Attempting to Answer the Good Question.

July 30, 2018

So — what is the crisis of the left, and how should the left respond to it in order to succeed in overcoming the crisis, and what would that entail?

It is not a crisis of the left in South Africa all by itself. The global left has lost power, or has changed itself into something no longer leftist in order to retain power. Evidently, something has gone wrong which is not simply South African. But here we are in South Africa, and so let’s see how the crisis here has played itself out.

The general objective of the left — the dissemination of political and economic power throughout society — has been abandoned by those in power for several decades. The economic and political system is now explicitly devoted to destroying this objective by enriching plutocrats and immiserating the rest of us. The “democratic” system is fundamentally separated from actual political power, which resides elsewhere. Hence the “democratic” system serves largely as a technique to persuade the immiserated masses that there is no political solution to their problems. The generally-presented solution appears through attacking carefully-delineated politicians defined as “corrupt” (or whatever concept serves plutocratic interests by enabling them to seize power or wealth on the pretext of struggling against it). Thus the political system today is implicitly Bonapartist, but without a Bonaparte; or perhaps like early Italian Fascism without Mussolini.

The former authority which the left had in respect of public opinion has been dissipated as the right has inserted its values and slogans into the public mind and held them there by propaganda and patronage. The left has meanwhile lost most access to the media, and to other opinion-making sources, except when individuals purporting to be leftists produce material which serves interests outside actual leftist interests — in which cases the leftists involved are often funded by right-wing elements.

Much of this suggests that the left’s external crisis has internal components, of which the following are a sample:

The organised left has ceased to pursue actual leftist interests where it is in power.

The organised left, where not in power, does not pursue truly leftist interests but prefers to pursue the momentary interest of factions and individuals, usually by attacking targets made easy because they are already being attacked by more powerful right-wing forces.

There is more to the problem than this, yet this will surely do for a start! It doesn’t matter much what kind of capitalism is driving the system, nor does it matter much how serious the immiseration problem is (although it is serious and growing more serious and is almost entirely ignored by the public information dissemination systems, the “ideological state apparatuses” as they are correctly called by Althusser). The left is marginalised, and has colluded in this process of marginalisation — which means that there are at least two problems needing to be addressed here, as was evident when looking at Hall and McKinley and seeing that they were devoutly and stridently pretending that there was absolutely no gigantic grey flap-eared long-trunked creature in the room and standing on their toes.

Is there even a constituency for a left to take advantage of any more? Evidently there is. The EFF managed to get a million voters by doing little more than getting a reputation for wanting to nationalise the means of production, declaring that this would be their policy if elected, and then putting their names on the ballot-paper. Granted they eventually threw this policy away, along with most of the rest of the reasons for supporting them, and this must obviously disillusion many or most of their voters. Still, it shows that it is possible to mobilise considerable support for the left if anyone seriously tries. (It is significant that before the EFF nobody seriously tried.)

So if it is possible to do this even with frivolous celebrities taking the lead, with scanty organisation, and against a vast barrage of right-wing propaganda, it might be possible to do much more with a solid ideological base, a clear message of relevance to the bulk of the population, a decent organisation and a more reliable and trustworthy collection of leaders. It might be worth developing a left-wing political party possessing these characteristics, instead of the current stock of deadbeats, hoopla artists, fraudsters, clowns and traitors.

The obstacles to this from outside any possible origin or constituency for such a movement are obvious. The plutocrats will smear such a movement, and will try to buy off its leaders or bully its members. If the movement becomes a serious force, it is quite likely, even in the most purportedly liberal countries, that violence and even murder might be used — especially if the members of the movement are ethnically or religiously different from the plutocracy, as with the war against the Black Panthers in the United States and against the Irish Republicans in the United Kingdom. While the most resolute members of such a movement will resist any and all such attacks — and, paradoxically, the more strenuous attacks often arouse more strenuous resistance — weak or ignorant supporters may be driven away.

A still more important danger is, however, the problem of what those supporters consist of. The rank and file of any such part are usually “all right” in the sense that they have had some experience of immiseration and oppression, or have identified it out of their own experience even if they are not directly immiserated or oppressed, and therefore are eager to resist it. It is among more senior cadres of the support for such a movement that the real problem comes.

Someone who has earned (or been given) status and authority within a movement is naturally eager to cling to such status and authority, especially if it is that person’s only chance or opportunity at getting it. Therefore, that person will want to make sure that the movement facilitates that status and authority — and money, if possible — changing its structure and agendas to suit the process. In other words, such organisations may be subverted by individuals, or groups of individuals, seeking to use those organisations to feed vanity or greed.

So what is needed is not just an organisation with policies which appear right and are couched in ways that appeal to the public, but also an organisation capable of maintaining tight discipline on its membership and at the same time arousing an enthusiasm for relatively selfless behaviour. This is not only about preventing people from stealing the cashbox — it is also about discouraging people from campaigning against the actual interests of the organisation, and against its future success, because their ideologies tell them that these interests are false consciousness and that future success is undesirable. Unfortunately, people following such ideologies tend to be hard-working fanatics.

