Perhaps Not An Interruption: Zumanomics.

April 28, 2009

 

Why is ruling-class propaganda so feeble and witless? If the Creator were in charge, ruling-class propaganda would be powerful enough to fool everybody all the time. But, so accustomed have the ruling-class propagandists become to having total control of the media, and to their policy of repeating their lies endlessly without challenge, that they no longer put any real effort into their work.

 

Raymond Parsons, editor of Zumanomics and an Extraordinary Professor of blablabla at the University of Pretoria (extraordinary because he is unqualified) quotes The Economist gleefully on why nobody should expect economists to know what they are doing:

 

 

 

“Thanks to [World Bank reports], economists now know much more about what does not work [about national economic development]. But it is not so clear they understand any better what does.”

 

 

 

Think about that quote for a moment. Imagine applying it to civil engineers. “Thanks to [some or other reports], civil engineers now know much more about why bridges fall down when they are built. But it is not so clear they understand why bridges sometimes remain standing.” If you heard that, would you ever want to go over a bridge again? Especially when you checked and found that the “reports” were essentially advertisements for Balderdash Bricks and Crumbly’s Concrete. Then imagine that Raymond Parsons thinks that this is an appropriate quote to stick in a book written by a bunch of economists writing on South Africa’s national economic development after 2009.

 

Natural conclusion: if these guys are in charge (and obviously they want to be), we are doomed.

 

But let us be fair, and take a closer look at what is being said. These people claim to be the best and brightest of South Africa’s economists. Most of them are professors of economics (or “development studies”) at major South African universities. Incidentally, many are simultaneously directors of companies. (Parsons got his Professorship on the strength of his control of the South African Chamber of Business.) This is rather like making druglords Commissioner of Police, which would at least cut out the middleman if you believe what they say about Selebi, but let it pass.

 

Du Toit and Van Tonder try to tell us how South Africa can improve its economic performance. Well, that’s a fair thing to talk about. I mean, isn’t that what we want? They present a vast array of tables and graphs depicting past economic performance which make things look pretty good, but they say it’s not so good. Maybe they’re right, but it would be nice if they said why. (Since the graphs are in colour but are reproduced in black and white, they’re pretty hard to read. Maybe that’s the idea.) They say, for instance, that the fact that jobs were being lost before 1999, but then started to be created at an erratic but rapid rate, isn’t good enough. Maybe not, but why not? Don’t say. They ask why people did not get jobs, and come up only with a series of “structural impediments”  which, oddly, does not happen to mention the obvious fact that there were insufficient jobs to be had. The only real suggestion they make is that employers should have more right to fire people and to make people work longer hours — neither of which proposals seem guaranteed to increase employment!

 

The article, in short, is a useful source of information if read carefully, but the authors seem incapable of usefully interpreting it. (For instance, in complaining about the growing cost of foreign goods transport, they manage somehow to fail to notice that this is directly consequent on the privatisation of South Africa’s merchant marine.) They also say at one point that foreign exchange controls (which they don’t like)keep interest rates low, and at another point that overly high interest rates discourage investment. It seems that Du Toit and Van Tonder didn’t read their own article. Maybe wisely so.

 

Du Toit and Van Tonder seem geniuses, however, next to Nokaneng and Harmse’s comparison of South Africa with East Asian economies. They compare South Africa under the ANC with East Asia after 1984 (and, mostly, after 1997). South Africa had just emerged from a catastrophically mismanaging regime which did not prioritise real economic or human development. Many of the East Asian countries had emerged from such conditions decades earlier. What is more, while the KMT and Park regimes in Korea and Taiwan were even more murderously repressive than the apartheid regime in South Africa, the Asian regimes actually strove to develop their whole nations, whereas the South African regime was interested chiefly in preserving minority privileges (and was busy fighting foreign wars as well as a civil war). What’s more, of course, most of these East Asian states enjoy docile workforces, having murdered or jailed all their radical worker leaders decades ago and bloodily intimidated the labourers into submission to sweetheart, state-run unions. This is not quite practical in contemporary South Africa.

 

Apples with oranges? Of course, but Nokaneng and Harmse are so busy pointing out that South Africa isn’t up there with Korea that they fail to notice the worthlessness of the comparison. In their table, the only state which is really comparable with South Africa is the Philippines, where, economically, South Africa does pretty well by comparison (we also grew better than Malaysia and Singapore, surprisingly) although our literacy is much worse (possibly this is a misprint, as in the body of the text they contradict the figure) and our life expectancy is still worse (can anyone out there say “AIDS”? Nokaneng and Harmse can’t).

 

They end up by summing up the decisions made at the Polokwane Conference: sustainable growth, an industrial strategy, a “focus on creating decent jobs”, and empowering those previously excluded, such as women. They describe this carbon copy of ANC policy since 1996 as a “new approach”. People who cannot remember the past are not to be trusted to predict the future.

 

Stan du Plessis praises inflation targeting — the Reserve Bank’s policy of jacking up interest rates whenever inflation rises above a certain level. He says that inflation targeting is a good thing, because when Sweden abandoned it in 1937, the result was disastrous. To be precise, Sweden, after fifty years of stellar development into the economic powerhouse of Northern Europe, suffered economic crisis in the 1980s and Du Plessis says that this was because, er, it abandoned inflation targeting in 1937. One hopes that du Plessis’s office has thick rubber walls.

 

Du Plessis does make the valid point that virtually all criticism of inflation targeting is made by people who don’t understand inflation targeting. (Actually, most economic critics in the Tripartite Alliance appear to be people who can’t even read the label on a cornflakes packet.) But the fact that idiots oppose a policy does not make it a good policy. He argues that inflation targeting is not a “blunt tool”, because it has not, he says, done as much damage to the national economy as some people think. Unfortunately, the mere fact that hitting someone with a stick does not crush their skull, does not mean that being hit with a stick is good for the brain. What we need to hear is whether inflation targeting works in reducing inflation. He actually asks the question “Does inflation targeting actually work?”, and then fails to answer it.

 

Instead, Du Plessis manages to show that monetary policy has had virtually no effect on the economy at all. If that is really the case, then why bother to talk about it? Why not talk about the threat to our national security posed by the fairies at the bottom of my garden? Why does Du Plessis insist that inflation targeting is under threat from Zuma, and must be defended at all costs? Possibly Du Plessis, resident of Stellenbosch, cannot handle imbibing large quantities of the local export product . . .

 

Iraj Abedian and Tania Ajam, in their review of fiscal policy, actually provide a mildly interesting analysis. Their contention is that South African fiscal policy between 1994 and 2008 was reasonably successful, which is not exactly a unique notion. They provide a table of state expenditure and revenue over this period (partly interesting because it is clear that the decision to push the fiscus into deficit in 2009 had been made well in advance). They also provide useful tables of revenue sourcing 1988-2009 (showing, interestingly, that revenue from company tax grew slightly while revenue from VAT shrank — that is, that the tax system became slightly more progressive, despite tax cuts) and of provincial expenditure. These tables bear out their contention; interest service spending fell while other spending increased, which seems a good sign, all in all. The tables are also extremely useful as information sources.

 

Abedian and Ajam then point out that there are potential problems ahead. South Africa is committed to increased social spending, but in the current economic crisis, revenue growth will stall, meaning that the budget deficit will grow, which is potentially problematic. They argue that South Africa does not have the capacity to be a “developmental state”, particularly because of incapacity at municipal level — which is at least plausible, though something could be done about this. They also argue that spending alone, unless structural economic problems are resolved, does not truly solve problems — they note, interestingly, that inequality shifts between 1995 and 2005 were highest among whites, coloureds and asians, and lowest among africans — particularly interesting in view of claims that inequality has been driven by a growing black middle class which is blamed for almost all ills. Unless one does something about these inequality shifts, which exist in spite of social grant spending and other welfare, one is not really achieving anything. This sounds reasonable.

 

They conclude by proposing more spending on infrastructure, but also on improving the management of establishments such as schools and reducing money wasted on perquisites for managers and other unproductive state spending. They feel that in the long run this would be more productive than giving the money to the poor, because improved infrastructure would ultimately benefit the poor more. Maybe. It’s a story, anyway, and something which could be debated.

