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Jeremy Cronin’s criticism of Cosatu’s  recent hosting of a “Civil Society Conference” is impossible to understand without understanding his – and the SACP’s – assumptions about the world and South Africa in November 2010.

Cronin’s premise is that “an enemy” is attempting to make the public debate about the future of South Africa focus on minor issues where “the enemy” believes it can score a victory over the ‘progressive forces’ (of which Cronin assumes he and his organisation and his government are a part).

Cronin and the SACP accept some version of the following as a true and accurate reflection of reality (although Cronin himself would probably not phrase things so crudely, mechanistically and deterministically, it amounts to the same story):

Global capitalism and its local allies are securing their ability to continue to accumulate wealth

The bad guys in Cronin’s universe are a complicated (and brilliantly disguised) set of global business interests linked to and by the interests of powerful Western countries, especially the USA and the UK. What this enemy wants and needs is a world in which it can make loads and loads of money – especially by paying the lowest possible wages and taking resources and wealth from the Third World and packing these tightly around themselves in the playgrounds and fortresses of the First World.

Any change in any society that puts checks and balances on its ability to make money must be opposed – destroyed even before it takes root. Thus, thoroughgoing transformation of South Africa would strengthen the hand of the poor and dispossessed relative the the global capitalist/imperialist elite and must, therefore, be stopped.

Global capital/imperialism are constrained from arguing directly in favour of the oppressive political systems and unequal economic arrangements required to support their ability to extract wealth.

Instead they weaken the existing popular governments in the Third World, encourage the spread of corruption and (crucially for our purposes here) divert real debates about change that would benefit the poor and marginalised into light-weight debates about the individual rights and freedoms of the small group of citizens who have moved on from being concerned about the basic conditions of survival. And they do this by hoodwinking essentially good people and organisations who have a weak understanding of the world.

If this is the enemy, who’s on Cronin’s side?

In this version of the universe the African National Congress, the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions are the structural expressions of ordinary people’s struggles to be free and fed.

Because Cronin is constructing this version of the world wearing his South African Communist Party beret, we must understand that Cronin assumes himself and his organisation to be part of a long-term plan that will overthrow the global yoke of capitalism and imperialism and construct a society based on human imperatives other than profit.

So what’s wrong with that?

Communists like Jeremy Cronin are not misguided in fearing and distrusting global corporations of private enterprise. Left to their own devices humans will extract as much from each other – or from groups other than the group to which they feel they belong – as is possible.

They will take until they are stopped. This is reflected in every business cycle and it is reflected in every attempt to re-regulate markets after bubbles (always caused by a feeding frenzy) have burst.

Additionally big global corporations will spend billions of dollars sucking up to politicians especially in the most powerful nations on earth – or more directly manipulating the political process.

However, there are two significant things  wrong with Jeremy Cronin’s (and the SACP’s) version of the world:

Firstly, the communists’ (and all tight party organisations and religious groups’) vision is obscured by their need to see the world as completely structured by two big gangs that are at war – the white hats and the black hats, the good and the evil, the oppressor and the victims.

There are more complex political choices to make than just to pick a side and back it to the hilt and defend its doctrines against all comers.

Global markets and trade and international relations are structured by hugely complex forces, not the least of which are government and supra-governmental organisations attempting to regulate various forms of behaviour. i.e democratic political processes attempting to subdue, moderate and direct the functioning of human fear and greed.

“Picking sides” in such a complex world is no easy matter.

Secondly, the communists fail to see that they and their organisations are subject to the same raging impulses of greed and terror that structure global capitalism – in fact they are structured into it, (only subject to no shareholder and less accountable and regulated than your standard global business).

The conference that Cronin criticises was precisely an attempt to discuss the best ways to regulate those impulses because they appear to have become the dominant impulses within government and the ruling party.

It is fine for Cronin to dispute this, but it is not fine for him to argue that his allies accept the functioning of criminal greed in his government and organisation because his government and organisation is struggling to combat these matters at a higher level.

We do not live in a simple world. It is my belief that the enemy is not out there in his serried ranks on the plains, he is in here with us, in our homes, in our families and in our beds. The enemy is right inside us, in our own hearts and in our own heads.

Until we realise this our best politicians will continue this Quixotic tilting at windmills.

