How Does It Feel To Be Such A Freak? (II)

July 31, 2008

Journalists and pundits and suchlike can exist outside the context of human reality. They are thus free to say whatever their paymasters desire them to say. Indeed, often they have to do this or they will lose their jobs. But besides, they are seldom troubled with consciences; there are few Robert Fisks in this world.

Political activists are a little different. Granted, political activism is often hard to distinguish from masturbation, especially if your political groupuscule is small and groupustular, which is very frequently the case. However, if you have been a political activist involved in the real world and not in the back-stabbing poisoned atmosphere of tiny “civil society” bullshitters (more about bullshit soon), you very probably have more notion of what is going on, more idea of what is to be done, than any pundit or academic or supposedly concerned intellectual.

The Creator has had the opportunity to hear from a few SACP members lately. These are, of course, the elite of the elite. That isn’t a joke. Granted a lot of members of the SACP in the early twenty-first century are sleazebags deluxe. However, in the days before the 1990s it took real ability and guts and determination to get into the SACP, and even then, as Harold Strachan discovered, it was painfully easy to get kicked out again. Also, if you were white, the chances were that joining the SACP was going to do but nothing for your overall career. So, all respect for such people.

And now that that’s over, consider Ben Turok.

Turok is a good man; a long-standing Party member and ANC MP and member of an impeccably leftist Cape Town Jewish family whose autobiography is amazingly polite to almost everybody. Like all Party members he doesn’t like Mbeki’s policies. However, his editorship of New Agenda magazine shows him to be a man without any radical rhetoric and sympathetic to, albeit critical of, many of the ANC’s initiatives under Mbeki.

Recently, however, he wrote a letter to the Cape Times in praise of the Zuma clique’s removal of Ebrahim Rasool as ANC Premier of the Western Cape. In this letter he made two remarkable allegations against Rasool; one that Rasool was violating the ANC’s non-racial policy by concentrating on coloured and african voters and neglecting whites — implicitly accusing him of racism — and the other that Rasool was responsible for the conflict in the Western Cape, and particularly for the breakup of Turok’s own ANC branch.

The first of these allegations is obvious hogwash. White voters in the Western Cape, like white voters everywhere in South Africa, violently oppose the ANC, as their newspapers tell them to. Nothing that Rasool could do would change that. African voters predominantly support the ANC, but there is a tradition of PAC sympathy which needs to be addressed, and there is a lot of suspicion of the coloureds who supported the UDF, so they need to be consoled and courted. Coloureds are divided in class terms, some supporting the ANC and some the DA out of past sympathies, and so they particularly need to be won over. Rasool’s skill in courting coloureds without alienating africans was what won the ANC the Western Cape in 2004, and many fear that Rasool’s successor, a colourless hack named Lynne Brown who was defeated by the ludicrous Peter Marais in the 2000 Cape Town Mayoral race, lacks that skill.

The second allegation is more complexly false. Although Rasool is Premier, he was defeated in the race for provincial leadership by Mcebisi Skwatsha, a man widely associated not only with Zuma, but with anti-coloured racism (which may have helped lose the 2006 Cape Town election). Thus Rasool is not the ultimate man to go to if you have problems in your branch. In addition, however, if you have problems in your branch, a competent branch executive should be able to resolve them without running whimpering to the provincial executive. Turok’s letter actually indicts his own executive — and indeed Turok himself for not recognising this.

The reason for Turok’s letter was simple: the Zuma clique’s ostensible reason for firing Rasool was the disunity in the province (which had been fostered by the Zuma clique to undermine Rasool, who was loyal to Mbeki). By accusing him of favouring race groups (the implicit anti-white slur was prudent if absurd, since he was writing to a white-read newspaper, even though Rasool is quite popular among whites who would never dream of voting for him), and of promoting disaffection (“unruliness”, as Turok put it), Turok was providing a paper-trail for the purge which would be much needed if Rasool chose to try to defend himself (in the end, he left with more dignity than Zuma or any of Zuma’s allies). On the other hand, if Turok couldn’t think up any reasons for purging Rasool better than these ones, it seems pretty obvious that there aren’t any such reasons.

