Same Game, Different Rules.

May 19, 2016

The last decade has seen a dramatic deterioration in South African economic and political conditions. In this modern world very little attention is paid to memory, so the world of 2005 seems misty and vague, but in retrospect it was a national Utopia; we had a strong and popular government which was working to solve problems like inequality and HIV and foreign affairs with vigour and efficacy, we had a booming economy, and the nation was cohesive; the poor expected that someone would look after them, the rich expected to be left alone with their wealth, blacks and whites were gradually moving away from the hostilities of the apartheid era. In contrast, nowadays things seem to be falling apart; even the Parliamentary opposition has fallen into desuetude.

But in 2005 many were convinced that South African economic and political conditions were simply not good enough — which was a fair enough claim if anybody had been able to prove that they had a better alternative. There was a strong groundswell calling for radical change within the Tripartite Alliance, as if this long national nightmare of peace and prosperity needed to be brought to an end, to make room for strife and poverty. And, lo, that was exactly what came to pass. Now, in 2015, there seems to be another groundswell within the Tripartite Alliance, calling, if not for radical change because nobody would believe in that any more, at least for regime change.

Basically, the SACP and COSATU are threatening, as they did between 1998 and 2007, to withdraw support from the ANC until their demands are met. They are also, increasingly, criticising the government’s policies, and are throwing their weight behind a candidacy for the Presidency of the ANC not favoured by its current President. This all looks like a re-run of the Mbeki-Zuma struggle of 2005-8, but it is actually very different in practice although the actors and agendas are very similar.

The SACP and COSATU are aware that their influence within the ANC must decline with the departure of Zuma, who leaned on them and their capacity for manipulating elections very heavily in order to seize control of the party. Now the rest of the ANC leadership at provincial level is as good at rigging votes and faking credential challenges as anyone in the alliance, and they don’t need the SACP and COSATU. Therefore, the formerly indispensible cheaters are naturally looking for other allies. However, the process of looking for other allies makes them behave unreliably from the perspective of Zuma supporters. Therefore, increasingly, the SACP and COSATU are distancing themselves from Zuma – and thus makes others eager to step into their shoes as the gofers and hit-men for Zuma. In other words, they are making themselves dispensible, and meanwhile, since they have until recently been the utterly unthinking supporters of Zuma, nobody imagines that they are in any way principled.

Their weakness might not seem to be a problem. When they attacked Mbeki in 2005, he was completely independent of them, since they had withdrawn support for him for the previous seven years. Yet the hostility which they showed overthrew him – so can’t this be done again?

In 2005-7, however, the SACP and COSATU operated in alliance with the sleazeballs and derelicts who’d been flung from power, and with agents of Zuma who had hidden their real allegiances until it was too later for Mbeki to act against them in any principled way. There are still plenty of sleazeballs and derelicts, but the ones who opposed Zuma, or didn’t support him enough, have been turfed out of all positions and made a horrible example of, and that doesn’t encourage anybody to follow their example. So the SACP and COSATU may not have as many allies as they need, even though obviously think they have them.

The SACP and COSATU can no lonber pretend that they stand for anything positive. Both are so tainted with their unquestioning support for Zuma’s antics, especially where it contradicted everything they pretended to stand for, that they can’t get much in the way of disinterested public support any more. Therefore it’s harder for them to fool people into supporting whatever clown they decide to support, except for those whom they can bribe with cash (of which they don’t have much these days) or offers of jobs (and they have difficulty being trusted even with that.).

Much of the big business community supports the same person that the SACP and COSATU support — namely, Cyril Ramaphosa — so it is possible that the SACP and COSATU might be able to garner their support. However, the alternative to Cyril Ramaphosa is not a figure like Mbeki, whom the neoliberal elite hated and feared; it is, instead, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom the neoliberal elite know that they can do business with. So, although the elite might like Cyril, they don’t like him so much that they feel the need to do any favours for the SACP and COSATU. Moreover, the neoliberal elite ultimately does not like Communists or the organised working class, and would like to see them both eliminated; they were happy to offer them rope with which they could hang themselves, but now much of the big business community thinks that it’s gallows-time.

The general situation is also very different. Under Mbeki, the economy was doing tolerably well and the illusion of success was widespread in the global economy as well. Administration appeared to be functioning. It seemed easy to throw everything into chaos without long-term consequences; it seemed so easy to run South Africa, once one assumed that Mbeki was a corrupt and incompetent windbag; even a disaster like him could accomplish much.

But now the economy is deteriorating weekly, the world a combination of bloodbath and banking crisis, the administration of the country is inept on so many levels, leaderless and bankrupt. We know that bad times are coming. Therefore, disruption and disaster no longer seem like fun episodes without consequence, but rather seem like things liable to precipitate the catastrophe which even the ruling class is a little worried about, for fear that they might not get their cash out before it is looted or becomes valueless. Therefore, the ruling-class struggle against Zuma is not playing out in the same way that the ruling-class struggle against Mbeki played out.

There is not going to be a massive uprising. There is not going to be a mobilisation of the ANC’s leadership against Zuma. This is partly because Zuma has been there before and knows how it is done; in this sense he is more shrewd than Mbeki because he does not suffer from any illusion about how the members of his party or of the alliance might be motivated by any idealism. Like Stalin, he knows that politicians are motivated by greed, spite and fear, and therefore Zuma prevailed over Mbeki as Stalin prevailed over Trotsky, and any competitor to Zuma who does not have everything in the ANC sewn up in advance will fail as Bukharin and Zinoviev failed against Stalin after Trotsky’s fall.

But in that case, the ruling class attempt to overthrow Zuma will necessarily fail, because it is half-hearted. The ruling class doesn’t really care who rules South Africa so long as they rule whoever that person is. They know that the difference between Zuma or Dlamini-Zuma or Ramaphosa or even Maimane is not all that significant — certainly much less significant than any South African journalist would like people to believe. But meanwhile, Zuma very desperately doesn’t want Ramaphosa to take over, and meanwhile, a lot of Zuma’s supporters, and even his opponents, very well remember the slights and bullying and backstabbing which the SACP and COSATU perpetrated back in their days of glory. The fact that they want Ramaphosa to win is almost, in itself, a reason to oppose Ramaphosa. Wouldn’t it be nice, they ask themselves, if the SACP and COSATU went down to hell, dragged down by the concrete lifebelt of Ramaphosa?

