Exquisite Dead Guy.

December 10, 2013

And so Nelson Mandela, in a persistent vegetative state for months, is now finally dead, and if there was any consciousness left in his degenerate brain he must surely have been happy to see life ebbing away from his unbearable condition.

And so all the fools and knaves are combining to exploit the situation. Most of the lamentation around Mandela’s death is dishonest rubbish serving to promote the preposterous Mandela cult which has been constructed by white power, and which Zuma, himself a creature of white power, has sought to piggy-back on. The stench of rottenness is nauseating, and entirely familiar, as we stand before Mandela’s hideously ornate gravestone smothered in insincere tribute.

But beside all this, what did Mandela do right, and what did he do wrong? As Thabo Mbeki recently remarked in one of the few sensible responses to the provision of this long, skinny, dark brown corpse, like a photo-negative of Mr. Kurtz in Heart of Darkness, what can we learn from his life?

The first thing which Mandela did right was to join the ANC at all. It was, of course, a kind of career move; getting into politics was the kind of thing which a young man trying to advance himself did. But then he did another right thing, which was to get together with his friends and form the Youth League in order to dynamise the party and try to transform it into something more than a combination talk-shop and agency for the private advancement of its leadership. Instead, within a few years, Mandela and his friends made the ANC into an organisation genuinely campaigning against white rule — just in time for that white rule to morph into something really nasty and thus make the ANC even more relevant than before.

The next thing which he did right was to stand with the SACP against the PAC. Essentially, this was a battle over control of the ANC, using the tools of narrow African nationalism. As a Xhosa chieftain, Mandela was quite capable of using such tools had he desired and there might have been a place for him within the PAC had he simply wished personal preferment. But he chose not to take that place — perhaps because he knew that the PAC would never lead the way to running the country, and he wanted to have real power rather than the shadow of power granted by the PAC’s fantasising. But also he may well have realised that any real struggle against white power could not succeed on a basis of fantasy and romantic black racism.

But then, of course, Mandela failed dismally in his attempt to run a revolution. His planning and execution of revolutionary action were hopelessly inadequate to the job. He had courage and integrity, but they were not enough to make up for a lack of skill, planning and realistic support bases. The ANC as of 1962 could not possibly have overthrown the white state. But it had to try, and probably it could not have tried more effectively than it did. In failing, Mandela was overwhelmed by the tide of history, and was sent to prison, and for the next ten years it did not matter what he did because he was given no opportunity to sell out — the regime did not want his support even if he had been willing to offer it — and he could have no impact on his organisation at all. What kept the ANC alive was not Mandela but Tambo and Slovo.

Still, by the late 1970s Mandela was a man of political significance again, thanks to the hard work of the ANC in exile in sustaining itself as a force to be taken seriously. By that stage he did not sell out when he might have done so — especially at the time when the apartheid regime still seemed invulnerable and invincible. For that we owe him much — because it is difficult to see how the kind of unifying mythos which the ANC and UDF developed around Mandela could have been developed around less charismatic and publicly known figures like Sisulu or Govan Mbeki.

Then, in the middle to late 1980s, Mandela was again significant for what he did not do. He did not attempt to make any deals all by himself, and he did not fall into any of the traps laid for him by the “negotiators” in prison who were trying to get him to surrender his position. At the time it probably seemed like a minor element of the broad attempt which the apartheid regime was making, with increasing desperation, to get the ANC to split and thus eliminate the only effective unifying force among apartheid’s enemies. Instead of that happening, the apartheid regime itself began to break up in the face of the rocklike solidity of its enemies — and once again Mandela helped in this, because he appeared to the apartheid regime to be a weak spot and instead he proved to be a strong one.

