The Yearning to be Saved.

September 21, 2012

In the media, increasingly, commentators are looking tentatively to Mangaung. Not with a great deal of enthusiasm, mark you, but they are saying, essentially, “Look, the ANC is having a conference, perhaps something good will come of it, perhaps they will get rid of Zuma and replace him with someone of whom we, or rather our employers and masters, approve”. Vaguely, the ruling class is aware that something is wrong, and they are looking to the electoral politics of the ANC to set it right. Since they have themselves played a big role in distorting, corrupting and ruining the electoral politics of the ANC, this is rather like the U.S. government expecting the gangsters they installed in Benghazi to defend the U.S. Embassy.

The salvation which is sought is to be rescued from Jacob Zuma. The prevalent error in this — not only among the ruling class, though they clearly suffer from it — is that Zuma is not a man alone. He, rather, is a part of a cabal, and that cabal in turn represents a broad corrupting tendency within the ANC which has always been there and which has simply been given complete authority to do as it pleases under Zuma. As frequently pointed out here (though in few other places) getting rid of Zuma is not the solution.

Nevertheless, since it is a part of the solution, it is worth asking whether Zuma can be got rid of at Mangaung.

Let’s see – COSATU has just had its Congress at which it decided to back Zuma. This is quite important, because before the Congress a lot of COSATU people opposed Zuma on excellent grounds. However, as the Congress came closer, more and more COSATU affiliates suddenly backed away from their previous statements and proclaimed their undying adoration for Zuma – Vavi and the Metal Workers Union being two prominent examples of this. That the head of the Metal Workers Union, Irwin Jim, decided to follow his union’s general leadership and back Zuma is no surprise – Jim Saves Skin, should be the appropriate headline.

This, however, makes for a very different ball-game; after all, the past month has seen a sequence of bungles and disasters for Zuma. Almost the only smart thing he has done has been to refuse to endorse the American occupation of Afghanistan (as the local media demands he do with their calls for him to condemn the killing of a crowd of South Africans working for the occupation in Kabul). You’d think he would be on the run. Instead he’s looking like the Comeback Kid.

Does COSATU alone make a difference? Perhaps. That makes two pillars of the Tripartite Alliance which are now backing him. As for the support inside the ANC, the ANC Youth League appears likely to oppose Zuma, but the Women’s League is spinelessly backing him and has done so for the last eight years, so these two cancel each other out. (Actually the ANCYL might be split rather than solid.) As for the provinces, Limpopo is certainly anti-Zuma and the Eastern Cape probably so, but KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are solidly for Zuma. If we consider that the North-West and Free State are split, the Western Cape and Northern Cape are weak, and Gauteng is almost certainly leaning towards Zuma, the conclusion appears to be that Zuma’s support is thin.

But while this is true after a fashion, it also means that the support for any challenger to Zuma is thin. One solid province, one or two partial provinces and some fragments of the other provinces, does not make a majority.

The real situation, however, is far worse than this. What would it actually mean, to get rid of Zuma? Zuma commands a great deal of support from the Communist Party, for Zuma’s generosity is the only possible route for Nzimande to gain the Presidency for which he is wholly unfit. Therefore, the SACP would have to be purged from leadership; Mantashe out of the top tier of the NEC, Cronin and Nzimande out of the Cabinet, and this would very possibly weaken Nzimande’s position within the Party. Meanwhile, all the people whom Zuma has appointed essentially because they are Zulus would have to go, since they are not only unfit for office but are potential threats to any successor to Zuma. This means that a goodly chunk of the Cabinet would have to go, and be replaced by people who were sworn supporters of whoever replaces Zuma.

Then again, the provinces which supported Zuma would have to be purged of their current leadership. Replacements for those leaders would have to be found. Indeed, Zuma supporters in other provinces might well have to be purged, partly because so many of them are such deadbeats that they are unstable in their positions without Zuma – would John Block be able to hang in there without the backing of Zuma, for instance? What about the squabbling Xhosa and Coloured factions in the Western Cape? Where does the powerful Alexandra Mafia in Gauteng stand, if Zuma goes – even though many of them have opposed him in the past?

