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… but it’s difficult to know who to back
Thank you Mail and Guardian for publishing the story we all wanted even though you have probably broken the whole cannon of ethics in journalism.
The story to which I refer, titled “Ramaphosa starts fight for top job”, was published in the print edition of the aforesaid newspaper on November 13, it was written by Mmanaledi Mataboge & Matuma Letsoalo and leads with that treasured line: “ANC deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa has declared his intention to stand for the ruling party’s presidency in 2017, sources say.”
Yes, we all know that sources say “Space pumpkins stole my baby”, “Jesus was an astronaut” and “Jacob Zuma has no relationship whatsoever with SAA chairperson Dudu Myeni”, but in the M&G case referred to above I am prepared not only to forgive them because they took one on the chin for the team but I honour, respect and encourage them through the difficult times that lie ahead for them and other similarly esteemed organs.
So … Cyril Ramaphosa is the presidential candidate for a slate including Gwede Mantashe, is (probably) backed by Gauteng and Eastern Cape provincial ANC’s, is also backed by Limpopo but unreliably and incoherently. They (this camp) will fight on every terrain where votes are up for grabs in 2017 – which includes KwaZulu-Natal that they narrowly lost to the opposition at the provincial conference last weekend. They will obviously try to win Western Cape, Northern Cape and seem confident that the ‘premier league’ provinces (Free State, Mpumalanga and North West under the the charming patrons, Ace Magashule, David Mabuza, Supra Mahumapelo) should yield votes in their favour too.
The other camp, let’s call it the Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma Camp, is backed by the ‘premier league’, the ANC Women’s League, the ANC Youth League, the winning faction in Kwazulu-Natal (and that is big cheese in ANC internal national votes) and all the premier league provinces. So they are ahead, in case you missed that.
If that’s all plain sailing for you up till now, here comes the confusing bit: the SACP is under vigorous attack by most of the elements supporting the Dlamini-Zuma camp and we must assume the SACP is backing the Ramaphosa/Mantashe ticket.
I would prefer things to be neater. I haven’t argued this point in these pages in enough detail – or with enough vitriol – but in my private pantheon of villains of South African post liberation politics the SACP has pride of place. In about 2005, facing a probable ousting from the ruling alliance by Mbeki, the SACP pulled off a tactically brilliant but deeply unprincipled counter stroke by riding the debauched, corrupt, amoral, untrustworthy, deceitful, disreputable, tribal, traditionalist, sexist, shameful and scandal-ridden – but still saleable to the populist masses – Jacob Zuma back to power in December 2007 – later ensuring Mbeki’s early removal from the presidency. (Can I say that on my blog? No, you’re fine. That’s all true. I took the illegal stuff out; it halved the length of the story – Ed).
The SACP was lavishly rewarded in the Judas coin of cabinet posts and general status and influence and continued to act as Jacob Zuma’s strength and shield through the myriad scandals that were to follow.
It is my belief that the impact this party’s control of industrial policy has had on our national economy has been little short of ruinous, and its top leadership has shown arrogance, contempt and self-aggrandisement on a scale I would never, ever, have predicted from the party I idealised throughout the 1980’s.
So what happened? Why did groups I assume are close to … or proxies for … Jacob Zuma begin attacking the SACP. (Lets leave the #FeesMustFall for the moment as a stroke of luck for those pushing this line … and get back to it when we are being more conspiratorial.)
Slight rumours of criticism of Jacob Zuma’s various excesses and the SACP’s culpability in its stance in relation to the president filtered into the public domain from discussions internal to the SACP in the lead up to its 3rd Special National Congress in July 2015. Perhaps that self criticism was a lot harsher and the party realised that sticking with Zuma, his policies, his patrimonial and clientelist style, his absence of a plan would lead the country, the ANC and the SACP towards catastrophe?
I do think the SACP has been a restraining hand on the worst excesses of corruption and patronage … so it is not inconceivable that in contrition (and lack of other choices) they have joined the good guys.