After the unbanning of the ANC and Mandela’s release, his strengths and weaknesses played very important roles in the way that the struggle to finally overthrow the apartheid regime unfolded. He had absolutely no choice but to seize central control of the organisation. The exile movement was in danger of flying apart with the dissipation of its funding sources and the crippling of its leader — with Tambo incapacitated by the stroke which eventually killed him, and Slovo ill with the cancer which eventually killed him, the organisation was riven with potential splits and agents of apartheid striving to shatter it. As for the UDF, it existed only in name, and its leadership was only too often self-seeking, self-serving people who had little or no organisational skill and no ideological commitment. It had to go, and the whole organisation had to be brought under one monolithic entity headed by Mandela.

That also made sense given that the ANC had to transform itself into a mass-based organisation with coherent goals which would amount to something more than simply getting rid of apartheid — given that the visible signs of apartheid were being eradicated as fast as President De Klerk could sign the papers, in a desperate (and ultimately futile — but who could have been sure of that) final attempt to win over a black public in the run-up to elections. Mandela oversaw that transformation, and probably nobody else could have served as a figurehead for it. Also, he had the authority, which again nobody else could have managed, to sign away the armed struggle, a relic of apartheid which had become a dangerous rhetorical pretense in the hands of the noisy fools of the PAC and the Youth League, most of whom had never heard a gunshot except in their own hands during a botched armed robbery.

The danger was that in willingly signing away trivia, Mandela and his cabal, drunk with the authority they had gained over the organisation, might sign away valuable things as well. This was precisely what the PLO was doing in their negotiations with Israel and the United States at the time, and it is likely that Mandela and his team were aware of this. Mandela helped the ANC to keep its attention focussed on the main issue, and the main issue crystallised into the need for elections. This was codified, and Mandela’s team given unshakeable legitimacy, in the 1992 National Conference — which, again, Mandela helped to make possible. Granted there was never any doubt that the Conference would weaken his position, but many leaders would have put Conference off until after the national election, citing the crisis which they faced — the fact that it went ahead under the circumstances showed that the Mandela team had a strong commitment to democracy as well as power.

But at the same time, Mandela was not a superman. He was only too aware that the ANC had to look good in the eyes of the foreign right-wingers and the white reactionary South African businesspeople who would ultimately decide whether or not an election would be held, or whether the apartheid regime, rebranded and purportedly transformed, would be given a new lease of life to cling to white power. As a result, Mandela connived with the construction by the white elite of the myth of the Great Reconciler, of the man who loved everybody equally (and therefore would not help black people merely because they had been ground under white heels for four hundred years).

To Mandela this was probably the Teflon which would keep white criticism off his back and get the liberals off his case, but it was dangerous because it meant incessant schmoozing with the white corporate and propaganda elite. The apartheid regime’s ideological state apparatus was devoted to the task of co-opting the ANC, and now it had access to the whole organisation instead of a few key elements — it could attack the army where it was weak instead of being limited to where it was resolute. The result was that as Mandela’s authority appeared to coalesce, the organisation which he led began to fragment again, to wander off in search of wealth, or to follow dreams invented by white reactionaries such as liberalism and neoliberalism, and because Mandela was the heart of the organisation he was naturally blamed by the left who wanted him weakened so that they could get their hands on the levers.

Then came the final negotiations, interrupted by Hani’s assassination. Mandela handled that situation very well, as he had handled all his public negotiations with the apartheid regime. His position appeared to be quite simple; not to blame the apartheid regime for the murder, but simply to point out that the longer the apartheid regime stalled and delayed, the more things would deteriorate until eventually the negotiations which they were undertaking would become moot and the apartheid regime would have to face a less sympathetic interlocutor whom they would be in no position to obstruct. He was thus brilliantly employing the tropes of the regime — himself as the good old black grand-daddy, black youth as menacing golliwogs with bones through their noses, the inevitable decline of everything — in the service of the people, turning the apartheid regime into its own bogeys.

