South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country since Apartheid, by R. W. Johnson
After the Party: Corruption and the ANC, by Andrew Feinstein
I am writing this in Cape Town on the very day that Jacob Zuma is exonerated of all charges of corruption, racketeering and money-laundering — not by a judge, but by an ANC-appointed acting Director of the National Prosecuting Authority. This man defended his decision by claiming that there had been an abuse of due process when the head of the Scorpions anti-corruption unit was recorded by the National Intelligence Agency talking with ANC high-ups, including Thabo Mbeki, about the timing of Zuma’s prosecution. This abuse of process has apparently made the strong case against Zuma unwinnable. But who gave wire-tapped intelligence information to Zuma’s defence team? Presumably people who wanted to keep in with Zuma. So it seems that abuse of process is the prerogative of the current president of the ANC.
The timing of the charges against Zuma was sensitive because Mbeki, who was becoming increasingly unpopular in the party, wanted to eliminate him as a rival for the presidency of the ANC. As both these books make plain, Mbeki was not too worried about the ethics of the long-running problem — he had already turned a blind eye to earlier pay-offs from various arms dealers. But it was clearly a good opportunity to bring charges against Zuma, who had received money from a man called Schabir Shaik who was sentenced to 15 years for corruption and fraud. Originally Zuma faced the same charges.
Mbeki was indeed right to be worried that Zuma was a threat to him. In December 2007, at a place in the middle of nowhere called Polokwane, Mbeki and his cronies were all voted off the National Executive Council of the ANC; some months later, a judge ruled that Mbeki had been involved in pressing for his prosecution. Zuma’s supporters, joined by the South African Communist party and the trade union movement, COSATU, were overjoyed, and Mbeki was ‘recalled’ from the presidency, although there is nothing in the constitution which provides for this course of action. But the ANC and the South African Communist Party have had little understanding of the constitution, quoting it when it is useful, ignoring it when it is not. There is an absolute orgy of this selectivity going on now.
Barring a miracle, Jacob Zuma will have been elected president by the time you read this, and the fact that he has, in the opinion of these authors and many others, been involved in monumental corruption in taking pay-offs for pushing through unwanted and hugely expensive purchases of fighter jets, should at least flag up the end of the naive belief that ANC government was something new in Africa and indeed in the world. Now the ANC is exposed — as Johnson and Feinstein have bravely been saying for years — as a criminal regime. Feinstein even suggests that the murder of Chris Hani, a likely presidential candidate, may have had the blessing of some sections of the ANC.
And now, one faction of the party has ousted the other to shove its nose more deeply into the trough of the wealthiest country in Africa. It has deployed the old African trick of getting control of the politics as a prelude to enrichment. There is also a tribal element to the struggles: this is the time — the Zulus say with a hint of menace — for the Zulus to take command after two Xhosa presidents. And nobody could be more Zulu than Zuma, who advertises himself as 100 per cent Zuluboy. And, Schaik, Zuma’s jailed friend, is now being considered for parole, at the behest of the acting president, appointed to keep the seat warm for Zuma.
Feinstein peppers his account with tributes to his original comrades in the ANC. For him, the ANC was once an inspirational movement. But he could not longer stay on when he was removed from the Standing Committee on Public Accounts after pursuing the facts of an earlier deal for military equipment. My old friend from way back, Essop Pahad, Mbeki’s enforcer, apparently dropped in to see the committee on his way to the airport, and asked Feinstein who the f**** he thought he was to challenge the president. It was a terrible shock for Feinstein, made worse by finding that almost nobody in his party was standing by him, not even his friends Jeremy Cronin and Pallo Jordan. And so we see that Feinstein’s story is in some ways a Bildungsroman: idealistic young white man joins the ANC and becomes a conscientious and scrupulous MP and committee man, only to find himself on the wrong side of the Mbeki machine. Quickly wises up.
Johnson, by contrast, has been pretty clear-eyed from the moment he arrived back in South Africa after his years as a don at Magdalen College Oxford, where he tutored William Hague. The more closely he looked at the facts, rather than the myth, the greater his disillusion. As a journalist and commentator he has had many critics: some leading ANC fans, including the late Anthony Sampson, briefed against him in Fleet Street, claiming shamefully that he was reactionary.
But better than most, Johnson understands that ex nihilo nihil fit. The ANC was the product of a much earlier South Africa, a gradualist, and non-tribal, multi-racial organisation, driven to violence by the intransigence of the Afrikaner Nationalist Government, obsessed with improbable ideas of revolution. Mbeki, for example, can be seen as a man formed by exile; he was completely out of touch with the beloved masses when he returned. The exiles, despite Mandela, dominated the party. The splits in the ANC have in part come about because of this takeover. Johnson also quotes Francis Fukuyama, who in l991 said that, unpalatable as it might be to the government, white flight was the greatest danger the new nation would face; without white capital and expertise there would be no prospect of correcting the imbalances of the past.
To the inevitable fury of the ANC, Johnson has also made many telling comparisons between the ANC and the old government, citing its cynical disregard for parliamentary democracy, its appetite for self-enrichment, and its wilful failure to understand the difference between party and state. What was good for the National Party was good for the country; now what is good for the ANC is, by extension, good for the country.
Anybody, for example, who questions Black Economic Empowerment — which has created a number of billionaires out of almost exclusively ANC supporters — is denounced as a racist; critics, like Archbishop Tutu, are vilified; judges, if they give the wrong decision, are colonialist, heroes of the people if they give a favourable decision; public bodies, including the health service, the prosecution service and the police service are expected to serve the interest of the party above all else. Zuma has announced that the constitutional court needs to be taught a few lessons. And earlier, the perfectly competent doctor who was Mbeki’s health minister refuted all conventional medical science and supported the Aids denialism of her president, even recommending garlic and olive oil as an antidote. A police chief who was in league with criminals was protected because he served his increasingly paranoid master; indeed Mbeki denied ever discussing his corruption, only for the record to show that he had been involved in more than 20 strategy meetings on the very subject. The present shambles in the police and prosecution service has led to everyone except the big men who took part in the arms fraud being threatened with legal action by groups which include the ANC, its Youth League and the South African Communist Party. Helen Zille, formidable leader of the Democratic Alliance, routinely vilified as representing white interests only, is trying to make sure everyone knows that the case against Zuma is strong, and is trying to have it investigated in a judicial review. Pigs might fly.
To read these two important books together is to be profoundly depressed. The instances of corruption, political interference, drunkenness, incompetence and sheer
criminality are legion. There is also a recurring phenomenon of ANC activists voting for and actively supporting anyone, like Tony Yengeni, who is charged with corruption. It suggests that a disregard for the law is somehow a true reflection of the revolutionary spirit.
Feinstein and Johnson both deal with the Aids crisis and Zimbabwe, two of Mbeki’s most paranoid and dangerous failures of policy. It seems that to Mbeki, if the West wanted something, it was his duty to oppose it: thus Aids drugs were a conspiracy to denigrate and poison the African; and the MDC, by winning the majority vote in Zimbabwe, was a lackey of the West and so could not have achieved a legitimate victory over Mugabe, a hero of the struggle. But the statistic which will hurt is that, according to a recent Harvard study, Mbeki’s Aids denialism has led to the avoidable death of over 300,000 South Africans, including 85,000 babies. Johnson has in the past pointed out that not even the Apartheid government killed this many people, which led to calls to ban his book.
As for Jacob Zuma, the stench of the arms deal will hang over his government for ever. As Archbishop Tutu recently said, South Africa is demonstrating many of the qualities of a banana republic.