Ramaphosa’s South Africa: Apocalypse Rebranded.

May 16, 2018

It was only to be expected that when the ruling-class puppet who still enjoyed the support of the ruling-class managed to replace the ruling-class puppet who had forfeited the support of the ruling class, the ruling-class propaganda organs would pretend that this event represented a new beginning for South Africa and that all which was bad was now good, and all which was old was now new. The nation was Born Again, washed in the blood of the Buffalo.

In the real world, nothing like this could be said to have happened except by malicious liars. In the real world, there were real problems in South Africa in 2017; the lack of a clear government policy on resolving the problems of the people, and the presence of a clear government policy on not resolving those problems but instead exerting its energies to helping rich people grow richer.

The manifest nature of these policies bred a wide-ranging discontent with the government which was encouraged by the habit which the South African government had developed of telling outrageous lies and making preposterous promises which it never attempted to fulfil. This again served the purpose of rich people, since they were they able to accuse government of being intrinsically incapable — or alternatively, of declaring that certain people whom they had captured were intrinsically incapable, while other people whom they had captured were intrinsically capable by virtue of doing exactly what the ruling-class told them, when they were so told.

These two key problems — the failures of government policy, and the public response to these failures (partly manipulated by ruling-class ideology and propaganda) fed on each other; as government became ineffective it became less popular, and as it became less popular it had less reason to be effective because the crisis seemed inescapable, and the spiral of disaster went round and round until the consequences are to be found in places like Port Elizabeth.

Anyone who wished to solve these problems would, of course, have to work through the African National Congress, which was unfortunately the instrument through which the problems had been made possible. Somehow, the African National Congress would have to be turned into a different kind of instrument, one working towards the goal of developing the country in a way which served the interests of the majority, and which united its members and mobilised its supporters towards that goal by pursuing and implementing policies which furthered that goal. By doing this the party could first unite itself and discourage crass and unthinking self-interested factionalism, and then gradually win back the support which it had lost and the public trust in the potential efficacy of good governance which had been all but discredited.

That would require strong and principled leadership and a mass base within the party willing to support the leadership at all costs. It would also, however, require leadership which was prepared to challenge the hegemony of the ruling class, repudiate its automatic leadership, and be ready to refute its propaganda. The problem with this was that most of the leading figures within the party who were promoting factionalism and misgovernance were under the thumb of the ruling-class and could be expected to side with the ruling class against the ANC if it came to a conflict.

All that is sheer speculation, since the man selected by the ruling-class to do their dirty work was Cyril Ramaphosa, who possessed none of these qualities and maintained none of these objectives. All the same, the last six months have not been a positive experience even for those who had no illusions about what was likely to take place.

The first surprise was that Ramaphosa seemed genuinely likely to lose to Dlamini-Zuma in the elections for the Presidency of the ANC. Had that happened it would have been the end for Ramaphosa, for Dlamini-Zuma had no reason to love or admire him and would certainly have ruthlessly purged his supporters — and the ageing serial loser Ramaphosa would have been a ludicrous choice for 2022, even for a white business elite who appear in love with incompetence.

Dlamini-Zuma had no charisma, but she had Zuma’s supporters behind her, having promised not to act against them in the way that Ramaphosa’s cheerleaders in the media said that Ramaphosa would — in effect she was promising not to break up the ANC and align herself with the ANC’s enemies in the run-up to the 2019 elections, while Ramaphosa was doing both. Also, Dlamini-Zuma hearked back to the Mbeki era, to a time when the ANC was both popular and competent. She was known to be a tough-minded, no-nonsense person. In effect she was the nearest thing to the kind of person who might conceivably roll back the failures of governance — and thus, perhaps, of popularity — bedeviling the ANC. Hence the propagandists of white monopoly capital smeared her incessantly, which sealed her positionamong her supporters (and probably made little difference among her opponents).

So Ramaphosa had to fight back, but he couldn’t. His campaign had peaked too early, while it was pretending not to be a campaign back in 2016, and now he had to sit and watch his support leak away. The only option was to use the SACP to rig — or in the case of the Eastern Cape, violently disrupt — provincial consultative elections. But even that seemed not to be enough, so Ramaphosa, or perhaps his backers, had to do a deal with the Zuma faction to ensure that Ramaphosa, at least, would become President, and some of his henchmen would also gain preferment.

The details of this deal have never been revealed and the deal itself has been erased from history by the corporate propagandists, but essentially it seems to have been a simple one — Ramaphosa would win the Presidency, in exchange for half the posts in the National Executive Committee (and particularly three of the six senior office-bearers) being reserved for Zuma supporters. Naturally this entailed throwing Dlamini-Zuma under the bus — without the support of the Zuma leaders she didn’t make it into the top six.