Also, a disciplined organisation tends to be hijacked by leaders who use the discipline to impose their own ideological preconceptions on the organisation. In order to ward off these dangers, the organisation needs simultaneously to be flexible and rigid; to be filled with a sense of open debate and discussion, and absolutely tied to a programme of action based on a rigid framework through which the political world is understood.

These are impossible contradictions, but they have to be managed through time and through leaders who are prepared to set boundaries and accept challenges. The organisation has to be democratic. But it also has to be authoritarian. Where the leaders exploit a situation for their own purposes without due cause they have to be challenged, or even removed, but not by leaders who are simply exploiting that situation again.

What is needed, therefore, is a clear knowledge of organisational history as well as national history, of ideology and also the meta-ideology which is about how ideology evolves and how it is used and abused. These are issues which are almost never properly incorporated into the tedious brainwashing which South African organisations usually substitute for political education, and this is why those organisations so often collapse into shapes which amount to the opposite of what they purport to stand for. Political education is not just an addendum — it is actually what politics is all about.

And all this has to be done against the background of transforming South Africa. The debate is all very well, but understanding the nation and understanding the organisation are only tools towards changing it. So nobody can get bogged down in the processes of defending the organisation against internal threats and external menace, of education and debate and discussion and continual reformation — a kind of permanent revolution, if you wish, but not exactly as either Trotsky or Mao carried that kind of thing out.

All this surely means that the current organisations cannot fulfil the needs of the left in South Africa. A wholly new organisation, consisting almost entirely of personnel not drawn from the historically corrupted organisations, would have to be set up. Such an organisation could still draw on the kind of people who have supported leftist organisations in the past, but its goal would have to be to reconstruct, from the ground up, the political structures, debates, insights, faiths and values which the South African left once aspired to, between the 1950s and the 1980s.

Even if the South African left of that time did not actually manage any of those things (but in retrospect much of the left, particularly the left which was not ossified by exile, attempted these things much more effectually than any other political tendency in the country) they are worth pursuing as ideals. They are not impossible dreams. They have simply been disregarded and discarded by the corrupt exploiters who have taken over all of our politics. Now that virtually every sane person is aware that our leaders are corrupt exploiters, it is not going to be enough to merely remove them and replace them with someone else who might be marginally less corrupt or slightly less exploitative. We need to purify ourselves, without becoming leftist variants of the Islamic State.

It isn’t going to be easy. But it has to be done.

 

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Bad Answers to a Good Question (II): Dale McKinley.

July 30, 2018

It might seem a bit silly to follow up a critique of a serious and profound intellectual like Stuart Hall by critiquing a doltish airhead like Dale McKinley, but the step isn’t really from the sublime to the ridiculous, for politics isn’t so much about intelligence as it is about a combination of personal prejudice and social circumstances, and as Hall’s example shows, intelligence and experience count for nothing against a weak position and a dubious ideological analysis.

McKinley was a Zimbabwean Trotskyite who was sent to the United States to study, no doubt because he was deemed the most promising Zimbabwean Trotskyite, and then went to South Africa to launch a campaign against the ANC once the apartheid regime had been defeated by the ANC and it was safe to do so. He wrote a book and headed up a couple of tiny but well-funded fake-leftist organisations, had a brief stint as a columnist for a right-wing newspaper, and generally did all the things which an ambitious fake leftist serving imperialist plutocracy might be expected to do. However, let us pretend that he was actually a leftist, and ask what his position ought to have been when he wrote “The Crisis of the Left in Contemporary South Africa” in 2008.

That was not a good year for the left, in South Africa or indeed most other places. Despite the conspicuous failure of neoliberal economics, plutocracy was able to take advantage of the failure to enrich itself at the expense of taxpayers as it had previously done at the expense of consumers. Reactionary regimes were on the march across the globe, even if the excesses of the Bush administration were clearly leading to the victory of a right-wing Democrat who would be the catspaw of big financial interests.

In South Africa, the long retreat of the organised left from possessing any influence over the government had only been reversed by abandoning all pretense at leftism and throwing their weight behind the most reactionary and plutocrat-friendly ANC leader available, namely Jacob Zuma. This meant that the influence they had was in the direction of increasing the power of the plutocracy, which was also being enhanced by the growing power of openly pro-plutocrat parties like the Democratic Alliance and the activities of non-governmental organisations which were backed by American billionaires with close ties to the U.S. government. Meanwhile the actual power of the plutocracy over the general public was growing steadily and the access of the public to any capacity to challenge it was dwindling.

So the core question would have to be how to do something about this; how to mobilise people against the growing inequality of wealth, how to roll back the overweeking influence of the plutocracy over all spheres of government, and how to promote the basic values of the left which the organised left had so signally abandoned, against the background of a world movement which was increasingly hostile to any such moves.

