Down In The Condemned Well.

The indications are that South Africa is heading for disaster because of bad political leadership which compounds a bad political institutional culture. Let’s assume this — if it isn’t true, we lose nothing in a thought experiment — and ask how we can get out of this. Manifestly, we cannot change the institutional culture until we change the government, so we have to change the government. How do we do that?
In 2014 an election is due. It is quite possible that by this time, almost everybody will have agreed that the situation is dire. By then it is very probable that the fiscus will be irretrievably in deficit, capital flight will be rampant, unemployment soaring, the external debt rising as South Africa imports to make up for its failure to manufacture goods at home, and social services deteriorating or privatised.
However, it is remarkably unlikely that, assuming that the status quo persists, there will be a change of government in 2014. Note that in 2009 South Africa had a split ruling party which was led by a corrupt, selfish crook and yet that ruling party only lost a moderate amount of support, falling from 70% to 66% — a decline of 5,7%. The DA rose from 12% to 17,7%, an increase of 43%. However, this was an unusual accomplishment for the DA, explicable by the collapse of coloured ANC support in the Western Cape. It will be very hard for the DA to break into the african vote. Therefore, it is unlikely that african ANC supporters will change over to the DA. Much more likely is for ANC people to sit the election out.
But suppose that 2% of the ANC voters do go to the DA, and another 15% decide not to vote for Zuma. That means that 1,3% of the total electorate cross over, and 10% abstain, reducing the overall vote to only 90% of what it was. Hence, the DA would rise to 19,7/90, while the ANC would fall to 49/90. That translates to just 21,9% for the DA, and 54% for the ANC. That’s based on fairly extreme assumptions. It suggests that the ANC’s position, under present political conditions, is all but unassailable. (It’s likely to be less bad than that, in practice, because the collapse of CoPe will mean that some voters will return to the ANC, although doubtless a few would go elsewhere, and disaffected CoPe members who decided not to vote would raise the proportion of ANC voters.)
Why is it that it’s so hard to demolish the ANC? The answer is simple: there is no other party worth voting for. In the past the ANC has done a tolerably good job, and voters naturally hope that it will get even better in future. But if they fear that the ANC will do worse than it did in the past, they are still likely to voter for it, because all other parties are likely to do even worse than that.
Another problem is that the voting public is simply confused. Nobody, of course, is explaining to them what the core problem is. The ANC, of course, is not going to say “We are a gang of incompetent crooks, don’t vote for us”, but the other parties have been consistently accusing people of being incompetent crooks when they manifestly are not incompetent crooks. Therefore, even if the other parties denounce the ANC today with perfect accuracy (and for the most part they do not) no sensible voter believes them. The newspapers are similarly tainted with dishonesty in the eyes of ANC voters. However, both opposition parties and newspapers are generally more sympathetic towards Zuma’s ANC than they were towards Mandela’s and Mbeki’s ANC (since Zuma’s ANC represents something closer to what they want). Naturally, ANC voters take this endorsement with less of the grains of salt it deserves, than they would take hostility. Everybody likes to see that the party they support is praised by those who used to abuse it. What’s more, the specific problems with current ANC policies are, again, problems which the ruling class quite like to see. (Failures of “service delivery”, for instance, are desirable because the ruling class would like to reduce service delivery to a minimum, and these failures can be spun by the ruling class as the unfitness of government to provide social services.)
So what do we do?
If we can’t vote out the ANC, why not have a revolution? Good question. There is a contention among South African Trotskyites that this is indeed the answer. We have to notice, however, that these political organisations have never managed to poll as much as 1% of the vote in any municipality, and massively less than this in national polls. We are talking about, at most, a few hundred people, many of whom are hangers-on. This is not a force with which to overthrow a party numbering at least a third of a million, backed by 150 000 police officers and numerous other armed forces.
But, one may argue, the Bolsheviks were only a small group. Yes and no. The Bolsheviks were a minority of a large revolutionary socialist movement, which was a minority of a vast socialist movement, which was a minority of a majoritarian body of disaffected people. The Bolsheviks could simply don the insignia of the leaders of a revolutionary army, to find numerous people willing to serve as their infantry. What was more, they were, when the crunch came, the people who had the courage and the self-confidence to carry through their pledges, in sharp contrast to the Mensheviks, which greatly reduced the support of everybody else. And, needless to say, the two great Bolshevik successes, in 1905 and 1917, both happened in explicitly revolutionary circumstances when the public had lost faith in the capacity of the state to serve its interests — in both cases, economic crisis and a lost war, and in the latter case, a disaffected and mutinous armed forces, many of whom sided with the revolutionaries.
