- A friend sent me the following opinion piece, which is by veteran South African journalist Tony Hall. I am very honored and happy to be able to publish it on JWN because nearly 25 years ago, when I was a mixed-up single parent, fresh from having taken my kids out of the maelstrom of Beirut and trying to make ends meet as a journo in London, I did quite a bit of work for Tony, who was then editing a London-based weekly called ‘Eight Days’.
I’m also happy to publish it here because I want JWN to deal with all kinds of global issues. So I need to work to make sure the Iraq mess doesn’t suck my energy out of everything else that’s happening in the world. The state of democracy in South Africa eleven years after 1994 is really important to me.
Anyway, enough about yours truly…
Save the Alliance
View from the bush, mid-October 2005
By Tony Hall
There was widespread alarm and dismay around South Africa this past week, at the sight on our TV screens and front pages, of ANC supporters burning t-shirts bearing the face of President Thabo Mbeki.
It was one thing for protestors, including members of the ANC-allied trade unions and communist party, to be chanting “Zuma, Zuma” in support of the recently ousted Deputy President, as he marched through a big crowd towards the law courts in Durban to appear at the first hearing of a corruption charge.
It was quite another to see Mbeki so publicly vilified – the leader of the most popular party and government anywhere in recent decades, a man whose own struggle credentials and leading role in the liberation movement have never been questioned. His management of almost a decade of majority rule has been seen as competent and careful.
So the week sent a shock through the system and tragically, cracked open a fault line which started showing just a couple of years ago.
It was a magic, joyful day back in 1994 when people lined up for hours to vote. Democracy was won not only after hard negotiation, but after four years, from 1990, of widespread “third force” violence and mayhem to try and undermine the transition, instigated and managed by some leading members and foot-soldiers of the outgoing apartheid regime.
Thousands of black South Africans were killed, on trains, in hostels, in townships. A civil war raged in KwaZulu Natal, which could have led to its secession, and a former bantustan, the tribal apartheid ‘homeland’ Bophutatswana, was nearly restored after an uprising, to its stooge leadership. That could have led to another apartheid-supported breakaway, and the balkanisation of South Africa.
The story now unfolding, with people burning the image of their own president, begins with the policy choices made under President Mandela, whose early enthusiasm for empowering his people through the state was firmly sat on by the big corporations — and reviled by the now comfortably corporatised Afrikaner leaders whose example of using the state to economically empower their community he generously quoted.
Mbeki reinforced those “free market” policies…
He and his team moved steadily away from even moderate social democratic interventions to help the millions of poor who put him in power. He opened the economy and society to the harshest winds of the market: allowing corporate capital to go abroad, privatising state enterprises, leaving fiscal policy to the central bank, offloading many thousands of jobs and, while increasing housing and services delivery, focussing the main thrust of transition policy on empowering and enriching a black elite.
Of course this earned the plaudits of western capital and of most local whites. Just as inevitably, it has increased the alienation among millions of hitherto loyal black South Africans, as they felt the benefits of majority rule drift out of their reach, and the sting of Mbeki and his team’s harsh comments against trade unions, labour rights and social agendas.
Anti-apartheid strugglers of all colours, some from within the government, were alarmed as the ANC succumbed to the threats and lures of the globalised “free market.” And in the first years, leading figures seen as possible future rivals were quite quickly marginalised from mainstream politics, into big business.
But the first cracks at the political centre were not opened up by resentful rebels. It was the head of the special investigative unit, the Scorpions, with its worthy record of convictions against crime and corruption, who confidentially briefed editors that there was a prima facie case of corruption against Deputy President Jacob Zuma, though no charge could be laid yet.
This opened the floodgates to two or more years of innuendo, media investigation and smear of Zuma, by virtually the entire mainstream media, to acres of speculation and analysis and satire, to hours of television and radio coverage of related hearings and trials; then the public parliamentary firing of Zuma by Mbeki, then Scorpion raids on his house and his lawyers’ offices. Most recently came the wild speculation around the mystery murder of maverick mining magnate (my alliteration) and Zuma supporter Brett Kebble.
Not only the corporate-owned media and its more obvious mouthpieces, but some of the country’s best liberal journalists and generally independent voices led the campaign. Mail & Guardian editor Ferial Hafejee, the fine political cartoonist Zapiro, esteemed Noseweek satire editor Martin Welz, have never missed a chance at a sarcastic headline, damning reportage or powerful cartoon aimed at nailing Zuma and all his allies and all his works; painting him as the main villain, despite a new society bloating and almost tilting over with people acquiring easy wealth through discounted share deals and inflated salaries from big corporations. And that’s only the above-the-counter favours.