The simple fact is that if Zuma goes, at best, there will be a huge political bloodbath at least as destructive as the one which led up to Mbeki’s removal from office – and that provoked the biggest split in the ANC’s history. It would, furthermore, be tempting for almost everyone to exploit such a bloodbath to settle scores with old enemies. So, not only would a large number of people – not all of them clearly-identified ANC supporters – face the loss of their positions, but the ensuing conflict could lead to the ANC tearing itself apart.

It is thus hardly surprising that people are backing away from this. It is simply not clear that Zuma can be successfully challenged at Mangaung. It is, however, quite clear that a successful challenge, however good it might be in the long run for the country and even for the ANC, would be a short-term disaster for most of the ANC’s current leadership. So people face the certainty of a horribly rough ride, for if they lose, Zuma would certainly use his totalitarian powers to crush all those who challenged him at Mangaung, regardless of his destructive that would be – exactly as he behaved after Polokwane.

So this is surely why people are backing away from challenging Zuma. It is all very well to mouth off about how awful Zuma is. Notice that outside the ANC Youth League, not a single one of the people around Zuma has dared to risk his or her career over the matter. This is hardly surprising – the whole Zuma campaign has focussed on luring time-servers to their side and then promoting time-serving attitudes. Time-servers are not people likely to make a revolution. They are the kind of people who flourished under Hussein and Assad, the keystones of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and Syria, and who flourish today under the American puppet regimes in the Middle East.

One can understand this. Unfortunately, to understand is not to forgive. Now that they can plainly see the disaster they have wrought, the Pirates of Polokwane had just enough capacity to briefly appeal to the public gallery that they were not really responsible. Zwelenzima Vavi whimpered that he was just following along on peer pressure when he and the rest of COSATU backed Zuma, like a Dachau guard proclaiming that he was just doing what he was told to do.

But they don’t have the guts to set the situation straight. We cannot expect anything from Mangaung. We cannot expect a broken ANC to somehow leap together and fasten its pieces into a coherent whole with imaginary political glue. All that we can do is try to band together and generate an alternative to the whole Tripartite Alliance – otherwise, we must face the disaster which five more years of Zuma, and the ensuing calamity of SACP dominance, will bring us.

Zuma and the Elite.

September 10, 2012

One of the problems faced by Jacob Zuma in his quest for re-election as President of the ANC in December 2012 is that he no longer commands the kind of fawning press support which he received when he was campaigning against Thabo Mbeki, when he was trying to elude prosecution for his crimes, and when he was installing his cabal of shysters and corporate whores in government in the first two years of his government.

Is this an enormous problem for Zuma? Certainly it is inconvenient that the media which reflects or controls the opinions of many of the wealthiest and most powerful South Africans is no longer particularly supportive of him. On the other hand, the people who actually vote for Zuma are extremely distrustful of the press — as shown by the outrageous lengths to which his toadies went in pretending that the press was hostile to him at the time when they were not. (Meanwhile it is interesting that the luckless Jimmy Manyi has been hoofed out of the job of Zuma’s chief press spokesperson because the press doesn’t like him; obviously, behind the scenes, Zuma thinks that a little beaming and goose grease will make everything all right again.)

Evidently, while Zuma or the members of the cabal around him want the media to be supportive, this isn’t going to have much influence over the outcome of the elections at the National Conference. And, therefore, at rock bottom, if the elite who control the media withdraw their support from Zuma, this doesn’t mean that Zuma is not going to continue running the country. Insofar as elite support helped Zuma to take power, this means that they have created something over which they do not have the kind of control they would have desired.

This lack of control, of course, is the chief reason why they want Zuma removed from office and replaced by a more completely compliant dogsbody — so the whole episode appears to be a kind of postmodern self-referential game, except that it is a game where the losers are all the rest of us excluded from the elite and the immediate beneficiaries in Zuma’s circle.

