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.

 

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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.

 


At Last, the Creator Reads the Mars Trilogy.

November 6, 2017

Kim Stanley Robinson has written a great deal of future history. Most of it centres around two things: the decline of the American capitalist empire in the early twenty-first century, and the rise of alternatives to capitalism in the solar system in the ensuing centuries. In a sense, then, his work is rather like the 1980s work of Bruce Sterling (think Schismatrix), albeit considerably more sophisticated and less pretentious.

The gist of his work is that the near future is going to be bad, because of capitalism, but after capitalism everything will be all right, because of technology. If this sounds simplistic, it isn’t — not altogether, because the only way that the technology can become unfettered is by getting rid of capitalism as an exclusive and overarching dominant concept — that is, by getting rid of what we now call neoliberalism, although Robinson’s ideas were formed in the 1970s and he doesn’t quite talk that way. He also isn’t particularly interested in postmodernism, even though he is interested both in art and in Fredric Jameson, the man who attempted to Marxise postmodernism (although he may have only succeeded in postmodernising Marxism).

But although the Creator has admired books like Icehenge and Pacific Edge and The Memory of Whiteness, all of which are set in this Robinsonian future history, the Creator never yet read the Mars Trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars. It was all just too much. The Creator used to fantasise about being a science fiction writer, and the problem with Robinson was that he was just too good to serve as a model; it was impossible to do as well as him, let alone better. And these three texts were supposedly the very best of them all. Let them alone, lest you become depressed. Anyway, there are other things out there to read.

Anyway, the other day the Creator was at a Bargain Books, which is the only place where one can obtain remotely affordable texts off-line, and came across a copy of Blue Mars. There was nothing else worth getting in the shop apart from ridiculously expensive South African ruling class propaganda, so Kim Stanley Robinson was a perfect means of counteracting this. But, having bought it, it seemed right to read it. And the Creator saw that it was good.

The trouble was that Blue Mars is the third volume in the trilogy, and a great deal of it was obviously heavily dependent on knowing what had happened in the earlier two. Vaguely remembering that there was a lot of Robinson in the bookshelf, the Creator went into the dark crevice where such books are kept, and discovered that Red Mars and Green Mars were side-by-side with all the Robinson books which the Creator had actually (more or less) read. The trilogy had been looming untouched for a decade. Perhaps the Creator had unconsciously been putting it all off until the last volume manifested itself.

OK, so what’s it about? Ostensibly, the colonisation of Mars. The Americans send a man to Mars. Then the Americans and the Russians get together and send a hundred colonists to Mars to set up things so that actual colonisation can get going. Presently the colonisation gets going, and that, of course, is where the trouble starts. By the end of Red Mars, the trouble is in full swing, because the corporations — “transnationals”, Robinson calls them — are taking over and using Mars both as a source of income and as a way of scoring off each other — corporate war by other means — and because profit and military power are involved, they grow increasingly intolerant of the hippy-dippy society which the scientists, engineers and psychologists evolved in the early decades of colonisation. And so something has to be done, and the corporations decide to kill off all the trouble-making colonists and start all over again with nice corporate clones and zombies who will do what they are told.

Green Mars deals with the failure of the corporate project. As might be expected, they manage to kill off just enough of the troublemakers to make the survivors bitter and resentful, and therefore the survivors are gradually able to keep the flame of resistance alive as Mars is flooded with drones — especially because the cheese-paring bean-counters whom the corporations put in charge invariably skimp on things like healthcare and social services, because this is the Great Frontier and everybody should be a Rugged Individualist, or else get nabbed by the corporate police and dragged off to the torture-chambers (and of course Rugged Individualism doesn’t apply to the bean-counters or to the billionaires who drop in from time to time to check that their investments are generating sufficient short-term profit at the expense of the people and environment of Mars. Anyway, in the end everybody gets pissed off enough to launch a revolution — which is only possible because the Earthies get a bit tangled up in a slight environmental problem they face — the sudden six-metre rise in sea-level as a result of the collapse of the whole Antarctic ice sheet.

Blue Mars is probably the most boring of the trilogy texts; having succeeded in winning independence from Earth, the Martians have to create a new society, and of course they fail; what they create is a collage of old societies, and meanwhile, because capitalism is defeated and discredited and hence humanity has the opportunity to achieve the goals which Marx wanted them to accomplish and which capitalism always stifled, there are new kinds of society and new technological systems appearing everywhere, and therefore there is no simple ownership of the mode of production, and therefore not even a Marxist can figure out what is going on. While nothing clear or coherent is happening, what is clear is that the future is as bright as the new fusion “gaslights” illuminating and heating the outer worlds, and as new as the asteroidal generation starships roaring off. to colonise new worlds and spread humanity’s genius and screwups to the stars.