I have discussed in detail in the past why Ramaphosa will always be treated with caution by the exiles, Robben Islanders, and the those who worked primarily in the underground military and security apparatuses of the banned ANC. I will get back to this question as I think the conclusion I drew might be changing.
Three last small points
I think both candidates would be more than adequate to fill the positions they are competing for. A significant portion of Dlamini-Zuma’s support is coming from groups that are characterised by the words I used to describe Jacob Zuma six paragraphs above this one. If there is a large centrist group of progressive Africanists, waiting to show their hand for Dlamini-Zuma, let them do so soon. And they should learn from the SACP that unprincipled alliances can end up doing you much harm.
The ‘woman for president’ argument is basically rubbish. Interestingly it was Thabo Mbeki in his struggle against the rise of Zuma that brought up this facile and distracting little trick. At least Mbeki had made the right noises about the role of women throughout his presidency so that when he suggested Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka (then deputy president), alternatively Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, it could not as easily be dismissed as a dishonest ploy.
The argument being advanced in 2015 that Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma should be president because it is time for a woman president, is being advanced by the most backward, traditionalist, dare I say misogynistic, elements of the ANC. Dismiss the argument out of hand – even if the appointment of a women president, perhaps of the highly experienced Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, might be something of which we could all be justifiably proud. The argument has been advanced purely for factional reasons – which doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t get support from those who believe it would be inherently a good thing.
Finally this is all being played out in the public realm (which basically means it is being cobbled together out of hints and rumours by analysts and journalists) extremely early.
Remember this is a contest that will only be formally resolved in 2017 (probably in December of that year) at the ANC elective National Conference and only lead to a change in the country’s government and president in 2019. I assume it is a sign of desperate desire for change (for the better) and fear of change (for the worse) that has caused these issues to assume such a central public focus so early.
Herewith some comments on the latest political news. Apologies that I have posted so seldom here of late. I see a New Year’s resolution coming on. I see a New Year’s resolution exiting stage left.
Numsa, Cosatu and the SACP … and Jacob Zuma
During this past week the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (Numsa) shifted closer to exiting the ruling alliance (and possibly Cosatu). The matter will be decided at a special Numsa congress from 13-16 December.
Meanwhile several distinct forces entered the fray.
Gwede Mantashe, the powerful ANC secretary general, argued that if pursuing Zwelinzima Vavi split Cosatu, then that strategy should be reconsidered. His general approach was supported by the President of the National Union of Mineworkers Senzeni Zokwana calling for sober heads and for the two main factions in Cosatu to ‘swallow their pride and solve their ideological and political differences’ (Business Day 3/12/13)
In complete contrast to this attempt to mend fences, Blade Nzimande, wearing his South African Communist Party secretary general’s cap on Sunday attacked the Numsa leadership, using strong and unbending language saying a “clique” within the union is manipulating rank and file members for personal gain and should account for their personal wealth … that Numsa general secretary Irvin Jim and deputy general secretary Karl Cloete should submit themselves to independent lifestyle audits and that Mr Jim should explain his role in chairing the Eastern Cape tender board and should come clean on the work of the union’s investment arm.” (News24 02/12/13)
The Numsa leadership meanwhile continued with its formulation of a detailed criticism of the ANC performance in government – only parts of which have been announced – but will form part of the discussion about whether to stay in Cosatu and in the alliance at the special congress in mid-December.
The Eastern Cape provincial executive committee of Cosatu (PEC) has strongly criticised the Cosatu president Sdumo Dlamini for failing to arrange the special Cosatu conference designed to address all the issues bedevilling the federation, including the suspension of Vavi and the relationship with the ANC. The Eastern Cape PEC was also strongly critical of the Communist Party’s attack on the Numsa leadership.
This is not only the untidy squabble it appears.
Jacob Zuma came to power backed by the SACP, by Cosatu, by the ANCYL, by disparate regional power-blocks and business groups who saw an opportunity to get the benefits of being at the high table, and by democrats within the ANC who believed Mbeki had become authoritarian and/or unresponsive to the changing requirements of the situation (with his failure to grapple with the HIV/AIDs question his most obvious failing.)
