Ode on the Conference on the Abolition of Nuclear Weapons in Iran.

April 30, 2010

We march in step. We don’t know where we’re going.
We don’t know what we’ll do when we arrive there.
We hope someone will tell us when we’ve got there.
Meanwhile we march in comfortable conditions.
We’re told our marching is completely vital.
Our uniforms are utterly in fashion.
They bear insignia on cuffs and collars.
We do not know the meaning of the symbols.
For safety’s sake we all salute each other.
We do not carry weapons on our persons.
If there are weapons we do not discuss them.
We know that there is danger in the future.
The future is the road that we must follow.
We follow orders which we cannot fathom.
Our master is a man who is respected.
We do not know quite why we must respect him.
We have been told that we are to respect him.
We always do the things which we are told to.
We must not question any of our orders.
We do not even need to be instructed.
We always do what we would have been told to.
Our discipline is absolutely perfect.
It is a shameful thing to ask a question.
We know that asking questions is forbidden.
We are afraid of breaking regulations.
There is no reason why we should be frightened.
Our honour is the tramping on the roadway.
Our future is the glow on the horizon.
Our nightmare is that we might ever waken.


Nuclear Dogmas.

April 19, 2010

At the moment South Africa is poised on the edge of a decision to give hundreds of billions of rands to the moribund French nuclear power industry. We were there first with the bad decisions; Obama, who is giving tens of billions of dollars to the moribund American nuclear power industry, definitely came second. But all this is, of course, a load of complete rubbish. If we need nuclear power — a big if, of course — we don’t need to bring in foreigners. It is, in fact, more sensible to do it ourselves.
Do we need to? Perhaps not. On the other hand, we have just elected to borrow R28 billion from the World Bank towards a 4,8 billion watt coal-fired power plant. That’s 5 rand and 80 cents for every watt to be generated — R580 for every 100-watt light bulb — before we factor in the cost of the coal and the environmental destruction arising out of that. If we were to go nuclear, would it really make matters worse?
Well, maybe. However, let’s think about what we would need to do to pursue nuclear energy. Luckily, we have a fair amount of uranium in southern Africa. We can dig it up, at great environmental cost and cost to the people doing the digging. (Uranium is not terribly radioactive, but it is extremely poisonous, being a heavy metal — the heaviest found in nature — and extremely reactive, so it easily gets into your body.)
Then, at considerable expense and difficulty, we combine the uranium metal with fluorine gas to produce uranium hexafluoride and we are able to start enriching the uranium, increasing the proportion of U-235 from a tiny fraction of the body of uranium (which is mostly U-238, essentially useless stuff) to a usable fraction. The simplest way to do this is to pump the gas around a corner. (You can also spin the gas in a centrifuge, which is the American way, but this is a lot more technically complicated.) The gas on the outer edge of the corner will contain more U-238, because it’s heavier and corners less effectively. Separate the outer edge of the cornering stream of gas from the inner edge, and you have a light and heavy stream; discard the heavy stream and repeat with the light stream, and watch it get lighter and lighter over time. The advantage of this process is that all you need is a pipe, a jet-nozzle (admittedly this is a complex piece of equipment) and a gas pump. There are very few moving parts, hence there is little danger of an escape of the poisonous gas. (The biggest problem is that the system sometimes clogs up with uranium tetrafluoride, which is solid at room temperature.)
Why doesn’t everybody do this? Well, that’s easy: if you carry on with the process, eventually you have ninety percent U-235 and you can make the kind of reliable, safe, trustworthy atom bomb which the Americans dropped on Hiroshima. Distributing uranium enrichment plants effectively means distributing the capacity to make nuclear weapons. America wants a monopoly of nuclear weapons because that would enable her to rule the world more cheaply than now.
Once you have your enriched uranium, you can put it in a reactor. The big issue here is the reflection and slowing of the neutrons by the matrix in which the uranium is placed. If you have a mass of heavy water — which is not that hard to produce; essentially you can separate it by evaporation, since heavy water boils at a slightly higher temperature than normal water) you can use natural uranium, since heavy water moderates neutrons very well. (The issue is to keep the neutrons moving slowly enough so that they don’t simply ricochet off the uranium nucleus, but burrow inside and give the U-238 indigestion so that it fissions and gives off more neutrons.) Or you can just use ordinary water, but then you must use enriched uranium.