So, what did McKinley have to say about all this? He acknowledged that all these problems existed, and added that the left had become balkanised on special issues — which was not actually an adequate statement, because the Trotskyite left had deliberately focused on special issues in order to further the objectives of their sponsors such as the pharmaceutical industry, whereas the left of any numerical significance, the SACP and COSATU, had not devoted all their energy to these things. However, such balkanisation was an obvious danger as Hall’s ill-advised recommendations revealed decades before. So we may accept this.

Instead of addressing this, however, the articles goes on an extended whine about how the ANC had supposedly become neoliberal twelve years earlier (essentially repeating the stale and false pretenses of McKinley and Bond at the time) and, simultaneously, supported a German-style corporatist state (failing to notice the contradiction between neoliberalism and statist corporatism). This he also blames on the SACP and COSATU.

But he then suggests that what might be desirable is “vibrant anti-capitalist forces capable of and willing to contest fundamentally the politics, policies and overall developmental agenda of both capital and the state”, although (correctly) he notes that neither the SACP nor COSATU would be capable of this. Of course, contestation is only meaningful if there is a prospect of successful contestation; couching the concept in “contestation” is rather problematic in itself, suggesting a commitment to opposition for its own sake. However, he does suggest the possibility of being able “contest power relations within South African society”, which might offer something meaningful. But it is also painfully abstract.

What does this mean in practice? It turns out that to McKinley it means that “the leadership of the SACP and COSATU” must “cut the long-standing umbilical cord with the ANC”. In other words, there is nothing wrong with the political positions of these organisations (or nothing which cannot be fixed by helpful advice from McKinley and his comrades) but the only problem is that they are linked to the ANC. In other words, the problem is not capitalism, not the intricate structures of exploitation built into society which had been able to interpenetrate the ANC as well as the SACP and COSATU and ultimately take them all over for its own purposes. The problem is simply the ANC. Solution: boycott the ANC. Then the ANC will drop dead automatically, apparently, and all problems will then be solved.

Of course McKinley doesn’t say this. Indeed, he says that “the capitalists who own and manage the means of production” are “the core foundation of South Africa‚Äôs accumulative path”. But then, apart from repudiating the ANC, what’s to be done about these capitalists and stop them from running the whole shooting-match? And how will repudiating the ANC facilitate this process? One waits breathlessly for an answer.

One would probably turn blue, however, if that were the case, for instead McKinley veers off into complaining about the fact that the little front-organisations and NGOs which Trotskyites had set up or successfully infiltrated, devoted to “poor communities'” “basic services and free expression” (actually what McKinley means is electricity theft and corporatised propaganda in the media) were not getting much traction from the SACP and COSATU once they had gained positions in government through their support for Zuma. Is McKinley really interested in solving the problems of the left, or is he upset because he his own slice of the cake is significantly smaller than that of others as a result of his miscalculation of the correlations of power?

Again, when McKinley says that these little front-organisations embody “the possibilities for those implicitly anti-capitalist battles to give birth to more explicitly socialist politics” it is almost amusing to reflect that one of the organisations which he identified, Abahlali baseMjondolo, became explicitly pro-neoliberal when it went over to the Democratic Alliance, while McKinley himself now works for Right2Know, an organisation funded by and for South Africa’s big corporate media conglomerates. Of course, he is right to say that “[t]he question that the South African left needs to ask honestly is whether or not it still believes in the possibilities of actually overthrowing capitalism”, to which the honest answer in the case of the SACP and COSATU (and all other unions and all Trotskyite movements) must be “No”, an answer to which McKinley seems to have no response, since all his ideas depend entirely on the answer being the opposite.

McKinley presumes to advise everybody on the errors of “vanguardist” parties in the “collapse of Communism” (although he is nothing if not a vanguardist) but he also claims that “it is quite clear that concrete struggles against, for example, privatization of the public sector and for socialized provision of housing, water, electricity, basic foodstuffs, and land are aimed at contesting capitalist relations of ownership and distribution”. This is certainly not clear. Anti-privatisation campaigns may simply be based in a desire to get actual services which would not be provided by capitalists — actually, they usually are. None of these campaigns in South Africa has advanced the cause of socialism, and most of them, because they have been opportunistic and unrealistically mounted, have not retarded the cause of capitalism in the slightest.

Meanwhile, McKinley suggests that what is needed “is a strategy that essentially forces unionized workers to respond politically to intensifying mass struggles from . . . grassroots communities”. In other words, McKinley and his friends must organise the grassroots to do things which will enable them to control the trade unions, while pretending that this is a spontaneous process. This is an obvious side effect of McKinley’s delusions of spontaneity against the background of his actual vanguardism.

Such dishonesty is pathetic, but it is also preposterous; if the unions are not responding to the immiseration of their own members, why would they respond to the orchestrated activities of organisations outside their membership? Indeed, although NUMSA is much more influenced by Trotskyites than before, it is not very good at getting workers to respond to anything other than immediate wage demands — even the recent sensible critique of the Ramaphosa assault on the minimum wage and the Labour Relations Act drew very little support from NUMSA members. One can only imagine how little support they would have offered to issues wholly unrelated to immediate union interests. Thus McKinley’s dreams of using his tiny groupuscules to hijack really significant organisations — that perennial fantasy of western Trotskyism — appears to lead nowhere even on its own terms.

