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Doesn’t the Julius Malema saga feel so familiar?
Remember how the Jacob Zuma campaign seemed to transform each new obstacle placed in his path into fuel for his political train that eventually steamed triumphant into Polokwane in December 2007?
The fact that he was known far and wide as hopelessly incapable of moderating his sexual behaviour and as being on the take from, at least, Shabir Shaik, seemed to make almost no difference to the eventual outcome … unless the legal and other processes to charge him actually strengthened his claim to the presidency.
He was the victim of Mbeki’s shenanigans and he was heading a column of pro-poor ANC alliance cadres that were coming to take the ANC back from the pro-monopoly capital “1996 class project” – and every deed or word against that was coming from the privileged few defending their privilege. The marching column was irresistible and Polokwane was its destiny. Or at least that was the narrative that seemed to win out.
With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that Zuma’s success was all about momentum – and its inevitability is a post hoc construction.
I remember a movie from my childhood where the hero escapes almost certain death (it was either Indiana Jones or one of the Bonds ) by running across about fifty metres of crocodile infested waters by … yes, you guessed it: stepping on the back of each starving crocodile but with such speed that he was on his way to the next one before they snapped at him or sunk.*
That is probably a better metaphor for Zuma’s perilous progress towards Polokwane than the one that has him steaming towards that conference as if it was his manifest destiny. The second post of this blog was called The Accidental President and in it I argued that Zuma’s presidency was a result of an unlikely set of circumstances and he was not a character that many could have previously imagined in the role.
On closer examination it becomes clear that Zuma, on several occasions, almost crashed and burned – and came close to going to prison. Ultimately it was only the forward momentum of his campaign that allowed him to escape the snapping crocodiles at his heals.
In fact, I would put it even more strongly: for Jacob Zuma the only way to avoid ignominy and prison was to win the presidency.
And that is where the comparison with Julius Malema becomes so compelling – especially in his weekend attempt to boost the Economic Freedom in Our Lifetime campaign into the mouths and minds of the genuinely marginalised and poverty-stricken in places like Diepsloot and Bantu Bonke.
Just as his disciplinary hearing comes to a head.
Just as his questionable personal finances start to be ‘put to the question’ by various authorities.
Just as he prepares to lead the marches on the Chamber of Mines and the Johannesburg Stock Exchange.
He told those audiences: “They [the whites] found us here. They did not bring any land nor did they bring any minerals.”
And: “”We are here for every one of you. We will not rest until you stop worrying about where your next meal will come from.”
Woven into every word and phrase is the argument that the incumbent leadership of the ANC has failed the poor. That Julius Malema’s fight against Jacob Zuma is actually a fight to have the needs of the poor and dispossessed met.
Can Julius Malema, engorged as he and his comrades apparently are from sucking the marrow from the bones of Limpopo’s (amongst others)
public purse skeletal public finances (some bad metaphors are impossible to fix – ed) hope to pull off this audacious argument?
Clearly he can.
Clearly he is betting on himself to be sitting up in the cab of a triumphant train steaming into Mangaung; to have turned all obstacles aside and spun the narrative of the little guy standing up against the incumbents, standing up for the poor and dispossessed.
The parallels are not perfect. Julius Malema is not the apex of a push for the presidency of the ANC – he is too young, untested and controversial to aspire to those lofty heights this time around. He is rather part of the campaign of other powerful contenders – although he hopes to be nested near the centre of a new ruling configuration of the ANC.
Finally, Zuma had the backing of the SACP, Cosatu and a host of ANC democrats exhausted by Mbeki’s stale centralism – as well as a swathe of aspirant BEE wannabes who felt excluded from the previous gravy train.
Julius Malema (and those who hope to benefit from his campaigning) have nothing like the mighty alliance of those disaffected by Mbeki’s presidency.
After yesterday’s radical cabinet reshuffle and Zuma’s apparent ability to reinvent himself as an anti-corruption and responsive president I would have to bet on the incumbents and against the invaders at the castle gate.
This is the week, however, when Malema’s gamble will either pay off or fail. On Wednesday his disciplinary hearing resumes. On Thursday and Friday the marches on the JSE and the Chamber of Mines will take place.
This is not an accident of timing.