As a result, current South African politics is strangely content-free. The savage and well-justified attacks on Zuma late last year, the frantic wish to have him removed for his temerity in deposing the ruling-class’s own man in the Ministry of Finance, blazed up but then died down again as soon as Zuma had appointed the ruling-class a new man in the same Ministry. Nobody cared that the new new man had a track record of incompetence identical to the old new man’s. The fury was just stage fire, created for the purpose and sustained by the incoherent and inchoate hatred which a politically ignorant media establishment is obliged to feel for anyone against whom their masters tell them to turn their hatred. When the ruling class walked away from the fire they had started, of course it guttered out; there was no fuel for it at all.

So we are stuck in a meaningless political transition between alternatives, none of whom are of any use to us. It is like the American Presidential elections, a mass of sound and fury and fanatical declarations that this empty suit or that empty suit represents the greatest hope or the vilest betrayal that ever existed in the history of what was once a Republic. Truly, our politics are now normal, driven, like everyone else’s, by Twitter and Facebook.

And without hope, of course.


The Two Stooges.

November 28, 2015

An apocalyptic battle, an Armageddon indeed, is looming for the soul of the ANC.

That’s a joke, if you didn’t guess. The battle is between two contenders for the Presidency of the ANC, namely Cyril Ramaphosa, who was installed as Deputy President at the Mangaung Conference to the surprise of almost everybody except the business community, and Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, erstwhile Minister of Health and current Chair of the African Union Commission.

On the face of it the two are uncontroversial. Ramaphosa was ANC Secretary-General during Mandela’s elected term of office. Dlamini-Zuma was Minister of Health at the same time, but was shifted to Foreign Affairs under Mbeki. There appears to be not a lot to choose between them.

Yet the ominously nicknamed “Premier League” of pro-Zuma provincial premiers have declared that they don’t want Ramaphosa to succeed as President of the ANC the way that Zuma succeeded Mbeki and Mbeki succeeded Mandela. They have thrown their support, which incidentally surely means Zuma’s personal support, behind Dlamini-Zuma. On the other hand, the South African Communist Party have come out staunchly in support of Ramaphosa. What is this apparent conflict all about?

Obviously, it isn’t about competence. On a purely technical level, both Ramaphosa and Dlamini-Zuma are able people. Ramaphosa was an early financial supporter of Zuma, although never as enthusiastically so as someone like Sexwale. Dlamini-Zuma, meanwhile, was Zuma’s wife, although she divorced him on grounds which are murky but reflect little credit on Zuma. Thus, if it comes down to loyalty, one might expect Zuma to back Ramaphosa rather than the reverse.

What is Zuma’s agenda? Not to carry on the Zuma legacy, for there is no Zuma legacy. His agenda is to ensure that, once he has withdrawn from the scene, he is able to ensure that he will not be sent to prison for his crimes. The problem is that any future President faced with the problems which Zuma is leaving behind will be sorely tempted to blame it all on Zuma — which is quite deserved. In which case, the best way to blame Zuma would be to attack him directly for his corruption, and in order to prove that corruption it would be easy to have him hauled into court.

This, presumably, is what Zuma is afraid of, and it is certainly something that Ramaphosa is capable of. As a managerial bureaucrat in the private sector, there is nothing that Ramaphosa does not know about blame-shifting and double-crossing. But why would Zuma assume that the consummate political operator, Dlamini-Zuma, would be incapable of screening herself with Zuma when she gets into trouble, as she undoubtedly will? It could be that he believes that Dlamini-Zuma’s family ties with Zuma would prevent that. In that case he is probably mistaken, but it is at least a more plausible option than the notion that Ramaphosa would ever show any gratitude for the man who allowed him to be installed in power.

What, though, are these two people doing there? Ramaphosa has done nothing of substance since leaving politics in 1997 — his career since he was stuck in the Deputy Presidency has been a tour de waffle. Dlamini-Zuma’s time in the African Union Commission has been little better; she has basically served as a groom of neocolonialism and a useful stooge for the imperialists — reversing any anticipation which might ever have existed that her support for Mbeki’s policies meant that she had any of Mbeki’s principles. So neither of them has a record of substantial accomplishment within the ANC.

Meanwhile, however, both of them have records of substantial service to forces outside the ANC, and indeed outside anything really to do with the interests of South Africa or its people. Ramaphosa, of course, has been a servant of the mining industry and the white ruling class virtually since the ANC was unbanned. Dlamini-Zuma once seemed more impressive as a minister under Mbeki – which is the main argument used against her by her enemies – but on the whole she has accomplished very little since leaving office. Indeed, her activities within the AU have largely served to legitimate Western imperialism in Africa, largely in the interests of the NATO countries.

So the rise of this particular pair to prominence within the ANC possibly has nothing much to do with the value either for the elite of the ANC or with their popularity with the rank and file.

Of course, to the extent to which the rank and file has anything to do with it, given the choice they probably would not select Ramaphosa. At least Dlamini-Zuma hasn’t been demonised to the extent that Ramaphosa has, both by such forces as the EFF and by Ramaphosa’s supporters whose uncritical and ludicrous praise makes him look exactly like the toady of power that he is. And it’s just possible that Dlamini-Zuma has enough pride in herself to be prepared to take some kind of independent action. She might surprise us. She can hardly be worse than Ramaphosa, at least.

The argument that we need a woman for President is, of course, pitiful and should be discarded. It’s as loathesome as the argument that the psychopathic crook Hillary Clinton should be elected President of the US because she has ovaries. (Most of the women making this argument in Hillary’s case, and probably many making this argument in Nkosazana’s case, are probably making it because they like the fact that these women are problematic as human beings. Not that Nkosazana is anywhere near as hideous as Hillary)

All the same, however, nobody should assume that either of these stooges represents a substantial improvement on Zuma. No Messiah is coming to rescue us from the crises we are in. If we are to be rescued, we must rescue ourselves.


Putting the “Rat” back in “Plutocrat”.

February 26, 2014

Because we don’t have any competent political journalists or commentators any more, virtually all the discussion of the DA’s Agang catastrophe has focussed on personalities; is it Zille’s fault, is it Ramphele’s fault, is it a bit of both? Who should we blame? The real issue is the nature of the DA within South African politics, and that cannot be discussed, partly because to discuss it would be to make the DA look very bad indeed, and partly because nobody in a position of power supports intelligent political debate, as this might lead to intelligent political action.