 

De Lange and Seymore argue that South Africa needs a better trade and industry policy, but since they don’t say what it should be, apart from suggesting that there is a need to support potential successes and not support potential failures, we have a problem; also, they seem to have a mental block about supporting things which might succeed in the future but aren’t succeeding now.

 

Robbins says that there is a spatial dimension to industrial policy and national competitiveness, which sounds very well, but apart from saying that there needs to be a better policy on spatial development than now exists, all the Robbins has to say is that things as far as possible need to be decentralised rather than centralised — which is problematic if provincial leadership is corrupt and municipal leadership is incompetent, but Robbins doesn’t discuss such things.

 

Van Aardt tells us that there is unemployment because people don’t want to work. If they live in households earning more than R2500 a month, why should they work? If they are getting social grants, why should they work? The natural conclusion is that we should starve the little bastards out by taking away their social grants and their welfare, and slashing the wages of those in employment, and thus force them to take those jobs which Van Aardt obviously believes exist, even though he provides no evidence for this. Basically, this is psychopathic economics of the Norman Tebbit/Margaret Thatcher school.

 

Van Aardt does provide some interesting tables (showing the remarkable growth of employment under the ANC). He concludes that if only there were less “labour market rigidity” (that is, more capacity for businesses to fire people and slash their wages) then there would be 6 million more people employed. He has no evidence for this; he has a line on a graph (actually, the area under the line) which he thinks represents this 6 million people, but even if they exist there, he has no evidence that their condition would change if businesses were more able to fire people or if wages plummetted. He concludes by talking excitedly about how Chinese wages are from a third to a twelfth of South African wages and therefore we must slash wages and cut back on social grants and import lots of clever immigrants (encouraging immigration might reduce unemployment, but it seems a little roundabout). In the end, Van Aardt does us a favour by showing what is really going on in this book and what the bulk of business economists really want to do to the country.

 

Akinboade, Tokwe and Mokoena discuss health care and conclude that despite lots of spending it isn’t doing a very good job, which is not exactly unusual — but they don’t really suggest any solutions to the problem. Tough on the trees that died to produce these pages.

 

Adam Habib writes a mass of vacuity about the politics of the transition from Mbeki to Zuma which fails to say whether anything is good or bad. He does suggest the introduction of a “pluralist labour system” like that in the United States or in South Africa in the 1980s — that is, dramatically weakening the trade unions. Hmmm. He also talks about a “robust civil society” — actually pretending that the PR-focussed, overpaid stuntmeisters of our “civil society organisations” in South African society somehow had positive political consequences. Such bullshit ought not to baffle anybody’s brains. He also talks about a “strategic foreign policy”, saying that South Africa should abandon links with poor countries and instead start sucking up to rich ones. As with Van Aardt, it’s clear to see where Habib is pointing; the bizarre thing is that Habib is clearly a crony of people like Cronin, and his positions are largely endorsed by COSATU and the SACP — that is, this right-wing position is likely to be a major part of Zumaism. Well, we can’t say we weren’t warned — although Habib is so vague and so overweeningly concerned with representing himself as a Very Important Clever Person that it is easy to miss the corrupt, evil force which he is serving.

 

Then comes the Voice of the Editor, Raymond Parsons himself, and here, luckily, we can’t miss the evil at all. Parsons says that the current economic policy — Asgisa — is quite all right. However, Asgisa depends too heavily on the state, which is regulating things too much. The state needs to help private enterprise, and not the other way around. Back in the 1920s, says Parsons, perhaps the state was needed to help social development, but certainly not now (naturally, he doesn’t say why). Why does SARS work well, but not the education sector? (Can it be because SARS is a lot easier to run, and is also centrally administered? Parsons does not pursue the question.)

 

Admittedly, he suggests that people should read their ruddy documents. Fair enough. Then he says there should be more public-private partnerships, which seems like a catastrophic plan. Then he says that local government needs to be improved (he doesn’t say how). Then he warns against collectivism, claiming that state involvement is getting worse in almost everything. In response to this, he says, “take up the cudgels vigorously, especially through organised business, on behalf of broad business interests”. So, in short, Parsons’ real message is that any change must be what is good for big business. They must have a bigger say in government.

 

Like they don’t have too big a say already.

 

So, what is striking about this book is how unintelligent it is. Even the relatively good bits, like Abedian and Du Toit, are interesting largely because they provide data; they don’t do anything interesting with the data. The positive messages are blindingly obvious. On the other hand, the book is riddled with ridiculous advice which has nothing to do with hard data, but rather with the corporate and class interests of the authors. The authors seem to assume that everybody will skip the boring bits, cut to the conclusion, and go “Aaaaaah!” with delight at hearing that their class interests are being served, while setting back in an easy chair with a Laphroig and a Romeo y Julieta.

 

Maybe the rest of us ought to get on with more important stuff; the scary thing is that if Habib is anything to go by, this is probably where a lot of Zuma’s advisers are at, straight from the Network Cigar Lounge.

 

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Challenge and Response (II).

April 28, 2009

 

So, given these problems faced by the country under Jacob Zuma, which are more extreme than the problems which have been faced since 1994 — what can we do? Again, we must begin at the beginning. What is the problem? What is wrong with being ruled by President Zuma?

 

This seems a funny question — have we not been told what is wrong? Yes, but there are two unspoken questions underlying that answer. Who was telling us? And what were we being told?

 

Contrary to what we are continually told in the media, the average South African is not a complete ninny. The average South African, instead, has a fairly clear idea of what his or her interests are. What people want is a job with reasonable pay and security, bearable living conditions (with security again), access to help in case of medical or other emergency, and an opportunity for reasonable leisure; if people have children, they also want a chance for their children, preferably through education. It’s not a lot, when you think about it, but it’s a lot more than the average South African has — and the trends all seem to be going away from this ideal.

 

So: why did this average South African vote Jacob Zuma in as President in the recent election? Why did the opposition parties — particularly CoPe — fail to make considerable inroads into the ANC’s performance? Why did the press’s anti-Zuma campaign (and, in parallel with this, the actual strong evidence of Zuma’s corruption) fail to weaken the ANC’s performance? Does this simply mean, as the white racists tell us, that blacks will vote for anything with a black skin regardless of qualifications?

 

No.

 

But let us first acknowledge, without false modesty, that the Creator got it severely wrong. Here was what the Creator predicted back in November:

 

 

 

Party Smart ANC, dumb CoPe
ANC 58%
CoPe 9%
DA 12%
IFP 4%
UDM 2%
FF+ 1%

 

 

 

The Creator would say that this political descriptor was the actual situation; the ANC largely called off the purges and witch-hunts in 2009 and focussed on outspending the opposition. Meanwhile, CoPe lay there like a run-over dog, feebly twitching. However, the figures are wrong: the Creator overestimated the UDM’s support by 100%, overestimated CoPe’s support by about 15%, underestimated the DA’s support by 33% and underestimated the ANC’s support by 16%. While this was understandable, it is also a sign of partisanship, because the Creator does not like the DA and ANC.

 

So — what happened? For one thing, the DA’s support proved completely solid and gained by picking up support in the Western Cape as a result of the ANC’s anti-coloured racist campaign (basically the Xhosa leadership in the Western Cape preferred losing the election to allowing coloureds to dominate the campaign) and as a result of everyone expecting it to win there and to have powers of patronage. So it did better than the Creator expected.

 

The ANC did better than the Creator expected by picking up support from the IFP, the ACDP, probably also from those few blacks who had voted DA but were now coming home, from the UDM, and from virtually all the other small silly black parties. In addition, however, the ANC was able to persuade more voters to turn out — which the Creator had not expected. Precisely because there was a fear that the ANC would do badly, the ANC was able to urge people to “Defend the ANC”, and they duly did so. This was, very largely, the likely reason for people deserting the other parties; they had previously voted against the ANC by way of protest, but now moved back to the ANC rather than see it humiliated. It is unlikely that many of these people were endorsing Zuma, so much as that they were afraid that the ANC might do badly if they did not return to it.

