Midrand Blues III: The Nation Enthralled, The Revolution Betrayed.

November 13, 2017

What naturally happened when Zuma and his allies sucked all the air out of the state was that, since nature abhors a vacuum, loads of fools rushed in. These fools almost all rushed in so as to make money, and the place they rushed in from was the private sector.

It was inevitable that the system should be taken over by big business, because big business had a clear communal agenda — to make money for the corporation — which the ANC and indeed the South African political culture itself had essentially abandoned. (Making money for yourself is an agenda, but it does not direct you in a particular political direction because there are so many ways to make money through corrupt practices.)

Now, it was long argued that this had already happened; that the ANC had been neoliberalised and therefore that everything which it was doing was enriching the rich and immiserating the poor. It was never productive to argue against people who held these views, because facts did not matter to them. It is, however, obvious that there has been a very substantial change between 2007 and now; that administration is less responsive to public needs, economic policy is less effectual, politics is considered less trustworthy by the public (and politicians almost completely deemed untrustworthy) and in general most people felt then that the government was at least trying to help, and now do not. Objectively, administration now is simply less capable than it was.

This is largely because those running the administration are not interested in improving capacity. They are interested, instead, in having either a good time at the public’s expense or making a lot of money without doing much work. This explains the incessant scandals which are periodically trotted out in the press to embarrass the Zuma administration, but also explains why nothing is ever done by anyone to change the circumstances which make such scandals inevitable.

To save money in the short run, the government outsources as much of its work as possible rather than spending money setting up structures to do the work. Thus government largely consists of drafting tenders to enrich the private sector. Inevitably this leads to corruption, and this corruption leads to further corruption when corrupt companies set up “anti-corruption” NGOs to use the existing corruption to empower themselves. Where possible, “public-private partnerships” are set up in which the private sector not only makes money out of the work, but consults around the drawing up of the tenders (and is thus in a position to insist that all the work done by the government must be work which their companies can perform, rather than the government trying to get things done which it could do itself).

All this is on top of the general tendency of administrators to do whatever big business wants them to do, either because their seniors are under the control of business, or because they have been bribed by big business, or simply because they were appointed to their position because they love big business and believe that it is the saviour of the nation (and there are lot of these cretins in positions of power, and an infinite number of potential replacements should the current mob need to be removed — as they easily are, because they get caught bending the rules on behalf of their saviours and then refuse to say anything which would annoy their beloved corporate bosses).

A lot of policy has been outsourced as well. Economic policy was handed over to the banks and the mining interests early in the Zuma administration, and financial policy to the ratings agencies. Foreign policy has largely been handed over to the United States, although the Zuma administration does its best to cover this up. Policing and secret policing are largely in the hands of non-governmental organisations funded either by local big business or by foreign governments (chiefly Britain and the U.S.) who have the power to remove police generals and national commissioners through their control of the judiciary. Housing has been outsourced to construction companies and real estate interests.

So the neoliberalised state exists to serve the interests of the people controlling it, who are businesspeople, and to a lesser extent the interests of the people carrying out their orders, the politicians who pretend to be servants of the people. The people who vote for the politicians have, basically, no control over what the politicians do; all they can manage is to compel the politicians to pretend to pursue the people’s interests (but those interests will never be served so long as the present system persists). Those who put Zuma in power were, of course, securing the neoliberalisation of the state, and if they didn’t realise this, it simply means that they are not any more competent than the most odious of Zuma’s failed allies.

The problem arises, of course, for the administration of the party and the government, when the businesspeople who are backing them want more than they are prepared to give. Or, for that matter, when the businesspeople believe that the administration is not serving them as they would like. This is the source of most of the conflict currently existing between the ruling class and the government, expressed through the ruling class-controlled media and the ruling-class controlled NGO sector.

The goal of the ruling class is naturally to enrich itself and secure that wealth through control of the government. No wealth can ever be enough, and no control can ever be adequate, so they constantly seek more. This undermines Zuma’s desire for a quiet life; essentially, instead of being allowed to steal a little along with the more that his political confederates are stealing and the enormous amounts that the ruling class is stealing, he suddenly finds himself denounced for stealing anything and unable to say anything in return, while the ruling class has drawn up plans for his replacement.

The main side effects of ruling class control are bad governmental management, shortage of money for productive activities, and governmental unpopularity. As an ironic result, the ruling class gradually has less money available for stealing, and therefore has to steal a greater and greater proportion of the money. But the more it steals, the worse the economic crisis, and then an even higher proportion of money has to be stolen and even less money can go into productive activities. Therefore it is always necessary to blame all the problems on the government — which is easy because the government is necessarily unpopular, and governmental mismanagement is manifest so that there are sound grounds for that unpopularity — in order to avoid criticism even of a mild and rhetorical kind.

So Zuma has, without meaning to, not only ruined the ANC and the South African state, but has also placed all power in the hands of the people who benefit most enthusiastically from this ruination — since the ruling class are not only interested in profit. They are also interested in revenge, and in furthering their self-image. Therefore, they want to punish the ANC for attempting to challenge their supremacy, and their goal is first to take over the ANC and then to destroy it. They also want to punish those who supported the ANC, by bringing about a semi-fascistic state under their control which will make the lives of former ANC backers a misery. Of course they will do neither of these things if it interferes with their profit, but they will do these things if they can.

This was all predictable. Marx called the government of a capitalist country the “Executive Committee of the bourgeoisie”, and he was more or less right about that. However, the ANC has never really understood how society functions and how to challenge those elements of it which oppose what the ANC wants; what it does is to act where it is safe, and surrender whenever it meets resistance from rich and powerful people.

So in that sense the collapse of the ANC’s state into an agency for rich people to further enrich themselves, although it was preventable, was inevitable; to avoid it, the ANC would have had to turn itself into an organisation genuinely wishing to have a developmental state which was supreme over the capitalist oligarchs, and it never did that; while the organisations which pretended to have that wish, the SACP and COSATU, have turned out to have simply lied.

If the South African people had wanted otherwise, perhaps we shouldn’t have believed all the hype.

 

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Midrand Blues II: What Jacob Did To Us.

November 13, 2017

The installation of Jacob Zuma in the Presidency of the ANC and the country is responsible for the situation which we find ourselves in. However, this does not mean that Jacob Zuma is the source of the problem; he is, rather, the damaged tool which was used to break the system and which could not be used to mend what was broken. The people who put him in power, whether one means the actual agents (big business and foreign intelligence agencies) or their dupes, stooges and whores, naturally pretend that Zuma is the sole source of the problem. By this pretense they avoid their responsibility for the problem, and they also make it possible for themselves to continue profiting from the problem — because they want to replace Zuma with another Zuma; their slogan is essentially “Kick the crook out, and kick the other crook in, and pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!”.