But why was Turok doing this? Almost certainly out of loyalty. Turok may like the ANC, but his true love is the SACP. The SACP had already been engaged in a big Zuma-backed purge in the Western Cape, crushing the leadership of the Boland region and installing loyal Communists in charge there. The SACP backs Zuma to the hilt. It had decided that now was the time for the SACP to take charge of the whole Province, at least in theory, by getting Rasool out and Brown in. Obviously there was no reason, in terms of policy or organisational need, for doing this. It was also being done in alliance with some fairly disgusting people, and would certainly benefit the DA whose principles and policies Turok undoubtedly hates. But Turok apparently believes that whatever is good for the SACP is right, in the same way that a dedicated Zionist believes that whatever is good for Israel is right. Ultimately this simply blinds him to reality.

Is this a widespread problem? It would appear so. The Creator knows a couple of Commies personally, people who risked life and limb in the struggle to further the interests of the underground. It wasn’t their fault that the underground was riddled with police spies and led by incompetent clowns. Conversations with them was rather interesting. The Creator necessarily assumes that they weren’t saying everything that they thought, for of course they knew that the Creator had ceased to be a Commie a long time ago and was notoriously Mbeki-sympathetic. It was probably as much as their Party careers were worth to be seen with the Creator in public.

Well, both of them agreed that Rasool had to go; it was intolerable that someone so sympathetic to Mbeki could be permitted to rule. The first one mentioned the sale of the Waterfront to a Dubai consortium as the final straw. This seemed like an odd thing for a Commie to raise. The Waterfront is a luxury capitalist consumerist development which serves no purpose at all for 90% of the people of Cape Town and little enough purpose for most of the remainder — who have plenty of places to shop. The profits from the Waterfront, had they gone to rich South Africans, would surely have gone abroad anyway, so the sale to Dubai was hardly a real calamity.

Then the first one reassured the Creator that there was no question of supporting Zuma. That seemed odd, since this good Commie was obviously backing Zuma and all his friends to the hilt. What struck the Creator was that by saying “I don’t support Zuma” this Commie was escaping responsibility for the fact that the Party supports Zuma; was effectively arranging a divorce from the consequences of the Party’s actions, which have ensured the political supremacy of unproductive corporate capital of the kind which seemed so bad when Rasool was playing footsie with it. In short, it wasn’t just that this Commie had to be loyal to the Party, it was also that this Commie had to don blinkers whenever a fact arose which contradicted the Party world-view.

This is George Orwell’s doublethink, of course, combined with Orwell’s crimestop, which prevents you from completing a thought which would lead to unorthodoxy. Thanks to these simple techniques, the Party is always right. It has to be; a person who has spent twenty or thirty years working for the victory of the Party is not going to change horses in midstream.

The second Commie was a bit more passionate, calling for Mbeki to be tried for crimes against humanity on the grounds of his AIDS policy and his Zimbabwe policy (both of which, of course, Zuma supported; also, of course, the Party had no practical alternative to either policy). This was a helpful technique; if you hate Mbeki enough, you can justify almost anything as a replacement for him — although it’s usually a technique adopted by people outside the ANC, such as DA supporters or TAC members. This Commie also wanted to see Rasool out, because he was bad and corrupt and above all incompetent. Of course, his whole Cabinet would have to be got rid of, too. (Fat chance.) Then this Commie pondered; of course, there were a couple of good people in the Cabinet who perhaps deserved to be preserved. (Of course they were both Mbeki supporters; by the time the Creator left town, both were in line for the chop, while the ones who the second Commie had been denouncing with such vim, deservedly or not, were all staying on. Perhaps they really were incompetent, in which case it seemed that they were excellent Zuma material.)

Another thing which this person wanted was a second revolution, to clear away everything bad that had happened since 1994. This is not going to happen, of course — but it is a familiar echo of Trotskyite fantasising. How was a Party member sounding off like a Trotskyite? Perhaps because the Party now gets on very well with various Trotskyites, such as Achmat and Desai. But perhaps it was also because of intense frustration; the Revolution was won, but the Party was not in charge, and even now that the Party was in charge, this Party member knew perfectly well that most other Party members were a bunch of shitheads, that the ANC in the Western Cape was organisationally in tatters, and probably had an unspoken but shrewd suspicion that nothing was likely to weave it back together (there aren’t enough garment workers left any more).

