Thursday, December 4, 2014

Will President Zuma of South Africa serve out his full term?


In an article in Politicsweb, RW Johnson suggests 'regime change' is in the air in South Africa, but ends by warning that President Zuma still enjoys a great deal of support and may cling on to power. It is a well known practice of presidents, not just in Africa but worldwide.

It is worth taking another look at this*, though what we should be talking about by now is not 'regime change', but simply a change of government or administration.

'Regime change' is a loaded expression. It was used by former South African president Thabo Mbeki to imply how undesirable it was - in Mr Mbeki's view - for President Mugabe of Zimbabwe to be pressured by 'the west' into holding free and fair elections and possibly losing them. Mr Mbeki wished to imply that if the Zanu-PF president were to be 'changed' under any circumstances at all, the outcome could only be a horrible return to apartheid and colonialism. Needless to say, this also applied to Mr Mbeki, as sitting president at home in SA.

It is worth considering Mr Johnson's points also because what 'democracy' involves is always hotly disputed in the new South Africa. 'White' commentators, according to Mr Johnson, believe the ANC must 'dump Zuma'. In this, apparently, they are mistaken. The country is not a democracy and can never become one. Rather it is an organised smash-and-grab raid by ANC crooks and a badly organised one at that.

However, if change is in the air, President Jacob Zuma - presented in the article, reasonably enough, as an old-style 'Chief' - must be first among those blown away by it. It is impossible for anyone to tell the future, but it remains very difficult to see how he can survive in the face of the steady erosion of ANC popularity, much less have his term extended. Traditional Chiefs too were removed when they became a problem, by traditional means.

In today's South Africa the watershed, unavoidably, will be the 2016 democratic elections. If the ANC do badly in them, panic will set in. But, fortunately for the party, President Zuma is of an age when it need not look like a repeat of the unruly Mbeki recall for him to 'retire'. Hints of 'health' problems have already been floated.

On the other hand, if the ANC surprise with a strong comeback - by no means impossible, because the conduct of the Economic Freedom Fighters could well drive voters back to the majority party - then the stage will be set for an 'honourable' retirement, with all the signs so far pointing to Mr Ramaphosa as a shoo-in replacement.

Dangerous as it is to play the prophet, we can see the ANC's decline as an inevitable historical process: change is the only certainty in life and politics. In this sense, the EFF are more a symptom than a cause of it and their disorderly treatment of parliament could hold back as much as help 'regime change'. But either way, it still seems likely President Zuma will go.
      
        *See my article, Why you needn't lose hope if President Zuma gets a second term

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Nature of Democracy in South Africa - or anywhere else


People often seem to see 'democracy' as something that President Jacob Zuma (or the ANC or both) bestows on us and, if he does not, some other 'leader' will make us a gift of it. In any state worth calling a democracy, this is not the case and never will be.
 
Democracy grows out of a society being democratic, with individuals in that society realising they must play their part as individuals, not as puppets jerked this way or that by a 'leader', whether he leads a political party, trade union or business federation.
 
These are the ideas and ideals of liberal or social democracy - there is no difference in kind between the two. They are good ideas and ideals, especially when you consider the alternatives.
 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The EFF's riotous behaviour in South Africa's parliament - again.

 
If we've come to think of President Zuma as a 'tyrant' breaking the law and undermining the constitution, we need to see that actually he is not - not, that is, until the law brings him to book.

President Zuma has simply been using every legal loophole to duck out of (among a number of other scandals) the scandal of Nkandla, a private residence the Public Protector found had been enhanced beyond any legitimate security purpose at the expense of SA's taxpayers. The law in the form of the Constitutional Court finally caught up with the president. But it has taken a very great deal of time and trouble when democracy has a more direct way: in the end, the only way.
 
We must distinguish between the law and politics. We should remember Nkandla is the sort of abuse many African leaders, including the president of SA's next door neighbour, President Mugabe of Zimbabwe, have been accused of for years. And we should remember the Commander-in-Chief of the EFF Julius Malema has long vaunted President Mugabe as the African leader to follow. 
 
