The Players and the Game.

The Department of Trade and Industry belatedly complains about the Competition Commission giving a free ride to Wal-Mart. A Cabinet lekgotla decides to set up a state-owned pharmaceutical company. The Democratic Alliance calls on the South African Revenue Service to investigate Julius Malema’s financial state. What’s going on here?
Clearly, a kind of game is being played. The white ruling class is strongly in favour of Wal-Mart buying out some of South Africa’s major retail industries. It is, equally, strongly against the establishment of a state-owned pharmaceutical company. It is also strongly in favour of demonising Julius Malema, most particularly because Julius Malema wants not only pharmaceutical companies but banks and mines to be owned by the state. Hmmm — looks as if these are moves in a chess game with two sides. One can cheer on either side, can one not?
On the other hand, the game is not so simple. If the government had really wanted Wal-Mart not to buy out local retail industries, it could have stopped it in its tracks very simply, but it did not, although the government did present evidence against the deal to the Competition Commission.
But why send the matter to the Competition Commission, which is simply a body which exists to cover up for the financial crimes of the ruling class? Either the government did not want to win the case, or it hoped somehow that a body not directly connected with it would torpedo the deal and thus enable it to win the case without taking responsibility for it. Again, either the government is terrified of the white ruling class, or it is in the pocket of the white ruling class but does not want to reveal this fact to its constituency, or else the government is simply divided between such factions.
Again, the fact that the Cabinet decides to establish a state-owned pharmaceutical company does not mean that a state-owned pharmaceutical company is going to be established. Such a company would take years and billions to develop, even under ideal conditions, and current conditions are anything but ideal. (Jeremy Cronin recently trumpetted a new bus service for Rustenburg, to be set up with simply oodles of taxpayers’ money — it’s going to take four years to get the buses running. Since it takes about a month to ship the buses here from China and a similar time to train the drivers, and the whole project will cost about a billion, we must assume that forty-seven months have been set aside for the political discussions over who is to rake in the rest of the money devoted to this initiative.) It’s obvious that the government wishes to be seen to do something about high drug prices; it’s less certain that it wants to actually do this.
Then again, the Democratic Alliance’s stunt is almost certainly not really intended as an action against Julius Malema the person. Malema the image is largely a construct of the white ruling class and its tame media, has been built up as a black boogeyman over a long period of time, and would be a sorry loss to them and their panic-mongers were Malema the real human being to disappear from view and the image thus to collapse in a great ruin of racist stereotypes. In any case, what they are protesting against is apparently Malema building a house, as if the notion of black people living in houses is rather distasteful to them. (Judging by the municipal policies of the DA, this is probably the case.)
So, in a vital sense, the game is not about winning or losing. The game is about being seen to play. The real owners of property are off the board.
But this doesn’t make the game unimportant. In a sense, the game is the only way in which the actual public has any opportunity to express itself, and it is also by watching how the ruling class plays its side of the game that we can see just how bizarre the situation actually is. While the public cannot take part in the game, it is free to yell at the government from a distance. Also, sometimes the pawns in the game (such as Malema) interact with the public.
Essentially, what these three episodes have in common is quite simple. The ruling class is not interested in developing South Africa, neither economically nor socially, the ruling class doesn’t want to help the people of South Africa, and the ruling class is strongly hostile to public debate on any meaningful issue. These issues are made absolutely clear through these three episodes. It’s much more than just that the ruling class is showing two fingers to South Africa, and dropping its pants and showing its arse to South Africa, the ruling class is shitting on South Africa and everything it and its people stand for. And, more to the point, the ruling class, through its control of the media, is preventing anyone from protesting about this gross defecation.
Look — it is possible to argue that Wal-Mart’s taking over a large retail chain is not really a huge issue. The obvious danger is that Wal-Mart will then use its global muscle to sell goods cheaper than other retail outlets can manage, driving them out of business and establishing dominance of the local retail market, after which it will be free to jack up prices again. That means that it will be doing what it has done in towns and states throughout the United States, so there is nothing unusual about this expectation. Of course, this will hurt consumers and increase unemployment, but not massively so — we are talking about a modest increase in prices and a few tens of thousands of people unemployed. It is bad, but hardly worth fighting about given the actual catastrophic conditions which the present government is promoting. However, the trade union movement is aware that it has let down the working class very badly, and therefore COSATU’s leaders need to pretend that they are concerned about jobs, and therefore they are cajoling the government into putting on this show, with, probably, little hope or expectation of winning.