This alliance of interests and groups has long since fragmented (with the trajectories of Malema and Vavi the most visible signs of this), but the SACP remains up close and personal with Zuma, his family, his business friends and the security agencies he keeps firmly under his wing. That it is the SACP who has said: ‘let’s chase these Numsa fellows out’ is not a surprise, as the SACP is one of the main beneficiaries of the rise of Jacob Zuma … an attack on Zuma is an attack on the SACP.
(My implicit assumption, which might be wrong, is that the SACP probably has some socialist explanation or justification for what it is doing in bed with Zuma. However I must confess I cannot imagine a version of politics in which the struggle for socialism is best served by allying oneself with a corrupt, regional elite – with ethnic overtones – that makes free use of the state security apparatuses to secure its dominance. If you lie down with dogs you should expect to get fleas.)
Thus, the SACP appears to be pushing for radical intrusive surgery on Cosatu and Numsa. They hope to cut out the cancer and, supposedly, slowly repair the healthy body left-behind.
The most obvious dangers are inherent in the metaphor: namely that the cure could kill the patient. But the bigger danger is that what the SACP, and the faction within the ANC that backs the radical surgery option have, perhaps wilfully, mistaken ‘democratic criticism’ (albeit of a damning sort) for cancer. This was precisely the warning that Mantashe and Zokwana were giving when they were brutally cut short by Blade Nzimande wielding a meat-cleaver.
So Nzimande and the communists have an agenda tied much more closely to the narrow version of the Nkandla Crew (that nexus of commercial interests, regional Kwazulu-Natal politics, state-security agencies and crime intelligence that are all pushed up tight against their principal, Jacob Zuma). More closely, that is, than, for example, Gwede Mantashe
Where this is leading is uncertain. It seems likely that Numsa will split from (or be driven out of) the alliance and perhaps from Cosatu. Numsa might more explicitly move towards establishing a ‘labour’ or ‘workers’ party, perhaps in alliance with existing left-wing parties and trade unions. Numsa itself may split in this process, so that a vestige of its former self is left behind in Cosatu.
Numsa freed from the constraints of belonging to the alliance and Cosatu has strong growth potential, particularly in the mining sector and can be expected to flourish there. It is not inconceivable that a defected Numsa will continue to lobby Cosatu unions and will grow as structures and regions of Cosatu unions also defect.
It is always possible for the ANC aligned leadership to stop this process, but that would entail having to give free rein to Jim and Numsa’s brutal criticism of ANC corruption and economic policy. The Nkandla Crew have obviously decided this is no longer an option – especially in the lead-up to an election where their principal is already under attack for public resources being lavished on his Nkandla home. Time will tell if they are strong enough to hold the smaller fort they have built against the growing number of enemies they are createing.
Meanwhile we must remember that Numsa is the most radical and best organised union in Cosatu – and many businesses would find them significantly less playable than the unions to which they are accustomed.
The next step will be the Numsa special conference. I expect Numsa to resolve to insist that Cosatu holds a special congress before elections next year. It is not impossible that that Cosatu special conference does take place and that the pro-Vavi faction secures his return – although there are almost endless practical difficulties in making this happen. However, any return of Vavi and and outbreak of peace in Cosatu will be temporary – unless there are radical changes in the ANC as well.
Draft of the Public Protectors report on the Nkandla build was leaked by the Mail & Guardian
The leaked report states that Jacob Zuma derived “substantial” personal benefit from the Nkandla upgrade that went way beyond ‘security features’ and that he would be liable to pay back this money to the public purse. The features Madonsela identified as unrelated to security spending was a swimming pool, visitors centre, amphitheatre, cattle kraal, marquee area, extensive paving and new houses for relocated relatives. Public Works allowed Zuma’s architect ‘uncontrolled creep’ to broaden the project until another 4 firms that Zuma had privately engaged were effectively carrying out the Public Works’ security upgrade but without having tendered for the job – and reporting back into Zuma and his architect (Mail & Guardian 30/11/13)
Mandonsela has come out strongly against the Mail & Guardian for having published the draft report. She says the confidential circulation of draft reports from her office is designed to allow interested parties to argue points and correct substantial errors. The Mail & Guardian argues that the public interest outweighed the internal processes of the Public Protector – given that the security cluster of government had regularly threatened to stop the report being published.