The nice thing about ordinary water is that it keeps the reaction cool. However, if it boils, the bubbles are places where there is no neutron moderation and no cooling either. Faster neutrons can lead to more rapid reactions, which means that boiling water reactors can be a little dangerous. It is always possible for a reaction to get too fast, and outstrip the cooling capacity, and that could damage the reactor. So what you can use instead is water under pressure, which doesn’t boil; you can then heat it up to a few hundred degrees and pipe in water at normal pressure which turns to steam and can be passed through a steam turbine. This also means that the water in the turbine spends less time in contact with lots of neutrons and is less likely to become radioactive, so that if the steam leaks it’s less of a problem.
“Less” is of course a very relative term here.
Alternatively, you can just use graphite, like the dear old Soviet RBMK reactor or the British Windscale reactor. Both of these have their problems, since graphite catches fire if you heat it up enough — which is essentially what happened at Windscale (now Sellafield) in 1957 and Chernobyl in 1986. Graphite is a good moderator, and you can cool it with water or with high-pressure gas such as carbon dioxide. (Preferably not air, to avoid oxidation.)
Now, those reactors were actually built, not to provide power (although they did, of course) but to provide plutonium. You stick your 95% U-238 into the reactor and there are neutrons flying about. Much of the time when they wallop into the U-238 they don’t make it fission; instead, the neutron changes to a proton and, by degrees, the atom may eventually change into plutonium. The desirable kind of plutonium is Pu-239, which is securely fissionable; unfortunately, this plutonium may absorb another neutron and turn into Pu-240, which is dangerously unstable, so the longer you leave the plutonium in the reactor, the less desirable it becomes. Meanwhile, Pu-239, because it is fissionable, may fission, generating more neutrons. You have to strike a balance between your desire for plutonium and your desire not to have your fuel elements so full of fissionable material that the reaction runs out of control.
Usually, however, what you can then do is take the fuel element out in good time and process it for the plutonium. This is tricky, because you have to dissolve the fuel element (which by this time is far too radioactive for a living human to approach it) in nitric acid and then precipitate the plutonium out of this dangerously radioactive soup, a chemical reaction which must be done with no humans present and without any release of material into the air. This is one of the largest sources of nuclear waste; the corrosive sludge remaining after the plutonium is removed is usually just thrown away. (This was the source of the Urals nuclear disaster in 1957.)
However, if it is done properly you end up with plutonium which is much more enriched with fissionable Pu-239 than uranium is with U-235. You can then melt the plutonium, mix it in with natural uranium, and use it in fuel elements. Probably you will not use the same reactors that you would use for straight uranium (plutonium has different physical properties to uranium) but the end product will be the same; generating power while producing plutonium which can be processed and used for fuel again.
Why doesn’t this happen? The answer is simple: the United States doesn’t want it to happen. The United States wants to ensure that reactors across the world remain uranium-based rather than plutonium-based. Plutonium reprocessing plants are potential sources of nuclear weapons, even more so than uranium enrichment plants (Israel and India both obtained their nuclear weapons through an impeccably legal purchase of a plutonium reprocessing plant, in both cases supposedly for research purposes). Of course there are other reasons; countries with reprocessing plants mostly jealously guard their plutonium for use in precious, precious bombs, and they mostly have uranium enrichment systems to go with their reactors and don’t want to develop new reactors. This is farcical, however, because there is potentially fifty or a hundred times as much plutonium as there is U-235, and it is much cheaper to produce than enriched uranium. A plutonium economy is probably the only way to make a nuclear power system economically viable.
Of course, there are huge dangers. The kind of reactors which are cheap to build are also unsafe. Unsafe is, however a relative term; the catastrophe of Chernobyl did not happen because the reactor was badly built or ill-designed, it happened because the people in control of the reactor were playing games with it (trying to simultaneously reduce the power output and the coolant inflow in order to see what would happen; what happened was that some elements overheated and started a graphite fire which rapidly ruined the whole control system, and before the reactor operators got round to shutting the reactor down, the core exploded, blowing the roof off the building and spraying vapourised nuclear waste across the Ukraine). If you run a nuclear reactor with the same care with which you drive a car, catastrophe is not very likely.
