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.

 


He Who Is Kept.

November 7, 2017

Jacques Pauw was a real journalist thirty years ago. But thirty years ago it was possible to be a real journalist because there were independent newspapers like the Weekly Mail and the Vrye Weekblad. Nowadays there are no independent newspapers and so it is impossible to be a real journalist, so now Jacques Pauw is a propagandist.

But not a very good one, although he obviously has some impressive backers to judge by all the fuss made around his book The President’s Keepers. It’s a rag-bag of a book, containing some genuinely valuable information scattered like corn mixed with polystyrene packing-kernels amid rehashed material, and strident, screaming commentary which often seems presented in place of substantiation.

The gist of the interesting stuff relates to Pauw’s deep-seated anger at the destruction vested on the spy and secret police service, which Zuma bundled together as the State Security Agency and placed in the care of the corrupt, lying corporate crook Moe Shaik who proceeded to stuff up as much as he could before he was replaced by someone even greedier named Fraser who invented projects through which to siphon off the cash. (This is the congenital disease of secret services; Len Deighton’s early-sixties Billion-Dollar Brain is all about how to rook money out of secret services, and it’s no accident that Deighton’s hero is a money-laundering specialist.)

But, in the end, does all that matter? The elements which became the State Security Agency were preposterously inept even before Motlanthe/Zuma took over; look at how badly Masetlha and company handled their attempt to smear Mbeki. Zuma was a lousy prospect for running the secret services. Zuma’s administration has been essentially incapable of properly controlling expenditure or overseeing effective performance management (not only because it is incompetent, but also because nobody in Zuma’s administration cares about such things).

What is, perhaps, more curious is why Zuma’s administration should have allowed themselves to be so poorly served by what should have been Zuma’s pride and joy, his secret police and his police detective services, between which (if he abused them shrewdly) he should have been able to keep himself out of trouble and in power without any other assistance at all. Allowing them to collapse into corrupt miasmas of rubble and excrement makes no sense if you believe, as Pauw (rightly) believes, that Zuma’s main agenda is to stay out of trouble by staying in power. You’d also expect Zuma to have a crackerjack legal team primed to defend the President at all costs, and to justify any action the President takes under all circumstances — instead of which, Kemp and Hulley and the rest of them appear like a bunch of autistic dingbats presiding over a team of zoo chimps. Zuma’s legal teams have just enough competence to delay the inevitable, but not enough to accomplish anything. It’s almost as if they aren’t really working for Zuma, but for someone else.

These are supposed to be the President’s keepers? More like the President’s losers; or, to be more accurate, the bottom-feeders who endeavour to suck up the crumbs which fall away from the mess which the President makes.

The real problem with Pauw’s book, though, isn’t simply exaggeration or a failure to analyse the substantive issues. Rather, the problem is that he simply believes, or claims to believe, that South African politics is purely a question of good versus evil; good being everyone who’s against Zuma, or whom Zuma is again, and evil being everyone who supports Zuma, or whom Zuma supports. Now, self-evidently most of the people who are tied in with Zuma are crooks, and a fair number of them are indeed filthy, odious crooks. But the trouble is, there are also people who aren’t tied in with Zuma who are nevertheless filthy odious crooks, and many of them are highly politically active — and often people who helped put the Zuma system in place today, and are now slaving away for Ramaphosa.

The consequence is evident in the incoherence of the book. There is, really, no order to it, because Pauw doesn’t have the kind of structuring value-system which he could employ when he was challenging the apartheid death-squads. Therefore he rambles all over the place, throwing in information wherever he finds it, neither chronologically nor organisationally coherent.

It is, of course, scary that cigarette-smugglers seem to get away with their crimes, presumably through bribing the people whom Pauw says are corrupt. Possibly the smugglers are indeed as influential as Pauw suggests — but it can’t simply be because they are cigarette-smugglers, for there are much richer people than them who might also want to see things happen. Indeed, one doesn’t know how many of the people who get away with their crimes are doing so because they are influential, and how many of them are getting away with their crimes because much more influential and wealthy criminals want every big crook to get away with their crimes. (And, incidentally, is the big focus on cigarette-smugglers motivated by the desire of big tobacco companies to protect their own profits?)