The treatment of Zuma by the press is itself interesting. It is certainly a huge contrast from his treatment by the SABC, which sticks his droning, halting voice on every news broadcast and proclaims the profundity of his every empty utterance at every inconsequential gathering. (This probably has the effect of exasperating the public far more than persuading them of anything; it is like a bad advertisement which won’t go away because the advertisers have paid so much for it.)

There is a great deal of press criticism of the ANC. This criticism focusses particularly on corruption, a term which means essentially nothing. That is, when a state institution fails an audit this is defined as corruption even though no corruption has been demonstrated anywhere; when a private institution gets a state contract and that institution does not have the right connections with the press, this is defined as corruption. When no corruption has been demonstrated, or when it has been rooted out, this is a sign that it has been cleverly hidden, as in the 1997 arms purchase.

What is actually happening here is that the actual, relatively minor (but not insignificant) indications of corruption in the state are being used to proclaim that the state itself is corrupt. This seems to incorporate two agendas. One is the neoliberal agenda, that the state cannot be trusted. If the state is corrupt then obviously the state cannot regulate the business community (a.k.a. the white elite) and therefore proving the state to be corrupt is a good thing. (Also if the state is corrupt then any redistributional measure from rich to poor is ipso facto corrupt and therefore should be discontinued.) The other is the racist agenda, that black people cannot be trusted to run any establishment without white supervision and therefore that the state is defective because black people have taken over. This is the line pushed most conspicuously by Moeletsi Mbeki (because if a white person said such a thing, its self-serving dishonesty would be too conspicuous). A minor by-product of this latter agenda is that it is easy to persuade a black person that these allegations of corruption are entirely contrivances of white racism and therefore should be disregarded — which is handy for anyone who happens to be black and corrupt.

Such criticism of the ANC is not new — although it is more justified under Zuma’s administration than it has ever been. It is, however, wholly opportunistic and serves to distract attention from much more substantial problems. Meanwhile, such criticism ought to cut sharply at the Corruptor-in-Chief, since Zuma, it is well known, is the only President in South African history to face corruption charges, and moreover, had the charges dropped under shady circumstances rather than exonerating himself in a court of law. So, one would think, most of the mud flung at the ANC ought to adhere to Zuma more than to anyone else.

And yet the mud is always flung in a fashion particularly intended to pass Zuma by. Is there corruption in the process of constructing unnecessary power-plants? Look, Mbeki was responsible for an earlier tender for power-plants, and that must have been corrupt because Mbeki, and Zuma cancelled it — so he must be clean! Is there corruption in the process of providing textbooks? That must be the fault of the provincial government which Zuma is trying to smear, or of the education minister who was Zuma’s instrument in the smear, or of anyone but Zuma himself! Look, Zuma is going to Talk to the People (in a heavily-guarded venue with carefully-vetted audience)! He cares! Our Sovereign Lord the King obviously does not know what his Bad Barons are doing!

Attacks on Zuma are far more about his personal life; his sex life, or his business interests (but don’t mention Schabir Shaik, please). The noisiest attack on Zuma, and the one most related to his actual role in government, is the “Zumaville” campaign to denounce the development of three disadvantaged areas, because one of these, coincidentally, by happenstance, chances to be next door to Zuma’s fortified compound in Nkandla. This is, of course, a worthy campaign. It is outrageous both that the President should be allowed to build himself a gigantic luxury bunker in a secluded area — a kind of Berchtesgarten without the mountains — at the taxpayer’s expense, and worse still that he should be accused of organising that the neighbouring community becomes a peri-urban area at the taxpayer’s expense, arguably so that Zuma and his hangers-on don’t have to take the 4×4 all the way to Pietermaritzburg to do their shopping. (Not that the idea of ploughing big bucks into a blank spot on the map doesn’t have its advantages from a Keynesian economic perspective.)

But even this is interesting. The Minister of Local Government was hounded out of office for getting state cash for a tarmac road to his country mansion. Zuma has built both the road and the mansion at state expense and now plans to do still more at still greater public cost — yet nobody is calling for his resignation. It’s almost as if the hounds of the press are permitted to dash in Zuma’s direction, and bark a bit, but must under no circumstances bite. Whoever is holding them on the leash is in firm control.