The big issue was the status of Mamphela Ramphele, a political nonentity with no public support who had been massively promoted in the media and publishing industry by someone with a lot of money and very poor political sense. Ramphele supposedly has “struggle credentials”. Actually she was sufficiently involved in the black consciousness movement to spend several years under a banning order in the late 1970s and early 1980s. But after she was unbanned, Ramphele worked with white liberal academics “investigating poverty” (but doing nothing about it). On the basis of this she was placed as the black fairy atop the University of Cape Town’s white Christmas tree, crushing trade unions, hobbling academics, and generally ensuring that UCT would not undergo any transformation towards social concerns or racial equity. Thereafter she went off to become a black face at the American-run World Bank, that tool of global plutocracy. If she ever did anything positive while she was Steve Biko’s girlfriend (and nobody seems able to remember that she did), she has made up for it by pursuing evil consistently for twenty subsequent years.

The problem with all this is that Ramphele had never pursued any consistent political agenda or shown any political leadership — so she was thoroughly unfit for a leadership role in any political party. Why, then, was Ramphele proposed for the leadership of the DA? It was not as if there were no alternatives.

The reason lies in a combination of race, class and political dishonesty.

The DA’s racial history is as a white party which sought to fool coloureds and indians into voting for white leaders — much like the National Party which the DA absorbed. A large part of its political tradition consists of systematically denigrating and demonising africans. However, this identifies the DA as a party of apartheid, and this is an enormous problem. Obviously, in the long run, the DA wants african votes, which cannot be obtained if the party is perceived to be anti-african. Furthermore, identification with apartheid is considered to be a bad thing among most of the white South African community, and therefore the party does not wish to depict itself as anti-african, nor do its members wish to base their own identity on hostility to africans. They are hostile to africans, but they don’t want to admit it.

Therefore they are eager to take africans on board of the party so long as those africans do not have any power to challenge white control of the party — and so long as the africans follow scripts drawn up by whites and do not raise any issues embarrassing to whites, neither in the eyes of the electorate nor in the quiet of the conference room. This makes it very frustrating and even downright humiliating to be a black DA member.

Then why would any african want to belong to the DA? Here we come to the DA’s economic history. The party was born out of the lobby-group for the mining industry — mildly reformist in nature by 1950s South African standards, in other words essentially corporatist. It did embrace some social-democratic principles in the 1970s, but by the mid-1980s it was completely under the thumb of big business and has subsequently been loyal and true to ultra-right-wing neoliberalism, monetarism and — to a great extent — global imperialism. This is enormously attractive to reactionaries and plutocrats, and therefore is attractive to the new irresponsible black colonial bourgeoisie who have grown up on the right of the ANC. It is these people who constitute the africans who join the DA out of ideological principle — or, to put it more politely, out of selfish greed and sheeplike adherence to the propaganda of the white elite whom those africans so slavishly mimic.

This is an advantage for the DA, but it is also a disadvantage, because the africans who support reactionary economic politics are wholly out of touch with the majority of africans. Despite all propaganda, the african middle class is very small by comparison with the african working class and lumpenproletariat and ur-peasantry. It is true that the ANC was based in the african middle class — but the traditions of that african middle class were shaped around hostility to white plutocracy and distrust for white capitalists on a scale not very different from that felt by the Afrikaner nationalists of the 1930s.

Indeed, the DA’s economic policy is fundamentally opposed to the interests of the majority of the people of South Africa: neoliberalism, financialisation, and deep-seated hostility to any rights for workers and to any redistribution of wealth. The more impoverished white and coloured voters are prepared to overlook this only because they believe that the DA’s policies will keep the africans down and they can hope that perhaps they may benefit from racial solidarity in other respects. Most africans, however, are sympathetic to worker organisations and definitely support wealth redistribution, and are well aware of how these forces have benefited them in the past. The hostility to working-class interests which the DA expresses has a definite racial tinge which greatly annoys africans; the DA’s hostility even to middle-class initiatives like affirmative action, a hostility which it shares with such reactionary forces as the Freedom Front and AfriForum, makes it very difficult for it to appeal to africans when economic topics arise.

But the DA cannot admit this. It can’t say that its goal is to enrich a tiny minority of rich people and plunder the remainder. In this, of course, it faces the same problem that is faced by most other political parties in South African and elsewhere. It has the special problem, however, that it has never (not since its incarnation as the DP in 1989) had any other real agenda than this. The ANC has at least taken some steps in the past which benefited the poor more than the rich; the DA has never had any interest in such things. Therefore it is difficult for the DA to pretend that it is anything other than a plutocratic party; it must therefore pretend that plutocracy is desirable, and preferable to anything else.

And so, back we go to Mamphela Ramphele. On one hand she is filthy rich and a pliantly reactionary tool of big business at home and abroad, and on the other hand she is black and a willing (if not necessarily loyal) subordinate. She is therefore an ideal figure to serve the self-image of the white party and its white supporters. The words they want to hear will come from the mouth of a person whom, they can persuade themselves, is respected by, and presumably representative of, other dark-skinned people. Blacks, feel the DA’s supporters, are racist, and will not listen to white people’s lies; when black people tell the same lies, blacks will be fooled. However, it is necessary to put Ramphele in a position of apparent (though not real) authority, so that africans will be deceived into thinking that whites actually respect them; Ramphele’s voice somehow carries no authority, otherwise, unless it receives the stamp of approval from white people. It would be difficult to find a greater sequence of delusional patronising attitudes anywhere.

But none of this says anything about Ramphele’s actual qualities to serve as a leader. The leadership of the DA is a difficult job; the Presidency of South Africa is a still more difficult one. It is obvious that Ramphele is not qualified for either task. The consequence of her taking such power would be disaster — as virtually everybody knows. Presumably, the DA only intended her to hold such posts on the understanding that people elsewhere would have the actual power. (Since Ramphele seems to be egotistical and incapable of self-awareness, this is not something which pleases her, even though she has been a front-person for her entire career, she continually yaps that she is nobody’s poodle.) This being obvious, Ramphele could not have been a vote-winner for the party.