This sounds like “whatabouttery”, the practice of defending indicted criminals by pointing at other criminals who are not indicted. Of course, it is important that people like Pauw condemn people who are criminals. But what if they are doing this in order to protect other people who are bigger criminals? And what if they don’t even understand the issues around what they are doing?

Amusing evidence of this surfaces early in the book. Pauw had his laptop stolen and immediately assumed that this was the secret police after him, because that is what is said by everybody in an official or politically-motivated position who gets robbed. Eventually it turns out to be a street-kid, although Pauw did not check on the political opinions of the street-kind. Still, this shows the paranoid fantasies of which Pauw is capable; how much of the rest of the book is paranoid fantasy?

Secondly, when he goes to Moscow on a wild goose chase, he is startled to discover that in Moscow the signs are all in Russian! And in the Cyrillic alphabet! How dare these people not use Afrikaans and write everything in Roman characters? Furthermore, he learns to his horror that it snows in Moscow, and that sometimes the snow melts and his feet get wet — how can this be permitted when Pauw is a very important tourist?

So a very-far-from-worldly-wise fantasist is the author of this book. Either Pauw has changed since the old days, or maybe he was always really like this.

He goes through the usual suspects like Berning Ntlemeza, Tom Moyane and the rest, and the usual victims such as SARS and the Hawks, quoting from all the books and newspaper articles which have been written by people who were paid to write books and newspaper articles about these things — it’s like a scrapbook. Occasionally, however, odd things surface which suggest something different. For instance, although he’s not in the book’s index, in mentioning Zuma’s rape trial he mentions how Judge Van Der Merwe condemned Zuma for, essentially, raping the woman “Khwezi”. OK, then why did the Judge find Zuma innocent, and why doesn’t Pauw find the Judge culpable, instead proclaiming that all judges are superior life forms which will save us from all corruption?

Or he happens to mention that the head of HR at Lonmin was apparently an intelligence agent tasked with setting up a rival union to AMCU and NUM at Rustenburg, a project eventually shut down (because it failed, or because AMCU itself fulfilled the same function?). He notes that here the intelligence services and big business were clearly working together from the same script, and also notes that one of the big cheeses involved in the whole affair was Cyril Ramaphosa (curious how that name keeps coming up, eh?) but then hastily backs away, because this would rather undermine his argument that there is no such thing as white monopoly capital capturing the state.

In a related matter, towards the end when (evidently in a rush) he threw everything together, he mentions the glory of the former Public Protector in using her rightly limitless powers to expose the President’s malfeasances and call for rectification. Then he contrasts this with the disgrace of the current Public Protector in using her improper and excessive powers to expose the Reserve Bank’s malfeasances and call for rectification. According to Pauw it’s OK to take on politicians, unless they are politicians who serve the interests of rich people. Perhaps Pauw could be considered the Bankster’s Keeper.

All this stuff seems fairly problematic — and there is also the fact that he hardly looks into the records of the people whose interests he wishes to promote. Thus he skates around the remarkably murky past of his SARS hero Van Loggerenberg (and doesn’t pay enough attention to the man’s nefarious relationship with an obvious spook, Walker) and he simply ignores the odious past of his police hero Booysen (ex-Soweto riot squad, ex- Security Police). These are straws in the wind, since both of these people were undeniably shafted on odious grounds, but they suggest that Pauw is happy to look the other way when people whom he defines as good (or are they defined for him by others) get into bad deals.

An example of how Pauw exaggerates importance is when he prints a mysteriously-acquired tape of Glenn Agliotti, a minor drug smuggler involved in the Kebble case, boasting to some other junior gangsters about his awesome power and influence. Pauw admits that Agliotti is a fluent liar and fantasist, and yet insists that on this particular instance whatever he says should be taken seriously, because it serves Pauw’s pretense that minor gangsters are in charge of the Zuma administration.

He also notes how sinister it is that Agliotti got off on the Kebble murder charge. What he doesn’t say is that Agliotti got off because of a plea-bargain which he made with the Scorpions who were trying to use him to destroy Police Commissioner Selebi. And who was the sleazeball who made that sordid deal which went wrong (even though yet another dodgy judge eventually sent Selebi down on fabricated charges)? Who but another of Pauw’s heroes, Prosecutor Gerrie Nel, now chief legal officer for a white supremacist movement. (And one doesn’t have to be PAC to notice that, to an even greater extent than demography would predict, Pauw’s heroes are white and his villains black.)