For the most part McKinley’s conclusion, avoiding serious discussion, relies on empty and windy phrases like “a new kind of left politics” [read: the same old stuff McKinley had been pushing for twenty years] and “a real and meaningful left unity” [read: everybody at last listening to McKinley’s same old stuff] and “a new organizational form” [whatever that means]. In effect he had, in 2008, nothing to offer except more of the same dressed up as something different.

Which means that after fourteen years of failing to accomplish anything through the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism which had failed to accomplish anything anywhere else, McKinley’s response to a fresh series of crises of the left was to demand that everyone accept that the familiar tactics of western Trotskyism must be accepted by everybody on the left as the solution to all these crises. It’s as if a doctor were to respond to a patient’s diabetes by prescribing leeches, and when the patient then develops lung cancer, the doctor were to prescribe even more leeches.

This is only one person’s incapacity, of course, and he was a fairly incapable person even before he displayed this so dramatically in a long badly-written article in an obscure and uninfluential journal. All the same, it is an example of a kind of ideological paralysis, in which it is simply impossible to imagine that, all other things having changed, anything other than what one has just done and wants to do again can be done. Yet there is also the acknowledgement that those things have changed. This is weird; we have failed, so fail again; fail better. But when we fail worse, fail again, for it is as if failing worse is more important than succeeding, so long as we fail in the proper way.

And, towards the end of this failure in the proper way, reality has to be twisted; the actual problems are pushed into the background, the past failures are forgotten, opponents’ successes are discounted, lies are repeated regardless of whether they serve any purpose, and generally everything is subsumed to the demands of wholly baseless ideological confidence. Any problems can be covered up with jargon, or, in McKinley’s case, wholly spurious statements that this or that dubious claim from a dubious source authoritatively proves whatever it is that McKinley wishes to see proven at the moment. It is strangely similar — or perhaps not so strangely — to the behaviour of the Soviet Communist Party’s ideological “theorists”, or high priests of the dead religion of Brezhnevian Stalinism, in the last years of the USSR.

Which maybe makes sense. But isn’t this, actually, the core of the crisis of the left? The left’s inability to address the crisis of the left? Is this why the crisis became a crisis — wise people were fooled, and fools became dogmatic? It certainly seems so.


The Cultural Revolution.

May 30, 2018

It’s difficult to say exactly what is amiss with South African culture; perhaps it’s worth looking at the communicators of culture, starting with the media.

The television and radio are abysmal, at least in terms of indigenous action. Yes, there are occasional TV programmes which are not wholly beneath contempt, but these are invariably bought from elsewhere and embody the implication that foreigners and foreign practices are necessarily to be slavishly imitated rather than critiqued — and that nothing African is of any interest except when filtered through white and Western consciousness. The TV is also an incessant generator of subservience to consumerism and to the power of wealth.

But what of the radio? Apart from playing lousy music to pass the time, the principal feature of the radio is talk shows — in which the commentators are almost invariably incapable of providing any reliable information on anything, so depend instead on the messages of their listeners. Whether these are sieved or not is hard to tell, but if they are not, then the majority of South African radio listeners are extraordinarily ignorant, bigoted and almost incapable of logical analysis of situations. However, these listeners are listening to programmes which are almost comically devoted to capitalist propaganda, within which nothing, from the sports programmes through the programmes condemning white racism and black corruption, to the “economic news” provided by corporate propagandists, is not framed within a plutocratic capitalist and consumerist milieu.

One by one, the holdovers of the former liberal SABC of the 1990s have been silenced, and now all is an omnipresent worship of the Almighty Dollar, broken only by an omnipresent worship of the wisdom of Western media’s perspective on the South in general and Africa in particular, and, of course, of the British Royal Family. Where there are exceptions, as with the occasional reportage (borrowed from al-Jazeera, usually) of Israeli crimes, these exist largely because the South African government has decided to take a stand for publicity purposes. Quite often, however, the radio decided to condemn the South African government’s stance — presumably because someone powerful has advised the corporate toadies of the SABC Board to do so.

It isn’t, perhaps, such a gigantic change; sponsored radio is necessarily under someone’s thumb. The SABC is far thinner than the BBC, but probably allows a little more real debate than the BBC does (partly because the BBC is so well-funded that it can afford to fill the space with paid propagandists wall to wall). But still, it’s hard to ignore the potential which radio displayed once upon a time, and compare that with the way in which that potential has been pissed away in the last decade and a half.

As for the newspapers — well! Or rather, not well at all. One of their main features is their unanimity in their propaganda. They have been universal in their support for particular factions of the ANC (those which are most likely to serve the interests of their owners, naturally), in their support also for individuals likely to disrupt the ANC, in their support for the DA’s leadership, in their support for established big business as opposed to upstarts like the Gupta family, and so on. They have been universal in their provision of mindless nostrums for the trivial problems of society (or rather, for the trivial symptoms of the deep-rooted real problems of society) while they have been universal in their declaration that all problems will be solved by handing the matter over to big business and to its agents throughout government.

