“Fuck You.”

October 23, 2008

In the little rural village where the Creator incarnates — a sylvan tarmac-smothered tourist-infested alcohol-and-drug-ridden paradise — there dwells a doctor. And this doctor, since there is no clinic for 20km in any direction and virtually no public transport, runs an AIDS project. Nothing fancy, just a way of getting antiretrovirals to those who need it. The kind of thing which is supposed to make the TAC clap their hands and sing, so the Creator is instinctively suspicious, but sometimes one has to override one’s assumptions. The project appears to be a good thing.

But, you may ask, how is a simple barefoot country doctor able to afford such a thing? The locals donate a little, of course, mainly to provide food for the unemployed people with AIDS and their children. (Providing food for people with AIDS is of course something which the TAC does not endorse, but let us not go down that mean street.) The main problem is that no normal individual, and really no intermittent stream of casual donations from half-concerned middle-class quasi-hippies, can provide the money to provide antiretrovirals for a significant handful of people.

The money comes from the United States. O hooray, you will say. Globalisation works. Thank you, Bill and Melinda, and George (Soros and Clooney) and all the other nice Americans. Thank you for giving us the money to keep a few people alive. Could you, possibly, give a little more? No? Too bad, but didn’t think so —

Well, stop saying that, because the Yanks have decided to concrete the pipe over. The doctor received an email telling her that, alas, the economic crisis and downturn has had an impact on her funders’ capacity to fund. They are not going to give money to her any more. There will be no more American cash to keep people with AIDS alive, not in this village, anyway.

Take a deep breath. This money is being donated to one of the most responsible people in the village. There is no question, none whatsoever, of either misappropriation or inappropriate expenditure. More to the point, the money is being donated for the specific purpose of buying antiretroviral drugs of the sort available in South Africa for ongoing use. That means AZT. AZT is manufactured by an American company. Hence, when they give money, they are not actually giving money to the doctor, or the village, or South Africa, or the Developing World. They are giving that money to the United States, to employ Americans to make drugs to give to the poorest of the poor who badly need them.

And now they are not going to do that any more. It is a little like stopping at a traffic-light, rolling down your window, and when the man with the cardboard sign reading “No Job No Hom No Famly Pleese Help” staggers over, saying “Fuck you!” and rolling the window up again and flooring the accelerator, roaring through the red light. Into the path of a speeding eighteen-wheeler, the Creator devoutly wishes.

Recently some Americans have been squawking about the bankers’ benefit package passed by the American ruling class. They have pointed out that the down-payment of $800 000 000 000 is an awful lot of money. It is $2,666 for every man, woman and child in the United States, which many of those men, women and children would have quite appreciated if it had not been earmarked to keep America’s needy bankers in top hats, Scotch and elegant whores. But there is another, rather un-American way of looking at this. If the entire planet divided up that dosh, it would amount to $166 each.

Not a huge amount of moolah, you might think as you don your top hat and, Chivas Regal in hand, head off for your rendezvous with Madame Fifi. I spend more than that on public toilets each month, you may say. But for a huge amount of poor people in the world, this would increase their income by a half. It could make the difference between life and death, or between a better life and a worse life, anyway. But it is not going to do that because the American ruling class have other priorities. As does the ruling class everywhere in the world which is pulling the same stunt; borrowing money on no security in order to give it to the richest and least honest people in their societies so that they will not suffer the consequences of their corruption and incompetence in the past and will have more opportunities for corruption and incompetence in the future.

In short, the global ruling class is saying “Fuck you!” to the global poor (and also to the global middle class, but they are the grooms and enablers for the global ruling class, so they deserve it).

For the last couple of decades we have been told that the present system of thievery works for us all. The thieves have been paying their grooms and enablers — journalists, you could call them — to write paeans to the prosperity which was just around the corner once they had stolen enough. They were creating wealth which would trickle down to the rest of us. (Gradually that image became a little discredited and stopped being talked about, just as the International Monetary Fund stopped referring to its Structural Adjustment Programmes and instead introduced Poverty Relief Packages. However, all the practices remained exactly the same.) As a result they took over the entire burden of administration of the world and turned us all into their serfs.

And then they lost all the money and are now demanding more. This is, of course, a very bad thing. But it is much worse that they are actually getting it. People talk about angry mobs attacking the bankers. But this is not happening, even though it should. (It happened in Argentina when the public finally realised that the ruling class and their pet governments had been lying to them for all those decades; apparently Argentineans, contrary to Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, have some moral basis somewhere in their hideous bodies.) Apparently we are all bootlickers now.

Or worse. The Sunday Times has just profiled some of Zuma’s financial supporters. They are — well, the photographs show fat stupid-looking people with more money than taste. Each photograph bears under it a short piece of prose, allegedly written by these people, which indicates either that they are evil, corrupt vermin, or that they have no more taste in copywriters than they have in suits and ties. Rich crooks, the bunch of them, and not one of them having ever apparently worked for a living or done anything useful for any human on the planet. This should not astonish, since such qualities are rare in the corporate capitalist world.

Yet these fat stupid crooks are the people who supposedly stumped up the money to put that fat stupid crook in power. Well, birds of a feather, you know. Most probably, of course, they are no more their own men than Thomas Friedman or Mark Gevisser are their own men; most probably they are working for someone else who is paying the bills and expecting to real the actual rewards. The real rulers of the ruling class in South Africa are not, for the most part, black people, but they have learned to hire black people to sit near the front door and speak on their behalf.

Which raises the question of whether this is also Zuma’s status. After all, the same newspaper ran a puff-piece on Zille, the white leader of the mainly white Democratic Alliance (who recently paid a courtesy call on Zuma’s tame Interim President, Motlanthe, whom Zille once said was her favourite ANC member — ’nuff said there). Zille was recently in the news because a right-wing white organisation announced that she was the Best Mayor in the World. The second-Best Mayor was a right-wing white gnome of Zurich, and the third-Best Mayor was a right-wing white anti-Chavez activist in Venezuela. It’s pretty clear that the ruling class who have ripped off the planet and don’t want the poorest of the poor to have antiretrovirals are running the show in certain quarters. To what extent are they running the show everywhere around here? To what extent are we the unwitting bumsuckers of globalised corporate capital?

Well, look at the Tripartite Alliance. It has recently been announced that they are getting new advice on how to be nice to newspapers. How to suck up to ruling-class propagandists, that is. There was no point in having such skills before because all the newspapers were hostile to them. But now, assuming that the newspapers and the government are all tools of the ruling class, it is advisable to know how to behave in the presence of the agents of your unelected corporate overlords. (Actually, having newspapers hostile to the government would have been quite good for democracy, had the newspapers not been so free to tell lies.)

The Alliance supposedly includes Marxists and workerists. They leaked their economic plans to the Mail and Guardian for it to use against the proposed new party which some ANC dissidents are talking of forming. These plans were also promoted by a made-up “NGO” which marched to the Union Buildings demanding these plans, led by Zuma stalwarts pretending to be independent figures. The plans include the idea to extend Child Support Grants up to 18 years of age (this is a waste of the money — it would be far better to use it to expand the existing grants which go up to 14) and to make all education free (many would benefit, but not the poorest of the poor who get free education by default — meanwhile, the middle class who can afford to pay would no longer be subsidising their poorer brethren’s schooling). So there are problems with these plans, but they are not in principle evil.