 

One can make a strong case, incidentally, that the outcome was considerably worse than the Creator had predicted. If we see the ANC under ZUMA, and CoPe under Lekota, as effectively conservative and business-friendly parties, then the ANC’s 66%, the DA’s 16% and CoPe’s 8% means that we have shifted from 69% social democratic under Mbeki, to 90% neoliberal under Zuma. That is not a change which many people would have wanted to vote for. So how did it happen? Obviously, most ANC voters did not believe that Zuma was either right-wing or corrupt.

 

Why not?

 

Accusations against Zuma were of three kinds. One was that he was corrupt. One was that he was left-wing (!). One was that he was a black traditionalist with several wives and a leopardskin.

 

Consider the last one first. It was a painfully frequent image, one which corresponded closely with the ANC’s propaganda about Zuma being a man of the people. It was, obviously, intended to alarm whites and coloureds, especially ones with a lot of residual racism in their heads. Zuma is not one of us! Beware!

 

For obvious reasons a manifest racist scare tactic would not work well within the african community. On the contrary, the fact that whites were making a fuss about this worked to cement Zuma’s african support, for africans who might otherwise have felt that Zuma was too much of a pandering traditionalist would have reflected that at least this was pissing off the abelungu and therefore could not be an altogether bad thing. On the other hand, many whites, paradoxically, seem to have been quite comforted by this image of Zuma; having swallowed Buthelezi very largely courtesy of his image of a traditionalist black nationalist (as opposed to a black nationalist who might have been some kind of trouble-making leftie) the white right wing could buy into Zuma as a consolation prize for their loss of Inkatha.

 

The whole thing, of course, discredited the press quite severely. For one thing it was blindingly obvious that this kind of accusation was a racial attack, and this made it possible to suspect that every other press criticism of Zuma was motivated by the same sort of thing. (The focus on Zuma’s sexism by people like Jonathan Shapiro was negated by the racist links implicit in the way that Shapiro presented it; instead of Zuma being a sexist individual, Shapiro depicted him as a black man who was, like most or all black men, a potential rapist.) For another, the contrast with Zuma the traditionalist was Mbeki the pipe-smoking, whisky-sipping Western man — and the press unanimously trashed Mbeki. If they hated Westernised Africans so much, why should anyone be surprised when they trashed Africans for being unregenerate tribalists? This suggested that the press was just anti-african (which is very largely the case, especially in the case of the pitiful black editors and pundits who cleave to the same line).

 

So, to be blunt, an important part of the criticism (especially the subtext of the criticism) against Zuma, being racially motivated, mobilized africans and also non-racists in support of him.

 

The accusation that Zuma was left-wing was extremely widespread. It took two forms, however. On one hand it represented support for Zuma; in this case, Zuma’s alleged left-wing qualities were contrasted with Mbeki’s alleged right-wing qualities and, naturally, Mbeki was found wanting, because that was the object of the exercise and facts do not matter to South African journalists. In this case, the “left” meant anyone who said that they were left-wing, regardless of their record or their actual policies. In this case, of course, the newspapers were supporting Zuma and the ANC by pretending to believe that they were left-wing, and thus excusing their endorsement. This then did no harm to Zuma.

 

The other form of the accusation, which really only developed once Mbeki was out of the way, was that Zuma was a left-winger and therefore had to be opposed lest he do something terrible, such as spend money on the poor. This was particularly notable in, for instance, the claim from various “economic analysts” that the international markets were terrified that Zuma would be a dangerous left-winger and therefore, that people should be careful not to allow the ANC to get a two-thirds majority, lest he change the Constitution and introduce Bolshevism. (In fact, when it appeared that the ANC was getting a two-thirds majority, the stock market shot up in sharp contrast to tumbling global markets; South African big business knows a good thing when it sees it, and it likes what it sees when it looks at Zuma.) Most South Africans, of course, like the left, and so such claims as this, while they might be useful in mobilising a few right-wing whites and coloureds and indians, would mostly serve to do Zuma good.

 

In part, CoPe’s complaints about the SACP were spun in this way. It was perfectly valid to say that the SACP had way too much influence in proportion to its numbers, and also that the SACP’s influence was generally bad for the ANC. However, many people — including some CoPe people — seemed to be using this as a pretext for an attack on the left. This did not play terribly well in Idutywa, however much some merchant bankers might have liked it (and obviously the merchant bankers were not channelling much cash to CoPe).

 

So we are left with the corruption issues. Yet again, however, these were spun very differently. There was the actual corruption case against Zuma, and there was the way in which Zuma had corrupted the ANC by rigging elections, dismissing people on trumped-up charges and installing ill-qualified cronies in positions of authority. The former was given prominence in the press. The latter was mentioned far less, and while it was the main reason for CoPe’s existence, CoPe never made anything significant of it. As a result, although it was the chief reason for suspecting that Zuma’s tenure as President would be a calamitous one, and although it was the chief reason for ANC supporters to suspect that their party was no longer what it had once been, the latter issue simply fell from sight. Bluntly, it was a real political issue, an issue of mobilisation, and so it was something which the anti-political journalists and pundits wanted kept well out of sight — partly because they simply did not, could not, think in such terms.

 

The corruption case should have been enough to sink Zuma, but the problem was that Zuma is just one man. The ANC, it appeared, did not think that Zuma’s corruption was serious. Of course, if the ANC’s democratic procedures had been subverted by Zuma, then maybe the corruption was indeed serious and then the damage to the ANC was a reason not to vote for it — but this subversion was largely kept out of the discussion. It became a simple issue: were you 100% Zuluboy, or 100% Zilleboy? There were a few ANC supporters (like Raymond Suttner) who nevertheless felt that Zuma ought to be charged, but in fact the overwhelming majority of those who were calling for Zuma to be charged were anti-ANC people, and therefore there were obvious reasons for questioning their bona fides.

 

Meanwhile, the ANC was saying that Zuma was innocent. The press were saying that Zuma was guilty, but the press was also saying that Mbeki was more guilty than Zuma. If you are an ANC supporter, who do you believe — the ANC’s enemies who defame its President, or the ANC itself which declares that the whole thing is a conspiracy? Of course, the ANC was soon joining in the press denunciations of Mbeki. This should have been a giveaway that there was something wrong (why should the ANC be joining in with its enemies in attacking its own former President?). However, almost certainly, the end product was confusion and a desire to withdraw from the whole business. Rather ignore the affair completely.

 

As a result, all that was left of all the denunciations of Zuma was a vague feeling that he had been unfairly treated. None of the real concrete criticism cut much ice with ANC supporters, unless they were very well-informed indeed, much better-informed than the newspapers wanted them to be. Meanwhile, the press and the opposition parties attacked Julius Malema, who was undoubtedly silly, but who was attacked simply because he was the flavour of the month — he had not done anything conspicuously wrong. And then, of course, the charges against Zuma were dropped. It is difficult to be sure, but this must have done a great deal to weaken CoPe’s position. (It didn’t weaken the DA’s position because there was no ambiguity in DA voters’ hatred for Zuma and the ANC — whereas CoPe supporters were motivated by suspicion of Zuma and his allies, and that suspicion had to be weakened by the revelation that the law enforcement officers were no longer sustaining a case.)

 

So that is why Zuma was able to get away with seizing power in the ANC. It was partly the fact that the really important issues in his behaviour were ignored, and partly in the fact that virtually every criticism of Zuma was uttered in bad faith. As a result, many who might otherwise have felt distrustful, felt sorry for Zuma — and, besides, everybody was agreed that the ANC had done a good job in the past, and who could be sure that it would do a bad job in future? Certainly, little of the criticism of Zuma proved that. The only alternative (since all the other possible parties were appalling) was CoPe, but they had presented no reason for voting for them — they merely boasted about not being corrupt. But nobody had proved that Zuma was corrupt. So maybe they were just being opportunistic.

 

Anyway, if Zuma was corrupt, all other politicians seemed corrupt, too. Everybody does it. The world did not fall apart when Zuma was Deputy President. Why should it fall apart should he become President? So they voted ANC. Why not?

 

What the hell?