Another excellent example is the way in which the impending National Conference is treated by the press. If Zuma were really as bad as his critics in the press sometimes suggest (and in reality he is far worse than that) then you would expect the press to support Zuma’s competitors. That is what they did in the run-up to Polokwane, after all. But on the “road to Mangaung”, as the press invariably put it (Mangaung being nearly at the centre of the country, almost all roads lead to it) the press is artfully refraining from taking sides. Instead, the contest is treated as one which is interesting, but not significant — very like a sports match. We are told, also, about who is speaking out against Zuma, or who is putting themselves forward for nomination as alternatives to Zuma’s nominees, but we are not told what their policies would be, or why they should be so deeply concerned to replace Zuma. The media wants us to be concerned about the leadership of the country — and to some extent, perhaps wants Zuma out — but goes to great lengths to refrain from saying why.

What the press is concerned with, therefore, is to prevent the public from becoming conscious or active. (In this, it is very like the press elsewhere in the world — in the United States, for examples, the Republican and Democratic Parties are united in their desire that the voters should pull the lever or push the button on the voting machines without ever wondering what they are actually voting for.) What is wanted, instead, is vague discontent, focused for preference upon various celebrity politicians who can be conveniently scapegoated by the press and thus replaced by other celebrity politicians who can again become the focus of future vague discontent. So long as the discontent does not become focussed, and particularly does not become concerned either with installing a politician not vetted by the people behind the press, or with recognising that the people behind the politicians are also the people behind the press, the ruling class in South Africa can go on fooling the public indefinitely.

It is a moot point whether this is actually possible. The bulk of the populace knows fairly well that conditions are bad and getting worse. They know what issues need to be addressed, and they know that nobody is actually addressing them. Therefore, they know that the politicians presented as their saviours are not their saviours; if they believed all that rubbish in 2007 they certainly don’t believe it now, and the ones who challenged the rubbish in 2007 are now well-equipped to say “We told you so”. By now, too, the sheer extent of socio-political inequality and the ever more obvious way in which big business dictates the public political agenda without the slightest pretense of consulting anyone except their employees in “civil society” organisations is upsetting just about everybody. Many people don’t understand what’s going on, but nearly everybody knows that the system is rigged against them and has a shrewd suspicion that someone is hiding behind that curtain.

And so it goes on; the rulers want to exploit the situation for their own benefit, while the rest of us hope somehow to pick up a few fragments of advantage from the disaster that is brewing, but don’t know how to do it.


Massacre as Mirror: South Africa Reflected In Marikana.

September 7, 2012

For those South Africans who do not simply want to exploit the Marikana massacre for immediate and petty political goals, it’s advisable to try to understand what happened.

This desire, however, is tempered by a terrible sense of powerlessness. This wasn’t supposed to happen. The rich right-wing whites who shelter their privileges behind the 1996 Constitution assure us that the Constitution prevents this from happening. We voted for the ANC so that this would never happen again. Those who were fooled into supporting Jacob Zuma never dreamed that his presidential candidacy would lead to workers being gunned down by police officers under ANC orders. Now that the impossible has happened, what is to be done? When 21 people were massacred at Langa outside Uitenhage on the 21st of March 1985, we knew that we had to work harder to support the Charterist cause and thus struggle against the apartheid regime. But no such options are available as of now.

The massacre happened at the Lonmin platinum mine at Marikana, to a group of striking mine workers who supported the Associated Mine and Construction Union, AMCU. Mining and construction is an odd combination; it makes sense because the Charterist union in the field, the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), organised itself a subsidiary role providing labour to build the 2010 World Cup stadiums. So, AMCU appears a weapon aimed at the NUM. Indeed, it has marching songs praising the murder of NUM members.

It is interesting that AMCU scarcely exists, organisationally — it has no fixed offices and is not a registered union. However, it has received very favourable coverage in South African mining industry journals, and also in the Mail and Guardian newspaper. Such right-wing journals do not normally give favourable coverage to trade unions of any kind. Is there something behind the scenes?