Nuclear waste management, of course, is also problematic. You can stick it in a big hole in the ground and hope it will go away. Alternatively, you can put it in a building with thick walls, padlock the door and put a guard at the gate, and hope it will go away. These are not really solutions to the problem. The only real solution is to recycle high-level nuclear waste through nuclear reactors, changing the dangerously radioactive isotopes either into less radioactive isotopes or into isotopes which are so radioactive that they have a half-life of only a few years. Then stash them somewhere you can draw heat from their decay (such as a pond of boiling water), and put a few guards on the door of the boiler room and the turbine hall. It’s an expensive solution, but effective. Why nobody is doing it is, presumably, because although it’s an effective solution, it’s expensive. (Incidentally, most low-level nuclear waste can be reprocessed in order to remove the high-level content, leaving nuclear waste which is less problematic and comparatively safe to dump down a mine somewhere. But, again, that’s expensive.)
None of this means that we should all drop everything and get going on building a uranium enrichment plant, a couple of plutonium-breeding reactors, a plutonium reprocessing plant, a couple of dozen plutonium-U-238 reactors and a nuclear waste processing reactor with associated boiling-water high-level waste holding plant. However, doing these things locally probably makes more sense than poisoning our air and water with gigantic coal-burning power plants imported from elsewhere. However, that’s not a debate South Africans are liable to encourage.


Race, Class and Agenda.

April 19, 2010

After the most damnable life and deserved death of Eugene Terre’Blanche there has been a faint resurgence of attention to the race problem in South Africa, as filtered through the consciousness of those least capable of paying such attention, as per usual.
Where racism came from is a matter for debate, generally among those who have way too much time on their hands. We can argue over whether people naturally distrust other people who look funny. We can look at the Crusades. (We rarely look at the Mongol conquests, at least not from a Mongol perspective through which we might notice that though the Mongols slaughtered people they seem not to have racialized them). We can look at colonialism and imperialism.
But here in South Africa we know it’s colonialism. The interesting thing about the issue is how it gets evaded. For instance, there was the great Race-Class debate in South African historiography which filled several shelves of unreadable books in the 1960s and 1970s. This wasn’t actually a debate, it was an attempt by the liberals who were in control of South African history to exclude the Marxists without being too obviously dependent on the Suppression of Communism Act. The way the liberals did this was to do an end-run around economic issues and insist that the logic of apartheid was not underpinned by economic forces as the Marxists claimed (the need to keep wages low through the reserve system and through suppressing trade unions, the need to force people into the job market to prevent a labour shortage, by making conditions in the reserves unbearable, and so forth, the need to encourage capital accumulation by diverting as little as possible to consumer goods and infrastructure for the workers, in the manner of Stalin). No, the liberals insisted that apartheid was purely an issue of racism.
That of course is a tenable position. It is also a scary one, because it suggests that apartheid reflects a human reality which was not going to go away when the laws were repealed. Who, however, were these racists? The liberal historians insisted that they were not the racists. The racists, in fact, were concentrated in the National Party (one could ignore the United Party’s long history of racial segregation and oppression, just as one could ignore the Progressive Party’s ideological commitment to white domination all the way down to its final dissolution in 1989). Therefore, the apartheid problem was entirely due to people who spoke a funny language which sounded vaguely like German (and we won the war against the people who said “Ach, Himmel! Donnerwetter!”) and who, furthermore, did not dress quite like us (they often affected big hats and their suits did not fit).
In other words, the liberals evaded the consequences of their conclusion (that they should scrutinise their own racism) by appealing to tribalism.
Racial prejudice in South Africa is a slippery thing, even amongst whites. The reason seems to be that whites are not a homogeneous bloc and therefore do not sustain a completely monolithic racial focus. Such a monolithic racial focus has been constructed, but whites adopt it selectively — sometimes accepting parts, sometimes swallowing it almost whole.