But in the actual negotiations, Mandela lacked the authority to prevent people like Ramaphosa and Slovo from giving away a great deal — almost certainly too much. The Constitution which came out of the final negotiations, together with the other shabby deals which had been done with the apartheid regime and its allies, was certainly not helpful for the people of South Africa (except for the affluent elite who had drafted it). For this Mandela must be held accountable — and yet he and his supporters could probably have managed nothing better under the circumstances. Similarly, the decision to bring in American advisers to help with the election must have seemed a good one — and yet how far did this open the door to spooks and to the kind of covert collaboration against which the ANC, having no effective spy service of its own, had no defense?

Mandela’s term in government was a long decline away from greatness. Admittedly, there were Augean stables to be cleansed and that was managed; the system put together worked, after a fashion, and the dismantling of apartheid went ahead satisfactorily. But, all in all, what Mandela did was to establish the foundations for the disastrously neoliberal state in which we now live. The new constitution was even more corporate-friendly than the old; the TRC turned out to be a calamitous coverup for the crimes of colonialism and apartheid; the RDP was a disappointment. Nothing really important changed for the majority in Mandela’s five years. Meanwhile, the minority took more power than ever within the ANC, and the progressive rotting away of the ideals of the organisation continued.

Perhaps Mandela was seduced by the myth which had been created around him. There had long been a tendency in him to do whatever white people in power in the West wanted — even though he had possessed the guts to stand up against Western imperialism on occasion (as in Kosovo). Also, he was probably weary of fighting against the right wing of his own party which included so many of his former comrades now turned bitter enemies without ever admitting it. So, after five inglorious years, he bowed out and handed the whole responsibility over to Mbeki, to “prove” to the outside that “African leaders” were not obsessed with power — as if such things could be proven in the face of racism!

This was, arguably, Mandela’s biggest betrayal of us. Had he held on to power he would have been able to help resist the tide of corruption and corporate control of politics. He and Mbeki together for another five years would have been a much stronger combination than Mbeki alone proved to be (for Zuma was never really Mbeki’s ally; he was always on the other side, and Mbeki’s arrogance kept him from acknowledging his weakness). On the other hand, to judge by his subsequent behaviour, Mandela might have become simply a corporate stooge. Who is to say?

All we can say is that Mandela was a great man who did many wise things, but a flawed man who did some unwise things, a man who in the end was not strong enough, morally or physically, to protect his party from the destructive forces which threatened to engulf it. He was not enough to save us. But perhaps if there had been a dozen such people in the ANC (or in any other organisations with similar professed opinions) we might not be in the state we are in today.


Exquisite dead guy

Rotating in his display-case

Exquisite dead guy

(Swear I saw his mouth move)


Exquisite dead guy

Outside my high-rise apartment

Exquisite dead guy

Hanging from a skyhook


How’m I supposed to let you know the way I feel about you?

(They Might Be Giants)


Triple Threat.

December 10, 2013

Nkandla! the very word is like a knell — except spelt differently, of course.

The big question is whether this is real or not. That is, has the whole Nkandla fiasco been self-consciously manufactured by the people around Zuma for some purpose, or has it happened, as is claimed, by accident.

The accidental theory would have it that Zuma became accustomed to getting away with corrupt practices connected with Nkandla. He spent a good deal of the bribe money which he acquired during his rise to the Presidency on the place. In those days it was out of the way, and the money was not being investigated by anybody except the Scorpions, whom the media and the white elite were at best ambiguous about and at worst wanted to get rid of. That corporate establishment generally wanted Zuma to be put in power and therefore did its best to pay no attention to whatever Zuma was spending his ill-gotten gains on, and therefore — so goes the theory — he simply continued the process after he gained power. The only difference was that he did not have to wait for bribes; he simply grabbed the money, using the pretext of a security upgrade to make off with the whole two-hundred-million-rand pot.

The problem with this is simply that Zuma must have known that it couldn’t be easily concealed. Public funds are disgorged through public records and there is a paper-trail to be followed. If some or other magnate had simply stumped up the cash for the structure, perhaps laundered through one of Zuma’s relatives, there would have been no problem. However, once it was obvious that Zuma had spent enormous amounts of money which he didn’t possess on his home, the obvious question was where it had come from and who had authorised it, and it would be relatively easy to find if the answer was public money.