So, what was it that was done? Because it was not exactly done deliberately. It is absolutely certain that Jacob Zuma did not pursue the Presidency with the goal of stalling the economy, undermining the national administration, making himself and his party desperately unpopular and making it very likely that he would spend the last years of his life in a prison cell. His goals for all these things were the exact opposite — particularly his goals for himself, which were to stay out of jail, to make enough money to cover his costs, to live a comfy and irresponsible life and retire in peace and security to the end of his days, if possible as a respected statesman and Father of his Country.

That went wrong, and it’s worth asking why.

In order to get Zuma to Polokwane, it was necessary to block the charges brought against him — to pretend that the corruption case against him was not ironclad, to get judges to throw the charges out, to muddy the waters by using the secret services to manufacture fake e-mails and false accusations of apartheid links by those who were bringing the charges, to defame the woman whom Zuma raped and to bring the ANC into disrepute by proclaiming the merits of rapd and corruption in public, to provoke conflict within the ANC by pretending that the President of the party was conspiring against his Deputy President and pretending that the  Deputy Presidend was not conspiring against his President, along with the Secretary-General. All this turned the ANC into a hotbed of intrigue sponsored by business and by political chicanery artistes. But it also reduced the judiciary and the press to the level of lackeys of organised crime.

One may argue that this had always been the case. The press has always been corrupt, and so has the judiciary. However, what was happening with Zuma was that the corruption was manifest and impossible to ignore. At the same time, it was being ignored, because all the commentators were corrupt and were pretending that there was no elephant in the room even though the elephant was so large that nothing fitted into the room except the elephant. So by the time of Polokwane, South African politics had become surreal; only a tiny handful of people were telling anything like the truth, and the official line was that they should not be listened to. In a sense it was an expansion of the denialism evident at the time of the HIV/AIDS conflict between the South African government and the white ruling class and the pharmaceutical industry and its purchased politicians. The question was whether this degeneration could be reversed if Mbeki had won at Polokwane; it certainly would have been difficult.

In order to win at Polokwane, it was necessary to manipulate elections at branch, region and provincial level. It was also necessary to lie to the public in pretending that the Zuma administration’s policies would be left wing and anti-corporate. It was also necessary to purge the NEC of all Zuma opponents, because only a wholly docile NEC would be able to create conditions favourable to the looting of the state which Zuma’s corporate and administrative supporters desired. Hence everything which had been in any way positive about the ANC’s political processes had to be destroyed, and everything corrupt about those processes had to be immensely amplified.

But having won at Polokwane, it was then necessary to get rid of Mbeki and his administration, because at least out of pique (and perhaps also out of a serious sense that this would be the last way of preventing Zuma from becoming President) he and his administration were going ahead with the charging of Zuma and if it were fast-tracked to make up for the long and absurd delays which the corrupt judiciary had made possible, Zuma would almost certainly have been in prison by the time of the next national election.

But in order to do this it was necessary to get rid of the Mbeki-supporting provincial administrations, most particularly in the Western and Eastern Cape and in Limpopo. Therefore the parties in these provinces had to be purged of non-Zuma supporters (as the parties in particularly pro-Zuma provinces, KwaZulu-Natal, Mpumalanga and Gauteng, had previously been purged — except there it had been a minority, where in these three provinces it was a majority who were purged). This happened through the national leadership — Secretary-General Motlanthe in the vanguard — intervening by removing elected ANC members on trumped-up charges, disbanding ANC regions on trumped-up charges, and installing reliable Zuma stooges and SACP hacks in the place of those elected members. Everybody in the provinces knew it was a fake move, everybody knew what was going on, but nobody at provincial level could do anything because all power was devolved to the top.

Then came the great state purge when Mbeki and his cabinet and their administrators were removed from power on the pretext of lies told by a corrupt judge following the lying script drafted by Zuma supporters.

What all this had done to the ANC was calamitous enough. Everyone who had threatened Zuma’s position was, of course, removed, but in the process everyone who had seemed likely to threaten his position, and to threaten the positions of Zuma’s senior allies (particularly in the SACP, of course, but also in the business community) was removed. This meant the destruction of a lot of institutional memory; people who knew how things functioned were gone, and were replaced by people who didn’t know.

Obviously, not all of the people removed were competent or honest. However, in a situation where competence and honesty are irrelevant and the only thing which matters is expressing docility towards the leadership, the incompetent and the dishonest naturally had an advantage over the competent and the honest because the latter were liable to complain about what was happening — which was not docility, and which was a signal for removal. In addition, those who resented having been sidelined, or even being removed, for incompetence or disloyalty in the past, now found themselves in a position to seek preferment by simply doing whatever the people around Zuma wanted them to do. Unfortunately, a large number of these people were actually incompetent and disloyal, and restoring them to positions of power meant a flood of lazy, grumbling bunglers pouring into the party.

Loyalty to the organisation, let alone loyalty to the principles for which the organisation supposedly stood, ceased to exist — necessarily. The SACP people rose because they had such loyalty and therefore stood together, but they did not stand together with ANC members, they stood together with fellow SACP members, and this naturally bred resentment of that party given that it had no merits other than access to Zuma.

You might think, then, that this loyalty had been replaced by personal loyalty to individuals, and this has been claimed by some shallow-minded commentators trying to lard their propaganda with a pretended insight. In fact personal loyalty has also largely broken down within the ANC. It has all been replaced with private interest — what is best for me, and how can I make as much money out of this situation? That has always been the motive behind all political action, but it has been tempered by ideological, political and institutional checks and balances. The actions undertaken by Zuma and his allies have destroyed those checks and balances; all that remains is greed and spite; only greed tempers the spite, but nevertheless the immense amount of in-fighting within Zuma’s ANC is driven by envy and selfishness rather than any institutional or policy considerations.

All this helps explain why the ANC’s administration has collapsed and why policies are no longer implemented or even developed beyond the momentary interest of sloganeering. Simple matters like securing annual general meetings so that branches and regions can function properly are now complicated by the fact that such meetings can only receive recognition if they result in situations favourable to current leadership (which may be different in a month or a year, in which case the meeting may be retrospectively declared invalid). Membership is a matter of who happens to be in power in a particular place at a particular time, and who can make use of that membership to serve those in power; it has little to do with the people who belong to the ANC, who may be declared in good or bad standing regardless of their attendance of meetings, payment of dues, or even whether they belong to the organisation at all.

But this naturally also afflicted the state. When the Cabinet was purged, the new President was the Deputy President of the ANC, Motlanthe, a man who had risen by obedience and subservience. Naturally he ruled as a puppet either of the SACP or of Zuma. This meant that he did not have to take responsibility for running things. The Cabinet was almost doubled in size, meaning that almost every minister had a deputy minister, and some ministerial responsibilities were split, and all that meant not that work was made more specific, but rather that responsibility was spread and blame avoided. In consequence, even before Zuma formally took over, the running of the country at the very top was ineffectual, and particularly ineffectual at compelling subordinates to do what they were told. The same had already happened at provincial level, and this had a knock-on effect at municipal level. (In addition, municipal management depended heavily on the ANC being efficiently administered at branch and region level, and that had been destroyed, so municipal management was wrecked from above and below.)

