The Mad Dictator and North Korea.

April 16, 2012

To understand all is not often to forgive all, but on the other hand, being pig-ignorant doesn’t help much. So let us try to understand what it’s all about with North Korea.

Korea had the extremely depressing fate of being colonised very late by the most brutal colonialist of all, namely Japan which seized Korea in the 1890s (after centuries during which Korea had focussed most of its attention on keeping the Japanese out and the rest of it on keeping the Chinese out). Japanese imperialism, impressively, managed to get worse and worse as time went on, but there wasn’t much that the Koreans could do about it until one fine day the Soviet Army rocked up to tell them that it was all over, by which time the Japanese were running away as fast as their weary legs would carry them — usually not fast enough, unluckily for them.

But the Soviets had done a sleazy deal with the Americans, who had fired the starting-gun for the Soviet invasion by nuking Hiroshima — they would get north Korea and the Americans could get south Korea. The Soviets, being brutal, thuggish Commies, installed Kim Il-Sung, the leader of the Korean resistance against the Japanese, in power. The Americans, being democratic and caring people, installed a clique of collaborators with the Japanese fascists. On both sides of the dividing line between the two brutal puppet dictatorships, the merry popping sound of teeth being pulled out with pliers generally preceded the slightly louder popping sound of someone being shot in the back of the head with a Colt .45 or a 7.62mm Tokarev.

However, for some reason the North Koreans became restless. Perhaps it was the victory of the Chinese Communists over the American puppet government in Beijing which encouraged them. Perhaps it was the bloody massacres perpetrated by the American puppet government in Seoul. Either way, in 1950 they — especially Kim himself — decided to unify Korea by force. What Stalin thought of this we do not know — certainly he never allowed anything like that in Greece or Iran, but possibly he felt that Korea was less important for the Americans. But the Americans had large numbers of troops in South Korea to help torment and repress the populace, and so the Americans announced that they would defend South Korea, using the United Nations as a fig-leaf (the Russian ambassador was boycotting the Security Council at the time, which is why there was no veto) for the conquest of North Korea, which failed only because the Chinese intervened and kicked the daylights out of the American invaders. Eventually, the front stabilized along the original border, where it stayed for two years while the Americans bombed North Korean flat, killing two million civilians, a genocide unparalleled before Vietnam.

North Korea became a hard-nosed tyranny, whose populace hated almost every other country in the world — the Chinese and the Russians hadn’t helped them enough and the rest of the world had either fought against them or failed to help them, so they decided that they had to help themselves. Putting their country together with virtually no assistance from anybody else, keeping both China and Russia at arm’s length (especially because they were Stalinist when Stalin became unpopular in the Soviet Union) they persisted in the belief that South Korea belonged to them, and endlessly plotted to take it over (of course the South Koreans did the same towards them; both sides were living in a dreamworld).

All this pleasant North Korean dreamworld began to unravel in the 1980s, however, when South Korea began moving away from the hideous tyranny and fascist autocracy which it had suffered under Rhee and Park, and gradually became a sort of guided neoliberal democracy along the lines drafted by the Americans. As South Korea became less repugnant, North Korea looked considerably worse by contrast. Then came the collapse of the Soviet Union, and North Korea was left out in the cold in the 1990s. South Korea remained violently hostile and acquisitive towards the North (and was also more militarily powerful, being much richer) and was still aligned with the United States and now with Japan, which was growing more aggressive and imperialistic to distract attention from its national bankruptcy. Russia was hostile, China was dubiously sympathetic. Rather than fantasising about taking over the South, the North was now struggling to survive, especially since it could no longer import cheap commodities from the Soviet Union and it lacked its own resources.

The upshot of this was that North Korea dusted off its nuclear weapons plans. In order to survive against an aggressive United States, especially in light of the aggression launched against Iraq, it was obvious that North Korea needed the atomic bomb. It would have to develop its own, however; nobody would supply it with the plans (unlike the comparable plans of Pakistan a decade earlier; Pakistan got technical aid from almost everybody in the West to build its bombs). The Americans speedily got wind of this and began making an immense fuss that North Korea was posing a threat to — to whom? North Korea could only, realistically, threaten South Korea, which was easily defended by the massive American forces present there. Meanwhile, the U.S. obviously threatened the North on the same basis. It was obvious that North Korea’s proposed bomb was intended as a deterrent against American invasion, on the assumption that the North couldn’t rely on the Chinese nuclear umbrella. The U.S. objections made it clear to Pyongyang (and everybody else who was paying attention) that the U.S. wished to reserve the right to conquer North Korea. In which case, North Korea was not simply being paranoid; the Americans were really out to get them.

The reasons why were fairly simple. North Korea was not part of the American system in Asia, and therefore its government had to be changed, by force if necessary. In addition, North Korea had beaten off an American invasion — and every country in the world which manages this has to be punished for it. In addition, it was handy for the Americans to hate North Korea, because it provided a unifying tool for the region — the puppet governments of South Korea and Japan could be ordered to pretend that they were terrified of North Korea, and thus the populace in those countries could be stampeded by fear of the usual imaginary hobgoblins. (North Korea might have wanted to pose a threat to those countries, but it did not.)