What this person was doing was trying to avoid the issue through mental clutter. Having vast amounts of lumber in the mind made it impossible to tell exactly what was there. Thus problems could be hidden. Meanwhile this person was doing sterling work trying to straighten out a miserable district of Cape Town slumland — no doubt hoping to benefit the Party at the same time, but why not, if only the Party was trying to do such things?

The tragedy is, however, that all three people are admirable. All three are diligent, skilled assets to the nation. And all three are obliged to bullshit themselves into justifying what the Party is doing because the alternative is to have to face unbearable facts. Naturally none of them justified anything in terms of Marxism-Leninism, let alone basic socialism (though one is a great fan of Hugo Chavez — not that the Creator thinks that the Bolivarian Circles are themselves socialist). Perhaps the Party is not really socialist anymore. Perhaps, too, it is easy to see how the ANC has become so devastated when a the best and brightest members of a much smaller and more single-minded organisation have themselves so completely lost their ideological ways.

Madisha and the Decline of the Left

March 4, 2008

This is even less perfect than some other Creations. But, anyway . . .

The removal of Willie Madisha, head of the SA Democratic Teachers’ Union, from his leadership position in the Congress of South African Trade Unions is extremely interesting. To understand it, however, a lot of context, as usual, is needed.

Back in 2006 the Treasurer-General of the SA Communist Party, Phillip Dexter, was called in to investigate corruption and mismanagement at the Mpumalanga Development Corporation. This might seem a little odd; why call in a Commie to handle such things? Because Dexter headed a Cape consultancy which claimed to be good at that sort of thing. This is because Dexter comes out of a trade union background, and the trade unions were the first organisations to latch on to corporate investment by political entities.

Dexter found corruption and mismanagement, but he also found trouble. The muckraking magazine Noseweek accused him of being corrupt and incompetent himself. Ouch. It also accused him of thuggish behaviour, breaking into a journalist’s hired car and stealing the journalist’s material. Double ouch. But then Dexter went and wrote to Noseweek pointing out that none of their accusations could withstand scrutiny, and — unusually — Noseweek withdrew. This was partly because the magazine discovered that the journalist himself seemed to have been involved in shenanigans with the car and it was possible that he had invented the story about the breakin to cover them up.

Now, Noseweek is a conservative magazine and this might have been a standard nail-the-left scenario. On the other hand, there might have been reasons for others to leak dirt against Dexter. The SACP had a conference coming up.

At the 2007 Conference, Dexter was going to have to face a please-explain questioning time, because the SACP was virtually bankrupt. It wasn’t clear why this was so, since with 50 000-odd members all paying a proportion of their salaries into the SACP’s accounts, as the Party’s constitution requires, the Party should have been flush. It hadn’t run any major campaigns on its own account for years, so expenditure was not, or should not have been, great. Where had the money gone? Dexter was in trouble and casting about for straws.

What Dexter also faced, conveniently, was the need to audit Party membership. This should actually have been handled by the Party’s Secretary-General, Blade Nzimande, but Cde Nzimande was much too busy elsewhere to handle such responsibilities, so it was shuffled off on Dexter. This was fair, since most of the Party’s money was supposed to come from the membership. Why wasn’t it doing so?

There seemed to be a problem. Dexter claimed to have discovered that the Party was wildly inflating its membership. It had started out with a membership of about 50 000 soon after unbanning in 1990, and was claimed to have climbed to nearly 60 000. Dexter claimed that actual paid-up members were far less, something like 15 000. In other words, the Party was only a third or even a quarter as big as it pretended. If it was still spending like a big Party, that could account for its poverty.

But luckily there were donations. Dexter managed to track down one in particular, a donation of R500 000, equivalent to the Party’s annual membership fees, from a businessman named Modise, made in 2002. (Why was a businessman giving money to a party dedicated to the destruction of capitalism? Don’t ask.) Dexter contacted Modise and asked if the story was true, since he had seen no evidence of payment. Yes, said Modise, he had indeed paid the money and would like to be assured that it had been used wisely. He had given it — to Willie Madisha. In brown paper bags. In the boot of a car. It sounded more like a drug deal than a political donation.