So, in an important sense, under Zuma the state does not exist. Instead, there is a set of people with various degrees of power, working only for themselves (but occasionally cooperating with each other, sometimes under the auspices of more powerful people). There is no sense that people are working together towards a common goal, because there is no common goal. It is something like feudalism, but feudalism without any sense of aristocratic responsibilities, or fealties, or Christianity, or any other code of conduct except pursuit of the main chance and pursuit of money. It is the worst of all possible political worlds — and the consequences have, naturally, been dreadful.

 


Midrand Blues I: How We Got Zuma.

November 10, 2017

If you read the propaganda sheets (and who doesn’t?) you learn that the problems of South Africa were all caused by Jacob Zuma and that the solution to the problem is simple; get rid of Jacob Zuma. This is obviously a pack of lies, a conspiracy theory which panders to the prejudices and the simplistic assumptions of the ignorant and bigoted who make up the bulk of Our Glorious Opposition. In fact, nobody sits down and says “How can I destroy my party, my society and my country to the greatest possible extent?”; even Iago was motivated by spite.

So, what exactly happened? Obviously, some force put Zuma where he is, and some force or forces encouraged Zuma to do what he did, but also encouraged many, many other people to do what they did to get us where we are today. Also obviously, some similar forces have been acting on every other society in the world, for the whole world has been circling the same plughole that South Africa is going down, but let’s focus on South Africa for simplicity without forgetting that we are not unique.

How did Zuma become Deputy President, a job for which he was far from well equipped?

Zuma and Mbeki worked together to neutralise Inkatha in KwaZulu-Natal; Mbeki was an outsider there and found Zuma’s schmoozing skills extremely helpful. As a result, this ineptly scheming place-filler whose previous job had been mismanaging ANC Security was pulled up by his fake leopard-skin and turned into a major influential player within the ANC. KwaZulu-Natal was a major part of Mbeki’s plans for the ANC, and by placing a Zulu in a prominent position he believed that he could win Zulu tribalists away from Inkatha — which proved to be the case, especially after Inkatha lost the patronage it enjoyed under apartheid. Mbeki was the obvious heir apparent to the ANC Presidency, and when he became President it was natural for Zuma to be made Deputy President; Mbeki the intellectual planner, Zuma the impulsive but outwardly amiable actor, and both of them formidable back-stabbers.

But the relationship between them naturally changed once the ANC won KwaZulu-Natal. Under Mandela, Mbeki as Deputy President had practically run the country with Mandela as a ceremonial figure. Zuma, on the other hand, was a much less hands-on Deputy President. He was less central to the government; despite having loads of nominally central positions (in charge of arms procurement, in charge of HIV/AIDS policy) he was fairly disengaged from his responsibilities in a way that Rasool, who fulfilled something of the same position with regard to Mbeki’s plans for the Western Cape, was not. So it was evident that Mbeki once again viewed Zuma as a place-holder until someone more suitable could be found, and it was increasingly clear as time went on that the replacement was Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s ex-wife and therefore something of an insult to him as a Zulu tribalist and sexist.

None of this bubbling-under stuff was discussed in public. The ANC didn’t, in those days, wash its dirty linen in public. (Although that’s a good way to get the linen clean, the problem is compounded nowadays because the ANC and its allies tend to use shit instead of soap for its public washing ceremonies.) The ruling class was simply trying to get rid of Mbeki and therefore was not discussing anything he did, and also was trying to get Zuma on side, bribing him and schmoozing with him via bought-and-paid-for organisations like the Treatment Action Campaign.

It’s probable that Mbeki knew perfectly well that Zuma was a crook, although he may not have known the extent of his corruption. Most particularly he probably didn’t know how deeply endebted Zuma had become; Mbeki is far too cautious a person to get into that kind of trouble and probably underestimated the irresponsibility of others. To the extent to which corruption existed, Mbeki doubtless saw it as an opportunity, a tool to use against Zuma. This was his first major mistake, which was compounded when the Scorpions caught Zuma with both hands trapped in the cookie-jar over the corrupt deal he brokered under which his chum Schabir Shaik would front for the French electronics company Thales in supplying credit-card drivers’ licences, a tender worth hundreds of millions and from which Zuma trousered several million. The problem was that Thales had been involved in the arms deal, as had Zuma, and the investigation of the arms deal quickly flung up red flags all around them.

Legally speaking, Zuma should have been charged, so the fact that Shaik was charged and Zuma not must have been as a result of Mbeki’s interference. Why did he do this? Probably the most important reason was that putting Zuma on trial would have been damaging to the ANC (and to some extent to Mbeki himself, since Zuma was his right-hand-man). At least while the trial went on it was possible to pretend that, since Shaik might be found innocent, Zuma could not be held accountable.

Other matters relate to the nature of the judiciary. After the HIV/AIDS fiasco, Mbeki knew quite well that the judiciary was almost as much in the pocket of the ruling class as the media. If Zuma were put on trial, and if the ruling class decided to make trouble for the ANC, they could easily support Zuma by exploiting judicial corruption (as they later in fact did) and then Zuma would be found innocent and Mbeki would be tarnished and accused of misusing state resources. Shaik had no powerful supporters in the ruling class; their only reason for supporting him was making mischief for the ANC, and they could drop him as easily as they were later to drop the Guptas. Hence charging Shaik alone was a lot safer — and if Shaik were found guilty of corrupting Zuma, it would be much more difficult for the most dishonest judge to protect Zuma. Besides, after the HIV-AIDS fiasco, Mbeki was not eager to get into yet another fight with the ruling class.

But this also spun the process out, and this was Mbeki’s second mistake. In retrospect, charging Zuma might have solved the ANC’s problems right there, provided that he was found guilty — and if he had been let off, the situation could not have developed much worse.

Something else which Mbeki didn’t recognise about the consequences of putting Zuma on notice that he could face dismissal and possible prosecution, was that Zuma wasn’t simply afraid of jail. He owed immense amounts of money which he couldn’t possibly pay even from his salary as Deputy President of country and ANC. He desperately needed to hang on to his political offices in order to sustain his lifestyle, and if he did not, he would be ruined. What he needed, therefore, was someone to give him political and financial security against the threat posed by Mbeki — and towards that end he was prepared to sacrifice anything and anyone else. Mbeki created a desperate man with nothing to lose and with the enormous powers of the Deputy Presidency, plus the immense potential powers of the Presidency, and a willingness to promise anyone anything in exchange for financial or political support.

If Zuma could have been excised from the ANC, as Mbeki wished, well and good. However, the trouble was that there were immense forces within the ANC and the Tripartite Alliance who were prepared to cooperate with the kind of man that Zuma had become, and even to go further down the road of corruption which Zuma was treading.

