In the South African government, nothing has been attempted, no new initiatives established, not a single challenge confronted, since the elections. It is not necessary now that the elections are won and Zuma does not need to take any action to confirm his position in power. So we continue to drift towards the rocks, with only a few gentle bumps under our keel to illustrate what awaits us.
Such as the exposure of Pallo Jordan. Such as the bailout of African Bank. Such as the dismal failure of the Farlam and Seriti Commissions. These are not substantial events, but they are pointers towards our ultimate disaster.
Jordan’s is a mildly interesting case. He constructed a remarkable career as a victim of the ANC’s anti-intellectualism. He had been, it will be recalled, the chief of the ANC’s public relations in exile, not an inglorious job but not actually one providing much access to serious popular attention. The people from whom Jordan received substantial attention, however, were the whites who went to meet with ANC delegations in the late 1980s. As PR boss Jordan was naturally involved in all such meetings and was thus able to focus attention upon himself. Whites returned from these meetings to say that while there were a lot of fools and extremists in the ANC, still there were also some decent people in the ANC, like Jordan. Why, he had, according to him, almost been imprisoned by the ANC for speaking his mind! Anyone who was almost imprisoned by the ANC had to be a good guy, obviously; just as Vaclav Havel had to be a good guy because he had almost been imprisoned by the Czech Communists.
Jordan was an ideal person for this particular job. He had slipped into the ANC almost by default — his tradition was not Charterist, but Non-European Unity Movement. Not only did he thus come from a political heritage of being an impotent blowhard, but his dad was a novelist whose main work was so thoroughly uncontroversial that it was made into a TV series by the SABC in the 1980s. (Not that it’s a bad book, by the way.) He was university-trained, urbane, had a Western accent — everything which whites liked about black people.
The only thing which held him back, apart from his drinking problem, was the fact that he was not sufficiently subservient to white capital. The trouble was twofold: as a senior ANC member, but not very high up, he was not free to sell out; as a member of the ANC’s nominal left wing and Africanist wing, selling out to white capital was theoretically against his principles. Meanwhile, because he was not one of the party bosses he was not offered enough of a bargain by the whites to overcome his scruples. Hence he remained, very conveniently, as a mildly pink (but black) liberal with good connections in the white political and academic world, available after the unbanning of the ANC for parties and functions generally (at least when sober) and always ready to say things which sounded radical without actually either breaching the limits of permissible rhetoric within the ANC or alienating his support-base.
All this was very fine, and yet there was something which he lacked, something needed perhaps to earn the respect of his white bourgeois support-base if he were to be seen as an intellectual. So he falsified his curriculum vitae; he pretended that he had completed his abandoned degree at an American cow-college and he then pretended that he had acquired a doctorate from the London School of Economics. Risky? Who was going to check? He was not using academic credentials to apply for any job. But Pallo Jordan was merely a motormouthed ANC member; Dr. Pallo Jordan was an intellectual with a capital i, a man to whom you had to listen even though he had nothing to say that you had not heard before.
Since he was a man congenial to the white ruling classes, they were not going to ask too many questions. And, since having a man with a doctorate was handy for the ANC’s image, they were not going to ask too many questions. So he was safe — for a while. As it turned out, he was safe for twenty years, though for every one of those twenty years he must have had at the back of his mind the question of what would happen when he was found out. He never had the power to suppress exposure. Meanwhile, he could do nothing about it having once made the lie public; he couldn’t even register for a real PhD, because that would require him to admit that he didn’t have an undergraduate degree in the first place.