On the other hand, though, the ruling class’s support for the Wal-Mart bid means that they are having to line up with foreigners (which South Africans don’t really like) and make explicit their support for big companies over little ones (which nobody except ruling classes really like). In other words, they are making themselves look bad (although they are couching their propaganda in the ridiculous terms of consumer choice) over a relatively minor issue which most of them are not going to benefit from. And, also, some of South Africa’s ruling class will inevitably lose out if the local retail chains go down. What’s in it for them?
Two things, or perhaps three. One obvious thing — anything the unions like, the ruling class will oppose. While the ruling class applauds the current leaders of the union movement for their incompetence, just as the ruling class applauds Zuma for his incompetence, the reason for this applause is that the ruling class hates unions as part of its hatred for democracy and freedom. Wal-Mart also hates unions. Case closed.
Another obvious thing — Wal-Mart are foreigners. The profits will go abroad. The bulk of South Africa’s ruling class are either foreign-based, or owe their allegiances to people who are foreign-based. Therefore, support for Wal-Mart means support for South African economic activity becoming more dependent upon foreigners, which the ruling class wants (and this also undermines democracy, since the less economic freedom locals have, the less political freedom the country has). Case closed.
The third thing is discursive. If the ruling class can get away with running a public campaign under the banner “Up with unemployment and neo-colonialism!” then they have set a vital precedent in breaking the spirit of the public. The more we let them get away with, the more they will take. In this sense the issue is potentially far bigger than its actual nature.
But it’s the same with the fantasised drug company — the ruling class is effectively campaigning here under the slogan “Higher prices for your drugs, with less access to the drugs you need, and let foreigners have all the money!”. And the representatives spouting that slogan are allowed to walk around in public and present that slogan in almost so many words. Nobody slips a tyre around their necks, sloshes petrol and strikes a match. This illustrates the decline of South African civil society very clearly.
And, in a sense, it’s the same with the DA’s propaganda campaign against Malema, a campaign which it is conducting in self-evident alliance with the South African Communist Party. (The DA-SACP alliance has been evidence since 2008, when Helen Zille and Ryan Coetzee joined with Max Ozinsky and Mcebisi Skwatsha to destroy the ANC’s power-base in the Western Cape by jointly smearing all the coloured Charterist politicians in the province.) The campaign is, of course, the DA going ooga-booga for its white supremacist constituency, but in another sense it’s the ruling class going after someone who might actually believe in some of the egalitarian issues he raises, and thus a major part of neoliberalism. The SACP, of course, does not believe in egalitarianism and never has, but is sitting pretty so long as it can pretend to believe in this, and definitely does not wish to be challenged by some upstart who might actually mean what he says and thus threaten the SACP’ corporate funding which keeps it alive. In other words, suppress debate, silence freedom of speech, and ensure that the ruling class doesn’t have to answer awkward questions about who owns what, and what they are doing with the money they are making off with.
What should we do about all this? At the moment, almost the only thing we can do is to remember that there is such a thing as the ruling class. A possibility, dubious as it might seem, is that the government might be persuaded to challenge the ruling class on occasion.
The way in which the Left serves the ruling class is to insist that the government cannot challenge the ruling class, and in fact to pretend that the government and the ruling class are identical. This means that the Left challenges the government rather than the ruling class, pretending that this is a bold stroke for the people and speaking truth to power and all the other tosh which the Left has adopted from the hired media whores of the ruling class. As a result, the Left struggles to undermine the only power capable of challenging the ruling class.
Issues like these three show that the Left is mistaken in this matter — and, to be fair, the Left is nominally on the side of the angels when it comes to Wal-Mart, and perhaps even pharmaceuticals. Unfortunately, we can be absolutely certain that the Left will abandon this stance any time it finds it more comfortable to do so, which is why it is reasonable to suspect that in these cases, the bad guys are going to win, and the Left will blame this defeat on people like Malema rather than on their own cowardice, treachery and (among the rank and file supporters of Stalinism and Trotskyism in South Africa) simple failure to understand what is going on.
And that’s how the game is played.


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