But now they have completed their three-day Economic Summit held at vast expense. They sat at the summit for three days, wining and dining, and now they have come down the mountain and they are waving a gerbil which they claim the mountain brought forth, though the Creator knows that they pulled the little creature out of their arseholes. Nothing whatsoever that they are saying reflects anything to do with economics. They say, for example, that they intend to set up committees to see what they should do next.

Wow. Can we re-run Polokwane, please? With you people using the slogan “Vote for us — we don’t know what to do next!”? Oh, you’d rather not, eh? No surprises there.

And what, one might ask, will happen after those committees report? “Things which are not working we shall change, and things which are working, well we won’t change those.” Ah, yes. So much better than breaking things which are fixed, or just changing everything everywhere at random. Is there some place where these people are cloned? It’s inconceivable that so much stupidity could be concentrated at one place by natural forces. Watching this government is like reading a Dilbert strip-cartoon entirely populated with pointy-haired bosses.

Oh, but there are some actual plans. For one thing, to take authority for the Budget away from the Treasury and pass it to Parliament. Now, you might think that this is democratic (since the same system works so bloody well in the United States). But in fact the ANC membership in Parliament is determined by the NEC, who rig the provincial and national selections. So all it means is that the leaders of the ANC can fiddle with the Budget and then, if things go wrong, hide behind a few luckless MPs. It’s about irresponsibility and plausible deniability.

On the other hand, a plan to create a National Council of State. That is, to make the Cabinet much more centralised. Some Cabinet members would be in the Council, some not. That is, Zuma cronies get to run things, everybody else gets to do what they are told, at Cabinet level. Wow, what a wonderful place to be!

In short, the Tripartite Alliance are saying “Fuck you” to their membership especially (the ones who wanted democracy or socialism) but also to every human being in South Africa, and with their hostility to democracy and to wealth redistribution, this is a proxy “Fuck you” from the South African ruling class to the ruled.

If only the ruled classes knew how to pronounce naughty words in return.

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Such are the Rewards of Moral Degeneracy.

October 23, 2008

Eish. We have a problem. Leftists or liberals like the Creator do not really know how to do the moral thang. Morality is absolute and leftism pretends to be relativist. It is not — leftists can do the categorical imperative with the best of them (you take a Kant to the left, you take a Hegel to the right, you do the Wittgenstein and you set it all alight). But we love to be adaptable, to change with time. O Lordie, times have changed.

Let us consider the case Nkola Motata v. RSA, a High Court Judge in the Johannesburg Magistrate’s Court. Should it be allowed even to happen? Should we not find a political solution to the matter?

No.

A High Court Judge, in the middle of the night, drove through somebody’s garden wall in Johannesburg. It was in a cul-de-sac. There is no excuse for crashing your car in this way unless there is something wrong with you. The owner of the wall was peeved. He brought his cellphone out and recorded Motata’s ravings, which sounded drunken. The Johannesburg Metro Police eventually arrested Motata. The South African Police Service locked Motata up and arranged the blood-alcohol tests. Which showed — although taken hours after the crash — nearly three times the legal alcohol limit for driving. Not, seemingly, much to discuss there.

The Creator does not have much use for High Court Judges — they are too flabby to employ for manual labour, too moist to burn as fuel, and their underdeveloped nervous systems disqualify them from intellectual work. But we are told that High Court Judges have integrity and thus must be preserved, like white rhinoes albeit less dignified or attractive-looking. A High Court Judge who drives drunk is not a good example for the fraternity, surely. Dare we question his judgement?

Judge Motata’s lawyer claimed that the Judge was a victim of a huge conspiracy. This is the Zuma defence which has become popular in recent times as an all-purpose excuse for not facing any kind of music. The lawyer demanded that the cellphone recording be repudiated as evidence because it had been doctored in order not only to make his client’s voice sound slurred, but to insert shouted threats and insults, just as if the Judge were drunk and had a car accident.

The guy with the garden wall submitted his cellphone to the SAPS, but they had, er, lost the evidence. (Surprise, surprise.) Big surprise for the police; before he submitted his cellphone to them he downloaded the voice recording onto his computer. Judge Motata’s lawyer claimed, therefore, that this man must have doctored his recording to make the Judge look bad. How the Judge had known to crash his car into the wall of someone likely to conspire against him went unexplained. Anyway, the magistrate threw all this balderdash out and admitted the cellphone recording. The Creator would have slapped the handcuffs on right there and then.

But you can’t do that with a rich and powerful person. You have to spin things out, hoping that something might save them from the consequences of their criminal behaviour, as with our ware Jacob. Things get postponed for a week, a month, or longer, while a man who may be not only a drunk, but also a liar, carries on determining the fate of people in the Johannesburg High Court, a place where little justice exists.) Eventually, a female Metro Police officer, Ms. Mashilela, proclaimed that Judge Motata had been abusive and sexist (refusing to be arrested by a woman) and judging by the way he moved and talked, obviously drunk. Court adjourned.

Court reconvened much later when Ms. Mashilela had suddenly remembered that she couldn’t quite recall any sign that Judge Motata had been drunk. She said she had been threatened with losing her job and being sent to jail, by the prosecutor, unless she gave false testimony that Judge Motata had been drunk. But, said the prosecutor, what about the written evidence you submitted after the incident, which your verbal evidence confirmed? Oh, she said, I never gave such evidence, it was made up for me by other officers.

It’s all a conspiracy, you see. Motata’s lawyer then claimed that the householder had uttered a racist epithet right before turning on his cellphone. In the middle of the night, dealing with an abusive drunk who has knocked down your wall, you know when to record and when not to record. Obviously he was already part of the conspiracy even before the Judge was hauled off to the slammer.

At this point the general public could take no more bullshit from the obviously corrupt Judge Motata and, bursting through the cordons, seized flogged him with copper cables through the streets of Johannesburg (lined with cheering crowds) all the way to Library Gardens, where his blood-soaked frame was hanged from a lamp-post, limbs jerking spasmodically for fifteen minutes before he finally went as slack as his moral fibre.

No, the previous paragraph is unfortunately a lie. (However, the judge failed to buy off the other witness, who gave testified that Judge Motata was drunk and disorderly — strong evidence that Ms. Mashilela is a perjurer.) Obviously Judge Motata is unfit for office; this is no longer an issue. The question is how many High Court Judges are equally corrupt. Probably, plenty, which is worrying. One expects that some legal officers will be crooks, but High Courts are supposed to have some kind of screening process. Apparently this has broken down. Or maybe it never existed.

Definitely a need for moral regeneration here.

Skip sixteen hundred kilometres to Cape Town, to a Conference on HIV Vaccines. The Creator does not have much time for HIV vaccines. This is because HIV, like the rhinoviruses which cause colds, is a rapidly-mutating virus. There are huge numbers of strains, each needing a separate vaccine, and new ones evolve each month. In short, HIV vaccine faces the same problem as ‘flu vaccine — only worse, because once you have HIV your immune system can’t get rid of it the way it can get rid of a rhinovirus — HIV can lie dormant in your DNA where your immune system can’t reach it.

So HIV vaccines are a medical scam of sorts — maybe worthily intended, but a scam anyway. The idea is to invent a cheap snake-oil to sell to entire populations — quick, everybody, inoculate your children against this breed of HIV! Now inoculate them against that breed of HIV, and the other one! Billions of bucks for the makers of the vaccine, not so much for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

What upsets the Creator is that the people planning this scam spend so much time praising themselves for doing it. And being praised by the medical fraternity and the journalistic fraternity. It reminds one of a few months ago when everybody was praising bankers as the perfect stewards of our worldly wealth. We won’t hear that one for a while, but we will continue to hear praise for the AIDS researchers, because everybody who dies of AIDS is seen as a martyr not to the misconduct of the medical industry, but rather to the failure of the rest of us to give the medical industry more money. (So much money has been poured into AIDS research and so little has come out of it; a cynic might wonder if the people who make money out of the existence of the disease really want to eradicate it.)

