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On my return on Sunday from 10 days relaxing in and around the unparalleled Lake Malawi a friend took me aside and said he had visited my blog and found only cobwebs, spiders and dust.

Forgive me.

So putting my shoulders back and girding my loins I logged on to deal with the decay and say something about the Numsa strike and the Brics bank when I noticed that I had had several ‘hits’ on a post from August 2010.

One of the (few) delights in running a WordPress blog is it generates several detailed statistics: the countries from which  people  have have visited the site, the search terms they followed and which posts they read … amongst other data.

I was intrigued to see what the the August 2010 post was about, so I read it. (It was only read by about 20 people over the last week, all from South Africa … but in my little world that is statistically significant, although of what I cannot say.)

It is interesting to go back to one’s opinions to check if they have shifted – or more interestingly, if they are unchanged or unmodified.

I suspect I am today slightly more bleak about the ANC than I was when I wrote the piece below; that I would say the same thing today, but with more of a grimace and the feeling more than ever that my hope really was a triumph over experience.

So, while I am tinkering around and deciding on whether I dare to borrow a picture from FT Online of Jacob Zuma looking like a lost child at the 6th Brics summit in Fortaleza, Brazil,  here, unexpurgated, unedited and unreconstructed is:

It is difficult not to imagine the tearing of some deep and important ligament in our body politic in the tone and content of this debate that starts in The Times, ostensibly between Pallo Jordan and Justice Malala and ostensibly about media freedom. The battle is joined – and complicated – by the ANC in its formal capacity in this unattributed article, by a reader’s reply to Justice Malala (K B Malapela’s article here) and a contribution by the redoubtable Paul Trewhela here.

My mother was taught at a Catholic convent in Johannesburg in the 40′s and part of the curriculum was a subject called “Apologetics”, which essentially means defending the faith and recommending it to outsiders. All of the contributions to this debate, to greater or lesser degrees, have the brittle quality of Apologetics. This is clearly not a debate designed to win over an opponent;  it is much more a debate designed to slag off the opponent – to influence perhaps separate audiences.

This does not mean that the opponents are all just political propagandists rolling out set pieces in an archaic ideological struggle. The anger, hurt and perhaps even fear are real and personal. After studying each spit and snipe, each appeal to history and every egregious character assassination (of which there are many) I find myself uncomfortably ambiguous about where my sympathies lie.

When we strip out all of the detail, at issue is the clash of these two broad assertions (this is definitely my formulation – the actual words or even ordering of arguments – will not necessarily be found in this form in any single contribution to the ‘debate)’:

  • The one view attacks Malala and defends the ANC – in the general context of supporting legislation to make the print media legally accountable. It goes something like this: ‘The ANC, admittedly imperfect and flawed, is thenational liberation movement that led the struggle against Apartheid; the organisation whose members and supporters paid the overwhelmingly highest price in the struggle against Apartheid and it is currently the political party in which resides the main hope of building a South Africa free of Apartheid and its vestiges (which are still strongly present and primarily injurious to black South Africans). Given this truth, the depth and ferocity of Justice Malala’s attack on the organisation can only be explained by him having made a profession out of attacking the organisation for the benefit of a self-satisfied and confirmedly racist audience – or that he serves some darker and deeper purpose of enemies of South Africa.
  • The other view defends Malala and attacks the ANC – in the general context of opposing legislation that seeks to control the media. This argument goes something like this: “The ANC has no claim to an exclusive role in the struggle against Apartheid and in any case the ANC’s contribution to that struggle was always flawed and undermined by deeply anti-democratic (or Stalinist) traditions and brutal repression of internal dissent. Justice Malala is part of a tradition of journalism in South Africa that has fought government censorship and general government abuse of power. Abuse of power, in various forms, characterises the ANC government today and it is right, fitting and brave for Malala to continue to ‘speak truth to power’.

I was going to paraphrase each article and attempt to draw out each essence but it’s probably better that you do that for yourself.

But here, for those who are interested, are my considered opinions on the issues that I think lie at the heart of this debate.

Firstly, regimes can reach a point where the only strategic option is complete non-engagement; where the only way forward is the destruction of that regime and its replacement by an alternative. But it is ludicrous to argue that this is where we are in South Africa with regard to the ANC government. Much of our political commentary and journalism seems to be phrased in these terms – as if we are all revolutionaries now, beyond any hope or care of reforming the system. This view is both implicit and, to a lesser degree, explicit, in the words of Malala and Trewhela. I am all for gung ho evisceration (by written word) of corrupt and pompous politicians, but there is a not-so-subtle line between vigorous – even exuberantly irreverent – criticism and the argument that government per se is the problem and therefore cannot be part of the solution. Many aspects of this government’s performance are deeply disturbing – as is the seeming avalanche of cronyism in our political culture. But I am absolutely clear that a government that continues to command around 70% of national electoral support (primarily because that electorate perceives the government as the main heir to the mantel of national liberation movement) has got to be engaged with, has got to be encouraged to be “the solution” more than it is “the problem”. And anyway the ANC, government, Cabinet and ‘the state’ in all of its manifestations is not some undifferentiated monster that requires slaying. The most important debates that shape our future take placewithin the ANC and the government as much as they do in the national media or in Parliament. Who wins and who loses within the ANC remains a decisive question that we cannot abandon as “irrelevant”.

Secondly, the ANC’s claim to legitimacy based on its historical role as the leading organisation representing black South African’s aspirations for national determination and in opposing Apartheid is a false claim. That the ANC was the main formation thrown up by Apartheid oppression of black South Africans is indisputable and that legions of its supporters, leaders and members fought bravely and suffered deeply is equally indisputable. But how often in the world have we seen claims of historical suffering and historical struggle against oppression justifying present corruption and brutal repression? The ANC needs to hear the claims of some journalists and commentators that the ANC of todayrepresents a radical discontinuity with that ANC of the past.  This is a legitimate assertion that can only be answered with specific claims to value based on present activities and achievements.

Too often the ANC’s claim to legend, previous heroism and fortitude, to banners and flags and songs, is the only answer it seems able to give to those who say it has become an unsalvageable cesspool of greed and self-interest.

The ANC needs to be reminded of the words of the great African revolutionary leader, strategist and philosopher, Amilcar Cabral (here I quote the first and last few sentences of this famous statement):

Always bear in mind that the people are not fighting for ideas, for the things in anyone’s head. They are fighting to win material benefits, to live better and in peace, to see their lives go forward, to guarantee the future of their children. . .

Tell no lies. Expose lies whenever they are told. Mask no difficulties, mistakes, failures.

Claim no easy victories…

 

Three asides from the present:

  1. I have absolutely no idea how I justified to myself putting that Amilcar Cabral quote in the original … the link to the rest of the story is faintly tenuous. But I suppose I loved it when I first read it in about 1981 and I love it still … and any excuse to get others to read it will do.
  2. Do I still write such long, unbroken paragraphs?
  3. I will only be able to check whether all the links in the original article work at some future, unspecified, time  … apologies if they (the links) took you to a place even more dusty, cobweb infested and spider-ridden than where you are right now.

Perhaps you are a journalist covering the May 7 elections or the Oscar Pistorius trial – and will soon be immersed in Shrien Dewani’s adventures in our specialist niche of the honeymoon-tourism market.

You might be a TV continuity announcer-cum-journalist, circling endlessly between serious discussion about bone fragments, Nkandla’s fire retarding swimming pool, Numsa’s endless exit  from Cosatu –  and then back to Oscar standing up, Oscar sitting down, Oscar making gagging noises, Oscar weeping about how horrible and sad this whole business is for him.

If you’re very lucky you might get to do a colour piece on Zuma’s ‘shorty and the machine gun’ routine:

JZ with  DJ Finzo Lannister at the the Fezile Dabi Stadium on Saturday

JZ with DJ Finzo Lannister at the the Fezile Dabi Stadium on Saturday – pic by Leon Sadiki in City Press 06.04.2014

But after the 10th showing of that, between the traffic, Oscar Pistorius, the sport, Oscar Pistorius and the economy … and Oscar Pistorius, even you must be having to fight to keep your food in your stomach.

I understand the private honour in doing something deeply distasteful and humiliating when this is the price of earning a living. So, in an attempt to provide us all with some light relief, I hereby republish and rework some ‘cynical quotations’ I have posted on a few occasions previously. Apologies to those long time readers who have seen these more than once … but this is a public service I feel compelled to render.

These are from the excellent Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.

As we listen to politicians as we head towards May 7

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.

Otto von Bismarck

 

There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694

 

An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.

Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923

Jacob Zuma

An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.

Simon Cameron, 1860

 

In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.

Terry M. Townsend, speech 1940

 

That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.

Woodrow Wilson, 1917

 

Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.

David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973

 

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.

- P. J. O’Rourke

Should you bother voting at all?

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.

George Jean Nathan

 

… yes, but (and forgive the emphasis here on the over-cynical … and slightly fascist):

Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.

Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912

 

A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.

V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917

 

Parliaments are the great lie of our times.

Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896

 

Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

George Bernard Shaw

 

Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916

 

Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.

P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991

 

The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.

Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941

 

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

H.L. Mencken, 1916

 

On the ANC and the (infamous) liberal media

Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14

 

EFF

It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

Edmund Burke – 1769

 

What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.

Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665

Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

 

Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955

 

Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.

Thomas Fuller 1732

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.

H.L. Mencken 1956

Certain judges

A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.

Anonymous

 

The DA

What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.

Stokeley Carmichael

An arbitrary comment about families

Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.