The most immediately helpful forces were in the SACP, the most tight-knit body of people within the Alliance who had been allocated important but boring administrative positions in the ANC because they were considered hard-working and boringly loyal. The unrecognised problem was that they were principally loyal to their own party and only secondarily to the ANC. What many within the ANC, particularly Mbeki’s supporters, failed to recognise, was that the SACP was no longer particularly committed to socialism, in part because it’s only survival potential outside the ANC lay in the sponsorship which it received from business — sponsorship which was provided in return for the favours which the SACP could provide for business. But these favours depended on the SACP having government posts, which were only available through the ANC. Hence unless the SACP could sustain its power within the ANC, it was in danger of fading away. In this sense it was in a similar position, organisationally, to Zuma’s personal position; it could only survive by selling itself and betraying its principles, and therefore it had to do both things as much as humanly possible.

Meanwhile, of course, there was a large contingent of pro-business people within the ANC who had either been talked around into neoliberalism, like Trevor Manuel, or who had been corrupted by corporate interests, like Matthews Phosa. These people would be inclined to pursue the interests of their patrons and would therefore be happy to see a change of attitude within the ANC. They might not be directly supportive of Zuma, but they would be more satisfied with him in power than anyone else simply because he would be likely to leave them alone to pursue their agenda of enriching the wealthiest people in the country at the expense of everyone else.

There was also the Congress of South African Trade Unions. Obviously, the rank and file in these unions were not very interested in seeing rich people empowered and further enriched at their expense, but they were never consulted, only disinformed by their leaders. There were several reasons why COSATU leaders might support this, however. One was that union administration is notoriously financially corrupt and thus subject to simple bribery from business leaders. Another is that many union leaders are accustomed to working closely with business leaders and tend to see the world from their point of view — which would incorporate a Zuma Presidency. Another is that COSATU has historically tended to take its lead almost unquestioningly from the SACP, and with the SACP marching behind Zuma COSATU would be inclined to join the parade.

To this must be added the obvious influence of resentment against the way in which the SACP and COSATU had been sidelined by the ANC’s leadership, merely because they were dishonest, corrupt and deeply mistaken in their views, reasons which the SACP and COSATU felt were unfair (and in the SACP/s case self-evidently untrue since SACP members believe that the Party and the Leader is always right, that two and two make five and that black is white and rich is poor if the Party says so).

So, although Mbeki might have believed that Zuma would not betray the ANC to the white ruling class, and that the right wing  and the left wing would never combine against him, actually it was almost inevitable that this would happen, especially at a time when his control of patronage within the ANC was weakening.

This combination of Mbeki’s mistakes and misunderstanding (after ten years of tight-rope walking he seems not to have realised that he could fall) and deep-seated potential corruption within the ANC and its alliance, together with the eagerness of the white ruling class to corrupt the ANC and the alliance and the willingness of the media to hide the truth in the interests of rich people, all goes a long way towards explaining Polokwane. It’s easy to see how this was going to be a disaster. However, the extent of the disaster deserves much closer examination.

 


Captivation (I)

November 6, 2017

When the concept of “State Capture” came to the fore in the propaganda media early this year, the issue was the dismissal of the apparently incompetent and (if a muckraking magazine is to believed) corrupt Finance Minister, Nhlanha Nene. He was to be replaced by a completely unknown figure, Van Rooyen.

In a sense the Finance Minister is the most important person in the Cabinet outside the Presidency. The Finance Minister determines spending priorities and can therefore decide whether the rich or the poor benefit from government policies, so that if desired, the Finance Minister can actually reverse the intention of those policies. Backed by the Treasury, the South African Revenue Service and the Reserve Bank, the Finance Minister is almost invincible within the Cabinet. So, the only way to change course is to remove him from power, and the only person who can do that is the President.

On the face of it, Nene was not doing anything that his predecessor Gordhan had not done before him. That is, he was pursuing an austerity policy for the poor and the middle class, while shovelling cash into the insatiable maws of the very rich, mainly via the parastatal companies which were the recipients of “infrastructure” money intended to facilitate minerals exports. (Since the overseas market for minerals has plummetted, this was a disastrous investment, but Nene continued to pursue it as if he had no choice. Possibly he was doing it not in pursuit of a mythical return on investment, but because the ruling class wanted him to continue to bankroll them.)

Van Rooyen, however, lasted only a weekend. There was a storm of violent propaganda in the usual agencies. More importantly, big financial interests sold off their holdings of South African currency, causing the value of the rand to collapse and the interest rate on bonds to soar. (It is possible that the Reserve Bank, which is largely privately owned even though its governor is state-appointed, was involved in some of these shenanigans.) The U.S. credit ratings agencies let it be known that Van Rooyen was not an acceptable Finance Minister and that they would downgrade South Africa’s credit rating accordingly. As a result of all this pressure from the ruling elite inside and outside the country. President Zuma removed Van Rooyen from office and replaced him with Nene’s predecessor, Gordhan.

So, why was Nene removed, and why was he to be replaced by someone who did not have any obvious contacts with the ruling elite, of the kind which Gordhan and Nene and their cronies had?

This was the question which has most particularly been avoided ever since last December in the propaganda agencies of the ruling elite. Rather, instead of asking a question, the propaganda agencies have been propagating a myth, plausible on the face of it, ridiculous when one digs a little deeper. The myth is that Nene was fired, and Van Rooyen installed, on the orders of an Indian commercial family with ties to President Zuma’s commercial interests, the Gupta family.

This victory for the ruling elite over the wishes of the government (whatever motivated those wishes) represents a decisive shift in power. In consequence of that shift in power, the myth went into high gear, and the front-man for the myth very rapidly became Gordhan himself. The banking industry, with which Gordhan had always enjoyed cordial relations since the days when he had protected them against taxation when he was Commissioner of SARS, shut down the Guptas’ accounts, essentially making it impossible for them to do business in South Africa. The press, which is controlled by corporate interests which dominate government policy and have done so since before South Africa was a country, denounced the Guptas as enemies of the people, and declared that Zuma and anyone who supported him, or even who endorsed policies which the press didn’t like, was an agent of the Guptas.

The Minister of Finance claims to be defending South Africa against enemies seeking to steal its money — that is, what remains of its money, much of which has lost most of its value under the stewardship of the Minister of Finance and his friends.

Who are these thieves? Apparently, they include ESCOM, DENEL, TRANSNET and South African Airways, all of whom are under attack by the Ministry of Finance for failing to act in a responsible manner, for failing to do as the Treasury tells them. What we are also told is that much of this is not simply irresponsibility, but actual criminality, for these entities are under the control of the Gupta family, a medium-sized business family based in India.

How is it that a (comparatively) small Indian family, hounded out of South Africa and currently lurking in Dubai, whose wealth amounts to a few paltry billions of rands (as compared with the hundreds of billions available for deployment from companies like Billiton and Anglo and even LonMin) could have seized control of the country? Supposedly, they have somehow outweighed those bigger companies in the corruption stakes with Jacob Zuma and his henchpeople. Zuma is supposed to be corrupt and biddable, but apparently he is also committed to supporting Indian people over white people.

Well, perhaps. No actual evidence for it, though.

The people in charge of South Africa’s state-owned enterprises are mismanaging them — often preposterously so; they make blunders which nobody with the slightest familiarity with the issues involved could make out of ignorance. Either they are complete fools – fools of such stature that they make other government hacks look like geniuses – or, more likely, they are corrupt.