Business Day, deeply anti-Zuma, has not been the most hysterical in its general coverage. But it did fire its valued and widely-read corporate affairs insider columnist David Gleason because of his open defence of Zuma and Brett Kebble, and his trailing of reports that the Scorpions had pro-apartheid security veterans, with their own agendas, working for the unit.
Not once in all this mediafest has Zuma had a moment to defend himself in court, until his appearance this week. Even then, there is still no charge to answer, no indictment yet been drawn up.
What is it about Jacob Zuma that has drawn down all this fire down on his head, that has caused the vast majority of whites and the business establishment, black and white, to approve his vilification in advance?
Are they the very things about him that many ordinary ANC members do seem to like and respect?
- * That he has a record in the liberation movement as a dedicated militant and a skilled peace negotiator who helped save KwaZulu Natal from breaking away from South Africa? Are there still people in the woodwork who would never forgive a man for doing such a thing, and spoiling their plans?
* That, though socially quite conservative and not known as a leftist, he is popular among trade unionists and communist party members, who increasingly rally around him as they see him victimised, as they feel they have been?
* Are there some in the political and business establishments, now comfortably working together, who greatly fear that such a man, a potential successor to power, may become a “loose cannon” favouring workers over corporate interests? Interfering with certain networks?
Or is it that such a swathe of wise and highly educated people really do believe that the much-publicised trial-to-be of Jacob Zuma is principally about exposing and punishing corruption?
Did he accept half a million rand as a loan, or was it a bribe for his alleged part in approving an arms deal (which the whole government approved)? That is the big question we are all asked to focus on – while around us the new obscenely rich, to whom half a million is pocket money, race around in their personalised nameplate, tinted glass Beamers, and join the older obscenely rich for a multi-racial round of golf.
Alongside the president burning in effigy this week has come another serious shock to the system. Throughout these years of media frenzy, the subtext and countercharge has been questions around the structure, mandate and role of the Scorpions unit. Does it, or did it include veterans or former agents of apartheid security who at times use the unit to pursue an alien, disruptive political agenda? Do the Scorpions sometimes network with CIA, MI6 and other foreign intelligence agencies – even without the knowledge of South Africa’s own National Intelligence Agency?
Now, in the course of a judicial hearing – forced to go public – as to whether the Scorpions should stay separate or be merged into Police, this question has hit the headlines, with the Director-General of NIA himself, in the face of his own Minister’s denial, allegedly accusing the Scorpions of doing all these things, and becoming a threat to national security.
Is the DG just a bureaucrat infuriated at being bypassed? Is the Minister acting as a loyal soldier, or out of political conviction?
No doubt the media will continue to feed us the spin of personal motives, as they continue to assure us of Zuma’s corruption. But there are points in the long and hectic saga which, when you join the dots, make a startling picture.
One was about two years ago, when Judge Hefer ruled there was no proof that Scorpions head Bulelani Ngcuka (now retired, and co-owner of a luxury residential complex with golf course) had been an agent of the apartheid government in the 1980s. On that last day of the hearing just before his judgement, he said he had received a submission from “two ladies” in the Natal Monitor organisation, but that their submission was not going to be read into the commission’s record because it was not relevant to the hearing. And on he went deliver his ruling.
Going on the internet right then, and keying in ‘Natal Monitor’ brought up a long text on this established violence monitor group’s web page, dense with reports about some members of the Scorpions in that province pursuing an anti-ANC agenda over years of internecine violence.
The week’s fallout was like a neglected boil bursting, with senior government and party members fielding the most lurid allegations which no one would have dared to raise before, sending mixed signals about the Scorpions; with the trade union federation Cosatu in full cry in support of Zuma, and publicly hitting out at Mbeki’s failure to confront growing unemployment, AIDS or the Mugabe issue. Those who care, while keeping quiet, those who speak out, lament the still new democracy being sucked towards a dangerous vortex.
But it was by no means unforeseeable, inevitable, or unavoidable. Those who seek disruption, many say, will try to goad the unions and the communists into opposition against the ANC establishment. They add that those who have concern for the country and its progress will work hard to ensure that the triple alliance of ANC, unions and communists survives the assault by alliances of a different kind, and returns to putting first the needs of the people who gave it a more than two-thirds majority to govern.