All this is obvious, and yet the DA still went ahead and compounded the problems which had already been manifested with people like Mazibuko and which appear to be arising out of Maimane. It isn’t clear what was responsible for this — some say Zille, some say wider factions within the DA, others say (which is most plausible of all) that it was actually the funders. Whoever was responsible for this, it represents the triumph of everything which is stupid, racist, patronising and corrupt about white liberal politics in South Africa.

Of course, this is not going to lose the DA a lot of votes. They will continue to enjoy the uncritical support of the bulk of the white community (who are always ready to mock africans for voting for the ANC; you might wonder why whites are incapable of perceiving themselves, but this is because most of them are vampires and don’t reflect in mirrors). They will also continue to enjoy the financial support of the bulk of the corporate community.  All the same, they have demonstrated their extraordinary incompetence even at being subservient to rich and powerful business interests, and that isn’t going to impress business in the long run.

The biggest problem, though, isn’t votes alone. The problem is that the DA doesn’t have much in the way of plans to increase the number of votes. The Ramphele bungle was a wrong-headed attempt to dash into the african electorate and bamboozle them, and unfortunately it exposed the DA for what it is (and also exposed Agang for what it is, though Ramphele doesn’t seem to have realised this). Hence, however much big business might have backed Ramphele initially, the grim fact is that the DA is running out of time. Its political manifesto is fundamentally indistinguishable from the ANC’s policies — and almost everybody who votes ANC will notice this, which is not going to make anyone who doesn’t like the ANC’s policies rush off and vote DA. The party is also hell-bent on backing Maimane in Gauteng and is writing off the Northern Cape, which is a province which the DA might be able to win by sheer financial clout if it put all its energy into that. As a result the DA is in danger of not doing well at all in this election — and in that case, big business may decide to put more of its eggs in the ANC basket.

That will please Zuma and Ramaphosa. As for the rest of us — since when did the corporate elite care about us?


The Election Crisis (II): Over the Top.

July 11, 2013

Suppose, for the moment, that in the middle of 2014 the leadership of the ANC is looking at a strikingly poor showing in the late election. They have won, let us say, 57% nationally. In Gauteng they get, let us say, 55%. In the Northern Cape, 52%, alerting even the DA to the possibility that they might win if they put some effort into it. The mood in the National Executive Committee is glum. Even if outwardly optimistic, they know that unless they do something they will quite conceivably lose the next election and have to go into a coalition.

So what, if anything at all, will they do?

Even at this stage, the ANC does not really face disaster. An identical decline in the party’s fortunes in 2019 would force the party into coalition at national level and in several provinces, but the coalition could easily be with parties which were small enough to be easily controlled. More to the point, coalition with other parties would not mean coalition with parties of different ideological persuasions, since no such parties exist in Parliament at the moment. Therefore, danger is not immediate.

Zuma could not become President again in 2019 in any case without violating the Constitution, and while he might not shrink from that he would probably be prepared to retire – he will, after all, be very old and arguably no longer capable of serving his foreign corporate masters. The real issue, however, would be 2017. Would he want to keep control of the National Executive Committee by running for President of the ANC again, and thus – possibly – hold onto indirect control of the government? Above all else, Zuma needs to ensure that he does not face charges for his crimes; whatever he does in the intervening period to protect himself against such charges can always be undone by an unsympathetic government, as Silvio Berlusconi has discovered in Italy.

The trouble is that Cyril Ramaphosa is Deputy President of the ANC. It is possible that he would want to become President, simply because it is quite clear that the President of the party has more power than the President of the country. It is also likely that many of the big businesspeople who installed Ramaphosa at the Mangaung conference would prefer to see Ramaphosa in full control of the party. Of course, some of these big businesspeople would actually view Ramaphosa as a problem, because he is seen (in the business community, if nowhere else) as a competent person, and therefore one who would improve the image of the ANC – whereas of course they would ultimately like their party, the DA, to take power eventually. As a result, the Ramaphosa factor, which supposedly was going to protect Zuma against the perils of Kgalema Motlanthe, may place Zuma in danger in any case.

Another trouble is that once it becomes clear that Zuma’s regime is in any kind of trouble, all the forces of destabilization which Zuma employed against his former opponents are liable to be unleashed against him. For instance, Zuma will have no more guarantees of patronage once he ceases to be President of the country. As a result, it is possible that competing candidates for the party and for the nation will be able to argue that they should be supported because they can give people jobs whereas he cannot. This was a major factor weakening Mbeki’s control. Meanwhile, there will be people who will want to see Zuma fall merely because of what happened to Mbeki – and they may be stronger than Zuma realizes, if only because his inclination is to avoid things which he does not wish to think about.

Hence, there will be a terrifyingly wide variety of dangers for Zuma to face, which cannot be evaded or resolved by telling lies or bribing or bullying people. So what can be done?

One alternative would be to try to appeal directly to the people, to win public support for Zuma and try to use this against his gathering enemies. This would be an almost ideal answer, but it’s hard to believe that Zuma or his allies could do this. In order to appeal to the people, Zuma would have to establish public trust by taking action which would actually serve their interests – and that would mean that the people whom he currently serves would become distrustful of him. In other words, for Zuma or his allies to try to establish themselves with the people they would first have to endanger their current position. Which could not be tolerated by their supporters – it would be an invitation to massive conflict within the ANC.

A simpler alternative would be to carry on as before. Zuma’s recent decision to purge some potential opponents, such as Baloyi and Sexwale, and replace them with compliant stooges, shows the kind of behaviour which could be expected – reshuffles of people whose disappearance would not antagonize wealthy white people or foreigners, their replacement with nonentities increasingly dependent on Zuma or his allies. That might seem to be the royal road to peaceful dominance. The trouble is, however, that the people whom Zuma has purged over the past two or three years have all been people who seemed submissive nonentities or reliable stooges. After all, Mbeki once considered Zuma a submissive nonentity and a reliable stooge – whereas he eventually turned out to be a rebellious nonentity who wished to be a reliable stooge for someone else, a fact which Mbeki only recognized much too late. Therefore, carrying on as before will probably not prevent catastrophe. After all, the more purges you conduct, the more enemies you create and the more allies you make nervous.