This is about planning, planning by individuals and groups with large appetites for risk – especially when the prize is so rich and the price of failure so high.
*I have a terrible feeling that someone has used that metaphor for Zuma’s march to Polokwane before … so let me apologise in advance if I stole it … and while on the textual commentary – I found this in Wikipedia while trying to check if the image had, in fact, been used for Polokwane before:
“Ross Kanaga as James Bond used four crocodiles as stepping stones to reach safety on the other side. Kananga, who owned the crocodile farm seen in the film, and after whom the main villain is named, did the stunt five times wearing the same crocodile skin shoes as his character had chosen to wear. During the fourth attempt, the last crocodile bit through the shoe and into his foot.The fifth attempt is one seen on film, with the tied-down crocodiles snapping at his feet as he passed over them.”
Two brief thoughts – on a rainy Cape Town Sunday:
Firstly – a by-product of Malema’s (possible) retreat
I have a feeling that debates ranging from mine nationalisation, land distribution and continued white economic dominance in the South African economy have just been saved from the gangsters in the ANC Youth League who have been using these as a cover for looting.
It has been difficult not to lump every statement about ongoing race based inequality with the smokescreen slogans used by the ANC Youth League leadership – and many equally corrupt politicians.
The latest Commission of Employment Equity Annual Report says whites still occupy 73.1 percent of top management positions – and blacks 12.7, Indians 6.8 and coloureds 4.6? Yeah, well they would say that wouldn’t they – after all, that is (one of) Jimmy Manyi’s old outfits and he is the grandmaster of running racial interference for pillaging resources destined for development!
Willing-seller, willing buyer policy of land distribution responsible for only 5 percent of redistribution targets met? Yeah, well, guess who are trying to get themselves a portfolio of farms a la Zanu-PF?
Nationalise the mines? Yeah, so you can rescue your BEE backers and get a piece of the action yourself?
But that was last week.
Those issues are back on the agenda, but this time the discussion might be led by people genuinely looking to harness the country’s resources for development and transformation – not looters, corrupt tenderpreneurs and “demagogic populists” disguising their true intentions.
If anyone thought we could go on with the levels of unemployment, inequality, poverty and racially skewed distribution of ownership and control of this economy I suspect they will find they have been very much mistaken.
One of the consequences of the retreat of the Malema agenda is that we will all have to deal with the issues we have, up until now, been able to dismiss or deflect because they were ‘owned” and propagated by thugs.
Itumeleng Mahabane says it like it is
In a similar vein – and my favourite read of the week – was Itumeleng Mahabane’s column in Friday’s Business Day.
He deals with a variety of aspects of the country’s debates about development and transformation.
In tones that have been tightly stripped – of anger, I suspect – Mahabane appeals for the debate to lose the “prejudicial invectives” and that participants should “desist from creating cardboard villains”.
He makes 4 main points (actually he makes a whole lot more, and it is not impossible that I misinterpret him here – and he is certainly more subtle and nuanced than my summary below – so read the original column – the link again.)
Firstly he suggests (although in the form of a question, not the statement as I have it here) that we have to acknowledge the damage our Apartheid past has done our country, leaving “the inequity of our income distribution and the historic systematic destruction of black capability”.
Secondly he hints that the state cannot assume more economic responsibility before we have fixed accountability – and thereby arrested corruption.
Thirdly he appeals for a sophistication of our views on the labour market – I think by suggesting that a degree of duality is crucial.
But, he warns:
I do not subscribe to the simplistic and questionable idea that the inability to hire and fire people is the core cause of structural unemployment. The balanced high growth would create demand for labour, regardless of labour rigidity.
Fourthly he asked us analysts why:
we casually, without considering the social implications, vilify workers and the working class, making them useful villains for complex economic challenges? We almost never give view to the body of evidence that shows that market rigidity and anticompetitive behaviour is a significant factor in deterring investment and output and that, in fact, it contributes to SA’s excessive business and skilled-labour rents.
Those are important views – and an important corrective to aspects of our debate about development.
I am back from my travels where I spent much time discussing the ANC Youth League’s “nationalisation of mines” call with investors.