Dexter went to the Party’s politburo and asked for more information. It isn’t clear what happened, except that he was told to keep his mouth shut, both about the membership issue and about the money. The problem was that the Party conference was supposed to be a huge success. There were plans to spend a vast amount of money (donated by COSATU) on a 2000-person jamboree. This was half as big as the planned ANC Conference at Polokwane later in the year, although the SACP claimed to be only a tenth as big as the ANC. It was hard enough to justify having one in every 25 members coming to a Party Conference, especially of a Party which had no money to pay for them, as opposed to the vastly wealthy ANC which was accepting less than one member in a hundred at Polokwane, and which was tightly auditing its provincial support base. But what if in fact there were only 14 000 Party members? In that case, the Port Elizabeth conference would be practically a Party General Assembly! It simply couldn’t be justified.

Someone went to the papers. Maybe it was Dexter whistle-blowing, maybe it was one of the people who had seen his report. Anyway, the media discovered what had happened and had a field day. One of the immediate consequences of that was Dexter’s immediate suspension from the SACP; he was removed from the post of Treasurer-General at the Conference. Meanwhile, hard questions were asked of Willie Madisha. Did he know anything about this?

Yes, said Madisha. He had received the funds from Modise. However, he said, he had immediately handed them over to Nzimande. Nzimande responded by saying that he had never seen the funds and knew nothing about them. Meanwhile, Modise laid charges, saying that his money had been stolen. The police found his charges credible enough to begin an investigation. Soon after this, however, Modise was arrested on fraud charges (not related to the donation); he remains in jail in Kimberley.

Obviously somebody was lying. Modise could have been lying, except that it was not clear why he should have laid charges if they were likely to be exposed as frivolous; he could get into trouble. Madisha could have been lying; perhaps he and Modise were in cahoots, pretending that money which never existed had been stolen. Or, perhaps Madisha had stolen the money. Nzimande could have been lying; perhaps he had received the money from Madisha and used it for his own purposes. Dexter, on the other hand, was not lying about anything (unless he was fraudulently underassessing the SACP membership — but he was not kicked out for that). Yet at this stage the only person who had suffered was Dexter. This seemed bad; it was as if the SACP were more concerned with covering up than with providing factual information.

The SACP and COSATU swept into action. They began investigating Madisha.

The problem was that Madisha was the President of COSATU. His Secretary-General, Zwelelzima Vavi, was the leader of the pro-Zuma camp in COSATU; Madisha was unsympathetic to Zuma (and was therefore portrayed as a supporter of Mbeki). Similarly, whereas Nzimande led the pro-Zuma camp in the SACP, Dexter was unsympathetic to Zuma (and was therefore portrayed as a supporter of Mbeki). In a series of moves, Madisha was first kicked out as President of SADTU, then forced to step down as President of COSATU. That got rid of the trouble-makers. The entire question of what had happened to the money, if any, simply disappeared, and the whole issue became whether Madisha had brought discredit on COSATU or not.

Vavi gave evidence to the COSATU investigators that Madisha had wrecked cooperation with the SACP by acknowledging the donations issue. It could only be reconstructed by getting rid of Madisha. The question of whether Madisha was telling the truth did not matter; what mattered was keeping close links with the SACP. Was the SACP led by a criminal? That was not important for COSATU; ethical considerations had to take second place to power.

So Vavi engineered Madisha’s effective expulsion from COSATU.

What conclusions can be reached here? It is clear that the whole issue is a cover-up. Dexter was sacked for revealing it and Madisha has been sacked for speaking to Dexter and for standing by him. Otherwise, the whole issue should have remained on ice until a) it was proven that money did indeed change hands, and b) if so, it was discovered whether Nzimande or Madisha had received unauthorised and unaccounter-for money. It did not; action was taken against Dexter and Madisha, although nobody has accused them of wrongdoing, but no action was taken against Nzimande, although he is either the victim of an intricate smear campaign, or he is a thief.