So that’s the technological side of the trilogy, which is in itself interesting, with its tension between huge “Pharoanic” projects to provide Mars with the water, nitrogen and heat it needs to be terraformed, and the small-scale, “ecopoetic” transformations which are supposed to do the same thing, but in a nice way, of course. It all runs by machinery anyway; the question is only how big it is.

And who’s in charge, and what their motives are, and that raises all the human questions which are what makes the trilogy really interesting.

The First Man On Mars, John Boone, is one of the First Hundred, the unacknowledged ecopoetic legislators of the world called Mars. Virtually all of the story is told through members of the First Hundred, who witness the gradual transformation of Mars, which happens according to their wishes or against their wishes, depending on whether they are Reds who want to keep Mars pristine and inhabitable only inside pressurised buildings, or Greens who want to turn Mars into a second Earth (no prizes for guessing which side wins, although it is the Reds who often appear the more interesting figures, apart from the autistic scientist-hero Sax). The First Hundred can witness the development of Mars (which spans two centuries) thanks to the convenient invention of a life-prolonging DNA auto-repair treatment — although this means that they live to become both mythic heroes and to witness the death of almost all of their dreams, and to become crotchety oldsters in a world of youth, the world of the “Accelerando” which Robinson represents as the speeding-up and perfecting of humanity’s mission to dominate the solar system and itself.

Boone, however, the mythic American hero of the frontier, is killed right at the start of the first volume of the trilogy, by thugs egged on by another American — a Mission Control administrator jealous of the celebrity status of astronauts — who believes that he can turn Mars into an American paradise if only the problematic Boone were out of the way. So for the rest of the book, as the reader follows Boone’s blundering attempts to understand what is going on and formulate an appropriate liberal response to the radical circumstances of terraformed, corporate-dominated Mars, it is already written that Boone will fail, and the catastrophe of 2061, the failed revolution against the capitalists, is already written into the book from the beginning.

But the revolution wins in the end — the revolution for freedom, that is; freedom from not being punished for interfering with corporate interests, freedom to develop your own lifestyle, but not freedom to keep the water down in the aquifers, or the carbon dioxide in the icecaps; that freedom is lost along with 2061, when the massive civil war shatters what remains of Red Mars and leaves the corporations who win the war paradoxically free to dump nitrogen from Titan to beef up the atmospheric pressure and fly space mirrors to reflect heat onto the planet. (The mirrors are eventually moved away after the Revolution and become Venetian blinds for Venus, cooling it down until the atmosphere freezes out.) The whole intellectual conflict, between individual freedom and social restraint, and between political need and economic necessity, and between the way we used to do things in the good old days and the way these uppity young troublemakers want to do it now, is beautifully played out and makes the text probably the most interesting and sophisticated science fiction sequence ever written.

Technically and historically, of course, it’s not about Mars at all; it’s about how we could turn the human race, on Earth or anywhere else, into a bunch of happy campers, all well-fed, relaxed and living the way we want to be, if only we could get capitalist acquisitiveness out of the way. It’s apparent throughout the text that there’s always plenty of resources — generated by robots which can build anything to any amount at any time. Only greed and envy keep the resources from being spread around. Technology and social science and democratic debate can resolve all problems.

Yes, but will they? The depressing thing about the book is that it’s twenty-five years since Red Mars was conceived, and we ought to be going to Mars by now; the First Hundred set off in 2020 on the Ares. Boone ought already to have returned by now to the last hurrah of American governmental space imperialism. He hasn’t, and we aren’t doing any of this. We don’t even have fusion power, which is absolutely essential for the bulk of the projects which are bustled through space.

Nor have we got the cash and the impetus to go into space. Instead of gigantic Energias boosting space shuttles two at a time into orbit, the Energia and the space shuttle have both been closed down and there is no sign of any serious replacement. This is partly because Robinson assumes that the end of the Cold War would also mean the end of the arms race, the end of global conflict, and therefore the military and aerospace industries are obliged to plug for a huge space boondoggle in order to preserve their corporate identity — one of the first corporations to dominate Mars is Armscor, which of course no longer exists in our real world except as Denel, a stumbling relic of apartheid South Africa’s techno-fetishism. But Armscor died because the global war machine opposed its competition; Robinson simply underestimated the corruption and self-destructive nature of capitalism, being a traditional Marxist who, like his mentor Fredric Jameson, has a poisoned, guilty admiration for what capitalism was (but seems to be no longer).