The long and the short of my views are that I don’t think the ANC will decide to nationalise the mines at its December 2012 elective conference in Mangaung. I do, however, think the ANC will attempt to use the populist surge to beat a better deal out of the miners (in terms of the companies’ social obligations, obligations to contribute to infrastructure development as well as the likely imposition as a special tax on windfall profits.)
However I also think that markets will remain anxious about nationalisation and will tend to counter-track the rise and fall of Malema’s personal fortunes.
With this in mind I think the Youth League and its President are in a degree of trouble.
Monday morning one time radio show host, sometime actor and columnist Eric Miyeni was published in the Sowetan saying of Ferial Haffejee, editor of City Press:
Who the devil is she anyway if not a black snake in the grass, deployed by white capital to sow discord among blacks? In the 80s she’d probably have had a burning tyre around her neck.
That evening ANC Youth League spokesman Floyd Shivambu sent out a statement that read:
The ANC Youth League agrees with Eric Miyeni’s column … He should continue to be an honest, fearless activist who speaks his mind and not fall into the trap of those who blindly support interests of apartheid beneficiaries.
On Sunday Julius Malema accused President Ian Khama of Botswana of being “a foot stool of imperialism, a security threat to Africa and always under constant puppetry of the United States” and further that the “ANC Youth League will also establish a Botswana command team, which will work towards uniting all oppositional forces in Botswana to oppose the puppet regime”.
On Tuesday Jackson Mthembu, ANC spokesman, said:
The ANC would like to totally reject and publicly rebuke the ANCYL on its extremely thoughtless and embarrassing pronouncements on ‘regime change’ in Botswana … This insult and disrespect to the President (Honourable Ian Khama), the government and the people of Botswana and a threat to destabilize and effect regime change in Botswana is a clear demonstration that the ANCYL’s ill discipline has clearly crossed the political line.
Surely we are into injury time by now – even the jellyfish Zuma leadership must have reached the end of its tolerance?
Two weeks ago previous key backer Tokyo Sexwale described Malema as a “loud-mouth young man”. Even Malema’s long term defender Mathews Phosa appeared to agree that the nationalisation debate had been handled badly and that the ANC had “dropped the ball” with regard to reconciliation and nation building.
Does this not leave Julius defended by only his organisation and a few wannabe intellectuals of the Miyeni stripe ?
Malema does not head an army of disenfranchised, unemployed and angry black youth. He has courted this crucial fraction of our society – usually as a deployed voice of the ANC itself – but in reality he lives a life of the überflash, so far removed from the unemployed and disenfranchised that his claims to the contrary smack of the worst and most dangerous forms of manipulative populism.
Markets should interpret what is happening as serious headwinds for the “Malema agenda” and that means much of the sound and fury will be removed from the nationalisation debate … a good thing for our politics and our economy.
Arrived late last night in New York from London (and Edinburgh and Frankfurt) and the lag means I am only going to want to fall asleep at exactly the time it will be most unsuitable to do so.
I have been travelling (for Indian owned Religare Capital Markets, where I have a new berth) with the excellent Michael Kavanagh who is a mining and metals specialists. We have a story which interestingly balances the South African political risk (especially associated with nationalisation) and the long-term bullish outlook for platinum. We are half way through a global tour talking to fund managers who specialise in investing either in mining stocks or emerging markets … or both.
South Africans at the point of weeping and pulling their hair out because of the latest ANC Youth League posture, or the newest tender scandal or Jacob Zuma’s increasingly hopeless grasp on the complexities need to spend a little time with people whose job it is to compare South Africa as an investment destination with its peers.
Oh yes, they worry faintly about Julius Malema’s antics but their universe of comparison is huge and diverse … and if the worst comes to the worst the money they manage can shift very easily and early.
(Our parochialism causes us to believe) we have no-one with whom to compare our populists, gangsters, thugs and incompetents.
Trust me (or rather trust the fund managers with whom I have been speaking), ours are no worse than the equivalents in Russia, Brazil, India, China … and a host of similar investment destinations between which the money flicks and flitters.
One of my slides that might not charm a domestic audience causes nothing more than a wry smile here. This is par for the course for investors who concentrate on global emerging markets; some light relief before going back to worrying about whether Israel is going to bomb the Iranian nuclear fuels development programme or not.