The only other question to ask is why he has been exposed at this late date. It is not really plausible that Gareth van Onselen went through the credentials of every ANC cabinet minister since 1994 looking for evidence of fakery. (Apart from anything else, he would doubtless have found a lot more stuff.) Someone must have decided to pass the Jordan story on to Van Onselen. Was it an ANC person? Then why not nail him much earlier, when he was still an undistinguished cabinet minister? Thabo Mbeki had reason to nail him long ago, when he was siding with Mbeki’s enemies — instead, as was Mbeki’s habit, he put Jordan in the Cabinet, where he remained even after Mbeki’s downfall as the least distinguished of Ministers. Of course, someone could have developed a personal antipathy to Jordan — he slept with the wrong person, he spoke to the wrong people — it is hard to guess. Alternatively, and perhaps more likely given the white liberal conduit through which the message passed, perhaps the white ruling class decided that Jordan was no longer of interest to them and could safely be sacrificed. And then came the usual flurry of humbug, fools and charlatans defending Jordan, fools and charlatans attacking Jordan, fools and charlatans distancing themselves from Jordan. Nothing is to be gained from that, of course.
But is anything ever to be gained? It is only seven years ago that the global financial system was brought to its knees by unsecured lending — that is, banks lending money to people who could under no circumstances pay it back, and then lending more money out by pretending that those people would be able to pay the money back and hence it could be counted as good debts. At that time South Africa’s banking system still existed in the shadow of a cautious Minister of Finance named Manuel; dishonest and reactionary he might have been, but he had one thing which distinguished him from the pure neoliberals — he was prepared to tolerate banking regulation, at least within some limits. So banks were required to have some solid basis for the money they loaned out, and the South African banking system itself remained largely unaffected by debt crises which destroyed banks bigger than the whole South African economy.
But then we were in a depression, and in a depression people need money, especially rich people who already have money. And the banks were getting few deposits because nobody had cash to put in them. (How foolish of the people not to have money, as the corporate economists always point out!) And meanwhile all the restraints on corporate neoliberalism were removed when all the social democrats in the ANC were kicked out of government. The next step was obvious — let the banks do whatever they want, mix and match all the “registered financial services providers”, a term which sometimes seems to mean the financial equivalent of spaza shops but usually just means bucket-shops. Confuse everybody and unleash the dogs of capital!
And so a couple of years ago a brilliant idea came to South Africa — unsecured lending! All those people out there with no money — let’s lend them money! What could go wrong? And indeed we were told that this would save everybody from loan-sharks because these were serious banks with serious knowledge of the market, and who were we to criticise them? Why, loan-sharks were responsible for Marikana! (Yes, people really said that. It’s as plausible as anything that comes out of Dali Mpofu’s mouth, after all.) And needless to say the leading light in unsecured lending was the African Bank, a bank not controlled by africans, but who asks questions when Afrika is calling? As recently as a month or so ago the corporate pages of the newspapers were telling us that African Bank would overcome the collapse of its share price and defeat the creditors circling it like bacteriophages.
Well, of course they were lying. African Bank turned out to have lent money to serious creditors on the basis of ten billion rands of bad debts and was placed under curatorship by the Reserve Bank, which had permitted it to get into such a pickle in the first place. No doubt someone will make a pile of money out of African Bank’s assets — the debtors are already being ordered to keep hurling their money into the financial bonfire which African Bank has become. No doubt nobody will be punished for the deregulation which led to the problem, and no doubt other banks which are engaged in the same practices will not stop their unsecured lending, but will instead work harder to cover it up and to try to make deals with creditors. At present the economy is moving slowly into depression. How many other banks are in African Bank’s position? Unfortunately, if we find out, the consequences are likely to be catastrophic on our already anaemic and half-dead economy.
And will our anaemic and half-dead civil society be able to bear up under the strain of such economic crisis? Not if its performance at the Farlam and Seriti Commissions is anything to go by.
These two Commissions exemplify everything which is wrong with our civil society, which runs largely on money and lawyers anyway. They were both set up on the supposition that when you put a judge in charge of something, something will get done — which is true, although since our judges are a pack of bought rascals and nincompoops, we can usually be sure that this “something” will not be worth the candle. Like all Commissions of Enquiry, they were also set up to cover the arses of government by pretending to get something done on an issue of supposed importance. However, what’s interesting is how differently they have pursued their paths, sought their goals, and been responded to by those who have pretended to clamour for truth and justice.