August Strindberg 1886

On love – and the current state of the ruling alliance:

The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.

Henry Haskins 1940

On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?

What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?

Bertolt Brecht 1928

 

or:

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

-Robert Frost

Bloggers (as a sort of author-lite) – in an attempt to be even-handed in my sneering

An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His over-powering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized nations, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.

H.L. Mencken, Prejudices 1919-27

 

I have been agonising over whether to keep this website going –  or to consign it to the wastelands of the interwebs there to wander mournfully, accumulating lurid advertisements for secret ways of getting rid of belly fat and invitations from young, beautiful and lonely people, in your area, waiting by their phones for a call from you.

After weighing matters too arcane to bore you with here I decided to gird my sagging loins (that’s long and loose clothing, not that other thing you were thinking – Ed) and once more into the breach … and all of that.

So … I have written various 2014 previews. One you may have seen was for the Mail & Guardian and titled ‘What I will be telling investors in 2014′. I would have liked to give it a better edit – and I think I don’t adequately deal with the issue of the corroding effects of the original arms scandal – but you may be interested in reading it anyway. Catch it here.

I also published in early January, as part of BNP Paribas Cadiz Securities’ 2014 Outlook, the overview below. (Thanks, as always, to my main contract holder for generously allowing me to republish a few weeks later here.)

(Remember, no-one has been to the future and returned with any useful information as far as I am aware … so treat the following with a healthy degree of scepticism – Ed)

Political outlook 2014: No safe haven in the storm

Introduction

At least part of our sanguine view of South African politics has rested on the belief that the ANC had several more decades of 60%-plus support at the polls. We were of the view that while this could lead to corruption, complaisance and cronyism, it would also allow the party to keep the country, government and constitution steady while SA undertook a wrenching transformation from its apartheid past to whatever the future held.

However, several important fissures have appeared in the ANC’s support base that suggest this assumption of indefinite ruling party dominance may not be correct and, therefore, that the essentially benign shepherding of that transition is under strain.

Amcu: bridgehead in previously safe African working-class constituency

Firstly, the success of the Amcu (Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union) in the mining (particularly platinum) sector has led to the virtual collapse of a key ANC labour ally, the National Union of Mineworkers (Num). Amcu is important for a number of reasons, but in this section, the issue is that it has created a bridgehead in the ANC’s core constituency that has every possibility of linking up with new left-wing (or in other ways radical) political formations that will challenge the ANC politically in the next few years.

Julius Malema and the formation of the EFF

Secondly, the expulsion of Julius Malema from the ANC and his formation of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) party damages the ANC in two important ways. It draws disaffected young black South Africans, who are experiencing unemployment rates of about 60%, out of the ANC. And it captures ideological terrain that the ANC was previously able to control and finesse, namely, the question of the nationalisation of mines and land.

A strong and confident ANC has, since 1994, essentially been able to tell its electoral constituency that patience is required for transformation and that constituency has, with mutterings, accepted the ANC’s moral authority on the matter. However, that consensus is collapsing. Mr Malema’s ‘red berets’ are attacking the president at every opportunity and arguing that the ANC has sold out the birth-right of Africans and has been bought off by the opportunity to loot the state and by juicy empowerment deals. The message has a natural resonance among poor urban and unemployed youth – but up until Mr Malema’s expulsion, the ANC was able to articulate both sides of this debate within itself.

NUMSA split: The unravelling of the ruling alliance

Thirdly, it appears that the long-standing split within Cosatu (Congress of South African Trade Unions) over its relationship with the ANC has been forced to a head by the suspension of Cosatu Secretary General Zwelinzima Vavi. A ‘left’ faction had, with a degree of discomfort, existed within Cosatu since the formation of the union federation in 1985. This faction has its roots in non-ANC liberation traditions and was concentrated mostly in Cosatu manufacturing unions, especially Numsa. The moves to get rid of Mr Vavi and close down Numsa’s criticism of the president and of ANC economic policy probably emanate from the hegemonic faction within the ANC itself, in other words, Jacob Zuma and his closest allies. Not unsurprisingly, Numsa has now formally called on Cosatu to leave the alliance with the ANC, has said it will not be supporting the ANC in the election in 2014 and has called for the immediate resignation of President Zuma.

Over time, this will impact ANC electoral support, though not necessarily profoundly in 2014. How Numsa members and their dependants vote in next year’s election was probably a ‘done deal’ prior to Numsa’s defection decision at its special congress in late December 2013. Numsa may link up with ‘left’ or ‘workers’ parties (and may actually form a ‘socialist party’ that could challenge the ANC for support in the ANC’s key black working-class constituency), but this will likely impact more profoundly on electoral outcomes in the 2019 election.

ANC swelling in rural conservative areas and shrinking amongst urban sophisticates

Fourthly, the patronage and diversion of state resources as depicted by the Nkandla saga, combined with the vigorous pursuit of the rural vote in Kwazulu-Natal, has meant that the ANC is gradually appealing less to urban Africans (although this is by no means a majority trend) and more to rural and traditional poor black South Africans. This appears to mean that parties like the Democratic Alliance, AgangSA and the EFF are picking up a degree of unexpected traction in such constituencies.

Labour environment

After a catastrophic 2012 as far as the labour environment was concerned – especially the repeated waves of illegal and violent strikes in the platinum sector – 2013 saw stabilisation, albeit at still unacceptably high levels of unrest and strike activity.

In the platinum sector, the Amcu is ‘bedding down’, but likely to continue contesting with the Num in the gold sector. The next public-sector wage round is scheduled for 2015, so we have a breather before that storm hits (and we expected it to be a big storm when it does).

The formalisation of the Numsa split from the alliance probably means that this union will begin to actively contest with the Cosatu unions and in several other sectors of the economy. We are looking for the formation of new and smaller unions in sectors where the incumbent unions have grown too cumbersome or complacent to deal with the demands of specialist groups of workers. Unionism is a growth industry in South Africa, with annuity income for those who set them up. As Cosatu shudders, there are many opportunities emerging.

Labour unrest, poor labour productivity and inflexible labour markets (price, size, skills) are among the biggest negative domestic drivers of economic growth and we expect the figures to show a slight improvement in 2013 over 2012 and a significant deterioration in 2014 and 2015 – which may have significant negative implications along the lines of the BMW ‘disinvestment’ decision.

National Development Plan: The political rise of the Treasury and fall of Cosatu

The ruling party and the ruling alliance’s approach to the National Development Plan (NDP) has appeared highly conflicted since the adoption of the plan at the 2012 Mangaung national conference of the ANC.

While our view is that the NDP is little more than a shopping list (and not the miracle cure some ratings and multilateral agencies hope it is) in the areas of large infrastructure roll-out and a disciplining/training/focusing of the public service, we may be in for upside surprises. The important political leaders to watch here are ministers Lindiwe Sisulu (public service and administration) and Malusi Gigaba (state-owned enterprises).

In several different ways, the Zuma leadership of the ANC has, over the last few months, appeared to back with a degree of fortitude previously orphaned policy thrusts from the NDP that are generally ‘financial-market positive’.

The first of these is the foregrounding of the NDP itself – both at Mangaung, but also in the medium-term budget statement in October 2013. Minister of Finance Pravin Gordhan stated that that this budget statement and all future budget statements would be ‘the accounts’ of the National Development Plan, putting the plan at the centre of government policy.

The trade-union movement – especially the now defecting faction rooted in Numsa, but actually common to the whole federation – was outraged by this, as it sees the NDP as a capitulation by the ANC to (variously) ‘white monopoly capital’, ‘neoliberalism’ or ‘business interests’.

In conjunction with this foregrounding of the NDP, Jacob Zuma has recently signed into law two major policy thrusts that are bitterly opposed by the ANC’s labour ally.

The first of these is the Transport Laws and Related Matters Amendment Act, which allows for the implementation of ‘e-tolling’ on Gauteng highways and has been bitterly opposed by COSATU and other community groups in that province. Bond-market investors and ratings agencies have repeatedly said it is crucial that the ANC implement ‘e-tolling’ if the government is to maintain credibility on the global capital markets. It is significant that the Zuma administration has grasped this nettle, despite facing (by all accounts) a significant electoral challenge in Gauteng in 2014.

The second surprising nettle-grasping activity has been the promulgation of the employment tax incentive bill in the face of united Coatu fury. This is the ‘youth wage subsidy’ of yore, and the ANC under Jacob Zuma has obviously decided to accept thunderous criticism from its ally in the hope that longer-term employment growth benefits will weigh in its favour at the polls, in both 2014 and 2019.

Together, these initiatives are surprising positives and have probably come about because the Treasury has managed to persuade Mr Zuma and his cabinet that failure to take a stand on these various measures could lead to downgrades by the ratings agencies.

Policy and regulatory risks predominate

Thus, our view is that the Presidency, bereft of any real policy direction itself (because it is busy purely with rent seeking and hanging onto power) has been persuaded by Pravin Gordhan that the country is in trouble, that the deficit is looking genuinely threatening, that downgrades are a real possibility and that if this goes south, President Zuma might go with it. The National Treasury briefly has the reins, and this gives us a moment of respite.

However, hostile mining regulations, a fiddly and interventionist Department of Trade and Industry, an overly ambitious Department of Economic Development, a hostile Department of Labour, liquor legislation, more and tighter empowerment legislation and deepening regulations on all fronts, but especially in the credit markets, mean that, on the whole, government in 2014 will be an unreliable financial-market ally.

