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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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.