It’s hard to believe that there was not also a clause under which Zuma would be protected from prosecution and would be allowed to make a dignified exit, unlike Mbeki before him — why do the deal otherwise? Indeed there were rumours of such agreements. However, big businessmen are characterised as “snakes in suits” (which is grossly unfair to snakes) and any such clause would have been drafted by Ramaphosa with the fingers of the hand behind his back crossed. In any case, Ramaphosa was not his own man; he had to act according to the orders of his white monopoly capitalist patrons, and those orders were clear; Zuma had to be humiliated.

As it turned out, the moment Ramaphosa and Mantashe were in a position to act on their orders, they did so. Zuma’s supporters were not in it for solidarity or ideology, they were in it for money and power, and Zuma could no longer offer as much money and power as Ramaphosa could. Hence it wasn’t hard to get a few Zuma supporters to turn their coats — no doubt for cash — and once this had happened the whole Zuma coalition, made unstable by the 49% nature of their support in the National Executive Committee — collapsed. The people who had previously declared their loyalty to Zuma cheered, or looked on mutely, as Zuma was hounded out of office and charged — as, of course, he richly deserved, but then so does Ramaphosa.

The immediate problem was that Ramaphosa’s support was thus itself not based on anything other than money and power, which had to contend with the personal antipathy which most former Zuma supporters felt both for Ramaphosa himself and for the thugs and fixers who had supported him. There was also the broader antipathy felt by ANC supporters for people like Ramaphosa who were collaborating eagerly with the ANC’s enemies. As a result, Ramaphosa’s position was unstable — something like Zuma’s position after Polokwane; stronger because Ramaphosa was not facing charges as Zuma had been, but weaker because Ramaphosa had no propaganda narrative sustaining him.

Meanwhile, Ramaphosa needed to find positions to reward his loyal supporters, partly to maintain that loyalty, and partly to ensure that such loyalty could translate into authority over the ANC. He tried, and failed, to hound the ANC’s Secretary-General out of his position (which was a formidable one, and Magashule was a formidable politician holding it; by comparison, Mantashe’s Chairmanship was far less really powerful even if supposedly senior). With a weak position in the NEC, he had to fall back on the provinces, as Zuma had done when he was preparing for the purge of Mbeki loyalists in mid-2008. Could the leadership of the ANC be persuaded to betray their allies in the provinces? Doubtless they could — if they were fools enough not to see that this would be a precursor to their own political destruction.

However, the process was long and complex. Where Zuma and Mantashe in 2008 had gone through the Western and Eastern Cape like a chainsaw through a cow’s midriff, Ramaphosa’s action against the Eastern Cape and North-West (he didn’t dare act against KwaZulu-Natal or Mpumalanga) resembled someone trying to murder someone with a Weed-eater. The slower it happened, and the more violence and self-destructive propaganda it required, the more Ramaphosa undermined the stability of the ANC in these provinces and stored up potential disaster for the following election — thus further dispelling all hope that he might be able to resolve the political crisis.

Admittedly, under Gordhan’s supervision the Ramaphosa regime nominally tightened its grip in the state enterprises. Zuma supporters in these bodies were systematically purged and replaced by corporate loyalists. However, these were not people who supported Ramaphosa or the ANC; nor were they people who supported the use of the state enterprises to serve any national development project. They were simply there to help big business make money out of the state enterprises, or alternatively to prevent the state enterprises from costing the ruling class money. Symptoms of this were evident in the appointment of a leading privatiser to run ESCOM, and in the SABC’s further collapse into a babbling hollow of neoliberal business jargon. None of this served any useful purpose for the government or for Ramaphosa’s position; neither Gordhan nor Ramaphosa enjoyed any real control over these people, nor was there any move towards the real reform of state enterprises by decommercialising their Byzantine pseudo-corporate structures, structures which have always defeated any real effort to reform them.

So under Ramaphosa the African National Congress has been weakened, both organisationally and electorally. (The attempts to win over Julius Malema to the ANC fold might seem to be a cheap way of winning back votes, but after the EFF sold out to the DA in 2016 those votes which will be cast by former EFF supporters were always going to come back to the ANC; there is nowhere else for them to go.) As for reconstructing the national economy, there is no sign of this, and no plan for it — except for continuing present bad policies alongside hopelessly holding out a begging-bowl to the NATO countries. Provincial and municipal governance continues to deteriorate, partly driven by in-fighting fuelled by Ramaphosa’s incompetent efforts to seize control. No doubt this is what his patrons wanted.

But it is not what any of us need.

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Winnie, the Poo, and the Pooh-Pooh.