But if Zuma actually cannot reform and cannot carry on as before, then there is very little for him to do. Perhaps he can strive to transform the system into one more controllable – but in a sense he has already done that in a way which only works provided that the majority are prepared to accept the system. If the majority rise up and defy Zuma, he will be in very serious trouble indeed, especially because the more he dominates the ANC’s political system, the more he discredits it and the more likely mass demonstrations against it are likely to win support from disgruntled, disenfranchised members, branches and regions – a problem which pervades the system at the moment.

The most likely response is a weak combination of all these things – unsuccessful attempts to win public support, unsuccessful attempts to bribe or bully allies into subservience, unsuccessful attempts to change the system into one less subject to control by others. The fact that all these attempts are likely to fail does not mean that Zuma will be defeated, but it does mean that any counter-attack against an almost inevitable challenge to Zuma’s authority (in the almost certain event of a substantial decline in ANC support) would have far less weight than the Polokwane stitch-up or the September 2008 purge of Mbeki’s supporters.

It would, however, have weight. One possibility might be that the first challenge to Zuma would fail – that it would fail to gain traction within the spineless National Executive Committee, or would fail to get any support from the provinces and the metropoles, so that even if the NEC were against Zuma, Zuma could appeal to a real or purported mass support base and attempt to overawe them. In which case, Zuma would be in a position to launch yet another purge, which he would be forced to go ahead with – but this would simply place him further out on a limb, with many of his supporters now facing the axe. Also, his supporters in the media and the big business community would undoubtedly begin to wobble, wondering if they were backing the right horse. Ultimately, the danger might then be that Zuma would be a weakened leader, one who was forced to pretend that he was strong, and to throw weight around which he actually did not possess.

However, if Zuma’s opponents succeed, what then? Then, presumably, there would be a lot of unhappy Zuma supporters around. Zuma would want to take revenge if he could, and equally presumably, forcing Zuma out would so disrupt the ANC as to make it difficult for members of the ANC to prevent him from doing them immense damage, either indirectly through Zuma supporters or directly through the immense amount of damaging information which Zuma possesses and can use against his opponents. After all, Zuma’s defeat would also mean the defeat of the security services who desperately want to retain their power and job security. There would be a lot of powerful people desiring either to see Zuma back in power, or else to see Zuma’s successors weakened.

Meanwhile, the people who had removed Zuma would not have done this because they particularly wanted to pursue a specific ideology which challenged his. Mostly, they would have removed him out of greed, desire for revenge, or fear that he and his allies might threaten them in some way. This is not a stable basis for building a coalition. There is actually no firm alternative to Zuma in the way that Zuma provided a spurious firm alternative to Mbeki. Hence, any post-Zuma administration within the ANC and within government would be extremely vulnerable – and would be conscious of this fact, meaning that it would be continually paranoid and self-justifying, and therefore eager to conceal its existing flaws as well as any new flaws which developed.

Thus, given the probability that the ANC will trip over its untied shoelaces in 2014, the likely consequence of this happening will be an intensification of the present problems of the ANC – weak and unpopular governance and a lack of coherent goals. This is rather unfortunate, because about that time (looking at watch) South Africa should be facing some really serious economic – and therefore, social – problems.

 


The Dogs and the War.

January 18, 2013

Occasionally (i.e. daily), President Zuma says something stupid. Not so long ago he was banging on about how whites feed their dogs, take them on walks and give them medical attention — and that there was a serious problem with the fact that some blacks were being infiltrated with this unblack practice. This naturally aroused a storm of abuse, partly from blacks who like their dogs.

Nobody seemed to notice that Zuma’s observations had illustrious ancestors. It was that notable political leader and commentator Adolf Hitler who identified dog-loving as a core trait of political acceptability. (He liked German Shepherds, being something of a German shepherd himself.) Intriguingly, Hitler felt that Jews were incapable of loving treatment of dogs; only a German could be a true doglover (or be loved in return). So, according to Zuma, black South Africans are just like Jews, whereas white South Africans are more like Germans. Glad we’ve got that sorted out.

But what is going on here? Why say something so stupid? Well, let’s shift ahead a couple of weeks and notice that President Zuma recently arrived in Luanda (red carpet, brass band, agreeable banquets, wonderful to get away from the responsibilities of wrecking the economy and promoting social disharmony). It turns out that he is deeply concerned about the situation in Africa, where — to his immense surprise — some military personnel are not happy with the corrupt leadership in their countries, and, yes, are even promoting coups against it! (This is good when it is in Ivory Coast or Sudan, of course, but not when it is countries whose governments are wholly-owned subsidiaries of imperialism, such as Central Africa or Mali.) He says that something must be done about this. Perhaps it should be referred to the African Union (another wholly-owned subsidiary of imperialism)?

Now, it is tempting to suspect that anyone who is so stupid as to deliver such flatulent analysis as if it were original thought, and so lacking in any kind of spinal column as to think that the AU is worthy of any attention, is really really stoopid. Indeed, it seems that Prince Mashele, a commentator who knows stupidity well from the inside, has been saying stuff to that effect. Evidently there must be some kind of educational requirement for politicians, thus ensuring that the working class are excluded from participation (no doubt Mashele’s paymasters, who are ruling class, would endorse that).

But hang on. Let’s consider, for a moment, the problems which Zuma faces (or, to be fair, the problems which his political cabal and their backers face). He has recently, without any consultation, deployed South African troops to Central Africa, where they are almost entirely without logistical support (we don’t have the transport capacity to provide proper supplies, and we certainly couldn’t pull them out if the situation deteriorates) where they are supposedly defending the Central African government against a well-justified military rebellion which has taken over much of the country. Why in the world did he do that? Obviously not because he is trying to impress Africa with the might of South Africa’s military (which Zuma has allowed to virtually collapse). Very probably he did it because France asked him to, since they felt that the war in Mali would be better for President Hollande’s image (it could be spun as an anti-Muslim war, which plays well in Paris, and furthermore it was pulling American chestnuts out of an American-lit fire).

In other words, Zuma cannot openly challenge rebellions against governments in Africa because his paymasters might need him to suppress the rebellions. Besides, since he himself is an immensely unpopular leader overseeing a destructive set of policies in a despotic fashion, he might be courting disaster to encourage people to rebel against such behaviour. On the other hand, he cannot openly be seen to side with Western imperialism if he is to retain any vestige of support from an ANC voter base which is justly and increasingly suspicious of such imperialism. Furthermore, here he is in Luanda, a country ruled by a despotic, predatory elite — granted, not as badly-ruled as South Africa is by Zuma, but still there are uncomfortable parallels which might be drawn. What is needed is a distraction from all the issues.