The problem of parliament being disrupted, therefore, seems unlikely to be solved by Mr Malema and his fellow rowdies acting on democratic principle. Democratic principle, one can safely say, has been lacking on all sides in the Nkandla affair. Nor need we trust Mr Malema when he or his publicity machine suggests he is single-handedly putting everything to rights for us all. Distracted by the repetitive antics, we have lost sight of the fact that President Zuma never responded to the EFF breaking the rules. He has been snared by the rules being followed.

There is, then, the legitimate political alternative to consider. The solution to an evasive president and an opposition that makes a show of its contempt for the rules is for the people of SA to exercise their individual and collective authority. This involves each pondering how the parties governing, or presuming to govern, are really performing, not as they say they are. Are they dealing with practical problems and being honest with the voters? Is there a better way, even if it is only a change in who runs the show? Isn't it time to think very seriously about which party to vote for? Elections are round the corner.
 
The people of South Africa may of course choose to vote for the ANC as usual, or for the EFF in larger numbers than last time: that is democracy. But everyone should remember the ANC that elected Jacob Zuma also finds itself bound by legal authority now. By rules.

The only rules the EFF appear to be willing to follow are their own.
 
 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Red overalls, Nazis, the EFF and fascism


People forget that the German Nazi Party were also 'socialist': they were national socialist. As such, they claimed to speak for 'the people', 'the people' of Germany - or, as they put it, the volk.

South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighters are not made 'left wing' because they wear red overalls and claim to speak for 'the people', 'the people' of Africa - or, as they put it, 'the poor'. All parties claim to speak for 'the people', and none would say it is not on the side of the poor, least of all in autocracies.

The questions for South Africans of all colours are: what is the EFF's programme? Is it practical? Could the aim of economic freedom be attempted, let alone carried out, without coercion - without the loss of civil and political freedoms? If it cannot, can the EFF be said to be democratic?

If the EFF are not left wing and not democratic, are they fascist?

Fascism takes many forms: it differed in Spain and Italy, in eastern Europe and South America; it differs today in parts of the Arab world and Africa. Nazism remains only the most notorious version.

But all versions are more or less an irrational cult, appealing to the emotions, often the most basic like envy or revenge, not to logic or the pragmatic. Hitler's favourite word was 'fanatical'.

Fascism is intolerant of all views differing from its own and ready to resort to violence, on which it thrives; it is especially hostile to the ideals of the left, equality and a common  humanity, and embraces racism as and when necessary. Fascism, most notably, centres around and promotes a messianic leader, whose authority is absolute and beyond challenge. The Leader is not, needless to say, elected or subject to any democratic process. He is above all that.

Very many factors give rise to fascism and they depend on time and place. In the case of Germany after WWI, the Treaty of Versailles could be exploited by the nationalist right and Hitler in a way that obviously could never be repeated elsewhere. The humiliation of defeat got the party that became the Nazi Party off the ground: it was a particular situation. Even then, no one condition was enough: the Great Depression had to come into the mix, a decade later. And the presence of Adolf Hitler from start to finish was decisive.

In the most general terms, what prepares the ground for the rise of fascism is widespread discontent (commentators of the right and left like to boil it down finally to 'economic causes'). But central to the discontent is always the all-knowing Leader, who appears to have and to be the Answer. It is human nature to look for a messiah.

Nor should we overlook human ambition and ruthlessness. There is a built-in desire, it appears, to dominate others while claiming it is for their benefit - the very opposite of anything that might be called a democratic or humane tradition. Not that fascist leaders are all thugs; fascist leaders employ thugs.

Not slowly but very surely, the EFF emerge as less a genuine party, more a revolutionary band dedicated to the overthrow of what perhaps many of their members, and certainly some of their leaders, deem 'bourgeois', counter-revolutionary institutions. The EFF participate in these institutions more to disrupt than to debate and decide, seeking to discredit them while exploiting them for publicity.

