Vitriol flies as country falls apart
Vilified by the media, Zuma’s failing is to apply the neoliberal policies of his political party, writes Andile Mngxitama.
Is President Jacob Zuma giggling his way out of pain and difficult questions, or is he giggling because he has disengaged from the state that the ruling party has failed to transform? I hold no brief for Zuma, but the assessment of his presidency has generally degenerated into sheer vitriolic attacks and hyperbole instead of explanation.
There has been an avalanche of newspaper columns and books on the president recently but they have not helped us understand why things are as they are. The situation has indeed been getting out of hand, but we learn nothing from the angry pens of analysts who recycle tired diatribes.
All this was predictable, though. Just before Zuma took office in his first term, I wrote an essay: “From Mbeki to Zuma: What is the difference?” The essay concluded that if the presidencies of both men were to be evaluated on policy and performance, then we can expect very little difference because the problem was not who led the ruling party, but the ruling party itself.
Both Mbeki and Zuma are ANC cadres through and through and it’s the party policy that determines what they do. Zuma has not strayed from the ANC policies and no one has yet made this claim in any meaningful way. So, if it’s not policy that is the problem, how do we judge Zuma’s performance?
The main problem is that his detractors fundamentally agree with the ANC policies and they have therefore chosen to find fault with Zuma the man and thereby rob us of a useful analysis of why things are falling apart. A shift from Zuma to policy would also show that his presidency is a product of policy; the template for things to fall apart was designed by his predecessors.
Zuma’s sin, which has been missed by the analysts, who are too driven by “Zumaphobia”, is that he has not been able or willing to halt the downward spiral, which is essentially a byproduct of ANC policies. The main policy plank of the ANC since it took over in 1994 has been correctly described as neoliberalism – the privileging of capitalism as the driver of society.
The implications of this policy direction are to increasingly remove the state from society and the economy and allow the profit motive to determine who gets what service. The state privatises assets and those it keeps are similarly managed as if they are capitalist entities.
The near demise of Eskom and many other state-owned entities must be understood in these terms. They are chasing profits and benefits for senior managers instead of being of service to society.
Surrendering policy to the neoliberal path has been consistent since the arrogant imposition of Gear by the neo-liberal trio of Thabo Mbeki, Trevor Manuel and Tito Mboweni, and ably assisted by a bevy of World Bank and IMF-trained ANC strategists and white men from Harvard.
The terrific Ts were the architects of the whole macroeconomic edifice, which ensured the maintenance of the racist status quo and entrenchment of the Anglo-Saxon ethics and Roman Dutch law precepts upon which a whole legal infrastructure that is inimical to radical change is based.
The ANC’s best brains created a trap against change in the name of change. When Pallo Jordan tried to speak up, he lost his cabinet seat in the first Mbeki administration and was beaten back into line with the boisterous, “call me a Thatcherite”, as Mbeki retorted. No one has yet had the guts to go against the Mbeki economic orthodoxy.
The main impact of these policies was that blacks, who had been systematically excluded from economic advancement, could only rely on political connectivity and bribing white capital through the BEE process to get some access to the wealth of the nation. Those who had no political influence had to make do with an RDP house, a social grant and hope for a better future some day. The Zuma presidency was not going to change this reality.
Zuma inherited a bewildering modern state from Mbeki, designed to serve the capital empire. The legal framework was colonial and its ethics were white supremacist, with a media that is generally also calibrated by the same framework. Zuma’s nativity placed him already as an outsider to the racist state.
Initially, there was some nervous amusement over his “Zuluness”, but having to honour the ANC statecraft his nativity was used to maintain the colonial status quo instead of undermining it.
Failure to end racist institutions has implications for all blacks, including the political class. We are now seeing the whirlwind of the failure to end colonialism. This means even the black managers of the state are not immune from racism, making the ANC’s a tragic rule and its managers schizophrenics. Even Mbeki was sensitive to any suggestion of inadequacy by the white world, but the more he tried to prove he was competent, the more the racist monster wanted more.