In the absence of any exciting distraction, what is needed is to “sing the horse to sleep”. Say stuff which is so banal, so anodyne, so dull, so without any conceivable application or merit, that the public will flee from the whole issue and collapse in a little weary heap of vacuity. The public, bored by the inanity of Zuma’s pronouncements, will turn away from the whole issue — and therefore, will not criticise Zuma for deploying troops under orders from the French on a mission which does not benefit South Africa.

This seems to be why Zuma and his minions are so willing to say the same thing over and over in the most trivial and tedious fashion. They tell us that they are working to eradicate poverty, unemployment and inequality. They say that every month. Eventually, one wishes one will never hear those words, ever, again. Success! For once people are prevented from thinking about such things, they will then not be able to take action on the most important socio-economic issues with which South Africa is confronted.

It would seem to be the same on almost all fronts. If one believes that Zuma is stupid, then one will be inclined not to feel that he is dangerous. Also, of course, if one has a predeliction for believing that Zuma ought to be stupid, then Zuma’s statements are almost reassuring. Yes, he’s dumb! Of course! How could I have thought otherwise? Let’s all go down to have a braai and a beer, and then retire to our attic chambers to surf for BBC porn and post comments on Politicsweb!

Heh, indeed. The point about this assessment is that, if it’s accurate — and there seems to be little alternative to this — then it means that most of Zuma’s public activities are geared, not towards attracting the supportive attention of his own constituency, nor towards expanding that constituency by attracting fresh endorsements from elsewhere, but instead towards disarming the hostility of the people who naturally don’t like him. In other words, Zuma (presumably under instructions from the wealthy white business community who fund him) is trying to ensure that his enemies do not interfere with what he is doing — and since what he is doing is serving the interests of the wealthy white business community, this makes sense.

It makes sense for Zuma as a tool of the ruling class. It does not make sense for Zuma as a leader of the ANC. Virtually nothing that he has done or said in the last year has corresponded with the real needs of the ANC. It is true that repeating, over and over, that his government intends to create employment might seem to pursue the same agenda which was nominally pursued by the Mandela-Mbeki ANC, but then that regime actually did some things to create employment — even if far, far less than they should have. Zuma is creating unemployment, and therefore his repetitive declarations simply serve to kill hope. Therefore people turn away from the ANC — at most, Zuma may anticipate that they may lose all faith that anything can be done, but certainly there is no prospect of the ANC building any support-base on a foundation of promises which are continually and ostentatiously broken.

For the rest of it, Zuma’s utterances must be extraordinarily embarrassing for any ANC member trying to justify the President’s remarks to an unsympathetic audience. It is one thing to uncritically hail nonsense and lies in a newspaper which will not tolerate an alternative perspective in its op-ed pages and where the letters pages are flooded with whites whining about a black government in any event, so that legitimate criticisms of Zuma and his friends are submerged in racist nonsense and are hard to distinguish from it. It is quite another to defend Zuma against people who both know what the ANC once stood for and understand what is happening at the moment. Zuma can blather all he wants to, and can fool the people who want to be fooled, but the majority of the population are much too well-informed not to see approximately what is going on, even though they may not always fully make sense of events.

What this means is that Zuma is simultaneously providing the ruling class with the ANC’s muscle, and causing that muscle to degenerate. Of course the behaviour of Mantashe and his clones at provincial level is causing the rank and file to wander away in disgust — how could it be otherwise, when Mantashe’s 700 000 imaginary ANC members are used to overrule the actual living human beings in the branches? There will be some who will stay for want of an alternative, and others who will stay in hope of preferment (probably vain) but a large number who are certainly departing. They will pass their disgust on to the voters. The ANC’s support-base, inevitably, is going to fray much more seriously by 2014. The irony is that all this behaviour is being portrayed in the media as if it were a campaign for re-election, whereas it is actually a campaign bent on wrecking the ANC’s role in South African society.

In short, Zuma’s apparent war on democracy and on anti-colonialism translates into a war on the ANC itself. Since nearly nobody shows any sign of wishing to step into the ANC’s shoes, this means that it is also a war on the idea that there should be an alternative in electoral politics.

Ultimately we shall be reduced to cultural, racial and tribalist politics, of the kind espoused by Zuma and much like the West’s degraded politics — exactly like the kind of politics which the ANC fought against for thirty years.


Mangaung, gaung, gone.

December 7, 2012

Since nobody else seems to be willing to explain Mangaung, the Creator will have to.

The fundamental task for the ANC is to serve the interests of the ruling class. Within that task, however, the fundamental goal for the leadership of the ANC is to preserve their jobs and access to public funds which they can pocket. These two problems conflict when elections come round, because too much stealing becomes conspicuous and this embarrasses the ruling class, who want to steal public funds without too much discussion of the matter (see the New Growth Path for details of how ’tis done).

This makes for several problems for Jacob Zuma. He is quite aware that his greed and corruption are embarrassments for the big business interests who put him in power. Not all of them, of course, but some of them. Meanwhile, some of the other big business interests who put him in power wish to exploit his greed and corruption in order to bring down the ANC and replace it with a white government (no doubt with a few black people sitting close to the glass front-door).

What Zuma therefore needed was to have absolute control of the ANC. Unfortunately, he had kicked out most of the competent leadership of the party and replaced them with untrustworthy sleazebags because those were the people who supported his coups. Therefore he had to find other untrustworthy sleazebags who could be installed to replace the original untrustworthy sleazebags if they stepped out of line. The constant danger was that the sleazebags might turn on him, and so he had to ratchet up fear and eliminate dissent and generally turn his party into something very like the SACP. In doing that, he had to rely on the SACP itself, which is like trying to ride across a river in an oil-drum full of puff-adders.

It worked up to a point, however, because the SACP is itself so enfeebled that it cannot take charge of the ANC, as it discovered when it tried to take over the Western Cape ANC. Therefore it needs Zuma, and therefore Mantashe and Nzimande and Cronin because Zuma’s closest allies. Provincial parties began fighting among themselves so energetically that it became possible to use the conflict to undermine hostility to Zuma, with judicious interventions by national officers. The actual structure of the provincial ANC parties was so weak and so undermined that, exhausted, they very often allowed Zuma’s agents to control their elections and thus ensure that only pro-Zuma delegates would go to Mangaung. Where this couldn’t be done, the elections were delayed until the last moment while bands of centrally-hired thugs broke up elections which were in danger of going the wrong way. (It’s all rather like a Nigerian election in the 1960s, as reflected in Achebe’s A Man of the People.)