Umsebenzi Online has just (yesterday) published a stern warning to Cosatu from SACP deputy secretary general Jeremy Cronin about the trade union federation’s recent “Civil Society Conference”.

Cronin’s “intervention” (his word) is torn between warning:

  1. that the conference plays into the hands of “anti-transformation”, “anti-majoritarian” “right-wing liberals” and
  2. the fact that leading members of Cosatu’s partner organisations in the endeavour “share an activist history going back to the 1980s when they were involved in the “Marxist Workers’ Tendency” – a left-wing entryist formation that sought to transform the ANC into a workers’ party”.

So if you want the crude summary Cronin thinks Cosatu (and especially its secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi) is either misguidedly or deliberately serving the agenda of:

  1. those who would like to see Apartheid  survive  and US imperialism rule forever, and
  2. the same old anti-Soviet Trots who hated the SACP in the old days and still want to win the workers away from the party today.

I think both these reasons for warning Cosatu off are wrong-headed, but Cronin’s interventions are always interesting and are especially instructive for those prepared to poke around in the fermenting and bubbling interstices of his argument.

I will, therefore, be examining bits and pieces of what he has to say during the course of the day.

I occasionally publish slides that I have used for clients as part of my attempt to examine political and investment risks to them.

Below are 3 from a presentation I delivered soon after the ANC NGC.

See if you can identify all the people concerned – a sort of politics general knowledge test ( you know the ones: if you score 10 you are probably a CIA/MI5 agent; if you score 9, then get a life and stop obsessing about politics …. if you score 2 you are living in a special care facility etc.)

As an aid here is a link to Stalking horses at the NGC – the blog I posted at the time. To help refresh your memory ‘the NOM’ was meant to describe the group that had coalesced around the ANC Youth League’s call for the nationalisation of mines.

It’s been a difficult week, and I started the following post on Monday soon after hearing the general tone of the press and analysts response to the cabinet reshuffle.

I wanted to publish while the accolades for Jacob Zuma were still glowing and, unfortunately for both the President and me, the corrective doubts and scepticism are starting to be discernible in the analysis that up until now has been characterised by the “a change is as good as a holiday” school of political commentary.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Anyway, this is what I wanted to say:

Jacob Zuma:

  • outwits some enemies at the ANC NGC,
  • announces (again) a process towards a (not very) New Growth Path,
  • (his Minister of Finance releases) the Medium Term Expenditure Framework which emphasises continuity,  and
  • he shuffles his cabinet

and suddenly he’s a visionary, man of action, seizing the nettle of corruption and there’s a new spirit of optimism skipping through the land.

It’s obviously exhausting to have to read the same old strands in our news media day in and day out: incompetence, lack of vision, cronyism and inability to overcome endemic conflict in the ruling alliance.

So I understand the need to seize on a sign, any sign, as the first swallow of summer, but I think a little restraint is called for.

What leads the official opposition to conclude that the cabinet reshuffle is first and foremost “a positive indication of renewed focus on accountability’, when the far more obvious explanation is Jacob Zuma is using the reshuffle as part of his own agenda to stay in office beyond 2014?

Jacob Zuma is no fool and those who forget that he has played inner-ring ANC politics as head of Mbokodo, the ANC internal intelligence organisation, will constantly be led to make mistakes of analysis. He did, after all, defeat the acknowledged master of palace politics, Thabo Mbeki – and if this was a swords and sorcery story we would understand that he now has the previous master’s powers at his disposal.

A whole range of benefits and protections accrue to Jacob Zuma and his backers from him remaining president of the country. But to remain president, he needs to use a cabinet reshuffle to do four things:

  1. He must ensure that his cabinet is seen to be busy with the job of  optimising delivery to the poorest South Africans (the constituencies he is talking to here are made up of the voting poor themselves and the various elites who feel threatened by those poor South Africans and who pay their taxes and various formal and informal levies towards the upliftment of the poor – and who cannot countenance that protection money being stolen or squandered by the political middle-man);
  2. Linked but separate is the need to be seen to be fighting against government corruption and cronyism. This is slightly difficult when one of the features of his presidency is the degree to which his own family is making oodles of money out of his good name, but a major cabinet reshuffle gives him an excellent opportunity to sacrifice the biggest and fattest offenders and offer them up to the uncritical daily media as grist to the mill of their learned analysis.
  3. Forming the cabinet allows him to woo individuals who belong to camps which oppose him. This is either in preparation for alligning with those camps around particular issues in future or it is part of an attempt to weaken the coeherency of the opposition.
  4. Finally cabinet posts and and especially the more amorphous post of deputy minister are excellent ways of building a corps of supporters to back him during future transitions.