The Farlam Commission investigating events surrounding the 2012 Rustenburg mine strike, the violence which accompanied it and the police massacre at Marikana in August that year, was headed by a white man, the Seriti Commission by a black man. This difference accounts for much of the different treatment of the two commissions by the whites who own or control civil society organisations; the Seriti Commission was denounced from the start whereas the Farlam Commission was welcomed from the start.
However, it’s not only about racism. The Farlam Commission would potentially expose wrongdoings of the ANC government which were known to exist. The Seriti Commission would potentially expose wrongdoings of the ANC government which were claimed to exist. In the former case it was simply about revealing what was known; in the latter case, people who had been making claims for a decade and a half would have to provide evidence that their claims were real. In other words, civil society had no problem with Farlam, because they could lose nothing by prancing about making accusations about events which everybody had watched on Youtube; the problem with Seriti was that many leading lights in civil society might find themselves having to confess that the accusations which they had already made were not founded on any factual information.
Farlam’s commission stumbled about like blind men, failing to focus on anything clearly, evidence appearing before it chaotically and with endless debates over whether or not anyone could be found to pay the ludicrous, exorbitant fees which all the lawyers for the various parties — the so-called “evidence leaders” — were charging, and without which, supposedly, the Commission would grind to a halt. Farlam exerted all the physical authority of a quadriplegic with a speech impediment; he failed to provide leadership or guidance for any of the evidence leaders, allowing them to rant at will but without seemingly showing any concern about accuracy or relevance, and certainly without participating himself as all competent commission judges in the past have done. In short, it was perfect, so far as civil society was concerned — but completely useless so far as an investigation into events at Marikana was concerned, which is why nothing has come out of the commission but blather, bullshit and repetition of what had already been said many times before.
Seriti’s commission has been brisk and well-organised. Since they were (allegedly) supposed to find out whether anything had gone wrong apropos the arms deal, they structured the commission as an investigation — first call in the people responsible for the whole affair, and then call in their critics to explain what they had done wrong. So they called in the military to say whether they wanted arms (yes, they had) and whether they were happy with the arms they had got (yes, they were) and then called in the politicians involved in the arms deal to say whether they were crooks (no, they weren’t).
The whole sequence, of course, provided a glorious opportunity for the representatives of critics of the arms deal to have their say. They could provide evidence that the military had not wanted or needed arms. They could provide evidence that the arms acquired had not fulfilled the desires of the military. They could provide evidence of political corruption in the arms deal. Nothing whatsoever was stopping them.
Instead, they did essentially nothing. They called the bona fides of the witnesses into question, which would be significant if a crime were being discussed, but no evidence of any crime was presented. They cited unsubstantiated newspaper reports (probably planted by themselves) that the witnesses were lying. They blustered a lot; Paul Hoffmann even tried to bully Thabo Mbeki, and burst into tears when his bizarre boorishness led inevitably to accusations of racism against him. But nobody provided any evidence to justify having set up the Seriti Commission in the first place.
We are still waiting for the second half of this commission, during which the people who failed to provide evidence during the first half will have an opportunity to provide evidence. But why should they do so later, having failed in the first case? After all, many have already been revealed in previous court cases to have lied about having evidence, such as Patricia de Lille and Terry Crawford-Browne, or have become laughing-stocks like Paul Hoffmann. Others, like Richard Young, have (after a decade and a half darkly proclaiming what they could reveal if given the chance) suddenly discovered prior commitments and sound excuses for not turning up on time, if at all.
Manifestly, our civil society loves commissions of enquiry led by flabby weaklings which fail to confront the issue, but hates commissions of enquiry which attempt to actually investigate anything. In other words, our civil society is a crowd of bullshitters with plenty to hide. Presumably they can be bought by any bank, however insolvent, and no doubt any of them with a false CV can be sure of mutual protection. But, Lord, aren’t they good at making accusations against everybody except themselves!