May 16, 2018

So Winnie Mandela, child-murderer, doctor-murderer, fraudster, serial liar, faithless wife and traitor to her party, is finally dead. Clearly it is true that only the good die young, and Winnie did her best to ensure the truth of that maxim.

De mortuis nil nisi bonum? It is hard to apply this to someone like Winnie. Granted she spent over two decades under the horrible restrictions of a banning order in the Brandfort magisterial district and she did not abandon her commitment to the ANC. Doesn’t that count for something?

Of course it does — but not for everything. Anyone might be mentally disturbed by harassment on such a scale. Still, it could not have come as a surprise. A year before Winnie married Nelson Mandela, Mandela was facing trumped-up treason charges. Police massacres were frequent; detention without trial, banning orders and harassment on every level were prevalent. She knew perfectly what she was getting into, and when she went ahead with the marriage she knew that she was trading status for risk.

Moreover, loads of other people faced similar harassment. People act as if exile to Brandfort was the South African equivalent to Siberia, but it’s fifty kilometres from Bloemfontein on a good tarmac road, and not that far from the national road if you need to turn off, and it’s a middling-sized country town. No fun, to be sure, but nobody under a banning order could expect much fun.

So, how was it that Winnie morphed into such a monster when others didn’t?

One must speculate. Winnie came from a Transkei ruling-class family with a whopping sense of entitlement; she had never suffered the humiliation which her husband had suffered before the Special Branch knocked on her door. But after she emerged from jail and went into internal exile, she did so as the wife of the President, who could come back and save her — and thereafter she was the wife of the country’s chief political prisoner, who would someday emerge from jail and liberate everyone. Essentially, she was always the queen in exile — and the more her image was build up, and the more the Charterists began building networks of support for prominent, senior ex-ANC figures, the more her sense of entitlement, vanity and resentment at her ill-treatment was fed.

Then, when she came out of banning, everything changed about her situation — she was now in the limelight, surrounded by admiring supporters — but nothing changed about her attitude towards it. Everyone wanted to know what Winnie thought and said. Was she a proxy for Nelson? Did she have a hot-line to Oliver? In her mind, she was the centrepiece of events. “La Liberation, c’est moi!“.

It was natural that she should have a bodyguard. No doubt this was endorsed by the UDF and the ANC at the time, although they would probably not acknowledge this now. It was also natural that she should seek to make an emotional appeal to her audience, since she was not a particularly politically or intellectually experienced figure, whereas she had plenty of symbolic significance. But in the mid-1980s the basis for such an appeal lay in the “young lions” of SASCO and COSAS, from whom she drew most of her bodyguard as well as her support. These young men were naturally fantasists imagining that swaggering was a substitute for military skill and discipline, and that all they needed was access to weapons to transform themselves into an army of liberation. Naturally Winnie appealed to them, which was why she made speeches promoting violence carried out not by the liberation forces, but by anyone who could pick up a rock or a box of matches. In the echo-chamber which her life had become, she could hear no criticism of this.

Turning the bodyguards into the “Mandela Football Club” meant establishing Winnie’s own private urban guerrilla force, but one operating out in the open. Any realistic observer had to know that this could only be possible with the tacit consent of the apartheid regime, which can have had no illusions about Winnie’s character and her possible utility for their purposes. On one hand, the ANC knew that this could be dangerous because it was outside its own control. On the other hand it knew that this would be dangerous because it was liable to infiltration and misuse. Therefore, inevitably, there came a time when the ANC and the UDF had to call for it to be disbanded.

How could Winnie allow the dismantling of her toy soldiers? How could she admit that she had been wrong to commit murders and other crimes in the name of the ANC but without the ANC’s approval? She could only do this if she acknowledged that along with the privilege of being an ANC leader came the responsibility of subordinating her vanity to the control of the organisation — of exercising a much tighter discipline than had been expected of her when she was in Brandfort.

Most other activists would probably have done this, but Winnie’s self-centred vanity forbade this. Instead she ran around blaming everybody but herself, smearing her opponents and trying to garner support from the shattered remnants of open political organisation — and when the Football Club was dismantled by a combination of public outrage and police action — for once the ANC and UDF had disowned her, the secret police no longer found her actions useful, she had to scramble to escape punishment herself, but without ever acknowledging that she had done anything to deserve punishment.

So in a sense the monster which Winnie became was a monster created by circumstances, by misjudgements on the ANC and UDF’s part, and by Winnie’s own personality defects fostered by the conditions of the time. This doesn’t excuse her behaviour, but it renders it explicable. It also means that her failure to ever admit that she was wrong, her nefarious conspiracies against comrades within the ANC after the unbanning, and her subsequent abysmal performance as an ANC official, a Cabinet member, and an ANC MP, make a fair amount of sense. Competence requires a degree of subordination to the goal and the organisation pursuing the goal, and Winnie was never able to acknowledge the authority of anything except her own ego.