Part of the problem is obviously the structure of ownership. Most of the former Times Media papers are owned by Blackstar Tiso, which despite its name is a white-owned conglomerate headed by a former financier named Bonamour. Most of the former Independent Media papers are owned by Iqbal Surve, a corporate operator who is particularly unscrupulous in hyping his financial projects through his newspapers. Most of the old Afrikaans press are owned by Media24, which is a subsidiary of a financial body heavily invested in a Chinese Internet marketing operation, 10 Cent. The Mail and Guardian, which is probably the nearest thing to a “quality” newspaper in South Africa, was owned by a shadowy company controlled by a man named Ncube, who had previously run the British political propaganda operations in Zimbabwe (which arouses obvious suspicions). Now it has been bought by a Trust which is controlled by two American billionaires, Soros and Omidyar, and its journalist-training operations are controlled by Soros’ “Open Society Foundation” (that secretive body devoted to U.S. domination).

The common feature to all these media operations seems to be finance capital; all the South African newspapers are thus run by and on behalf of financiers, who are obviously concerned with maximising their return on investment by turning their operations into propaganda. In addition, although the three white-run media groups are extremely hostile to Surve’s group, and although Media24 has a decidedly more old-apartheid flavour than the other three, on the whole the four bodies are almost interchangeable in their ideology and general values — and all are mainly concerned, as good corporate operators should be, with cost-cutting, as a result of which they are necessarily spending less on journalism and more on cheap sensationalism and prettification.

Another by-product of this corporatisation is that virtually all South African towns are now one-newspaper towns; Cape Town supposedly has two newspapers but they contain exactly the same stories printed on differently-shaped paper, while East London and Port Elizabeth are two towns which possess essentially one paper (since the Herald and the Despatch draw on the same resources and are printed on the same press). The absence of any meaningful competition naturally degrades quality of production as well as the substance of debate.

These are all, of course, for-profit operations, and the major political parties are also for-profit projects, focussing mainly on enriching themselves via their sponsors and on garnering votes through which political power may be acquired and used to gain positions from which tenders may be issued and thus sponsors be rewarded. In other words, not much may be expected from the major political parties, and their utterances add nothing positive to public debate. Next to the radio and television commentators and the print journalists, politicians appear both pathetic and disgraceful, barely capable of expressing themselves in order to fool the public into deeming them worth voting for. As a result the propaganda agencies have to do the work for them, which the politicians seem to accept, so that laughable figures like De Lille and Maimane in the DA, or nauseating figures like Ramaphosa and Mantashe in the ANC, are elevated to a stardom which the media can easily withdraw when it chooses to do so — displaying the supremacy of capital over democracy.

Supposedly not for profit, and the last remaining potential source of cultural enrichment, would be the social commentators of the “new social movements” in the street and the analysts based in the foundations and the universities. When one looks at these commentators and analysts, however, one finds that their conclusions and disturbingly identical to the conclusions of the journalists — that is, they have not attempted to develop any original ideas distinguishing them from people who are under the control of the corporate sector. Moreover, although some of the older ones (invariably ones who were operating before 1994) are still capable of packaging the stale corporate ideas in relatively fresh forms, the bulk of the younger ones offer nothing which is not available in newspaper editorials.

The reason becomes obvious when one looks at how they maintain their positions. The “non-governmental organisations”, lacking any popular support, are obliged to survive through corporate sponsorship. This means that those at the top have been able to garner large salaries which can only be maintained through continued sponsorship. Therefore the organisations have to focus their attention on whatever the corporations want them to focus on — and if they step out of line, or if the corporations feel they should be reined in, they are easily controllable, as Equal Education has discovered with the recent propaganda blasts against it over the sexual harassment commited by its activists (which has always been there, since Equal Education, like Section27, is a corporate-funded front for the residue of the Marxist Workers’ Tendency which was a nightmare of sexual exploitation and predation). Exactly the same is true of the foundations, many of which are one-man-bands set up to pursue single issues which corporations feel embarrassed to pursue openly, like the immiseration of the poor and the furthering of neocolonialism.

As for the universities, they have become pathetic spaces where half-trained overpromoted intellectuals vie with overqualified and resentful professionals for the scraps of wealth still cast under the table by the corporate bosses who sponsor the universities. Such people have neither the time nor the inclination to do real research, and if they did it, they would be unlikely to find any means of accessing the public with their results. A small handful of invariably corporate-funded “professors” have been created to sustain the illusion that anyone is listening to anything that university intellectuals say, or that those intellectuals have anything to say worth hearing — these “professors” repeat exactly what everybody else is saying, however, so nobody takes them seriously, and only the corporate propagandists even pretend to do so.

So the system is rigged. The only hope, as usual, lies in the proles, among the singers and writers who generate material which the public might actually take seriously as social commentary. Unfortunately, the South African music industry is entirely devoted to making money to the exclusion of any other consideration, and so very little South African music is anything more than endless stale repetitions of American models, whether rappers, folk singers or rockers. Black South African music is if anything more embarrassingly devoid of originality than the white music, embarrassingly because of the enormous wealth of potential material.