Was Zuma, then, offered a deal of some kind, that the media would be instructed to look the other way? Or did he just believe that the media would continue looking the other way, as they did during 2008 and most of 2009, which was when his plundering of the fiscus was getting going? You would think that, having dodged so many fraud charges, Zuma would be nervous of facing another. Alternatively, he may have felt that he would deal with the problem as he dealt with all the others — with the help of his rich friends, who are turning out not to be so powerful.

Or, maybe, the whole thing was planned from the beginning. Maybe Zuma is doing this in order to discredit the ANC, and indeed to discredit the whole idea of having a black President in South Africa, under instructions from his wealthy white masters. Nkandla is such a convenient tool for the ruling class, for it is evidence that politicians cannot be trusted with money, and that therefore all power should be handed over to the corporate class. But that is only plausible if Zuma has indeed been promised that he will receive immunity from prosecution after he resigns in disgrace. The problem is that any such promise would be worth nothing once Zuma was unable to call in favours.

Perhaps, however, Zuma is really more confident than he seems. Perhaps he believes that he has the power to protect himself from being removed from office, and can continue to control the situation even after he leaves the Presidency and hands things over to Ramaphosa. It’s hard to believe that this is so, but it is worth noting that we haven’t seen the last of him yet, and he still has several more years after he wins the next election before the ANC rank and file feel strong enough to turn on him. Much damage can be done in those years.

Damage, yes, like the whole e-toll affair. Privatisation of the Gauteng freeway system makes a lot of sense for those ruling-class elements who can benefit from it. This is not only the wealthy foreigners who are directly making money out of it; once the principle of pay-for-use is firmly entrenched in the governmental system, then the whole idea of a developmental state goes out of the window. The whole point of a developmental state is that it serves the public, whereas the principle of pay-for-use is that all money spent on social services is spend in order to get a decent return on investment, through coercion where necessary. Furthermore, once the privatisation of a major public investment in transport and services taking place for no compelling reason is acceptable, then the privatisation of TRANSNET and ESKOM becomes not only possible, but likely, and the sale of these entities to foreign corporations will earn vast sums in bribery as well as vast profits for those foreigners. The investment taking place into these entities makes this extremely likely.

However, it has to be admitted that from a public relations perspective, the whole e-toll saga has been handled about as badly as it can be from the perspective of the African National Congress as a political party seeking public support. The hostility to e-tolling has been spun out over an unconscionably long time, which is itself a problem — a controversy should be over quickly. Those who support e-tolling have presented ridiculous and unattractive arguments, and are themselves conspicuously corrupt or manifestly tools of the organised crime syndicates which run our ruling class (hiding as they do behind people like Kebble and Krejcir).

As a result it has been possible for various forces which plainly desire the ruling class to take complete control of our national finance, like the Democratic Alliance, to come out in “opposition” to e-tolling and thus ensure that they will not be blamed for it. (Note that the usual Trotskyite anti-privatisation suspects, in contrast, are oddly silent about it.) Thus everything is in process for the developmental state to be destroyed, and for all the blame for the destruction to be cast on the ANC — which was the force which tried to create a post-1994 developmental state in the first place. The irony is so palpable that one must admire its innovators.

Presumably the e-toll decision was not delayed beyond the impending election because the people immediately expecting to profit from it became impatient. They must have instructed Zuma to act at once. (It is possible, though this is surely far from certain, that the Nkandla agitation is a part of this; perhaps the idea is to show Zuma what is in store for him if he does not hand over the loot right away.) In addition, no doubt the point is to undermine the ANC as much as possible in Gauteng. The DA would dearly like to take Gauteng, although they won’t, and perhaps they have put pressure on their corporate masters to throw them a bone by further discrediting the ANC in the eyes of the general public.