Talking about cops, it’s interesting that while Pauw exults in Selebi’s fall and in the orchestrated destruction of Commissioner Riyah Phiyega’s career (even though Pauw isn’t able to find much that she actually did wrong) he is much quieter about Bheki Cele, even though, unlike the others, he actually had to resign after being caught orchestrating a corrupt business deal worth several hundred million rand, and even though most of the problems with the police which Pauw identifies started on Cele’s watch. But Cele is now a big supporter of Ramaphosa; can this be why Pauw flushes away all the excrement he left behind him?

The core of Pauw’s hero-list is, of course, all those wonderful journalists like himself who expose these things. But he does admit there are a few problems. He mentions a big problem back to front, starting with the disinformation around the “SARS rogue unit” which never was, disinformation peddled by the Sunday Times through obviously corrupt journalists. Then he mentions the disinformation peddled by the same paper and the same journalists a bit earlier, around getting rid of the Hawks boss in Gauteng, General Dramat, and the same paper and the same journalists going after the IPID boss Robert McBride, and, eventually, the same thing having happened way back when going after the Hawks boss in KwaZulu-Natal, General Booysen.

He admits that there is a problem with journalists and a newspaper being used by organised criminals to destroy the state’s investigative services. However, he then says that this is all right now, because the Sunday Times has a new editor, and one of the journalists involved, Hofstatter, has moved on (though he still writes for the paper, oddly enough). But the other lead journalist involved, Mzilikazi wa Afrika, also wrote the newspaper’s commentary plugging Pauw’s book! In other words, Pauw is happy to collaborate with notorious fabricators and propaganda peddlers when it suits him to do so.

Or is he just a fabricator and propaganda peddler himself? Or did he even write the book, or just sell his name to the writers of the book in exchange for money to salvage his ailing Riebeeck-Kasteel restaurant? Apparently there are free copies of the book being circulated (interestingly, the book is produced by the apartheid propaganda organisation Naspers, now called Media24 and the largest company on the JSE by virtue of its Chinese investments — but there is no such thing as white minority capital, is there?). Therefore you can decide on the value of the book without giving any money to Pauw or his backers.

But the book alone will not give you the full story of what the book is really about, or where it comes from.

 


Blah Wars Episode MMXVI: A New Despair.

November 6, 2017

It’s not just easy, but inevitable, to become despondent about the political, social, cultural and economic future of South Africa and the global network within which it exists. Much of what we can make out about the circumstances of the nation and the world suggest that we are in a state of chronic slow decline which is most likely to become precipitous decline within the next decade or so.

There are many ways of coping with this. One is to take so many happy pills that one wears a permanent grin under any and all circumstances, including imminent death in grotesque agony. A related method is to close down all access to the outer world, stopping reading the newspapers, listening to the radio or watching TV or accessing the Internet, and thus supplying a private Freedom From Information Act, because, like Oedipus, what could we see that could bring us joy?

Unfortunately, an easier method is to accept that, despite the absurdity of almost all the propaganda generated to deceive us by the media, and despite the obvious mendacity of the ruling class and its corporate and governmental agents, everything is for the best and what we are told three times (or three times three times, or three times three times three times) is true. So many people are prepared to march along the paths that the press and the politicians and the pundits tell them to follow.

The problem with believing lies is not just that you will inevitably be led to do the wrong thing — the real problem is that you lose contact with the right thing, with the idea that you might gain access to the right thing, that you might be able to think for yourself, let alone act for yourself. Being a willing participant in your deception means abandoning all individuality; you become a person in a pod, a volunteer for the Matrix. You then are unable to take action even when it is clearly necessary and when the proper action is blindingly obvious — and as for when the situation is obscure, and it is not clear whom one should support or what is to be done, you might as well never have been born, for all the use you would be to anyone else.

And that’s the real problem; we have to act as a collective, or we are lost, and the more people who cannot participate in any such collective, and who do not believe in participating in such collectives, the more likely it is that the bad guys will win.