So why was it that she remained popular, at least in some circles? Well, which circles were those? Predominantly, they were the circles a) of PAC-oriented people like Patricia de Lille, b) of young or formerly young people critical of the compromises made by the ANC’s leadership under Mandela and Mbeki, c) of incompetents and crooks sacked, like Winnie, under Mandela and Mbeki. In other words, the combination is of deluded fantasists, nostalgic “if only we’d” dreamers, and outright crooks, all of whom saw, correctly, Winnie as a mirror in which they saw themselves, but a mirror which reflected their own ignoble failures and foolish boasting favourably. Outside these circles, Winnie enjoyed no serious support until she was safely dead.

Why, then, and for what purpose, was Winnie transformed into the great icon of the great struggle after her death?

A clue is in the people who were doing it. Obviously the ANC was in any case going to celebrate her death rather than ruminate over her wrongdoing and its complicity therein. Ramaphosa, shaky on his throne of platinum, naturally did not want to encourage criticism but rather promote a festival of unified love centred around his own magnificence. Therefore the stage was set for unthinking worship.

But this does not explain why the anti-ANC media and various public figures generally opposed to the ANC joined in. Arguably, this was because Ramaphosa’s corporate handlers were ready to go along with whatever Ramaphosa wanted in order to keep their puppet safely in power. Virtually none of these media and these figures has ever shown any interest in supporting real political activism (outside the corporate framework which they are paid to support). So their support for Winnie was not support for the ANC as a political entity with a political agenda, nor was it support for a radical transformation of society.

Instead, it was support for a conspiracy theory in terms of which a dead politician had been a “stalwart”, an “activist”, a “radical”, a “champion” and a “militant”. It should be noted that all of these terms could as easily be applied to a campaign in support of Adolf Hitler, who was all of those things. Apart from nebulous claims, or obviously false claims (like the pretense that Winnie had any positive impact on the ANC Women’s League, which a single glance at the League’s record refutes), none of the support for Winnie amounted to support for any real cause or policy issue.

Instead, the conspiracy theory reduced itself to the notion that the entire leadership of the ANC apart from a few scoundrelly types like Peter Mokaba, the leadership of the UDF, and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, were all “against Winnie” and collaborating with the apartheid regime in order to defame and discredit her. The immediate question which was never raised anywhere in the media was why this should have been the case. Obviously there was a campaign by the apartheid regime to exploit Winnie’s misconduct and criminal activities in order to harm the ANC, but why should anybody — except perhaps the TRC, dominated by white liberals and PAC members and therefore not friendly to the ANC and perhaps inclined towards collaboration with the old regime — wish to join in this campaign?

The reason why the question was not asked is that the entire notion was based on the idea that the ANC is a corrupt conspiracy against someone or other — ostensibly the “people”, who in this case amounts to the people with money who own the propaganda outlets and the political parties opposing the ANC. It is essentially the same as the political opinions of Judge Chris Nicholson and the smear campaigns emanating from the SACP and the Zuma camp against Mbeki and for corruption and incompetence to be promoted over integrity and ability. The connection with the corrupt and incompetent conspiracy-mongering Winnie is easy to see.

The sheer blindness of this anti-ANC attitude — which in effect reduces to the 2016-17 EFF position that anything anti-ANC must be good — is profoundly anti-political. Applied to an individual elevated to superstar status, one sees a sort of celebrity culture at work. Noam Chomsky has compared current political analysis with sports commentary (although most sports fans take their subject much more seriously, and apply much more skill and knowledge, than political commentators do to their subject) but this seems too kindly to current political culture. It is, rather, the elevation of unremarkable people — whether mediocre singers, mediocre actors or mediocre politicians — to superior status through marketing and the relentless repetition of their names in favourable contexts.

Obviously this also entails the denigration of people who might deserve better treatment. Again, this culture is in part about mobilising people to jeer at and attack anyone identified as the enemy (and by definition, unprotected and safe to mock and assault). Therefore the attack on the supposed conspiracy forces correlates perfectly with this practice. Rather than being told what was happening, the amnesiac populace are instead told that someone is good, with no reason or context necessary, and that other people are bad, and no evidence other than a propaganda video has ever been led to justify this in Winnie’s case. It is not necessary; the mob merely assembles, and chants the approved slogans like the sheep in Animal Farm.

