Occasionally (i.e. daily), President Zuma says something stupid. Not so long ago he was banging on about how whites feed their dogs, take them on walks and give them medical attention — and that there was a serious problem with the fact that some blacks were being infiltrated with this unblack practice. This naturally aroused a storm of abuse, partly from blacks who like their dogs.
Nobody seemed to notice that Zuma’s observations had illustrious ancestors. It was that notable political leader and commentator Adolf Hitler who identified dog-loving as a core trait of political acceptability. (He liked German Shepherds, being something of a German shepherd himself.) Intriguingly, Hitler felt that Jews were incapable of loving treatment of dogs; only a German could be a true doglover (or be loved in return). So, according to Zuma, black South Africans are just like Jews, whereas white South Africans are more like Germans. Glad we’ve got that sorted out.
But what is going on here? Why say something so stupid? Well, let’s shift ahead a couple of weeks and notice that President Zuma recently arrived in Luanda (red carpet, brass band, agreeable banquets, wonderful to get away from the responsibilities of wrecking the economy and promoting social disharmony). It turns out that he is deeply concerned about the situation in Africa, where — to his immense surprise — some military personnel are not happy with the corrupt leadership in their countries, and, yes, are even promoting coups against it! (This is good when it is in Ivory Coast or Sudan, of course, but not when it is countries whose governments are wholly-owned subsidiaries of imperialism, such as Central Africa or Mali.) He says that something must be done about this. Perhaps it should be referred to the African Union (another wholly-owned subsidiary of imperialism)?
Now, it is tempting to suspect that anyone who is so stupid as to deliver such flatulent analysis as if it were original thought, and so lacking in any kind of spinal column as to think that the AU is worthy of any attention, is really really stoopid. Indeed, it seems that Prince Mashele, a commentator who knows stupidity well from the inside, has been saying stuff to that effect. Evidently there must be some kind of educational requirement for politicians, thus ensuring that the working class are excluded from participation (no doubt Mashele’s paymasters, who are ruling class, would endorse that).
But hang on. Let’s consider, for a moment, the problems which Zuma faces (or, to be fair, the problems which his political cabal and their backers face). He has recently, without any consultation, deployed South African troops to Central Africa, where they are almost entirely without logistical support (we don’t have the transport capacity to provide proper supplies, and we certainly couldn’t pull them out if the situation deteriorates) where they are supposedly defending the Central African government against a well-justified military rebellion which has taken over much of the country. Why in the world did he do that? Obviously not because he is trying to impress Africa with the might of South Africa’s military (which Zuma has allowed to virtually collapse). Very probably he did it because France asked him to, since they felt that the war in Mali would be better for President Hollande’s image (it could be spun as an anti-Muslim war, which plays well in Paris, and furthermore it was pulling American chestnuts out of an American-lit fire).
In other words, Zuma cannot openly challenge rebellions against governments in Africa because his paymasters might need him to suppress the rebellions. Besides, since he himself is an immensely unpopular leader overseeing a destructive set of policies in a despotic fashion, he might be courting disaster to encourage people to rebel against such behaviour. On the other hand, he cannot openly be seen to side with Western imperialism if he is to retain any vestige of support from an ANC voter base which is justly and increasingly suspicious of such imperialism. Furthermore, here he is in Luanda, a country ruled by a despotic, predatory elite — granted, not as badly-ruled as South Africa is by Zuma, but still there are uncomfortable parallels which might be drawn. What is needed is a distraction from all the issues.
In the absence of any exciting distraction, what is needed is to “sing the horse to sleep”. Say stuff which is so banal, so anodyne, so dull, so without any conceivable application or merit, that the public will flee from the whole issue and collapse in a little weary heap of vacuity. The public, bored by the inanity of Zuma’s pronouncements, will turn away from the whole issue — and therefore, will not criticise Zuma for deploying troops under orders from the French on a mission which does not benefit South Africa.