However, in the triumphalist 1990s the Americans tried something slightly different; the Clinton administration undertook to provide the North Korean government with an American nuclear power plant in exchange for the North Koreans giving up their bomb project. This might have worked, insofar as it might have been possible to persuade the North Koreans that they were not under threat — provided, of course, that they really were not under threat. We shall never know, because the Americans stalled and made excuses, and finally after Bush took over, the promise of the plant was withdrawn and, of course, the North Koreans reinstated their nuclear weapon project.

The Bush administration went a little further. Bush’s speechwriter, Matthew Frum, came up with the phrase “Axis of Evil”, referring to the three countries at the top of the American hate parade, these being Iraq, Iran and North Korea. Once you have defined the country you have just broken an agreement with as a bottomless pit of evil, you are going to have some trouble in persuading it to behave amiably towards you. It is always a good idea to take that trouble, if you want a peaceful world, but the Bush administration was engaged in troubling the planet in the hope of somehow ruling it, and one of the countries most troubled was, understandably, North Korea. The Bush administration was particularly interested in building anti-missile missiles to shoot down the supposed threat from North Korea, and eventually deployed some ineffectual fireworks in Alaska. (The North Koreans had yet to demonstrate that they had either a bomb to launch or a missile to launch it with, but then, the Bush administration’s anti-missile missiles probably didn’t work either.)

But all this brinkmanship became meaningless when the North Koreans detonated their first bomb. It wasn’t a very successful test — it was a plutonium bomb, which requires very effective explosive compression of the core of the bomb, and it seems to have only partly gone off, which caused much ribald jeering from the Americans. (The North Koreans also probably didn’t have enough plutonium to do better.) However, an explosion of only a tenth of a kiloton would be enough to send a plume of radioactive fallout all over an American city; if such a bomb went off in Los Angeles it would probably kill thousands. And, of course, the North Koreans might make a bigger, better bomb next time. So now North Korea had its deterrent, and presumably was safe from American attack.

When Bush slithered away into the underbrush and Obama came in to make the world safe for democracy, one of Obama’s promises was that he would talk to the country’s opponents, unlike Bush. As with most of Obama’s promises, this slithered off to join Bush the moment Obama was elected; his principal policy regarding North Korea has been to shout increasingly silly abuse in the general direction of Pyongyang and to try to bully South Korea and Japan into joining in the screamfest, while China sits back and rolls its eyes wearily. All this accomplishes approximately nothing other than annoying an unstable, badly-ruled nuclear-armed country whose paranoia is looking increasingly thoroughly justified. (Another of Obama’s hobbies is annoying a stable, well-ruled country which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, namely Iran; everybody has to have a hobby, but it’s a pity that Obama couldn’t stick to his golf.)

The latest stupefying imbecility has been the North Korean decision to try to launch a satellite (their second). They announced that they were doing to launch it on the hundredth anniversary of Kim Il-Sung’s birth. Suddenly, the Americans began dirtying their panties in all directions, crying out that this was a test of a ballistic missile. Obviously, a satellite launcher can be used as an ICBM — most American satellites are launched by either the Atlas or the Titan, both of which started out as missiles — and the Russian Soyuz launcher was also the first Soviet ICBM.

However, the only possible North Korean use for an ICBM would be as a deterrent. If they stick a plutonium bomb on a missile and fire it at America, the Americans will turn North Korea into a plain of shiny glass. In contrast, if the consequence of America dropping a bomb on Pyongyang might be a North Korean nuke on Seattle, the American government would probably think twice about that. So the North Koreans need the capacity to respond to an American nuclear attack, in order to deter it. This means that the North Koreans need missiles which can be launched very swiftly, within a few minutes of deciding to launch — because if it takes longer, the Americans could nuke the North Korean missiles and destroy them.

There are two ways of doing that. One way is to use a solid-propellant missile, rather like a scaled-up version of an artillery multiple rocket launcher. Unfortunately, this requires a very, very energetic fuel, and a very, very smooth-burning fuel, and ideally some way of extinguishing the solid rocket flame, because in the absence of these things, the rocket will either fail or miss its target. Although the Americans developed these capacities in the late 1950s, most other countries have a lot of trouble — the USSR never managed an effective solid ICBM. What they did instead was use storable liquid missiles — rather like space rockets, but using fuels which could sit around inside the missile for weeks or months. Unfortunately, while fuel is easy to find, oxidants — the things that make the fuel burn — are trickier. The commonest such oxidant is red fuming nitric acid, which, as its name suggests, has the habit of melting the missile into a puddle if it leaks out. This is usually used with hydrazine as a fuel, conveniently, because they ignite on contact, but hydrazine is also quite corrosive. This is incredibly dangerous to use, which is why the Soviet navy lost several missile submarines when the missile fuel tanks leaked.

But it seems that the North Korean rocket wasn’t this at all. It was your common-or-garden “cryogenic” rocket, with liquid oxygen as the oxidiser. This is almost certainly the case, because it took hours for the rocket to be fuelled (which is usually a sign that great care has to be taken because at the very low temperatures of liquid oxygen, the pipes tend to become brittle — storable liquid can be pumped in at much higher speed). Which means that even if the North Koreans might want to use it as a missile, it isn’t suitable as a deterrent, only for aggression, which in the North Korean case would be suicidal.

The American government claimed that this was a missile test disguised as a satellite launch. This is extraordinarily unlikely, because the North Koreans were firing the rocket in honour of Kim Il-Sung and claimed that it was a satellite launch. If it was a missile test it would have fallen into the Pacific and would have to be written off as a failure — and for the North Koreans to deliberately sabotage a celebration of the anniversary of Kim Il-Sung would be rather like President Obama celebrating July 4th by publicly pissing on the American flag. It isn’t going to happen. So, it was just a satellite launch which went wrong. The Americans, who have satellites and monitoring stations checking out every square metre of North Korea, knew that.

But boy, did they make a fuss with their lies! The South Korean government was persuaded to whimper like a poisoned Labrador. The Japanese squeaked that if the rocket came anywhere near them, they would shoot it down (an illegal act of war, by the way, though one which they probably aren’t capable of). Even the Security Council was persuaded to denounce a country firing a satellite-launching rocket off from their own territory, an event which happens almost every single day. Having got much of the world to bounce around on their head-bones pretending that a satellite launch was the most doubleplusbad thing ever, the Americans then announced that they were cutting off their contributions to UN food aid to North Korea, as punishment.

What we see here is that North Korea is a sensible country ruled by a sensible dictator. Yes, they have the disconcerting habit of unanimously weeping on command when the latest dictator pops his clogs. However, since the inhabitants of Western countries tend to jump like trained dogs at Washington’s command, the North Korean attitude is not so strange. What is strange is the elected dictator of the United States hysterically denouncing a country which his country has been threatening for sixty years, and which is struggling to defend itself, when that country pursues a peaceful project. To be blunt, it looks very much as if the loony is in Washington, not in Pyongyang.


There’s Somethin’ Happenin’ Here; What It Is Ain’t Exactly Clear . . .

April 13, 2012

So what is going on with regard to the stability of the ANC and the plans evolved by Jacob Zuma’s backers to reinstall him as Leader at Mangaung? Under current circumstances it is extraordinarily difficult to tell. The quality and integrity of the South African press has fallen to its lowest level ever (which is saying something), the SABC is as supine an organ of state propaganda as it ever was under the apartheid regime, and meanwhile the ANC’s membership has been largely terrorised into silence, except for an endless spray of leaks whose legitimacy is uncertain. In any event all information is so massaged by the media that its validity is obscure.

But we can look, and we can speculate.

What is going on is usually viewed through the distorting lens of the passion of Julius Malema. While things are vastly more complicated than that, we can at least use this for a preliminary investigation. What happened to Malema, and why did it happen?

Whether Malema believed his radical rhetoric or not, it is clear that this rhetoric was aimed at accomplishing something. Very probably, he and the rest of the Youth League were simply kicking up a fuss in the hope of being given something to make them go away — for instance, one or more of the positions monopolised by the corporate toadies and SACP toads who enjoyed Zuma’s favours. Alternatively, having clamoured for the removal of Mbeki, possibly they wanted to show that they were doing this not simply out of spite and greed, but because they really wanted to see some left-oriented policy changes. Obviously this was not going to happen, so they had to be either slapped down or bought off.

It would probably have been natural for the corporate toadies to buy the Youth League off, although, given the growing ultra-right-wing neoliberalism prevalent in the corporate elite these days, this might have been frowned upon by their handlers in the business community. On the other hand, the SACP, with its Stalinist roots and the sadism and paranoia which goes with that, probably wished to see the Youth League and all who sailed with it destroyed utterly. In other words, Malema was endangering his position by taking this stand, and in doing so was also showing that he was one of the very few people in Zuma’s entourage with any guts — which naturally did his reputation no harm. Malema and the ANCYL then proceeded to attack the SACP where they were most vulnerable, endangering their credibility — which had the potential to weaken their usefulness for the neoliberal elite, since if nobody believed in the SACP any longer, then the SACP could no longer function as an ideological screen for neoliberalism. Hence, Malema’s attacks on the SACP raised the stakes in the conflict; it was no longer the casual brutality of the SACP which he was arousing, but its instinct for self-preservation, which has been at the heart of the party since its foundation.

This explains why Malema was demonised so thoroughly. The SACP’s direct attacks probably counted for little (their accusations of fascism were simply reminders that the Party has not developed any new ideological concepts since the 1930s). However, the universal malevolence of the media and the bought neoliberal intellectuals of the punditocracy probably generated its own momentum; Malema had to be destroyed because the leadership of the ANC, who always stagger along behind whatever they read in the corporate press, heard that this was the case. Naturally, in order to make Zuma look good, the task of destroying the head of the weakest single element within the ANC was inflated into a battle of giants, which in turn probably made Zuma more nervous and more inclined to listen to the maddened howls of the SACP leadership.

All this turned what should have been a minor spat into a massive conflict. Artfully, the media made it appear that any failure to destroy Malema would be fatal for Zuma. Naturally, Malema was calling for a change of leadership at Mangaung. His first call was for Mantashe to be removed, which was natural — Mantashe is the SACP man in charge of the ANC’s disciplinary affairs, and is therefore the man giving orders to Hanekom, the SACP man in charge of the ANC’s disciplinary committee. It was obvious that removing Mantashe would be a smack in the eye for the SACP, the Youth League’s main enemies, and would also make it much harder to set up kangaroo courts for the disciplining of the Youth League. It was also, however, obvious that the ANCYL had no real capacity to remove Mantashe by itself — only if the ANCYL had considerable support from elsewhere would it pose any threat to him. Almost certainly, what the Youth League was doing was pointing out that a) Mantashe was not acting in the interests of the ANC, but of his principal, the SACP, and b) Mantashe was actually harming the ANC by doing this, since the SACP’s interests differed from the ANC’s — the ANC would benefit from a more radical stance in government policy, whereas the SACP would benefit from the more conservative stance which Zuma represented and which the SACP was pushing for.

But in the end, this obliged Zuma to get behind Mantashe, since ultimately Zuma depended on the SACP to rig the provincial elections before Mangaung, as he had depended on them in the elections before Polokwane. In which case, the ANCYL had no reason to support Zuma, because he was not merely their enemy, but — objectively — the enemy of the ANC and of the Freedom Charter and of everything Left of the Democratic Alliance and the Anglo-American Corporation. The fact that the “left intellectuals” had almost all gathered themselves behind Zuma merely showed how far they had redefined the meaning of “left”. (Of course, this was another reason for attacking Malema so hysterically; he was inadvertently reminding them of what traitors they all were.)

It was, thus, inevitable for the situation to turn nasty for the ANCYL. The long-term suspension of its leadership was a natural way to get rid of them for a while, at least until after Mangaung. Which was fine, except that it transpired that there was some support for the ANCYL within the ANC. The sheer dishonesty of the proceedings against Malema, and the obvious way in which the SACP was manipulating the situation, meant that some people came out in support of Malema, while others, like Tokyo Sexwale and Matthews Phosa, pretended to support Malema in an attempt to recover some of their discarded constituencies, who were mostly sympathetic to Malema. They would not, of course, support him in any meaningful way, but the fact that so many ANC people were reluctant to parrot the extreme propaganda of the media and the SACP seems to have been troubling to both Zuma and the SACP, both of whom — as well as the corporate community — are terrified of actual public opinion because they cannot control it, and therefore label it corrupt and “populist”.

This, it seems, was the reason why Hanekom and his flunkeys went overboard and decided to expel Malema from the ANC. Of course it was the ultimate punishment, but it went against the apparent tactic of the people in the ANC’s leadership who had been managing the matter, and who seem to have been gradually intensifying the pressure on Malema while constantly dangling possibilities of avoiding punishment before him. By allowing him to focus his attention on the possibility of escaping the consequences of his actions — inevitable defeat and humiliation — they might have managed to control him and the ANCYL and the numerous people who were starting to see it as a much stronger force, and a more moral authority, than it actually was.

But it seems that the SACP, having helped turn Malema into a papier-mâché dragon, now wanted the credit for slaying it. This was a burned bridge too far, since it was not only obviously unfair, but also freed Malema from any obligations of restraint. Speedily, he and his allies threw their weight behind the notion that Zuma was out of control and dictatorial — exactly what they had accused Mbeki of in the past, but with considerably more evidence. Meanwhile, and possibly not by complete coincidence, the DA’s long-delayed attempt to gain the power to reopen the corruption case against Zuma made some tentative headway.

This could simply be a judge throwing weight he doesn’t really possess around. Alternatively, it could be the judiciary punishing Zuma for being very vaguely and mildly critical of them (since the judiciary are the strong right arm of the white ruling class, the white ruling class has been behaving like paranoid psychotics over the issue.) And, of course, it doesn’t mean that the charges are indeed going to be renewed. However, the mere opening of the possibility that this might happen — after the issue had been decisively squashed in lower court, displaying how completely the corporate-backed judiciary was behind Zuma at that stage — made it possible for the ANCYL to sanctimoniously (and completely correctly) praise the notion of Zuma facing charges as a moral and politically correct move.

This all leads up to the renewed suspension of Malema — first he was suspended, then he was expelled, then he was suspended again, raising jokes about just how many times you can guillotine somebody. This leads up to the ANC leadership’s decision to pretend to be united on the issue, with an ill-advised and poorly-planned press conference of the top echelon of the ANCYL. Not only was this an embarrassing failure, it made Malema seem more important than he really is; why else should the ANC’s leaders be hopping about like grasshoppers in his wake? They certainly didn’t do this when Holomisa was kicked out, for instance.

What seems to have happened is that the SACP, and some other members of the Zuma faction, have generated a crisis of legitimacy in the leadership of the ANC. This crisis was always nascent, because it was always obvious that Zuma and his pals were unfit to govern, as their performance in government shows. However, it was suppressed through purges, which got rid of potential strong critics while terrorising potential weak ones, and creating vacancies into which selfish and greedy supporters could be inserted. Thus the Zuma administration was able to simulate toughness and thus simulate unity. However, since it was always a simulation, there was always a danger that someone would try to see if it was false.

Malema’s fate has shown that uncritical support for Zuma does not provide immunity from purges. However, Malema was also able to survive the worst that Zuma and his friends could throw at him, at least for a while. So those who were disturbed by the obvious attempt to intimidate the party were heartened by the partial failure of the attempt. Meanwhile, the clumsiness of the whole affair indicated that Zuma and his friends were far less in control of events — far less competent — than they had pretended. It was also evident that there were still plenty of people who were mildly critical of Zuma, and it became gradually apparent that a portion at least of Zuma’s corporate backers were no longer protecting him. Thus, the road became clear for others to criticise Zuma at least in private, and to discover allies with whom they could work in order to remove him or undermine him.

It didn’t help that Zuma’s interventions in the provinces had become increasingly inept, partly because the SACP’s obsessive attempt to control the whole ANC at provincial level was overambitious and doomed. As a result, provincial opposition to Zuma kept bobbing up and having to be smacked down, with diminishing efficacy as 2011 wore into 2012. Eventually came the annoying and counterproductive government intervention in Limpopo, to punish the government for being critical of Zuma — a punishment which appears to have alienated the whole provincial civil service who do not seem to have been fooled into believing the claims of the corporate newspapers that the non-appearance of their paychecks was the Premier’s fault. So the disgruntled voters and the irritated ANC rank and file coalesced with grumpy provincial governments and freaked-out members of the NEC — and while all these groups would have existed anyway, the actions against Malema and the ANCYL served to provide a maypole around which to dance and sing anti-Zuma songs.

Does this mean anything, other than providing the anti-ANC media with a rod for the ANC’s back? This depends on how far the Zuma faction will be able to reassert control. However, it seems clear that the kind of unity by default on which Mbeki could rely has disappeared, and the unity imposed by tyranny is crumbling away as people recognise that this only functions when people are prepared to be tyrannised. Bribery is still available, but what if someone else offers bigger bribes — and worse, what if the person to whom the bribe is offered wonders whether the word of the person offering the bribe can be trusted? It seems obvious that Zuma’s core elite support base is dissipating, and in consequence he must confront the fact that without this elite he has no actual broad base of support — having systematically alienated it over the last few years. It also seems obvious that the dwindling SACP and the disintegrating COSATU are both unable to offer the simulated power-base that it could in 2006-7.

So the march towards Mangaung is not a march towards inevitable victory for Zuma. This is in contrast to Polokwane, when almost everybody who supported Zuma seems to have believed that everything was on their side. Back then Zuma’s support-base appeared monolithic, even though evil; now it appears shrinking, ineffectual and divided, like the ANC itself. All this is a product, very largely, of the Zuma cabal’s activities over the last six months, in pissing away their support through incompetent, brutal and self-destructive tactics.

Was this deliberate? Have some of Zuma’s allies, such as Mantashe, decided that the time is ripe to wreck the ANC through internecine fighting? No doubt many would be happy to do this in exchange for a reliable corporate sinecure. Alternatively, do some of Zuma’s supposed allies want to ease him out and have they been manipulating the SACP towards this end, weakening Zuma’s support-base and leading up to a chaotic National Conference which will end in a desperate search for an alternative to Zuma enabling them to step forward as saviour? Or is this simply the inevitable result of putting the biggest bloody fools in the Tripartite Alliance in charge and allowing them to smash everything within their reach like mean staggering drunks in a glassblower’s? This is probably the only question worth answering at this stage. If we had investigative journalists, one of them might look into this — but here as elsewhere, that is simply too much to ask for.



Frank Talk.

April 7, 2012

Frank Chikane’s book about the removal of Thabo Mbeki from the Presidency, Eight Days in September, appears to be selling well. It was about half-way up the Exclusive Books top-ten sellers when last seen. This is quite impressive for a book which is unduly expensive because it is published by a foreign press house (no doubt no local publisher would touch a book which challenged the authoritarian narrative which dominates debate in South Africa, although it was apparently edited by the popular journalist William Saunderson-Meyer). It might also seem impressive because the book has been denounced loudly from every authoritarian pulpit in the country, but this is less surprising. The fact that so many pipsqueaks wrote (or put their names to) identical articles attacking the book simply meant that every newspaper reader learned, what they would not otherwise have learned, that Chikane had written a book and that the pipsqueaks and their patrons didn’t like it. Moreover, the pipsqueaks were unable to write well or to develop intellectual arguments against the book, which was so obvious that it made Chikane look good in absentia.

But this does not mean that the book is itself good.

What would a “good book” be on that topic? Certainly what is needed is one which challenges the dominant authoritarian narrative developed by the corporate press over the years. That Chikane has certainly managed, simply by saying the magic words that he does not think that Mbeki was a bad President, or that it was good for the country or for the ANC for Zuma to have won at Polokwane, or for Mbeki to be humiliatingly removed from the Presidency. These truths have been suppressed for the last six years and it does no harm to repeat them, and this may well be why the book is selling well – it is entirely possible that the majority of South Africans accept these truths, which shows how little real influence journalistic propagandists have over the public mind. But precisely because this is what everyone knows, even though it has to be said, it is not enough. We really need two more things:information which Chikane presumably has which could cast some light on the disastrous events around Polokwane and the September palace revolt, and analysis of what all this means forSouth Africa, which would entail some discussion of how and why it came to pass.

These latter matters are largely lacking from Chikane’s book. The reason is obvious – Chikane is a South African citizen and an ANC member. As a South African citizen, subject to our laws, he cannot reveal all theinformation he has because of the web of secrecy which surrounds the Presidency. Virtually all Presidential utterances, all communications within the network of flunkeys surrounding the President, are secret. If Chikane were to make these public, he would run serious risk of imprisonment. (We tend to forget this because over the last decade and a half a culture has evolved in the media and the punditocracy under which people make up shit that the President or his flunkeys supposedly said and then scatter the shit around, which is then picked up by other propagandists too lazy to make up their own shit. However, none of it has any meaning apart from telling us what the propagandists and their patrons want us to hear, so that public political debate could best be categorised under “Shit my President doesn’t say”.)

How about political analysis, then? The problem here is that serious analysis would necessarily have to ask questions about the fitness of the President of the ANC and many of his cronies to be in office, or even at liberty. You can do that if you’re outside the ANC. You can do that even inside the ANC provided that the analysis you are generating corresponds with the desires of the plutocratic ruling class (and preferably with the more powerful of Zuma’s henchmen). Chikane, on the other hand, can’t do any of this without being ignominiously expelled from the ANC. He doesn’t want that. Perhaps, too, he doesn’t want to delve too deeply into these matters because it makes the ANC look appallingly corrupt (as it is) and Chikane is loath to cast too much light on this.

So what does the book contain?

Unsurprisingly, a lot of protocol. Protocol is the way you behave when you have no original ideas and no plan, so for want of anything better you observe protocol. Chikane was the Cabinet Secretary, whose principal task was to ensure that everybody behaved with decorum and submitted the appropriate requests on the proper form. Protocol is the refuge of the empty and incompetent, and this is why it has become an appallingly prevalent aspect of the contemporary socio-political scene over the past decade. So Chikane devotes a good deal of the book trying to explain how he attempted unsuccessfully to persuade the anti-Mbeki plotters to observe protocol and at least allow a dignified and graceful exit, and how, when that failed, he attempted, more successfully, to persuade Mbeki’s doomed allies to observe protocol and thus go to their political deaths with dignity and grace, along with himself. In the course of this, Chikane often comes across as a pompous, self-satisfied nincompoop, which is probably not the case – it’s probably more accurate to suspect that in response to the shock of abject defeat, Chikane retreated into procedure in order to build a space where he could tell himself that he was winning a moral victory. It’s not his greatest moment, but it’s understandable.

Apart from this, there are the interesting claims that Mbeki expected to win at Polokwane, and that Mbeki’s dismissal came as a shock to him.

The first claim may or may not be true. Mbeki has always played his cards so close to his chest that he could barely see his own hand, and he would certainly not have told his closest allies that he didn’t expect to win. He had no choice but to stand at Polokwane, and there was no point in telling anyone if he thought it was a forlorn hope – he could have waited for a miracle, or even a sudden rush of patriotism to the heads of the delegates. However, he must have known that nearly half of the delegates would have voted for Zuma even if he had stood on a platform of buggering children (which would have been more true to his real beliefs than the actual “Polokwane Resolutions”) and that much of Mbeki’s support was likely to leak away out of greed and self-interest.

It’s that greed and self-interest that Chikane laments; he basically suggests that Polokwane was a sign that the old ANC of self-sacrifice and political wisdom had died, and that a new one of corruption and bumsucking had been born. On the whole, he has a partial point, although it is obvious that the pre-2007 ANC had an enormous amount of corruption and bumsucking in it. His line is that at Polokwane the ANC faced a test, which it failed, and thereafter the ANC was not worthy of Mbeki’s leadership.

Mbeki’s dismissal, on the other hand, could not possibly have come as a shock to him. Possibly it came as a shock to Chikane, although it is hard to see how a seasoned politician could have missed the signs. It was obvious that Mbeki had to be removed before Zuma could be charged, for only by charging Zuma could Mbeki saveSouth Africafrom a Zuma Presidency. On the other hand, once Mbeki was removed, the way was clear for ensuring the corruption of the judiciary and the police services which would save Zuma from prison and incidentally bringSouth Africaunder the Western imperialist and corporate thumb. The only surprise was that it took the Zuma gang nine months of purges, propaganda and thuggery before they were in a position to use Judge Nicholson’s criminal nonsense as a pretext against Mbeki. This simply makes Chikane’s narrative less plausible – in effect, he is simply pretending that Mbeki was not only a victim, but an unaware one. (Of course, there was nothing that Mbeki could do by then; he was simply a canned lion waiting for the bullet.)

There is one other interesting snippet. Chikane claims that Zuma was opposed to Mbeki’s removal, but was bullied into approving it by the rest of the National Executive Committee. This is implausible in the extreme. Zuma knew perfectly well that Mbeki had to go if he was to win power and the approval of his backers, and furthermore, he is a vindictive man, even if lacking in courage. It is much more probable that Chikane inserted this claim as insurance against any accusation that his book is merely a rant against Zuma.

By inserting such self-serving political messages, Chikane definitely weakens his position as a possible messenger of truth. This doesn’t mean that the book is worthless. But it falls short of what it could have been.


Game Plan.

April 5, 2012

When the Zuma regime was installed in power in December 2007, the problems faced bySouth Africawere obvious; we were going to be ruled by unscrupulous, inept, corrupt corporate stooges. This was bad, of course, but it was not conspicuously a worse case than the case of almost any other country in the world. However, it was fairly obvious that the multinational corporations and foreign intelligence agencies who had bankrolled the operation were not going to stop there. Presumably, they had done this for a reason which went beyond simply taking revenge on Thabo Mbeki for not being their man, and displaying their power to the continent ofAfrica. Some of what they wanted was implicit in the PR guff eructated at Polokwane, but was less obvious then than it is now, when it is becoming fairly clear what the project is all about.

It’s more ambitious than it seemed in 2008 – and it’s not at all pretty.

As you might expect, the project is an economic one. The global ruling class is not particularly interested in posturing populism, so the project has little to do with politics except insofar as this facilitates economic control. It has nothing to do with morality, except insofar as this cloaks economic control. However, economic control is not going to be direct, because direct economic control leads to political responsibility and to being blamed for what’s going on, which is anathema to the global ruling class (who are quite aware of how much they are hated and how guilty they are of the crimes for which they are hated, so they remain as invisible as possible).

When ESCOM arranged its scam, to pretend thatSouth Africawas running out of electricity and thus panic the government into permitting massive tariff increases, one obvious side effect was that new energy resources were supposed to come on-line. The plan was for two huge coal-fired power-plants to be combined with three huge nuclear power-plants. This was a costly and unnecessary project at the time, most particularly because the enormous prospects of renewable energy were ignored. However, inarguably,South Africawould, if it enjoyed economic growth in the manufacturing sector, need more energy to power its metal smelting plants and its fabricating factories. So this wasn’t so bad – if only there were a plan to promote manufacturing growth.

Manufacturing growth, however, is definitely not something which the global economic elite have planned forSouth Africa.China,IndiaandBrazilare quite bad enough without starting up another one inAfricato make difficulties for market-manipulation. South Africa, in the eyes of the global economic elite, needs to be locked into a situation where its populace becomes increasingly endebted to Western banks, while its economy is dependent on the export of primary products (farming, coal and metal ores) whose cost can be manipulated to ensure that the government also becomes increasingly endebted to Western banks, and that government policies serve Western economic interests along the familiar lines of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programmes of the International Monetary Fund.

This doesn’t mean that the electricity programme has been cancelled. The cost has approximately trebled, in part because the hastily-entered-into contracts for French nukes have been abandoned to make room for fresh contracts – ones which almost certainly benefit American interests much more – in part because there are now plans for even more nukes than before, and in part because the whole issue is essentially invisible to the public. The media likes it that way. This is not an arms deal, which was going to end up in serving the defense of the country; this is a deal to make money for Western interests for no obvious reason, since there is no sign that there is going to be rapid industrialization in South Africa, and therefore there is no sign that there is going to be any rapid growth in electricity demand. Unlike the situation in South Africa in the early 1980s, when we were left with mothballed power-plants because of unexpectedly slow economic growth arising from the political crisis, our future mothballed power-plants are part of the game plan; there is going to be slow economic growth, but it is entirely expected by the business community – although the Minister of Finance lies about this for political reasons.

Notwithstanding, however, we are currently told of our country’s ten-year plan to “upgrade infrastructure”. Upgrading infrastructure is the Holy Grail, supposedly; the reason why there is no investment in manufacturing or processing plant by business, is because there is no infrastructure. If you build it, they will come. But, ten years ago, the infrastructure was ten years younger, and had not been starved of funding for five years – and yet nothing was built. Go down to Coega if you still think that building infrastructure attracts private investment; it’s an immense car-park, vacant highway and empty-construction-site zone.

However, the “infrastructure upgrade” is gathering steam. New rolling-stock for the railways and accelerated maintenance for the tracks, new roads, new telecommunications, new harbours – it sounds good. A close inspection, however, reveals that virtually all this is going to be bought from foreigners, and a respectable amount of the new construction will be contracted out to foreigners. In other words, very few jobs will be created for South Africans in the process of all this manufacture and installation of infrastructural components. They could have been created – it’s a ten-year project, and some of that time could have been used to refurbish or build from scratch the state rolling-stock factories, communications systems and repair facilities which once graced the country under the apartheid regime. But it isn’t going to be. That isn’t the plan.

Indeed, no part of the plan suggests any development programme at all. No smelters are planned. No new mines are going to be dug with state assistance. There is no “beneficiation”. Basically, the whole thing involves digging more stuff out of the ground and shipping it faster to the coast. This is a large-scale variant of the Dube Logistics Hub near the new King Shaka Airport in Durban, which is a vast pork-barrel masquerading as an economic development zone; absolutely nothing can be done there except ship stuff out of the country by air, and almost nothing is worth shipping out of the country by air except salad greens and cut flowers, so basically the government is spending ten billion rand on replicating the Senegalese model of economic development, serving the interests of the leisure classes of Europe and the United States. Just to add to the injury, another gigantic similar park is planned nearOliverTamboAirportinJohannesburg.

The whole project is going to cost more than three million million rand. How much more is unclear. Three point two trillion? Three point four trillion? What allowance does this make for cost overruns, unforeseen expenditures and just plain graft? Necessarily, costs don’t come down under opaque, corrupt and panic-stricken conditions. Hence, at the very least, we are blowing our entire gross domestic product over the next ten years, on a project which is almost guaranteed to generate very little economic growth and create essentially no long-term employment.

Why in the world do we want to do that? Our budget deficit is already cruelly high (only a month after the 2012 Budget, Pravin Gordhan’s 2011 revenue and expenditure figures have already been exposed as lies). However, now, to this, is added a budget deficit of 10% per annum for the next ten years, which will secure a massive trade deficit (all that material being imported which we could be manufacturing) over the same period. Spending all that money means that there will be little left for job creation, and therefore, no prospect of accelerated economic growth. This means that in about six years or so,South Africa’s national debt, now standing at 42% of GDP or thereabouts, will rise above 100% of GDP. Lots of people are talking aboutGreece, mostly mendaciously and rhetorically, but we are indeed heading directly into a classic debt trap.

It is true that interest rates are now unprecedentedly low – but that only applies to the “right” countries, the ones who are benefiting from the system. Observers may have noted that, one by one, the ratings agencies are coming to the conclusion thatSouth Africais a bad credit risk. This is impeccably true, of course – a country run by crooked puppets is simply a black hole for investment – but then, this is also true of virtually every country in the world. However, the point is thatSouth Africa, currently still an insignificant debtor and therefore largely unaffected by such interest rates, is careering towards a situation where a slashed credit-rating will lead to a catastrophic rise in debt servicing costs. It’s hard to believe that this is an accident. We are being set up for a situation where a future government will proclaim, hand on heart, that we (presumably, not they) have spent ourselves into a crisis, and now, regrettably, some measure of “austerity” will be necessary.

What will this “austerity” amount to? InBritain, Chancellor Osborne is talking about privatizing the highways because it was such a success with the railways. We’ve already done that with the radioactive toll gantries which dot theGautenglandscape, every one built specifically to export capital to the foreigners who now own theGautengfreeways. ESCOM is ripe for privatisation. Once the three trillion has been spent, TRANSNET will also be ripe for privatisation. The Minister of Water is boiling and bubbling with eagerness to privatise South African water resources and supply systems. We can guess that a massive sell-off is in the pipeline (and no doubt the pipeline will also be sold off).

The National Health Insurance project appears to be a project to transfer wealth from public hospitals, where it is so unhappy, to private clinics, where it belongs. This is nowhere near organised yet, but it seems certain that the recent fanfares around “NHI roll-out” of “pilot projects” where nothing is to be done yet although billions are to be spent, represents a way of keeping NHI in the public eye. Presumably a few good hospitals will be cherry-picked as examples to legitimate NHI, so that when the time comes to privatise state hospitals there will be no outcry, except from the Creator, if the Creator isn’t in jail by then. (And it would not be at all surprising if the jails are privatised too.)

There is a tremendous clamour of condemnation against state education and the social grants system. Presumably this will intensify. Possibly, as inBritain, state education is going to be gradually privatised, and quite probably the social grants system will be either radically pruned or phased out. It will, supposedly, save money. Who needs schools? Who needs money? The rich do, of course, most particularly the foreign rich. The local rich can be bribed with a few peppercorns while the foreign capitalists rake in the rutabagas.

It all seems to be converging on the end of the decade, meaning the point at which Jacob Zuma ends his second term of office. At which time, we will have a hopelessly discredited, disrupted, unpopular and intellectually bankrupt ANC, confronted with a well-funded DA facing no criticism whatsoever. The most likely consequence would be that the ANC in 2019 will have collapsed far enough to be dependent on the DA to govern, and would thus be gradually absorbed by that party which has already swallowed up virtually all its hapless competitors. In that case, foreign neoliberals would control not only the economy, but the political process and all its prospects (since they would also control the public space). AndSouth Africawould be a failed state, incapable of feeding itself, incapable of manufacture, dependent on a constant drip-feed of foreign credit which ensured that it was permanently endebted to an extent which made it incapable of taking any independent initiative.

Sounds neat! What are we waiting for? Just do it!