Another part of the campaign, of course, is race and gender. Journalists — mostly black and female, but not exclusively so — proclaim that Winnie was a paragon of everything a black person and a woman should be. Therefore, they claim, the conspiracy against her is clearly a conspiracy of men and whites. Therefore again, no male and no white is entitled to criticise Winnie, while all blacks and all women must stand together to defend Winnie against this racist-sexist onslaught. The absence of the existence of any such onslaught, or of any justification for praising Winnie on racial or gender grounds, is not permitted to interfere with this propaganda — just as the absence of any real gender or race issues did not prevent the American elite from mobilising fools to support Obama and Hillary on gender and race grounds.

Thus the Winnie campaign shows us very clearly what the political agenda of our current ruling class is — the absolute and permanent disempowerment of the general public in the name of liberation, using compliant (or conveniently dead) black celebrity figures to mobilise ignorance, prejudice and sloth against anyone who dares to challenge the system. What a wonderful world we live in!


Ramapholver.

May 16, 2018

On the face of it, Crispian “Chippy” Olver’s book How To Steal A City is both interesting and timely. Interesting in that it gives one insight into why and how the ANC managed to lose the Port Elizabeth metro in 2016, and timely in that it gives one insight into why and how the ANC is losing support across the whole country — not always, let it be said, insight which Olver either intends to give, or indeed displays himself.

On the other hand, it’s a scary representation of how little comprehension there is in the current ANC of the problems faced by the country.

In February 2015 Olver was tasked by President Zuma and Gwede Mantashe — an odd combination, isn’t it? — to be the front-man for a Regional Transition Team which would turn around the Nelson Mandela Metro and prevent it from being lost to the Democratic Alliance in the August 2016 elections. The RTT was going to be run by Charles Ngqakula, an Mbekiite Communist of doubtful enthusiasm or indeed competence. Since it was a municipal issue, the overall handler was Pravin Gordhan, the Communist ex-Finance Minister shifted to run the local government ministry in part because Zuma no longer trusted him (and how right Zuma was).

The prevalence of SACP members is obviously no accident, and indeed Olver, reading between the lines, is almost certainly a Commie himself, though significantly not bragging about it. Well, one would understand that in such an important issue, the SACP would seek to take control of it so that they could brag about its success afterwards, and also not make it too obvious that they were in control of it, so that they could avoid responsibility for its failure afterwards.

Also, it’s obvious that outsiders have advantages in sorting out a situation — especially in the business world, where the phenomenon of the “turnaround CEO” (who is parachuted in to slaughter the leadership of a company, crush its workers, destroy all expensive projects and lie about his success so that the stock price goes up and he can claim success before moving on to wreck something else) is well known. But this is not necessarily a productive business model — most turnaround CEOs are serial corporate killers — and one would expect the ANC to have a more nuanced understanding of how to resolve such problems, which are not exactly new in its administration.

The trouble with an outsider is that he doesn’t know very much about the situation — Olver grew up in Cape Town and worked in Johannesburg, and his experience of the Eastern Cape didn’t include much time in Port Elizabeth — and also doesn’t have a lot of local allies, so in a situation in which you don’t have the kind of absolute power that exists in the corporate world, it becomes tricky. Also, of course, in a situation where networks of corruption have been established, it is most likely that everyone will be against you. Plus, of course, when you have a black/coloured political organisation rooted in ethnic nationalism with a strong culture of macho intolerance, deference to established authority and a huge pretense of working-class solidarity (rather like the Scottish Labour Party), bringing in an abrasive white middle-class Anglo who is also gay might have its own set of problems.

What actually happened seems to have been interesting. All the time that Olver was there he was closely monitored from a local perspective by the SACP in the form of the “Stalini” faction — Olver says that it was named after a hall where the SACP gangsters met, but it’s hard to believe that the spirit of Joseph Dzhugashvilli did not hover approvingly over their heads throughout — and from a national perspective by Olver’s actual master Gwede Mantashe, the SACP Secretary-General, ANC Secretary-General and all-around He Who Must Be Obeyed by anyone who wants to get anywhere in the SACP or in any organisation, like the ANC, SANCO or COSATU, dominated by SACP fixers.

So, all in all, Olver was set up to fail, and must have known that he would fail. It does seem, however, that he was genuinely surprised at how bad things were — or he claims to be; he did have friends in the metro who must have known how bad things were, and he was capable of reading. In which case, perhaps he is simply saying that things were very, very bad in order to show how impossible it was to set things right. It didn’t help that he was given Danny Jordaan to work with — a celebrity in his own right who refused to work closely with Olver, manifestly trying to keep his options open in case he needed the Stalini gang on his side. In any case Jordaan was dependent on africans who were simply exploiting him as a tame coloured, while virtually all the coloureds of Port Elizabeth were going over to the DA in a body.