The more important question is how Jacob Zuma comes out of this. It is now impossible to avoid the fact that significant state resources were used on the President’s private residence and more and more details will surface as we head towards the elections in 2014. Leaks are appearing from the major party’s polling processes that suggest that the ANC is vulnerable around the Nkandla upgrade. If the ANC were to suffer electorally from the appetites of its president, and if it knew that its suffering was linked to those appetites, then we must assume that Jacob Zuma would be vulnerable. But vulnerable to impeachment or vulnerable to having his wings-clipped? It’s a big difference, but both should be items on our long-range screens.
By the way “deep blue” in the headline was not meant to be a riff on IBM’s chess playing supercomputer.
Rereading Part 1 I can see how someone might accuse me of being a little too certain about the shape of the future. I am not running “deep blue” regressions and algorithms, modelling South Africa and the world, generating predictions x of y % accuracy with z % error margins … South … Africa … will … be … peachy … in …2021 … bidledeebidledee beep.
I have no real idea of what is going to happen in the future – and only the bare bones of an idea of the internal processes I go through to develop the views I advance here.
From time to time I investigate how we predict outcomes, and how we asses risks. I am interested in how our evolved systems (honed against sabre-toothed tigers and uncertain rainfall patterns, for example) apply in the kind of technology driven mega-societies we now inhabit – or, specifically, don’t apply i.e. that our ‘instinctive systems’ need to be suppressed or countermanded if we hope to get it right in certain situations. But that is not what I am doing in these quick pre-Mangaung notes.
The “deep blue” of the headline was actually a reference to being bleak, sad, cold and lonely.
Which leads me to:
Who are the demagogic populist, proto-fascists* now?
The ANC will (initially) combat the threat of losing support by becoming more ‘demagogic populist’, rural conservative and based in the lumpen classes – basically, by drifting to the right
In December 2010 I wrote an article in GQ Magazine under the headline: “Can you hear the drums?” with a concluding paragraph that read:
In the year 2010, anger and resentment … bubbled over … The winners still have their stuff, but they are clutching it more tightly to their chests, and for the first time in 16 years they are straining for the hint, a sound or a smell, of what might be coming for them out of the night.
Read the whole story here.
Two ‘crises’ (or warnings) that occured this year are the equivalent of the scary sound of drums in the night for the incumbent ANC elite. The first warning is Marikana and the second, linked, warning is the traction Julius Malema’s manipulative populism was able to achieve amongst some sections of the disenfranchised youth.
I made some of these links in my coverage of Marikana here.
I think the ANC will ride out the gradually escalating social and industrial unrest by becoming the “proto-fascist” and “demogogic populist” movement that Zuma’s SACP ally accuses Malema of representing (here for the context of that). This ANC, under this president is being drawn inexorably, by the logic of its own politics, into the territory of rural patriarchy with its natural links to the fear and hatred of education and any form of gender equality. (I am not going to argue this out here … just take a glance at the saga around The Spear, the Traditional
Leaders Courts Bill and various comments about women and about “clever blacks” and appeals to African ways of doing things over foreign ways of the same – see TrustLaw’s Katy Migiro’s excellent takes here and here.)
Thus (forgive the leap) the ANC begins to lose the urban industrial working class (on the road to becoming much more like a classic middle class and deeply opposed to the looting of the state), the professional classes (already at that destination), the productive and rule based businesses, local and global, and it eventually begins to lose the pirates looking to launder their money and ‘go straight’ (as I argued in Part 1).
This leaves the ANC with the rural poor, the marginalised unemployed, a bureaucratic elite within the state (those last three dependent on state spending through the public sector wage bill and social grants) and global resource privateers who powerfully thrive in countries like this with leaders like these.