Thus some of the major aspects of the reshuffle could be undertood as follows (and I quote myself from a recent research report);

The firing of General Nyanda

Zuma and the ANC has been under the cosh of public opinion – and negative opinion of Alliance leaders, particularly Cosatu’s Zwelinzima Vavi – for the tender abuse and rampant corruption of senior politicians. No-one represents this better (along with a very in-your-face approach to the ministerial car fleet) than the good General. Nyanda is powerful and wily, but his usefulness as an ally has gradually been outweighed by his usefulness as a sacrifice to prove that the President is serious about corruption. The fact that telecommunications policy has been a consistent political failure for the ANC (right back to the days of the awful but sweet Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri) makes it easier to throw Nyanda to the wolves.

Barbara Hogan

Barbara Hogan has been a growing problem for the ANC. Liked and respected by business and the media and largely regarded as competent, her incipient ideological rebellion has been deeply threatening to the ANC and since her criticisms of the refusal to grant a visa to the Dalai Lama the party has been looking for strategy to getting her out of the way before she does something really embarrassing. Also, the position of Minister of Public Enterprises is a real plumb. Hogan represents no power constituency in the ANC and therefore the ‘patronage resource’ of the position is wasted on her.  Public Enterprises is a massive area of political oversight.  Hogan was a gifted and thorough minister, but moving her out of this portfolio is not going to make much difference to government performance in this arena. Finally, she has conflicted with Nyanda (and Zuma) and removing Hogan and Nyanda at the same time allows Zuma to sell the act as ‘even-handed’. She will be missed.

Malusi Gigaba, Fikile Mbalula and Paul Mashitile

This is slightly more Byzantine, but the promotion of Malusi Gigaba to public enterprises and Fikile Mbalula to sports and recreation and Paul Mashitile to arts and culture (and to a lesser extent Ngoako Ramathlodi  to deputy in correctional services) is both an attempt to keep in with a key and potentially competing faction and also to place those competitors in positions that will be demanding and time consuming, but will not be a base from which to launch attacks. The leading figure in this faction is probably Tokyo Sexwale. Now all the key members are up to their necks in Cabinet jobs that will keep them out of trouble. At the same time Zuma may benefit by drawing them all into the heart of government, bound by its discipline and codes and directly under his authority. It is now only Julius Malema who is still outside the tent, with an independent base, able to make a noise and engage and challenge Zuma publically.

Constituency rewards

One of the ways to ensure power and influence is to woo particular and defined constituencies. ANC Women’s League stalwart Bathabile Dlamini to social development is an obvious example of wooing the voting block of the League. Also, the South African Democratic Teachers Union has already expressed its delight at the appointment of its previous General Secretary Thulas Nxesi as deputy in rural developement.

The slew of deputy ministers

In general the pushing up of cabinet numbers works to the benefit of Zuma. The more largesse he can dispense the more power he will have when it comes to the lead-up to the ANC’s centenary conference.  Each deputy appointment provides the opportunity to reward some, make promises of future greatness to others and bring potential enemies closer.

I am sure it would be possible to run a similar analysis on every appointment or shift and the guiding analysitical principles would prove fruitful.

An interesting point to note is that President Zuma has left untouched the key economic departments which are part of a broader alliance process and the security departments, which were the first areas he put firmly under his own control.

In conclusion let me reiterate: Zuma is great on tactics and strategy – it is the arena of principles that he leaves something to be desired. His presidency has not been a great advance on Thabo Mbeki’s, but, in general, his priorities have led him to appoint people better equipped for the tasks set for them.

The cabinet reshuffle has not significantly changed the overall capacity of this government , but it does leave the Nkandla team stronger than at any time since Polokwane and a second term for Jacob Gedleyihlekisa Zuma is looking more likely than ever.

I am an independent political analyst focusing on Southern Africa and I specialise in examining political and policy risks for financial markets.

A significant portion of my income is currently derived from BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities (Pty) Ltd.

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