The subversion of South Africa

South Africa’s democratic project has faced a number of challenges in the last three decades. Picture Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

South Africa’s democratic project has faced a number of challenges in the last three decades. Picture Leon Lestrade/Independent Newspapers

Published Apr 5, 2024


The very thought that the South African democracy has been subverted would ordinarily offend our political sensibilities.

After all, this is a country that boasts of having the best constitution in the world. But this is exactly what Ricardo Maarman wants us to believe in his provocatively titled book, The Subversion of South Africa.

The book is timely as it is bold. The timeliness of the book finds expression in the prologue. Maarman correctly argues that “South Africa finds itself in a state of political turmoil as the country prepares for its seventh national election, since the so-called end of apartheid. For the first time in the history of South Africa, the public is bewildered, unsure of what became of the promised utopia called democracy”.

With corruption looming large as the defining feature of South Africa under the current administration, one is tempted to think that this is what Maarman is referring to. Maarman’s gaze is broader than that. Instead, he takes through a historical tour of hundreds of years, long before South Africa’s post-1994 political dispensation.

As a way of restricting and providing clarity, Maarman explains. “Subversion refers to the diversion of a country from the pursuit of its core and noble national interest towards a deceptively calculated foreign interest. This occurs clandestinely through infiltration and corruption.”

With so much promise expected and expressed in the post-1994 political dispensation, the book provides an insight into what went wrong. Maarman does not waste time in taking us into the operations and intersection of money and politics. In doing so, the reader is introduced to individuals, countries, institutions, and multinational corporations that shaped South Africa’s socio-economic trajectory in the last four hundred years. The reader is introduced to the role played by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) to the role played by the Oppenheimer family in shaping South Africa’s body politics.

To entice and build excitement, early in the book Maarman makes several explosive assertions. Some assertions are couched as matters of fact, others are speculative with the rest leaving room for plausible deniability. These include.

The National Party (NP) apartheid system and ANC affirmative action were a result of the manipulation by the Carnegie Foundation. Steve Biko was murdered not only because he was a threat to the apartheid government, but that he was also a threat to the captured ANC. Cyril Ramaphosa is most likely an apartheid spy and an Oppenheimer cabal puppet. The Gupta State Capture was a soft coup, and the real state capture is by the Oppenheimer cabal.

As with all historical treatises, Maarman gives us a glimpse into the political personalities that shaped our history. The likes of General Jan Smuts, Barry Hertzog, DF Malan, and former apartheid prime ministers Hendrik Verwoerd, BJ Vorster, and PW Botha make the list. The reader is also introduced to the likes of Walter Sisulu, Oliver Reginald Tambo, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko, and Chris Hani. Maarman does not limit his gaze to how these personalities shaped history or were shaped by history, he also delves a little deeper into inter-personal interactions with others. In a way, these interpersonal interactions helped to shape and develop some of the leaders.

For instance, the Nelson Mandela that many came to know is completely different from the Mandela that Sobukwe knew. Maarman reminds us of how Sobukwe described Mandela.

“Mandela is one man I never really knew personally until I was already in prison. We were never friendly, although I had heard him address meetings and had met him. He is a very ‘arrogant’ man. He lacks a common touch…. Mandela was strong among the leaders, although we always recognized Tambo as superior in intelligence. Mandela had a way of attacking people very viciously if they disagreed with him, and were a ‘smaller’ person than himself. He could reduce them to a ‘shrivelling mass’, then he would ‘pat them on the head and draw them to him’, and thereafter they would be his men, always deferring to him, looking up to him. If he came across any man who wouldn’t look up and defer to him and acknowledge his superiority (e.g. myself, implied), then he wouldn’t have anything to do with that person”.

The Subversion of South Africa is perhaps the most stinging rebuke of the ANC government since it took office in 1994. Maarman provides an encyclopedic treatise of South Africa’s past and current reality. It comes at a time when rampant crime, unemployment, corruption, degrading poverty, and economic stagnation have become common descriptors of the country. This is a far cry from Mandela’s “ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.”

If anything, South Africa has entrenched its position of being a poster child of global inequality. While others have attributed the ANC government’s catastrophic mishandling of South Africa to sheer incompetence and corruption, Maarman goes much further. For him, the pattern of failure is nothing short of subversion. His book provides a chilling account of how politicians, judges, mainstream media, and so-called civil society have all been corralled by foreign and domestic capital to undermine the South African state. Given the current administration's seeming intent to reverse any gains made since 1994, his account rings depressingly true.

*Prof. Sipho Seepe is an independent political analyst

**The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Media or IOL