State finances: The deeper risks are fiscal

The country’s increasing dependence for stability on social grants and other forms of social spending is a real and deepening political risk. While the social grant system has lifted millions of South Africans out of poverty and the public sector has employed hundreds of thousands of others, it has also created a culture of dependency and paternalism and is an unsustainable expense that the government will at some stage be forced to reduce. This is definitely going to be accompanied by severe social turmoil, although as mentioned previously, the real ‘fiscal cliff’ is still some way ahead of the forecast period dealt with in this report.

Election 2014

The election results will be important, but in ways that are difficult to predict.

If the ANC’s share of the national vote plummets to the low 50% range, will this force the party into a process of renewal, or will it be panicked into populist measures? It probably depends on which parties take up the slack.

If the ANC gets 65% of the vote, will it be ‘Nkandla business’ as usual – an unhealthy rural populism à la the Traditional Courts Bill, combined with activities like the significant public resources (ZAR208m) spent on building the president’s Nkandla compound and accusations of corruption?
If Mr Malema’s Economic Freedom Fighters get 10% of the vote, will that mean ANC policymaking is paralysed until 2019 as the party attempts to appease the angry and disenfranchised youth? Will it mean legislation relating to mining and land ownership swerves into uncertain and dangerous territory?

If the Democratic Alliance wins 27% of the national vote (which we think unlikely) and if it is able to form a provincial government in alliance with other parties in Gauteng (which we also think unlikely), how might that cause the ANC to behave? Better? To continue to allow the Treasury to set the tone of probity and effectiveness, concentrate on fixing education and focus on economic growth as the only guarantor of electoral success in 2019? Will this kind of threat cause the ruling party to attempt to make opposition strongholds ungovernable? We suspect different impulses are already at war within the ANC and investors should watch how that battle plays out.

Below, purely as a way of presenting our latest ‘guesstimates’, are our ‘most likely’ electoral outcomes for 2014 (these may change as campaigning performance changes before the election and as various crises emerge, eg, the booing of Jacob Zuma at the FNB Stadium commemoration for Nelson Mandela in December 2013).

votingresultsinpreview

BRICs and the uncertain rise of the SACP

A relatively new and difficult-to-unpick issue is the growing confidence the South African Communist Party (SACP) has in shaping the national agenda. The inappropriate focus on BRICS speakers at the FNB Mandela memorial (over Africans and European Union speakers, with Obama the inevitable exception) is probably evidence of the Communists having very significant influence.

We think this could have fed through into the announced Zuma/Putin ZAR 100bn nuclear deal.

This is a matter of growing tension within the ANC, with a previously dominant (under Mandela and Mbeki) group of ‘progressive Africanists’ having lost power to the Communists, who are now in an alliance with a patronage-seeking, provincial elite with strong links to state-security apparatuses and rent-seeking business interests (‘the Nkandla crew’.)

This struggle could play into succession issues and might be a driver of attempts to impeach Jacob Zuma (a strategy unlikely to succeed, in our view) over the next few years.

Succession and a ‘rescue mission’ in the ANC?

While this matter probably lies beyond the 2014 scope of this report, within the ANC, the possibility of a rescue mission is taking shape (driven, in part, by growing commentary about how many public resources are ending up on and around Jacob Zuma’s person and his tight control of security agencies). A group now on the outskirts of the party, and in very general terms representing the ‘old guard’, appears set to begin working on securing a succession process that reverses the decline (moral and in popularity) over which Jacob Zuma appears to be presiding.

This move has not yet taken shape, nor is it properly manifest, but in our view the important people to watch are previous President Thabo Mbeki, Lindiwe Sisulu, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Cyril Ramaphosa and Zweli Mkhize.

Walking back home from the Sea Point promenade I encountered, no more than thirty minutes ago, two tall attractive young women in blue t-shirts standing next to a table full of DA literature.

Nearby is a church hall that serves as a voter registration station.

This weekend is the last nationwide drive to get as many potential voters as possible signed up before next year’s election.

The DA girls had long ponytails and light-brown hair and they held apparently identical and delicate Japanese umbrellas.

I gruffly (to avoid being misconstrued) asked them how it was going.

“Good!” they chimed brightly and in unison, their thick cables of hair bouncing in a way perfectly described by the aforementioned style’s name.

They politely enquired if I had registered and I muttered something about not being sure if I was going to vote and stumbled off in a confused retreat. (I have registered, I will vote … I am just not sure for whom.)

I was thinking as I walked the final kilometre to my modest apartment that it was about time the DA put some zest into its campaigning – good for the staid old liberals. (Patronising thoughts, I know, but I can do no more than apologise for having them.)

I walked into my flat, came straight to my computer and clicked on my Twitter feed.

Imagine my delight when I almost immediately found this:

ANCELEC

 

Here is the full text of the Tweet – although it is the picture that is important:

‏@iroiphotography:

Lack of creativity RT @Mr_Mpangase: Surely this is in breach of ANC conduct?  pic.twitter.com/Sujnop3cdK Retweeted by Siphelele Mpangase

(I think that is a real flyer or poster, but at this time we all have to be extremely careful of fake advertising designed to make one or other of the parties look bad.)

My delight was immeasurably enhanced as I found another Tweet that really gets to the meat of the election matter.

African ‏@ali_naka29m:

@CdeJMN Agang launched with Tea and cakes, EFF slaughtered 8 Bulls. Spot the difference!

I am still grinning.

This voter registration weekend is specifically aimed at younger potential voters and it has not escaped my attention that none of the myriad and complex messages here are intended for me.

I doubt I will be this sanguine and good natured after another five months of this … but before the nausea sets in I thought I would share some of the silly syrup.

Have a good week.

 

 

Niccolo MachiavelliJacob Zuma has forced me to reread Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli’s The Prince, published 500 years ago this year.

He (Jacob Zuma) didn’t threaten me with the red lightsaber or catch me in a honey trap. My natterings, fortunately, are not impactful enough to draw the attentions of the Dark Lord (Darth Vader, dah! – ed) or his stormtroopers.

The compulsion comes from watching, slack-jawed, as Jacob Zuma skips happily across the backs of starving crocodiles – on his way, off towards the welcoming horizon.

Surely the world was an intrinsically hostile place for a black baby boy, born to a single-parent mother (who was also a domestic worker) in the South Africa of 1942? Surely when he received no formal education any chance of success in life would have become vanishingly small – in the estimation of a wandering actuarial statistician, perhaps?

When Jacob Zuma went to prison and then later was repeatedly caught with his hands in all sorts of cookie jars I imagine the hypothetical actuary would have confidently predicted a life of ignominy and poverty.

But instead Jacob Zuma is picking up an honorary Doctorate of Leadership from the Limkokwing University of Creative Technolog(who writes the script of the world? … no ordinary mortal would dare make this shit up – ed) and rubbing shoulders with the great and the good and undoubtedly stashing bits of his loot in safe houses in Malaysia.

My second post on this website in mid-2009 titled The Accidental President (catch that here) argued that Zuma’s rise was pure chance and contingency. But when the same random set of things happens over-and-over (Jacob Zuma escapes danger with a sack full of cash) you have to start questioning whether this is purely the shambolic interactions of events, people, history and the world.

Politics is about power (yes, I know, we have heard that somewhere before). Power is agency, the ability to make stuff happen, to make people do your bidding and to make situations turn out in a particular way. Political analysis is the analysis of how (and why) power is exercised.

Which brings me back to Machiavelli.

I read The Prince when I was about 17 and, clearly, I didn’t understand a bleeding word.

I vaguely remember being outraged and confused by the book.  Bertrand Russell is widely quoted as having said The Prince is a handbook for gangsters (which is a great line but there is much debate as to whether the great logician himself actually said it).

However, I am now kicking myself that I haven’t been reading and rereading The Prince every year – and in the flush of my transient enthusiasm, I promise myself I will do so from now on until I die … or perhaps I will stop a little before.

(As an aside: I was halfway through the book when the Syrian nerve gas story broke. I was glad to have Machiavelli as a companion to think about how those with agency might cause, or allow, such things to happen and why they might do so.)

So, anyway … Jacob Zuma is the Prince and I doubt he ever needed a Machiavelli to tell him how to be what he is and how to do what he does.

Here is the opening dedication. It’s quite compellingly mysterious to those among us who are a little thin on our Florence-during- the-Renaissance, but it is also a good explanation of the work that follows:

Dedication: To the Magnificent Lorenzo Di Piero De’ Medici

It is customary for such as seek a Prince’s favour, to present themselves before him with those things of theirs which they themselves most value, or in which they perceive him chiefly to delight. Accordingly, we often see horses, armour, cloth of gold, precious stones, and the like costly gifts, offered to Princes as worthy of their greatness. Desiring in like manner to approach your Magnificence with some token of my devotion, I have found among my possessions none that I so much prize and esteem as a knowledge of the actions of great men, acquired in the course of a long experience of modern affairs and a continual study of antiquity. Which knowledge most carefully and patiently pondered over and sifted by me, and now reduced into this little book, I send to your Magnificence. And though I deem the work unworthy of your greatness, yet am I bold enough to hope that your courtesy will dispose you to accept it, considering that I can offer you no better gift than the means of mastering in a very brief time, all that in the course of so many years, and at the cost of so many hardships and dangers, I have learned, and know.

This work I have not adorned or amplified with rounded periods, swelling and high-flown language, or any other of those extrinsic attractions and allurements wherewith many authors are wont to set off and grace their writings; since it is my desire that it should either pass wholly unhonoured, or that the truth of its matter and the importance of its subject should alone recommend it.