But the misconduct of a single industry is not so important. We could deal with that industry. We could force it to spend its money sensibly, we could focus our money on functioning drugs, we could prevent the spread of the disease by all kinds of easy and cheap methods. We don’t do that, because of the people who appeared before the Conference to sing hosannas to their glorious medical masters.

One was Malepaguru William Makgoba. Dr. Makgoba was a neurologist, apparently a good one, and since the Creator’s partner has neurological problems the Creator thinks well of neurologists. But Dr. Makgoba decided to become Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Wits University instead of practising, and it seems he told a few little white lies in his CV to massage his way into the job. When he turned out to be a blustering bully, some senior Wits academics exposed those little white lies, whereupon Dr. Makgoba went through their confidential files and publicised anything damaging he could find. So he was sacked.

But you can’t keep a bad man down, and Dr. Makgoba was promoted, with the approval of Mbeki’s ANC, to head the Medical Research Council, where he took a strong stand in support of antiretrovirals, delivering so many statements about epidemiology and virology that some people thought he was qualified in either discipline. He was extremely popular with those people who claimed that Mbeki was an AIDS denialist. When he finished his term, he was appointed, with the approval of Mbeki’s ANC, to head the newly-merged University of KwaZulu-Natal, where by all accounts he has fulfilled the promise of bombastic tyranny which he had shown at Wits, and incidentally has also come out strongly in support of Jacob Zuma. In short, not a nice man.

This figure who should be universally despised stands up before the Conference and announces that at last he is free to say that HIV causes AIDS. After all those years of being prevented by the evil previous government, he is free! Hooray! The audience gave him a standing ovation, a corporate endorsement of the rise of Jacob Zuma to the control of the South African state.

But — the Creator speaks for the overwhelming majority of sane people — even those with neurological disorders — by saying, “What the fuck is he talking about?”. The AIDS policy of the South African government since the early 1980s has focussed on HIV as the transmission vector for AIDS. After 1994 the disease was taken much more seriously, particularly brought into the public eye by Thabo Mbeki. At first all that was done (apart from prevention campaigns) was to promote immune-system boosters and to talk (but not act) about how poverty encourages the spread of HIV/AIDS, but eventually free antiretrovirals became available for AIDS sufferers. Makgoba lied when he says that he was previously forbidden to talk about the link between the virus and the disease. Of course, if he had been held in low esteem because of his remarks being used by anti-Mbeki propagandists, he would not have got the plum job of UKZN Vice-Chancellor.

He was probably being cheered because the previous government was critical of pharmaceutical companies, but he was also lying about the previous government’s political record, and stabbing the man who promoted his own political rise in the back.

Not much evidence of any kind of morality there, colleagues.

Another speaker was the Honourable Barbara Hogan. Hogan was a white member of MK back when it was not fashionable to be in MK, in the early 1980s. She was not competent member — she was caught rather easily and jailed — but it took gumption to do what she did. Good for her. However, as the record of Tony Yengeni and Jessie Duarte shows, this does not say whether you are any good at any particular job. Hogan became Health Minister after the Zuma purge which followed Mbeki’s removal. Yet another woman in the job — but the ANC seems more respectful towards whites or coloureds or indians in the Cabinet than africans. So maybe Hogan has some standing and can do well.

But probably not. The Creator suspects this because, in addition to chiming in with Makgoba about how HIV causes AIDS as if this were something new and not a product of the right-wing press which taken up by corporate propagandists posing as “civil society organisations”, she did something else. She talked about how South Africa needs an HIV vaccine.

South Africa would need an HIV vaccine, just as every other country needs an HIV vaccine, if one existed and if such were possible. But no such vaccine exists nor is in the pipeline, and is probably not possible as a “magic bullet” (the way it is sold to the public). South Africa does not need an HIV vaccine which purports to help but is really a way of prising money out of the public purse and stuffing it into private pockets. We don’t need Barbara Hogan to say that we should give more money to foreign big business. (Did the Creator mention that Barbara Hogan is a loyal member of the SACP, and therefore naturally in favour of giving more money to capitalists? Didn’t think so.)

No, Cde Hogan, it is not your job to waffle about how South Africa needs an AIDS vaccine. It is your job to improve our health-care system. You could, for example, try to improve the rural clinic system without which antiretroviral provision is a desperate gamble on overstretched local medical staff. You could try to implement some of the splendid policies which your Department possesses; you could try to make the hospital staff do the work for which they are paid. The fact that you prefer to go off on junkets so that corporate representatives can clap when you praise them is an indictment of your performance. (Even though the Mail and Guardian declared that Cde Hogan’s corporate boot-licking proved that she should be Minister of Health forever — but we already knew the Mail and Guardian‘s position.)

To knowingly tell lies is immoral. To mislead the public in order that they may do things which are probably not to their benefit is immoral. To betray your friends and allies is immoral. To endorse plans which take money away from the poor and give it to the rich is immoral, and to do so in the name of equality and democracy is doubly immoral.

The Creator is studying the Q’uran, the Torah and the Bible, but on the whole, the words of great Zoroaster stand; we must obey the light of Ahura Mazda and reject the Kingdom of the Lie; on that incandescent rock the Creator would like to build a modest church.


Tony Brink, Ron Roberts, and the Madness of our Lords.

October 16, 2008

To legitimate the rise to power of Jacob Zuma, a person not ethically or politically competent to be President of South Africa, the corporate forces backing Zuma’s rise have spent their time denouncing his predecessor. Any honest criticism of Mbeki’s behaviour would denounce the policies which those corporate forces support, since Mbeki’s flaws arose from his compromise with the right wing which eventually destroyed him. Fortunately, vast numbers of false issues have been promoted by the right-wing press and pundits down the years, which can be repeated without fear because no media outlet will challenge them. The most productive of these is the allegation that Mbeki is, or was, an AIDS denialist.

Here are the unmentionable facts. Between 1996 and 1999, Deputy President Mbeki supervised the government’s policy implementation. He encouraged his friend Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to promote a campaign of AIDS prevention and to seek cheap generic antiretroviral drugs from Brazil; when the US Government, through the World Trade Organisation, blocked this, Mbeki demanded that the pharmaceutical companies (especially the manufacturers of AZT) reduce the cost of their drugs to affordable levels. A person who struggles to obtain antiretrovirals for his country obviously believes that they are efficacious, that they are needed (hence believes that HIV is responsible for AIDS) and that AIDS is an important issue. No more need be said.

These facts have been obscured because Mbeki became President he set up a commission to discuss the provision of antiretrovirals to people with AIDS in South Africa. This is a classic political temporising strategy. Mbeki decided to invite people who did not believe in the value of antiretrovirals onto the commission. This meant that the people supporting antiretrovirals on the commission would have someone to debate with.

These people did not welcome debate because of all the awkward questions. Why has mass heterosexual AIDS only ever appeared in poor countries, and in the poorest parts of those countries? What is the link between AIDS and poverty, and why do AIDS campaigners deny it? Why is so much AIDS discourse couched in racist terms? Why is so much medical information on AIDS unreliable? Above all, why should we trust the pharmaceutical companies on AIDS when we know we cannot trust them on other issues?

