The Election Crisis (I): Towards the Brink?

July 11, 2013

The general election due in about nine months’ time is going to be a very interesting one, though not for the reasons cited by the stinking, syphilitic political whores who term themselves political experts and political journalists. The ANC is going to win the election with a massive majority, and will win eight out of nine provinces. (Its only opponent, the DA, has – for reasons of internal politics – deliberately decided not to attempt to win the only province outside the Western Cape which it has any hope of succeeding in.)

So what’s interesting about it?

The big question revolves around the anticipated decline in ANC support. This decline arises from two primary sources: the collapse in electorate trust as regards central government, and the collapse in electorate respect as regards provincial and metropolitan government. Both sources derive from the transformation of the ANC from a traditional political party, as it was before 2007, into a transmission belt for the desires of the ruling class, as it is now (and as virtually all political parties in the world now see themselves).

The problem is that because South Africa is in a very serious socio-economic crisis, the general public actually need help which they are not getting. In 2007 and again in 2009, Zuma and his allies promised to provide that help. This was a small part of the reason why Zuma took power at Polokwane and a large part of the reason why the ANC’s support declined by relatively little in the 2009 elections, despite the obvious corruption which pervaded the entire party and political system by that time. The fact that this help has never been provided, despite incessant false promises made by virtually the whole Cabinet, means that nobody now has any reason to be fooled when further false promises are trundled out. There is no longer an excuse for hope.

Logically, this should mean that the ANC’s support should plummet, but this is not so, because of the absence of alternatives. Most ANC supporters believe that alternatives to the ANC are worse. In this belief, they are absolutely correct – indeed, the more that you learn about other political parties of all ostensible persuasions in South Africa, the more odious and intolerable they appear. No doubt some people will, in despair, turn to the DA, but they will be few. It is possible that a few more might turn to the United Democratic Movement or the Congress of the People, but they are unlikely to be much more numerous, especially since both parties are tainted by having hawked themselves and their representatives to the DA, and are thus recognizably no longer truly independent parties.

One of the major reasons for the decline in the ANC’s support, however, is the collapse of provincial parties. Disregarding the ANC’s faked membership figures, one must acknowledge that the provincial parties are in terrible actual disarray despite the stranglehold which the leaders have on their toadies. In Limpopo, Luthuli House has been working to wreck the support base of the provincial leadership, and has succeeded at the cost of wrecking the support base of the party. In the Free State, North-West and Northern Cape and Eastern Cape, Luthuli House has happily helped corrupt provincial leaders to ride roughshod over their memberships and electorates, repeatedly annulling legitimate conferences or manipulating bogus conferences in order to ensure that Zuma allies hold on to power against the wishes of the general public – and sometimes even of the ANC membership itself. Even at the level of towns like Port Elizabeth or Potchefstroom, municipal governments have been installed or dismissed completely against the wishes and interests of their electorates. It is hard to believe that this will have no impact on the voting practices of those people. As for Zuma’s strongholds, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal, they appear to becoming increasingly unstable places, with violence against politicians and political property on the increase. There isn’t much money left with which to bribe the more junior cronies. It’s entirely possible that in these provinces, there will be a degree of apathy – as is also likely in Gauteng. Thus, the provincial situation seems strongly to argue against

So what is to be expected from the election? A large number of people will hold their noses and vote for Zuma, even though they know that nothing good will come of it, simply because they cannot stomach voting for the Western imperialists or the World Bank and at least some of those with Zuma, if not Zuma himself, are not utterly corrupt tools. (Or so the ANC’s voters hope, anyway.) A small number of people will stop their noses and their ears and vote for parties other than the ANC simply in order to show their discontent with the way things are going. Others, for the same reason, will stay away from voting altogether. Only the ignorant or the brainwashed (ironically, the so-called born-frees, who have never experienced a free press or a robust culture of political debate, are most numerous in this category) will vote with any hope that their vote will make a positive difference.

What does this mean?

There are several possibilities. Perhaps the least likely is that the ANC’s support-base will remain essentially the same. They will lose some support to the DA, they will lose some support to small parties, they will lose support through voter withdrawal. It is no longer possible to substantially increase their support in KwaZulu-Natal and thus conceal the actual decline in their fortunes. There is no sign of any substantial recovery of Western Cape support – it would be impossible to do this under a Zuma administration, given that the need is for trust, which Zuma and his allies cannot engender, and for non-racialism, which is not something of which Zuma is capable.