Ah yes, the bad guys. They’re out there. But, yes, they’re also in here. So how to distinguish between the bad guys and the bad guys? Which evil scumbag who’s out to get us should you support? You have to choose between Clinton and Trump, between the narcissistic psychopath with a jawbreaking record of evil-doing, and — well, actually, the other one is the same, isn’t he? Or she?

So those who have a desire to gain political understanding in order to take political action in order to reverse the chaos which seems to be impending, face the immense difficult of not being able to know what needs to be done. The media are a mass of disinformation — again, the only thing to do is to try to pursue the least bad disinformation, which usually means that the disinformer is concerned with falsifying reality in a relatively narrow zone. Someone who hates a particular person, or a category of persons, might tell some of the truth about other people.

But the problem is that virtually all the narrow disinformers are incapable of gaining access to information for themselves. They rely on the Internet for their information, and are therefore obliged to sift through a mass of disinformation and attempt to distinguish what is bogus. Often this means that they are deceived by plausible but bogus information, or by half-truths used to conceal a greater lie. Which means that it is very dangerous to assume that even the most seemingly honest Internet commentator (often this means, the commentator who says what the observer wants to hear) is either genuinely honest, or accurate in response.

Which, again, is depressing.

The solution, then, is to cleave to personal experience, what there is of it, and to impressions of trustworthiness, which relies heavily upon knowledge of the speaker’s class allegiances, but also upon their private loyalties. If you know that everybody around you is short of cash, if you can see the vast numbers of beggars on the streets and the people desperate for jobs, and if you can see the huge public infrastructures going unmaintained, then you know that the country is in bad socio-economic condition, and you can take things from there. The solution, obviously, is to increase the amount of money going to people who have jobs (at the moment everyone except the very rich are going backwards, as is admitted by the media bragging about how people’s income is going up by as much as 1% a quarter — which is lower even than the fake inflation figures). Then the solution is also to create jobs. And the solution is to maintain public infrastructures. And there are lots of other solutions, but at least personal experience shows you what the answer is.

Then you cast about for people talking about how to resolve these problems, and you discover that virtually everybody is talking about how vitally important it is for the very rich to hang on to the wealth via intensified property rights, how essential it is to keep salaries low by crushing organised labour and eliminating the minimum wage, and how necessary it is to allow public infrastructure to continue crumbling in order to keep taxes low and to preserve the policy of austerity. Everybody who says these things must know that they are the opposite of what is actually needed. Therefore, they are lying. Therefore one casts about for people who are saying the opposite. There actually are a few such people out there, even though not all of them can be trusted to fulfil their claims.

But, more importantly, it is important to campaign for the real stuff. And once one has started campaigning for the real stuff, it is also important to recognise that there is more real stuff out there, and that there is an enormous majority of people out there who are massively worried about the real stuff, the people whom the propaganda and the lies are designed to deceive and confuse. If only those people can be spoken to — and most of them are at least dimly aware of what is really going on — then they would rise up and shake off the shallowly-embedded parasites on the body politic, the journalists and lawyers and politicians and NGOs and pundits who are all working for the plutocracy. And then it might be possible to do something about the power of the plutocracy.

So the thing to do is to keep one’s eye on the main issue and ignore all the lies. Without, however, simply sticking your fingers in your ears and ignoring all inputs because (as the liars say) everybody is a liar and everybody is corrupt except the few individuals whom the liars are promoting. Abandoning hope means that the liars will win.

We really have to get down to it. But it’s not easy.

 


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?

 


Challenge/Response On #OPENSTELLENBOSCH.

November 6, 2017

Since the Association of Commonwealth Language and Literary Studies (which, although an Association, has not much to do with the Commonwealth and deals to only a limited extent with language) invited two former members (an interesting fact in itself) of #OPENSTELLENBOSCH to address it, the least one can do is respond to this address, which took the form of a challenge to the academics of ACLALS to uncritically support the organisation (although it no longer actually exists).

The organisation deserves attention. It was set up to make Stellenbosch University a more hospitable place for non-Afrikaans-speaking and particularly black students (including both coloured and african in the mixture). As such it deserved support, insofar as this agenda is indeed followed and its tactics and strategy are worth following. On the other hand, if there were major problems, it wouldn’t deserve support until it had reformed itself — so the call for uncritical support was itself problematic.

The address consisted of two elements: a video with parts which the presenters didn’t like omitted, and a rather long and jargon-laden talk by one of the members.