The gist of white racism is that people who are not white are stupid, ugly, unreliable and have bad habits which render them unfit for advanced activities, such that whites are more capable. These can be applied in different ways to individuals. For instance, indians are notoriously shrewd and are physically quite attractive. Therefore, whites tend to see them as being suspiciously prone to dishonesty, and to being unduly prejudiced towards their own race (forming cabals wherever you look) and, of course, obsessed with money, unlike whites. Thus they may be clever and pretty, but this is only a facade; beneath the surface you wouldn’t trust them with your money, let alone your husband. (Sort of like the way European anti-Semites felt about Jews back when there was serious anti-Semitism.)
Recently there has been a hoo-ha about some clot in the Stellenbosch DA who sent an e-mail to another clot in the DA talking about how appalling the situation was in the region because of the unreliable coloureds and the incompetent kaffirs. The DA has promised to investigate. (They will find themselves innocent of racism, of course, since that is what such investigations are for.) Maybe they are innocent, but the e-mail reflects very broadly held opinions. A white looking at a black in a responsible position, whether that is driving a flashy car or sitting behind a flashy desk, automatically assumes a) that the black did not acquire the position fairly, and b) that the black is not capable of living up to the requirements of the position. If the car does not crash, it is dumb luck; if the business or government department does not fail, there must be enough white people in less obvious positions (no doubt oppressed and exploited, too) who are keeping the ship afloat. Just wait till they emigrate!
We can see this pattern of thought throughout white discourse on blacks. Municipalities and provincial governments are failing; they have learned to complain about “skills shortages” which to whites mean that there are not enough whites in the posts. (Thus racism serves to cover up corruption and idleness, because racists assume that africans will fail at whatever they attempt — giving the africans a gilt-edged excuse for their behaviour). The DA talks about “cadre deployment”, by which they mean giving responsible jobs to blacks. What is needed, they say, is for people to be deployed “on merit”; what they mean is that since any white is superior to any african, such conditions automatically mean that white people will be promoted. It would be tedious to multiply such examples.
It is extraordinarily comforting — to the point of egomania — to believe that seventy percent of the population of South Africa is by definition inferior to yourself, by virtue of the percentage of melanin in the cells of your epidermis. It is not at all odd to believe all this. However, it is also worth noting that this is a value-system of the comfortably irresponsible. If you genuinely believe that the population of this country almost entirely consists of retards with criminal tendencies, you cannot have much faith in the future. (Not that there is much justification for that, admittedly.) Instead, white racists of this particular carry on with their lives (lying, cheating, stealing and making stupid decisions on the basis of ignorance, mostly) as normal.
Many of this category of bourgeois racists are not at all obviously racist. One passes universities and sees black and white couples. The white elements of those couples will undoubtedly go home and be as racist as their parents — the fact that they can find blacks physically attractive enough to fuck them does not contradict this. In bed with a white, a black is an honorary white. In addition, there is no real contradiction between seeing one’s partner as cute, sexy and sharp as a tack, and seeing one’s partner’s racial category as repulsive, stupid and lazy. The Viennese anti-Semite Mayor Karl Luger was once asked why, if he considered Jews such a threat to society, he had so many Jewish friends. Luger shrugged it off; “Das ist für die Gasse,” he said; that’s for the gutter. It wasn’t personal, it was just a way of getting the people of the street to vote for him. Hermann Goring, the Nazi commander, similarly remarked (before the Final Solution, of course), “I’ll decide who is and isn’t Jewish.”. But when the chips are down, racism is racism.
But also there’s another category of racism; the white racism of insecurity. In this context, black men have huge penises and an insatiable desire for our women. They have knives and pangas and want to spill our blood. Their women are diseased and seek to lure us in and give us their diseases. They want to tear down all that we have built up out of envy. This, of course, seems to be the opposite of the notion that africans are too lazy and incompetent to do anything effective; if they are so ineffectual, how can they possibly threaten us? But the answer is that they have huge numbers and no regard for life (they all take drugs, you see, and their witch-doctors tell them that the bullets will turn to water). What’s more, because their skulls are thicker than white peoples’, it’s no use just hitting them once, and furthermore a crazed kaffir will keep coming at you, so an ordinary 9mm isn’t good enough; you need a .44. And so on, ad nauseam. Really nauseam here, because this is an argument for genocide. It’s also an argument for body-counts; so long as we kill a lot more of them than of us, we are displaying the fact that whites are superior to blacks. And we have to kill them, for it’s the only language they understand.