If the red overalls are not the band's uniform in this project, it is impossible to say what they are. The EFF do not exclusively represent 'the poor' and, from a showy life style and dress pursued outside SA's legislatures, appear to a large majority not to represent them at all.

It is for you to decide whether that is socialist, democratic, or fascist.


Also: http://paulwhelanwriting.blogspot.com/p/the-problem-in-sa-is-not-that-anc-or.html

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The trial of Oscar Pistorius


At all times and places 'ordinary citizens' are certain in advance of the guilt or innocence of others: Shrien Dewani long ago became the next candidate for it in the ghastly murder calendar. People judge on emotion and gut feel. But in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the whole world at least now has the trial evidence to go on.

In spite of all kinds of hypocritical columns from journalists protesting against it, televising the trial cannot then be a bad thing. Speaking personally, I felt I should tune into it simply because, like the vast majority, I have never attended a criminal trial. I wanted to know how cross examinations are really conducted, having only ever seen melodramatic fragments of them in American movies. I held no particular brief for or against Oscar Pistorius. I am not that passionately interested in sport and particularly not in athletics. I did not know about Reeva Steenkamp because I am also not a reader of the gossip columns.

Up to now, it always seemed to me that the jury system, which in different forms is practiced worldwide, must be preferable in an imperfect world. Common humanity may rescue an erring individual from harsh or unjust laws: as members of a jury, people can refuse to convict. But it seems to me now a jury cannot be as sound as a trained judge and assessors when it comes to a high profile case like this.

Being emotionally uncommitted in the trial, I am able to watch it with (perhaps) a little more independence of mind. I do not believe in capital punishment under any circumstances and have realised I would not have been able to become a judge had I gone into law. Capital punishment is not the issue here, of course. That does not mean I find it less difficult to judge others and I am only grateful I do not have to make the decision Judge Masipa is faced with.

Be all that as it may, I have come to believe Oscar Pistorius is not telling the truth. For whatever bundle of reasons, evidence and prejudices I entertain, I believe he shot Reeva in a moment of rage brought on by something or other we - and I - will never know about now. At first I had followed this trial out of the corner of my eye. But as the cross examinations went on, it became clear to me Oscar did not love Reeva. They were having a night together, no doubt among several they have had. But this was not the love match the media had sold to us, though she seems to have been coming round to loving him. Reeva gave Oscar the Valentine, not vice versa.

To crown the horror of the outcome is the conviction none of it would have happened had Pistorius not been a gun enthusiast and SA a gun-owning society. It is a heavy burden to read the gun lobby argue there is no such thing as gun murder and Reeva could or would have been killed anyway that night. As if you can strangle or stab someone to death, who has a cell phone with her, through a locked door.

Certainty and uncertainty come together for us from televising the trial of Oscar Pistorius. Yet if it is right a trial should be public, why should any trial be restricted to only very few of the public? I can find no convincing answer to that question.

Whatever the final verdict of the court, the only thing we ‘ordinary citizens’ are left to weigh in the balance is the supreme value of life against all the terrible ambiguities of human nature.  
 

Published on Politicsweb April 22 2014
 

Monday, March 24, 2014

Is President Zuma really to blame for everything?

 
Letter to Business Day March 24 2014
 
Sir -
 
Your leader, 'Nkandla reports just not the same' (March 20), shows admirable good sense and self-control in the face of very considerable provocation, except that it should by now be clearly wrong to claim, or to accept, that this is 'really all about JZ.'

Nkandla, nothing more than the most egregious abuse among a great number of abuses, is about one-party rule and the sense of impunity it breeds; it is about cultural deference to the prince or chief; it is about the lack of professional training and standards of SA's public servants; it is about the lingering belief in the liberation party's entitlement.

Above all, it is about the absence of a democratic alternative to the ANC in a society that is not democratized and will return the party to power again.
 
The last condition is the most intractable and the best hope is that Nkandla will help to speed up change.