We might as well smile – both because we are not as bad as we could be, but also because when you look further than the grotesque, our earnestness is almost sweet and crazy … to my mind, anyway.
I think both the DA and the ANC might be on the verge of an evolutionary spurt that will change what they are and thus see them shifting into new ecological niches in our political landscape.
I also think that the landscape itself changes much slower than we think or hope.
arism is a term for a species of political error – and I dredge this up from the gleaming days of my youthful involvement in the ‘mass democratic movement’ in South Africa. The taxonomic system we developed for naming and defining ‘mistaken beliefs’ was tiresomely thorough and self-righteous, but I have to confess that I still dip into that frame of reference and find there useful analogies and ways of understanding the world.
arism means believing that through pure force of will, cleverness of organisation, brilliance of strategy, accuracy of tactics and shear hope, anything could be achieved no matter what the inherent conditions.
I am convinced that the Democratic Alliance foray into the townships and squatter camps is either a form of volunt
arism or it will result in the DA becoming something else entirely – and ultimately something very similar to what the ANC has become.
This somewhat pessimistic view of politics is based on the assumption that politicians and political parties do not have a free hand to sell what they like to whoever (whomever?) they like.
The racial divide in South Africa and the racial solidarity of the groups which face each other across that divide is a deep structural phenomenon and not a casual consumer preference.
When Julius Malema talks about “the Madam and her tea girl” referring to DA chief Helen Zille and the DA MP and national spokesperson Lindiwe Mazibuko he finds a resonance.
This ‘resonance’ is not something created by clever marketing and it is also not something that can be got rid of like Vodacom changing its colours from blue to red.
Groups of people, their ideology, culture and attitudes can be changed – particularly in the powerfully denaturing environment of modern industrial cities. This is how an African peasantry became the urban proletariat of South Africa’s modern capitalism. And it was this process that created the possibility of an ANC that represented all black Africans in the country and not just specific tribal groups.
But do not overestimate the power and speed of this process. Think of the ethnic boroughs in New York; think of the Xhosa/Zulu tussle in the ANC and think of the unbridgeable divide between the black and white experience in South Africa.
South Africa’s history, including colonialism and Apartheid, has a powerful momentum in our lives today. I think this means that the hope that the DA with more black faces and branches (but essentially the same ideology , structure and principles) could make a serious electoral challenge will remain just that – a hope.
A party still called the Democratic Alliance could displace the ANC, but only by becoming something very similar to its foe i.e. led by black people with a history of opposition to Apartheid and primarily about redressing the past, directing state resources to benefit black people and channelling wealth towards the emerging black elite.
The “rump” of the DA are good old white liberals (in the best sense of the word) who have their ideological roots in the closing years of Apartheid.
A party with such a “rump” will never (in any time frame that could be relevant to us) represent a majority of black South Africans – even urban professionals, even a significant minority. To represent those people the DA would have to be of those people, run by those people and be an instrument to further the interests of those people.
I do think urban African professionals are in the process of defecting, with disgust, from the ANC.
But I will be looking for a Movement for Democratic Change lookalike (to the ANC’s ZANU-PF) to emerge from the South African political dynamic.
That ultimately means I am still looking for an organised defection by the industrial working class and their middle class allies that will emerge from a split in the Ruling Alliance – that would probably put Cosatu on one side and the ANC on another.
On this basis the ANC could lose control of the cities to a political formation like the MDC - although not one that could be portrayed, as the MDC has been by ZANU-PF and by the ANC (which can already sense the threat), as having been funded and set up by white farmers and other ‘enemies of national liberation’.
There is a part of me that hopes I am wrong … that we have it within ourselves to escape the awful gravity of our history; that we really are free to choose our future.
My view, however, is that the choices we do have are all within a narrow band of possibilities confined by the deep structural features of our past and present.
Thus the ecology of our society and our politics remains the same – or at least changes extremely slowly – but the creatures that inhabit the landscape are modified by natural selection and drift and displace each other in the niches that are available to them.
(My next post will deal with the question of what the ANC is becoming as it changes its niche as the party narrows and shifts – geographically, ideologically and socially.)