Mbeki had made a huge political blunder. The pharmaceutical companies and the AIDS treatment lobby branded him an AIDS denialist for asking such questions. The presence of actual AIDS denialists on his commission was used to legitimate this. Since, in every speech which Mbeki made on the subject, he referred to the disease as “HIV/AIDS”, the media stopped quoting his speeches. The media also clamped down on reports of the Ministry of Health campaigning against pharmaceutical companies and researching the toxicity of antiretrovirals.

For instance, the AIDS treatment lobby promoted a drug called in South Africa Nevirapine, made by the German company Boehringer-Engelheim. This company offered this drug very cheaply, mostly because the US National Institute of Health had banned Nevirapine from America. The drug was so poisonous that it was deemed more dangerous than HIV itself. In South Africa, the drug was given to a group of AIDS patients and killed them off with terrifying speed. Essentially, the AIDS lobby was campaigning to poison AIDS patients, by believing the claims of a pharmaceutical company which faked its Ugandan tests of the drug for the purposes of mother-child prevention.

The AIDS treatment lobby forced the government to adopt Nevirapine for this purpose in 2003. In 2007, when the drug proved completely ineffectual for the purpose, the Ministry of Health did not abandon it, but instead adopted the (possibly) more useful AZT along with the useless Nevirapine. The AIDS treatment lobby required the South African government to waste money on useless medication for the profit of a corrupt drug company. No more need be said.

One might have thought that the “AIDS denialist” label would disappeared after 2004 when the Ministry of Health introduced the world’s biggest single programme of free antiretrovirals. The media and “AIDS activists” coped with this easily. First, they refused to cover it and often pretended that it wasn’t happening. Second, they pretended that it had happened against the wishes of the President and his Minister of Health. This kept the AIDS denialist label alive.

Are the South African media insane? No, but they are agents of corporate capital and reactionary politicians. AIDS denialist propaganda served the interests of both. The propaganda was subsequently used to favour Jacob Zuma over Thabo Mbeki because, it was said, Zuma was not an AIDS denialist (he was not criticised for having unprotected forced sex with an HIV+ woman; he was, however, ridiculed for sensibly taking a shower after fucking her). The fact that Zuma had been the governmental coordinator for AIDS policy and practice throughout 1999-2004, and was therefore implicated in any flaws in government AIDS policy at that time, was suppressed.

Back in 1999, there was a Pietermaritzburg lawyer named Anthony Brink. Tony Brink had a friend who suffered from AIDS. Back then the treatment for AIDS was massive doses of AZT, a strikingly toxic substance. (It was a cancer chemotherapy drug rejected for use because it was too poisonous.) His friend died and he blamed the drug. He discovered that the wild, uncritical enthusiasm for the drug was poorly founded in fact. It was a dangerous drug, which needed careful handling. However, Brink was bipolar, and in his mood-swings resolved that AZT was deadly poison. He began to promote this idea, eventually publishing a book, Debating AZT, in which he proved to his own satisfaction that antiretrovirals were worthless, that HIV had nothing to do with AIDS if it existed at all, and that the germ theory of disease was false. Possibly some of this claptrap was due to his having concluded that it was also dangerous to take medication for his psychological problems.

Debating AZT

is not, however, a worthless book. It casts a healthily sceptical light on the questionable claims of pharmaceutical companies. It notes that “AIDS activists” across the world, along with a huge chunk of the medical profession, have colluded with pharmaceutical companies. It demonstrates that most South African journalists discussing the issue are pig-ignorant numbskulls who uncritically copy the propaganda of the pharmaceutical lobby, but don’t even bother to do this correctly.And, incidentally, Brink dedicated the book to Mbeki, whom he saw as his ally.

Brink’s career suffered; not only had he alienated Big Pharma, but he had criticised journalism. He was never mentioned by any newspaper except with hatred and contempt. His only ally was Martin Weltz, publisher of the muckraking noseWeek, which printed some of Brink’s work anonymously; subsequently, the former racist propagandist Rian Malan, casting about for a role, took up some of Brink’s ideas from a “contrarian” perspective and wrote about them in noseWeek. “Serious” newspapers denounced this; their owners obviously had an interest in rubbishing noseWeek‘s persistent exposure of corporate corruption.

Eventually Brink sold out, joining a German pharmaceutical marketer, Matthias Raath. Raath claimed that vitamins rather than antiretrovirals were the answer to AIDS — and he just happened to be selling vitamins. Brink’s book had denied that any drugs worked at all — yet Brink happy worked alongside Raath because he was opposed to antiretrovirals, forming a one-man-band called the “Treatment Information Centre” to promote Raath’s products. The AIDS lobby struggled to suppress Raath’s activities, arguing, bizarrely, that his innocuous nostrums (equivalents of which were sold over the counter in every pharmacy) were somehow more dangerous than the dangerous antiretrovirals which they were promoting. (The Democratic Alliance’s health spokesperson, Mike Waters, punctiliously explained that his party’s campaign against Raath was not meant to discourage any large company’s sale of vitamins; he was protecting the rights of big, powerful companies against small competitors — which makes sense in the DA’s political context.) When Brink wrote a letter to protest against this treatment in the Mail and Guardian, the newspaper called him insane on its front page.

Meanwhile, Ronald Suresh Roberts had been a small flea in the ear of the white right, exposing the sordid political history of Tony Leon (leader of the DA), intermittently promoting Africanism within the ANC, and writing an unsympathetic biography of prizewinning white leftist author Nadine Gordimer. He sprang to prominence when the white right discovered that he was writing a book exposing the falsity of press criticisms of Mbeki. Rian Malan produced a vicious attack on the (then unpublished) book in noseWeek — showing how the magazine was leaning towards the white right, softening its stance against corporate corruption and becoming a trustworthy source of anti-ANC propaganda.

Roberts was an irascible West Indian with little liking for white South Africans and little understanding of South African politics. When, in order to undermine the book, the Sunday Times trashed him with a personal attack called “The unlikeable Mr. Roberts”, Roberts sued them. He did not seem to realise that the South African corporate establishment controlled the judiciary and the press, and so he was astonished to find himself being pilloried by the court. The Sunday Times naturally brayed with delight, as South African newspapers always do.

When Roberts’ book, Fit to Govern, came out, it was extraordinarily unreviewed. Sunday Times and Mail and Guardian denounced the book repeatedly because it was associated with Thabo Mbeki, the notorious AIDS denialist, anti-white racist and supporter of Robert Mugabe. Since the book effectively disproved all three assertions, and the newspapers refused to reproduce any of the book’s facts or arguments. The only actual review of the book was performed by Patrick Bond, who denounced it for daring to point out that South Africa spent proportionally more on social welfare than Venezuela — which Bond deemed a vicious slur on his hero Hugo Chavez.

Intriguingly, Brink had cooperated with Roberts. Brink had found that his second book, Just Say Yes, Mr. President, could not be published in South Africa in the current ideological climate. (In South Africa, freedom of expression is limited to those endorsed by a narrow establishment, a condition approved by the corporate-funded Freedom of Expression Institute.) Roberts, meanwhile, was funded by Mbeki and would undoubtedly get his book out. Brink handed his manuscript to Roberts to see what he could do with it — only to that Roberts was not an AIDS denialist, that the book depicted Brink as an exploitative crank, and that it proved, comprehensively, that Mbeki was not an AIDS denialist.