Friday, March 14, 2014

South Africa Elections 2014: why there won't be a political realignment


We hear a great deal from the Democratic Alliance, SA’s official opposition, about the need for a 'political realignment' in South Africa and how it is the party's intention to lead one. Indeed, until the fiasco of the DA-AgangSA marriage, we were being asked to believe the coming elections were to be the occasion for it.

It is worth looking at that, not in terms of figures and past percentages of votes, which are always arguable, but purely as an idea.

In Business Day on March 10, analyst Aubrey Matshiqi proposed what a political realignment means. He said it must entail 'a dramatic change in the electoral balance and system'. In other words it must be something altogether more significant than some new party or even a number of new parties coming onto the scene.

That has the ring of truth about it. There are said to be well over one hundred parties registered for the forthcoming elections, yet no one really believes there is going to be a realignment in our politics in May 2014. The ANC is widely expected to be returned to power as usual, with perhaps over 60% of the vote again, along with many of the party's tried, though not necessarily trusted, names.

Faced with this petrified politics, a long cherished view has been that realignment would come through the ANC eventually 'splitting', though how the break up would break down in terms of class, policy, ethnicity, or psychology, is not explained. Fair enough. Firm predictions are always hostages to fortune.

But that does not make it unreasonable to insist that a split in the ANC at some time is a prerequisite for change because of the party's historic claim to the majority, its dominance of the broad centre in SA politics. That centre, like all political centres, is what social order depends on. By its nature, it is not radicalized. Radical parties of the right and left never enjoy majority, centre support, except at the muzzle of a gun.

If, when and however a realigning split in the ANC happens then, it cannot happen in isolation. To prevail, the new centre would also have to draw support from what may be called the current DA 'centre' and/or any other 'centre voters' to be found or won. If it did not, the new ‘fragments’ of the ANC, whatever their differences, would simply strike a deal and the situation would be much as it has been up to now: a party of the broad church governing through consensus - as President Zuma  complacently assures us, till Jesus comes again.

For now, though very little is certain in politics, and nothing permanent, those who like to know where they stand can relax. The chances of our political-world-changing split have receded as a shaken but not stirred ANC closes ranks before the polls and the DA realizes it cannot manage a realignment on its own or even muster the coalition it was canvassing just a few months back.

For the future, however, we have to imagine a different political scenario from any presented in this election - to look beyond the current ruling ANC and DA official opposition, the peripheral EFF, Cope and AgangSA, as being the main actors in it.

And, incidentally, Numsa forming a radical party would result in a stronger centre too, which is why the rebellious Cosatu unions are far too canny to commit to it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

SA's election spotlight shifts from DA-Agang to the Economic Freedom Fighters


With the DA-Agang 'game-changer' gone if not forgotten, a key remaining interest in the elections is how far the ‘millions’ of voters for the Economic Freedom Fighters prove to be a reality, not just media hype.

There is no dodging an answer now for Mr Malema and his team: SA’s neo-neo-Marxist-Leninists have made themselves hostages to fortune by competing in neo-liberal polls. Sorry to stir, guys, but Lenin did not allow that and Stalin would have had you shot.

If the EFF underperforms in such difficult times as these (what would you say underperforms means? - under 10%?), it would suggest SA has no significant constituency, young or otherwise, for political radicalism at any time.
 
But even if dissidents show up in some numbers, the result will be further splits as major power-brokers opt to stay on board. That is what Cosatu, representing the workers as a federation, wish to do. Whatever their rhetoric, trades unions are part of the system. The last thing the leaders want is revolution. In a liberal or social democracy, they want representation.

As for the South African Communist Party, it has always known which side its bread is buttered.

The upshot may well be the ANC gets re-elected with comfortably over 60% once more, as it pulls out all the stops in the election fight. Obviously that would be bad news for the DA, who will just have to soldier on again, maybe beyond 2019.
 
Helen Zille, as she freely admits, is in a hurry for change. Delivery protests notwithstanding, it still seems unlikely South African society is.

 
Featured letter in Business Day February 11 2014