Only some of these conditions are likely to be met in South Africa. The armed forces are not going to be engaged in foreign wars. The ruling class is not going to become so confused and disaffected that it fails to act in its best interests in a crisis, or loses the capacity to act in its best interests because its agents have disappeared. Hence, although there may well be economic crisis and a disaffected mass public, the armed forces are likely to act on behalf of their paymasters. The ruling class is unlikely to endorse a socialist perspective which would inevitably act against the ruling class, however gently. Hence, any South African revolutionary overthrow of democracy would happen through military power rather than through popular power, would happen with the blessing of the anti-democratic ruling class, and would be aimed to suppress the working class. It would, in short, be much more like the seizures of power in Latin America in the 1970s; whether it would be a pure military coup, as in Chile, or a military coup working closely together with populist political forces, as in Argentina, the consequences would be the same.
It is probably painfully true that if this happened, many of our far-left brethren would welcome it. Their dedication to the ruling class, to authoritarianism and to elitism is always more passionate than their nominal pledges to serve the people.
But then, if we can’t overthrow the ANC by revolution with any hope of a favourable outcome, can’t we just kick out the rascals and remake the ANC in a healthier image?
That would seem logical. The Creator is not an ANC member, but presumably could join. ANC members surely cannot every one be a sleazeball. There must be some people who are intelligent enough, and principled enough, to develop an understanding of the appalling danger of rule by dishonesty. If only a couple of hundred such people banded together, they could spread the word among thousands of others.
There are perhaps a third of a million active ANC members, and that means that there are ten times as many ANC members as there are available sinecures. Overwhelmingly, ANC members support their party because they believe it is good, or at least because it is better than any alternative available. If they were persuaded by a growing movement within the ANC that their party no longer reflected that best interest, but also if they could manage to change the ANC into something better (more capable of running the country and also more capable of winning elections) they would surely be motivated into doing so.
So it would seem that this could certainly be done. The renovated branches would demand extraordinary provincial conferences, which would vote out the Provincial Executive Committees and press for an extraordinary national conference. There the whole National Executive Committee would be voted out, and an entirely new set of principles would be formed. Just as the ANC was turned on its head between December 2007 and September 2008, thanks to a cynical and money-centred campaign of dishonesty and innuendo, so it could inarguably be set back on its feet again, and have its integrity restored, by a campaign on an even larger scale but based upon the familiar and popular principles of efficacy, non-racism, hostility to global corporate capitalism and desire to build a better life for all South Africans.
If that could be done, one must ask why it has not been done. The reason might, of course, be that the assumption that there are huge numbers of sane and decent people in the ANC is the flaw in the scheme. Possibly everybody in the ANC is either a scumbag, or sound asleep at the switch. However, a more plausible conclusion — because only a minority of people in the ANC have any real reason to be dolts or sleazeballs — is that the ANC’s membership are cowed. The leadership is constantly purging the membership of those who do not shout loud praise of the Masters — there is a purge of this kind going on in the North-West at the moment, with many cries that those who are disobedient to orders and ask the wrong kind of questions of the wrong people are counter-revolutionaries. When elections happen, the delegates are closely scrutinised for their personal loyalty to the leaders, and should their loyalty be suspect, their credentials are unceremoniously withdrawn. Hence elections are only held in the ANC when the results are known in advance (much like elections in other South African political parties, those which bother to hold these at all). The idea that under such conditions branches could successfully demand even a special regional conference, let alone provincial or national congresses, is simply absurd and unworkable.
Indeed, the stillborn party CoPe derived from this very problem. Those who questioned Zuma’s deification were simply booted out of the party; then their supporters went, then their supporters friends-and-relations, and so on until the ANC had managed to kick out enough people to make up 7% of the electorate. The point was that Zuma would always rather have people outside the tent pissing in, than inside the tent pissing out. He’d rather lose the Western Cape than win it courtesy of people who aren’t his pliable lackeys.
In other words, the current ANC government is not going to be defeated by the existing parties in Parliament, it is not going to be overthrown in a revolution, and it is not going to be transformed into a better ANC government. It appears that we are trapped at the bottom of a pit with no way out and no hope, like the central character in Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.
Or can we expect to be rescued by a pubescent girl in an elegant bikini or a self-confident herring-scarfing tabby?


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