Bullshit Budget Ballyhoo.

There was nothing especially surprising about the first Zuma budget, presented by the fat-cat’s inflatable dolly Pravin Gordhan. There was not even an interesting neoliberalism. It was just cheese-paring abuse of the poor, coupled with trivial gifts to the rich, alongside a willingness to waste money and run up needless, heedless deficits. Nothing what would not have been expected; everything characteristic of Zuma.
As is always the case with every Budget, this one was welcomed with preposterous enthusiasm by the press. This ballyhoo is surely what is interesting about the affair. What was it about the Budget which made them so enthusiastic? Some, like the laughable Niren Tolsi of the Mail and Guardian, were told to say that it was a left-wing budget which was serving the poor. It is difficult to know what to make of such people. Possibly this signifies that South African journalists have been fed on publicity-agent pabulum for so long that they are incapable of reading or listening. Possibly, indeed more probably, they just don’t care.
Others, like Reg Rumney, former corporate spinmeister by appointment to the Mail and Guardian and now trying to crank out docile corporate hacks at Rhodes University, are a bit more in touch. Rumney, on the newspaper’s Orwellian “Thoughtleader” blog, revealed that he had allowed his students to read Gordhan’s speech. (A dangerous precedent, teaching journalists to read; next thing you know, they’ll be learning to write.) They had discovered that the language was about ninety percent bullshit. (They were not invited to test the dodgy figures which Gordhan larded his lying spiel with; they are only financial journalists in training, so need not bother to learn arithmetic.) Rumney’s conclusion was that Gordhan needed a course in presentation dynamics. With better presentation, argued Rumney, Gordhan stood a better chance of persuading his audience to try to shine their shoes with the shit he was selling.
Gullible imbeciles or willing stooges or toadies eager to polish arseholes with their tongues — I’m shocked! Shocked!
However, the thing with all this wondrous waffle is that it makes the Zuma government look good. Of course one may say that since the budget is more right-wing than any of Manuel’s budgets (none of the people critical of Manuel’s budgets had anything to say about this — Patrick Craven, COSATU’s bumsucker-in-chief, waffled on about inflation targeting and that was the most intelligent comment anybody made), the right wingers love it. But, realistically, right wingers want real righteous rightiness. This wasn’t really it. The real right-wing stuff will only come after the budget deficits provide an excuse for slashing services and abolishing social grants, which will be only in a couple of years, if it happens at all.
A clue, however, is that two weeks before the Budget the newspapers suddenly discovered that Jacob Zuma was a sleazeball. I mean, who could have guessed it? He had sex with the daughter of a soccer promoter, and did not wear a condom! What conceivable precedent for such bizarre conduct could have been imagined? The shocking details, including a great deal which was probably made up in the same coke-sprinkled rooms where South African PR agents invent campaigns to persuade us that South Africa’s ungainly models, talentless actrons and voiceless singers should be counter as celebrities, were on every outlet. Even the Sunday Times was appalled that Zuma had had sex with somebody. It was rather as if the entire media had been taken over lock, stock and barrel by spotty-faced thirteen-year-old nerdy virgins.
What the hell? A few people wondered whether Zuma was doing this himself, leaking stories about all the women he had made pregnant either to distract public attention from the real corruption and bungling which characterises his regime, or perhaps because he’s a thump-headed Zulu nationalist male chauvinist who thinks that all South Africans will be ready to believe that the sun shines out of his uncircumcised cock.
Perhaps, but not very likely and too Macchiavellian for the Zumatics. The issue goes wider. Most newspapers denounced Zuma’s State of the Nation address, pointing out, with perfect truth, that it was a mass of meaningless statements, empty promises and irrelevant remarks, and that Zuma delivered it both unconvincingly and incompetently. Of course, in order to say this, they had to pretend that this was something new, for that characterises all of Zuma’s public utterances since the unbanning of the ANC. Zuma is not a public speaker, nor is he capable of selling used cars. For the last five years the press has pretended that Zuma’s halting, flat delivery of incoherent, waffling texts is a sign of his true humanity and closeness to the People, in sharp contrast to Mbeki whose smooth, confident speeches on clear, relevant topics marked him out as someone not to be trusted (especially because Mbeki, with characteristic Mfengu duplicity, went around keeping his promises and thus fooled the ignorant masses into thinking he was honest).
But for a period the press started actually reporting on Zuma’s speeches in the way that the general public perceives them. This was a bit puzzling, unless you think that the press was genuinely troubled by Zuma’s sex life. Which is plausible — after all, look at Tiger Woods, look at Bill Clinton, even look at Paul Wolfowitz, who could slaughter a few hundred thousand people and destroy a dozen economies with no criticism from the press, but God forbid he should shag his tarty PA — that’s going beyond his mandate.