Unsurprising; Zuma is corrupt, so why should his appointees not be corrupt?

Logically, then, we need someone who is not corrupt to challenge corruption in state-owned enterprises. And, somehow, we are told that the man who is not corrupt is Pravin Gordhan, late of the “Indian Cabal” in the Natal United Democratic Front, the man responsible for making SARS what it is today, and also responsible for making the South African economy what it is today. And this shining light of competence and probity is portrayed as the man the Empire – that is, the ruling class and therefore all the rest of us who are merely appendages of the ruling class – wants.

This is such a convenient and simple narrative — the bad guys happening to be the people who have supposedly always been opposed by the ruling class, the good guys happening to be the best friends of the ruling class — that it’s hard to believe that there can be much truth in it. On the other hand, if there is a legitimate basis for the decision to dismiss Nene, then why was it not revealed? And if Nene was not tolerable, why should Gordhan then be tolerable? Why be so hard-line one moment, and as soft as butter in a blast furnace the next?

The most likely answer is that the reason for dismissing Nene was that in some way he was interfering with policies which Zuma and his allies supported — for whatever reason. It could be that he was trying to take the side of the established big business which dominates the state against the Gupta interlopers. It could also be that he was trying to undermine the financial stability of the state enterprises, as was hinted at the time — something which also potentially serves big business, which wants to see those enterprises weakened and sold off. It could be that he was doing both to varying degrees, and therefore pressure was put on Zuma to remove him and replace him with someone more pliable. At which point, established big business launched an attack on South Africa’s financial state in order to force Zuma to back down — which he did, but not to the point of reinstating Nene; instead he reinstated Gordhan. Perhaps this was simply face-saving. Perhaps, however, Gordhan was the chosen man of the ruling class, for whatever reason.

Certainly, what has happened since then has been a remarkable outpouring of allegations about the Guptas and the titanic threat which they pose to the state. Apparently they control the Minister for Mines, Zwane, as well as Van Rooyen (who was shifted to Cooperative Governance). One can understand why they would want the Minister for Mines, but why would they want Cooperative Governance? Of course, perhaps they bribed someone to make him Minister of Finance — but then why didn’t that person stay bribed, given the vast amounts (hundreds of millions) which the Guptas supposedly offer as bribes? And if they are giving hundreds of millions in bribes, how can they possibly be making a profit on transactions which are only ten times bigger? For surely they are not only bribing one person; one captured minister doth not a captured state make. We are also told that they have bribed the CEO of ESCOM (who has now resigned, either because he is guilty, guilty, guilty! or because he couldn’t handle being hounded and abused by journalists on a daily basis) in order to do, well, not very much.

What is also interesting is the claims by various people that they were offered ministries. In particular, the Deputy Minister of Finance, Mcebisi Jonas, has declared that the Guptas offered him both the Ministry of Finance and a gigantic bribe to accept the job. (He didn’t mention the fact at the time, but only several months later, once the anti-Gupta campaign was in full swing.) Suddenly Jonas has been elevated to a stardom which he never enjoyed before; he is the Leader of the Good Guys. The fact that if the Guptas are so corrupt, then they must have believed (on who knows what basis?) that Jonas was as corrupt or more so, does not, apparently, matter.

The “State of Capture” report rushed out by the former Public Protector to bolster all this press propaganda is essentially a compendium of media and other allegations, untested and untestable, which is given credence by her previous report on Nkandla (which was carefully tested, within the limits of a body which has virtually no real investigative ability but has plenty of lawyers and accountants who can read documents).

Meanwhile, it is interesting that the ruling class, which has been trumpetting the instantly-impending doom of Zuma for several years, has in recent months turned against their candidate, Cyril Ramaphosa. It will be recalled that the ruling class persuaded Motlanthe to stand against Zuma and then dropped him, because Ramaphosa was prepared to step up to the plate as Deputy President with the endorsement of Zuma and the SACP and the ruling class and the press. After that came the deluge of ruling-class attacks on Zuma in the press, and the denunciation of Zuma by the SACP, and the endorsement of Ramaphosa for President by COSATU. Self-evidently the ruling class had their man in position, and did not seek any alternatives (particularly not the hated Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, Zuma’s favoured successor – and, ironically, also Mbeki’s favoured successor).

But recently, journalists have been denouncing Ramaphosa and touting all manner of alternatives – Mkhize, Gordhan, anybody who might conceivably be willing to do whatever he is told by the ruling class. Apparently Ramaphosa the corporate toady is just too independent to be tolerated, or perhaps he is so unpopular within the ANC that he is not considered capable of beating Dlamini-Zuma.

Meanwhile again, in the background, Jonas (who, like Gordhan, is a Communist) has come out to declare that the royal road to saving the economy is by changing labour legislation to serve the interests of bosses rather than workers. (No trade union or leftists condemned him, for he is the hero of the anti-Gupta revolution.) And this, along with selling off the state enterprises and cutting income taxes (recently mooted by the SACP Secretary-General, who wants to increase sales tax instead, thus hammering the poor) is what it’s all about.

This is where the South African left has led us.

 


Let’s Sing Another Song, Boys . . .

November 6, 2017

. . . this one has grown old and bitter.

There is wholehearted consensus among all honest observers of South Africa that the problem of the country relates to two significant factors: the refusal of government to serve the genuine interests of the nation’s people, and the consequent collapse in public trust in government. The former factor has brought with it the steady deterioration in social services and in the general performance of government in such fields as foreign affairs and constitutional rule. The latter factor has brought with it social unrest and political paralysis.

These observers do not offer much in the way of practical suggestions about how to resolve these problems. The worst of them (the overwhelming majority) merely say that we should get rid of the African National Congress and then somehow everything will be all right. The best of them (such as Hein Marais) merely say that we need to establish a government which serves the genuine interests of the nation’s people, mostly by redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor in an efficient way and by promoting productive investment in the economy, and thus wins back public trust in government. Of course, if this were as politically easy a thing to do as these observers pretend, somebody would have done it simply out of the self-interest of installing themselves as saviour of the nation and winning a Mandela-style popularity with the majority.

There are, however, dishonest observers. These ones agree that the problem of the country relates to the refusal of government to serve the genuine interests of the elite, and the consequent collapse in elite trust in government. The former has brought with it redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor, and the latter has brought with it the anger and resentment of the elite directed against the government. It is this which motivates most of the criticism of the ANC which is made by journalists and the purported intelligentsia in ruling-class-friendly segments of academia and the ruling-class-sponsored non-governmental organisations (many of which are also organised, and often sponsored, by governments, though not the South African government).

The consequence of listening too closely to the dishonest observers who make up the overwhelming bulk of those empowered to make commentary, and to those honest observers whose observations are appropriated for the purposes of such commentary, is pretty bad. It entails believing that something needs to be done, and what needs to be done is to get rid of the government, without ever specifying what it needs to be replaced with — because that means allowing the government to be replaced, not with what the people want, or with what might be best in running the country, but rather with the people whom the power elite wish to see running the country. In other words, just like what happened at Polokwane in 2007.