This added after publication:
The über-troll of South African political analysis R.W. Johnson added this gentle corrective to the version of the above article published on Politicsweb: “Am I the only person astonished by the fact that Mr Borain can’t spell voluntarism ?” He’s quite right about this – as he is about so much – although he is usually also interesting. He was, appropriately, hanging out with the racist bullies in Politicsweb’s comments section, so I shouldn’t be terribly surprised at his sneering tone.
The word is voluntarism (not volunterism, as I originally had it … I got it wrong because I mistakenly thought ‘we’ had made it up and I could therefore spell it as I pleased) and it means: “any theory that regards will as the fundamental agency or principle, in metaphysics, epistemology, or psychology” – from Dictionary.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org to point out any mistakes I missed – or to engage me about the article.)
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 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.
As the cannonade and sharp retorts of the Municipal Election become deafening, it strikes me how alike are elections and wars.
Both these human endeavours are faced with comparable technological, communication, infrastructural and personnel challenges.
Generals preparing for war and political leaders for elections have this in common:
- They must have a game plan and clear objectives, including a realistic view of the chances of success and the costs involved in achieving objectives.
- There must be lots of money available.
- They must have a clear understanding of the enemy and the enemy’s resources and capabilities.
- They must have precise information about the terrain upon which the battles will take place and the loyalties of the citizens who inhabit that terrain.
- They must have a complex and balanced organisation at their disposal which contains the full capabilities and capacities that might be required – from senior management down to foot-soldiers, and encompassing every specialist skill that might be applicable to the proposed campaign as well as the most varied arsenal possible.
- They must have systems of supply and replenishment – allowing funds and resources to flow to where they are needed.
- They must have a system of communicating to every level of the force and auxiliary services;
- They must have a system of communicating to the world and general public not directly involved in the war.
I suspect one could search for more complex similarities, but the issue of interest to me is how both elections and war require – or cause, I am not sure which - propaganda and distortion of the truth.
We have all heard the notion: “The first casualty in war is the truth” – (Aeschylus 525 BC – 456 BC) and it is apparent listening to what the principal players in our election say of themselves and each other that “the truth” seems infinitely elastic and vague.
The most obvious contravention of the rules of engagement have been Julius Malema’s comments in Kimberly over the weekend: “We must take the land without paying. They took our land without paying. Once we agree they stole our land, we can agree they are criminals and must be treated as such.”
But Malema is just a weapon that gets deployed in the battle, and I doubt any one army in this conflict is innocent of the impulse to use every single weapon in its arsenal.
And we shouldn’t be surprised.
For the strategists and generals are up to their necks in the campaign, it is all they think about, all day and all night, sleeping, eating and on the toilet. As the final day comes closer, every possible advantage, every weakness of the enemy, every inch of ground, every weapon in the arsenal … becomes important and worthy of exploitation.
A kind of frenzy takes over the leadership and all caution or higher feeling gets brushed aside.
It’s win at all costs … and that is pretty much where we are right now.
And that is the problem.
In nine days time we are all going to look up from the carnage and find a world very slightly changed by the battle that has been fought.
It is only myopic politicians and generals who could possibly believe their little war/election justified the distortions and propaganda they have deployed.
What happens when we define ‘the enemy’ in terms that would justify shooting them down like mad dogs in the street?
I have often felt that the terms of our political debate are too extreme – from all sides of the political spectrum.
The idea or assertion that the government, the state and the ruling party is made up of an undifferentiated herd, squealing and grunting at the trough, might be rhetorically satisfying, but it’s wrong and not designed to foster our democracy.
But a more serious problem is emerging as the a Ruling Alliance, feeling threatened and burdened, has started characterising all forms of opposition as driven by white capitalists full of nostalgia for Apartheid.
The best example I can find is contained in Blade Nzimande’s Chris Hani Memorial Lecture.
Nzimande makes explicit something that is being articulated from every part of the Ruling Alliance – and it is important not to dismiss his words as part of a “loony left” view.
Nzimande defines two enemies of freedom, democracy, national liberation and “our revolution and its objectives”. These enemies are:
- The new tendency including tenderpreneurship and the general danger of business interests within our broad movement overrunning and defeating the revolution
- The anti-majoritarian liberal tendency
The first one is clearly ‘the enemy within’ – tenderpreneurs and similar – and in this he might be supported by the DA.