Then there is Olver’s curious alliance with AfriForum. Obviously AfriForum would be aware of corruption within the city management, since they had been the ones, in the days of apartheid, who constructed that management and knew where the butter-dishes and the bread-knives and the gravy-boats were. Equally obviously, AfriForum would have no interest in enhancing the competence of ANC government in Port Elizabeth. They might be interested in promoting conflict within the ANC, but fundamentally their goal would be to see the DA take power — or, yet better, almost take power, so that AfriForum, or its friends in the Freedom Front Plus, might be the kingmakers. So why did Olver trust them?

Perhaps the simple answer is that Olver didn’t know whether he could trust anybody. He didn’t even know whether he could trust himself — what were his real motives, and what was he going to get out of enabling the ANC to somehow cling to power in Nelson Mandela Bay Metro? In the end, did he even desire that? Should he have been surprised, as a man embedded at the heart of the corruption of the ANC, that the ANC had a corrupt heart? Obviously not, if he employed a bodyguard; and, yes, people were killed, even in Port Elizabeth, in order to conceal or facilitate the theft of state monies.

But it wasn’t even that simple. The unions were staunchly behind the Stalini faction because they were offering perquisites to NEHAWU and SAMWU. It was, in the end, the unions which drove Olver out of town, mobilising their goon squads to form a rowdy mob breaking up all attempts to hold a serious discussion of what had gone wrong at the ANC’s ramshackle offices at the unfashionable end of Govan Mbeki Boulevard. But from their perspective, Olver was just a white consultant who had come in ostensibly to straighten things out but actually, surely, to work for the benefit of the bosses, as opposed to “our people” who could be trusted.

Trusted to do what? Olver was startled when he realised that factions in the ANC in the city were prepared not to campaign for the election. But from their perspective again, what Olver had done was to promote certain individuals — many of them very seedy and with doubtful credentials as ANC supporters — and offer them jobs in exchange for success in the election. If the election were won, it would be Olver and his appointees who would be winning it, even if Jordaan as nominal Mayor were ostensibly the front-man. Of course, they did not want to lose their places by losing the election; rather, they needed to ensure that Olver and his allies lost, and if they lost the election in the course of that — well, you can’t make lamb’s knuckle stew without killing a lamb.

But also there were other opportunities opening up which Olver himself was a little late to recognise. Technically he was acting under the auspices of Zuma, but even as he was acting, the fight between Zuma and the white monopoly capital forces which had decided to back Ramaphosa against Zuma was gaining momentum. Olver was well aware that within the political system he embraced he needed a powerful patron; once Gordhan had come out as an enemy of Zuma and a support of Ramaphosa, and been sidelined from Finance, it was only a matter of time until he was shoved out of Cabinet altogether in which case Olver would have no defender against Mantashe. In turn, this meant that if he took decisions which alienated powerful people, he would have no defenders elsewhere.

What the Stalini people appear to have recognised in the situation was this. The municipal election was less than a year away, and only their complete surrender to Olver and his agents could save the ANC from defeat in it (but the Stalini faction would be the losers, since Olver and his agents wanted them out, and Jordaan had his own people who needed preferment). However, the provincial elective congress of the ANC was only two years away, and after that came the national elective congress.

What they resolved to do was to sabotage Olver, Jordaan and company in the run-up to the municipal election, and thus hand power over to the white ruling class in the city — but, in return for that service, they would expect some support in their attempt to seize control of the provincial ANC, through which, if they played their cards right and aligned themselves with Ramaphosa, they could gain provincial patronage. Thus, in abandoning the sinking ship of Port Elizabeth, they could instead piratically board the relatively sound ship of the Eastern Cape. All that was required was an absolute contempt for the interests and traditional values of the ANC, and the Stalini faction, as well as the Zuma gang and the Ramaphosa mob, all had that in spadefulls.

The ANC would quite possibly have lost the election in any case, but it’s quite possible that the sabotage of organisation and mobilisation which Olver chronicles played an important role in the defeat. Ironically, this deliberate undermining of the party would almost certainly not have happened had Olver and Jordaan not been deployed to Nelson Mandela Bay — in which case the ANC might possibly have won the election! (Admittedly the circumstances of the 2016 election were crucial; Ramaphosa’s supporters wanted the ANC to lose some metropolitan councils so that this could be used as a stick with which to beat Zuma.)

