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.
Taking Stock, Taking Heed.
Let’s have a look at some of the more problematic government ministries.