But in the lead-up to the municipal election, it is the second enemy and how “it” is defined that is of interest to me.
This is the essence of it pulled out as quotes and paraphrasing from the lecture:
Firstly, the Democratic Alliance and the print media are the organised representatives of the enemy.
Thus: … there is a “liberal offensive against the majoritarian character of our democracy” that with “growing arrogance and strident nature” is “pushed by the likes of the DA” but mainly conducted by its “principal ideological platform and mouthpiece … South Africa’s mainstream print media”.
Secondly, the enemy consists largely of previous beneficiaries of Apartheid:
In fact the (anti-majoritarian) liberal agenda seeks to defend, protect and advance the interests of the white capitalist class and the petty bourgeoisie, without explicitly saying so like during the era of the racist apartheid regime; and yet in a manner not different from white minority rule, but in conditions of black majority rule!
Finally, the main strategy of this enemy is to get the state to stop supporting the poor and instead make it (the state) an instrument for making capitalists richer still.
At the heart of the liberal offensive is the objective of weakening the capacity of the state to act in the interests of the overwhelming majority of the workers and the poor … In addition such state intervention in favor of the capitalist or local ruling elites … undertake(s) further measures (like repression and destruction of the trade union movement, especially its progressive components) in order to ensure that the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist relations of production are strengthened.
Believing your own propaganda
Like all effective propaganda these characterisations by the Ruling Alliance - here expressed in the mostly pseudo-intellectual terms of Marxist Leninism – rely on packaging elements of truth with confirmations of people’s lived experience – at the same time confirming their prejudices and fears.
In this universe a Media Appeals Tribunal or the disruption of a DA rally in Mamelodi are minor acts of resistance against an evil and dangerous invader.
The lie that the DA only represents Apartheid nostalgia equals the lie that the ANC is only a platform for pillaging the state.
Both characterisations leave the protagonists stranded on their high horses beyond the frontiers, with no roads back and no options but to push forward into the night.
The raging race debate forces me to think about how we become culpable.
I came across an obscene argument the other day. Perhaps you have seen something similar?
It went like this: the Japanese are reaping what they have sown; the earthquake, the tsunamis, the nuclear threat and the unseasonal blizzards in the north are a karmic balancing for the killing of whales and the popularity of whale meat amongst the Japanese citizenry.
Think about this.
But first control for the sentimentalised ranking of some mammals over others in the general lovability stakes.
So consider countries that kill and eat stinky old cows (instead of noble and graceful whales) in the mass-produced beef industry.
Would anyone suggest that tragedies involving suffering and death of the citizens in countries that eat a lot of McDonald’s hamburgers (we could have spun this differently and made it KFC’s horrifyingly produced raw material) are somehow the just desserts of those people who form part of the relevant consumer demographic?
The idea is outrageous and its reasoning as deeply flawed as it is repulsive.
There are extraordinary and moving photographs of stoic Japanese citizens being rescued or tested for radiation as they are being evacuated from near Fukushima. Here’s one – and I hesitate to do this – and not only because it is not my property. The main reason is I do not want to be too manipulative:
I do not want to go further down this path.
Only those whose lives revolve around sinister religious fairytales could believe any version of the idea that what has happened in Japan is some form of divine retribution.
I am more interested in the underlying fallacy that is much more common and certainly prevalent in our political discourse: collective guilt and the appropriateness of collective punishment – or at least collective responsibility.
Are whites the culpable beneficiaries of Apartheid? Do their children inherit this culpability and therefore the responsibility for redress? Are blacks (and, to a lesser degree) Coloureds and Indians victims of Apartheid? Are their children the inheritors of this disadvantage?
These issues are deeply unresolved in our political life – and, I believe, they are deeply unresolved in our law and in our minds.
Two startling contributions to the raging race debate – from below and slightly behind, so to speak.
White (male) drivers
The first is a letter to the editor of the increasingly excellent Business Day from one Oscar Mosito in Rosslyn
His issue is with white male drivers.
What is most endearing about Mr Mosito’s letter is his calm restraint that profoundly fails to hide his seething stew of road rage with a racial twist (or perhaps race rage on the twisted road – or twisted rage in the race … no, that’s enough … sorry.)
