Saturday, April 25, 2009

Zuma’s Future Effect on the State

Now that Jacob Zuma is the undisputed and unstoppable master of the South African state, it is much too late to debate what the consequences of this could be upon that state.

Of course, one of the major goals of those who put Zuma and his allies in their position of power, has been to discourage any such debate. This is why the criticism of Zuma has focussed on trivia, like Jonathan Shapiro’s shower image (which illuminates Shapiro’s AIDS-denialism, since taking a hot shower after sex is an excellent way for a male to kill off any HIV adhering to his penis, as Zuma knows, and doubtless Shapiro knows, but denies because taking a shower is cheap and easy to do). Ho hum. The debate about Zuma is so utterly saturated with falsehood and propaganda that it is all too easy to be distracted by comparative trivia. The question is, what could happen in consequence of Zuma’s victory?

And, let us emphasise, “Zuma” does not simply mean Zuma himself, but the enormous forces of corruption unleashed within the ANC and elsewhere by Zuma, and the deeply corrupt practices of the ruling class which have promoted Zuma along with those forces. Let us call this ZUMA.

The rise of ZUMA is not going to have no impact upon the state. There is no point in guessing about the best which could happen; let us rather face the most likely consequences, and touch upon the worst possible consequences — where these differ from the most likely.

Corruption

The Zuma clique is dominated by criminals. The crimes which they have committed are largely exploiting their position of authority for personal gain — by taking bribes, by bullying people into giving them favours, by offering bribes, or by abusing state institutions under their control, such as the National Intelligence Agency and the National Prosecuting Authority. There is no good reason for believing that they will suddenly reform when they take power; instead, since they will be in control of all the state institutions and virtually all such institutions have shown themselves willing to collaborate with corrupt rulers, they will probably become more intensively corrupt. Of course there was and is corruption elsewhere as well.

Therefore, while members of the central government will almost certainly become more concerned with making money out of their dominance of the state, and will therefore steal money, take bribes, or divert state funds into boondoggles or overpriced contracts — which has happened before, but never with such impunity — the real problem with corruption probably lies elsewhere. Bribe-taking and the diversion of state funds into private pockets exists everywhere, but under Mbeki it was officially frowned upon and sometimes even punished.

Under Zuma there will be no basis for such punishment because everybody will know that the people in charge of overseeing anti-corruption initiatives are themselves corrupt. Hence corruption at all levels of government will increase dramatically. How far? Will South Africa reach “Nigerian” levels? It is impossible to say. It is, however, obvious that this will devastate the provision of new services, and will restrict, especially, the provision of services to people who do not have the money to bribe people. Hence, corruption will be damaging. It may be extremely damaging. It is very likely that the enthusiasm shown by the SACP and COSATU for eliminating central controls over spending, decentralising revenue priorities, and unleashing ever-greater deficits, relates directly to this — that is, they want to make it much easier to steal much larger amounts of money than ever before.

Doing so along with deficit financing means that they could even do this while cutting taxes, which would ensure that the ruling class would not object to the corruption (from which much of the ruling class would also benefit). While it is certain that the state will be undermined by the corruption promoted by the ZUMA regime, it is more than likely that it will actually be brought to bankruptcy and to the collapse of social service delivery — which would happen in as little as five years. (However, even if Zuma himself stands down after five years, ZUMA will have many more years of control of the state to bring about such collapse.)

The Collapse of Opposition

Under ZUMA there will be no meaningful opposition to ZUMA policies. In a sense, there will be no structural opposition; there is likely to be very little real distinction between the policies espoused by the ANC under Zuma, and the policies espoused by the DA. No doubt the DA will continue to move rightward in order to create some distance between themselves and the Zuma’s ANC, although DA supporters will continue to ignore political realities in order to justify supporting what amounts to a crypto-fascist organisation which is utterly beholden to big business.

However, in practice, the DA’s only response to such matters as the reduction in service provision, the attack on the democratic elements of the Constitution and the reduction in individual human rights which is likely to follow from the secretive and authoritarian nature of ZUMA (and from its connivance with corporatist big business) will be to lament that the attack is not more violent.

South Africa will be within the Obama/Brown orbit, or whatever passes for it after Brown is voted out and Obama hopelessly discredited. The existence of opposition in democratic South Africa was deeply problematic in the past because it was so obviously corrupt. The opposition existed almost entirely as a force to try to curb, or reverse, the potential of the 1994 dispensation. However, in order to do this it had to critique the people who were trying to exploit that dispensation.

There was also an internal opposition within the ANC which professed to be suspicious that the government was not truly trying to exploit the 1994 dispensation, but was instead in cahoots with the neoliberal forces behind the opposition. There was a degree of truth to this, though less than the internal opposition claimed. Therefore the internal opposition within the ANC was capable of promoting better government practice — though it almost never did, since it was actually concerned not with improving government practice, but with gaining money and power for its own leadership.

Now that the internal opposition has the chance of gaining money and power, it has ceased to put any kind of pressure on the ANC leadership to improve its performance. The most that can be said is that it occasionally utters some of its former statements, or alternatively puts on publicity stunts (like Hogan’s cowardly repudiation of her Cabinet decision regarding the Dalai Lama) aimed ultimately at personal gain. As a result the internal opposition has ceased to be a potential positive factor. In consequence, ZUMA has absorbed essentially everything, from the TAC on the right to the SAIRR on the right to the press on the right to the security forces on the right. All now serve one master and have their snouts in one trough.

As a result, none has any consistent reason for speaking out against corruption or the abuse of state power. When they do this, they will do so out of a desire to draw attention to themselves or some other aspect or personal gain. The press is squared, the middle class is quite prepared . . .

We shall thus be robbed without knowing that we are robbed. Will worse things happen? Will human rights be dismantled? Will we see South Africa joining in the Global War on Terror, or perhaps the Global War on the Working and Middle Class? Most probably, but that is too specific to speculate about. All we can know is that we are in the hands of criminals who are capable of anything, and we will not be told the consequences of what they do. It should be added, of course, that all this would not have been possible without the destruction of moral integrity in the broader community. However, this is not something which can be blamed upon Zuma. It is something upon which ZUMA feasts. It is something to which we must return.

Hat tip: Vince R

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