In any case, after the defeat, scapegoats had to be found, and Olver was the most obvious scapegoat. (Jordaan’s subsequent pillorying seemed to be related to this, but it now appears that — ironically again — this related not to Nelson Mandela Bay, but to corrupt power-plays within the South African Soccer Federation.) Once he had been driven out, he obviously needed something fresh to do. The book’s narrative stops there — but we know what subsequently happened; the Stalini faction seized control of the Eastern Cape ANC by violence, while Olver became a staunch supporter and ally of Cyril Ramaphosa, because it was obvious that Ramaphosa was going to be made President. Hence Olver aligned himself with the people who sabotaged his cause, humiliated him and hounded him out of Port Elizabeth.

But such is politics. If you can’t stand the heat, you shouldn’t devote your life to burning down the kitchen.


Midrand Blues IV: The Revenge of Franz Fanon.

November 27, 2017

It is difficult to view Cyril Ramaphosa with dispassionate detachment. We are told every day in the newspapers owned by Ramaphosa’s supporters that He Is The One Who Will Save Us. We are also told almost every day in the media by the South African Communist Party that Ramaphosa Is The Answer, whatever the question might have been. As a result, almost everyone who pays attention must now be convinced that Ramaphosa is an evil shitbag fit only to be shot.

But is he?

Ramaphosa, it will be remembered, started out as a shop steward in the National Union of Mineworkers, rose to the Presidency of the union, and then played a leading role in the foundation of COSATU, of which he was the first Secretary-General. When the ANC was unbanned he became the most senior cadre among those who had not gone into exile, eventually rising to the level of Secretary-General of the organisation. This all seems like the record of a man of impressive stature.

And yet . . . there were questions. Was he really the fiery champion of the workers which he appeared on the soap-box, or was he a trimmer, willing to go along with management for the sake of peace? Was he the radical leftist amid conservatives, tribalists and sell-outs, or was he, in his sharp suit schmoozing with businesspeople at Mont Fleur and apartheid politicians at the World Trade Centre, just a fake using his dubious credentials to climb the greasy political pole for private interests?

It’s difficult to say for certain, in part because all those who praised or condemned him were doing so out of their own private pursuits, seeking to use him or seeking to dethrone him so as to advance their goals.

However, the big choice for Ramaphosa was evident in 1997 at Mafikeng. He was touted as the next President of the ANC, supported by his friends in big business, by the media, by the right wing in the ANC and by his union and SACP allies. Newspapers and corporate-hired pundits were wheeled out to proclaim that Mandela secretly wanted Ramaphosa to be President (which might even have been true, since Mandela was much more under the control of big business and the white right wing than the ANC rank and file knew at the time.) And yet, when the elections rolled round, Ramaphosa did not actually stand. He declined nomination because he knew that Mbeki had the election sewn up and all that he could expect would be humiliation.

Well, that was understandable. Mbeki was a brilliant fixer, after all, and the ANC was still dominated by the exiles who had actually fought, so a half-bright local organiser had little chance of winning. It was therefore time for Ramaphosa to make his peace with Mbeki so as to get back into the upper tier of the National Executive Committee in 2002, to show himself a capable organiser and keep himself popular and in the public eye, and perhaps by 2004 he might have supplanted Jacob Zuma as Deputy President and put himself in the running to be President in 2009.

But he did none of these things. Instead he essentially dropped out of active politics, maintaining his political presence solely in order to facilitate political services to big business, and devoted the bulk of his time to making money. In other words, he had used the support which he had gained from the people of South Africa, by pledging to serve them to the best of his ability, to enrich himself and further the objectives of his financial backers. This was a kind of treason, especially since the businesspeople whom he was serving were not, for the most part, friends of the ANC.

However, one might argue that even if he was not working for the party, he was at least serving the race. South Africa is decidedly short of able black business tycoons capable of challenging the whites who dominate the financial, manufacturing, retail and agribusiness economies. Surely Ramaphosa, straddling the divide between black poor and rich white, could make a success of himself in this respect and thus in himself bring about the economic transformation of the country?

No, not if you look more closely at what Ramaphosa was actually doing. He began at Anglo American, the epitome of white-controlled, foreign-dominated colonial exploitation. From there he branched out into other fields such as McDonald’s — always, in practice, working within very large multinational corporations begun in Western countries, maintained with Western capital, and dominated by Western people, which generally means white-skinned people. Although if it had entailed Indian or Chinese-based multinational corporations, it would arguably have been no better, the spectacle of a black South African actively working to enrich white people and thus enriching himself brought back painful memories of the Bantustan economies.

He made an immense personal fortune out of being a black man with political connections willing to help white men in NATO countries negotiate the embarrassing complexities of South African corporate race relations. Essentially his task was schmoozing with politicians, persuading black people to front for white capital and pretend that they controlled the corporations which were really controlled by whites and often foreigners, and doing a fair amount of fronting himself. It was not arduous work. It was also work which undermined everything which COSATU and the ANC had ever pretended to stand for, but which earned Ramaphosa the professed love and admiration of the white South African business community, and gained him many useful connections in powerful circles in the NATO countries.