So, what happened in South Africa in 2016?

Just over 26% of the electorate voted for the Democratic Alliance; just over 54% of the electorate voted for the African National Congress. Under normal circumstances that would be deemed a blowout victory for the ANC. Just over 8% voted for the Economic Freedom Fighters. Under normal circumstances that would be deemed, at best, a respectably pitiful performance by the EFF. However, because the EFF was able to cooperate with the DA to hand power to them in Johannesburg and Tshwane metroes (the DA was able to take over Nelson Mandela Bay, although they lost it, because they could cooperate with any one of the political catamites — the UDM, CoPe, PAC, etc — who were eager to collaborate with them in exchange for money and jobs. So, suddenly we are told that the EFF are wonderful, not because they are, but because it is convenient to say so from the perspective of the ruling elite who back the Democratic Alliance.

In reality, the ANC lost a good deal of support because people stayed away. They did not go over to the Democratic Alliance, presumably because they knew that the Democratic Alliance opposes everything they want to see done. Therefore, they showed more sense than those European leftists and American liberals who, abandoning faith in fake social democrats and false populists, instead went off and voted for the right wing — as many of them must have done. But they were not fooled by the ANC either. Therefore, we are in the position in which nobody in politics is truly trusted, perhaps because the tasks which they are hoped to perform are simply beyond realistic expectation.

This is because of the rightward shift in the ANC, not in anything else which has happened. Granted, the DA and the white establishment generally has become a little more openly right-wing, but this is not of any great significance, since it mirrors the global shift of the NATO countries (to whom the DA owes allegiance) towards outright fascism. It is the ANC which is correctly perceived to have abandoned its principles, and therefore people either stay away or vote for the party perceived to at least pretend to maintain those principles, namely the EFF.

This, however, also tells us little about what will happen in 2019; the only thing which can be said for sure is that the DA is not going to win. Its support base has possibly peaked; the rapid growth of the black middle class or perir-bourgeoisie, the only road by which the DA can gain much electoral traction, has stalled with the stagnation of the economy and the looting of the state engineered by the tiny super-rich minority who fund the DA; hence, ironically, the super-rich minority has sabotaged their own party. Just one of the little contradictions of capitalism, comrades.

But the trouble for those who want to sort out the problems of the country is that the weakness of the DA does not mean the salvation of the country. Assuming that the EFF doubles or trebles in size (an unlikely proposition) and assuming that the EFF’s pretensions to stand by the Freedom Charter have some basis in fact (almost as unlikely) then the ANC could find itself pushed below the 50% mark, and the ANC could find itself needing to shift to the left in order to get EFF support and keep itself from disintegrating. That could, just possibly, bring some kind of redemption to the country.

However, if the EFF remains relatively small, then the ANC, under new management but possibly with the same horrible policies (or even more right-wing ones, if the Gordhan/Ramaphosa gang have their way) would probably hang in there with more than 50%, a mixture as before. And if the ANC’s right wing continues in its paranoid ascent, then even if the ANC’s support dips below 50%, a deal with the DA would probably be what the ANC would desire. (The DA wouldn’t want such a deal, but would probably be pressured into accepting by its corporate bosses — and such a deal, since it would probably lead to a further rightward shift and thence another split in the ANC, would ultimately benefit the DA by causing the ANC’s support to disintegrate.)

Maybe we should simply give up on electoral politics? Maybe what we need is what Hunter S Thompson called “some high-powered shark with a fistful of answers” like Yoweri Museveni? Or maybe we’re just doing it wrong?

 


Spies Tell Lies.

May 19, 2016

Police spies have, historically, been deemed the most contemptible of people. The “copper’s nark” of Britain was traditionally seen as an enemy not only of the criminal fraternity but even of the working class, and richly deserved the savage kicking he received in prisons. In Paris, police spies were on the same level as pimps, but not as valuable members of society. In South Africa, of course, the police spy was necessarily tied in with the apartheid state, and to be called an “impimpi” was as much as one’s life was worth (provided that one was weak, unprotected and unarmed — ideally an elderly female whom the brave young lions could boldly burn to death).

The exception in the West is the middle-class perspective on the political police spy. Of course Verloc in Conrad’s The Secret Agent is an unattractive figure — but then he is an agent provocateur, and working for the Czarist government whom Konrad Korteniowski necessarily disliked. But in a lot of cases the attitude is more that of I Was a Communist for the FBI — focussing on the courage of the political police spy in betraying the spy’s friends and allies on behalf of the centres of power. The same was true under the apartheid regime in South Africa, when police spies were honoured (except by those against whom they were used) — except that some felt that there was something a little problematic about them, not that anybody in authority minded.

Olivia Forsyth’s Agent 407 is, thus, interesting as being a voice from within the problematic stuff. The question is whether anybody will admire it, and also, of course, whether anybody will believe a professional deceiver.

Forsyth was mildly famous at one stage. She was a campus spy — a fairly lowly form of life, but extremely common; it was particularly easy to recruit conservative white people and get them to pretend to be left-wingers in exchange for a free university education. Such people, if they were caught, would not be necklaced or shot, but would simply be embarrassed and might have to go to some other institution. So they risked little and all they had to do was deceive the people who surrounded them, which was usually easy, and pleasing for them because conservative whites naturally despised white left-wingers even more than they despised blacks.

Forsyth comes from a fairly familiar background — part colonial, having been partly brought up in Zambia, part official, since her biological father worked for the government, living some of her time in conservative white Natal, some of her time in conservative white Pietersburg (now Polokwane, of course). So it is not very surprising that someone of this schizophrenic reactionary origin should have sought out a job with the government, first supposedly with the Foreign Service, then with the National Intelligence Service, and then with the Security Branch of the South African Police. Or maybe she was always angling for an SB job — who can say for sure?

What one can say for sure is that this is not a person whom one would trust under any circumstances. You twig this on the first page, when she is talking about how she was getting ready to be sent off to Russia for training, and how she was being escorted out of Luanda by some MK troops, thinking that they were there to defend her against FRELIMO bandits. FRELIMO were, of course, the government of Mozambique at that time, and so had they been there in Angola they would not have been bandits but allies. Also, they were the government which the South African government was trying to overthrow by sponsoring RENAMO guerrillas. In fact the people she is talking about was UNITA, who were certainly bandits, but who were enjoying the full and unqualified support of the South African and United States governments at the time. So someone who can’t tell the difference between her friends and her enemies, who gets her acronyms wrong, can hardly be trusted to know when she is telling the truth — and very probably she is being sloppy anyway because she assumes that her audience is a bunch of ignorant and politically gullible Britons.

Anyway, after a reactionary life and a brief bit of university training she was recruited as Agent RS407. She claims not to know what the initials stand for, but wonders if it meant “Republican Servant”. Unlikely, since it would have been in Afrikaans, and in Afrikaans that would be “Republikeinse Bediende”. More probably it stands for “Republikeinse Spioen”, and the fact that she didn’t think of that suggests how she is completely running away from the realities of her actual trade of treachery and falsification.