 


Challenge and Response. (I)

April 28, 2009

 

How can, and therefore how should, South Africans respond to the crisis imposed upon us through the forces raised up to become our rulers in the name of Jacob Zuma?

 

The most likely and common option is varying brands of surrender. One kind of surrender is to endorse Zuma while ignoring all the reasons not to endorse him personally, and also ignoring all the corrupt individuals and factions feeding off his triumph. Another kind of surrender is to withdraw from politics altogether, declaring it to be irretrievably corrupt, and collect stamps or play the National Lottery. Actually, another kind of surrender is to denounce and renounce Zuma with gusto while enthusiastically backing one of Zuma’s backers because they pretend not to be his backers.

 

This last surrender is perhaps the most destructive, and the cleverest tool of the ideological-corporate combine which we have called ZUMA (by analogy with Norman Mailer’s HUGHES, his amoeba-like conspiracy between the CIA, the Hughes Corporation, International Telephone and Telegraph and the other forces — such as PepsiCo — involved in global destabilisation during the Nixon administration and engaged in the Watergate cover-up at least, and conceivably in other cover-ups conceivably extending back to the Bay of Pigs and Kennedy’s assassination).

 

Consider: the “Independent Democrats”, who are of course not independent nor democratic, in the grand tradition of South African political party naming, were set up supposedly to stand apart from the corrupt systems of South African politics. When they joined the Democratic Alliance in the Cape Town municipal government, they abandoned all pretense of such independence. However, this was not so unusual. What was much more interesting was when their leader, De Lille, responded to the conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice announced by the head of the National Prosecuting Authority when he withdrew charges against President Zuma; her response was to lay charges — against Ngcuka and McCarthy, the people whom the head of the NPA claimed had made his conspiracy possible. (He lied, of course, as we have already seen.)

 

Now, what this means is that De Lille, on flimsy evidence, was nevertheless throwing her weight (slightly less than that of a feather on the Moon) behind the head of the NPA’s fraudulence, and therefore, launching an important and useful attack on the people whom ZUMA had singled out as convenient scapegoats. Thus, the Independent Democrats made themselves a tool for attacking democracy and justice in the hands of an authoritarian politician with close links to the national secret police. Anyone who votes for them next week will, thus, be effectively voting for Jacob Zuma.

 

The same goes, in spades, for the press and the NGOs (with the doubtful exception of the “Institute for Security Studies”, which is so interpenetrated by apartheid-era cops, soldiers and spooks that it has little room for contemporary politicians to take a foothold; for this reason it is less perverted than other organisations, in the same way that elderly racist judges like Squires and Harms are less liable to defeat the ends of justice than younger ones — they have little to gain by doing so). The parliamentary political parties barely exist as entities distinguishable from ZUMA. In the end they dance to the tune of the press and their corporate masters who fund them, but who have also proclaimed the limits of political debate to be whatever benefits neoliberal capitalism. No political party, intraparliamentary or extraparliamentary, challenges this in reality and those who pretend to challenge it are doing so in order to distract the public.

 

The Creator has said it before, but it is more true than ever: a wholly new political entity is needed to respond to the challenge posed by Zuma’s victory and its ancillaries.

 

How could such a political entity evolve? The problem is that for it to evolve a new political discourse is needed, or rather, a discourse distinct from the current discourse. This is difficult. The language of support for Zuma extends from Afrikaner racist nationalism, through Zulu tribal nationalism, English corporate allegiance, greed-is-good neoliberalism, “black economic empowerment”, “give-the-man-a-chance” liberal cowardice, “he’ll-be-good-for-my-paycheck” corrupted trade unionism, the Stalinist nomenklatura of the SACP, and the “Mbeki-doesn’t-like-him-so-he-must-be-good” destructive negativity of South African Trotskyism and Africanism. This is pretty much the whole spectrum, all parts of which are translating Zuma’s lies into their own jargon to make them palatable to their particular constituency. It is a shameful spectacle, but there is something extraordinary about it all the same. Wherever you look, a political entity is degrading itself in public.

 

What, therefore, we need to do is to take two paces back, from the emptied language of political action, back through the political action itself, to the goals of political action. What is the reason for political action? Why should anything be done at all?

 

We want, not simply a better life for me, but a better life for all. We also want to make the life for all considerably better, such that everybody can, in principle, be happy and satisfied without being ignorant. We want everyone to have a meaningful opportunity to better themselves, rather than a rigged lottery where the ruling class scoop everything and, at best, one in a thousand poor people get to become millionaires while the other 999 receive less than nothing. That is what politics is all about. That is where politics came from in Europe in the Middle Ages, one of the greatest unsung inventions of that fertile continent — unsung because the ruling class understandably does not choose to acknowledge it.

 

That’s what we want. How do we get it? It isn’t going to arrive by sitting on our hands. Tom Hodgkinson, in his engaging little work of Catholic reactionary-anarchist propaganda How To Be Free, advises us to “End Class War”, “Forget Government” and “Stop Voting”. He is not, of course, speaking to the ruling class, but to the ruled class, and this amounts to actively surrendering to power. (The book is about how to drop out of society — a worthy enough goal in comparison with the goal of actively conniving at one’s own oppression, but the trouble is that when you stop conniving, the oppressors come looking for you. There’s a reason why every one of Hodgkinson’s heroes was defeated.) If you have no choice but to be an individual, then Hodgkinson’s disease is possibly the only cure. But if there is any possibility of collective action then the collective has to be governed and has to have a plan, and the only way to make that bearable is by making the process of government and of making plans as acceptable to everyone in the collective as possible.

 

So: we want a society of contentment, freedom, information and opportunity, and we also want democratic government. Do we have this at the moment? As is at once obvious, we do not have democratic government. The nearest thing to a shot at democratic government was the African National Congress, and virtually every shred of democracy has been strained out of it by assiduous tyrants and capitalists. Discontent is rife, for the excellent reason that virtually everybody can see that their life could be much better were it not that other people were unfairly profiting from the system at their expense. Freedom and information and opportunity are all jokes; we are perfectly free to do nothing at all for there is at the moment nothing to do, we have no access to information which is not controlled by our masters, and our masters also restrict our opportunities to whatever benefits them the most — we more or less have to sign undertakings to do whatever is best for our superiors before we can even apply for a promotion within the system which already benefits our masters rather than us.

 

Does that not essentially sum up the process of your own life, within every structure which you have found thus far? If it does not, you are almost certainly one of the ruling class, and yet even there, comparable restrictions, less onerous but nevertheless unpleasant, prevent you from being truly free or happy. Do corporate propagandists never weary of telling lies? If they do, how can they remain corporate propagandists and still stay content with their lot, however big their cars, mansions and accounts at the local upmarket brothel?

 

No, if we are to change things we cannot do so within the present framework of society. Surrounding us on all sides is a system in which events are hyped as change — this election is supposedly the biggest transformation since 1994, although nothing has happened to suggest any such transformation — the pundits just say it — and where the events cannot sustain the hype, they are fabricated. Thus a DA propagandist disguised as a political commentator was recently lying about the predictions of a recent poll (pretending that the predictions had been exceeded, where in fact they had not quite been met) in order to make the DA’s modest gains in the election seem like a mighty achievement. Obviously, she oozed, it showed that the black middle class now supported the DA, which meant the final maturing of South Africa’s democracy. (Whites always see benefits for their parties as a sign of maturity, meaning that those who support parties which whites don’t like — blacks, in fact — are immature. “These people are like children” is not a concept which will go away so long as racism dominates white political discourse.)

 

If we want to we can change it. We do want to. Almost everybody wants to. So why don’t we change it? Because almost nobody understands what is going on. It is all quite complicated and there is too much misinformation, delivered by too many people who are presented to us as authorities. As Warrick Sony wrote in “1999”,

 

 

 

You talk about things that you don’t know, you’re out of touch;

 

Some people get paid to give you ridiculous advice;

 

Scared, confused and disinformed, you will do as you are told.