But inside South Africa this did not earn Ramaphosa any political brownie points. His name was kept alive in the public mind by the white media, which periodically held him up as an example which all ought to follow, a self-made man who had raised himself up from nothing by simply sucking white dicks. Most of the public, however, viewed him as a has-been politician who had sold out. Mbeki might have made use of Ramaphosa, despite Ramaphosa’s attempt to compete with him, but he did not trust him. Nobody who had any serious respect for the ANC’s principles liked or respected Ramaphosa.

But, interestingly, no sooner had Zuma taken over than Ramaphosa was catapulted into high office, being put in charge of the National Planning Commission, the cabal of businessmen plotting the way to steal as much state resources as possible, with the results that we see all around us today. Ramaphosa was probably a major figure in channelling cash into Zuma’s campaign, though he was not overtly part of the black corporate front-men styling themselves the “Friends of Jacob Zuma”. Instead, Ramaphosa was one of the prices which Zuma had to pay for white corporate support in the 2005-8 seizure of power.

But from that position to the Deputy Presidency is a big jump. One may surmise that since white big business did not change much between 1997 and 2012, they were still enamoured of Ramaphosa and wanted to see their beloved poodle gumming away at the pillars of society. In a sense, putting Ramaphosa in power was a way of pretending that the Mbeki presidency had never happened, just as putting Zuma in power had been a way of destroying everything that Mbeki had ever stood for.

What was interesting was that Kgalema Motlanthe announced his intention to run against Zuma for the Presidency of the ANC. He was another of the very rich front-men for white capital, like Tokyo Sexwale, who had buzzed around the Zuma campaign like blowflies. It’s difficult to make out how this colourless, spiritless hack could have on his own decided to take on Zuma in the brutal and paranoid atmosphere of Zuma’s first term, unless he had the support of someone powerful. Best guess is that it was big business together with Motlanthe’s handlers in the SACP, since the SACP is another front for big business.

Panic stations! Obviously Motlanthe had to go from Zuma’s list, which left a gaping hole in the Deputy Presidency. Bump up Gwede Mantashe from Secretary-General to Deputy President? That was a problem, since Mantashe was admirably placed as Secretary-General to be Zuma’s political fixer (Zuma did not consider what would happen once Mantashe started working for someone else, as Motlanthe had worked for someone else under Mbeki in the same position). Besides, no doubt someone whispered, if the SACP were backing Motlanthe against Zuma, might they not back Mantashe against Zuma too? Why not bring in a totally independent, impartial, caring, sharing friend of the workers, as he had shown in his involvement on behalf of Lonmin at the time of the Marikana massacre — Cyril the Squirrel?

Why not indeed. The answer is that Ramaphosa had been groomed to be big business’s Presidential stooge for decades and was not going to be satisfied with the Deputy Presidency. Also, big business was not going to be happy to wait until 2017 before putting Ramaphosa into the Presidency. Control of the Presidency was so close that they could almost taste it, and once Ramaphosa was safely in the great recliner-chair, it was time for regime change and forced removal of Zuma from the Presidency. And, of course, Ramaphosa could safely command the left and the right, just as Zuma had done — even if he had no popular backing, that didn’t matter, because the Zuma administration’s motto is “The public be damned”.

It is true that the struggle to install Ramaphosa, which was put together for several years and began in earnest in 2015 when Zuma began mumbling about supporting his ex-wife as his successor, has turned out much more difficult than the white ruling class expected. To their surprise, however much you tell everyone that shit is chocolate pudding and they should shovel it down, people simply do not enjoy eating shit, and there is no doubt that this is what Ramaphosa is.

But what we have here is exactly what Franz Fanon told us would happen in “The Pitfalls of National Consciousness”. He reminded us that the colonial bourgeoisie, by which he meant the indigenous capitalist agents of colonialism, were not like the metropolitan capitalist bourgeoisie, but existed to take orders from their masters. They were not creative nor productive, and had no ideas or ideals of their own. Hence their nationalism was a fraud, a facade designed to deceive the postcolonial public into supporting people who were actually agents of colonialists whom the public would never ordinarily support. That’s what Cyril is, and what’s what the people wearing his T-shirts and eating his fried chicken and chanting his slogans are backing. It’s blindingly obvious, so obvious that nobody can see it. Elephant? What elephant? I see no elephant, although I can’t breathe in this room and something heavy is standing on my foot and the trumpeting noises drown my voice out.

 


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.

 


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.