Hovering in the Wind, On a Lee Shore.

When the ruling class was overthrowing President Mbeki and installing President Zuma, they naturally did not wish to see Zuma too empowered or his regime too stable, for that would have benefited the ANC whom they hate, so therefore they allowed a little criticism of Zuma. In terms of space, this criticism was swamped by all the spurious smearing of Mbeki, but it was problematic because the general public tended to distrust Zuma and so the criticism of him stuck painfully. Of course that was fine while Zuma was not yet in power, but the ruling class did not want Zuma to be too weak to do their bidding, and so since Zuma’s apotheosis there has been a tendency not to discuss anything which might rock the ship of state.
The fact that the ship of state seems to be in imminent peril does not bother these people because they are concerned only with illusion, either because they are so rich that reality does not impinge on them, or because they are utterly and devotedly deluded.
The biggest and most obvious danger to the ship of state is presented by macro-economic mismanagement. We know that the Zuma administration has presented us with a titanic budget deficit which is growing. This is not because, as in the Anglo-American instance, Zuma has borrowed immense amounts to give to the rich, but it is rather because, as in the Graeco-Portuguese example, the government has refused to adapt its fiscal policies to changed circumstances. Greece and Portugal have the EU to bail them out; South Africa does not, and so this failure to respond to the crisis may well lead to an Argentina-style economic meltdown. (Also, Argentina was surrounded by healthy, growing economies and the global economy was not so badly damaged then, so the fact that Argentina survived its meltdown with little worse than a mass civil upheaval and nationwide immiseration for half a decade should not console us.)
Unfortunately, this danger is not the only problem which we face.
A major part is the breakdown of the state. It is obvious from the previous paragraph that the economic management of the state has become dismal (which is all the more alarming because in the Mandela-Mbeki era this was the element of the state which was most effective). We also know that the judiciary are hopelessly incompetent and corrupt, and unfortunately the present administration has a strong and growing stake in promoting this fact. However, other aspects of the state seem to have grown less effectual as well. The central state control of nationalised industries appears to have almost completely collapsed; no leadership is offered except a feeble desire for privatisation. As a result, the concept of a developmental state is stillborn.
Education, healthcare and policing are the core functions of the state. The leadership offered to these ministries by central government is dismally weak, and it is perhaps unsurprising that the actual performance of these functions by the state is certainly not improving from a poor level in the past. Furthermore, most of these functions are devolved to provinces. A lack of central control means that the provinces are free to do as well or as poorly as they choose — but at provincial level, government has been considerably weakened and corrupted in the last few years (again, starting from a very low level of calibre). In consequence, the provinces are not offering satisfactory leadership or planning. Even the spending appears out of control — here excessive, so that there is no money to maintain roads in a province for a fraction of the financial year; there inadequate, so that money which ought to have been spent on buying police vehicles is seized by the central state for who knows what purpose.
To this, of course, one must add the assumption that there is a lot of corruption going on. However, it is difficult to tell whether underperformance is due to corruption, incompetence, or simply a shirking of responsibilities which might be due to low morale or to lack of patriotic consciousness. No doubt many people in provincial administrations are working with Stakhanovite diligence. Notwithstanding this, the Stakhanovites must notice that, unlike Stakhanov, they do not receive commensurate rewards for their labours. Meanwhile, those who underperform, those who shirk and those who steal receive at worst gentle raps on the knuckles and, more often, are heartily praised.
At municipal level it is much harder to tell what is going on. We can see that there is a lot of corruption in the big towns; Bloemfontein, Cape Town, Durban, East London, Johannesburg, Pretoria, all have their scandals and scams. (Cape Town, of course, is DA-administered, and it is significant that Cape Town is no different from the rest, so this is not simply a party problem; it is a weak-administration problem, a problem of neoliberal, “can’t-do” government.) If you happen to live in a smaller municipality you tend to notice the corruption and incompetence of officials who are often out of their depth (or claiming to be) and so outsource planning and operations to corrupt and incompetent private companies which enjoy the delightful immunity of not being responsible to electorates into the bargain. Probably this is extremely widespread and probably even in those municipalities where the problem is visible, there is a lot more mismanagement going on which is not being looked at.
All this is in part not being looked at because government at all levels is prepared to tell lies. We have ministers (like S’bu Ndebele, who had to give back the limousine generously provided in exchange for services rendered by the taxi industry) solemnly proclaiming that they will not tolerate corruption. (Which is like saying, when one has the ‘flu, “I will not tolerate a runny nose!”) We have promises made at all levels, sometimes specific, in which case they are not kept, but sometimes so vague (“We are developing a developmental plan for development”) that they approach the level of absurdist poetry. These noises are made to reassure us. Why should the leaders of our country need to deliver reassuring messages? They could simply say “We are doing X, and in consequence we shall do Y, and by the time Z we shall be finished with these things and will let you know our next move”. The fact that they don’t make such statements — or when they do, they don’t fulfil those obligations and when Z comes around they have invented a new lie already — is unnerving.