 

 

 

He was singing about whites under apartheid, but things have not changed so much — except that people are less aware of the problem now. The trouble is that virtually all of us know that there is a problem. Therefore we suffer from the problem, and from the difficulty which comes from the fact that we cannot define the problem, we misrepresent it even to ourselves, and we easily fall into the trap of espousing spurious solutions. Fooling ourselves because it is easier — but also because so many people are out to fool us, and so few people are out to tell the truth — and some of them are fooling themselves as well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Fisking Fatuous Fabrication.

April 23, 2009

When one goes carefully through a document looking for flaws, one is, apparently, “fisking”, a term drawn from the habits of American Zionist propagandists. They used to go through the work of Robert Fisk, the estimable Middle Eastern correspondent, looking for evidence of errors so that they could use this evidence (real or fabricated) to undermine Fisk’s work. This was necessary, since Fisk was not a Zionist propagandist and therefore they wanted his writing suppressed.
Since we have the “transcripts” of the “tapes” which the NPA used as an excuse to defeat the ends of justice in the prosecution of Jacob Zuma, come, let us fisk them. But first, a couple of points.
We have no hard evidence that the tapes (actually, apparently, records of various kinds) exist or that they are actual tapes of any real person’s conversations; we do not know if they are fakes. (The only evidence to the contrary is the bare word of the National Intelligence Agency which has a history of fabricating evidence.)
We do not know how accurate the “transcripts” are, if the tapes exist.
The “transcripts” are clearly selective, representing only what the Zuma legal team want to have heard, and therefore even if the “transcripts” are accurate they may still be completely misleading because contradictory evidence may have been left out.
The “transcripts” are accompanied by a “key” which was either provided by the Zuma legal team in order to further transform the “transcripts” into propaganda for Zuma’s legal case, or else it was provided by the NPA in order to transform the “transcripts” into propaganda for the NPA’s decision to defeat the ends of justice in the prosecution of Jacob Zuma; hence, the “transcripts” have been deliberately framed by their presenters in a way which serves corrupt and dishonest objectives.
It is thus unimportant for people to point out (as some have) that the tapes are not legally admissible. This is not the point. Of course the NPA has broken the law by using the tapes for a corrupt purpose, but that does not matter. What does matter is that every newspaper and commentator in South Africa who has examined the transcripts has declared that they prove the existence of a conspiracy against Jacob Zuma on the part of the NPA at least, and most probably on the part of ex-President Mbeki. The question which any examination of the tapes must therefore address is whether this is a legitimate conclusion to draw, or whether it is illegitimate, in which case all of the commentary regarding the tapes in South Africa is corrupt propaganda in the service of Jacob Zuma’s pursuit of power (and the fact that many commentators are too stupid and deluded to recognise this would then be no excuse).
So the survival of South Africa’s punditocracy (and nothing else) should stand or fall by those tapes and their analysis. (All quotes come from the aptly-named “Zuma Special” in the Cape Argus from the 7th of April 2009, p. 19, with corrections to the obvious errors in the transcripts underlined.) Let the fisking begin.

10h15 12/12/07 SMS exchange
BN: When are you filing?
LM: We’re stretched. It has tripled in size now. Likely to file tomorrow afternoon or Friday afternoon only. What’s up?
BN: The sooner the better. Not later than tomorrow. It will assist a great deal.

Bulelani Ngcuka, ex-NPA leader who had always wanted to prosecute Zuma, talks to Leonard McCarthy of the NPA about challenging Zuma’s efforts to appeal to the Constitutional Court in an attempt to dismiss evidence against him. Now, possibly Ngcuka’s desire for haste relates to the run-up to the Polokwane Conference which was impending. But it could also mean that he simply wants to see Zuma prosecuted and thinks McCarthy’s actions could facilitate this. There is no sign that McCarthy is taking orders from Ngcuka, and while arguably McCarthy should not be sharing information with a private citizen, Ngcuka is also an extremely well-informed person in the field and someone from whom a sensible person might well seek advice.

10h41 12/12/07 voice exchange
LM: We must have one of those Yengeni nights — remember we said we will not leave this fucking hotel until it’s done.

What is this sentence doing here? McCarthy is remembering how the NPA intensively assembled its case against Yengeni, the arms deal bribe-taker (and now Zuma aide). It reflects nothing about Zuma or any conspiracy against him. However, it is surely included (with coy asterisks inserted) in an attempt to undermine McCarthy by showing that (shock, horror) he uses four-letter words when speaking passionately to friends. As such it is pure propaganda.
After a gap (containing what, the Zuma propagandists are not telling), the actual meat begins, very oddly punctuated and repunctuated here.

BN: If this thing comes out the way we discussed it yesterday, those key issues, right, it will be a devastating one for them, and it will cause people to wake up to know what they are actually doing, without being dramatic, without you making arrests, it will say, this is what we have, this is what we have, and we are forced to state it now and people will wake up think what are we doing.
LM: Friday, by Friday people are packing bags, they won’t even read the fucking newspapers.
BN: That is the thing, that is the thing, that is why it will be good if it could come out today.
LM: Today is difficult. I will call a Yengeni night, we are not leaving here until we finalise this tomorrow morning, we file by lunch time and give it to the media.
BN: You made my day.

Here, a private citizen and an NPA official are discussing the timing of the presentation of their case in regard to the media. This may seem weird and irregular — and certainly is, since Ngcuka has no right to order McCarthy around. On the other hand, this is an organised crime investigation. Invariably, organised criminals try to use the media to protect themselves, and so the media must be taken into account (it certainly is in the United States, from which South Africa derived its organised crime laws and institutions). Hence there’s nothing bizarre about the focus on the media. Also, McCarthy was the one who raised the matter first — meaning that there is no actual evidence that Ngcuka changed his mind (although it is clear that Ngcuka is trying to). Indeed, McCarthy does not do what Ngcuka asks, but instead delays a day.
Later Ngcuka requests a copy of the draft Constitutional Court documentation and McCarthy agrees to provide this, though personally, because “Zuma will say we are conspiring against him”. If this happened this is extremely irregular, but on the other hand we do not know whether it happened or not. What is more, it could not have made any difference to Zuma’s status, so in fact it was not a conspiracy against Zuma in any effectual sense.
Later in the same speech (after other mysterious breaks) comes this interchange:

LM: Can I ask, the script has not changed yet?
BN: Ja, no.
LM: Because I don’t feel like going to Polokwane and charging him there.

The “script” is the attitude of the leadership of the ANC and of the government. Obviously, in such a situation a prosecutor could get into big trouble by going against the wishes of those figures. (This is why Mpshe dropped charges against Zuma.) Luckily for McCarthy it is clear that the issue is simply timing; McCarthy does not himself want to charge Zuma immediately, and his political leaders do not want him to do this. What he would have done had his desires and the “script” clashed, we do not know.
The following Friday the court papers are filed (i.e., McCarthy did not follow Ngcuka’s orders in the timing of filing the papers to promote press access; whether he wanted to or not, we do not know) and McCarthy provides Ngcuka with some material (but Ngcuka only receives it after the case has been filed, so nothing irregular actually occurs because the matter is then in the public domain). If this is the material which Ngcuka had been looking for earlier then McCarthy has done nothing wrong at all.
Then, rather out of chronological order, comes this communication:

20h43 26/11/07
BN: So you’re the only one who can just save this country from its madness
LM: Hmmmm
BN: You know, I just can’t believe it, I don’t know, so we’re all so busy now, hmm, and a —
LM: And what does the big man say, is he oraait?
BN: I don’t know