One possibility, therefore, is a similar decline to the decline of 2009, when the ANC’s support fell from just below 70% to just above 66%. A decline of 4% would potentially push the ANC’s support below the level which it attained in 1994. Such a decline would be modestly empowering to the DA, for it would reconfirm the sense of deterioration in the ANC’s position which has been in place since Zuma’s takeover. It would also be slightly intimidating to the ANC’s leadership, for the same reason – because they have been pretending since 2009 that this was an anomalous event caused by the breakaway of the Congress of the People, and have been fabricating immense expansions of membership in order to generate the illusion that everything is coming up roses for the ANC.

But in both cases, only slightly. If the ANC’s support falls to, say, 62%, they will still be more than twice the size of the DA. ANC members would be well aware that on present conditions they would be likely to win the 2019 elections. Therefore they would have no serious inclination to make any changes within the party – specifically, any changes likely to undermine the Zuma administration’s appalling policies and practices. There might be a little more grumbling – but that would be all, and the authoritarian powers arrogated to the Zuma-controlled National Executive Committee could easily be used to suppress anyone striving to move beyond grumbling.

So that is, in a sense, a worst-case option; more or less as bad as the ANC’s support remaining much as it is now. It is, however, difficult to believe that it would happen. This is because the DA is quite likely to pick up a couple of percentage points of the vote (it would get more, but it is possible that Agang will briefly draw some voters away from the DA, in a pitiful repetition of the Independent Democrats charade). It is very likely that the Congress of the People and the United Democratic Movement will pick up a similar level of votes from people, especially in rural provinces like the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, who can no longer abide Zuma’s nonsense and perceive that Lekota and Holomisa, for all their failings and cooperation with white conservatives, are at least representatives of a pre-Zuma ANC tradition. It is also very likely that a lot of potential ANC supporters will stay home, and if that is as much as 5% of their vote that could translate into a 3% decline in their fortunes. Putting this all together and allowing for the slim possibility that some of the Trotskyites, and perhaps even Malema’s mob, might be able to stand and confuse the electorate, it is quite likely that the ANC’s support could fall well below 60% — say, to 57% or so.

That would represent a massive slap in the face of Zuma and the rest of the ANC, a message basically saying that if you carry on like this, your control of the country is history. It means that people wishing to send such a message might well find it worthwhile to vote for some or other odious parliamentary party. (So long as it was not the DA, for all the Zuma administration appears to aspire to the condition of Zillehood.) It makes the 2014 election less meaningless than elections have been for some time.

The only serious question is how the Zuma ANC would respond to the ensuing crisis.

The Election Crisis (III): Down The Slide.

July 11, 2013

The current global economic crisis took form in 2007. Before that, the crisis-ridden Western economy had slumped successively in 2000 and 2001. Before that, there had been the Asian crisis of 1996-7, and before that there had been the Western economic crisis of 1991-3, and before that there had been the recession of 1979-82, and before that, the recession of 1973-6. (There have been many smaller-scale national and regional crises during this period.)

This current crisis is longer and more extensive than the earlier ones, but we can see from this that in a sense the “crisis” is simply a more severe phase of a long-existing disorder. Also, like the recurring fevers of acute malaria, such crises happen over and over, not quite regularly but systematically and historically, at intervals of five to eight years. This means that a fresh crisis should be falling due by the business calendar in about 2014-5 – and this probably explains why banks are not lending and businesses are not investing; they anticipate losing their shirts and possibly trousers as well.

We don’t exactly know what causes these crises. The assumption has often been that these are simple crises of underconsumption – that the growth of an economy encourages excessive investment which produces manufacturing capacity greater than consumption can justify, and so to business crisis, banking crisis, and a downward spiral as companies go bust or retrench and consumers become still less capable of keeping the economy afloat. However, it has become clear that under neoliberal circumstances, these crisis have become more frequent and more widespread – which one would expect, since neoliberalism means concentration of wealth in fewer hands with less state regulation, and hence a greater instability of consumption combined with a greater financial and fiscal irresponsibility. So that’s settled, then.

But if this is true, there is no sign of it stopping, and therefore there is going to be a fresh crisis before long. It may even be deliberately engineered by the American business community in order to discredit the Democratic Party – who, God knows, are not anti-business, but the American business community are psychopaths – before the end of the Obama administration. That suggests that if there is no organic crisis by 2015, the American rich will manufacture one in order to generate a political crisis to sweep the Tea Party to power in 2016. What fun all these people are having.