It suggests that this unhealthy situation is tolerated, and is getting worse. If it gets worse, then the performance of state administration will deteriorate accordingly at all levels. Eventually, the underperformers will overwhelm those who are continuing to do their jobs. (Also, it is utterly demoralising to work alongside well-rewarded underperformers, which contributes to further underperformance.) Thus, alongside the danger that South Africa will no longer be able to pay the bills for its administration, comes the danger that South Africa will receive steadily diminishing returns for the money that it does fork out.
The reason for all this seems to be the breakdown of the party. There are a lot of people in South Africa who want the ANC to break down. Mostly, these are the same people who didn’t want the ANC in power in the first place. These people view the above-cited indications of governmental failure with relish and sing happy songs about this, exaggerating where possible, in the letters columns of all newspapers and the editorial pages of most newspapers. These people are truly dull-witted, for they are under the impression that their favoured party will gain power when the ANC withers away. (Most of them are DA supporters, but a few, allied to them, are Trotskyites or spaced-out Stalinists of the Mazibuko Jara camp who imagine that once the ANC collapses, a left-wing party will suddenly come into being, bursting from the forehead of Karl Marx, take charge and bring about the expropriation of the expropriators and give them all Cabinet positions. This is the most pathetic crowd of all.)
The breakdown of the ANC, the SACP and COSATU is anything but a delightful fact. These people are in power, and they do not want to give it up. Above all, they are enjoying mighty private privileges, including kickbacks from tenders and bribes for favours rendered, which they would lose with a loss of power. Some of them might be in danger of jail if they lost out. Therefore, they battle diligently against anyone who menaces their power. Especially, they battle against anyone who is not part of their clique. So the ANC is in a permanent state of civil war, because the ANC is still nominally democratic; every election at every level brings out swarms of functionaries attempting to rig it. Generally speaking, the victors of such struggles tend to be SACP members because they have greater mutual loyalty, whereas the termites in the ANC are loyal only to themselves. Sometimes the SACP calls on COSATU support. However, in many areas (as in Buffalo City) the other side gives them a run for their money and can even whistle up rent-a-mobs. In the end, these are all tiny factions who are able to make use of conditions for their own benefit.
The conditions they are making use of are largely the breakdown of authority in the political party, which was originally facilitated to protect Zuma and his allies from disciplinary proceedings, and the breakdown of civil administration which provides public grievances upon which to hang one’s political career. “Look — two potholes in the main road! March with me, comrades, and I will save you from these evil, counter-revolutionary potholes!”. The result is a revolving door, for of course anyone installed in power by such means is terribly unlikely to use that power to serve the people. What’s more, the first step in pursuit of getting anything done would have to be to kick out the dead wood in administration, and at the first threat of such action, there would inevitably be another march and another “service delivery protest” ending in someone burning down the local library. After which none of the party members involved would be expelled from the party, and the process would start all over again.
The end product is not a revolutionary situation, but radical disillusion with the entire political process (which is, of course, what the DA and its allies want, as well as what Zuma and his friends want). One feels that the system is broken and that one cannot possibly mend it. Neither open struggle nor covert conspiracy generate results. On all sides, everyone seems concerned for private profit. What is more, anyone can denounce their confederates to those above them. The national ANC meddles in provincial structures, the provincial ANC meddles in municipal structures — almost invariably in order to ensure that a safe pair of hands is in charge at the lower level, safe in this case meaning someone who does not threaten the authority and comfort of the people at the higher level. This, of course, is what the DA is talking about when it complains about “cadre deployment”, although of course what the DA actually means by these words is that blacks should not be given government jobs. (The DA has very effectively kept blacks out of those jobs which it has in its gift.) By distorting this concept into racist propaganda, the DA is actually protecting the ANC from the rhetorical consequences of its own power vacuum. Likewise, since the press rarely focuses coherently upon what the ANC is doing at municipal or provincial level, the ANC, SACP and COSATU can get away with almost anything short of murder (and in some provinces that line has already been crossed).
But the problem is that escaping rhetorical consequences usually means rushing headlong into real consequences. The administrative problems of the nation derive from the political collapse of the ANC. It is impossible to get public support for political programmes when one’s goal is to keep the public out of politics. Anyway, it is almost impossible to establish political programmes when there is no individual or collective loyalty to either party or programme. Therefore, it is impossible for any national or provincial campaign to get meaningfully off the ground. (So it is impossible to raise taxes or cut spending, because the state is terrified of what the public might do or say. So even the economic crisis is a function of the party political crisis.) It is impossible to hold purges on a basis of competence; it can only be done on a basis of personal loyalty, with the replacement comrades all being beholden to the Chief. It is impossible, in short, to get anything done under these conditions.
Therefore the conditions have to change. But the current political leadership of the country has no interest in changing these conditions. If anything, they want the conditions to become more extreme, because this will make them more secure in their posts so long as the whole system does not break down. As a result, the political leadership of the country becomes more and more dedicated to the idea of being a giant conspiracy against everybody else in the country. The long-term consequences of this, unless the cycle is broken, will probably be dictatorship.
But can the cycle be broken?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: