Because the ANC is in such a disastrous situation, it is tempting to say that they should be voted out of power and replaced by someone capable of addressing South Africa’s problems. There is, however, a problem with this. The opposition party, the one backed by big business, is utterly unfit to rule.
How can this be true? The newspapers tell us that the Democratic Alliance are the only party capable of ruling South Africa. Of course, the newspapers told us the same thing about their parent, the National Party. We are told whatever the ruling class wishes us to believe. This does not mean that it is true. We are told that Cape Town and the Western Cape, which are ruled by the Democratic Alliance, are better than anywhere else in South Africa. The fact that both are cesspools of corruption and mismanagement is studiously ignored; the splendid facades of both city and province are what we are presented, even though these facades were built up by the Western Cape’s parasite-like feeding on the labour and minerals of the rest of the country. The facades did not vanish during the brief periods when the ANC controlled both city and province. No, the facade does not matter much. And besides, what lies behind the facade?
Crime, of course. Cape Town is the gangsters’ capital of South Africa. In the 1990s it was dominated by the Firm, an enormous drug-selling syndicate. Of course, there are plenty of other lucrative criminal trades — protection racketeers, taxi warriors, human traffickers, and the big-time international crooks like Mark Thatcher and Vito Palazzolo who lived under the protection of Cape Town’s elites for decades. Ultimately, the Firm disintegrated, as always happens, under the stress of competition, and calamitous anarchy reigned.
Meanwhile, of course, poverty is universal, though shielded by the shiny plutocratic surface of Cape Town’s suburbs. This explains the misery and occasional small-scale uprisings in the poorest areas — inhabited by africans pathetically seeking nonexistent employment in the bright lights and lies of the white city, as they have always done. But in the half-poor coloured areas, the growing poverty is combined with fear of africans flooding into the city, and envy of the stellar lifestyle of the whites across the railway tracks.
What is needed, of course, is a dose of fantasy. The children of the coloured areas are constantly told that they can expect nothing from the africans, and that the whites, regrettably, cannot help them. They must take care of themselves, without money or self-respect. Inevitably, that means flight from reality, into either the instant, transient orgasms of crack or tik, or the insubstantial allegiances of the Americans or the Sexy Boys. Children playing playground power-games, but equipped not with the spitballs of the playground, nor with the switchblades and sharpened bicycle spokes of yesteryear, but with Glocks and Z88s. And of course they kill each other, and bystanders, and people who show them insufficient respect. Why not? What have they to lose?
And the most successful killers, and the most brutal manipulators, grow up and become grown-up gangsters, or killers for the grown-up gangsters. (The grown-up gangsters do not spray bullets around their neighbourhoods, unless they are arranging a drive-by shooting for someone whose bodyguards are too diligent and numerous. Normally, though, a grown-up gang killing is neat and simple; take the target somewhere quiet with hands tied, and pump a couple of rounds into the head at close range. No waste, and everybody knows who did it, and why. No accident it is called “execution-style”; actually, it is execution.
So how to stop this? Notice that the random killings are almost completely separate from the druglords; they are products of two different categories of gangs. Notice, also, that the youth gangs existed long before crack or tik or heroin. You’re not going to suppress Old Brown Sherry with any ease or efficiency. In any case, far too many Capetonians take drugs to make a war on drugs worthwhile. And if the drugs were gone, there would still be the protection rackets and the whoremongers and the culture of swagger and cringe. So what is to be done?
The DA has the answer. Send in the army, blazing away with automatic rifles from armoured cars. Problem solved!
In response to this extraordinarily stupid demand, Police Minister Mthethwa, who is one of the architects of the remilitarisation of the police service and must take much of the blame for the explosion of police brutality and unprofessional conduct in the service over the last few years, announces that it is not suitable to send troops into the townships. And the DA denounces him for being soft on crime.
Although this might seem hopelessly unnecessary, it is probably worth pointing out why the DA’s demand is indeed stupid — apart from the points made above. It is worth pointing out because the press has been flooded with DA proclamations, letters and other utterances about the glories of sending in the army, and with their customary integrity and lust for truth, the editors have, by and large, gone along with this. There have been a few intelligent comments — but painfully few, and of course none from the punditocracy, which tells you all you need to know about their links with the plutocratic forces which also back the DA.