What would such a crisis mean globally? China is already retrenching – deliberately restraining capital formation (i.e., large-scale borrowing for the purposes of industrial investment by the private sector). The Chinese government appears to feel that this capital formation, were it to be allowed to happen unrestrained, would probably pour capital into the Chinese property bubble and thus run the risk of generating a crisis similar to the American property crisis of 2007 or the Japanese property crisis of 1988 – both of which brought the national economies to a virtual standstill. What the Chinese are prepared to do is to slow down their economic growth in order to avoid a calamitous contraction in the economy in a few years – perhaps the year after next. But of course those who have banked on China continuing to grow at previous rates may lose a little money – while those who have banked on China imploding may lose a lot of money. It is, thus, possible that China could create a Western banking and investment crisis all by itself (with a little help from the stupidity, greed and racism of Western bankers – for a moment I mistyped “cankers”, which is actually more accurate).

The United States and Western Europe are propping up the values of their bond market and thus also wildly inflating their stock market by printing money and using it to buy bonds of various kinds. This money all ultimately goes to corporations, who take it, keep it and sit on it. Thus they are protected against bankruptcy by bundles of Monopoly money, appropriate in monopoly capitalism. However, in the event of anything happen to endanger them, they will want to sell those stocks and bonds to get capital for their own defense. That would be almost inevitable in an economic crisis – indeed, it would be almost inevitable if businesses decided that an economic crisis were due, for then the rush would be to unload the stocks and bonds before their value fell. That would bring down the value of almost everything on paper, and would also cause a crisis of currency value; the dollar, pound and euro would plummet on global money markets, and in order to counterbalance this, Westerners would sell weaker currencies from small countries, and the end product would be a sudden spiral of inflation. It is likely that we are not talking Zimbabwe or Weimar, but we could be talking about currencies losing half their value in a week or so, as in the Asian crisis, and stock exchanges losing a third of their value in a similar period.

At that point, central banks would have to step in. Unfortunately, central banks have only one objective – restraining inflation – and only one tool – raising interest rates. There would be a huge panicky desire to restrain inflation which would probably lead to savage increases in interest rates. Meaning that the average citizen would suddenly find herself paying a lot more to the bank than before – the same sort of thing which happened in 2007-8, of course, and led to foreclosures, bankruptcies and so forth. This would not help the bank much, because the bank would also be paying more.

But so would the government. Governments in the West have run up titanic debts in the last decade and have protected themselves against the consequences of such debts by keeping interest rates low. Jack up the interest rates and suddenly the debts become a huge problem, siphoning big chunks of state revenue away into the coffers of possibly-insolvent financial institutions. It is significant that in the West, governments have simultaneously done this and denounced the act of doing this, declaring that something must be done – that is, that they must cut spending on the poor and the middle class as much as possible. This means that, come the crisis, the Western governments will have little option but to implement these calls for spending cuts – which will mean, of course, exacerbating the crisis of consumption, because almost every serious consumer will have less to spend.

What all this will mean will be a savage decline in employment, in consumption, and in investment in the West, together with a probable banking crisis. A return of the 2007-8 crisis, but under much less favourable circumstances and probably with far greater impact. The consequence will almost certainly be political crisis and, at least in the West, a political shift towards the extreme right (since the left has neither the will nor the power to take advantage of any crisis). Many countries, such as China and its satellites, Russia and Latin America, may be able to weather this crisis because they are ideologically hostile to the forces generating it and because they have built up reserves of currency and consumption capacity which can enable them to survive, at least for a while, on their own – as China and Russia and Brazil did during the 2008-9 fallout of the 2007 crisis. Many others, such as Japan, Eastern Europe and most of Africa, are acutely vulnerable to such a crisis. South Africa is one such vulnerable nation.

When the crisis hit, South Africa would face a fall in exports at a time when, for political reasons, we would be importing infrastructure equipment extensively, so our already bad balance of trade would grow still worse. We would face a drying-up of portfolio investment, so we would be uncertain of our capacity to pay for our investments. The value of our currency would fall disproportionately, further fuelling a crisis of foreign economic relations. Inflation would rise – although mercifully the government has been falsifying the inflation statistics for many years, so therefore this need not be acknowledged if the government didn’t wish to, and hence it would not be necessary to raise interest rates. Except that the collapse of portfolio investment would probably force interest rates up, and in any case bond rates would skyrocket as South African bonds were dumped by desperate foreign banks. Therefore, the cost of borrowing would rise.