As for novels, there is again very little which is not derived from foreign models. Admittedly a few, like Moxyland, show a certain originality in their derivation; others, like Unimportance, show a certain commitment to some kind of representation of the real world. However, even these texts are often one-offs which are followed by an increasing commitment to First World tastes and an increasing flight from South Africa. (Arguably South Africa’s greatest living novelist, Michiel Heyns, has wandered far afield from his original commitment to establishing a genuine South African gay novel and has become, via his blind adoration for Henry James, a kind of rootless homosexual cosmopolitan.)

Which leaves only poetry for a representative of South African culture. And poetry is pretty much a culture of individuals, and is hardly noticed except by other poets. Most South African poets may comment extensively about the world around them, but the impact they make is negligible and, indeed, many of them are almost as derivative as the novelists.

The absence of a South African culture — apart from the traditions of the past and a few minor attributes generated by the clash between these traditions and the neoliberal commercialisation of society — is thus striking. We may speculate as to why this should be the case, why South Africa has abandoned all pursuit of such developments. But it is impossible to deny that it is the case.


The Jew Problem.

May 30, 2018

In South Africa we who are not Jewish almost never consider Jewish people a problem. Anti-Semitism has never had any traction among africans or coloureds, and little enough (at least until recently, and only among Muslims) among indians. Granted Anglophone whites brought some of the genteel anti-Semitism which characterised the English upper class with them to South Africa, but Afrikaner anti-Semitism was largely bound up with the National Party’s belief, and campaigns, concerning the exclusion of Afrikaners from major economic enterprise by the British Empire with Jews acting as its tools (which would have surprised Adolf Hitler up until September 1939 when he and Balthazar Johannes Vorster found themselves on the same page).

So if Jews were once not a problem, have they now become a problem, and if so, why?

This relates to a gradual shift in public consciousness, predominantly among white Westerners and those who serve them, in regard to Israel. The shift entailed a slow abandonment of the denial which the Western political class imposed around the crimes committed by Israelis against Arabs, and an acceptance, as a result, of the criminal nature of the Israeli state.

The shift began on the left, and in part it was opportunistic. After the collapse of Nasserite Arab nationalism, a modest leftist movement gained attention in many Arab states (though never gaining power). Aspects of the Palestinian movement joined this, or pretended to (though never gaining overall authority within the movement). The Western left noticed that while Israel (which had pretended to be a left-wing state for twenty-five years) was moving seriously right, the Arabs and Palestinians appeared to be moving left, and thus should be supported. This was all a pretense, but the Western left has never been good at identifying real trends.

Still, once the left made it OK to criticise Israel — partly through the activity of intelligent and well-informed critics of Israel like Noam Chomsky — Israel’s actual policies came into focus. It began to be noted that Israel’s domestic policies were brutal ethnic repression and cleansing, while its foreign policy supported virtually every tyranny you could think of. South Africans were particularly outraged by the Israeli support for the apartheid military, which received warships, warplanes, tanks, ballistic missiles and small arms from Israel.

This process was intensified by Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 1982. The invasion was unprovoked (like all Israeli aggressions it was allegedly based on the need to deter pinprick attacks by feeble opponents). Worse, on the map it was impossible to make Lebanon look bigger than Israel in the way that “Arab” states had been portrayed in Israeli and Western propaganda. Then the kidnapping, torture and mass murder which accompanied the aggression became evident, and a few brave commentators began mentioning that this was not the first time this had happened. Disaffected Israeli historians recognising that kidnapping, torture and mass murder accompanied every major act of the Israeli state since 1947.

This did not pose obvious problems for most Westerners. Either you supported gross violation of human rights for political gain, in which case you sided with your government on Israel, or you supported the human rights which the Western governments pretended to endorse, in which case you opposed Israel and also opposed your government. Supposedly left-wing opposition parties sometimes took advantage of this to loudly condemn Israeli crimes to curry favour with the voters. Then, when they took office, they colluded with Israel, like their predecessors, which was embarrassing and indeed a disgraceful sign of the collapse of social democracy. However, this was a broad problem of Western domestic politics, not a moral problem or one having its roots in the Middle East.

The only grouping in the West which had any real problem was the Jewish community. Jews had long been in the forefront of left-wing politics. Many of these had become severe critics of the Israeli state. The Jewish community, apart from extremists like the Anti-Defamation League, had largely tolerated this. Proably they felt that so long as Israel was in no danger of being criticised by any significant force in the West, it made no difference if some Jews criticised Israel. Indeed, arguably uncritical support for Israel was something of an embarrassment for Jews — no believing Jew could claim that any earthly state, even a Jewish one, could be perfect — so the presence of Jewish critics of Israel became a kind of internal defense mechanism for wider support for Israel.