Nor would I have it thought presumption that a person of very mean and humble station should venture to discourse and lay down rules concerning the government of Princes. For as those who make maps of countries place themselves low down in the plains to study the character of mountains and elevated lands, and place themselves high up on the mountains to get a better view of the plains, so in like manner to understand the People a man should be a Prince, and to have a clear notion of Princes he should belong to the People.

Let your Magnificence, then, accept this little gift in the spirit in which I offer it; wherein, if you diligently read and study it, you will recognize my extreme desire that you should attain to that eminence which Fortune and your own merits promise you. Should you from the height of your greatness some time turn your eyes to these humble regions, you will become aware how undeservedly I have to endure the keen and unremitting malignity of Fortune.
Niccolò Machiavelli

……………………………………………………………..

I know how Niccolò feels. Sometimes these humble regions are just that little too humble. However, I would have been more cautious about calling for the Prince’s attention if I was Machiavelli. If the Prince read the little book, then the Prince would know that Machiavelli had the Prince’s number and that Machiavelli had rewritten the handbook. Which I can’t imagine would have charmed the Prince.

I will attempt a ‘highlights package’ of The Prince and possibly some learned comments (which are unlikely to be as good as you will find in this interesting article and interview). For the keenest among you, there are several places on the internet where The Prince is downloadable for no charge – I am sure the copyright has long expired … or rather I hope so. My copy, which is in electronic form on my laptop, originates at: http://www.feedbooks.com.

Finally, Jacob Zuma still has a few crocodiles to hop on before he reaches safety. I still think that the odds are against him, but I am not an actuarial statistician, wandering or otherwise . I draw comfort purely from the certainty that no-one, ultimately, gets out of this alive.

Preface 

I wrote what follows in July 1990 immediately after returning from a two week trip to Moscow. I was part of a group with the now sadly departed Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa). The original was published in Democracy In Action, the institute’s monthly newsletter. I had looked for a copy for years and Paul Graham the last executive director of  Idasa, and a man for whom I have the highest regard, went to considerable trouble to find the article for me as he was closing up shop. I am republishing it here exactly as it originally appeared, although I have to sit on my hands to stop myself stripping out much of the sentiment and youthful taking-of-oneself-too-seriously – and thereby cutting two thirds of the length. (I would also quite like not to admit to some of the things I once believed which I admit to in the article … and I would love to add a bit of irony … but it is all too late for that now.)

Why am I bothering – I am not unaware that this was not exactly seminal?  No special reason, except my desire that it form ‘part of the record’. I wanted it “out there” in the electronic universe to remind myself of the precise moment I stopped being a confused socialist and carried on with being just confused, an altogether less satisfying state than I had experienced previously. It was  bitter-sweet for me, this moment, and I have never entirely resolved the conflicted feelings that it evokes in me. I don’t promise that what follows will be madly interesting to anyone but myself and perhaps some others directly involved in the events I describe. So, if for no other reasons than the much vaunted record, complete and unexpurgated, here is:

Ten days that shook my world

Standing on the Leningradsky Prospect – the “straight way” to Leningrad – just outside Moscow I was filled with an unhappy mixture of dismay and despair.

I had reached an unbearably poignant shrine. In heroic proportions and cut deep into huge blocks of concrete was the visage of the Soviet version of the Unknown Soldier. The young interpreter translated the script alongside that  haunting face in hushed tones. “It says that, ‘the defenders of Moscow defend here forever’. Here they fought an important battle in the Great Patriotic War. Many people died. But for us this is very sad.”

Twenty million Soviet citizens died in that war. more than all the other deaths put together. The German army failed to take Moscow or Leningrad and eventually broke its back on a bitterly defended Stalingrad and the even more bitter Soviet winter.

Standing at that memorial I felt dismay at the enormity of suffering the people of this country had experienced in the last 100 years. I felt despair because by that stage of the trip I already sensed than another tragedy was befalling this oft punished country.

How do  you record a credible impression of a country with 290  million inhabitant and more mutually unintelligible languages than anywhere else in the world after a brief two weeks spent in one city – albeit Moscow?

The answer is you probably can’t.

It was sunny mid-June and I was part of an Idasa delegation of “young researchers” on a fact-finding mission hosted by a group called the Committee of Youth Organisations. For me personally the visit was of particular importance.

The Soviet Union was the land of milk and honey for many of us who grew up politically in the student movement in the late 70s and early 80s. This was the flagship of a growing fleet that would rid our world of the uncaring and greedy imperative of profiteering capitalism and the misery it had brought our country.

We could quote chapter and verse of statistics that demonstrated the availability of basic goods and services to all Soviet people. We could parade the achievements of Eastern bloc socialism – in the production of iron and steel, in the eradication of illiteracy, in culture, the arts and in sports.

In response to perestroika and glasnost we had all reformulated our ideas and I wanted to discover two things: the soul of the Soviet people and  whether the red flag was still flying. We were not able to answer any of these questions conclusively and were left with a series of often unconnected impressions.

I was quite unprepared for what I found in Moscow.

We sat in a meeting with the editor of the Moscow Communist Youth Organisation (Komsomol) daily newspaper. The paper has a subscriber list of one and a half million and is delivered daily. This man was a political appointee yet he harangued us for over an hour about the evils and absolute unworkability of socialism.

We didn’t understand. Here was a powerful and influential communist, picking up a glass on the table and asking, “Who does this belong to? To the state, or the people, or some vague body? I don’t care about this glass,” and he made as if to throw it out of the window.

In an intense and growing fury he took a Parker pen from the inside pocket of his coat. “This is my pen! If this man (pointing at his second in command) breaks this pen, I will beat him,” he said, shaking his fist angrily.

Reaching some kind of climax, the editor rose to his feet and shouted pointing out of the window at the inevitable queue at a shop across the road: “Those people are queuing for children’s slippers. This is not how people should live! This is not even how animals should live!”

The sentiments behind these ragings were expressed by everyone we met – more cautiously only by the most senior members of the Communist Party.

The economy has clearly failed to meet the requirements of the population and the list of reasons they give reads like a tirade from the New Right.

Here is a selection of rough quotes as I jotted them down in my notebook or remember them now:

“The authoritarian, bureaucratic, administrative command system has created impossibly skewed production priorities.”

“Why work hard, or with any care and attention to detail if you are going to get your 300 roubles a month no matter what and anyway, you are not going to be able to buy anything with it? We have created workers who don’t know how to work.”

“Goods are expensive and if they are made here they are of inferior quality. It is very difficult to get imported goods and usually these are impossibly expensive.”

“I have lived here all my life. Now it is worse than anyone can remember. There are just no goods in the shops and for the first time we are really worried about hunger.”

Almost without exception the people we spoke to blamed socialism for their ills. When those of us with deep philosophical and political roots in the South African socialist movement protested that it wasn’t socialism per se that was the problem, but rather the errors committed in the building of the society and economy of the Soviet Union specifically, we were laughed out of court.

“It is the ideas themselves. 1917 was a disaster for us. We need the market economy,” was the refrain we heard time and again.

There seems no doubt that there is a developing  consensus amongst the intelligentsia in Moscow at any rate, that the “free market” is the panacea to many of their ills. It would have been impossible, and extremely presumptuous of us to lecture them on the evils of rampant capitalism. They want it and they want it now.

When Germany and Japan start buying up state enterprises for a pittance and fill the shops with goods that only a few can afford; when unemployment and lack of housing becomes a problem for the previously protected underclass and when access to a whole lot of goods ans services becomes determined by income, they may change their minds, but I wouldn’t bet my life on it.

The citizens of Moscow (a relatively wealthy city) are struggling, increasingly despairingly, to survive. At first I was tempted to argue that they are better off than the unemployed in the First World, but it just doesn’t appear to be true, especially as far as countries with social welfare systems are concerned.

The problem, of course, is that the capitalism that will be built in the Soviet Union will be a mean and half-starved animal.

The Soviet people look at the highly developed capitalist economies of the West for a vision of their own future. The truth is that they can expect only the vicious and exploitative versions of the system that exist on the periphery in the Third World.  The creation of that system is going to be extremely painful.

The other element of the unfolding drama in the Soviet Union is the collapse of the political entity itself.

The republics are finally starting to be flung off the edges of the vortex of rapid political change. Long repressed nationalism, often highly chauvinistic, is emerging everywhere and Gorbachev is finding it almost impossible to hold the show on the road.

The dark spectre of the Soviet Union’s collapse into 15 disgruntled, warring, potentially economically unviable Third World states with terrifying military resources at their disposal is starting to haunt the wold.

And what about the Russian people?

We were all astounded at the depth of education and cultural and philosophical literacy in the wide cross-section of people we met. A deep abhorrence of war and commitment to peaceful change was the characteristic feature. In response to the question “what do you want, or see as an alternative?”, the most common phrase was, “respect for universal human values.”.

We asked many young people if they were proud of any of their national achievements – the beautiful, cheap and efficient Moscow underground, the low price and ready availability of books and records and the level of literacy and education.

We were told (variously): “The Soviet Union is not a country, we have no national achievements”; “how can we be proud if it takes all our effort and time just to buy a loaf of bread in a shop”.

Almost every young person we met had a burning desire to leave the country. The most popular movie on the circuit is a “documentary” comparison of life in the Soviet Union versus life in the West.

