Monday, 24 October 2011

Opposing ‘tenderpreneurs’ in a democratic SA

By Imraan Buccus, October 2011 - The contradictions and levels of hypocrisy are in SA are stark. Nonetheless politics in SA is interesting and mind -boggling. But, then again, that old Chinese curse does make it clear enough that interesting times aren’t always good times. The Mercury

In the late nineties leading communists were driving the move towards privatization and the ‘restructuring of state assets’. In fact at one point in the nineties, it had become almost impossible to champion communism within the ranks of the SACP. Indeed a party member actually advocating communism was likely to be expelled from the party on the grounds of ill discipline. And in recent times, the communists are resisting the nationalizing of mines while some nationalist ‘tenderpreneurs’ demand nationalization with increasing hysteria. This must be more than a little confusing for many who would have thought that communists would naturally gravitate to, and align themselves with calls for nationalization while nationalists would oppose nationalization by all means necessary.

I wonder how on earth one teaches Politic 101 in South African universities when the conservatives propose nationalization and the radicals reject it. The standard categories and framework just don’t apply here. Of course there is an underlying logic though but not one that will show up in any standard text book. The conservative nationalists want state control over the country’s assets in order to plunder them for their own interests. They are interested in nothing other than short term appropriation. The communists on the other hand recognize that productive ownership of the mines is better for the workers then ownership bent only on plunder. They understand that long term productivity will enable their members to organize, strike when necessary, and slowly increase their share of the profits.

The hypocrisies and contradictions of the post democratic order have become very serious. Many seem to have forgotten that public office is about being of service to the public. The struggle against apartheid was a principled one, one where many who are in government today made many sacrifices yesterday. Ironically, now, while they articulate a commitment to the downtrodden in the public discourse, they also plunder the public purse in an attempt to enrich themselves quickly. The language of concern for the poor is often nothing but camouflage behind which plunder is taken to ever more extreme levels. The struggle against apartheid was not to replace one big man with another of a different colour. The struggle against apartheid was to replace one kind of society with another. This was why the whole world recognised its enormous moral power.

That moral power is fast being eroded by people like Malema, about whom much has already been written in recent days. Malema takes the idea of contradictions to the extreme. Not long ago, Malema is credited with having said ‘You must never role model a rich person who can’t explain how they got rich. In the ANC we must not have corrupt people as role models. Corrupt means a simple thing – you can’t explain the big amount in your bank account’

The same Malema is reported to have benefited from more than R130m worth of tenders, owns luxury homes and wears a watch worth R250 000. In addition he owns a fleet of cars that include a Range Rover, an Aston Martin and a C63 Mercedes AMG. Yet each day he shouts slogans against capitalism and proclaims revolution to the masses.

When the celebrated scholar Franz Fanon wrote his famous text, The Wretched of the Earth in the ‘60’s, it is almost as though he was thinking of post apartheid South Africa – politically democratized and economically liberalized, with a growing class of selfish bourgeoisie. He argued then that the progressive project could be threatened by a culture of personal accumulation and private advancement by those who had helped bring liberation. Perhaps Fanon is worth a revisit, particularly his warnings about once vibrant political organizations serving only ‘as a means of private advancement’. If there is a text book with which we can teach politics in our country its probably The Wretched of the Earth.

Our politicians and leading members of the ruling party need to understand that they are the servants of the people and answerable to them. State institutions and resources do not belong to them, their spouses or friends. Occupying a public office is not their legal or birthright but a privilege based on mutual trust between them and the electorate. Cadres in government should ask themselves whether they really and truly represent, serve and deliver according to the will of the masses as envisaged by the Freedom Charter or if they have just become skilled in deploying documents like the Freedom Charter to dress up their plunder as revolutionary activity.

The only real opposition to the ‘tenderpreneurs’ comes from some of the trade unions. It is here, and in the poor people’s movements, that one can still find a politics of principle.