Which had about the impact of shouting up a drainpipe in Afghanistan. Roberts dropped out of sight. The lies exposed in his book were endlessly reiterated in the media as a preparation for the coronation of Emperor Zuma. Evidently, the South African public sphere has been seized by corporate interests and turned into an echo-chamber where those endorsed by big business are free to say whatever they like so long as big business likes it too, regardless of veracity. It makes Equatorial Guinea look like a positive ferment of socio-political debate.

But now, the punch-line of this whole dirty joke. After Mbeki was removed, the Mail and Guardian ran an issue celebrating the fact. No doubt to rub his nose in the mess, they invited Roberts to write a short piece, which observed that both Mbeki and Zuma were victims of media propaganda, and that the most egregious of all was the propaganda about supposed AIDS denialism, citing some ridiculous but never-doubted remarks made by “AIDS activists” Edwin Cameron and Zackie Achmat.

Achmat, in the same issue, claimed that Mbeki had caused two million deaths due to AIDS. Since Achmat’s Treatment Action Campaign acknowledged that before 2001 antiretrovirals were unaffordable, and since antiretrovirals became available in 2004, it follows that this had to happen over a period of three years. Even if one assumes (falsely) that the delay was entirely due to Mbeki, the figures don’t add up. In South Africa there are no accurate figures, but perhaps half a million people actually have AIDS. Untreated, AIDS will kill you in a few years. Hence, probably fewer than a quarter of a million people died of AIDS during this period, not all of whom would have been saved if antiretrovirals had been available in 2001. Yet nobody (except Roberts) called Achmat out on his obvious falsehood.

Instead, someone called out Roberts– incredibly, it was Brink! The newspaper which had diagnosed Brink as an insane charlatan had rehabilitated him as cured — because he was claiming that Thabo Mbeki was an AIDS denialist. He declared that Roberts had plagiarised his work — relying partly on a court judgement in which (predictably) the well-funded Brink had defeated the unfunded and demonised Roberts, and partly on James Sanders, an ex-Mbeki propagandist who had purged Roberts from their short-lived magazine, Molotov Cocktail. (In fairness to Sanders, he had a career to make whereas Roberts would never succeed unless he abandoned his beliefs.)

According to Brink, because Roberts had used publicly-available quotations collected in his book, in order to prove the opposite of Brink’s argument, Roberts was a plagiarist. (Roberts had made no clear use of Brink’s actual writing.) This is a new definition of plagiarism; however, in South Africa, accusations of plagiarism are a handy weapon against dissenters of all stripes. Brink boasted, perhaps truthfully, that his campaign had successfully prevented the reprinting of Roberts’ book — in other words, that he had done to Roberts what others had done to him. And, of course, he claimed that Thabo Mbeki was really an AIDS denialist, even though Mbeki rejected the slur and had funded Roberts’ book to prove the opposite.

George Orwell once wondered whether our planet was not actually a galactic insane asylum. If so, South Africa is presumably the violent ward.


Down, Down, Down You Go.

October 16, 2008

Putting your hands out you fall through the window,

And clawing at nothing, you plunge through the void,

Your terrified screams are inaudible, drowned

By the spiral ahead, and consumed in the shape.

 

It seems that They Might Be Giants had some inkling of what was in store for the world economy. The terms which have been used to describe what is going on — the “squeeze”, the “credit crunch”, the “subprime crisis” and so on, seem not so much euphemisms as ways of avoiding anything real. We are about to be sandbagged by a sandbag which everybody refuses to mention, as if the elephant in the living-room had turned into a gigantic hydrogen bomb without anybody noticing it any more than usual.

What is happening is, basically, nothing more than a collapse of financial confidence. That, surely, should not be serious. Pick yourselves up and pull yourselves together, financiers! Put on your top hats, tie up your white ties, brush off your tails —

But no, it isn’t so simple as that. What has happened is that gradually the finance-capital system has become completely disengaged from reality. The stock market has always been an instrument for pretending that the world was going to be better than it really was, but in the past it had some remote link with reality. However, in the modern world, the stock market has been going up and up while the real economy, at least in the West, has been increasingly stagnant; wages have remained stubbornly low and growth in real productive activity has been modest to put it mildly. This has been happening, not just for two years as happened during the Big Bull Market of 1928-9, which was the precursor to the Black Tuesday crash, which was the precursor to the Great Depression — this has been happening in various ways and at various levels, but increasingly, swellingly, for thirty years.

Thirty years of lying to ourselves.

Now what has been happening has been that people have understandably stopped investing in things which didn’t make much money — just as people stopped investing in things which didn’t make much money in 1928-9 — and preferred to invest it in things which did; in stocks. But stocks themselves were boring. They made money, on the assumption that some corporations whose assets were mostly elsewhere and whose profits were often nominal (and even then hideously falsified and inflated) would be very profitable at some unspecified time in the future. That wasn’t good enough. So trusts were set up to borrow money on the strength of those stocks and invest them elsewhere. Those trusts were further away from the real world and thus their stocks could be talked up more effectively; they had more “money” behind them because instead of depending on any physical plant they depended on the possible future existence of plant. Those were “derivatives”, shares based on the anticipated value of other shares.

Of course, shares based on the anticipated value of those “derivatives”, which were also derivatives — perhaps derivatives to a higher power — went up even faster because they had even more “money” behind them. The more “money” you allegedly created, the richer you were in practice. “Money” could be turned into money. Hence yachts with solid-gold taps and stretch limousines with Carrera marble floors. (The latter, one hopes, was just an invention of Don DeLillo’s, but it could well have happened.)

Similarly, where anything was made or dug or pumped out of the ground, it was not profitable to make money our of making or digging or pumping. What you did was buy the stuff that had been produced and then sell it again. And buy futures in it, and sell those futures again. And again. And again. The more you bought and sold stuff, the more money you could make out of it. Apparently some cargoes of oil are bought and sold dozens of times between emerging from the well and emerging from the refinery. Hence many people get rich from this buying and selling. Enron did this for a long time and became the richest and most corrupt energy country in the United States.

But it’s still the same oil.

But now you are rich, and can borrow more money. And invest it in companies which don’t do anything — Internet companies, for instance. Telecoms. Insurance. Real estate. All these things only go up, don’t they? Borrow more money to invest in them. Need more money? Invest in commodities futures. Those things only go up, don’t they? Invest in investments in investments in commodities futures — they go up faster. Then your expectations give you more money to invest . . .

In nothing.

And so when things start to unravel, when the stock market goes down instead of up, when commodities prices go down instead of up, when real estate prices go down instead of up, when insurance companies start looking for money to pay their growing weather-driven bills instead of paying dividends out to shareholders, suddenly there is no money. But there are debts. All those things you bought need to be paid for. The shares. The possessions which you bought in order to create the impression that you were rich enough to be loaned lots of money to, on the understanding that you would pay the bills when the money was paid over . . .

It’s gone. Go tell the bank you can’t pay them back. Go tell the companies that sold you the stuff you can’t pay for it. They can come and collect it if you haven’t used it up. Come on, you can do it. Send round the bailiffs to foreclose on the mortgage.

Yeah. They take your house away from you. You’re out on the street. Bummer for you. Hooray, the bank has your house —

Who’s going to buy it?

Nobody.