The video, oddly enough, was not by students, but by the Johannesburg-based film-maker Aryan Kaganof, whose films tend to depict the received ideas of the white Johannesburg media elite. The problem with this is that although Kaganof has some talent (though much less than is claimed for him) as a film-maker, he has no original political ideas, nor any commitment to the movement which the students had constructed — so it might be expected, and so it proved, that the video would provide little context or useful information.

Nevertheless there were a few interesting points. It was claimed that the movement at Stellenbosch had been initiated by a sympathetic white lecturer, who was later hounded out of the movement because she was white; the lecturer seemed aggrieved about this, as liberal-minded whites usually are, but she really should have anticipated it. Certainly the representatives from #RHODESMUSTFALL, addressing the camera or clowning for audiences, came across as bombastic, self-glorifying and largely delusional, and appeared to offer nothing for their Stellenbosch colleagues except racist rhetoric and power-fantasies.

Of course it is understandable that young people engaged in their first political action over-dramatise themselves. All the same, someone solemnly proclaiming that in Stellenbosch he shares Steve Biko’s feelings about black oppression as expressed in I Write What I Like is going too far. Biko was living in an overtly racist, exploitative society dominated by white people who wanted to kill those who refused to be crushed; Stellenbosch is a mildly racist (but deracialising) university dominated by white people who want to teach students under the overall supervision of black people. There is no reality underpinning this extravagant metaphor.

The insertion of some footage from the prelude to the Marikana massacre was not, of course, the fault of the students; it was Kaganof, following on a little group who sprayed “Remember Marikana” around the University of Cape Town one day. Over the footage Kaganof superimposes tachistoscopic flashes of various words which supposedly give meaning. In fact they do not, and the footage itself is empty, because there has never been any real debate about Marikana or any serious attempt to understand what happened there — it has simply been appropriated without debate, a tactic which ultimately has only benefited the same ruling class which was responsible for the Rustenberg unrest and the massacre in the first place. It would seem that Kaganof is appropriating #OPENSTELLENBOSCH in the same way that he is appropriating Marikana, and it also seems that the students in the movement have no objection to this. This latter is the problem.

It relates to the immense valorisation of the removal of the statue of Rhodes from the plinth at the foot of Jameson Steps at Cape Town; while the statue has been removed, the steps remain with the same name, that of an odious British imperialist agent. This scene is the only one in the video which depicts a large group of people, although the vast majority are simply looking on. But furthermore, it is a scene which leads nowhere, since unless one manages to turn Rhodes into a symbol of American neoliberal imperialism — a difficult task — it is a symbol without a referent, given that “colonialism” is not now undertaken by Britain (at least not independently so). At least the attack on the statue of Rhodes at Oxford had some meaning as an attack on the existing British ruling class; condemning Rhodes means nothing to the modern South African ruling class, and no effort was made to inject meaning into it by the students. It was simply a carnival of forcing management to do something they did not wish to do, but which, in itself, meant nothing.

The great accomplishment of #OPENSTELLENBOSCH, at least according to Kaganof’s video, was to disrupt a class taught by a young coloured junior lecturer, an event excitedly framed by the legend “HIDDEN CAMERA”, suggesting that something outrageous and hitherto secret is being revealed. In fact, it is simply cellphone footage of students bullying a young woman and preventing her from doing her job. No doubt they feel justified in doing so, and if the consequences had been significantly positive, perhaps this would have been fair. As it is, however, the footage shows the potentially ugly side of the movement. It also shows — with the chant of “I can’t breathe!” — its reliance on American iconography. There is nothing automatically invalid about this — although it should be viewed with suspicion — but the appropriation of the slogan of Black Lives Matter seems a little problematic given that the American protest related to a black man murdered by white police; the implication is that this young coloured woman, by performing her duties, is murdering the students.

After this presentation came a speech by one Mohammed Shabangu. He said all the things which one expects to be said under such circumstances; the protests were revolutionary, according to him, because they struck at the university’s residue of racism, hence represented a program to transform the university into an institution serving the people, hence represented a blow at the oppressive government, a blow at neoliberalism, a blow at capitalism, a strike against apartheid and colonialism as well. What a lot of walloping, with very little actual effort displayed!