This seems to be why Zuma and his minions are so willing to say the same thing over and over in the most trivial and tedious fashion. They tell us that they are working to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality. They say that every month. Eventually, one wishes one will never hear those words, ever, again. Success! For once people are prevented from thinking about such things, they will then not be able to take action on the most important socio-economic issues with which South Africa is confronted.
It would seem to be the same on almost all fronts. If one believes that Zuma is stupid, then one will be inclined not to feel that he is dangerous. Also, of course, if one has a predeliction for believing that Zuma ought to be stupid, then Zuma’s statements are almost reassuring. Yes, he’s dumb! Of course! How could I have thought otherwise? Let’s all go down to have a braai and a beer, and then retire to our attic chambers to surf for BBC porn and post comments on Politicsweb!
Heh, indeed. The point about this assessment is that, if it’s accurate — and there seems to be little alternative to this — then it means that most of Zuma’s public activities are geared, not towards attracting the supportive attention of his own constituency, nor towards expanding that constituency by attracting fresh endorsements from elsewhere, but instead towards disarming the hostility of the people who naturally don’t like him. In other words, Zuma (presumably under instructions from the wealthy white business community who fund him) is trying to ensure that his enemies do not interfere with what he is doing — and since what he is doing is serving the interests of the wealthy white business community, this makes sense.
It makes sense for Zuma as a tool of the ruling class. It does not make sense for Zuma as a leader of the ANC. Virtually nothing that he has done or said in the last year has corresponded with the real needs of the ANC. It is true that repeating, over and over, that his government intends to create employment might seem to pursue the same agenda which was nominally pursued by the Mandela-Mbeki ANC, but then that regime actually did some things to create employment — even if far, far less than they should have. Zuma is creating unemployment, and therefore his repetitive declarations simply serve to kill hope. Therefore people turn away from the ANC — at most, Zuma may anticipate that they may lose all faith that anything can be done, but certainly there is no prospect of the ANC building any support-base on a foundation of promises which are continually and ostentatiously broken.
For the rest of it, Zuma’s utterances must be extraordinarily embarrassing for any ANC member trying to justify the President’s remarks to an unsympathetic audience. It is one thing to uncritically hail nonsense and lies in a newspaper which will not tolerate an alternative perspective in its op-ed pages and where the letters pages are flooded with whites whining about a black government in any event, so that legitimate criticisms of Zuma and his friends are submerged in racist nonsense and are hard to distinguish from it. It is quite another to defend Zuma against people who both know what the ANC once stood for and understand what is happening at the moment. Zuma can blather all he wants to, and can fool the people who want to be fooled, but the majority of the population are much too well-informed not to see approximately what is going on, even though they may not always fully make sense of events.
What this means is that Zuma is simultaneously providing the ruling class with the ANC’s muscle, and causing that muscle to degenerate. Of course the behaviour of Mantashe and his clones at provincial level is causing the rank and file to wander away in disgust — how could it be otherwise, when Mantashe’s 700 000 imaginary ANC members are used to overrule the actual living human beings in the branches? There will be some who will stay for want of an alternative, and others who will stay in hope of preferment (probably vain) but a large number who are certainly departing. They will pass their disgust on to the voters. The ANC’s support-base, inevitably, is going to fray much more seriously by 2014. The irony is that all this behaviour is being portrayed in the media as if it were a campaign for re-election, whereas it is actually a campaign bent on wrecking the ANC’s role in South African society.
In short, Zuma’s apparent war on democracy and on anti-colonialism translates into a war on the ANC itself. Since nearly nobody shows any sign of wishing to step into the ANC’s shoes, this means that it is also a war on the idea that there should be an alternative in electoral politics.
Ultimately we shall be reduced to cultural, racial and tribalist politics, of the kind espoused by Zuma and much like the West’s degraded politics — exactly like the kind of politics which the ANC fought against for thirty years.