So Zuma could be reasonably sure that he had the party under control. Of course, this didn’t help him with the business community. They might still have undermined him — and since the whole ANC consists of people who desire bribes, the business community could have bought out the delegates and finished Zuma. Except that the business community had no idea of whom to install, since the ANC was in such a dismantled state that kicking Zuma out might lead to a complete collapse of national administration — and in that case the Army would have been the logical force to take power, rather than the DA whom the business community want in control. So Zuma, if he walked on eggs, could be reasonably sure of getting in — but he was painfully aware that he was in an unstable position. One thing which he could do was pander to the business community by purging Julius Malema, thus identifying himself as a reliable man of the extreme political and economic right, and at the same time sucking up to the SACP, who hated Malema because he kept reminding them of the awful lies they were telling.

That, however, led to some problems among Zuma’s top supporters within the ANC. They had always supported Zuma because he was pretending to be left-wing, and they wanted to pretend to be left-wing too, and thus retain popularity. As a result, people like Kgalema Motlanthe and Matthews Phosa decided to pretend to support Malema. They didn’t really support him (except in the most abstract sense) but they also, probably, didn’t want to see Malema thrown out without anyone in the ANC putting up a fight, because then Malema’s huge support-base would be alienated from the ANC (and Malema himself might go elsewhere instead of vainly hoping to restore his membership, and a completely antipathetic Malema would be a huge problem for the ANC’s support in the 2014 elections). Plus, since the media were all anti-Malema, Motlanthe and Phosa could put themselves forward as critics of the white establishment without loss.

But Zuma and his friends didn’t seem to see it like that. Suddenly, senior members of the ANC were saying things which could be interpreted as critical of Zuma’s policies! This could not be tolerated! These enemies of the sacred Zuma must go! And so suddenly Phosa found himself being sidelined, while Motlanthe learned from the corporate newspapers that Zuma was thinking of putting Nzimande in as his Deputy President.

That wasn’t going to happen. The business community would never allow a Communist to run the country. In addition, because Nzimande is universally despised in the Charterist community, he would have found it impossible to handle the Presidency — and Nzimande is not the kind of man who wants extra work. Basically, this was a stalking-horse, and it backfired with a mighty fart; Motlanthe began casting about for allies who would help him get rid of Zuma at Mangaung. Again, this doesn’t mean that Motlanthe wanted to get rid of Zuma; what it meant was, basically, that two could play at that game, Mr. Zuma, and if you don’t want trouble at Mangaung, you get your goddamn Hummer off my lawn.

But that was precisely what Zuma wasn’t prepared to do. It’s possible that he feared that Motlanthe was really campaigning against him, being a paranoid authoritarian as he is. It’s even more likely that he recognised that Motlanthe was liable to unleash forces which he wouldn’t be able to stop — because Zuma is so unpopular within the ANC that a Motlanthe bandwagon would roll on regardless of whether Motlanthe was pushing it or not. Hence, Zuma had to get rid of Motlanthe.

The problem was, of course, that getting rid of Motlanthe would make the Motlanthe bandwagon inevitable. However, that wasn’t really a problem — after all, the Mangaung election would be sewn up by Mantashe, not Motlanthe. But if Motlanthe went under the bus, who would replace him? This was a serious problem, because the alternatives were getting rather desperate; so many of Zuma’s nominees for the Cabinet had turned out to be such egregious failures or crooks or both that they were unsuitable, and the old guard of the Mbeki Cabinet could not be trusted because they hated Zuma so much. What was needed was someone who would look vaguely Presidential, who would not threaten Zuma in any way but rather do exactly as he was told, who would bring some political clout onto the ticket — and, of course, who was approved of by the white businessmen who were really Zuma’s backers.

In the end, there could be only one choice — step forward, Cyril Ramaphosa!

When Jonathan Shapiro began attacking Ramaphosa, it was obvious that he was in the running. There was no reason to undermine Ramaphosa if he was only a trade unionist; manifestly, the corporate forces backing Shapiro did not like the prospect of Ramaphosa in the Presidency, because he would keep the ANC in power and the DA out for longer. This explains the weird smear against Ramaphosa after the Marikana massacre (the claims by Dali Mpofu, failed ANC plutocrat turned worthless lawyer, that Ramaphosa was responsible) and the ensuing rather pathetic battle against the smear waged by the newspapers owned by the white people who back Ramaphosa (such as the Sunday Times).

Of course, none of this has any impact on Ramaphosa’s prospects at Mangaung, because it’s all been fixed beforehand. (Unless the bought delegates don’t stay bought — but given the amount of money Ramaphosa has behind him, this is unlikely.) Essentially, it’s a winning situation for Zuma. Ramaphosa is a shoe-shine boy who has done nothing but obey other people’s orders ever since he countersigned the National Party’s Constitution in 1992-3 and then wrote it into the 1996 Constitution. He has zero support and zero credibility within the ANC. On the other hand, it’s been so long since he was in office that nobody really hates him any more (except for ideological reasons, and almost nobody in power in the ANC has an ideological perspective on anything). So this isn’t a bad thing, it means that he will take years to build up a power-base, and by then Zuma will be gone — one hopes.

Of course, he’s a right-wing neoliberal who’s completely in the pocket of the big business community who have been using him as a front-man for the last two decades, but so what? You say that like that’s a bad thing, Cde. Creator. The media are already stepping forward to assure us that Ramaphosa the Toad is the greatest thing since sliced bread, that after the next seven years of Zuma looting the Toadal One will use his magic superhuman free-market skills to make everything better again for us all (who earn over fifty million bucks a year, that is).

The only other danger is that once the fix is in at Mangaung, things will start to fall apart, because in the conflict-ridden ANC of today, nobody will have any reason to support Zuma after he’s shot his last bolt. And Ramaphosa will not be a friend to Zuma any more than he has been a friend to anyone else in the ANC. It looks like being an interesting seven years. To watch from a safe distance, that is.


The Yearning to be Saved.