You aren’t buying stuff any more. Your company, such as it was, is bankrupt. Everybody was laid off. They aren’t buying stuff. Their cars have been taken away, but nobody wants to buy them. Hey, the bank has a lot of property, but the property isn’t worth shit, not if the bank can’t turn it into cash. There’s another bank that the bank owes money to, because the bank invested money in worthless investments whose worthlessness is now proved. That money was borrowed. Please return the money, says the other bank. We need it, because we have made some bad investments and some bad loans. Can we have our money? Quoth the three-metre financial parrot: “Polly wants a cracker — NOW!!”

But Polly the Banker doesn’t get her cracker, for the bank has no money, for it has no liquid assets. Whoops! Bank declares bankruptcy — bankrot, the bench is kicked over, the trading is at an end. It turns out that if you are a three-metre financial parrot you are still in a cage and you can’t get out. So the banks can’t pay, won’t pay . Asinamali.

So the bigger banks look around at each other. Who’s got any money? Not me, boss. I ain’t got a dime. Are any of the banks that owe us money technically bankrupt? I haven’t a clue, mate. I’m sure it’s all right. DON’T ASK SO MANY FLIPPING QUESTIONS! SHUT UP! SHUT UP! If anybody answers any such question, the answer might well be, “Yes, they are bankrupt.”. Meaning, “My bank does not have the assets to cover its debts and if three extra people make withdrawals tomorrow, we won’t be able to give them the cash.” And if that happens to my bank, what about yours? What happens if we are all going down, all going down, together?

Bail Out! Bail Out! Meaning, get the government to borrow money and give it to the people who have just pissed it away and are staring sadly at the drain down which their golden fluid has flowed. Borrow money from who? From banks which are, presumably, themselves not solvent. But what the hell, it’s only money. Borrow it! On the strength of the taxes we will supposedly be paying in twenty years time! Countries don’t go bankrupt, do they?

Yes, they do.

Bail Out also means, jump out of the plane. Oh dear, this does rather recall Laurie Anderson, doesn’t it?

So you better get ready

Ready to go

You can come as you are

But pay as you go

Pay as you go

Actually there is no jumping out of the plane. The crisis is caused by the lack of money and the fact that what money is there, is worth less and less, and the assets which supposedly backed the money are worth less and less, and, day by day, everybody is becoming more and more convinced that the whole system is not going to survive. That everybody wants to turn their money, any money they have, into something more or less useful.

Joke. Lots of people have portfolio investments in South Africa — short-term investments in South African securities, bonds and the like, valued in rands. They are now selling these. So the rand is falling in value because there are more rands floating around as people sell rands and buy, instead — dollars! US dollars, not even Zimbabwean. The country which has so royally stuffed up the financial system is the beneficiary, for a brief period, of that stuffing up, as the US dollar rises and the euro falls.

But, interestingly, the yen is rising. Japan is still, supposedly, in recession. But at least they make stuff in Japan. They build stuff that other people want to buy. They build stuff that Japanese people buy and walk on and live in. They have had their housing and stock exchange bubble long ago. Nobody puts money on the Nikkei except by way of a complex monetary joke. But the yen is rising because the Japanese have not invested all their money in imaginary cash. They can ride out the crisis. Their stock market can turn into a pile of rubble and ashes and the Japanese economy will march on a road of Toyota, Mitsubishi and bones.

But not the American economy.

And if not the American economy — who’s going to pay for all that shit that China produces? Not the Chinese; their worker wages are too low and there’s no money to boost them. Nobody else in the world has the cash that the Americans have — that the Americans had.

Standard and Poor’s rating of the US stock market has fallen 31% this year, says a commentator, before today’s stock market fall. The Dow is heading rapidly towards unbelievably low levels. More frighteningly, the NASDAQ, which supposedly reflects more realistic technology shares, is falling as fast. Or faster. Americans have put their pensions, their life savings, their current savings, into that stock market. Americans banks lent money to those Americans in the belief that the banks’ investments on the stock market would go up.

It’s not going up. It’s going down.

South Africa sells gold and platinum. But not enough to make our ends meet. We sell coal to China, but what if the Chinese stop buying? We sell aluminium, but what if the demand for aluminium falls? We sell cars. What if people stop buying cars? We import steel, we import bloody cement, we import cellphones, we import everything we need and a hell of a lot we don’t. The value of our exports are falling. The value of our money is falling. The cost of our imports (except, mercifully and for the moment, oil) is rising.

We are not so safe that we can pat ourselves on the back. We have no idea how badly off our banks are. We have no idea what is really going on. We don’t even know whether the present crisis, which is unimaginably bad, is the worst thing that can happen, or whether there are more knock-on effects to come, more discoveries that Western finance capitalism has discovered, as Scott Adams prophetically put it, how to steal in ways you’ve never even heard of. Maybe things are far, far worse than we think.

All we can be sure of is that, collectively we are certainly in a bad way, and individually we are likely to be badly off, and very probably the future is more catastrophic than we have dreamed for decades — not since the 1960s have we had to face this kind of catastrophe, and over it all looms the fact of global warming and the consequences of that, too; the hurricanes, the tornadoes (one hit Grahamstown — Grahamstown, of all places! — today) and the damaged crops and the new diseases.

Woe is us? You betcha.


The Brown Wedge Invades The Red Square.

October 9, 2008

In the early years of the Russian Revolution there was a group of enthusiastic avant-garde artists who called themselves the Constructivists, who went in for a new kind of monumental propaganda along with a new kind of non-representational art. One of their biggest projects was a statue called “The Red Wedge Invades The White Square”, basically in praise of the Red Army during the Civil War. (This was where the 1960s and 1970s British Trotskyite organisation, Red Wedge, came from.) It turned out also to be a useful form of public housing, because a large number of Moscow hoboes made their home in the tubes and cracks which made up the statue. Anyway, Leninism became increasingly repressive, and then Stalin took over and stamped all creative activities flat, so that put an end to the statue and to the Constructivists.

Now, the Creator sympathises with those who want to drive the Trotskyites into the ocean. There has never been a South African Trotskyite who didn’t smell faintly but unmistakeably of class treachery and self-interest. But, all kidding aside, while Trotskyites should be assumed guilty of unspeakable practices unless proven innocent, they are also leftists. Misguided and infantile they may be. Sometimes it may be advisable to shoot them. But . . .

If the claims made by Terry Bell, himself an ultra-leftist of some or other description, hold any substance at all, then the South African left is in bigger trouble than anyone had realised. Bell claims that the SACP is deliberately purging the Western Cape trade unions of their Trotskyite activists, presumably to bring these unions more fully under their control (and also, on occasion, to make quite sure that the unions continue sponsoring SACP activities — without union financial support, the SACP would not be able to pay its bills).

If this is happening, it is tyrannical. It is arguably Stalinist; making use of appeals to the authority of the Party in order to suppress alternative viewpoints. It might rather be called Fascist, for the SACP seems to be doing it in order to secure money, status and power, rather than to build socialism in one country, or indeed socialism in any country. Is there a brown Fascist wedge invading, and ultimately even displacing, the red Socialist square?

The removal of Mazibuko Jara from a media NGO, and his replacement by the SACP Secretary-General’s wife, was reported in the Mail and Guardian by Nic Dawes, a newspaper and journalist without much evidence of credibility, so one must be careful. No doubt the job is a sinecure; no doubt someone (probably the Democratic Alliance) leaked the information to Dawes to damage the SACP. On the other hand, it looks like a worrying development. Nobody has ever claimed that Jara is hostile to the SACP, but he has made alliances with Trotskyites (he was involved in the TAC at one stage) and has criticised the Party’s uncritical support for Zuma. Purging Jara might thus be seen as a blow against the left in the Party (while, pleasingly, striking against intellectuals, of whom the Party appears deeply suspicious, and also getting rid of a troublesome Xhosa-speaker in favour of a compliant Zulu-speaker).