It’s a typical case of the “super ego” – any surrender to its demands leads to more demands, not satisfaction. That’s how racism functions.
From this we can ask, is Zuma’s depiction an outcome of racism? The answer is generally yes, the irony being Zuma himself as manager of the state is actually responsible for keeping racism alive. This is the paradox liberal analysts are not able to identify.
Sandwiched between a commitment to the ANC’s neoliberal policies on the one hand and its offshoot, anti-black racism, Zuma seems to have responded by developing a parallel process of exercising power to the racist state machine that runs on autopilot from the anti-black template established at Codesa and operationalised by Gear.
It seems Zuma is not giggling because he is merely incompetent, but he is giggling because he is disengaged from the state, which would include the courts and Parliament.
Let’s take three events that precipitated Zuma’s abandonment of the state. Firstly, almost 10 years ago, Johannesburg High Court Judge Willem van der Merwe, finding Zuma not guilty of rape, chose to invent words and put them in the mouth of poet Rudyard Kipling, saying if the poet had known about the case before him, he would have added these words to his popular poem If: “And if you can control your body and your sexual urges, then you are a man my son.”
Here we see a white judge infantilising a man poised to be president. But more, the reference to the body mobilises the old racist tropes that blacks are controlled by their bodily impulses, not the higher planes of the mind. A court of law thus reinscribed racism openly. This insult goes to the soul.
The second very public event of Zuma’s humiliation revolves around the painting The Spear. We may have forgotten now how a white man named Brett Murray depicted the hanging “dick” of the president. As some of us argued at the time, it was not Zuma on the cross but the general insult to blacks because of the established association of blackness with their genitalia in the white imagination.
When Zuma and the ANC took the matter to court, demanding to be treated with dignity, it ended badly as Zuma’s counsel broke down after having to explain the pain of racism to judges who were indifferent to the weight of blackness.
We forget that Zuma was in court with his family and his lawyer, himself a victim of apartheid torture and a warrior of Robben Island. The court case had pitted former liberation fighters against the whole racist legal framework – two men who had fought apartheid and paid heavily found themselves having to justify themselves before a legal system that is designed to deny racism against blacks.
The third event relates to the 700 corruption-related charges which seem to have emanated from a well-orchestrated internal political intrigue. The matter is still being pursued by the DA. The irony is that blacks are seen as corrupt in the two-way transaction that generally includes white business.
So, these charges confirm the generalised compromised position of black people emanating from failure to decolonise.
Zuma has responded to these realities not with deepening radical transformation to ensure decolonisation and black dignity – this path is not open to any leader of the ANC because it goes against the foundations of its policy, which are to maintain the Anglo-Saxon Roman Dutch Law state and legal system, which ensures economic exclusion and racism.
Zuma responded with his own parallel quasi-state form, which ensures some benefits for a chosen few and space of relative autonomy to exercise power outside power. This parallel system is manifested by the landing of the Guptas’ aeroplane for a family wedding at a state national key point.
We also see it with the never-ending complaints against corruption and important appointments, the Nkandla scandal and perhaps, lastly, how the Sudanese president’s matter was handled. Zuma surely wasn’t going to surrender the Sudanese president to South African courts, which are driven by a European legal system and sensibility.
Zuma could have used his chutzpah to subvert the colonial state and break the stranglehold of colonialism instead of creating dual power.
Imagine if the parallel processes were calculated to return land to blacks outside of the state policy of “willing buyer, willing seller”, or forced economic transformation to benefit the whole of society?
Imagine a situation where Zuma had chosen to appoint rebel radical ministers who were driven by a radical agenda and were impervious to racist taunting of the media and liberal gatekeepers of the Anglo-Saxon, Roman Dutch law traditions?
This is possible because the ANC stands on the shoulders of 11 million voters. Any president who succeeds Zuma and doesn’t subvert the ANC policy will end up in the same perilous position as him.
* Andile Mngxitama is an associate of the Sankara Policy and Political School.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
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