So, weeks beforehand, Ngcuka was urging McCarthy to take action against Zuma (which is consistent with his earlier positions), and McCarthy wanted to know what President Mbeki wanted. Obviously, if Mbeki was against it, McCarthy’s position would be difficult. However, Ngcuka does not tell him anything because he does not know. This implies a strange kind of conspiracy where people do not conspire together. It’s also apparent that McCarthy’s primary loyalty is to “the team” — which may mean the leadership of the ANC and government, but probably means the team at the NPA who had assembled a powerful case against Zuma which had not been acted on until Pikoli was removed and Mpshe gave the go-ahead to McCarthy.
It is also clear that a lot of people are discussing the issues. On the 12th of December, Ngcuka had badgered McCarthy not to “do it this weekend” (i.e., during the Polokwane Conference), but it was clear from McCarthy’s earlier statements that he did not in any case want to do that. (The transcript is fudged, pretending that he might have said “do” or “don’t”, but the two are pronounced differently and the syntax is that of refusal, not enthusiasm.) But then, the trouble is that everybody was discussing the issue, because after Pikoli’s dismissal many people suspected that this might lead to Zuma being charged. The question is whether McCarthy was delaying charging Zuma because of Mbeki, or whether he was delaying charging Zuma because he felt that he would have a better chance of success if he waited until the Conference was over and the political landscape was clear. Nothing in the transcripts proves anything other than that Ngcuka and most of Mbeki’s allies wanted a delay; it does not prove that McCarthy was acting on their orders. The fact that McCarthy describes himself as a “Thabo man” and laments Mbeki’s failure at Polokwane does not prove his corruption — given the partisanship within the party and government, it is likely that he would have to be either one or the other. The question is whether his political allegiance affected his judgement
This seems not to be the case as appears in a subsequent discussion with a private security man named, ironically, Luciano:

untimed 16/12/07 SMS exchange
LM: I have been advised to give Ouboet & Oujan a break in the interest of SA . . . . Tenuous times. QV?
L: What did Jesus say? Give to the emperor what is due to him . . .

If the “advice” came from McCarthy’s masters, Luciano seems to be advising him to cave in to them. (Ouboet and Oujan, claim the commentators, are Selebi and Zuma, and in this case and this context there seems no reason to doubt this.) Of course we do not know from whom the “advice” comes, whether from Mbeki or from Ngcuka or from someone else.
Let us suppose that this advice came directly or indirectly from Mbeki. Then Mbeki was asking McCarthy to let Zuma off the hook. This would have been grossly improper, of course, given the evidence against Zuma. (It was also a little odd if one assumes that Pikoli had been fired largely because he was obstructing action against Zuma.) However, what is especially bizarre is that if this is the case, then Zuma’s lawyers, who have consistently claimed since December 2007 that Mbeki wanted Zuma prosecuted, now have strong evidence that Mbeki did not want Zuma prosecuted. If this “advice” comes from Mbeki, then it is evidence of a conspiracy to protect Zuma, not to harm him. If the “advice” comes from elsewhere (which is more probable) then it proves nothing at all about any such conspiracy.
The big point, however, is that wherever the “advice” came from, McCarthy did not act on it. Instead, he charged Selebi and Zuma. If he thought that Mbeki wanted him to do something else, he did not allow his loyalty to Mbeki to override what he felt his duty to be.

Putting this all together: Ngcuka seems to have acted disreputably. It is possible that he broke the law. He may have been doing this on behalf of President Mbeki, but there is no evidence of that. McCarthy, on the basis of the records, did nothing which showed prejudice against Zuma’s constitutional rights. If he gave Ngcuka access to privileged documents, this was wrong, but the records do not prove this and Ngcuka could have done nothing with them. The records do show that McCarthy was under immense pressure and seems to have acquitted himself honourably in spite of this. There is no evidence — none whatsoever — of a conspiracy, unless people sitting around a dinner-table discussing current events is a conspiracy (in which case we are all conspirators and should presumably be punished). There’s no evidence here of anything against Mbeki.
That’s all, folks. The whole media brouhaha over the “tapes” and the “transcripts” was nothing more than Zuma propaganda. The press and pundits fell for it because they are pro-Zuma, anti-Mbeki and, above all else, too lazy to read through the transcripts and discover that they did not prove that Zuma’s lawyers and the NPA pretend that they prove. Not, of course, a surprise. But, if the Creator was still capable of being shocked by anyone’s misbehaviour around the Zuma issue, the Creator would be shocked.
As it is, just file it under The Kingdom Of The Lie, and leave it all at that.


When you asked me how I’m doing, was that some kind of joke?

April 23, 2009

They put the lynching out on YouTube,
The passports are all a joke,
And the promises we once believed
Have all gone up in smoke,
When we went to Polokwane
It was kind of amusing for once
When the College of Cardinals was exorcized
Till they all enthroned a dunce,
But in the end, with our money spent,
We had little left to show,
Then we found there was no direction home
From Jacob Zuma Row.

There was Advocate Pikoli
Rollerblading down the road,
Where he ran into Brett Kebble’s ghost
Incarnated as a toad.
“Wow, you look just like our President,”
Said Pikoli with a grin,
“Is there any way out of this place,
To absolve me of my sin?”
Brett only croaked and hopped away
For he knew he had to go,
To the celebrity party of the week
On Jacob Zuma Row.

In the squatter-camp the NPA
All sat begging by the tap,
But nobody would give them anything
For fear of catching clap,
Since they all had strange diseases
All supposedly from stress,
Which they shared with all the pundits
And the brethren of the press.
Till the sewage system drowned them all
With the power of its overflow,
As a sign of service delivery
For Jacob Zuma Row.

Ex-President Motlanthe
Was talking to himself
While Roman soldiers nailed his wrists
And ankles to the shelf.
“I was really, truly, President,
Of the independent camp,
I have evidence to prove the fact
Which is written on this stamp.”
Then everybody wondered why
Such an ordinary Joe
Should have been expelled forever
Out of Jacob Zuma Row.

Very civil Ramaphosa
And his friend the sexiest Wale
Were writing out their diaries
In Finnish-language Braille
In this time of credit crisis
They had worked out worst-case plans
For rounding up the unemployed
And redefining them as fans.
“You can give us all your cash,” they said,
“You can sit and watch it grow,
But don’t expect a penny back
From Jacob Zuma Row.”

So President Obama
In the absence of Michelle
Made love to Hillary Clinton,
Who groaned out “Peace is hell!”
All the world they knew had fallen down
And the homeland was on fire
And the oracle of Wall Street
Turned out to be a liar —
But their plans were clear and relevant:
“We should nuke ’em till they glow,
Then hold a sponsored genocide
On Jacob Zuma Row.”

I met the busted Wizard on the way
With his empty whisky glass,
Who said “I offered up my innocence
And got a boot right up the arse.
Then I proffered them the Renaissance
But they couldn’t pronounce it yet
So I had to plan my comeback
With the help of the Internet.
Now you ask me how I’m feeling,
To be honest, kind of low,
But at least I’ll never have to visit
Jacob Zuma Row.”

I privatised my eyeballs
Since there wasn’t much to see
I don’t open emails any more
I can get my lies for free.
All the tapes and contacts that we had
I don’t need them any more
Since I’ve found my new vocation
As a golden-hearted whore —
When my moral compass vaporised
It appeared a mortal blow,
Till I knew that I’d be moving up
To Jacob Zuma Row.


The Poisoned Wellsprings of Social Debate.