This subtext comes up in discussions about crime (which whites think is a vast conspiracy against them) and about Zimbabwe (which whites think is a vast conspiracy against them) and it ran like a thread of shit through the attacks on Mbeki over AIDS. It’s also implicit in some of the white criticism of Zuma (not that Zuma doesn’t deserve criticism). It’s also apparent in the attempts by Afrikaner nationalists to keep blacks out of Stellenbosch University (the nationalists recently won fresh victories in the elections to the convocation there, cheered on by the DA).
This kind of subtext is teenwoordig by alle vergaderings en wetgewings (yes, the Creator worked at Stellenbosch once); it is above all the informing principle behind white perspectives on democracy. These perspectives assume that the blacks unfairly ganged up on the whites (the numbers, you see) and installed a government of idiots (for that’s what blacks are) and they only won by threatening mass murder (hordes of panga-wielding savages, some with bones through their noses, no doubt) and this drives the gigantic grievance of superior whites suffering under the yoke and lash of their inferiors. Which is why the Democratic Alliance is what it is.
What appears interesting is that black racism is so very different — as one would expect. Blacks do not think that whites are unfit to rule. On the contrary, many africans appear to have unconsciously internalised the idea that whites might be genetically superior. Therefore, many blacks assume that alarmingly clever whites are conspiring against them; any white might be a racist (maybe s/he is just being friendly to me in order to gather intelligence and pass it back to the Whiteybond?). Therefore, blacks need to stick together, and overlook the failings of other blacks because to acknowledge their failings is to play into the hands of the white conspirators — who are probably so cunning that we cannot even see their conspiracy. In effect, it’s a bit like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and it’s driven by a dim sense of inferiority.
Unfortunately this sense is partly justified — not by race, but by the circumstances of history. Most africans receive bad education. Most africans grow up under difficult conditions. Africans have alien culture imposed on them continuously. As a result, africans learn to be defensive about themselves and their own culture, sometimes hysterically so. Therefore, black racism itself tends to be defensive — but of course, defensiveness can be pre-emptive. “These people might at some stage pose a threat to us — let us kill them first!” as Barack Obama incessantly shrieks (the “D” in his NSDAP party stands for “Democratic”).
Meanwhile, blacks are the disadvantaged majority. Nothing that has happened since the end of apartheid has done anything substantive about this, and what few things which might have served to change matters — affirmative action for the middle class, black economic empowerment for the aspirant ruling class, social grants for the working class — are under continual attack from the white ruling class and its allies. Africans feel cheated. What, they ask, did our ancestors fight for? For the right to read a newspaper printing, without fear or favour, racist and corporate propaganda? For the right to watch whites make merry at our expense? Bleeeahh!
And, of course, whites feel cheated, because they are convinced that they really won the war (the newspapers tell them so) and that their leaders are the true rulers of the nation (disinherited by wicked blacks) and so on. And coloureds and indians feel cheated, because they don’t get a look-in on all this ideological claptrap and they would like to have a slice of it.
Bad news, eh?


Taking Stock, Taking Heed.

April 19, 2010

Let’s have a look at some of the more problematic government ministries.
FINANCE: Weak management, poor planning, ineffectual administration. Subservient to vested interests. Inherited a good situation but unable to cope effectively with the subsequent crisis. Minister politically feeble.
BASIC EDUCATION: Weak management, poor planning, abominable administration. Subservient to vested interests. Inherited a bad situation, enfeebled by a shrunken Ministry. Clear danger signals. Minister a noisy weakling.
HIGHER EDUCATION: Very weak management, appalling planning, ineffectual administration. Ministry barely exists. Minister a corrupt nincompoop.
HEALTH: Weak management excellent planning, abominable administration. Subservient to vested interests. Inherited a difficult and deteriorating situation. Clear danger signals. Minister a loudmouth who may or may not be incompetent.