But unpacking these claims reveals a lot of ill-justified conflation. It is natural that there is a residue of racism at Stellenbosch, but the evidence that this is monolithically imposed by management is absent, and the way in which this racism manifests itself was not clearly identified (the use of Afrikaans is not evidence — and, incidentally, Stellenbosch was unusually multilingual in its policies). This, again, is not clearly an attack on the corporatisation of the institution, which was hardly mentioned in the video and for which attack no evidence was led in the talk. (Apart from the campaign to insource functions in the institution, which seems to have collapsed, there seems to be no such attack.)

Then again, although universities are state institutions, they are autonomous, and attacks on them are not exactly attacks on the state, which can use such attacks to gain more authority over universities (and hence drive more neoliberal corporatisation). The state itself is neoliberal in orientation, but its orientation is partly driven by the corporate sector, which is not only in South Africa, but global. Hence lumping all these things together, when they are rather ill-fitting portions of an immense and ill-directed machine, is problematic if one wishes to do something effective to change the functioning of the machine. Neoliberalism is highly adaptive and manipulative, and is also extremely powerful and seductive. So a blind denunciation of everything one does not like as “neoliberal” and a claim to be fighting against neoliberalism regardless of what one is doing, looks like telling lies and claiming easy victories when these are not actually victories.

Apart from these intellectual failures (which may just be Shabangu’s, but in fact they look suspiciously similar to the rhetoric of most of the student protesters) Shabangu and his colleague Greer Valley displayed some uncomfortable attitudes. Shabangu admitted that he had only spent a year at Stellenbosch, and had hated it. So he had left. For another South African university more attuned to his cultural concerns? No. For an African university more sympathetic to his identity? No, he had gone to Germany to study (a common destination for graduates of Afrikaans universities, incidentally).

For a professed anti-colonialist to go back to the metropole to further his studies is a little problematic, but Shabangu went further, declaring that Germany was a much better country than South Africa, much less racist, much more caring about immigrants, and compared himself with the refugees from Syria. The fact that this speech was not followed by the sound of hundreds of academics slapping themselves in the face in shame and embarrassment at sitting through such horrible subaltern subordination suggests rather that his audience was waiting for everything to be over rather than that they were endorsing it.

One question asked was what about other institutions. Significantly the students did not mention the feminist protests at Rhodes or the homosexual protests at Cape Town; some have suggested that these protests are extremely problematic, and even that they were created to derail and undermine the more substantive student protests, but at least they should have been mentioned, but weren’t. Shabangu went so far as to claim that nobody knew about the protests at black institutions because the racist media did not cover them; in reality, there was some coverage, but Shabangu had obviously not bothered to find out what had happened in preparing for his talk. Had he provided substantive information about the Stellenbosch protests this might have been justified; instead, his generalisations would have been buttressed by such research (and therefore he appeared either ill-prepared or unconcerned about anything happening beyond the Grape Curtain).

He was also asked, since he hadn’t spoken about this in his talk, what the consequences, the “bitter fruits and sweet fruits” had been of the protests. His primary response was to point out that the movement appeared to have collapsed. He argued that this was partly due to repression — the deployment of more security guards on campus — which is probably true, although the burning or otherwise destruction of various buildings on various campuses certainly provided a useful pretext for such security guards without doing anything to further the objectives of the movement. However, he admitted that it was also due to “identity politics” — that is, racism — which had led him and Valley to leave the movement.

So what had the accomplishments been? Taking down Verwoerd’s plaque, apparently — which seems rather insignificant in comparison with the claimed objectives. So no sustainable movement was built, and no substantive accomplishments were gained, and the movement, by its determination to attack sympathetic academics and alienate supportive students on racial grounds, rendered itself undeserving of support, meaning that it could not be reformed or transformed into something more efficacious.

It didn’t seem to occur to either Shabangu or Valley that this was not really an advertisement for academics to join the movement. Obviously it is desirable for academics to join a struggle to change universities into something more like what academics would want to see happening. Obviously it is unfortunate that many academics are unwilling to recognise that this is important. But it is particularly unfortunate that students at the moment are not capable of putting together a movement deserving of academic support, nor of presenting an image of that movement which would create the illusion that it deserved academic support.

Perhaps something is wrong here.