Perhaps all this is special pleading, but it certainly sustains a pattern.

The SACP has never been a particularly democratic organisation, which has been both its strength and its weakness, enabling it to take decisions and impose them upon its membership, which was fine except when the decisions were spinach, as they often, unfortunately, were. The leadership of the SACP, however, was in the past more or less devoted to promoting what they considered to be socialism. This is not so clear at the moment. In fact it is difficult to tell what the current ideology of the SACP is. The public utterances of Party members do not inspire confidence in answering the question; they amount to a firm and forthright belief that the Party knows what is right and that, therefore, it is unnecessary for the Party to ever have to explain what it is up to.

On the other hand, if the SACP is ideologically and intellectually feeble, it is certainly strong in terms of its methodology. Its practice of entering and taking over the ANC, and using this control of ANC structures to gain power in government, is remorselessly efficient. On the other hand, it is a practice which necessarily makes enemies, and in order to counteract those enemies the SACP is obliged to disapprove of dissent. It has to be undemocratic, it has to reject free speech, not only because it believes itself to be right and others to be wrong, and therefore not entitled to free speech; that would almost be understandable. The SACP’s hostility to freedom and democracy is problematic, instead, because it feels itself to be weak and therefore cannot permit open debate, let alone allow public decision-making. Even internally, the fact that its membership has plunged and its intellectuals have been purged is a sign that the current leadership of the SACP feel insecure, and therefore are only prepared to tolerate sycophancy and submissive obedience.

This is particularly interesting because the SACP, unlike the Russian Stalinists, has no actual reason for doing this. The SACP has been an extremely stable organisation. It has not been under any meaningful threat for a long time, and the threat which it was under between 1960 and 1990 was almost entirely a product of its alliance with the ANC. Its beliefs and values ought to be homogeneous — ironically, the present socio-economic situation in the world validates almost everything that the SACP has been saying about capitalism for the last eight decades, and many would argue that the SACP’s socialist alternative could be a valuable solution to South Africa’s socio-economic ailments. McCarthyism in South Africa has not, perhaps, a completely lost cause, but it is certainly hard to believe that anti-Communism has much of a future among the general public, however much the DA and some parts of the business community may huff and puff.

Nevertheless, not only is the SACP paranoid, it has exported this paranoia elsewhere. The Young Communists League, a major Zuma publicity organisation, was recently calling for the expulsion of ANC dissidents from the party, because they were criticising party policy and the behaviour of some leadership figures. This is not altogether new to the ANC — this kind of thing happened before, in response to the Marxist Workers’ Tendency (though this was partly at the behest of the SACP) and again after the 1980s MK mutinies in Angola (though, again, the SACP so dominated MK that the repression, including executions and savage prison sentences for what in retrospect seem often well-justified protests, were largely SACP initiatives). Nevertheless, purges have in the past fifteen years been restricted to the SACP.

This might seem odd to some readers, if there are any. Have there not been purges under Mbeki? No, not really. It has been true that some members of the ANC have been denied preferment in the party, and sometimes they have been publicly criticised. However, they have not been expelled from the ANC, nor even completely sidelined. The Mbeki NEC held regular meetings with the SACP and COSATU even though it strongly disagreed with their views on many issues. Jeremy Cronin accused the ANC of being equivalent to ZANU in Zimbabwe, yet continued to chair the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Transport even though he used this position to make (often well-founded) criticism of government transport policy. Pallo Jordan was first sacked and then restored, though his opinions had not changed. The claims now about how cruelly the Zuma faction were oppressed under Mbeki are mostly lies intended to fool a gullible and ignorant right-wing public, and to legitimate the real repression which is happening under Zuma. (In the same way, the alleged crimes committed by Mbeki have been used to excuse the actual crimes committed by Zuma.)

But purges of this kind are new to the post-1990 ANC, and they are happening under Zuma. Public spats between ANC members are much more intense than they have been in the past — but this is because people are genuinely being marginalised, being pushed out of the party. The difference is that the ANC is a bigger organisation, and that while people are disciplined, they are not so rigidly disciplined as they are in the SACP, and therefore people do not, like Jara, meekly accept their fate; instead, like Philip Dexter, they go public about it. In this sense, if in some ways we are witnessing the SACP-fication of the ANC, we may also be witnessing the ANC-fication of the SACP; it is possible that at some stage the SACP leadership may be faced with a revolt of membership, if it ever dawns on the membership that the current SACP leadership has no intention whatsoever of implementing any of its promises. But that will not happen for a long time — if ever.

It is possible that this is simply a mass of circumstantial evidence which should not be taken seriously. The deliberate decision to remove all dissent from the NEC, and subsequently to (so far as was possible) kick out all opponents of Zuma from the Cabinet and from other places, to promote sycophancy and subservience — all this is certainly true, and it is different in degree from the past, if not completely different in kind. On the other hand, one may argue that things will eventually settle down; that the Zuma leadership will make its peace with its opponents, which would certainly be possible, that the corporate-centric figures will ultimately allow the traditions of the ANC to reign, rather than aligning themselves with the thugs of the Youth League and the bullies of the SACP and its allies in order to seize wealth and power.

Yes, that might well happen. But it is not very likely, is it? On the contrary, we are likely to see the ANC becoming more Zumafied. The corporate figures and the SACP figures, or rather the people legitimated through their corporate connections versus the people legitimated through their SACP connections (for many businessmen are SACP members and many SACP members are businessmen) are engaged in low-level war at the moment, jockeying for position. The most likely victims of this conflict are those who are actually engaged in trying to do something for the ANC rather than for themselves or for a Communist Party which appears to exist in name only.

In other words, what will happen will be that the thuggery and intolerance of the SACP will spread and escalate, and become more and more self-validating as more and more enemies are evoked to justify whatever it is they want to do. Down with Lekota and George! Down with Dexter! Down with Tutu! Note that in this chant there is no hint of “Down with our unaccountable finance capitalist overlords!”. Corporatism is perfectly acceptable to the SACP, it would appear. Eventually the flag will be all brown, and the symbolic blood of the workers will be forgotten.

Until, perhaps, the time comes for the Party to shed it — and they will have plenty of allies and time-serving journalists to justify their actions, if that happens.


Statues Made of Matchsticks.

October 8, 2008

Yes — they do crumble into one another, don’t they?

The destruction of the Mbeki government came suddenly, but it did not come as a surprise. It was an event which had been prepared for twelve years — for fourteen or eighteen years in the cases of some politicians and journalists. Zuma, or the people behind Zuma, was only waiting for the right moment, and as usual he got it wrong, but as usual he had so much power behind him, he was allowed to cover up the catastrophe which he caused. (Note that the obediently-published media leaks claimed that Zuma and Motlanthe had opposed firing Mbeki, thus ensuring that they could blame it all on Malema should events turn nasty. In the end they decided not to do this, even though things did turn nasty.)

What we are left with is a kind of hybrid. There are enough competent people in the government to enable the administration to muddle through to 2009 without serious disaster — unless the current global recession heads south rapidly, which is perfectly possible. On the other hand, the Cabinet reshuffle has brought several people whose competence is (to put it politely) uncertain into government, and has widened the split between the ANC’s supporters and the SACP’s supporters by giving more power to the latter. Hence government is likely to be less effective — which will probably have harmful impact on the ANC’s electoral position next year.