“For years since the dawn of democracy,” Oscar calmly begins “I have observed the behaviour of white (male) drivers on our roads, particularly on the freeway.”
“I am not sure if I should call it frustration by white people and their difficulty in accepting that black people are in power,” he continues “… or whether it is caused by the fact the Democratic Alliance is not opposition enough to defeat the African National Congress in elections, but there is a lot of frustration in most white male drivers. It is directed towards taxi drivers or our leaders …”
There follows a delightfully unconscious diatribe against white male (drivers) not respecting black political leadership, driving in the yellow line to prevent noble taxi drivers getting past on the inside lane (?) and continuously showing disrespect to “ministers, MECs, the deputy president or the president himself.”
I have even noticed that every time they see a black person driving a luxury car, they give him a certain kind of look, but when the same black person is in a taxi, they hardly look. So, it is my plea for all white drivers who do not want to accept change to respect our leaders, whether on the road, boardroom or in sports. It’s time you accepted change … I just hope that next time you see a convoy of BMWs, you give way and know that those are your leaders … Please set a good example for your innocent children.
It is so perfect I fear to say anything more in case I break its spell. Let’s just point out the innocence of the “convoy of BMWs” … which made me think for a while that it was a DA hoax, but then the rest convinced me otherwise … but maybe it’s still a hoax … I dunno? Maybe I am naive, maybe I am too hopeful …
In the hope that this is not a hoax (and that Oscar is a real black man and not a clever white racist trying to cause trouble) I would just like to take this opportunity to agree with him.
The white male drivers that I encounter on the roads of Cape Town are ignorant, unreasonable, arrogant, entitled oafs that I feel deeply homicidal towards.
But then so are the white women.
And the coloured men? Don’t even start me.
Oh, yeah and the black men and the coloured women and the black women … I told you, don’t get me started!
And the occasional Indians – of all genders – that mistakenly find their way here … where did they buy their licences, I ask you?
Okay, there – I feel better now.
Cape Town drivers are enough to get the blood pumping. They are a wonderful example of multi-ethnic unity – they all drive like Oscar’s very own vision of white males.
Catch the full text of Oscar’s spirited letter here.
The other example is even more delightful.
“Do not be friends with white people – they will Satinise you”
(My spell check keeps trying to change that to “Sanitise” – which is a racist little wordplay joke in itself.)
But anyway …
Stalwart Sadtu (South African Democratic Teachers Union) Chairperson Moss Senye who is also the principal of Meadowlands High, addressing 1000 teachers in Soweto in the lead-up to his trial for assaulting a 17 year old pupil said (and I pull it all out of this Sowetan article but I indicate how I have stitched it together with the dot … dot … dot):
Whether Barbara (Creecy) likes it or not, we will have our meetings. Despite Barbara, we will vote for the ANC during the elections and they will remove her. Let us not embrace satanic people. Down with Satanism. You cannot be friends with white people, they will Satanise you …The bank called and asked when I would pay for my car. I cannot pay and I do not care. They can repossess it. We must show strength as a region. Barbara is trying to destroy us. Angie (Motshekga tried and now she is gone. Mary (Metcalfe) tried and now she has vanished. People have tried to destroy the union and failed. At no stage should you be friends with white people, they will satanise you … Our region has 10,000 members and only 75 of them are white. This is a non-racial union. We welcome everyone. We have never had a problem with Indian teachers. They have always been our members. There are two white learners at Meadowlands High. Barbara is not happy about this. She wants them to go to Parktown and other schools in the suburbs.
Again, what could I add to that that would make it any more hilarious and horrifying than it already is?
I’ve been itching to get in my two cents worth about Jimmy Manyi’s various comments concerning ethnic minorities (here for his original statement on YouTube, here for Trevor Manuel’s robust criticism, here for the ANCYL’s counter-attack on Manuel and defence of Manyi, here for ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe’s implicit criticism of Manuel … “we won’t get in the mud with him”. Here‘s Cosatu joining the attack on Manyi and here‘s the SACP criticising Manyi but warning not to become part of the agenda of Afriforum and Solidarity - probably implying that Manuel has become part of that agenda.)
So much for curating the spat … now I want to say something about it.