Why should she? Why should she be so inaccurate regarding details where she could check the facts with a single act of Googling? Presumably, because the truth does not matter, because what matters is something else. But what?

She started out, with apparently very limited training, as a simple spy on Rhodes campus, the most interesting campus from the perspective of the secret police in the 1980s because it was an extremely right-wing university in an extremely right-wing area, and therefore the destruction of NUSAS, the principal leftist organisation, was always a possibility; the university had already disaffiliated from NUSAS once. (NUSAS depended heavily, and ironically, on the subsidies of institutions, in return for NUSAS members largely keeping students quiet in respect of the corruption and mismanagement of academics and university authorities; it was, thus, a pensionary of the power-structure.)

However, she wanted more. She says this was her own initiative, but it seems likely that the secret police were grooming her for more. It was always assumed that white people rose rapidly within the ANC because black people had an intrinsic respect for whiteness. (While there may have been some truth to this, a reason which the racist secret police failed to consider was that whites who joined the ANC tended to be people with much more initiative and political understanding than the average, and were thus better qualified to rise.) So a white leftist inserted into the ANC might be expected to get into a significant position.

Forsyth also seems to have had one significant advantage. She was young, pretty and would fuck any man within reach. This apparent utter lack of self-respect naturally made her attractive to the thoroughly sexist males of the leadership of the white left, protecting her against exposure as a police spy — for by making herself absolutely available she proved her political virtue. It also distinguished her from the women of the white left who were usually more subordinate dogsbodies and generally had a distaste for such abjection, as a result of exposure to feminism which never troubled Forsyth. (Also, just at the time when Forsyth was becoming active, sexualised “post-feminism” was beginning to raise its head, which could have been used by Forsyth had she so wished.)

Another advantage was that since Forsyth was simply playing a part, and had no liking or respect for any of the people who surrounded her (she claims otherwise, but provides no evidence for why she might have evolved liking or respect for the people she betrayed to prison or death under the increasingly repressive politics of the era) having sex with any of them was of no more significance than the sexual activities of a porn actress; it simply didn’t count as real sex because her partners were not human.

So, having successfully betrayed NUSAS and the End Conscription Campaign at Rhodes, there was nothing for it but to go on to fight against the African National Congress, using her contacts in the white left to gain access to the ANC underground and thus make her way to Luanda and become part of the external ANC, with the possibility of a huge betrayal of the liberation movement — which, of course, for her, was not a betrayal, but simply undermining the enemy. However, unmentioned in the background of one of Forsyth’s trophy photographs of all the young people whom she was informing on to the apartheid police force is the cheerful face of the sprightly, bumptious, self-centred aspirant journalist Gavin Evans, who unbeknownst to people like Forsyth was one of the main ANC counterintelligence officers inserted into the white left. It seems quite likely that Evans was the man who recognised that Forsyth was an actor, and was probably at best a stooge and, most probably, a traitor.

Forsyth was playing in a whole new game, again unbeknownst to her; the white left inside South Africa had long ago given up all hope of curbing the vast flood of police spies (they were considered quite useful for stuffing envelopes and making platform-parties seem larger) whereas the ANC took spies seriously, partly because they were useful in maintaining an atmosphere of paranoia which benefited many of the more repressive leaders of the organisation.

So when Forsyth arrived in Luanda she was monitored, and then scrutinised, and then chucked into Quattro, a.k.a Number Four Camp, the prison camp where ANC dissidents and spies were held, abused, re-educated and sometimes debriefed. And this is the point at which the narrative really goes off the rails.

Forsyth claims that she did a deal with Ronnie Kasrils, the head of MK Intelligence (as opposed to Mbokhodo, ANC Security, which ran Quattro and was generally of much higher status and lower quality than MK Intelligence). Under this deal, she would eventually be swapped for some or other captured SWAPO or MK guerrilla, but she would really be working for MK, and would therefore be an ANC intelligence agent at the heart of the white establishment. In fact, she hints that while she had been busy betraying NUSAS at Rhodes she had undergone a complete change of heart and thereafter wanted nothing more than to be posted to spy on the ANC so that she could betray the apartheid establishment to them.

This is, of course, entirely her claim, which no conceivable evidence could substantiate. It is naturally what she might be expected to claim thirty years after the fact, when virtually everyone who could refute her claims is dead or senile. Of course it is possible that she might have so fallen in love with treachery and become so detached from reality and moral good sense that she might have pursued such an agenda for its own sake. (It is inconceivable that she might have somehow developed actual moral sense; nothing in her entire career suggests this.)

However, she obviously did some kind of deal, presumably under pressure, for she was taken out of Quattro again and placed under house arrest in Luanda. Conceivably Kasrils, who was always rather gullible and something of a grandstander, although honest according to his lights and more competent than most of those around him, was fooled by her line. Of course this would not have been a great accomplishment — she was an insignificant part of the South African espionage machinery and would not have known much more than gossip, nor been able to learn much — but MK and its allies were desperate for some modest success at this stage, their machinery in South Africa having been heavily penetrated or broken up. She then escaped from her safe-house to the British Embassy in that city. (Supposedly, the British government was highly indignant that the Angolans did not fast-track the rapid and easy repatriation of a spy from the South African government, which was then occupying and bombarding large parts of their country.)

Of course this escape makes nonsense of her claim to have wished to be a double agent for the ANC. There was no cause for such an escape unless one assumes that she remained loyal to the regime. After that she participated in a ludicrous pretense undertaken by the Security Branch under which she would pretend to have been a top agent who had successfully penetrated the ANC’s heartland and made it back with vital information, a pretense which fooled nobody who didn’t want to be fooled. Part of the deal was an arranged marriage with another secret policeman (probably the lick of truth in Forsyth’s narrative is that the Security Branch no longer trusted her) which, like the rest of her career and life, gradually faded away into the obscurity and misery which she had always richly deserved.

Why bother to write the book? Perhaps for the money, but who thought that the disingenuous fantasies of a dishonest reactionary would sell? Or was it sponsored by someone seeking to sanitise the odious history of the apartheid regime’s police spies? There are a few vague hints in the book that Forsyth would like to present herself as an anti-Communist – although this is ill-constructed and also decidedly implausible. Arguably, this is the kind of political stance which modern reactionaries try to take, and perhaps the wish to sanitise its own record on behalf of the old apartheid regime matched Forsyth’s desire to justify herself and possibly confuse the public enough to escape too much historical odium – for in the end Forsyth’s apparent lies and distortions are as likely as anything more honest and accurate to get into the history books.

Sad, really, but hardly surprising.


Same Game, Different Rules.

