Zuma will be appointed as rewards. This will also have the beneficial consequence of stripping people who might be loyal to Mbeki of their authority. (The blanket condemnation of the entire state apparatus as criminally corrupt, made by Nzimande on repeated occasions, provides an excuse for this but also gives a hint of the paranoid psychosis which has gripped the Zuma camp. They have nothing to be afraid of anymore, yet they appear more terrified than ever that the glittering prize of wealth and power without responsibility will be taken away from them.)

In consequence, we can anticipate two major issues:

1. The policies which have been proposed by the Zuma camp are predominantly pro-business and anti-poor (also anti-middle-class), being anti-redistribution and anti-redistributionist attitudes. What is worse, these policies are presumably the most palatable ones held by the camp, being the easiest to express; it is quite likely that much more hardline chauvinist or neoliberal policies are the ones which Zuma’s supporters would like to see, and which the SACP will find pretexts for endorsing. Thus it is probable that the next five years will see a considerable policy shift towards corporatism, even though there may be more initial public spending through borrowing at low interest rates.

2. The appointment of incompetents into high positions in both government and administration, out of political motives, seems a virtual certainty (a very large number of Zuma’s closest allies appear to be startlingly stupid and bewilderingly ignorant), and this will have severe consequences for the efficiency of government, particularly if these incompetents are also corrupt (and Zuma’s inner circles includes a very large number of people dismissed for corruption — which does not mean that those in Mbeki’s inner circle are all honest, but it does imply that corruption is considered acceptable to Zuma). As a result, any potential positive short-term consequences from an increase in public spending would be severely restricted by maladministration and thievery. As a result there would be the possibility that public spending increases would not lead to improved economic growth — meaning that the negative consequences of massive public borrowing would come into effect almost at once.

Corruption, incompetence, bad policies, economic deterioration and a government founded on lies, bullying and exploitation. If the Creator is right, South Africa faces a rerun of the Bush Administration. The first time as tragedy, the second time as farce? Alas, most probably Zuma’s reign will still be a tragedy — but a tragedy for almost everybody except Zuma and his merry men.


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