Apparently this films looks at the worst of Soviet life compared to the best in the West. It sounds like the worst kind of anti-communist, American ultra-right chauvinism –  except it was made by a Soviet film producer. What is more, the public swallow every last detail in an orgy of masochistic self-hatred.

Media freedom

One thing we found interesting and encouraging was freedom and vibrancy of the media.

Organised political opposition to the Communist Party is weak (outside of the national movements in the republics) and many of the new parties have no real experience at mobilising the population. However, the press and television are filled with debate and exploration of new ideas and harsh examinations of social problems ranging from alcoholism through to child abuse.

By the end of the 10 days, the six of us were punch-drunk and exhausted. We spoke together for hours trying, unsuccessfully, to draw out the essence of the experience. We all had the sense of being in an important place at an important time. This was the exact point where a grand enterprise had come off the rails.

The resounding shock waves of that catastrophe have changed the whole world, not least of all our own country. We struggled with the enormity of it and the sense of hopelessness we were left with.

As the last day of the visit dawned, I spoke to a wise and gentle man about my confusion and disappointment. He said: “Yes, this is a tragedy of unimaginable proportions, but you are wrong to say our people are hopeless or despairing. They have spirit and humanity. We will win through in some way.”

(I was accompanied on that trip by Ian Liebenberg, Hermien Kotze, Zorah Ebrahim, Khehla Shubane and Mark Swilling – and I wish them well wherever they may be.)

(A quick and lightweight aside on a Sunday morning … not part of the ‘deep blue’ series, but bleak enough – I wouldn’t want to disappoint anybody.)

Mandela ailing in the last few days before Mangaung?

Perhaps the universe does have a sense of humour; one that delights in casual cruelties, sneering irony and a deep, dark and impenetrable sarcasm.

Are we facing the death of the universally beloved founder of the (now) great teetering edifice of the South African democracy just as the ANC elects Jacob Zuma for a second term as president?

Just because it is chance and random does not mean that we are not compelled, by out basic humanity, to seek hidden connections and meanings in such coincidence … or rather such impending coincidences.

When the gods smite the earth with earthquakes and floods and drought (as they are regularly wont to do), representatives of those gods have forever and always said through their thin lips: “Well, what do you think? If you behave like this of course he is going to be furious. Bring me a virgin and sharp knife, quickly!”

I can imagine the voluptuaries in the halls  of the African National Congress (or at least those halls that the hoi polloi don’t get to see – where real power is bought and sold and bought again), wiping their plump, greasy hands as they push suddenly away from the laden centenary celebration tables, their sweaty faces shocked, goose liver shiny lips pursed in a meaty sphincter: “oh …. my … god!”

(Yes, yes, I know that in amongst the many thousands of Nkandla beneficiaries (and friends and family), assassins, warlords, desperately confused hoi polloi, drivers of large gleaming cars, meeting-chair-breakers, confused little old ladies who had meant to go to the church next door,  rent-a-crowd members  … and those who are only there for the tshirts and braai, there are several good people fighting the good fight, making famous last stands and that sort of thing. So I obviously don’t mean you have any goose fat to wipe off your faces or that you have plump, grasping little hands … that’s those others, at the top-table – who have spent more on liposuction in the last 5 years than you will earn in your lifetime – no, don’t get up, we know who you are. Glad to have cleared that up.)

The point is that it is going to be impossible not to think of Mandela’s death as some kind of inevitable yin to Mangaung’s yang (it works the other way around too.)

A slaughter of a whole reed dance of virgins will not appease these gods (which are nothing more than our ape brain need to impute narrative to randomness) but might make a few supporters of the Traditional Courts Bill feel pious.

To ridiculously (and messily) extend the religious metaphor: what god would pop snake or stones into our trusting mouths, open to receive meat and bread?

The trickster/Pan/Loki would do precisely that, just as he/she would take Mandela with the one hand and give us the Nkandla legacy cast in military grade bunker cement with the other.

Okay, now I am ready to read the Sunday papers.

I am feeling the welcome pressure of a flood of paid work.

The only drawback to this happy state of affairs is I have not been able to put as much effort into updating this website as I would like.

In future I will generally be posting the quirkier side of politics and investment risk – occasionally from a more personal perspective.

I will not be telling you about what I had for breakfast, my deep and interesting views on Islay single malts or the fascinating behaviour of my small brown dog. I expect more posts to have the character of Saturday’s Rowan Atkinson skit – which could have been made for this election – or this one from a few months ago on celebrity culture and the rise of grandiosity in our politics.

Meanwhile here is a summary of some of my views on the lead-up to Wednesday’s vote.

(Note: just before the dog ate my homework my finger slipped on a small streak of high dudgeon that had somehow spilled on my keyboard and I pressed the “publish” link before I had a chance to edit the following piece. I have now cleaned it up slightly, but feel free to email me at nic.borain@gmail.com to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)

Julius Malema

If the ANC Youth League president was a stock traded on the JSE I would be calling: “buy, buy, buy –  fill your boots! “

He’s under-priced because of the hammering he has taken over the last 6 months, and the market – as reflected in what the ANC likes to call “the print media” – has not adequately woken to the fact that he is the star of the election.

I have argued before that Malema is the coming man in the ANC and, perhaps, the country. I will not be entirely charmed to have been proven right – although a lot can go awry ‘twixt now and the time of full accounting. But let there be no mistaking or underestimating Malema’s current cachet.

He appears to have done the hard work – personally, in his own name and own voice – in mobilising the constituencies most likely not to have bothered to vote on Wednesday.

This doesn’t even have to be true. It appears to be true, and that is all that matters.

He stuck one in the eye of ‘the madams’ and ‘the masters’ and, as difficult as it is for me to swallow, I am fairly certain that for this reason alone there are millions of South Africans whose hearts swell with pride as they think about their Juju’s audacity and bravery.

Whatever else happens he will be remembered by the loyal party workers and bureaucrats as having turned pro when the going got tough – and taking the fight to the Democratic Alliance just as the Official Opposition was  looking scary.

And this was all building on – and in addition to – the enormous public relations coup of the “kill the boer” trial – which united the party, its leaders and its faithful behind him.

I do think that a party and a country in which a young populist of the streak and character of Julius Malema is so strongly ascendant is in all kinds of trouble in the long term … but that, so to speak, is another story.

I also think financial market sentiment – particularly as effected by the ‘nationalisation of mines’ debate – will counter track his rising and falling fortunes.

Jacob Zuma

Jacob Zuma has had a fair to good election. This activity is his strength and as with Malema he has earned loyalty points from the party faithful for his tireless commitment and skill in working the crowd.

I am interested in the nature and extent of pressure that he appears to be under – particularly pressure emanating from the Youth League and those that hope to ride that organisation to power and even greater wealth.

President Zuma, to my mind, is awkwardly caught in a relationship of mutual dependence with the sections of the Ruling Alliance with whom he shares the least ideological and cultural ground.

Zuma is the natural Nkandla patriarch, dispensing largesse and spreading his seed in as a wide a circle as possible. These are the attributes that Cosatu and the ANC’s leftwing most despise yet Zuma is their champion and they his.

The confirmation of post-Polokwane populism

I miss the arrogant and austere Thabo Mbeki who would have been ashamed to use the kind of underhand tactics implicit in some of the  ANC election posters – I am assured this one is the genuine article, but I still have difficulty believing it.

For me the word “populism” has a meaning that implies a combination of characteristics, including clever mixing of fact and fiction, appealing to the most base human emotions as well as the manipulation of the fears, greed and anger of oppressed and vulnerable people.

At first this image made me laugh out loud – it is a photograph, so inescapably true, as well as being strangely familiar. Until I paused and realised how manipulative and abusive it actually is – using the image of happy children playing together (in circumstances we cannot know but are encouraged to imagine) to evoke hatred, rage and fear.

The ANC conducted the 2009 election campaign in the style of  a televangelical rally spiced with hotdogs and wet t-shirts.

It is probably arrogant and elitist to hate this kind of politics as profoundly as I do – but I would rather have that defence than for there to be any possibility of being swept up into either the sexy razzmatazz or into the fear and hatred.

This election has given the faintest hint of what a cornered ANC might be capable of and the kinds of appeals it might be prepared to make to the most base elements of its constituency.

Not, mind you, that the DA is guiltless of softer versions of both the ‘sexy razzmatazz’ and the ‘fear and loathing’ populism. But the “Fight Back”slogan seems to have receded and Helen Zille’s sex appeal is such a specialist taste that I am less bothered by the DA’s mass-marketing strategy than I am by the ANC’s.

Helen Zille also rises

My own view is that Helen Zille, for all her preppy awkwardness, jolly-hockey sticks enthusiasm and excruciating body language,  is the Iron Lady of our recent history and has struck at the heart of ANC complacency and tolerance for corruption and failure.

Whatever happens to the DA’s feisty campaign in this election, Helen Zille herself has achieved an extraordinary place in our history. She has personally shaped her party and pushed it into new territory – against history and against personal limitations – where it is, in my estimation, going to play a growing role in the politics of a post-Apartheid South Africa. This would be a phenomenal and transcending achievement for party that originated in the last white parliament.

Results – counting chickens and pigs in pokes

I strongly suspect that ANC panic and DA overreach is going to leave a lot of people slightly shamefaced or deeply relieved.

There is no realistic or publicly available polling data but my thumbsuck guess – unlike that of Allister Sparks – is that the DA does less well than the hype has led us to believe and that the ANC does not go much below 60 % no matter how big the stayaway vote from the party’s angry and disillusioned supporters.