I’ve written about Jimmy Manyi and the various endeavours by both the Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League to gouge economic advantage out of transformation – catch that here and here for how that agenda was expressed as support for Eskom’s Jacob Maroga.
Jimmy Manyi’s comments about Coloured people must be understood in the context of the interests of the constituency he represents.
Jimmy Manyi is the quintessential spokesman of those who have got rich (or hope to get rich) through Black Economic Empowerment – including racially weighted tendering procedures – and Employment Equity regulations.
Those who define themselves as the beneficiaries of these processes are encouraged to express themselves in ever more racially chauvinistic and exclusive terms.
These Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League leaders increasingly draw a distinction between themselves and any other ethnic group that also might have suffered under Apartheid i.e. they need to argue that they suffered the most, that everyone else was a relative beneficiary of the oppression of Africans.
The moral high ground of “non-racialism” was built and defended at great cost and effort by the ANC and its allies during the struggle against Apartheid. Apartheid planners and architects did everything they could to emphasise differences and spread fear and hatred betwixt and between as many ethnic identities as possible. This is one of the most important keys to understanding how and why that system worked and survived as long as it did.
Which is precisely why the ANC always understood its main ideological task as combating these attempts.
This is the reason Trever Manuel quotes that famous and moving last paragraph of Mandela’s speech from the dock in 1964:
During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
The Jimmy Manyi’s and Julius Malema’s are a post 1994 phenomenon not contemplated by the great men and women who sacrificed so much in the struggle against Aparthied.
They are parasites of transformation, emphasising and nurturing an exclusive African racial identity because it benefits their imperative to extract a rent out of the economy.
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.
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 the national 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 place within 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 today represents 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…
Much is happening on the political front that I would love to be discussing here, but paid work is, thankfully, taking up my time this week. Thus the following is broad brush and a little rushed – the point I wanted to make is that the issues are all connected – in dark and unsettling ways.
Julius on Nationalisation
Parliament started public hearings on the establishment of a state-owned mining company. Malema gave the ANCYL’s views and he repeated the call for the immediate suspension of mining licences to prevent the current holders “looting” the mines. Jacob Zuma later in the General Assembly said: “If this issue causes such excitement, then debate it with Mr Malema. He is there.” See Business Report’s take here.
The Democratic Alliance made serious gains in by-elections earlier in the week – this from The Cape Times (IOL) this morning:
IN a watershed night in South African politics, the DA trounced the ANC in two of its strongholds – Gugulethu and Caledon – gaining two wards where there was not a single white voter and the majority were blacks, not coloureds.
In Ward 44 in parts of Gugulethu and Heideveld, where the DA received 21.6 percent of the vote in the last election in 2006, the party received 60.5 last night.
And in Ward 12 in Caledon’s Theewaterskloof municipality, where the DA received only 6.6 percent in 2006, the party garnered more than 60 percent.
We are obliged to do some work on these numbers (how many people voted, demographic and other changes since 2006) but it implies a surprising level of disaffection with the ANC in areas that can only be described as ‘previously safe’ ANC wards.
I have been picking up from African foreigners living in townships around Cape Town for at least the last 6 months that they were being threatened that post the Fifa World Cup and post the obsessive media focus on South Africa associated with the soccer they can expect to be driven from their homes – I discuss it here and this is the key paragraph from this March 24th 2010 post:
It has become something of a legend and commonly accepted “fact” by foreigners living in South African townships that post the World Cup and in the lead-up to the local government elections in 2011 the xenophobic violence will erupt on a scale beyond anything that has happened in the past.
The issue is breaking across the spectrum of the South African news media as I write.
The Hidden Connections
The ANC government is failing in service delivery and the evidence is everywhere that there is a degree of panic in the party’s ranks about the 2011 local government election. The ANC is under various kinds of threat, but the threat that concerns its leadership most is the possibility that they lose the support of the poor. This environment gives voice to the worst of those who have found a home in the ANC; those who understand the power of the call to take back what is “rightfully ours” – the land and the mines; and those who covertly would harness the rage and fear rife in the townships – a strategy indistinguishable from the early activity of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. The older ANC members would be genuinely outraged at any suggestion that they would countenance these strategies but it is difficult not to conclude that these forces are unleashed in our society as a direct result of the failure of ANC leadership.