It is of course true that e-tolls most particularly affect those who have cars, who are a minority of the population — but everybody would like to have a car. This is why the argument that this is simply a ruling-class matter and need not be discussed by those seriously concerned with working-class issues is the kind of idiotic notion which only a Trotskyite could express.) It will probably cost the ANC several percent in Gauteng in the impending election — not enough to bring the DA to power, but perhaps enough to salvage the self-respect, and perhaps the political authority, of the aging white reactionary clique who still control the Gauteng DA. If they feel able to use this to battle the little cabal who currently function as Helen Zille’s Sputniks, well and good; anything which promotes conflict within the DA is good news for the people of South Africa.

Just as conflict within the DA is good news, so conflict within the left is bad news, and this is why the assault on the pale pink leftists of the South African Metal Workers’ Union is bad news.

SAMWU is supposedly the most left-wing union in COSATU, but that is not saying tremendously much given COSATU’s record of pretense and treachery on the political front. It will be recalled that the union has been supporting Zwelenzima Vavi in his campaign to get back into a position to pursue his campaign of pseudo-leftist posture and bluff. Vavi has never taken a genuinely left-wing stand, but loves to deliver left-wing rhetoric along with ringing condemnations of the government which somehow end up not changing government policy — except, sometimes, in a right-wing direction, as with Vavi’s support for Zuma.

But Vavi is the nearest thing which the left has for a champion, and SAMWU’s Irwin Jim is the only man in a position of authority with the gumption to stand up for him. He also happens to be one of the few people in COSATU with any organisational skill and any capacity to appeal to the working-class audience. Most importantly, he is able to condemn the SACP from the inside, being a member of the Party and at the same time drawing his authority not from the Party but from SAMWU. Therefore he is able to say the obvious thing, that the SACP has betrayed the ideals of its founders as well as of the ANC itself by throwing its weight behind the neoliberal National Development Plan. Therefore, when the SACP condemns him and SAMWU, he is able to argue with justice that they are only doing that because they are tools of the Zuma faction within the ANC and of the ruling-class corporate elite who sponsor them to do the dirty on the working class.

It’s all obvious, and yet the fact that almost nobody else on the left says such things shows how hard it is to do. As a result, SAMWU is under attack; its President has been persuaded to resign, the SACP has accused Jim of corruption (as Vavi was accused before him) and COSATU itself is accusing SAMWU of poaching the membership of other unions. Which is possibly not true — and even if it is true, it should be a matter between the unions, for COSATU to mediate, not for COSATU to take sides against the successful union on behalf of the persistently failing union (which in this case is NUM). After all, if they didn’t join SAMWU they would probably leave COSATU and join AMCU, and where would COSATU be then?

But of course the big issue is that COSATU is backing Zuma, and SAMWU has been pushing for a conference to get the Zuma supporters in COSATU’s leadership, such as President Dhlamini, removed from office. The Zuma supporters, however, control the National Executive Committee, which is stonewalling the conference. They are thus, essentially, backing corporate control in the ANC and policies which will damage the working class and trade unionism itself. But they are also destroying democracy in COSATU in doing so, just as Zuma and his friends did in the ANC. Some of them have actually begun to argue against strikes, so completely have they been intellectually colonised by their reactionary allies. So it is obvious that, weak as Vavi and Jim and SAMWU and their supporters are, they are in the right, and their opponents are in the wrong.

And yet they are also going to lose, because their opponents are more powerful and because they command no real support. The only leftists making any serious analysis of the situation are the Trotskyites who rub their hands at the prospect of SAMWU and COSATU collapsing because they hope to profit from the disaster. (They always take this stance, and they have never, neither in South Africa nor anywhere else, succeeded in profiting, nor is it clear what use they would make of such profit.)

Is this surprising?

Not at all. We are surrounded by lies serving corruption. We are enmeshed in greed and pretense which serves greed. We are encouraged to look away from anything real and to immerse our minds in fantasy. It seems it is not going to stop, ever, at least not until the entire system collapses.