The DA seems to have set its supporters and party workers up for disappointment. Who cannot think that the party will not do considerably better than it did in the 2009 General Election or the  Municipal vote in 2006? But the way it is being spun, anything short of 4 metros and 40 percent of the vote (a vanishingly unlikely outcome) is going to feel like defeat.

Will the ANC lose enough urban African support to scare it into cleaning up its act?

I am ever hopeful, but I am breathing while I wait.

The cacophony – let it stop!!

It is perhaps slightly pretentious to hate exclamation marks as much as I claim to – but I think the sheer awfulness and triviality of the the political debate deep into election time calls for more than one of the flashy little symbols of overstatement and hyperbole.

I refuse to discuss the toilets any further. I promise I will never talk about the ANC’s leaders ‘snuffling’, ‘grunting’  or ‘squealing’ at the trough ever again, no matter how extreme the provocation.

It is an arms race of metaphor and hyperbole and eventually the language cannot adequately express the appropriate range of feelings.

I look forward to a period of calm understatement, starting next week Monday, as we recover from Sunday’s last gush of whining, triumphalism and sage and important thoughts from the analytic establishment.

Real debates about societal problems and ways of fixing them have little to do with elections – which of necessity appeal to the most base and common human drives.

What we have is a Hallmark Hell of platitudes, populism, red herrings and whining.

Spare a thought for those few politicians for whom the behaviour required to win elections is so abhorrent that they develop peculiar lines on their faces that can only have been etched by sickly smiles designed to disguise disgust.

It seems like a gift from the comic gods that the Toilet Saga has become central to this election.

Well for ‘relief’ (you will see in a moment how that joke works in relation to the DA/ANC spat)  from the elections and other bodily discomforts here is one of the finest comic sketches ever to see the stage.

Rowan Atkinson, masterfully combining a sort of pre-Mr Bean goofy prissiness with English reserve plays The Devil welcoming the recent recruits to hell.

Two asides before you click on the link:

  • first, be warned that gentle digs at “the French”, “the Germans”, Christians, lawyers and atheists could, in cases of extreme sensitivity, cause offence;
  • second, I attach the text of the skit below the video, because this is the first time I have embedded a link to YouTube and I have elsewhere experienced the irritation of such links not working for some arcane YouTube management or copyright protection related reason – but it is Atkinson’s delivery that makes it so funny, so watch the video if you can.

The Devil’s Welcoming Speech

Ah hello! It’s nice to see you all here. As the more perceptive of you have probably realised by now, this is Hell, and I am the Devil, good evening, but you can call me Toby, if you like. We try to keep things informal here, as well as infernal. That’s just a little joke of mine. I tell it every time.

Now, you’re all here for….. Eternity! Ooh, which I hardly need tell you is a heck of a long time, so you’ll all get to know each other pretty well by the end.

But for now I’m going to have to split you up in groups.

Will You Stop Screaming!

Thank you.

Now, murderers? Murderers over here, please, thank you. Looters and Pillagers over there. Thieves, if you could join them, and Lawyers, you’re in that lot too.

Fornicators – if you could step forward? My God, there are a lot of you! Could I split you up into Adulterers and the rest? Male adulterers, if you could just form a line in front of that small Guillotine in the corner.

Em… The French, are you here? If you would just like to come down here with the Germans. I’m sure you’ll have plenty to talk about.

Okay, atheists? Atheists over here please. You must be feeling a right bunch of Nitwits. Never mind.

And finally, Christians. Christians? Ah, yes, I’m sorry but I’m afraid the Jews were right. If you would come down here, that would be really fine.

Okay! Right, well are there any questions? Yes. No, I’m afraid there aren’t any toilets. If you read your Bible, you might have seen that it was damnation without relief, so if you did not go before you came, then I’m afraid you’re not going to enjoy yourself very much, but then I believe that’s the idea.

Okay. Well, it’s over to you, Adolf! And I’ll catch you all later at the barbecue. Bye!

From one of my favourite books of all time: Cassell Dictionary of Cynical Quotations (John Green – Cassel, 1994) with a few comments from the peanut gallery.

The first few are new here, but I then attend append – not sure what I was thinking – to the end of the post “Some light weekend contempt” (August 21 2009) and “Some (more) light weekend contempt” (October 25 2009) – because those quotes are mostly excellent, funny and timeless and I have good reason to believe you haven’t seen them before and I hope they delight you as much as they do me.

On the lead-up to May 18

People never lie so much as after a hunt, during a war or before an election.

Otto von Bismarck

Bad officials are elected by good citizens who do not vote.

George Jean Nathan


In general, we elect men of the type that subscribes to only one principle – to get re-elected.

Terry M. Townshend, speech 1940


Whatever politicians, activists and manipulators propose, it is the phlegmatic, indifferent, ingrained electorate which disposes.

Don Aitkin, quoted, 1969

On why I don’t trust democracy without extremely powerful systems of accountability and recall

What seems to be generosity is often only disguised ambition – which despises small interests to gain great ones.

Francois, Duc de La Rochefoucauld, Maxims 1665


There are hardly two Creatures of a more differing Species than the same Man, when he is pretending to a Place, and when he is in possession of it.

George Savile, Marquis of Halifax, Political, Moral and Miscellaneous Thoughts and Reflexions, c.1694


The higher a monkey climbs, the more you can see of his behind.

General ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell

On democracy’s ability to hide underlying power dynamics – and how it is invariably abused by the powerful

A democracy is a state which recognises the subjection of the minority to the majority, that is, an organisation for the systematic use of violence by one class against another, by one part of the population against another.

V. I. Lenin, The State and Revolution, 1917


Democracy is the name we give to the people each time we need them.

Robert, Marquis de Flers and Arman de Cavaillet, L’habit vert, 1912


Parliaments are the great lie of our times.

Konstantine Pobedonostsev, 1896

(Hmm, this reminds of something):

That a peasant may become king does not render the kingdom democratic.

Woodrow Wilson, 1917

On whose fault it is, anyway

Democracy is a device which ensures that we shall be governed no better than we deserve.

George Bernard Shaw


Democracy is a form of religion. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

H. L. Mencken, Sententiae, 1916

On the (slightly fascist) idea that in as far as democracy allows the views of ‘the average man and women’ to be the dominant view, it is an awful system of government

Now majority rule is a precious, sacred thing worth dying for. But like other precious, sacred things …. it’s not only worth dying for; it can make you wish you were dead. Imagine if all life were determined by majority rule. Every meal would be a pizza.

P. J. O’Rourke, Parliament of Whores, 1991


Democracy: a festival of mediocrity.

E. M. Cioran

The democratic disease which expresses its tyranny by reducing everything to the level of the herd.

Henry Miller, The Wisdom of the Heart, 1941


A man may have strong humanitarian and democratic principles, but if he happens to have been brought up as a bath-taking, shirt-changing lover of fresh air, he will have to overcome certain physical repugnances before he can bring himself to put these principles into practice.

Aldous Huxley, Jesting Pilate, 1926


An Honest politician will not be tolerated by a democracy unless he is very stupid … because only a very stupid man can honestly share the prejudices of more than half the nation.

Bertrand Russel, Presidential Address to LSE students, 1923

Some light weekend contempt

Our Democracy?

 Democracy gives every man the right to be his own oppressor.

James Russel Lowell

 

Democracy becomes a government of bullies, tempered by editors.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals, 1909 – 14

 

Democracy is the art of running the circus from the monkey cage.

H.L. Mencken, 1916

Jacob Zuma?

An honest politician is one who when he is bought will stay bought.

Simon Cameron, 1860

 

Cosatu?

It is a general error to suppose the loudest complainer for the public to be the most anxious for its welfare.

Edmund Burke – 1769

Hlope?

A judge is a lawyer who once knew a politician.

Anonymous

Steve Tswete?

A horrible voice, bad breath, and a vulgar manner – the characteristics of a popular politician.

Aristophanes

Obama?

Anybody that wants the presidency so much that he’ll spend two years organising and campaigning for it is not to be trusted with the office.

David Broder, in the Washington Post, 1973

Polokwane?

Revolution, n. In politics, an abrupt change in the form of misgovernment.

Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary, 1911

The SACP?

Every revolutionary ends up either by becoming an oppressor or a heretic.

Albert Camus, The Rebel, 1955

The DA?

What a liberal really wants is to bring about change that will not in any way endanger his position.

Stokeley Carmichael

Some (more) light weekend contempt

On the drift to the left in South African policy making:

When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators.

- P. J. O’Rourke

On certain young leaders in South African politics:

Fame is but the breath of the people, that is often unwholesome.

- Thomas Fuller 1732

On the much revered family of North American mythology – and a metaphor for the Ruling Alliance:

Sacred family! …. The supposed home of all the virtues, where innocent children are tortured into their first falsehoods, where wills are broken by parental tyranny, and self-respect smothered by crowded, jostling egos.

- August Strindberg 1886

On love – and the current state of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance:

The voyage of love is all the sweeter for an outside stateroom and a seat at the Captain’s table.

- Henry Haskins 1940

On the global debt crisis and the Great Recession?

What is robbing a bank compared with founding a bank?

- Bertolt Brecht 1928

or:

A bank is a place where they lend you an umbrella in fair weather and ask for it back when it begins to rain.

- Robert Frost

Hellen Zille?:

A woman can look both moral and exciting – if she looks as if it were quite a struggle.

- Edna Ferber 1954

Blade Nzimande:

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule it.