AMCU began organising at Marikana in early 2012. As elsewhere, it accomplished essentially nothing for the workers. However, rather suddenly in July-August, AMCU became intensely significant; suddenly, its members, armed with sharpened reinforcing-rods and machetes, began violently enforcing an illegal strike (the union was not recognised by Lonmin or anyone else involved) in pursuit of a preposterous 200% wage increase. It is interesting that Lonmin, which has historically been a violently anti-union mining company even by South African standards, took no action against the workers involved in this strike, even when they began killing NUM members and Lonmin security guards.

Marikana is a platinum mine. Platinum mining is a highly profitable activity; however, with the fall in the global price of platinum, platinum mining companies in South Africa, all of which are multinationals, have been looking for ways to cut costs. One cost-cutting measure has been to restrict investment; another has been to close down the least productive mines. Another alternative, of course, is to restrain wages.

In South Africa, wages are already low, because of the country’s stratospheric unemployment. To counteract this, unionised workers enjoy some protection under the Labour Relations Act and the Basic Conditions of Employment Act. However, mine workers are hard to protect, because mines tend (now as ever) to hire workers from far away, on short-term contracts, easily fired and hard to unionise. As a result, organising unions in the mining sector is hard work — as compared with organising unions in the public sector. Therefore, the NUM has become the poor relation of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, unlike more successful unions like the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union.

It is possible to organise effectively under tough conditions — witness the National Union of Metal Workers, whose leader Irwin Jim is one of the few outspokenly radical unionists within COSATU. However, people like Jim are frowned on by the ANC. If you want to get along under ANC President Zuma, you have to go along with business, and the NUM has apparently agreed not to upset the mining corporations who are Zuma’s most important financial backers in South Africa. This makes them vulnerable to accusations of being chummy with the owners. Which makes it relatively easy for AMCU to get a foothold, especially among inexperienced, isolated workers from far away.

Why should Lonmin want AMCU to have a foothold? Two unions are not better than one; two unions are infinitely worse than one, because you can play them off against each other. Divide and rule has always been the colonialist way. In South Africa the regime encourages strife between the traditional and the modern — with the maRashea gang whom the police used against the ANC on the Witwatersrand in the 1950s, or the “Fathers” whom the police used against rebellious school students of Soweto in the 1970s, or the “Witdoeke” whom the police used against the United Democratic Front in the Western and Eastern Cape in the 1980s. There was also a trade union — UWUSA, set up by the Security Police and the Inkatha movement in 1986 as a tool intended to break up COSATU. The goal of AMCU seems very much like that of UWUSA — to cripple or undermine a trade union which big business does not like. (South African big business hates virtually all trade unions with a passion.)

However, we still have to ask why, on the 16th of August, the South African Police Service’s Pretoria Public Order Policing Unit fired into a crowd of AMCU members causing the biggest single police massacre since the 1970s.

It’s clear that Lonmin wouldn’t want this to happen, if only because the consequences were completely unpredictable. It’s also very unlikely that the NUM wanted it to happen, if only because the consequences might easily have been an AMCU pogrom against NUM members. (The NUM has essentially zero influence over the SAPS — by their account, they couldn’t even prevent Lonmin from bailing out the AMCU people whom the police had earlier arrested.)

The obvious figure with the power to organise such a thing would be the Police Minister, Nathi Mthethwa, or President Zuma himself. However, the public is extraordinarily, and completely understandably, sensitive about police massacres. When the police were filmed murdering a protest leader named Andreas Tatane in Ficksburg in 2011, the footage went viral within hours, the public were up in arms, and the policemen on the videos are today facing murder charges. The whole militarised, “shoot to kill”  police system which Mthethwa and Zuma had introduced (copying the apartheid-era rank structure and some of the brutal doctrines which had been abandoned under the Mandela/Mbeki governments) was briefly called into question. It was, in short, obvious that a police massacre would be a public relations catastrophe.