April 23, 2009

The amount of damage which Zuma or ZUMA may cause to South Africa’s society is probably greater than the previous post suggested. However, there is no way to determine precisely what changes Zuma wishes to make to the criminal justice system or to the fiscus or to the redistributive mechanisms, other than that these changes are not likely to have any positive consequence and may have catastrophic consequences. After all, it is clear that no changes which Zuma wishes to make have anything to do with improving the functioning of government with regard to the general public, but rather, that they are intended to make his own life, and the lives of his cronies, more congenial.
It is, however, not very useful to speculate on such matters. Once one can be sure that there will be bad results it is not necessary to fantasise about what those bad results might be. It is even dangerous, since there is no bottom to such speculation, and one may end up in the same black hole of negativity characteristic of Trotskyites and conspiracy theorists.
A question much more worth asking is how all this became possible. Perhaps also more relevant, how all this became possible with so little debate and discussion. And, essentially, without meaningful resistance from outside the upper echelons of the ANC.
We know part of the story. Big business supported Zuma because it wanted to destroy Mbeki (and, ultimately, the ANC). The SACP and COSATU supported Zuma partly because it wanted to destroy Mbeki and partly because its leadership are big businessmen. The press supported Zuma because it wanted to destroy Mbeki and because it is dominated by big business. Overseas governments supported Zuma because they back big businessmen, and also because they wanted to destroy Mbeki (and, ultimately, the ANC).
That is quite a substantial coalition, but it leaves out about forty million South Africans who had managed to ignore such pressures in the past and who had been steadily voting ANC despite all the propaganda. Why have those forty million not been heard from? How do they feel about having a criminal of deeply conservative political views, one who has persistently displayed hostility to their interests, in charge of the party for which they plan to vote?
The answer is difficult to gauge because those forty million have been ignored in all of the public debate around Zuma. There is nothing odd or surprising about this. Those forty million might, some of them, hold opinions which it would not be good for the corporate ruling class to have revealed. There might be a democratic infection which, if exposed, could spread. Better conceal the whole affair and hope that silence will, ultimately, bring consent, as indeed it has.
Most probably, there are several responses to the Zuma presidency among the bulk of the population.
One is sullen acquiescence. We do not like Zuma, but the fix is in. It’s embarrassing, but let’s ride it out. It can’t be as bad as the DA says it will be. (The presence of the DA, as a party most obviously uninterested in the welfare of the population, among Zuma’s opponents is very convenient. However, in fact the DA’s hostility to Zuma is tepid, because the DA agrees with most of Zuma’s most destructive plans and does not understand most of those it disagrees with.)
One is denial. 100% Zuluboy! Viva Msholozi, viva! Phantsi the enemies of the people’s cause, phantsi! Longlive! Longlive! Longlive! This is, basically, the voice of people pretending that Zuma has not torn the African National Congress itself apart and flung its democratic traditions into an unventilated pit latrine. It is not difficult to believe rhetoric, however spurious, when you are a long way from your source and when you put yourself in no position to understand just how the rhetoric contrasts with the lifestyle and general behaviour of the person producing the rhetoric. You can do that, partly, by listening only to Zuma’s allies in the ANC, and partly by listening to any press outlet at all.
One is active hostility. It is striking how much support there initially was for CoPe, which is the voice of active hostility to Zuma. Clearly there is a lot of distrust for the ANC and its leaders — sullen acquiescence can easily shift into active hostility when and where there is an opportunity to display it. However, CoPe, for whatever reason, decided not to do anything with this support and failed to capitalise on or expand it. Hence it shrank. It is probably still there, however, within the ANC, and this helps to explain the continuing purges of less important ANC supporters who are seen as possibly hostile to Zuma. At all costs, hostility to Zuma must be deprived of leadership.
Plus, of course, there is absolute withdrawal from the political process, the recognition that in South Africa today there is no possibility of democracy leading to anything other than oligarchical control and therefore there is no point in participating.
This all suggests that, far from being an ignorant and amorphous mass of Zuma supporters, there is considerable scope for anti-Zuma activity, provided it is presented as possible and an alternative can be conceived of. Even the pro-Zuma fantasising might well have been undermined by the coherent presentation of Zuma’s past misconduct, his evident plans for future misconduct, and specific proposals to avoid that. (Much of the pro-Zuma activity is rooted in hope that Zuma will provide preferment for his supporters — which is obviously impossible, since there are not enough jobs; it is very similar to the pro-Obama frenzy in the United States which in the end cemented reactionary corporatism in place, since Obama broke every major promise he made, a point which his behaviour in September-October in response to the crisis of corporate capitalism made impossible to doubt.)
Fortunately, the ruling class was prepared for this.
The preparation took the form of the creation of an intellectual climate which was absolutely hostile to all political debate. This was done through the media and the publishing industry, and through the creation of business-oriented non-governmental organisations which could be used as pretexts for drowning out the voices of private individuals and democratically-organised bodies, and, of course, the government.
The press, as is known, is biased. Nick Davies, in his brilliant Flat Earth News, observes this (as applied to Western media) and concludes that it is not due to any conspiratorial factor. No, he says, the press just happens to misreport issues consistently so as to favour reactionary political agents in society. This is not because the owners of newspapers want to do this, it is because reporters are overworked and unable to check facts, and because they depend heavily on public relations and propaganda for their stories. He has an entire chapter on the possible sinister activities of governments.
None of this explains why this should lead to newspapers becoming more reactionary than before. He works for the Guardian, a newspaper which has a few elements of integrity, but which is broadly a newspaper which supports the Labour government in all its perfidy while pretending to be left-wing and democratic. It does this because its staff are Labour supporters and therefore cover up for Labour, and this is the case because the owners of the Guardian are happy to see the right sort of people being hired for the paper — especially, the right sort of editor. The process is very similar at the Daily Mail, which Davies excoriates for its dishonesty, even though this is not so very different from the way in which the Guardian suppresses or distorts stories for its own purposes (as when, notoriously, it smeared Noam Chomsky).
In other words, yes, there is a conspiracy on the part of the press to falsify the news in order to serve conservative political ends, and every journalist will pretend that the conspiracy does not exist — even the rare and brave figure like Davies who admits that there is anything wrong with the newspapers. In South Africa, where the entire media structure is dominated by corporate forces, with Independent Newspapers serving up a single newspaper in shifting typefaces to several centres and under different mastheads, and with the Mail and Guardian very probably in secret alliance with Avusa (supplying the editor of the Sunday Times) and Media24 (supplying the editor of City Press), and covertly controlled by foreign interests (by which the Creator does not mean Zimbabwean or Botswanan, but further afield) — in effect, newspapers are not very different one from another, and they all push the same line.
However, they push it at least as vigorously as Davies shows the Daily Mail to do, and they suppress all alternative lines. The anti-Mbeki propaganda which is completely hegemonic among the South African intelligentsia comes almost entirely from the press. Most importantly, it comes almost entirely from the editorial comments of the press. It is completely commonplace for commentators on weblogs or writers to newspapers, those who criticise Zuma most freely, to preface their comments with denunciations of Mbeki. None of these denunciations embody any factual information. It appears that the sheer repetition of “AIDS denialist”, “supporter of tyrants”, “enemy of democracy”, “creator of inequality” has done its work. People spit out these concepts without realising that it would be useful to have hard data to substantiate them — without, indeed, realising that it is necessary to have hard data if such opinions are to be meaningfully held.
The press also decides whose opinions deserve to receive serious attention. As a rule, in the nine years of Mbeki’s government, politicians were not granted space to defend themselves in the newspapers. Occasionally, a few people, such as Kader Asmal or Trevor Manuel (i.e., indians and coloureds rather than blacks) were granted such space. Ronnie Kasrils received space to criticise the conduct of Israel and of South African Zionists — less so to discuss or explain his actual political role in trying to prevent Zuma from seizing control of South Africa’s intelligence services with the assistance of his friend Mo Shaik. Most african politicians — notoriously, Mbeki himself, his Health Minister Tshabalala-Msimang, and his Foreign Minister Dlamini-Zuma — were denied access to the press. The newspapers went so far as to denounce Mbeki for writing (or arranging the writing of) a weekly column on the ANC Today website, for this represented a breaking of the blockade against Mbeki’s voice being heard.
When one looks at the people who were granted space instead, one’s jaw drops. The Creator has no idea how Sipho Seepe organised himself a prominent position in a minor educational institution, but since Seepe has no capacity of ratiocination whatsoever, it is hard to believe that he is doing good work there. In any case, Seepe’s regular columns in the press were tedious, repetitive and vacuous. However, he continues to be taken seriously. Moloetsi Mbeki’s forthright denunciations of his brother were equally devoid of logic or fact, but he enjoyed a still higher esteem, some saying that he should be President instead of his brother. (The revelation that he has long been closely connected with an arms dealer involved in channelling funds to Zuma does not appear to have dampened any of this enthusiasm.) About Xolela Mangcu, one need only say that the sobriquet of “Wangcu” seems entirely appropriate; about William Mervyn Gumede, the plagiarist-at-large for white reactionary journalism and manufacturer of implausible rumours about President Mbeki’s sex life, one can only say that looking away is both appropriate and bearable.
If one elevates fools, liars (and people who are so foolish that they don’t know they are lying) to positions of absolute authority, one is doing a disservice to debate. Of course, it is the absolute authority which is the problem. It is a sliding affair. Vice-Chancellor Makgoba of UKZN used to be Deputy Vice-Chancellor Makgoba of Wits, and was denounced by the press because some white academics disliked him. Subsequently he was appointed to the Medical Research Council and was praised to the skies by the press because he made statements about AIDS which could be used to attack Mbeki (although Makgoba lacked the actual credentials to make those statements, and of course the attacks were based on falsifications of Mbeki’s position on AIDS). Later, Vice-Chancellor Makgoba has become a convenient whipping-boy for white academics because he is a black man in charge of a largely white institution, and is misruling it in much the same way as other institutions are misruled — but this can be congenially spun in a racist direction. It does not stop him from being chairman of the board of the Mail and Guardian, though.
Meanwhile, of course, the so-called “civil society organisations” are virtually all safely on board. There is little doubt that the Treatment Action Campaign was set up to distract public attention from the criminal conspiracies of the manufacturers of antiretrovirals, and subsequently has functioned both as a PR outlet for those companies and as a rumour mill for anti-Mbeki and pro-Zuma factions (the TAC was backing Zuma as far back as 2002). Likewise, the Freedom of Expression Institute distinguishes itself by focussing exclusively upon the government’s infringement of expression while ignoring corporate infringements. (The exception, which they never tire of proclaiming, was a single unionist from an insignificant Trotskyite union who was confronting, or pretending to confront, the Spar supermarket chain.) Newspaper activity is ignored by the FXI. Academic freedom is highly selectively defended (when the people involved are ANC supporters at black-dominated institutions, or institutions like the University of KwaZulu-Natal which threaten to shift from white to black control). With such organisations pretending to defend the public while actually taking orders from, and serving the aims of, the corporate elite, the fix is much more safely in.
This all, no doubt, deserves more analysis than the Creator can give to it (which is necessary in the long run, since nobody else cares or dares to do it). Nevertheless, the fact is simple; Zuma succeeded because South African public debate has been purged of all debate and intellectual content and transformed into a sewer whose outlet is largely lies with a few selective truths floating in it like turds from a constipated anus. Looking into South African public debate is exactly like looking into a sewer.
One wishes the rains would come, but they never do.