POLICE: Weak management, poor planning, feeble administration. Opportunistic and populist. Inherited a difficult situation which is deteriorating. Minister a bragging imbecile.
COMMUNICATIONS: No management, no planning, appalling administration. Ministry exists in name only. Puppeteered by corporate interests. Minister a notorious criminal and deeply corrupt.
PUBLIC ENTERPRISE: Weak management, modest planning, modest administration. Completely controlled by vested interests and therefore unfortunate that it is relatively effective. Minister a hypocrite in bed with big business.
HOUSING: Disastrous management, no planning, incompetent administration. Vested interests run the show. Inherited an effective system which has been run down speedily. Minister a sleazy estate agent with billionaire backing.
MINISTERS UNDER THE PRESIDENCY: Imperceptible management, some modest planning, no administration. Spend most of their time fighting each other and striving for headlines. Two ministers (Chauke, Patel) empty suits, one minister (Manuel) a resentful has-been.
It doesn’t really look good, does it? Cabinet meetings must be great fun with people like these in charge. But the real problem must be when these people take time off from their private fantasies or thievery and actually involve themselves in ministerial business, for then it seems that they can only do damage. However, because of the lack of leadership at the top, and because there is so much corruption and so much interference by vested interests (mainly corporate, but also trade unions) behind the scenes, allowing the ministries to drift is not really an option either. It seems that under this kind of administration, very little can go right.
One further interesting point is that, although everybody agrees that there are serious problems in most of these Ministries, the press has gone out of its way to defend the Ministers; all of them have received good press except for Minister of Communications Nyanda. One explanation for this singling-out is that Nyanda is perceived by those in the Cabinet who enjoy powerful party positions (Sexwale, Nzimande, Hogan) as a possible competitor, and therefore they are leaking smears against him. Alternatively, of course, it may be that Nyanda is so obviously corrupt that he is very easy to attack (yet the same is true of Nzimande).
In other words we are simultaneously told that the situation is bad (because the situation is bad, and this can be blamed on the ANC) and yet that the people in charge are doing what they can to improve it as individuals (and, very often, the press distinguishes them from the ANC) — which they aren’t. Probably the reason for this preposterous hoopla is that having crooks and weaklings in charge of a corrupt situation is a paradise for sleazy businesspeople, and therefore they don’t want a crusading press (oh, split your sides laughing) to actually change anything.
To add to this, we have a weakling President and an invisible Deputy President. In the NEC, we have a Secretary-General and a Chairperson who both appear incapable of doing anything to discipline their supposed supporters, many of whom are running amok. They are, instead, deeply concerned with fabricating evidence against those of their supporters whom they suspect may not be sufficiently supportive of the current leadership. Slowly people are starting to realise that they can do as they please so long as they don’t have anything to do with CoPe or to sound like CoPe. It’s not a recipe for sound discipline.
Outside this, of course, the Tripartite Alliance is a misnomer. The ANC, SACP and COSATU appear to have less in common now than they did under Mbeki. This is not because the ANC has changed its policies, but rather because it has become weaker and the SACP and COSATU have grown greedier. However, this means that, firstly, the whole promise leading up to Polokwane — that appeasing the Party and the shop stewards would bring peace in the Alliance — was a grotesque lie. Secondly, what this has revealed is that the SACP and COSATU have no idea what to do with the extra power they have gained. In other words, conditions have become a little worse, but the rationale behind those conditions — that the ANC was supposedly doing the wrong thing, and that the SACP and COSATU were being treated unfairly — has completely disappeared, replaced by mindless sloganeering. (“Replaced” only in the minds of the people; it is now clear that the leaders of the SACP and COSATU were always mindless sloganeers, and Zwelenzima Vavi has not changed an iota in this regard.)
Further down, the provinces and the large municipalities have been exhausted by all the in-fighting around Zuma’s accession to power. It is very difficult for members of the ANC to cooperate, because there are so many factions in every small element, each one jostling for a piece of the financial action. Anyone trusting anyone else is a fool under such conditions — and yet it is also impossible to impose discipline, because anyone at any time can run to some corrupt person on the NEC, pledge allegiance, and get a “Task Team” sent down to the municipality or the province to smear someone or some group, and perhaps get them fired or stripped of authority. As a result everybody is walking on eggs — except for the people who aren’t interested in anything except their private interests, and who therefore have nothing to lose. As a result, administrative demoralisation is rife and leadership is devastated.