Robinson, indeed, also has a Good Capitalist, a man who recognises that the world cannot continue going to hell in a handbasket forever, that sooner or later the handbasket must arrive in hell, and rather than have that happen, decides to throw in his lot with the enemies of corporate capitalism and trust that he can do a deal with them by working along with the Martian resistance to corporate capitalism. It is, of course, possible that people might pretend to do that sort of thing, but in fact the experience of corporate capitalists working with revolutionaries in South Africa is not exactly encouraging. Meanwhile, Robinson’s corporate capitalist is something of a combination of Egon Musk and Howard Hughes — suggesting that Robinson is desperately buying into capitalism’s own fraudulent image of the risk-taking, edge-living entrepreneur. We don’t see much of that stuff in the real world.

Robinson’s wonderful world of a new bright future does include trifling sacrifices which have to be made for freedom  — like the corporate warriors who reprogram city environment maintenance systems to hyperoxygenate the atmosphere under the domed cities. In one spectacularly horrible scene, some of Robinson’s heroes find themselves facing this crisis, and when a fuse is lit their living bodies burn like torches (Robinson helpfully reminds us of what happened to the early Apollo astronauts in an oxygenated space capsule). But this isn’t the problem. The problem is that this future isn’t going to materialise. We aren’t going to Mars, and we aren’t even going to build Mars on Earth. What we seem to be building instead is a cesspool filled with barbed wire.

 


So This Is Freedom? They Must Be Joking!