It’s fairly simple. If you want to stop criminals from committing crimes, you need to know who they are. The army do not know this. In fact, nor do the police, since virtually no police or municipal police resources are devoted to the task of fighting gangs. (There is a six-person municipal police unit ostensibly pursuing this task — but in fact they are engaged in setting up fake drug deals in order to harass pot-smokers and the odd street dealer. As usual, the municipal police are engaged in class warfare — like their ongoing campaigns against streetwalkers and homeless people — disguised as crimefighting.) So, the army would be operating in ignorance — and meanwhile the police would be eager to discredit their efforts and would probably feed information to the gangsters, while the gangsters would see the arrival of the army as the seal of approval on their activities.
The army, however, is forbidden to kill South Africans, or even arrest them except under very special circumstances. In other words, they could parade around Bishop Lavis, but they couldn’t actually do anything unless a state of emergency were declared. When the army is employed to help the police, it is in tasks such as throwing cordons and staffing roadblocks — activities which are not very helpful in fighting against gangsters who are not conspicuously going anywhere and are indistinguishable from everyone else in the township. Therefore, the presence of the army would make, essentially, zero difference to the gangsters. Unless a soldier were taunted into opening fire. Automatic rifle bullets go in one end of a township and out the other, because of flimsy construction, so the chances of killing someone would be excellent.
There are few or no police to help in the struggle against gangsterism — and the call for the army is a call for a deployment instead of police, not to supplement the police. However, soldiers are not trained to gather evidence, and therefore anyone arrested would be out on the street again speedily, probably suing the Ministry of Defence and laughing heartily at the situation. It seems probable that the idea is to post a soldier on every corner, looking around to prevent gangsters from killing each other. In a grid of ten streets, however, there are a hundred street corners, and it’s painfully easy to drag someone into an alleyway or backyard. Therefore, even if you deployed a company of soldiers in every suburb (and they’d have to be replaced every few hours, so it would amount to a battalion in every suburb) you couldn’t monitor everything all the time. There aren’t enough troops to perform this minor task. And what would a single soldier do if a mob of a dozen thugs swarmed over a little old lady? Blaze away on automatic? Thank you, no! Gangsters are heavily armed and highly motivated for their tasks, and the actual tasks of gangsters are not conducted out in the open. Five years of state of emergency and military occupation failed to erase the UDF, and the UDF had far less deep roots in the community than the gangs do.
It thus doesn’t take genius to see that this is a stupid call. One must either assume that the leadership of the DA, and their electorate, are all idiots and therefore unfit to hold office (although if all the whites and coloureds in Cape Town are idiots, then idiot politicians are probably excellent representatives for them) or one must assume that something else is going on. The most likely thing going on is a process of cementing the voting bloc.
The DA’s support-base in the Western Cape is historically white and coloured, with a smattering of africans. Urban whites vote DA; more rural and reactionary ones vote Freedom Front Plus, poor souls. A lot of coloureds have shifted over from ANC to DA, propelled by the hostility of the Zumatic africans and by the DA propaganda which says that african politicians don’t care about coloureds. They need to be kept there by stoking up paranoia about this.
When the coloureds are responding to their actual neglect by the ruling class by intensifying their criminal activity, it is a clever bit of DA judo to refuse to do anything about this crime (thus saving money, freeing resources to protect their affluent backers from crime, and avoiding making promises which they might break. Instead they blame it on the ANC by pretending that there is a simple solution which the ANC is refusing to implement. It is nonsense, but it is what the coloureds have been telling themselves because it is consoling to blame someone else, and what the DA whites have been confirming, because it is politically convenient to blame the africans — especially in a time when inter-community tension is unprecedentedly high, and therefore easy to exploit.
So that’s the story. The DA has persuaded its support base, through repetition, that the solution to a policing and intelligence problem is out of their hands. Therefore, they do not need to solve this problem. They are doing this in order to make the dangerous tensions between coloureds and africans in the Western Cape more extreme, because this chases the coloureds further into their camp. Furthermore, this strengthens the fascistic attitudes in the white community, who can identify with ideas that brutal violence is needed to subdue the restless natives on the other side of the railway line, and can relive their fantasies of military violence from the days of apartheid. It also correlates well with the militaristic fantasies encouraged by the American extremist right, under whose shade the poisonous mushroom of the DA has been flourishing for two decades.
This is very much what the Zuma wing of the ANC is up to with its fantasies of police violence and its deliberate encouragement of economic inequality, but the ANC at least does not actively promote racial intolerance at the very highest levels and does at least take some responsibility for its actions. The DA, by its behaviour here, shows that it as an organisation is prepared to go far further down the road of corruption, mismanagement and thuggery, in principle and policy, than the ANC has yet demonstrated. Therefore it should never be allowed to take office. Instead, presumably, we should wait until the ANC declines to the level of the current DA, and see what happens then.