got in common?
They’re populist demagogues.
Lesson 1: Politics is Business
Getting people to buy into a governance vision package is more an expensive exercise than ordinarily expected. It involves lobbying business, labour, church, environmentalists, civil society and so on. Law firms find their way into the mix.
So the politician’s deepest allegiance is to donors who fund the logistics of schmoozing these prospective stakeholders until they think he or she is God’s gift to politics. The costs vary wildly. Mining bosses like expensive drinks; prospective voters like KFC. The KFC packages for all the prospective voters who eat KFC probably total up to the same price as just one of the mine boss’s drinks. And some people can drink. So though campaigning involves telling voters that they’re the buyers, they’re the bosses, they’re actually the product being sold to funders; more fundamentally, they are slaves picking their own slave-masters with government as go-between through the ruling party. You get said voters to agree to this transaction by having a “good story to tell” about how they’re the primary beneficiaries.
Politicians call this tweak of perspective, “campaigning.” A little child, unfettered by the moral complexities of adulting, would call it “lying.” Imagine if children got to vote…
Which leads us to the second point.
2.) Politics Is the Art of Brainwashing People While Convincing Them that Their Superior Control of Their Own (Impeccable) Thought Processes Make Them Impervious to Brainwashing
Think about how often you’ve heard the word “populist” bandied about recently.
It’s become an accusation by the middle class / “the learned” that Julius Malema and Jacob Zuma use frustrations instead of “the truth” to get votes. The implication is that poor people are more impressionable.
But this allows the upper classes / “the educated” to locate the ultimate explanation for poverty in poor people themselves so they, the well-off, may absolve themselves of benefitting from systems that impoverish those poor. Believing that the status quo and the rules upholding it are fair enough that everyone has a decent chance at life is how the rich sleep better at night. The nice cotton sheets probably help too.
The implication is that the poor are to blame for their circumstances — perhaps because they vote in politicians who don’t uphold the Constitution as they should. You also see identity politics not just critiqued but criticized as though the critics’ real intentions aren’t as obvious as the bigger suburban houses and cars they live in and drive.
Where do the educated / rich get these ideas from? They get them when they believe that some politicians are demagogues while others are not-demagogues but noble, heroic “truth-tellers.” They must believe this story to justify the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed, and then, to put the cherry on top, say it is the poor whose desperation makes them more susceptible to emotional manipulation.
The Housewives may have lived on Wisteria Lane, but they, too, were desperate.
3.) Politics is Theatre
I don’t want to sound cynical, nor do I mean to trample on the great, heartfelt work done by our noblest “heroes of the day.” But when someone is congratulated, thanked or awarded for serving the state well, he or she is being praised for maintaining the illusion that the status quo and the laws pertaining thereto are just and worth fighting for; that there is a system to put faith in.
The “impartial” media is there to frame and communicate this drama of heroes and villains to us. We buy into it, believing it is as real as people thought Ntsiki Lukhele from Generations was all those years ago when they attacked the actress who played her, Pamela Nomvete. Or Cherel De Villiers Haines when they attacked Michelle Botes. So Thuli Madonsela: good; protagonist. Jacob Zuma: bad; antagonist.
But are we not just responding as the politicians’ primary clients (the 1% who own 50% of everything) want us to? Look at the evidence.
ABSA was pulled into scandal with leaked Public Protector’s provisional report. Report found State should have made Bank pay back undue benefit it gained in its acquisition of Bankorp, which was beneficiary of apartheid-era corruption.
Did this investigation not take this long to spill into broad public awareness because The System cannot have politicians telling their clients that they’re visibly implicated as the bad guys — as Ntsiki Lukhele, as Cherel De Villiers Haines — of the drama those donors commissioned the politicians to make in order to take attention away from their offstage existence?
It is like that time South Africans were more fascinated by the drama between Generations producer Mfundi Vunda and the cast of the soapie than they were by the storyline of Generations itself.
What we are seeing is the ANC blackmail white monopoly capital, so-called, with the prospect of exposing its role as producer / scriptwriter if it does not stop sending investigators after the party.
The political drama only works as long as the gentlemen’s agreement of not uncovering one another’s most damning sins is maintained.
4.) Politics is Chess
If the ANC were sincere about reversing injustice for its own sake and not just keeping capital in check, its response to the provisional report would have underscored that Apartheid-era crime didn’t prejudice “South Africa” in the abstract; concretely speaking, many white people were enriched by it, and many black people harmed by it.