May 19, 2016

The last decade has seen a dramatic deterioration in South African economic and political conditions. In this modern world very little attention is paid to memory, so the world of 2005 seems misty and vague, but in retrospect it was a national Utopia; we had a strong and popular government which was working to solve problems like inequality and HIV and foreign affairs with vigour and efficacy, we had a booming economy, and the nation was cohesive; the poor expected that someone would look after them, the rich expected to be left alone with their wealth, blacks and whites were gradually moving away from the hostilities of the apartheid era. In contrast, nowadays things seem to be falling apart; even the Parliamentary opposition has fallen into desuetude.

But in 2005 many were convinced that South African economic and political conditions were simply not good enough — which was a fair enough claim if anybody had been able to prove that they had a better alternative. There was a strong groundswell calling for radical change within the Tripartite Alliance, as if this long national nightmare of peace and prosperity needed to be brought to an end, to make room for strife and poverty. And, lo, that was exactly what came to pass. Now, in 2015, there seems to be another groundswell within the Tripartite Alliance, calling, if not for radical change because nobody would believe in that any more, at least for regime change.

Basically, the SACP and COSATU are threatening, as they did between 1998 and 2007, to withdraw support from the ANC until their demands are met. They are also, increasingly, criticising the government’s policies, and are throwing their weight behind a candidacy for the Presidency of the ANC not favoured by its current President. This all looks like a re-run of the Mbeki-Zuma struggle of 2005-8, but it is actually very different in practice although the actors and agendas are very similar.

The SACP and COSATU are aware that their influence within the ANC must decline with the departure of Zuma, who leaned on them and their capacity for manipulating elections very heavily in order to seize control of the party. Now the rest of the ANC leadership at provincial level is as good at rigging votes and faking credential challenges as anyone in the alliance, and they don’t need the SACP and COSATU. Therefore, the formerly indispensible cheaters are naturally looking for other allies. However, the process of looking for other allies makes them behave unreliably from the perspective of Zuma supporters. Therefore, increasingly, the SACP and COSATU are distancing themselves from Zuma – and thus makes others eager to step into their shoes as the gofers and hit-men for Zuma. In other words, they are making themselves dispensible, and meanwhile, since they have until recently been the utterly unthinking supporters of Zuma, nobody imagines that they are in any way principled.

Their weakness might not seem to be a problem. When they attacked Mbeki in 2005, he was completely independent of them, since they had withdrawn support for him for the previous seven years. Yet the hostility which they showed overthrew him – so can’t this be done again?

In 2005-7, however, the SACP and COSATU operated in alliance with the sleazeballs and derelicts who’d been flung from power, and with agents of Zuma who had hidden their real allegiances until it was too later for Mbeki to act against them in any principled way. There are still plenty of sleazeballs and derelicts, but the ones who opposed Zuma, or didn’t support him enough, have been turfed out of all positions and made a horrible example of, and that doesn’t encourage anybody to follow their example. So the SACP and COSATU may not have as many allies as they need, even though obviously think they have them.

The SACP and COSATU can no lonber pretend that they stand for anything positive. Both are so tainted with their unquestioning support for Zuma’s antics, especially where it contradicted everything they pretended to stand for, that they can’t get much in the way of disinterested public support any more. Therefore it’s harder for them to fool people into supporting whatever clown they decide to support, except for those whom they can bribe with cash (of which they don’t have much these days) or offers of jobs (and they have difficulty being trusted even with that.).

Much of the big business community supports the same person that the SACP and COSATU support — namely, Cyril Ramaphosa — so it is possible that the SACP and COSATU might be able to garner their support. However, the alternative to Cyril Ramaphosa is not a figure like Mbeki, whom the neoliberal elite hated and feared; it is, instead, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom the neoliberal elite know that they can do business with. So, although the elite might like Cyril, they don’t like him so much that they feel the need to do any favours for the SACP and COSATU. Moreover, the neoliberal elite ultimately does not like Communists or the organised working class, and would like to see them both eliminated; they were happy to offer them rope with which they could hang themselves, but now much of the big business community thinks that it’s gallows-time.

The general situation is also very different. Under Mbeki, the economy was doing tolerably well and the illusion of success was widespread in the global economy as well. Administration appeared to be functioning. It seemed easy to throw everything into chaos without long-term consequences; it seemed so easy to run South Africa, once one assumed that Mbeki was a corrupt and incompetent windbag; even a disaster like him could accomplish much.

But now the economy is deteriorating weekly, the world a combination of bloodbath and banking crisis, the administration of the country is inept on so many levels, leaderless and bankrupt. We know that bad times are coming. Therefore, disruption and disaster no longer seem like fun episodes without consequence, but rather seem like things liable to precipitate the catastrophe which even the ruling class is a little worried about, for fear that they might not get their cash out before it is looted or becomes valueless. Therefore, the ruling-class struggle against Zuma is not playing out in the same way that the ruling-class struggle against Mbeki played out.

There is not going to be a massive uprising. There is not going to be a mobilisation of the ANC’s leadership against Zuma. This is partly because Zuma has been there before and knows how it is done; in this sense he is more shrewd than Mbeki because he does not suffer from any illusion about how the members of his party or of the alliance might be motivated by any idealism. Like Stalin, he knows that politicians are motivated by greed, spite and fear, and therefore Zuma prevailed over Mbeki as Stalin prevailed over Trotsky, and any competitor to Zuma who does not have everything in the ANC sewn up in advance will fail as Bukharin and Zinoviev failed against Stalin after Trotsky’s fall.

But in that case, the ruling class attempt to overthrow Zuma will necessarily fail, because it is half-hearted. The ruling class doesn’t really care who rules South Africa so long as they rule whoever that person is. They know that the difference between Zuma or Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa or even Maimane is not all that significant — certainly much less significant than any South African journalist would like people to believe. But meanwhile, Zuma very desperately doesn’t want Ramaphosa to take over, and meanwhile, a lot of Zuma’s supporters, and even his opponents, very well remember the slights and bullying and backstabbing which the SACP and COSATU perpetrated back in their days of glory. The fact that they want Ramaphosa to win is almost, in itself, a reason to oppose Ramaphosa. Wouldn’t it be nice, they ask themselves, if the SACP and COSATU went down to hell, dragged down by the concrete lifebelt of Ramaphosa?

As a result, current South African politics is strangely content-free. The savage and well-justified attacks on Zuma late last year, the frantic wish to have him removed for his temerity in deposing the ruling-class’s own man in the Ministry of Finance, blazed up but then died down again as soon as Zuma had appointed the ruling-class a new man in the same Ministry. Nobody cared that the new new man had a track record of incompetence identical to the old new man’s. The fury was just stage fire, created for the purpose and sustained by the incoherent and inchoate hatred which a politically ignorant media establishment is obliged to feel for anyone against whom their masters tell them to turn their hatred. When the ruling class walked away from the fire they had started, of course it guttered out; there was no fuel for it at all.

So we are stuck in a meaningless political transition between alternatives, none of whom are of any use to us. It is like the American Presidential elections, a mass of sound and fury and fanatical declarations that this empty suit or that empty suit represents the greatest hope or the vilest betrayal that ever existed in the history of what was once a Republic. Truly, our politics are now normal, driven, like everyone else’s, by Twitter and Facebook.

And without hope, of course.