This may seem an extreme vision. Things are still working, after all. However, it seems probable that they won’t be working for much longer. We know that the money is going to run out in a couple of years; we know that senior administration is haemhorraging staff. This, together with bad paranoid leadership, inept planning and terrible administration, suggests that things are going to get worse. Meanwhile, the “service delivery protests” continue. It is true that these protests are mainly driven by local ANC leaders wanting to get themselves talked off and thus get good jobs. However, they are also, obviously, fuelled by continuing resentment. The danger is actually that many areas where service delivery is almost nonexistent might decide that service delivery protests could be the way to go. If this ever becomes a widespread practice instead of an intermittent annoyance — as happened in Argentina in 2001, for instance, with the piquetero movement — there is no way the government could cope. It would appear ineffectual and incompetent and this would drive a mass movement against it.
What would happen when the ANC leadership became extremely unpopular? The Creator suspects that popular support for the ANC leadership is actually at an all-time low. Mbeki might have been feared or distrusted, but he was always seen as a clever figure and most people thought he was pursuing good objectives. Zuma is despised and ridiculed. However, there is nobody around him who is not despised and ridiculed; replacing Zuma with Sexwale would not improve the government or the party’s image. Most people also distrust the institutions around the ANC; replacing Zuma with Nzimande or Vavi would, quite rightly, provoke outrage and contempt. The current leadership are tolerated but distrusted; if they conspicuously fail to deliver on their promises they will be hated to the extent that it will be more than zap-signs thrown at their blue-light cavalcades. But the party will have no option but to keep them on.
One possibility is, if this happens, that the party could split again. You could have a large grouping of junior people who simply say “Fuck this!” and walk away. Much as CoPe did, they could say “We didn’t join the ANC to be enemies of the people — we are the real ANC, the ones who remain are traitors”. If this happened conspicuously, and if once again this led to another party being formed, it could do a lot of harm to the ANC at rank and file level. People would say “What’s wrong with our party that it can’t hold itself together? Are we backing the wrong horse?”
Such a split, of course, could easily be fomented by the ruling class. Some members of the ruling class, however, might not want this. A splintered ANC might be less controllable than a single ANC dominated by biddable leaders; if the ANC split it would still have to try to run the country and the leadership might eventually retreat to more popular policies. (It is clear that there is a lot of sympathy for policies which would strike at the ruling class; calls for nationalisation of mines or land or banks go hand in hand with frustration at white domination of the economy. Hostility to such calls is a huge problem for the hypocritical leadership of the SACP and COSATU. Bring down Zuma and his allies, and a future leadership might pursue radical policies to win back public confidence. Unfortunately, the probability is that such populist radicalism would be neither prudent nor sustainable.)
All this suggests that a split in the ANC might not generate a new party which is truly preferable to the ANC, however it is hyped in the press.
If none of this happens, the future might not be so very different. The ANC can afford to shed a lot of support at the polls. People are not going to flood to the DA no matter how corrupt the ANC is, unless the DA changes its politics completely — which is inconceivable. Nobody can resuscitate the IFP, the PAC or the UDM; on the contrary, such parties are becoming even less relevant over time. Unless something very dramatic happens to turn CoPe into a serious political party, there is nowhere for ANC supporters to go except home. More than a quarter of the ANC’s support-base has to be driven away from the voting-booths in order for the ANC to be pushed below the 50% level. Even then, the ANC could collaborate with any of a bunch of other parties, bribing them if need be, to secure power.
So the future is likely to be a weaker and more biddable government, presumably with an enfeebled and less resolute leadership, with even more inclinations towards corruption. This is what the ruling class want: the weaker the government, the more dependent it is on them for their support. If it is a minority government then the ruling class can very easily dominate the governing party’s allies. Weak leadership can be pushed around by the ruling class; corrupt leadership looks the other way when the ruling class steals.
If we want a different kind of government to this — and virtually every sane person does — we will have to create one, because it isn’t going to happen by itself.