And if Thuli Madonsela could say she was not going to accept questions about whether the provisional leaked report had been tampered with (which says it was), then neither am I going to say if the ANC were sincere about reversing injustice for its own sake and not just holding capital hostage, it would have told Busi Mkhwebane to tamper with report findings (before arranging for its leak as though it were a sex tape or Hip-Hop single) to end with a stronger, more quotable, more sound-bitable reminder that the people prejudiced were black. It did not end this way sufficiently to penetrate the media statements on the report.
ANC apathy towards black exploitation for its donors and stakeholders is wholly incompatible actual liberation. For black poverty is not a problem to be addressed; it is a resource to be harnessed. Desperate people (are supposed to) accept desperate wages. Remember Marikana.
5.) Politics is About Stalling Justice
Cecil John Rhodes said UCT would be built “out of the Kaffir’s stomach” as would just about everything else.
It is the noon of apartheid. A company has two labourers. One is white; the other is black. Job reservation says the white person has a more covetable job and higher salary than the black person. Structured efficiently, this discriminatory labour practice makes the company more profitable, which, if there are enough companies run like this, makes South Africa look more investor-friendly (until the world decides apartheid is morally odious or economically unviable or both).
The State can also tax these companies or their employee incomes harder. It benefits whichever way; it’s either selling its country as an investor’s dream, or using tax money to bail out banks that are funding white people things that otherwise would not be funded. The apartheid state gets to enjoy the thrill and patina of capitalism without doing away with the artificial mechanations of the communism it purports to protect its white voters and business stakeholders from. Because your impeccable thought processes.
How else do you get the edifice of white supremacy built, unless white people who can’t afford suburban houses get loans from banks that are being bailed out; unless white people who have no capital are lent money to start businesses, at really low rates?
So when white supremacists tell you, “We white people built this country,” please paraphrase Jesus in your response: “Therefore you testify against yourselves that you are the children of them that used black blood, sweat and tears to build what you so eagerly take credit for having built.”
When we separate “good” politicians from “bad” ones in government, we’re saying that the laws we have in place are inherently just, they’re worth fighting for, there is a system to put faith in, and those politicians we’ve deemed “good” have fought well for it. But is there such a system?
I’m going to make a #Scandal / #TheFixer reference, and yes, this blog will reference Shonda Rhimes’s series without warning.
On one episode, the Vice President was asked to sign a drafted bill intended to decrease the incidence of unarmed black men being shot by white police officers.
To everyone’s surprise, the Vice President insisted she’d have to read the whole bill again — not just the parts that had been amended, but the whole document, before signing it.
After reading it, she refused to sign it off. Her reason? “It’s a bunch of requests; it’s unenforceable.” It was designed to give the impression that the issue had absorbed the government’s efforts. But priorities and political will were split among too many conflicting interests for the drafters to actually solve the problem they were making a great show of solving. Its intended end was a quiet death by a thousand compromises. In the Vice President’s understanding, to quote a review I read long ago, “A bill that would effect no consequences would, in the long run, turn out worse than no bill at all.”
What if our Constitution was a bunch of requests?
What if its intended end was a quiet death by a thousand compromises?
What if, insofar as it speaks to racial inequality, its requests are unenforceable — and that, by design?
What if its purpose was to give us all the impression that somewhere in all the ceremonying and awarding and thanking, there had been found enough alignment along enough interests for a solution to emerge?
The ANC’s losses at local government elections last year weren’t a sign that the party is in decline or that it has to get rid of Jacob Zuma. Rather, they were a sign that the ANC has used up every card it could play without sacrificing “white monopoly capital.” The race card has neither expired nor is it exhausted; it remains valid for at least as long as apartheid ran or until the funds apartheid stole are transferred back.
Contrary to the white-populist narrative the DA would have you believe, you can still swipe the race card in South Africa. Unlike a lot of other things here, it happens to still work just fine.
6.) Politics is War
Does the ANC have enough time to properly implement the BEE that could have possibly addressed public frustration at racial inequality?
Or will its survival lie in white Jesus’s atonement crucifixion?
Will the drama turn to action and the unreal into reality?
Whoever you are and whatever your race: if you have a God, start praying.
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There is a book working on me; watch this space