More plausibly, however, this is a kind of shot across Zuma’s bows. There is, for instance, the widespread press claim that unspecified ANC heavyweights have told him to keep his pants zipped in future. This is not a very believable claim, because Zuma appointed most of them. If they tell him to do something, he can simply ask “And precisely what are you going to do about it, comrade?” and they can have absolutely nothing to say. Also, nobody in the core of the ANC has any doubt about the kind of amoral, self-indulgent, indolent person Zuma is, and so it is impossible for them to pretend that this is a new development in Zuma. So this is surely a press lie, but the purpose of the press lie is to draw a distinction between Zuma himself and the ANC, thus showing that the press does not have to support Zuma in order to support the neoliberal tendency currently running the ANC.
The ruling class, running Zuma through a kind of remote control, is well aware that the control is not tight. Since the ruling class doesn’t really control the ANC, but only controls factional leaders within it (who run the ANC through their circle-jerking support for Zuma) they can’t afford to be too choosy about the tools they employ. Although the ruling class rarely learns anything, they are probably dimly aware that when they attacked Mbeki he simply went rogue and refused to do what he was told — whereupon they fired every cannon at him, and every one proved to be loaded with blank ammunition. After which they spent five years with no influence on the government whatsoever while Mbeki went from strength to strength, treating the press with the disdain they deserve and the ruling class with contempt which terrified them.
It’s unlikely that they want a re-run of that. But, Zuma is not Mbeki. He has no particular agenda he’d like to follow. He has, thus, less motive to be his own man. So when the ruling class threaten to give him a hard time in the newspapers, he is likely to sit up and take notice. What, he might ask, should he do in order to restore the press’s sycophancy?
The Budget hysteria is another shot in this barrage. The press’s praise for Gordhan is as preposterous as their former praise for Zuma. However, it is significant — even though Gordhan’s little speech was as soaked as a syrupy koeksuster in praise for the Dear Leader. Gordhan is Indian, so the white racists who make up the chief readership of the ruling-class press and the principal electorate of the ruling-class party can be happy with praising him. (Praise a black man and they feel rather uneasy; no doubt it has to be done, circumstances warrant it, but — is he really to be trusted? What if he cools his soup with his hat and pockets the silver teaspoons?) Gordhan has no political power-base of his own (the NIC has been fragmented by greed and selfishness) and thus he can never become a truly significant player. Alone, this characterless little apparatchik could never be built up into a threat to Zuma. But by showing that they can at least pretend to turn Gordhan into something which looks much more impressive than it is, the press is flexing a few muscles.
Zuma, remember, is still terrified of Trevor Manuel, whom he tried to fire repeatedly but has not yet been able to get rid of. Manuel raised himself up to a strong position by virtue of hard work, talent and a relationship with Mbeki which made Gordon Brown and Tony Blair look like Laurel and Hardy. However, Zuma probably doesn’t understand the work and talent bit, and certainly has no understanding of loyalty, and therefore not only fears Manuel, but fears the image of Manuel. An Indian Minister of Finance (and these Indians are crafty, unlike banjo-playing hotnotte like Manuel) — what if he makes a power play? What if he becomes Sultan Pravin I?
Don’t worry, say the journalists quietly. It won’t happen to you, Big Jake. Not if you do what you’re told and follow the script. You’ve been doing nicely so far and we’ve been good to you. You have a good thing going. Be a shame if we had to end it all, wouldn’t it?
For if the journalists threw their weight behind someone else of significance, in the service of the ruling class, then the SACP would probably go along (the SACP does nothing against the interests of the ruling class) and COSATU would follow behind and so would the rabble of neoliberals who cheer and stamp in Parliament on both sides of the House when someone says something stupidly reactionary. In which case Zuma would have to fight, and without money and power behind him, and in the utter absence of the people, could he win? He undoubtedly has no reason to wish to find out. Meanwhile, just to ram the point home, the ruling class is trying to destroy Julius Malema, whose silly attempts to position himself as a left-winger are biting him in his ample behind. (The ruling class shriek “How dare you express an opinion, you dreadful little darkie?” while the SACP booms “We are the only true fraudulent plutocrats pretending to be socialists in South Africa — reject all imitations!”).
No, Zuma doesn’t want that. He wants a quiet life with drinks, flatteries, perquisites and well-lubricated vaginas all immediately available without question or problems. And he’ll undoubtedly get that — in exchange for pushing South Africa and all its people over the cliff.

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