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.