- H.L. Mencken 1956


For a brief time in the late 1980’s I had occasion to spend some time with Chris Hani, then Chief of Staff of the ANC’s uMkhonto we Sizwe and Secretary General of the South African Communist Party.

I was working for the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (IDASA) and a meeting between the ANC’s military and the South African Defence Force seemed like a natural extension and deepening of the work IDASA had done in putting the white establishment in contact with the ANC.

I met Chris several times in Lusaka where we prepared the agenda – and then, obviously, at the conference and several times afterwards.

He was an interesting guy – serious, charming and slightly too ready to tell me the story of how he travelled, through the underground, into danger, with Pliny, Virgil  and Shakespeare in his knapsack … I’m not perfectly sure of the actual authors and titles of the classics he carried, but the point was that he mentioned, more than once, that he did so.

I was already aware in those days of the depth of murderous gangsterism that had enveloped Joe Modise’s leadership of MK – a trend and tendency he took with him into Mandela’s first cabinet and helped set the ANC’s elite on the course for the destination it has reached.

Chris was the great hope for cleaning up Modise’s mess and he was also seen as an antidote to Thabo Mbeki’s technocratic shuttle-diplomacy.

I became aware while organising the conference that some ANC strategists were using the opportunity to show Chris Hani was just as charming and able to talk to whites as Mbeki.

I asked him, in my naivety, about the rumours that he and Mbeki were competitors. He convincingly, to my ears, pooh-poohed the idea saying that he and Thabo were like a tag team, each with his own strengths, but united in the identical goal – and further, he claimed, they were good friends as well.

I had no special intelligence to validate (or otherwise) this claim. Perhaps they were. Perhaps they would have been the A-Team of the post Mandela administration, balancing each other’s faults, playing to each other’s strengths. I know it’s unlikely, but it is difficult not to dream of how things might have been.

As it happened Chris was almost disturbingly charming and persuasive at the conference.

We only managed to get ex-SADF and Bantustan leaders as well as a whole lot of shady and not so shady military and arms dealer types on the domestic delegation.

I have reason to suspect that I might have brought the running dogs of the global arms trade along with that delegation and I often shudder at the thought that I might have played a role in helping the global arms corporations bury their deadly wasp eggs deep into the ANC, later to hatch and gorge themselves just carefully enough so that the host stays alive … but I comfort myself with the fact that Joe Modise had long since sold his and the ANC’s soul to the worst and most rapacious branch of global capitalism.

I remember watching Chris holding forth late one night; he stood behind two seated and coyly smiling white men with thick rugby players necks – there is a reason stereotypes are stereotypes! Chris had a hand on each of their shoulders and he was rubbing them as he spoke with languid and swelling rhythms, about the future of non-racialism and shared patriotism that awaited us.

The big white guys were in love; it gleamed out of their teary eyes and Chris had his head back and eyes closed like he was conducting an exorcism.

I don’t know if Chris Hani would have made a difference if he had lived.

Only a precious few have managed to resist the seemingly irresistible pull towards corruption and greed. You watch all of your friends and comrades become part of that system (the same system that laid its eggs in the ANC that would later hatch into the Arms Scandal and worse), the memory of the ideals that drove you become vague … everyone else is doing it, what is the point in me hanging on while they are all busy with the business of securing themselves for life?

It was Tokyo Sexwale who wept beside Chris Hani’s body on 10th April 1993 outside the house in Boksburg. There was something about Chris that reminds me of Tokyo Sexwale (who I do not know personally but seems to exude a similar charisma that makes one think of a suspiciously charming pirate).

Reading Mandy Wiener’s Killing Kebble over the weekend and getting the insight provided by Fikile Mbalula flattening a bottle of Johnny Walker Blue in Kebble’s home … Mbalula and his ANC Youth League comrades treating the servants with extreme arrogance, trashing the house like spoiled children … it is difficult not to be filled with a sense of loss and longing.

Mbalula was 9 18 (oops) years old when I sat with Chris Hani in Lusaka planning how best to drive wedges into Apartheid’s army and win any potential enemies to our side.

I don’t know for sure what he would have thought of this thrust to catapult the “new generation” of leadership into power in 2012 – including, horrifyingly, Fikile Mbalula for Secretary General.

But I suspect he would have drawn the line here. The ANC is not yet in the hands of  Mbalula and his cronies – who are so reminiscent of Joe Modise, only slightly more refined.

There have always been heroes in the liberation movement who fought the tendency towards cronyism and rent-seeking abuse. I thought Chris Hani was in the process of becoming one of those when I worked with him in the late 80’s.

Like James Dean and Jesus Christ, Chris Hani’s virtues are frozen as an historical artefact.

There is a part of me that is relieved he will never be tried and found wanting.

(Note: my friend the fabulous artist Isabel Thompson helped organise that conference and my fellow Bruce Springsteen fan and mentor to so many of us Gavin Evans took the pics and posted them on facebook which is where I found them.)

Our leaders dancing for our votes reminds me of a poem Michael Ondaatje wrote called The Elimination Dance. A version of this dance appears in cultures and countries around the world.

The rules are that a caller shouts out particular categories of people or people who have undergone a particular experience. When you are called  you must leave the dance floor immediately.

There is no hidden political message – apart from the last line … and the silly part of myself that wishes they would all get off the stage –  it was just an excuse to use the composite picture I just made and because I thought the poem might charm and delight some of you.

The quotes in the beginning are placed by Ondaatje himself in the original poem:

Elimination Dance (an intermission) by Michael Ondaatje

‘Nothing I’d read prepared me for a body this unfair’
JOHN NEWLOVE

‘Toll we be roten, kan we not rypen’
GEOFFREY CHAUCER

Those who are allergic to the sea

Those who have resisted depravity

Men who shave off beards in stages, pausing to take photographs

American rock stars who wear Toronto Maple Leaf hockey sweaters

Those who (while visiting a foreign country) have lost the end of a Q-tip in their ear and have been unable to explain their problem

Gentlemen who have placed a microphone beside a naked woman’s stomach after lunch and later, after slowing down the sound considerably, have sold these noises on the open market as whale songs

All actors and poets who spit into the first row while they perform

Men who fear to use an electric lawn-mower feeling they could drowse off and be dragged by it into a swimming pool

Any dinner guest who has consumed the host’s missing contact lens along with the dessert

Any person who has had the following dream. You are in a subway station of a major city. At the far end you see a coffee machine. You put in two coins. The Holy Grail drops down. Then blood pours into the chalice.

Any person who has lost a urine sample in the mail

All those belle-lettrists who feel that should have been ‘an urine sample’

Anyone who has had to step into an elevator with all of the Irish Rovers

Those who have filled in a bilingual and confidential pig survey from Statistics Canada. (Une enquệte sur les porcs, strictement confidentielle)

Those who have written to the age old brotherhood of Rosicrucians for a free copy of their book ‘The Mastery of Life’ in order to release the inner consciousness and to experience (in the privacy of the home) momentary flights of consciousness

Those who have accidentally stapled themselves

Anyone who has been penetrated by a mountie

Any university professor who has danced with a life-sized cardboard cut-out of Jean Genet

Those who have unintentionally locked themselves within a sleeping bag at a camping goods store

Any woman whose i.u.d. has set off an alarm system at the airport

Those who, after a swim, find the sensation of water dribbling out of their ears erotic

Men who have never touched a whippet

Women who gave up the accordian because of pinched breasts

Those who have pissed out of the back of moving trucks

Those who have woken to find the wet footprints of a peacock across their kitchen floor

Anyone whose knees have been ruined as a result of performing sexual acts in elevators

Those who have so much as contemplated the possibility of creeping up to one’s enemy with two Bic lighters, pressing simultaneously the butane switches— one into each nostril— and so gassing him to death

Literary critics who have swum the Hellespont

Anyone who has been hired as a ‘professional beater’ and frightened grouse in the direction of the Queen Mother

Any lover who has gone into a flower shop on Valentine’s Day and asked for clitoris when he meant clematis

Those who have come across their own telephone numbers underneath terse insults or compliments in the washroom of the Bay Street Bus Terminal

Those who have used the following techniques of seduction:
-small talk at a falconry convention
-entering a spa town disguised as Ford Madox Ford
-making erotic rotations of the pelvis, backstage, during the storm scene of King Lear
-underlining suggestive phrases in the prefaces of Joseph Conrad

Anyone who has testified as a character witness for a dog in a court of law

Any writer who has been photographed for the jacket of a book in one of the following poses: sitting in the back of a 1956 Dodge with two roosters; in a tuxedo with the Sydney Opera House in the distance; studying the vanishing point on a jar of Dutch Cleanser; against a gravestone with dramatic back lighting; with a false nose on; in the vicinity of Macchu Pichu; or sitting in a study and looking intensely at one’s own book

The person who borrowed my Martin Beck thriller, read it in a sauna which melted the glue off the spine so the pages drifted to the floor, stapled them together and returned the book, thinking I wouldn’t notice

Any person who has burst into tears at the Liquor Control Board

Anyone with pain

Has anything changed?

The guy in the middle is the ANC and his lying entreaties are addressed to Cosatu and the SACP while his real passion – and the furtive fumbling in the dark – are with business, global and domestic.

I commissioned that cartoon in 1999 and Cathy Quickfall did a better job than I could have hoped for: the Cosatu/SACP figure’s naive and hurt innocence, still wanting to trust Mr ANC; business in a sharp suit, her disdainful look into the distance with just the busy hand behind her back revealing her urgent and furtive intent.