Initially the ANC might get even higher turnout at its rallies (especially with free food and t-shirts and sexy young people dancing between the rabble-rousing and the singing of Umshini wami). But eventually the class and demographic changes of the society impact upon the party – reformat it, split it, renew it … change the political ecology in which it moves and feeds.
You will see from my next post that I do not only think the ANC is a useless bubble of foul smelling gas buffeted on the sea of history. The ANC, in my analysis, has become a most significant and material influence for and against my upbeat scenario … a sort of deranged midwife at the happy birth.
* The term “demagogic populists, proto-fascist” is from various SACP documents and was code for Julius Malema (and, I suspect, in slightly early versions, a code for Tokyo Sexwale). This is what the SACP had to say about it:
The “new tendency”
It was the SACP at the 2009 Special National Congress that first identified clearly the ideological and underlying class character of what we called the “new tendency”. We described it as a populist, bourgeois nationalist ideological tendency, with deeply worrying demagogic, proto-fascist features. It was the SACP that pointed out the connections between the public face and pseudo-militant rhetoric of this tendency and its behind-the-scenes class backing. It was a tendency funded and resourced by narrow BEE elements still involved in a rabid primitive accumulation process, based on a parasitic access to state power. It was a bourgeois nationalist tendency that sought to mobilize a populist mass base, particularly amongst a disaffected youth, to act as the shock troops to advance personal accumulation agendas.
The SACP must feel free to pat itself on the back, but the reality is that party took on the straw man of Kebble/Malema/Sexwale and backed – to the hilt – the real demagogic, proto-fascist tendency – the one with real power … and the one with real patronage to dispense. (That last bit explaining why this SACP has backed the Nkandla Crew)
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.)
A quick run through documents and press statement emanating from the Congress of South Africa Trade Unions and the South African Communist Party reveals the existence of a new ‘song sheet’ our crimson brethren have devised to help them sing in tune with each other.
This is something more than a coordinated set of slogans and something less than a recipe for creating socialism, socialised production and a workers’ republic out of the ingredients of the conjuncture.
If I had to try to construct a Ten Point Programme out of the bits and pieces in the press statements and discussion documents of the last few months, but particularly the last few weeks, it would look something like this:
A ten point (interim) programme for The Left
- Argue that macro-economic policy is increasingly in conflict with micro-economic policy.
- Argue that IPAP II (industrial policy) from Minister Rob Davies of the DTI in combination with Minister Ebrahim Patel’s Medium Term Strategic Plan (2010/11 – 2012/13) form the first pro-poor, employment creation oriented plan to put South Africa on a “new growth path” in which state intervention will lead to job-rich and equitable growth.
- Argue that the Rand is overvalued and wherever possible criticise inflation targeting and call for the nationalisation of the SARB as well as devaluation of the currency to effect a growth of valuable jobs in the export manufacturing sector.
- Link the Treasury under Pravin Gordhan to the economic tradition fostered by Thabo Mbeki and Trevor Manuel and keep pointing out that many of the senior bureaucrats in that department were trained and placed by the former president and former Minister of Finance; as part of this thrust attack labour brokers and the subsidy for first time youth workers as part of ongoing attempts to segregate the labour market.
- Co-ordinate calls for a national health insurance and free and universal education.
- Defend Gwede Mantashe (your man at the heart of the ANC leadership) and isolate the most hostile elements among the conservative nationalists, populists, tenderprenuers and anti-communists – Julius Malema and Fikile Mbalula (the proposed challenger to Mantashe) are perhaps seen as core elements of this “most dangerous friend” group, although Billy Masetlha and Tony Yengeni are in there somewhere.
- Start preparing a strategy linking this group with those attempting to buy their way into leadership of the alliance i.e. those who have inherited the Brett Kebble mantel. The general direction of the red finger of accusation appears to point at Tokyo Sexwale.
- Fight to stay in the alliance and fight for your views within alliance forums; make sure the ANC and government takes the results of those forums seriously.
