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.