This means that we would face the same problems as affluent Western countries – and regrettably, although our national debt is lower than theirs (probably somewhere between 60% and 70% of GDP by 2015) we are poorly situated to increase our spending. The probability is that increased spending on debt servicing would hit the government budget hard – particularly conspicuously so since government has been cutting back on spending ever since Zuma took control. Almost inevitably, the consequence of this would be a desire to cut back on state spending still further – which would devastate public support for the government as well as plunging the country into a depression. Therefore, of course, business would also cut back on its spending.

Against the background of falling demand, falling investment, falling revenue and soaring expenses – which would have particular impact because all these things are already problems at the moment – there would also be a crisis of business confidence. Big business would be terrified that they would lose everything. The nation turns its lonely eyes to the government . . .

. . . and most likely the government, in the post-election crisis, would be incapable of doing anything at all.

The Election Crisis (II): Over the Top.

July 11, 2013

Suppose, for the moment, that in the middle of 2014 the leadership of the ANC is looking at a strikingly poor showing in the late election. They have won, let us say, 57% nationally. In Gauteng they get, let us say, 55%. In the Northern Cape, 52%, alerting even the DA to the possibility that they might win if they put some effort into it. The mood in the National Executive Committee is glum. Even if outwardly optimistic, they know that unless they do something they will quite conceivably lose the next election and have to go into a coalition.

So what, if anything at all, will they do?

Even at this stage, the ANC does not really face disaster. An identical decline in the party’s fortunes in 2019 would force the party into coalition at national level and in several provinces, but the coalition could easily be with parties which were small enough to be easily controlled. More to the point, coalition with other parties would not mean coalition with parties of different ideological persuasions, since no such parties exist in Parliament at the moment. Therefore, danger is not immediate.

Zuma could not become President again in 2019 in any case without violating the Constitution, and while he might not shrink from that he would probably be prepared to retire – he will, after all, be very old and arguably no longer capable of serving his foreign corporate masters. The real issue, however, would be 2017. Would he want to keep control of the National Executive Committee by running for President of the ANC again, and thus – possibly – hold onto indirect control of the government? Above all else, Zuma needs to ensure that he does not face charges for his crimes; whatever he does in the intervening period to protect himself against such charges can always be undone by an unsympathetic government, as Silvio Berlusconi has discovered in Italy.

The trouble is that Cyril Ramaphosa is Deputy President of the ANC. It is possible that he would want to become President, simply because it is quite clear that the President of the party has more power than the President of the country. It is also likely that many of the big businesspeople who installed Ramaphosa at the Mangaung conference would prefer to see Ramaphosa in full control of the party. Of course, some of these big businesspeople would actually view Ramaphosa as a problem, because he is seen (in the business community, if nowhere else) as a competent person, and therefore one who would improve the image of the ANC – whereas of course they would ultimately like their party, the DA, to take power eventually. As a result, the Ramaphosa factor, which supposedly was going to protect Zuma against the perils of Kgalema Motlanthe, may place Zuma in danger in any case.

Another trouble is that once it becomes clear that Zuma’s regime is in any kind of trouble, all the forces of destabilization which Zuma employed against his former opponents are liable to be unleashed against him. For instance, Zuma will have no more guarantees of patronage once he ceases to be President of the country. As a result, it is possible that competing candidates for the party and for the nation will be able to argue that they should be supported because they can give people jobs whereas he cannot. This was a major factor weakening Mbeki’s control. Meanwhile, there will be people who will want to see Zuma fall merely because of what happened to Mbeki – and they may be stronger than Zuma realizes, if only because his inclination is to avoid things which he does not wish to think about.

Hence, there will be a terrifyingly wide variety of dangers for Zuma to face, which cannot be evaded or resolved by telling lies or bribing or bullying people. So what can be done?