In the intervening 11 years I have used this same cartoon on several occasions (here’s one) to ask whether the game has changed.

I believe this is still the game: the ANC’s vacillation between a “left” agenda (consisting of a combination of growing state welfare, increasing effective taxation on the wealthy and expanded intervention into shaping the economy’s trajectory) versus the promise (made more strongly in private) to global and local capital that it’s rights to property and the retention of the large share of profits are inviolate.

All governments are faced with a similar dilemma, but it is a peculiarly South African phenomenon that the “left” agenda is married to the ruling party through the formal institution of the Ruling Alliance and that the political choices have, for clear historical and structural reasons, been cast in ‘racial’ as opposed to ‘class’ terms.

The cartoon as constructed worked perfectly well for the end of the Mandela era as well as the whole of the Mbeki era – even if, in typical soap opera fashion, the relationships became so complicated and entagled that the essential nature of the clandestine affair became difficult to percieve.

The analytical challenge  for myself for 2011 will be to establish whether it holds true today.

There are indicators, including vaguely in the January the 8th statement and government murmurings about the New Growth Path, that hint that the grand French style affair might be coming to an end.

The rise of Jacob Zuma was, in part, the result of a tactical manoeuvre by Cosatu and the SACP to stop the deepening and elaboration of the affair between the ANC and some of the uglier strands of global capitalism.

The strategy seemed to fail when the Zuma administration appeared initially to be all about continuity of Mbeki’s economic policies combined with replacing his BEE beneficiaries with the Nkandla Crew – the worst of both worlds.

I am starting to suspect that a combination of the strategic choices that have been forced on Zuma (by manoeuvrings to his right) and the absolute imperative that the ANC increase delivery to the poorest South Africans (who are the majority of voters) bring us closer to the breaking of the triangle that the cartoon represents than we have been since 1994.

I will continue to gnaw at the bones of this question in this blog and I welcome any contribution you might make to this or any other discussion that takes place here.

My sister was a famous model and in that capacity was invited to judge the Miss World competition at Sun City in 1995.

She asked me to accompany her as her official partner for a whole weekend of glitzy celebration and judging.

My famous and beautiful sister Josie Borain who was the first major contract model with Calvin Klein

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The event was interesting to me for a number of different reasons but the only aspect that might apply to a column on politics and investment risk is the astonishing effect that being treated as a celebrity can have on one’s moral and intellectual soul.

I had been living alone on a farm in the Southern Cape for 5 years when Josie invited me to accompany her to the competition.

I had spent the 1980’s involved in “the struggle” in various capacities. By 1990 I’d had enough and I left politics and my myriad comrades and friends as they got on with the business of negotiating the peace and then running the country.

Of course I had some contact from afar with previous friends, but those who had  moved into the ethereal realms of Mandela’s first cabinet seemed to have been lifted body and soul out of the social networks they had previously occupied .

I would only meet again those of my old friends who had become senior politicians in government a year and a half after the Miss World competition when I returned to ‘civilisation’ to become a father and take up a permanent position as a political analyst for a Cape Town based investment broker.

At the Miss World competition we stayed in the The Palace of the Lost City at Sun City (a big step for me because we had spent the 1980’s promoting the boycott of the resort that was built in the then bantustan of Bophuthatswana).

The point I wanted to make about all of this is that from early morning to late at night the organisers of the event and the hotel treated me as if I was a celebrity. It was a peculiar but not altogether unpleasant experience. I couldn’t walk out of my room without a dapper assistant type person reaching for my arm to accompany me to waiting  vehicles or parties of fabulously beautiful women sipping at drinks.

Every second of the day there was someone right beside me nodding with interest at everything I said and did. Everything was paid for. It was like being in a dream where the lights swirl around you and you are the centre of the attention of some vast organisation of doormen, waiters and compliant and beautiful people.

An air-conditioned limousine (there really is such a thing – it is not just a cliché in bad spy novels) delivered me to Jan Smuts airport for my trip back to the farm after the celebrations were finally over.

What I remember most vividly about the whole weekend was standing alone with my bag just in the entrance to the airport.

“Hello!” I might have thought shrilly to myself . “Excuse me? I’m here – where the hell is everybody?”

Two years later I met again, mostly in their formal capacities, my previous friends who had become ministers and deputy ministers, ambassadors and persons of similar august standing in society.

I was never shocked and surprised at the grandiosity and extraordinary pomposity most of them came to exhibit.

I have since sat around tables with men I had previously watched fight Apartheid police with their fists and feet and watched as they lean back from the table, eyes closed, their voices drawling as their massive new brains formulate positions that keep all of those present silent as the great man speaks.

I have sat with ambassadors at formal dinners where the guest are subjected to a reading by the said ambassador of  her extremely bad poetry. We all sit in silence and most nod in awed approval.

This is a different world they inhabit.

Their whole lives, every moment of the waking day, is spent surrounded by a system that takes them extremely seriously. They travel first class and they are met at the plane by luxury vehicles driven by people trained to give the impression that this is the most precious cargo they have ever carried.

Everyone they interact with confirms the lived reality that they are, in fact, a different kind of person: cleverer, more interesting and more valuable.

There is often a faux gentleness and compassion that goes along with this kind of celebrity. When someone with whom you might once have thrown stones at the police as you dodged through billowing clouds of tear gas puts her hand on your arm and looks into your eyes and says “we really appreciate the work you are doing” you don’t screw up your face and ask “what work?” You just nod.

I believe there is something intrinsically harmful to ourselves and our society in the way we elevate our politicians. I recommend taking every opportunity to deflate the individuals, prick the bubble that we have surrounded them with.

I do not think it is inevitable that politicians, ministers or even super models become pompous wind bags but I can name very few who have escaped the corroding effects of celebrity and power.

I still see Jeremy Cronin flying with real people on the plane and chatting like a normal human being (what will we do if that stalwart ever goes over to the dark side?)

And my lovely sister Josie seems to have escaped with her humility and charm intact – although I rather suspect that is because even as whole restaurants full of New Yorkers would break into spontaneous applause as she entered in the 1980’s she never quite lost the sense that there had been some huge and embarrassing mistake – one she was just too polite and sweet to correct.

*from the poem: Heron Rex by Michael Ondaatje in  The Cinnamon Peeler – Selected Poems – 1989 … my long time favourite collection of poetry.

Ruling alliance in happier times

Commentators and politicians are outdoing themselves announcing either the end or the permanence of the ANC/SACP/Cosatu alliance.

This is Jacob Zuma on the subject – at the Kwazulu-Natal ANC General Council on Friday:

I have read so many alliance obituaries. If leaders express their views, people think that we are fighting … The alliance will be with us for a very long time. (Catch that here)

And this is my (humble) opinion on the subject:

This strike –  as a culmination of other things but also in and of itself – is the death knell for the ruling alliance. (Catch that here)

This business about claiming that the alliance is about to break or will last until the Second Coming is something of a secret code for insiders in the political analysis business. “Insiders” are smugly convinced that the tripartite alliance benefits its constituent elements and these constituents will therefore never leave – and we love to use the analogy of a marriage where the couple fights endlessly but is bound by children, finances and habit so tightly that the partners will be together until death parts them.* I discuss some of the ties that bind here.

“Outsiders” – including those who have never belonged to any of the organisations concerned, as well as foreigners and supporters of parliamentary opposition parties – listen to the noise coming out of  ‘the alliance’ and they take the noise-makers at their word: the alliance is heading for the rocks; it is obvious to anyone with eyes and ears.

The “outsiders” have it.

Philosophically, I am one of those who believes we are what we do. Thus, it is not what Zuma, or Malema or Nzimande or Vavi claim, it is what they, and their organisations, do that counts.

The ruling alliance is not, primarily, a name. It is a description of a shared history, set of values and, most importantly, an accepted set of policies and an agreed upon process for deciding about such policies; and is also the formal forums and organisational structures through which such decisions are taken and implemented.

The only thing of significance that “the ruling alliance” did was throw Mbeki out of office and replace him with Jacob Zuma. Everything that has happened since needs to be seen through the “you are what you do” prism. The constituent organisations have done nothing together except violently disagree, actively try to undermine each other (and each other’s leadership ) – and they have agreed upon nothing and done nothing in concert.

Except for the media appeals tribunal (catch my criticism of Jeremy Cronin’s defence of that here) which, bizarrely, is the single thing that the ANC, the SACP and Cosatu have agreed upon – although Cosatu is wavering even on this as the damage done by the public sector wage strike to their relationship with the ANC deepens and intensifies.

It is as if they are saying: “We (as ‘the alliance’) have nothing to offer – but we have a plan to slap anyone down who point that out.” Frankly, I am not surprised.

* (note) What the “Insiders” are actually referring to is a sense of identity invested in the struggle against Apartheid under the broad leadership of the ANC and, crucially,  that traces its ideological lineage through to the “Congress Movement” – from the United Democratic Front, the Natal Indian Congress, South African Congress of Trade Unions, the South African Communist Party, the Congress of Democrats, the Transvaal Indian Congress and the African National Congress.

(Hmm, I am adding this half an hour after posting the above, just to make myself as clear as I am able, and in case anyone missed the point: If the structures don’t exist, if the decisions are not taken or implemented, if there is real and intense conflict over policy then ‘the alliance’ has already ended – and it makes no difference what the various leaders and commentators say. This is the de facto situation, even if it is still possible to argue that, de jure, the alliance continues on and on.)

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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