September 21, 2012

In the media, increasingly, commentators are looking tentatively to Mangaung. Not with a great deal of enthusiasm, mark you, but they are saying, essentially, “Look, the ANC is having a conference, perhaps something good will come of it, perhaps they will get rid of Zuma and replace him with someone of whom we, or rather our employers and masters, approve”. Vaguely, the ruling class is aware that something is wrong, and they are looking to the electoral politics of the ANC to set it right. Since they have themselves played a big role in distorting, corrupting and ruining the electoral politics of the ANC, this is rather like the U.S. government expecting the gangsters they installed in Benghazi to defend the U.S. Embassy.

The salvation which is sought is to be rescued from Jacob Zuma. The prevalent error in this — not only among the ruling class, though they clearly suffer from it — is that Zuma is not a man alone. He, rather, is a part of a cabal, and that cabal in turn represents a broad corrupting tendency within the ANC which has always been there and which has simply been given complete authority to do as it pleases under Zuma. As frequently pointed out here (though in few other places) getting rid of Zuma is not the solution.

Nevertheless, since it is a part of the solution, it is worth asking whether Zuma can be got rid of at Mangaung.

Let’s see – COSATU has just had its Congress at which it decided to back Zuma. This is quite important, because before the Congress a lot of COSATU people opposed Zuma on excellent grounds. However, as the Congress came closer, more and more COSATU affiliates suddenly backed away from their previous statements and proclaimed their undying adoration for Zuma – Vavi and the Metal Workers Union being two prominent examples of this. That the head of the Metal Workers Union, Irwin Jim, decided to follow his union’s general leadership and back Zuma is no surprise – Jim Saves Skin, should be the appropriate headline.

This, however, makes for a very different ball-game; after all, the past month has seen a sequence of bungles and disasters for Zuma. Almost the only smart thing he has done has been to refuse to endorse the American occupation of Afghanistan (as the local media demands he do with their calls for him to condemn the killing of a crowd of South Africans working for the occupation in Kabul). You’d think he would be on the run. Instead he’s looking like the Comeback Kid.

Does COSATU alone make a difference? Perhaps. That makes two pillars of the Tripartite Alliance which are now backing him. As for the support inside the ANC, the ANC Youth League appears likely to oppose Zuma, but the Women’s League is spinelessly backing him and has done so for the last eight years, so these two cancel each other out. (Actually the ANCYL might be split rather than solid.) As for the provinces, Limpopo is certainly anti-Zuma and the Eastern Cape probably so, but KwaZulu-Natal and Mpumalanga are solidly for Zuma. If we consider that the North-West and Free State are split, the Western Cape and Northern Cape are weak, and Gauteng is almost certainly leaning towards Zuma, the conclusion appears to be that Zuma’s support is thin.

But while this is true after a fashion, it also means that the support for any challenger to Zuma is thin. One solid province, one or two partial provinces and some fragments of the other provinces, does not make a majority.

The real situation, however, is far worse than this. What would it actually mean, to get rid of Zuma? Zuma commands a great deal of support from the Communist Party, for Zuma’s generosity is the only possible route for Nzimande to gain the Presidency for which he is wholly unfit. Therefore, the SACP would have to be purged from leadership; Mantashe out of the top tier of the NEC, Cronin and Nzimande out of the Cabinet, and this would very possibly weaken Nzimande’s position within the Party. Meanwhile, all the people whom Zuma has appointed essentially because they are Zulus would have to go, since they are not only unfit for office but are potential threats to any successor to Zuma. This means that a goodly chunk of the Cabinet would have to go, and be replaced by people who were sworn supporters of whoever replaces Zuma.

Then again, the provinces which supported Zuma would have to be purged of their current leadership. Replacements for those leaders would have to be found. Indeed, Zuma supporters in other provinces might well have to be purged, partly because so many of them are such deadbeats that they are unstable in their positions without Zuma – would John Block be able to hang in there without the backing of Zuma, for instance? What about the squabbling Xhosa and Coloured factions in the Western Cape? Where does the powerful Alexandra Mafia in Gauteng stand, if Zuma goes – even though many of them have opposed him in the past?

The simple fact is that if Zuma goes, at best, there will be a huge political bloodbath at least as destructive as the one which led up to Mbeki’s removal from office – and that provoked the biggest split in the ANC’s history. It would, furthermore, be tempting for almost everyone to exploit such a bloodbath to settle scores with old enemies. So, not only would a large number of people – not all of them clearly-identified ANC supporters – face the loss of their positions, but the ensuing conflict could lead to the ANC tearing itself apart.

It is thus hardly surprising that people are backing away from this. It is simply not clear that Zuma can be successfully challenged at Mangaung. It is, however, quite clear that a successful challenge, however good it might be in the long run for the country and even for the ANC, would be a short-term disaster for most of the ANC’s current leadership. So people face the certainty of a horribly rough ride, for if they lose, Zuma would certainly use his totalitarian powers to crush all those who challenged him at Mangaung, regardless of his destructive that would be – exactly as he behaved after Polokwane.

So this is surely why people are backing away from challenging Zuma. It is all very well to mouth off about how awful Zuma is. Notice that outside the ANC Youth League, not a single one of the people around Zuma has dared to risk his or her career over the matter. This is hardly surprising – the whole Zuma campaign has focussed on luring time-servers to their side and then promoting time-serving attitudes. Time-servers are not people likely to make a revolution. They are the kind of people who flourished under Hussein and Assad, the keystones of the Ba’ath Party in Iraq and Syria, and who flourish today under the American puppet regimes in the Middle East.

One can understand this. Unfortunately, to understand is not to forgive. Now that they can plainly see the disaster they have wrought, the Pirates of Polokwane had just enough capacity to briefly appeal to the public gallery that they were not really responsible. Zwelenzima Vavi whimpered that he was just following along on peer pressure when he and the rest of COSATU backed Zuma, like a Dachau guard proclaiming that he was just doing what he was told to do.

But they don’t have the guts to set the situation straight. We cannot expect anything from Mangaung. We cannot expect a broken ANC to somehow leap together and fasten its pieces into a coherent whole with imaginary political glue. All that we can do is try to band together and generate an alternative to the whole Tripartite Alliance – otherwise, we must face the disaster which five more years of Zuma, and the ensuing calamity of SACP dominance, will bring us.