But a public relations catastrophe is something Zuma definitely doesn’t want. He’s up for re-election at the Mangaung ANC Conference this coming December. Several provinces, as well as the influential ANC Youth League, are calling for his replacement. A massacre like this would only confirm the widespread widespread hostility to Zuma among many ANC rank and file members. It could possibly have been made less harmful if Zuma had been prepared for it — if he had steamed into Marikana with a huge political bandwagon, rounded up the offending cops and sent them packing, thrown his weight behind AMCU (no doubt with a quiet backhander to the NUM) and generally appeared politically in control. Instead he sneaked into town late, with a huge police escort, gave a vapid press conference and then scuttled away — leaving it to his archnemesis Julius Malema to exploit Zuma’s cowardly performance. It’s obvious he was wholly unprepared for what happened — even though his policies made it almost inevitable.

But didn’t the cops know that they were going to get into trouble if they gunned down a bunch of mineworkers? No doubt they did, but they were exasperated. It’s very difficult to bring a highly motivated and armed group under control; such highly skilled policing hardly exists under Mthethwa’s ministerial leadership, especially under a series of Police Commissioners dismissed for corruption. (Incidentally, the current Minister of Minerals, Susan Shabangu, used to be Deputy Minister of Police, and was famous for her slogan “Shoot the bastards!”.)

It seems that the cops wanted to disarm the strikers — which was clearly a good idea. Unfortunately, two days earlier the strikers had murdered two police officers, stolen their weapons and torched their vehicle. Hence, the cops wanted to prove their toughness, while AMCU saw the cops as easy targets. Somehow, the cops had to persuade the strikers that very bad things would happen to them if they didn’t surrender — but AMCU persuaded the strikers that the cops were on the NUM’s side, and therefore surrendering their weapons would be equivalent to surrendering to the NUM. Meanwhile, they were told, the cops wouldn’t dare shoot. And if they did, their bullets would turn to water. (Did the strikers really believe that last bit? Who knows? They were desperate.)

So the cops sealed off the hilltop where the strikers assembled, canalised them into their march towards the informal settlement where many of them were staying — and this meant that the strikers had to pass through the cops to get home. Most likely the cops thought that stun grenades, water cannons and rubber pellets fired from shotguns (smaller than the old-style baton rounds, but still capable of killing Tatane when fired at point-blank range) would disperse them. There were several TV crews and a host of journalists there to watch the police defeat the strikers — it’s inconceivable that a police unit would allow itself to be filmed premeditatedly murdering people.

But it was; the strikers didn’t run, they advanced with all their weapons to within striking range, at which point the police opened fire with maximum force — not just shotguns, but R-5s, the short-barrel version of the Israeli Galil automatic rifle. So, completely unnecessarily, 34 people died, and within hours, everybody in South Africa was watching the bloodbath.

And now, what to do? Can we condemn AMCU? What’s the point? The workers didn’t know that their leaders were stooges — they still wouldn’t believe it if you told them. Can we condemn NUM? None of this was their fault — the worst you can say is that they didn’t dominate the mine enough.

Better, perhaps, condemn Lonmin, for their utterly irresponsible stoking of violence in pursuit of profit which led directly to the massacre. However, that’s all going to be covered up, as usually happens in South African “judicial enquiries”. You can be sure that Lonmin’s management (who, as COSATU leader Tony Ehrenreich pointed out, earn approximately 240 times as much as the strikers do) are never going to appear in any South African dock. As usual, the big crooks will get away.

Can we condemn the police? Of course. But better to condemn the police management who allowed the training and equipping of the POP unit in the country’s capital Pretoria to degenerate into inept, unskilled thuggery. Better to condemn the politicians who have assured the police that blazing guns represent best practice — and that’s not only the ANC politicians, but also the opposition DA who continually call for the Army to be used against criminals.

Most of all, we should condemn the top brass of the ANC, who have been in cahoots with the mining industry for decades. They recently came up with a “National Plan” under which ten percent of GDP will be devoted, for a decade, to enabling the mining industry to ship South Africa’s natural resources overseas. But there’s absolutely nothing we can do to stop them. The most we can hope for is that someone slightly less bad than Zuma might replace him at Mangaung next December. Apart from that, the looting of the country’s resources and the steady decline in worker rights and social wages will go on.

And so, very probably, will the shooting.