This lack of efficacy is due to the Zuma government’s arrogant intransigence (we can forget about Motlanthe as an individual; like Malema, he is a glove-puppet). This has to be spelled out because the media, as usual, is covering for Zuma and his friends. The pretense is that Mbeki’s supporters are resigning in order to embarrass the government. In fact, South Africa has no culture of resignation, such as exists in Britain, because it has no culture of rehabilitating people who resign; once you’re out, you’re out. Hence the resignations are ending the political careers of the people who resign. They are only doing this because the alternative is to be fired (and even then, pretty heavy pressure must have been employed).

Unfortunately, firing a lot of people leads to instability, at least unless they are people of proven incompetence replaced by people of proven competence. With the possible exception of Barbara Hogan, none of the people entering the Cabinet are conspicuously competent; meanwhile, the people fired from the Cabinet were mostly able people in difficult jobs. They were fired because Zuma feared that they were Mbeki supporters — or because they had openly supported Mbeki in the past.

Does this mean that Zuma thought that they would undermine him? They were all purged from the ANC’s National Executive Committee to prevent this from happening. In government it would be difficult for them to undermine Zuma’s policies, given that President Motlanthe has the power to dominate the Cabinet and the NEC holds the ultimate sanction of recall for any Cabinet Minister. What is more, there is no actual evidence of an anti-Zuma cabal within the ANC. Contrary to the claims of the media, which has attempted to justify Zuma’s conspiracy by pretending that Mbeki was at the head of a conspiracy, there is no sign that anyone was conspiring against Zuma, nor is there any indication that the Mbeki supporters in the ANC hold Mbeki in higher regard than the party.

So the reason for the purge seems to be far simpler; to intimidate those who were not purged. That is, a large number of senior ANC members in government are not uncritical Zuma supporters. The goal of the purge is presumably to frighten them into silence, and into obedience to the party’s line.

Yet the problem is that there is no party line. Motlanthe has already quite cheerfully declared that he supports everything that Mbeki ever did. In short, the whole campaign, as we knew all along, was not about principles or ideology, but about garnering money, power and sinecures for Zuma and his friends. Motlanthe might as well have worn a “Proud To Be A Careerist” T-shirt — instead of his armour-plated suit and tie — to his bumbling and tedious inaugural public statement. There is much talk about the “Polokwane” principles, but in practice these change according to whatever the SACP happens to want at a given moment — or rather, what its leadership (the top two or three people in its politburo) wants, sometimes rubber-stamped by hastily-called “conferences”. There is no plan, there is no campaign, there is no banner behind which people can march. The only doctrine is that people must obey orders. Being in the ANC now is like being in the army, except that you have to pay your own way and you don’t get the fun of blowing things up; the destruction is all being done by other people.

In short, this goes way beyond the serious flaws of Mbeki’s ANC; it is so splendidly undemocratic that it is positively surreal. Populism here has taken the logical step of combining with neoliberalism to produce populism without the people. There is party loyalty, but no party; there is obedience to a line, but no line. This reminds the Creator of a recent newspaper letter from the Treatment Action Campaign in which the author of the letter, who has never sought or received any public mandate and whose letter was campaigning for absurd goals, referred to himself as “civil society”. Perhaps he really believed that. Our new Jacobin (or perhaps Jacobite) Sun Kings proclaim “Le peuple, c’est moi!”.

Now none of this proves that everything is going to hell in a turbo-supercharged handbasket. Possibly they will sort themselves out. It is possible, yes — the trouble is that it is not very likely. Having operated in a protective cocoon for a decade, with the media never asking difficult questions, their enemies in government never free to launch the kind of attacks on them which they depended on — the Zuma faction have never had to deal with serious problems of the kind which they face now. They have coped with such problems by either pretending that they do not exist (Zuma’s “Crisis? What crisis?” speeches) or by blaming them on other people (the whole Mbeki blame-game and the conspiracy-mongering).

That has worked well, but it has worked only because objectively powerful people elsewhere, namely the ruling class, supported it. It is very similar to the policies of American or European conservatives, distracting the public from their real problems through manufacturing hobgoblins elsewhere — the immigrants and the liberals — while pretending that the destructive policies of neoliberalism were creative. It is great to have the complete support of the ruling class and the press, but, as the current economic crisis illustrates, this is not enough to provide workable, sustainable policies. Where are these going to come from in the context of Zuma’s South Africa?

In addition, what is the Zuma faction going to do if, once it has performed its function of weakening the ANC, it loses the support of the ruling class after the 2009 elections? Surely it is sufficiently aware of the problem to be unwilling to actually do anything to alienate the ruling class. Yet, on the other hand, if it follows the lead of the ruling class, it makes itself incapable of winning over the majority and puts itself on a spiral staircase to the political dustbin. How can these be reconciled?

The short-term solution is to keep very quiet, not change anything, and hope that the problems will go away. This has been the solution which the Mbeki government has pursued after its attempts to reconcile left and right failed, and this was a disastrous solution. Political problems do not go away; they get worse as the people driving them realise that they can gain more self-importance by causing more trouble. Therefore, this short-term solution, the easiest solution and therefore the one most likely to be pursued, is not a solution; it is part of the problem.

The alternative, however, is even less like the Zuma government’s current behaviour. The alternative to the problem is to develop a political programme sufficiently popular to make it possible for the Zuma government to rule on its own, and to ignore both the press and the corporate elite. Although this is not wholly true, in a significant sense this was what the Mbeki government did. This is definitely not what the Zuma government is doing at the moment, nor what they are preparing to do — for even if they had a workable political programme, they have shown no sign of being able to turn it into something which the public will accept. They seem afraid to say things which big business will condemn. They also seem afraid to go beyond the things which the Mbeki government did — forgetting that big business did not loathe the Mbeki government out of capriciousness, but because the Mbeki government was more left-wing than big business was prepared to accept. In other words, pursuing the status quo makes it very likely that big business will eventually start putting pressure on the Zuma government.

And, of course, the Zuma government is in a very poor position to protect themselves against that pressure. Conceivably they do not desire to be in a better position. It is a splendid thing to be in control of a house of cards, because nobody expects you to be able to do anything about it. “We could not do anything because Mbeki would not allow us” will be easily turned into “We cannot do anything because the business elite will not allow us”, and the great thing is that if this is said by a Communist, many people will think that it must be true, because why should a Communist say or do anything which benefits the business elite?

Hah. Indeed. Good question there, that man.

Of course there is another possible stumbling-block. Can it be that Zuma has deliberately surrounded himself with fools, and now discovers that unfortunately nobody is competent to develop a political programme of their own? This might seem bizarre because the people involved are the political elite of South Africa, or at least say that they are. But they are a political elite which has never had to have a programme other than waving a red flag — and those who remember the late 1980s will also remember how comically unprepared for government the ANC was in 1990 because they had depended on the SACP for guidance and the SACP failed utterly. Maybe they are doing the same to the unfortunate Zuma, who has always needed to take orders from someone.

The trouble is that if this fortress built on quicksand turns out to be subverted and easy to capture, then the ANC has no reserves of strength left. Meanwhile, big business and the right wing which the DA represents has enormous amounts of strength, never having had to exert any. In other words, whether the new ANC become neoliberal, or whether they collapse and leave space for the neoliberals, without an energetic left-wing campaign of which there is no sign, the future is going to be reactionary at best.

No, the Creator does not enjoy making these predictions. Why did you ask?