November 6, 2017

The politics of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave are beyond belief as well as beneath contempt – like the politics of most similar countries, of course.
The Republican Party and the Democratic Party are both, of course, the same party; the party of wealth, privilege, power and disdain for anyone who lacks these things. Both are also parties of global military violence and domestic economic oppression (which, when challenged, often morphs into global economic violence and domestic military oppression). The difference between them is one of style, and to some extent of constituency which determines that style, plus the fact that there are different market segments seeking to appeal to them. This style, and those different market segments, determine who votes for the different halves of the party – rather like the ANC and the DA in South Africa, although here it’s three-quarters and one-quarter, or at least has been since 1994 when the first polls were held.
But still, this recent Presidential primary election season has gone beyond the usual joke, beyond the usual surrealism, into something which makes one begin to believe that perhaps the Satanic deity which created this world to torment us is beginning to manifest itself in all its hideous clarity.
The primary nightmare is being constructed around Donald Trump, the ex-bankrupt real estate and casino tycoon, who decided to stand for the Presidency as a potential Republican candidate. Since many Americans either passionately love or passionately dislike the rich, this could either be a problem or an advantage. He’s not, of course, the first billionaire to stand for the Presidency — anyone remember Mitt Romney? However, the issue about Trump is not that he is a billionaire at all; the issue around Trump is that he is a racist and a misogynist.
There is a degree of truth in this. Trump wants to keep out the illegal Mexican immigrants, so that makes him a racist (since he doesn’t want to keep out all those illegal British immigrants who come flooding into the country, smelling the place up with their spiceless food). He also wants to keep out the Muslims, merely because they are shooting back at the Americans who shoot at them. Trump has also said some rather unpleasant things about female journalists, usually the blow-dried, overgroomed, excessively made-up right-wing ones on TV shows who try, without much competence or conviction, to make fun of him.
So he doesn’t like brown-skinned people or women. That should make him unelectable. However – and here’s where it gets complicated – it isn’t actually clear that Trump doesn’t like brown-skinned people or women. He certainly claims to dislike people who come into the country and steal jobs and women and all of the usual xenophobic rubbish which one hears from all conservative politicians (most of them pretending to be liberals), many of whom have no difficulty getting elected or re-elected. His hostility to Muslims is based entirely on the fact that the United States happens to like going to war wuith Muslim countries, and seems to have no basis in any religious prejudice of his own (although he is happily exploiting anti-Muslim prejudice in others, just as Clinton and Bush and Obama did). Similarly, he dislikes anybody who opposes or challenges him, regardless of gender (like any CEO, that is) and therefore abuses and despises female journalists who serve other people’s agendas. Soi, basically, Trump is a nasty person, but not unusually nasty.
Of course, then, that’s politics. One does what one can to make one’s opponents look objectionable; George W Bush was depicted as an inebriated simian miscreant, John Kerry was depicted as an irresponsible coward, Barack Obama was depicted as a weakling and (worse still) a black — and, of course, all these things turned out to be true. Yet there was nothing novel about any of these points. And there is nothing novel about Trumpitude except for the fact that he is unusually brash about his odiousness — which many people, not all of them Republicans, find refreshing. Much better to be sold a plate of shit than a plate of shit labelled “Chocolate ice cream” — although it makes little difference if you are still forced to eat it at gunpoint.
Turning to the Democratic Party side of the aisle, a Titanic Struggle was waged between the Socialist Monster Bernie Sanders and the Shrieking Harpy Hillary Clinton. Sanders is a socialist in the sense that he wants to see a little more regulation applied to the major banks — in other words, he’s a socialist like Winston Churchill was a socialist when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. Accusing Hillary of being a harpy makes a little more sense, since the Harpies were monstrous female creatures which killed people, and Hillary has certainly killed a lot of people. However, almost nobody is talking about that; instead they are accusing Hillary of being in league with the banks, just because she was on a retainer from Goldman Sachs, how unfair can you get, shame.
Like most Titanic Struggles, this one was fixed from the start; Hillary was always going to win, because she was the Chosen One of the sponsors of the Democratic Party; the conflict between Obama and Hillary in 2008 was more even-handed because the sponsors liked each of them equally. Sanders was always going to lose, because he isn’t wrapping himself in the bloodstained dollar of global aggression. Oddly enough, he actually supports American global aggression (he’s a big fan of Zionist aggression, for instance, which is American aggression by proxy) but rather than appropriate that he prefers to talk about other things, like how awful the bankers are. He is, thus, a populist, seeking to pretend to serve the people, one who possibly intends well in some ways but generally will serve the interests of the ruling class in whatever minor sense that he holds power. (This is approximately what we saw with Obama, although Sanders is more effective at playing the populist game than Obama was because Sanders has some limited understanding of what the people want.) This is why, when Clinton eventually racked up enough delegates to win on a first ballot at the Convention, Sanders immediately cast aside all his valid criticisms of Clinton and became a Clintonista; you gotta Get With The Program.
This is, therefore, a bizarre situation. One party is nominating an anti-politician who is almost certainly going to lose, not because they want to lose, but because pressure from grassroots is forcing them to nominate someone whom they really don’t like and who doesn’t actually stand for their principles. One party is nominating a career politician, a complete insider who is ludicrously pretending to be an outside, who is widely despised, notoriously corrupt and dedicated to principles which her party professes to oppose (although it actually supports them). Both are committed to values and policies which make their country’s name stink throughout the world, and one of them is even acknowledged as such by the media (because he represents a challenge to the individuals and groups which control the media). His likely competitor represents no such challenge, being entirely in thrall to those individuals and groups.
What’s bizarre about this? The ruling class remains in charge. Assuming that Clinton wins, there will be no problem controlling her. If Trump wins, the ruling class can accommodate themselves to his blustering manner and presumably they will have no difficulty in making him do what they tell him.
But still, one gets the impression that the system is losing control of the democratic charade, putting forward much more blatantly ludicrous and odious people than usual. Furthermore, the public is no longer deceived in the same way that it was. Granted, the public is still trying to elect a leader who will serve them, so they are still utterly deluded. But they are also trying to counteract the lies which they are told by the establishment, with a different set of lies. These lies are provided to them by their masters, but are cunningly packaged to appear to challenge the lies they have been told in the past. Those who can remember the lies of the past will recognise that these lies are valueless – but fortunately the whole tenor of contemporary culture is aimed at forgetting everything in the past, especially the lies which we have been told.
As a result, informed people know that the situation is just as bad as it has been for decades, and that it is more conspicuously so than before. But uninformed people do not know this, although they doubtless have a vague notion that the situation is indeed bad.
In the real world, too, there is no alternative to the promotion of bad policies. Clinton stands for everything bad about the Obama administration and is resolved that nothing good will materialise. Trump stands for a rhetorical fantasy of corporate power and reactionaries saving the world through violence and willpower — arguably fascistic, but then all contemporary politics are fascistic. In the end, then, both are committed to pursuing policies of national suicide to the bitter end — which will be the destruction of far more than that odious country stretching from sea to shining sea, from the halls of Montezuma to the plains of Abraham.
Can this be challenged? Can the United States rescue itself from a situation in which the leader of the state must inevitably be a hypocritical liar, simply because the ruling class will not permit any other category of people to hold the post, and because the policies pursued by any leader of the state must oppose the interests of the people who vote for that leader, so therefore the leader must lie and distract? It seems impossible to challenge this in the United States, partly because of repression, partly because of media disinformation, and partly because of more than a hundred years of conformist brainwashing which has turned even the people who think of themselves as radicals into goose-stepping, unthinking supporters of a ghastly, suicidal status quo.
And this is the Land of the Free, this is the country which rules the world on the basis of its claim that all alternatives to it are worse — that anyone who doesn’t knuckle under to the supremacy of Uncle Sam is a clone of Kim or Castro. This is the country from which our own media draw much of their material and virtually all of their ideological dogma. Looked at closely, the situation doesn’t bear thinking about. Maybe the end of the world will not be such a bad thing after all, if it draws down the curtain on this long global nightmare.


The Silence of the Lemming

November 6, 2017

The Creator has been out of action for a while. Godot has promised to come soon. Meanwhile, a little randomised stoff.


Spies Tell Lies.

May 19, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sad, really, but hardly surprising.