One alternative would be to try to appeal directly to the people, to win public support for Zuma and try to use this against his gathering enemies. This would be an almost ideal answer, but it’s hard to believe that Zuma or his allies could do this. In order to appeal to the people, Zuma would have to establish public trust by taking action which would actually serve their interests – and that would mean that the people whom he currently serves would become distrustful of him. In other words, for Zuma or his allies to try to establish themselves with the people they would first have to endanger their current position. Which could not be tolerated by their supporters – it would be an invitation to massive conflict within the ANC.

A simpler alternative would be to carry on as before. Zuma’s recent decision to purge some potential opponents, such as Baloyi and Sexwale, and replace them with compliant stooges, shows the kind of behaviour which could be expected – reshuffles of people whose disappearance would not antagonize wealthy white people or foreigners, their replacement with nonentities increasingly dependent on Zuma or his allies. That might seem to be the royal road to peaceful dominance. The trouble is, however, that the people whom Zuma has purged over the past two or three years have all been people who seemed submissive nonentities or reliable stooges. After all, Mbeki once considered Zuma a submissive nonentity and a reliable stooge – whereas he eventually turned out to be a rebellious nonentity who wished to be a reliable stooge for someone else, a fact which Mbeki only recognized much too late. Therefore, carrying on as before will probably not prevent catastrophe. After all, the more purges you conduct, the more enemies you create and the more allies you make nervous.

But if Zuma actually cannot reform and cannot carry on as before, then there is very little for him to do. Perhaps he can strive to transform the system into one more controllable – but in a sense he has already done that in a way which only works provided that the majority are prepared to accept the system. If the majority rise up and defy Zuma, he will be in very serious trouble indeed, especially because the more he dominates the ANC’s political system, the more he discredits it and the more likely mass demonstrations against it are likely to win support from disgruntled, disenfranchised members, branches and regions – a problem which pervades the system at the moment.

The most likely response is a weak combination of all these things – unsuccessful attempts to win public support, unsuccessful attempts to bribe or bully allies into subservience, unsuccessful attempts to change the system into one less subject to control by others. The fact that all these attempts are likely to fail does not mean that Zuma will be defeated, but it does mean that any counter-attack against an almost inevitable challenge to Zuma’s authority (in the almost certain event of a substantial decline in ANC support) would have far less weight than the Polokwane stitch-up or the September 2008 purge of Mbeki’s supporters.

It would, however, have weight. One possibility might be that the first challenge to Zuma would fail – that it would fail to gain traction within the spineless National Executive Committee, or would fail to get any support from the provinces and the metropoles, so that even if the NEC were against Zuma, Zuma could appeal to a real or purported mass support base and attempt to overawe them. In which case, Zuma would be in a position to launch yet another purge, which he would be forced to go ahead with – but this would simply place him further out on a limb, with many of his supporters now facing the axe. Also, his supporters in the media and the big business community would undoubtedly begin to wobble, wondering if they were backing the right horse. Ultimately, the danger might then be that Zuma would be a weakened leader, one who was forced to pretend that he was strong, and to throw weight around which he actually did not possess.

However, if Zuma’s opponents succeed, what then? Then, presumably, there would be a lot of unhappy Zuma supporters around. Zuma would want to take revenge if he could, and equally presumably, forcing Zuma out would so disrupt the ANC as to make it difficult for members of the ANC to prevent him from doing them immense damage, either indirectly through Zuma supporters or directly through the immense amount of damaging information which Zuma possesses and can use against his opponents. After all, Zuma’s defeat would also mean the defeat of the security services who desperately want to retain their power and job security. There would be a lot of powerful people desiring either to see Zuma back in power, or else to see Zuma’s successors weakened.

Meanwhile, the people who had removed Zuma would not have done this because they particularly wanted to pursue a specific ideology which challenged his. Mostly, they would have removed him out of greed, desire for revenge, or fear that he and his allies might threaten them in some way. This is not a stable basis for building a coalition. There is actually no firm alternative to Zuma in the way that Zuma provided a spurious firm alternative to Mbeki. Hence, any post-Zuma administration within the ANC and within government would be extremely vulnerable – and would be conscious of this fact, meaning that it would be continually paranoid and self-justifying, and therefore eager to conceal its existing flaws as well as any new flaws which developed.

Thus, given the probability that the ANC will trip over its untied shoelaces in 2014, the likely consequence of this happening will be an intensification of the present problems of the ANC – weak and unpopular governance and a lack of coherent goals. This is rather unfortunate, because about that time (looking at watch) South Africa should be facing some really serious economic – and therefore, social – problems.