Zuma’s Future Effect on the State.

April 11, 2009

Now that Jacob Zuma is the undisputed and unstoppable master of the South African state, it is much too late to debate what the consequences of this could be upon that state. Of course, one of the major goals of those who put Zuma and his allies in their position of power, has been to discourage any such debate. This is why the criticism of Zuma has focussed on trivia, like Jonathan Shapiro’s shower image (which illuminates Shapiro’s AIDS-denialism, since taking a hot shower after sex is an excellent way for a male to kill off any HIV adhering to his penis, as Zuma knows, and doubtless Shapiro knows, but denies because taking a shower is cheap and easy to do). Ho hum. The debate about Zuma is so utterly saturated with falsehood and propaganda that it is all too easy to be distracted by comparative trivia. The question is, what could happen in consequence of Zuma’s victory? And, let us emphasise, “Zuma” does not simply mean Zuma himself, but the enormous forces of corruption unleashed within the ANC and elsewhere by Zuma, and the deeply corrupt practices of the ruling class which have promoted Zuma along with those forces. Let us call this ZUMA. The rise of ZUMA is not going to have no impact upon the state. There is no point in guessing about the best which could happen; let us rather face the most likely consequences, and touch upon the worst possible consequences — where these differ from the most likely. Corruption. The Zuma clique is dominated by criminals. The crimes which they have committed are largely exploiting their position of authority for personal gain — by taking bribes, by bullying people into giving them favours, by offering bribes, or by abusing state institutions under their control, such as the National Intelligence Agency and the National Prosecuting Authority. There is no good reason for believing that they will suddenly reform when they take power; instead, since they will be in control of all the state institutions and virtually all such institutions have shown themselves willing to collaborate with corrupt rulers, they will probably become more intensively corrupt. Of course there was and is corruption elsewhere as well. Therefore, while members of the central government will almost certainly become more concerned with making money out of their dominance of the state, and will therefore steal money, take bribes, or divert state funds into boondoggles or overpriced contracts — which has happened before, but never with such impunity — the real problem with corruption probably lies elsewhere. Bribe-taking and the diversion of state funds into private pockets exists everywhere, but under Mbeki it was officially frowned upon and sometimes even punished. Under Zuma there will be no basis for such punishment because everybody will know that the people in charge of overseeing anti-corruption initiatives are themselves corrupt. Hence corruption at all levels of government will increase dramatically. How far? Will South Africa reach “Nigerian” levels? It is impossible to say. It is, however, obvious that this will devastate the provision of new services, and will restrict, especially, the provision of services to people who do not have the money to bribe people. Hence, corruption will be damaging. It may be extremely damaging. It is very likely that the enthusiasm shown by the SACP and COSATU for eliminating central controls over spending, decentralising revenue priorities, and unleashing ever-greater deficits, relates directly to this — that is, they want to make it much easier to steal much larger amounts of money than ever before. Doing so along with deficit financing means that they could even do this while cutting taxes, which would ensure that the ruling class would not object to the corruption (from which much of the ruling class would also benefit). While it is certain that the state will be undermined by the corruption promoted by the ZUMA regime, it is more than likely that it will actually be brought to bankruptcy and to the collapse of social service delivery — which would happen in as little as five years. (However, even if Zuma himself stands down after five years, ZUMA will have many more years of control of the state to bring about such collapse.) The Collapse of Opposition. Under ZUMA there will be no meaningful opposition to ZUMA policies. In a sense, there will be no structural opposition; there is likely to be very little real distinction between the policies espoused by the ANC under Zuma, and the policies espoused by the DA. No doubt the DA will continue to move rightward in order to create some distance between themselves and the Zuma’s ANC, although DA supporters will continue to ignore political realities in order to justify supporting what amounts to a crypto-fascist organisation which is utterly beholden to big business. However, in practice, the DA’s only response to such matters as the reduction in service provision, the attack on the democratic elements of the Constitution and the reduction in individual human rights which is likely to follow from the secretive and authoritarian nature of ZUMA (and from its connivance with corporatist big business) will be to lament that the attack is not more violent. South Africa will be within the Obama/Brown orbit, or whatever passes for it after Brown is voted out and Obama hopelessly discredited. The existence of opposition in democratic South Africa was deeply problematic in the past because it was so obviously corrupt. The opposition existed almost entirely as a force to try to curb, or reverse, the potential of the 1994 dispensation. However, in order to do this it had to critique the people who were trying to exploit that dispensation. There was also an internal opposition within the ANC which professed to be suspicious that the government was not truly trying to exploit the 1994 dispensation, but was instead in cahoots with the neoliberal forces behind the opposition. There was a degree of truth to this, though less than the internal opposition claimed. Therefore the internal opposition within the ANC was capable of promoting better government practice — though it almost never did, since it was actually concerned not with improving government practice, but with gaining money and power for its own leadership. Now that the internal opposition has the chance of gaining money and power, it has ceased to put any kind of pressure on the ANC leadership to improve its performance. The most that can be said is that it occasionally utters some of its former statements, or alternatively puts on publicity stunts (like Hogan’s cowardly repudiation of her Cabinet decision regarding the Dalai Lama) aimed ultimately at personal gain. As a result the internal opposition has ceased to be a potential positive factor. In consequence, ZUMA has absorbed essentially everything, from the TAC on the right to the SAIRR on the right to the press on the right to the security forces on the right. All now serve one master and have their snouts in one trough. As a result, none has any consistent reason for speaking out against corruption or the abuse of state power. When they do this, they will do so out of a desire to draw attention to themselves or some other aspect or personal gain. The press is squared, the middle class is quite prepared . . . We shall thus be robbed without knowing that we are robbed. Will worse things happen? Will human rights be dismantled? Will we see South Africa joining in the Global War on Terror, or perhaps the Global War on the Working and Middle Class? Most probably, but that is too specific to speculate about. All we can know is that we are in the hands of criminals who are capable of anything, and we will not be told the consequences of what they do. It should be added, of course, that all this would not have been possible without the destruction of moral integrity in the broader community. However, this is not something which can be blamed upon Zuma. It is something upon which ZUMA feasts. It is something to which we must return.