- Prepare your cadres to influence the outcome of the National General Council later this year and the ANC’s elective National Conference in 2010 – and start preparing a set of policies and candidates to support. In the process continually cement relationships between SACP and Cosatu
- Always maintain a mass profile (through work amongst the masses) that is distinct, pro-poor, anti-corruption and principled; this strengthens your hand in Alliance forums but, more importantly, is your insurance policy if or when you are eventually forced out of the alliance.
It seems logical that despite the vicious atmosphere in the ruling alliance Cosatu, the SACP and the ANC’s own left-wing are not about to abandon the field to the “proto-facists“, populists, tenderprenuers and powerful hangers-on from the “1996 class project“. Not so soon after their triumph at Polokwane. Not after “capturing” two key cabinet posts and finding themselves in a position to, perhaps, profoundly influence government policy for the first time since 1994.
Those hoping that the tension in the ruling alliance would lead to a blossoming of opposition politics in parliament will have to wait a little longer. For now the real prize is still within the ANC and the ruling alliance.
Having just returned from an idyllic holiday, I am forced to take stock of what I missed …
The Communists versus the TenderCapitalists
A “TenderCapitalist” is not an over-sensitive entrepreneur. It is a South African person, much loathed by the communists, who uses his or her race and/or political connection to win tenders from the state or from private companies hoping to fulfil their BBBEE requirements or just hoping to suck up to the ANC. The South African Communist Party has made it clear it thinks the ANC Youth League president Julius Malema is the ring-leader of this faction in the South African political economy.
The SACP conference and the booing of Julius Malema brought things to a head and throughout December and early January there has been something of a toing and froing between Julius Malema and Blade Nzimande.
The spat continued at the Slovo memorial in Soweto on Wednesday 6th of January when Nzimande said that “narrow African chauvinism” threatened Slovo’s non-racial vision and that the slogan: “liberation of blacks in general and Africans in particular” should not be “corrupted into a narrow anti-white African chauvinism” – quoted in Independent Online.
A few days later at the ANC 98th birthday rally in Kimberley Julius Malema suggested that there were “super-revolutionaries” that wanted to “co-govern” with the ANC. On Sunday, in a statement apparently coordinated with Malema, Jacob Zuma said in an SABC interview that the ANC does not “co-govern” with any other party. In response Blade Nzimande, quoted in The Times, said:
I don’t know who coined the term. It’s people’s figment of their imagination. This issue is manufactured by people who are anti-communists.”
The stage is set; let the theatre commence.
The death of Tshabalala Msimang
Manto Tshabalala Msimang died on December 16 of complications from a liver transplant. Msimang was minister of health from 1999-2008 and presided over a period of health policy uncertainty that began with Thabo Mbeki’s insistence that there was no evidence that HIV causes AIDS. A committed revolutionary who went into exile in 1962 under orders from the then banned ANC, Manto Tshabalala Msimang died as government policy and practice around the HIV/AIDS epidemic finally started to achieve traction.
Matric pass rate drops – again
On Thursday last week education minister Angie Motshekga announced the matric results which showed a two percentage point decline in the already dismal pass rate to 60.6. This is the sixth successive year of drops. The figures are, on closer examination, even worse than they first appear. The science pass rate (those who got above 30%) dropped about 15 percentage points to 36.8 and the maths pass rate remained unchanged at 46 percent. Nothing is better predictive of future prosperity than improving education outcomes. Nothing (obvious) is more predictive of future troubles, on a number of fronts, than the converse.
Attack on Togo soccer team at CAF in Angola
On Friday January 8th the bus carrying the Togo soccer squad to CAF fixtures into the Kabina enclave in the extreme north of Angola. Several officials and players were injured. Rebels in the Kabinda enclave have been at war since the early 60’s (firstly against the Portuguese and later against independent Angola which has insisted that the oil rich territory stay incorporated as part of the country).
The South Africans have insisted that any suggestion that the security situation in northern Angola is in any way similar to that expected to obtain at the World Cup in South Africa later in the year is ludicrous and possibly racist. However all national security officials will have been reminded how easy it is to target an international sporting event to get maximum coverage for your cause, as I argued here. Watch this space …
President Zuma moves (way) up in the popularity stakes
Sapa reports (on South Africa – The Good News – and in many other places) that Jacob Zuma has increased in popularity amongst all groups but most notably amongst Indians, Coloureds and Whites since last April’s election. It’s a surprise, but mostly a good one.
Tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn I will begin travelling with my children for a respite after two years of my (it seems somehow personal) Great Recession.
We will be moving through some places that are less connected than others, so I will be posting irregularly for some time.
For this reason I wanted to say something about the South African Communist Party’s special conference in Polokwane before I go and before it finishes on Sunday.
Our red brethren have been meeting since Thursday and it seems they have been having an interesting and boisterous time.
Much of the media coverage has centred around a visit by Julius Malema, Billy Masetlha and Tony Yengeni during which the ANC Youth League president was booed and reportedly walked out in a huff, threatening to ‘tell on’ to the president.
But the underlying conflict that is playing itself out between the SACP and a powerful faction of the ANC is the main show in town.
And the SACP leadership is ‘on message’, constantly attacking what it sees as emerging black capitalists whose primary method of accumulation is tender abuse and looting of the state. It appears that the communists believe this “project” is THE real and immediate danger.
The coordinated attack emerges from even a cursory reading of (most importantly) the political report to the conference, but also from the opening address (some of these links are a little dicky – it seems to be a problem with the SACP’s site) by SACP chairman, Gwede Mantashe, a speech by Cosatu’s Zwelenzima Vavi and an address by the Young Communist’s Buti Manamela.
The political report says it most clearly (it’s a longish quote, but it gives one an excellent idea of the main issues in our politics):
This new tendency has its roots in what we might call “Kebble-ism” – in which some of the more roguish elements of capital, lumpen-white capitalists, handed out largesse and favours and generally sought to corrupt elements within our movement in order to secure their own personal accumulation agendas. Some of this largesse helped elements within our movement to emerge as capitalists in their own right.
In particular, these elements of BEE capital have been exploring a class axis between themselves and the great mass of marginalized, alienated, often unemployed black youth. The material glue of this axis is the politics of patronage, of messiahs, and its tentative ideological form is a demagogic African chauvinism. Because of its rhetorical militancy the media often portrays it as “radical” and “left-wing” – but it is fundamentally right-wing, even proto-fascist. While it is easy to dismiss the buffoonery of some of the leading lieutenants, we should not underestimate the resources made available to them, and the huge challenge we all have when it comes to millions of increasingly alienated, often unemployed youth who are potentially available for all kinds of demagogic mobilization.
We do not use the term proto-fascist lightly, nor for the moment should we exaggerate it. However, there are worrying tell-tale characteristics that need to be nipped in the bud. They include the demagogic appeal to ordinary people’s baser instincts (male chauvinism, paramilitary solutions to social problems, and racialised identity politics).
Now I disagree with a host of the economic solutions that the communists seem to take as gospel and I am convinced that left to their own devices they would kill creativity and diminish personal liberty without commensurate social gains. However, it is the communists who appear to be most clearly identifying where we are going and what the dangers that confront us are.
They might be full of economic nonsense (i.e. stuff with which one disagrees) but you can always trust the reds to spot the fascists before even the fascists themselves know what they have become!
It is, inescapably, time for a little weekend editorialising.
Yesterday I summarised the main content of Jeremy Cronin’s criticism of the ANC Youth League’s “nationalise the mines!” call. In as far as it is possible I summarised Julius Malema’s response to Cronin – his comments consisted primarily of racial abuse and pompous meandering. This morning I woke filled with the urgent need to write something more and to use a tone that was ever so slightly sharper.
There are three conclusions or indicators that seem to me to shine (or rather ‘gleam balefully’) through this exchange.
1. The Zuma government and ANC are dangerously weak at the centre
Debate and the free flow of ideas is almost always a good thing.