The trouble arise when it became obvious to everybody that the Jewish state of Israel was odious, and particularly when (for domestic political purposes) important political forces in Western countries began acting against South Africa, which in many ways was a milder and less intransigent version of Israel. Suddenly it became conceivable that Israel might someday face really effective condemnation, and perhaps even action, from the West. The U.S. government began endeavouring, with some success, to buy off the Palestinian movement in order to reduce conspicuous conflict between Palestinians and Jews in Israel. This entailed muted criticisms of the Israeli annexation of Arab territory and oppression of Palestinians — criticisms which were disingenuous and one-sidedly favoured the Israelis, but which seem to have terrified the Israeli government. It responded in its traditional fashion, through intransigence and intensified repression.

What were Jews to do, and in particular what were South African Jews to do? In public they pretended to support the pseudo-reform initiatives. In private, however, they appear to have recognised that even pseudo-reform was intolerable, because pseudo-reform required acknowledging the possibility of real reform, and the Palestinians might then demand that. How could Israel survive if the West suddenly decided that it would support the Palestinians in the interests of resolving a Middle East conflict which centred around the presence of a violently aggressive settler state sitting in the middle of a dispossessed and disgruntled Arab population?

The problem for Jews is that Israel is their spiritual homeland, and the whole Zionist movement which the vast majority of Jews support entailed the return of Jews to their spiritual homeland, displacing the people for whom that had been a physical homeland for thousands of years. The Zionist movement accomplished this through fraud and violence and through shabby political deals with the British and American governments under which the Zionists would serve those governments’ purposes in exchange for support. (The Zionist Jews violated those deals whenever it suited them — they did not recognise the authority of non-Jews, whether those were Turks, Arabs or Westerners.)

Naturally, this fraud and violence had consequences, but Jews could not acknowledge those consequences because they saw the return to the spiritual homeland as an end of such virtue that no negative consequence could be recognised. All the mythologising which had gone on through the Zionist movement (and after that carried on by the Israeli state) served to intensify that. With a few honourable exceptions, Jews identified with the Israeli state and accepted its crimes as at worst mildly regrettable, but often seen as a positive factor (this helps to explain the strange stance of the historian Benny Morris) because it was about time that Jews were doing the killing and torturing, rather than someone else doing it to Jews. The Palestinians were effectively suffering payback for anti-Semitic atrocities committed not in Arab lands but in Western Europe.

So the Jewish community faces a real moral contradiction. There is only one Jewish state in the world, whereas Jews mostly live in communities of Caucasians or Arabs who have numerous states (if you go by race rather than by cultural identity). Therefore nationalist Jews feel that they have everything to lose; if they lose their nation-state again (as they did repeatedly in the distant past) they might never recover it. (This accounts for some of the more cruel and brutal remarks made against Palestinians by Israelis and Israeli supporters, to the effect that Arabs have lots of states and they surely won’t miss just one.) Nationalist Jews can easily be convinced to be callous and brutal in the name of a cause which they believe is absolutely just regardless of what is done in its name.

But who is “they” in the case of Jews, as far as non-Jews are concerned? To avoid the obvious stigma of anti-Semitism, the left, and later most activists on the issue who deserve to be taken seriously, have adopted the jargon of “anti-Zionism”. We are not against the behaviour of the Jews, it is said, we are against the behaviour of Zionists, in their murderous and terroristic assaults on Palestinians and other Arabs and their repugnant endorsement of every odious and repressive regime in the world (look at the list of nations which attended the lavish party held to celebrate the opening of the U.S. Embassy in occupied East Jerusalem, and then decide whether to laugh or weep).

This sounds sensible, except that Jews are Zionists. Yes, there are Jews who oppose Israeli crimes; there are also Israelis who oppose Israeli crimes. The numbers in each group are insignificant. Compared with the number of white South Africans who opposed the crimes of apartheid and even the crimes of colonialism before it, the number of anti-Zionist Jews is trivial. We may thus say that the overwhelming majority of Jews bear a heavy blood guilt for the ghastly nature of the regime which they desired, helped to create, currently sponsor and expect to survive until the end of the world, a guilt which must be attributed to every Jewish individual unless s/he can prove innocence — just like what white South Africans experienced under colonialism and apartheid.

The guilt creates a distorted consciousness. Jews are normal people; they are not naturally psychologically disturbed. Yet, because they are isolated from the general communities in which they live outside Israel, it is easy for ideological fanatics to hijack the discourse within their particular communities. Then, while Jews outwardly pretend to be perfectly normal and civilised people, behind the scenes they endorse the most barbaric behaviour — and while this is arguably true of most societies, it is particularly conspicuous in the case of the Jews because the barbarism which they endorse serves the interests of a distant state. Then Jews pretend to be more moral than non-Jews. It is as if Jews had carefully read the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and come away determined to follow the principles of that old forgery committed by the Czarist secret police to legitimate mass anti-Semitic progroms.