But this isn’t debate or the free flow of ideas. Malema is not putting forward an argument. There are no ideas flowing freely between Cronin and Malema. Malema is (essentially) racially abusing someone who has entered into the ‘healthy public debate’ originally called for by the ANC Youth League. And there is no centre of leadership that seems able to repudiate this, to put some kind of limitation on Malema. Where is Jacob Zuma? Where is Blade Nzimande? Where is Gwede Mantashe? Why shouldn’t foreign investors, fund managers, and ordinary citizens not conclude that Malema represents the “real ANC”? He is ex-officio on the NEC and the NWC; he is clearly a powerful and influential ANC politician in his own right – as I argue here; he appears to have been blessed and anointed by Jacob Zuma on several occasions?
It is becoming inescapable: the reason for the level and tone of bullying racial abuse that passes for “debate” about race, nationalisation, black management in the parastatals – you name it – is that there are NO guiding ideas coming from the centre. At this level it is becoming clear that, indeed, the centre cannot hold.
2. Race to the finish
Jeremy Cronin is not some Jimmy-white-racist off the street that Malema should feel safe to abuse and dismiss. Cronin is a revered ANC and SACP leader, poet, intellectual, ex-political prisoner. If Malema can dismiss him as a “white Messiah” a “reactionary” and a racist – with the implicit support of the whole edifice of Zuma’s government and the ANC – why would any white South African, or white non-South African for that matter, believe that they might have something to offer up to the country, to the debate, to the future?
The “race card” played with such impunity by ANC and government leaders – and other important South Africans – is becoming a bizarre obscenity that has long undermined any legitimate attempt to combat racism. Crying wolf about racism means that we no-longer recognise it when we see it. It is becoming much safer to assume that the cry “racism” is an attempt to throw off pursuit or criticism.
3. Malema is a looter and Cronin an imperfect builder
It appears (to me anyway) that Malema represents those who hope to leverage their “race” (using the imperative for affirmative action, black economic empowerment and transformation more generally) and the general dominance of the ANC in government, to loot the state and ransack the economy.
The Eskom/Bobby Godsell/Jacob Maroga debacle, which I cover here exposed the Black Management Forum and the ANC Youth League as being on the side of crony capitalism and Cosatu as being on the side of development and the effective use of state assets. The clash between Malema and Cronin emphasises the point even more clearly. Everything that Malema argues (or rather bombastically threatens) implies that he claims to speak for “black people” as “black people” – with all the attendant historical disadvantage and current entitlement to redress. Everything that Cronin says is about perfecting a developmental strategy to address poverty and unemployment.
Now a difficulty for me here is that I think Cronin’s premise is wrong and in any other situation I would rather argue about his implicit hostility to business and markets. However, my argument with Cronin is one about strategies and tactics – and I would have no quibble with the end goal of rolling-back poverty, inequality and unemployment and the creation of a better society.
Malema, on the other hand, wants nothing more than his and his cronies turn at the trough. There is no evidence or reference to social goals in Malema’s bombast; there is only a threatening racial antagonism, a chauvinistic racial solidarity and a bullying demand to be given more of the assets of this state and economy to dispose of in consumption.
Late yesterday the South African Communist Party came out in defence of its deputy secretary-general and it is probably appropriate to let them have the last word (and I will try not to quibble with the details):
20 November 2009
The SACP wishes to condemn in the strongest possible terms the insults that the President of the ANC Youth League hurled at our Deputy General Secretary, Cde Jeremy Cronin. We find it very strange and politically dishonest that whilst on the one hand the ANCYL calls for a debate on the question of nationalization yet, on the other hand, it throws insults on those who are taking up the debate.
As the SACP we shall not sink to this level of political and intellectual dishonesty, but instead we call upon the President of the ANCYL, or anyone for that matter, to engage the issues raised by Cde Cronin in a principled and comradely manner, without resorting to the Mbeki era type of insults against the leaders of our Party.
For the record, we invited the ANCYL to participate at our political school last month, to, amongst others, debate this matter of nationalization, but did not take up the invitation. We wish to further invite the ANCYL to feel free to respond in any of our publications to debate this and other matters, in a principled manner.
Issued by the SACP
SACP Spokesperson – 082 226 1802
And from me (Nic) have a good weekend and thank you for your patience.