Granted, Jews say that they support torture, ethnic cleansing, mass murder and (possibly ultimately) genocide only against Arabs, and for the most part Palestinian Arabs. But can we believe them? Since this vile set of policies is justified wholly because the victims of the crimes are non-Jews, one must ask whether, if the issue were (say) the slaughter of black South Africans, the Jews would have qualms about endorsing that. Most probably the answer is that they would feel nothing; one set of non-Jews is much like another, and all are ultimately to be exterminated, as specified in the Old Testament which largely guides contemporary Jewish politics. Significantly, the repression and racism directed against Palestinians has become repression and racism against black and brown guest-workers imported into Israel.

Meanwhile, the degenerate behaviour of the Israeli regime in committing crimes for no good reason, as if (like old-fashioned James Bond movie villains) they gain pleasure from being despicable, spills over into wider Jewish society in a distasteful way. Take the recent behaviour of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and Zionist Federation (the two entities are largely interchangeable) over South Africa’s measured and surprisingly principled stand against the recent Israeli massacres in Gaza.

The complaint of these august bodies is that South Africa’s withdrawal of its ambassador is a) “outrageous” and b) “shows double standards”. The Democratic Alliance, which was founded by wealthy Jewish businessmen and remains heavily staffed at senior administrative level by wealthy Jewish people and their sons, added (copying the Zionist Federation) that this diplomatic message amounted to “walking away” from the crisis. Let’s try to assess these remarks.

Why should anyone feel “outrage” when a government makes a diplomatic protest in response to another government ordering its army to maim or murder a group of thousands of unarmed civilians enclosed behind a stout fence? You might believe that the maiming and murder was justified, in which case you would feel regret at the misunderstandings of the protesting government and attempt to explain the justifications. Outrage, however, means that you are appalled at the mere fact of protesting against the unprovoked killing and serious wounding of civilians by armed forces.

The elected voice of South African Jewry feels no outrage about the the armed forces of Israel firing live ammunition into defenseless crowds of people. This absence of outrage exists even though, twice in every year, South Africans commemorate the similar crimes of the South African government in the Sharpeville and Soweto massacres, to say nothing of the extensive condemnation of the more recent Marikana massacre — a condemnation endorsed by many South African Jews.) It is as if South African Jewry endorses and promotes psychopathic behaviour.

The question of “double standards”, is manifestly “whataboutery”. The elected voice of South African Jewry requires that the South African government should not protest against the crimes committed by Israel until it has protested against the crimes committed by other governments. These organisations have never lobbied the South African government to make such protests. The obvious goal of this is to postpone, preferably indefinitely, any protest against crimes committed by Israel — which corresponds with the notion that these organisations are psychopathic.

To clarify their claim, however, the South African Jewish Board of Deputies gives some examples. They note that South Africa has not taken diplomatic action against Syria, for crimes committed in that country. But Syria has been engaged in civil war since 2011, and in a civil war one must expect war crimes and crimes against humanity, particularly in one as bitter and brutal as the Syrian has been since its first days. Nor is it conceivable that diplomatic gestures would make any difference to the behaviour of either side. So this is a silly and irrelevant demand.

But also, a major participant in the Syrian war is the Israeli government, which has sponsored and provided bases for the Wahhabi gunmen in the south-east of the country (operating out of Syrian territory illegally occupied by Israel). Israel has also committed repeated acts of unprovoked aggression against Syria during the war, murdering numerous people in the process. Therefore one of the parties to be condemned in the war is Israel itself, which the Jewish Board of Deputies refuses to do.

Two other examples which the South African Jewish Board of Deputies present are those of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and of Zimbabwe; in both cases, they claim, the South African government has “done nothing”. In reality, South Africa has been more active in engaging both countries than any other country in the world. In both cases the problem amounts to promoting a culture of democratic accountability in the government while protecting it against various kinds of external aggression and pressure — and solving such problems requires as much diplomatic engagement as possible; gesture politics like the withdrawal of an ambassador can have no useful role to play.

In neither case is the government systematically murdering members of an oppressed ethnic group, as occurs in Israel. (One of the few cases where that may actually be happening in the world, outside Israel, is Myanmar — which was welcomed as an honoured guest at the opening of the U.S. Embassy in occupied East Jerusalem, the act which provoked the protests which were met by the Israeli massacre!). In both cases, the skin colour of the people being falsely condemned by the South African Jewish Board of Deputies is black, just as in Syria it is brownish. It seems possible that the elected voice of South African Jewry is exploiting, and promoting, white supremacist paranoia and racism.

So if South African Jewry does not repudiate such despicable behaviour, one must assume that they endorse it. Therefore South African Jews may be suspected of encouraging ghastly crimes on a basis of racial prejudice directed against both Arabs and africans, and potentially, all who criticise those ghastly crimes and that racial prejudice. Since this means that the values which South African Jews support oppose everything which South Africa stands for, and the values which they support, if seriously applies, would tear South Africa to fragments, one must say that South African Jews (for all their outward bourgeois moderation) constitute a threat to the South African community in a way that no other grouping does.

Perhaps the threat is not real, or at least not particularly serious. Nevertheless, for our own protection, it is thus important that the horrible values which South African Jews espouse are continually challenged and criticised, and that South African Jews are no longer given a free pass to support horrific crimes and contemptible beliefs.


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.


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.